Muslims and Discrimination

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

Much has been said about how non-Muslim minorities are suffering under Muslim majorities. Non-Muslims, it is said, are attacked and killed in the Muslim world; their houses of worship are destroyed; they are are not given the same freedoms that Muslims enjoy in the West. And this occurs, many conclude, because Islam itself demands that Muslims wage war against non-Muslims.

This last statement is patently false, and the only way that this is “proved” is by misquoting, mistranslating, or misinterpreting the Qur’an and other Islamic texts. Nevertheless, it is indeed true that there have been instances of mistreatment of non-Muslims in Muslim lands.

There have been instances of Muslims killing non-Muslims; there have been instances of non-Muslim houses of worship being attacked; it is true that, in some Muslim countries, non-Muslim minorities are not given the same treatment that Muslim minorities enjoy in the West. All these things, although terribly unfortunate, are true nonetheless.

Yet, it is also true that Muslim minorities in the West face racism, discrimination, and Islamophobia. This has been documented in the recent report by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). Key conclusions of the report include:

  • Regardless of ethnic background or approach to religion, many European Muslims are facing discrimination in employment, education, and housing.
  • It is evident that Muslims are experiencing Islamophobic acts, ranging from verbal threats through physical attacks.
  • Many European Muslims, particularly young people, face barriers to their social advancement.

Similar incidents occur every year here in the United States, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has documented such incidents for the last ten years.

Now, I do not bring this up simply to say, “See, you guys do it, too!” I also do not conclude – as some do with Islam – that it is Christianity, since the West is majority Christian, which inspires the racism and bigotry towards Muslims in the West. Yet, this is a very important topic to address, especially as it relates to the threat of extremist interpretations of Islam gaining ground in the West.

First and foremost, there can be no excuse for violence against the innocent. There is absolutely no justification in Islam for murder, plain and simple. Trying to understand the root causes of extremist violence in no way seeks to rationalize the satanic tactic. Yet, no cogent analysis of why extremism develops can be done without examining the factors that lead to radicalization.

Enter the EUMC report. It rightly points out that many “European Muslims, particularly young people, face barriers to their social advancement. This could give rise to a feeling of hopelessness and social exclusion. Racism, discrimination, and social marginalisation are serious threats to integration and community cohesion.”

How true. In these pockets of social exclusion and marginalization, the choking weeds of radicalization grow and establish their roots. From these dark crevices of alienation, fellow citizens do not look like “people like me,” but rather “enemies against me.” When one is excluded from the light of day, reality becomes distorted. Sprinkle in a horribly distorted mutation of Islam, and an extremist may be born, one who may easily turn to violence.

Thus, it is crucial that society ensures none of its members feels excluded and alienated, that racial discrimination and racist bigotry is never tolerated, even in its most subtle forms. Yet, it is also crucial that Muslims actively engage their respective societies and become active, productive members of those societies. Social justice, preservation of human life, responsible stewardship of the environment, compassion for the less fortunate – these are essential Islamic values, and Muslims must be at the vanguard of these efforts.

As the report states, “integration is a two-way process. Many European Muslims acknowledge that they need to do more to engage the wider society. At the same time, Europe’s political leaders must make a stronger effort to promote meaningful intercultural dialogue and tackle racism, discrimination, and marginalisation more effectively…This means respecting diversity, upholding fundamental rights and guaranteeing equal opportunities for all.” I have said something similar previously.

While all this is extremely important, Muslims have an extra obligation: to speak out against the religious intolerance that does occur in parts of the Muslim world. Religious freedom is an entrenched concept in Islam, and it must not be a right of Muslims only. As the Qur’an says: “There is no compulsion in religion: true direction is already distinct from error” (2:256). God also says: “If God did not parry people by means of one another, then monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques – wherein the name of God is much recited – would surely be demolished...”(24:40).

We cannot – in good moral conscience – speak out against and decry the discrimination meted out against Muslims and stay silent when we see Muslims doing the same. That is not the Islamic way. As the Qur’an says: “Believers, be upstanding for God as witnesses for justice; and do not let the hatred of some people hurt you so much that you are not fair. Be fair, that is kin to conscience. And be conscious of God, for God is aware of what you do” (5:8).


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