Saturday, July 4, 2009

Whose Fault Is It?

Sorry I haven't posted for a while (or commented on anyone's blogs), I just moved to another country and am still settling in! Just thought I would write a quick post about something I've been thinking about recently: Islam's image and how to react to it.

There's no doubt that Islam has a negative global image, generally. Many non-Muslims have very stereotypical views of Islam and about Muslims, such as "all Muslims are terrorists" or "all Muslim women are oppressed", etc. If you look at mainstream Western media, it's clearly biased against Muslims. Books, films, sitcoms - they usually show Muslims in a very negative way.

My question is: as Muslims, should we be trying to fix this? And what can we do? Should we just ignore this and write it off as ignorance and racism, or should we actively try to fight against it and counter these images? I guess in a way fighting against it is kind of giving it seriousness, whereas ignoring it would be like saying "it's not even worth responding to". If we think we should respond, what can we do?

For me I guess the number one thing is to set an example. When people see you acting a certain way, they'll associate it with your religion, nationality, gender, etc. So if you are a good person, people will probably see Islam as a positive normal thing. If however you are rude, arrogant etc, people may associate that with Islam. This associating thing is something we all do. Each one of us represents different things - our religion, nationality, profession - its human nature to associate people with their statuses in life.

Another thing is to interact with non-Muslims in a rational, calm, respectful way. My previous post about Gary Miller is an example of us - he approaches non-Muslims ina peaceful way and logically tries to show that Islam is the truth. Some Muslims choose to be rude, arrogant, and obnoxious, and this will never make anyone change their perception of Islam from negative/neutral to positive, let alone make them convert.

What do you think?


hala said...

I think part of the negative image is the contradiction of Islamic values with many Western values, particularly in women's issues (right of divorce, inheritance, involvemnt in society, etc...), it's inevitable to have differences in practices and beliefs between cultures, What I think most important is for a person to have a deep conviction of what he/ she believes in and to practice the golden rule that all religions have promoted (To do to others what you want them to do unto yourself), trying to change what others believe is a fruitless effort unless one was invited in a reasonable debate, still, even afterward, there will be basic differences between what Muslims belive in and those of Western values... I wanted also to say that I enjoyed all your posts and your elquoant ways of expression, keep up sharing...

G said...

Interesting post!

This is something I think about a lot. Although I am not yet at the stage where I identify completely with Islam, I still get very frustrated when I see the negatives images portrayed all over Western mediums. Firstly because we are now in an era when stereotypes SHOULD be obsolete. I mean come on! Look how much information we all have access to? If I still hold a stereotype against someone I think a large part of it is because of myself. That I allow myself to fall for the main stream stereotype. Do you know what I mean?

But on the other hand of course I think we have a role to play in improving our image. It literally pains me when I see some Arabs living out the stereotype. I have seen too many Muslims screaming,waving their hands in the air and cussing because someone says Islam is not based on peace. Yeah, looking like a deranged anger management needing lunatic will not help improve our fact it is the total opposite. Also what is up with all the extreme insulting criticisms of other beliefs and the grossly disgusting judgment that have unfortunately become main points in our culture? Since when is Islam about that?

Like you said the best way is to follow your own example. Just be yourself and be understanding and open minded to people's inquires or disagreements. La Ikrah Fil Deen: No compulsion in religion. What happened to that? Isn't screaming at someone that we have the "right" way in some sense us forcing ourselves onto them?

On a final note, I think humor helps. I mean at the end of the day from how many stereotypical messages I hear about my people I just find it funny at this point. I made a Jewish friend this semester. From the get-go we talked about stereotypes. In the end what we do is we laugh at them, he labels me as terrorist and I label him as stingy. At the end of the day stereotypes are not a joking matter BUT it has showed both of us how much more energy you give stereotypes when you focus too much on them. At the end of the day they're just plain ridiculous.

sabrina said...

You're totally right when you say that we have to set the example. I agree a million percent. In regards to whose fault it is,, obvs, it's our fault. If Muslims didn't act dumb, then we couldn't be made to look like Neanderthals -- in the media or elsewhere. It's all about education, and application. No one can fix this mess we're in except for us.
Hope you're settling in well -- where did you go?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hala: I totally agree about the golden rule all religions agree upon, and think Muslims should always aim to keep this in mind. The cultural debate situation you mentioned sounds great - these should happen more often. You might not change the mind of the person you are debating, but you could be influencing other people who want to become Muslims but need that final push. You never know! At the same time, Muslims that act arrogant and obnoxious and refuse to enter debates could be turning many people away from Islam without knowing it.

