Suppose, in a situation, the eldest brother decides to kill people “in the name of Islam.” The younger brother stops him and says it is not the way of peace. “Brother, Islam does not approve of this,” he says. But then the eldest proceeds to shoot helpless victims. The younger brother moves to shield the one nearest him. He cares not whether that person was xenophobic or tolerant, bigoted or fair. He dies in defense of a complete stranger.
Between these two, I ask you now: Who is the real Muslim extremist? Isn’t he the one who’d take the values of his faith—peace, charity and mercy—to their extreme? Isn’t he the one who, in spite of the discrimination, racism and xenophobia, would still rush to the aid of his neighbor because that is what extreme mercy and compassion are all about? According to Hadith, it is not becoming of a Muslim if his “neighbor does not feel safe from his evil.” The younger brother goes to extremes to make his neighbor feel safe. Here, the real extremist is not the one who’d die to kill people; the real extremist is the one who’d die to save people.
Do not get me wrong here: One of the prized principles of Islam is actually that of moderation. However, if I were to attach the term “Muslim extremist” (or even “Islamist,” for that matter) to anyone, I would rather attach it to one who, after all his actions, can still be said to have been propelled by genuine Islam.
The killing of an innocent person has no place in genuine Islam. So, in essence, those who do acts of aggression are clearly not doing Islamic acts. How can they be called “Muslim extremists” then? What Islamic value are they taking to the extreme? Which is why, at times, I find myself wondering: Until when should I have to speak up against these terrorist acts—acts that have nothing to do with genuine Islam at all.
As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the six-time NBA champion and Most Valuable Player, said: “I look forward to the day when an act of terrorism by self-proclaimed Muslims will be universally dismissed as nothing more than a criminal attack of a thuggish political organization wearing an ill-fitting Muslim mask.” Indeed, I, too, anticipate that day. I look forward to the day when the status quo changes: when Islamophobia and discrimination are rejected in exchange for understanding and solidarity among peoples.
I remember being the only Muslim girl in my high school batch. At one time, I discovered that a caricature had been drawn on the back cover of my math notebook: of a Muslim man holding the Koran, with the word “PIMP” written on his forehead. I was shocked. I tried hard to hold back my tears. “Why would anyone do this?” I asked. For me, the question was not whether anyone could do it but why anyone would. When I came home, I got a piece of paper and some tape. I covered the drawing, believing that by hiding it, the pain would also go away.
Up to this moment, I had kept it secret from everyone except my best friend. I remember crying when I told her about it over the phone. Then again, even if it hurt me, I never saw it as an act of a “Catholic” against a “Muslim.” For truly, I know that Catholicism preaches of love and peace. My best friend is a devout Catholic, and it was to her that I ran for comfort. I know that she, just like the greater whole of my community, would never do that to me—inasmuch as I would never do that to them. Why? Because we are sisters. And sisters respect each other. We are sisters of one nation, sisters of one world.
Inasmuch as I believe that free speech is not absolute…
Inasmuch as I denounce hate speech akin to the anti-Semitic material of the Nazi era (that all together contributed to an ideology that legitimized the discrimination against and the eventual genocide of a people)…
Inasmuch as I believe that the space we use in the media can be utilized to bring about true understanding among people, bring forth social justice and a healthy discourse (instead of perpetuating an oppressive status quo filled with misunderstanding and bigotry)…
At the end of the day, no matter how much ridicule and insult are thrown at us, I believe that the ultimate challenge is to persevere in taking the path of enlightened peace. In Islam, this mandate is strong. As the Koran says: “The servants of the Most Gracious are those who walk gently on earth; and, who, whenever the ignorant or foolish address them, they reply with words of peace.”
Let me share with you a story I remember so dearly, about the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). When the Prophet was still living, he was often mocked and insulted, and trash was thrown at him. But the Prophet ignored his tormentors and even prayed for them. When asked to pray against the disbelievers, he said: “I have not come to invoke curse; I have come as mercy.”
Yes, this is the real Prophet, whose name is maliciously defamed even up to this day. This is the Prophet who is ignorantly scorned and unabashedly lambasted by those who use both the gun and the pen as their weapon.
The world is just too diverse to preach hate and intolerance. Enough with the marginalization and oppression of the “different” and the “minority.” Live and let live—in social justice and peace. We have too many problems, among the worst being socioeconomic inequality. This is a problem that besieges us all, as one humanity. If we can come together to end the extreme inequality in wealth, if we can come together to provide education to many more children, if we can come together to generate more ideas on how to make the world more sustainable for everyone, then perhaps we would be more tolerant. Perhaps it would be easier to see the world beyond the limits of ethnicity, religion, gender and culture. Perhaps it would be easier to embrace and respect humanity—in all its diversity.
As the Persian poet Sa’di once said (this piece, a gift to the United Nations, is displayed on one of the entrance halls of the UN headquarters in New York): “Human beings are members of a whole/In creation of one essence and soul./If one member is afflicted with pain,/ Other members uneasy will remain./If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,/The name of human you cannot retain.”
Assalamu’alaikom. Peace be with you.
“Forgive him who wrongs you, join him who cuts you off, do good to him who does evil to you, and speak the truth although it be against yourself.” That’s a saying that I grew up reading in Islamic texts, but I’m sure is fundamental in all of the good philosophies in which humans have reveled.
(Ahmed Malek is the French Muslim police officer who worked to protect the people in his area, including the staff of Charlie Hebdo. Unfortunately, he, too, died—in defense of others.)
Farah Ali Ghodsinia, 22, a student of the University of the Philippines Diliman, believes that interfaith and intercultural unity, among others, is crucial in the process of nation-building.
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