I don’t blame you for having a skewed image of me. Every day, it seems like there’s another story that undoubtedly affects your perception of the Muslim community. Whether it be the ridiculous response to offensive cartoons, or the nearly daily attacks that take place in our war-torn countries, it must be difficult for you not to think we’re just a little bit suspicious. The murder case here at home, which has dominated headlines this past week, certainly does not help our case.
I know that all of our condemning doesn’t change a thing. I’d like you to know how much I am sincerely saddened by what is happening. Whether or not our sister Aqsa was murdered for hijab or not is hardly even relevant to me; she was killed nonetheless, and this is something that cannot be accepted under any circumstances. Please don’t think we are lessening her death because the hijab link is, at best, tenuous. She was meant to be loved and cherished as any daughter should, and it pains us that we could not be there for her when she needed us.
I know, you’ve already read this. You’ve already heard us say how Islam means peace and that such actions have no place in Islam. I’ve heard you, when you sarcastically make mention of our “religion of peace”. You wonder how we can keep echoing this refrain, even when not a day goes by when this statement is not challenged. You may think we’re incapable of seeing reason, of seeing the reality of what is going on in the world. You may believe we’re stubborn, foolish, and blind because we still hold on to our faith in spite of the hateful acts being associated with it. Perhaps you’re afraid of us, thinking that behind our condemnations lie people who, in an instant, can commit the same unspeakable acts we’re condemning.
Do you know what our Prophet, peace be upon him, told us? He repeated thrice, “He does not believe! He does not believe! He does not believe!” Who was he referring to? “That person whose neighbour does not feel safe from his evil.” Do you feel safe, being my neighbour? If that’s not the case, I am afraid for my soul. I will do whatever I can to make it up to you. I cannot change what is happening in the world, but I’d like you to know that I will never harm you. I will protect you as best as I can. You are my neighbour, and you deserve it. I know, my words alone don’t mean much, but for as long as I hold this belief in my heart, I will do my part. As long as I consider myself a believer, it is your right and my responsibility that you be safe.
I want you to know why we hold on. It is not because we are blind, but rather because we have seen much more. It’s because we’ve read about what our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, brought to the world. It’s because we have learned his teachings, and have become better people because of it. Because we saw how a corrupt society of nomadic tribes became a beacon of light and guidance for the world over through those teachings. Because we saw how that message instilled love and compassion amongst those warring tribes, and brought them to the heights of morality and progress. Because we have heard the verses of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet, the wisdom of which can transform hearts of rust and stone into hearts of gold. Most of all, it’s because we have felt our own hearts become illuminated by this faith, by the conviction in the oneness of the Creator of the universe, and His promises for His creation.
I wish you could feel it. I wish you could feel the incredible words of the Quran touching your heart the way it touches mine. I wish you could see it for the miracle it is, and see how Allah has preserved it through the miracle of hifz (memorization). When I see children under ten years old reciting hundreds of pages from memory in a language they cannot speak or understand, I cannot help but feel awed. I wish you could see that, hear that, and let it touch your heart as it has touched mine.
I wish you could feel the peace I feel when standing before my Creator among my companions in faith. Right now, millions of people are gathered in Makkah, worshipping together. Just think about that. Millions. Imagine every single person you passed by on the highway driving to work this morning stepping out of their vehicle and prostrating next to you, joined with you in submission to One Creator. Maybe all those commuters make up a few thousand people. Now, think about every other highway in your city, and add them to the mix. Then think of everyone else in your city, sitting at home, and include them in your congregation. Then everyone else who has already reached their offices – let them all join you. Now maybe – just maybe, you’ve reached a million people. That’s what we see every year at Hajj. People of every colour and race, united in belief, all gathered together in one place, joined together in worship. Kings and beggars joined together, their foreheads upon the ground, in glorification of the Most High, the Most Merciful. This is why we still call it the religion of peace. You’ll need to witness this spectacle yourself to truly appreciate it.
I wish you could see Islam for what it is, and not for the cultural practices that predate Islam but continue to hinder our society. You will see then that the honour killings you hear about, the misogyny and hatred, is in complete opposition to Islam. You will see why our sisters defend their faith with such fervour and strength. You will see how much we love them, and how strongly we regard our families. You will see why we believe that Paradise lies beneath the feet of our mothers. You will read about the great women from our history, among whom were the first to accept Islam, and the first to be killed for that belief. I wish you could see what these women were willing to sacrifice in order to hold on to Islam, for it raised the status of women the world over. I wish you could see how Islam liberated and honoured these women, while it is only culture and ancient tradition that has shackled and disgraced them. Often, I wish we could see that as well.
There is so much I wish you could see and feel, but alas, the responsibility is upon me to convey the message. I hope that I am conveying the message correctly, and that I have helped shed some light upon your doubts and concerns. I regret that someone better than myself could not deliver this message to you, for surely I fall short of the kindness and respect that Islam instructs me to show to you. I do hope you accept me for who I am, in spite of my shortcomings. I’m trying.
I am not asking you to forgive us. I’m not even asking you to change your mind; that’s up to you. I only want you to know that I want the best for you, irrespective of what you believe about me. You are my neighbour, and I cannot neglect your rights. If you ever need something, you know where to find me.
Your friendly neighbourhood Muslim.