Thanks for posting and for the lovely compliment :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

G: GREAT point about stereotypes being obsolete. Since we have so much access to information, do we even have an excuse when we buy into stereotypes? No. Especially in multicultural socieites - you could be neighbours with a Muslim and still see them in a very stereotypical manner. It's a pretty bad trait we humans have.

"Also what is up with all the extreme insulting criticisms of other beliefs and the grossly disgusting judgment that have unfortunately become main points in our culture? Since when is Islam about that?" AMEN! When DID Islam become about that?! Unfortunately many Muslims today feel better about themselves when they put someone else down, even though I'm PRETTY sure that's unislamic!

The whole "there is no compulsion in religion" is something many people have conveniently forgotten, which is sad. One of the best things I ever read about the Prophet (pbuh) is that he never forced anyone to convert.

Thanks for posting, pretty much every point you made was amazing!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sabrina: I agree; it is mostly our responsibility to fix the negative image we have. After all, it didn't just come out of nowhere.

I just moved to Holland :) Settling in okay, still haven't slept since my 4 am flight yesterday but am about to go do that. Found out that Isha is at midnight! In Cairo it was at 9:30 pm! Anyway I'm digressing :P

Thanks for posting!

Lisa said...

So glad to see you back and hope that the move went well habibty. Are you in an Islamic country?

I think it's very important to change the world's mind about Islam. The only way to do this is to earn the world's respect, by offering something that the world wants.

When I look at Israel, I get really angry, but I wouldn't dare go up against an Israeli Jew. The U.S. wants Jerusalem and plays nice with Israel acting like we're one big happy family to that end. Sure anti-semitism has been a problem, but by and large, the world respects Israel.

The same can't be said sadly for "Muslim" nations, and thus, Muslims. We need something that the world wants in order to earn her respect. Perhaps we could begin with oil.

From there, it is good to start with little things like a girl wearing hijab who doesn't look all that different from an American girl, but she's more educated.

And certainly, we must fix from within the men who side with Bin Laden and suicide bombs. They are setting us back 50 years or more. When I think of how things were before 9-11, really before WTC 1993, we were so very close close. Even my parents were onboard. And then it was back to square one.

I do believe it's doable. But the Ummah must unite to this end. Love you lots.

Jasmine said...

Live by example for sure is the answer.

negative images of Muslims have been caused by the bad examples set by them, and it is Muslims that are responsible for this bad image. No one ever wrote slander against a muslim who had not already laid ample foundation for the house of stigma to be built upon. And they lay very strong foundations - hell, they even wrote a blueprint!

What we need is a figure that represents us in a good light - omeone that will come naturally, and in time: an Islamic Martin Luther, Mother Teresa or Ghandi. In the meantime, we should stop complaining about bad press: complaining is just another awful representation.

we just need to get together in groups and do good deeds to everyone, muslim and non muslim - not for show, but for God, and start laying the foundations for a new house of brother and sister hood that is so badly missing from our cultures.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Lisa: thanks hun. No I moved to Holland. Besides I've had enough of living in an "Islamic" country after the Egypt experience.

I agree that we need to earn the world's respect. It's not something that comes automatically. Women for example had and still have to fight for basic rights, maybe it is the same situation with Muslims.

Extremist Muslims like Bin Laden have definitely set us back by at least 100 years. It's ridiculous. Yesterday when I had to give up my water before boarding the plane I said a little "thank you" to Bin Laden in my head. Seriously he has hurt Muslims sooooo much more than he hurt America.

The Ummah uniting seems like a distant mirage at this point. Too much ignorance, judging and backbiting.

Thanks for posting!!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: I agree, most negative images of Muslims have been set by their bad example. I also think however that Western racism plays a part. Many people in the West can be very stereotypical about Muslims, even if they've never interacted with one. If they do know a "normal" Muslim they see them as an exception. It's a 2-way street I think, but Muslims are 80% to blame for sure.

Like you said, if we do good deeds and be good people for God, non-Muslims will start seeing Islam differently.

Thanks for posting :)

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