Picking up the Pieces

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On March 15, 2019, the hate grown and cultivated against Muslims in America and abroad, bore deadly fruit. The attacks on two mosques by a white supremacist terrorist in Christchurch, New Zealand, shook Muslims around the world. But for many of us, it wasn’t really a surprise. In an era of rampant Islamophobia and the alarming trend of terrorists targeting our sacred spaces, it was inevitable.  

What struck hard was the sheer audacity of the attack. Fifty men, women and children were killed during the Friday prayer, and forty more injured while the murderer live-streamed it all on Facebook. This blow hit us right where it hurts. It was against our faith, our very right to exist as Muslims.     

Truthfully, I would have expected such an attack to occur right here at home in America. The fact that it happened in a country like New Zealand was the surprising part. Even though I knew there were Muslims living there, I had no idea what percentage of the population they made up. From all accounts, they were ordinary people, peacefully practicing their faith and living their lives like anyone else. But according to the murderer’s manifesto, he saw them as invaders to be destroyed.   

Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Islamophobia has been spreading like a slow-moving wildfire in societies around the world. The flames of hatred stoked and fanned against Muslims rose alarmingly to the forefront with Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency and his subsequent win. This has led to an unprecedented rise in hate crimes according to many statistics. Men, women and children have been targeted and mosques burned, firebombed and defaced. Last but not least, it led to the Muslim Ban.

Muslims in the west have been walking a tightrope for the last few decades. Invasions, wars and coups in the Muslim World has shifted the nexuses of power that existed in the past, causing the region to become a powder keg. This instability and volatility were fertile breeding grounds for terrorism, spawning vicious cults who give the appearance of being Muslim but prove by their barbaric actions that they’re violators and perverters of the faith. Attacks by these terrorists are partly to blame for the demonization and vilification of Muslims around the world.

I say partly because that’s not the only reason. Despite Muslims repudiating terrorism over and over again, our disavowals sometimes fall on deliberately deaf ears. There are those who delight in painting all Muslims with the same brush because of their own warped agendas. And oftentimes, the mainstream media is complicit in causing hysteria. You only have to google funding for Islamophobia and you’ll see who the culprits are. Millions upon millions of dollars are being spent to spread fear, mistrust and suspicion of Muslims. Imagine the good that could be done if that kind of money were to fund noble causes. It would make the world a much, much better place. But alas, there can sometimes be no reasoning with hatred and bigotry.   

So, in the wake of these terror attacks, how do we pick up the pieces of our lives? How should we deal with the constant hatred and paranoia leveled against us by these mischief makers? The answer is to be better Muslims than ever. This is shocking to the hate-mongers who perhaps hope to see us cower in fear and renounce our faith. But our faith teaches us that trials and tribulations are means for us to grow closer to God and earn immense rewards in the next life. In the face of persecution, we stand firm and reaffirm our commitment to be the best community raised up for mankind, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is evil, as the Qur’an charges us to be.

The visceral fear that some people have of losing their ‘way of life’ or their position of ‘superiority’ because of the ‘other’ is like a drowning man clutching at a straw. Besides the inherent danger of this ideology, it is foolish to cling to such notions when nothing in this world really belongs to us. Everything we have has been loaned to us for a short while. When we leave this earthly plane, we take nothing with us except our good deeds. As Muslims, we believe these deeds will be our means of salvation in the next life, by the grace of God.        

As a minority in western countries, our position is precarious. But our faith doesn’t preclude us from loving the country we live in and being loyal and upstanding citizens. Those who cast aspersions at us, are forever fomenting doubt about this. They are the same people who sow sedition by promoting the clash of civilizations tropes. As if we can’t be good Muslims and good Americans at the same time. Swimming against this tide of hatred can be very tiring and demoralizing. Being strong Muslims doesn’t make us immune to it.   

At the end of the day, we are human beings too, with feelings and sensitivities like all of humankind. We share the same hopes, dreams and aspirations. We all want to have a good life with our families and to leave behind a better world for our progeny. It is crucial now more than ever for us to partner with like-minded people of other faiths and persuasions. We must stand together to rid the world of bigotry, racism and all other ideologies that impugns the God-given dignity of people. We can’t afford to let the hate-mongers win.

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Zeenatul Zaman