To My Neighbour

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.

With love,
Your friendly neighbourhood Muslim.

17 thoughts on “To My Neighbour

  1. Great entry, Faraz, masha’Allah… we should print it out and post it through the letterboxes of our next-door neighbours!

    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.”

    I had forgetten about this hadith – so much to learn from his blessed example, sallahu ‘alayhi wa salam.

  2. “I wish you could feel the incredible words of the Quran touching your heart the way it touches mine.”

    That’s what I wish all the time, for everyone! Who could deny the truth of Islam if they’ve felt their hearts and souls resonating with the Qur’an even just ONCE?

    Masha’Allah, great post… I second iMuslim’s suggestion!

  3. I received a link here from Frazza, and I do appreciate the effort. But, as an American, it is my right to say that Allah is dead if I want to, I also have the right to join a religion, then quit. Being touched by the Quran isn’t going to happen if Muslims don’t reform it, and that isn’t going to happen if you deny that it is problematic. You say:

    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.

    Islam might have been progressive for the 7th century, but it has cemented itself in those customs. It needs to be reformed.

    Look, you can say that Islam is a peaceful religion all day long, but we have access to the Noble Qur’an itself.

    004.015

    YUSUFALI: If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, Take the evidence of four (Reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them, or Allah ordain for them some (other) way.
    PICKTHAL: As for those of your women who are guilty of lewdness, call to witness four of you against them. And if they testify (to the truth of the allegation) then confine them to the houses until death take them or (until) Allah appoint for them a way (through new legislation).
    SHAKIR: And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them.

    009.029
    YUSUFALI: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

    009.030
    YUSUFALI: The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!

    etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

    Mix this with the atrocities that we see everyday, and you’re right, we’re going to call Islam “The Religion of Peace” sarcastically.

  4. djk: That was my own comment, as I didn’t want this letter to be read only by people who agree with me already. Yours was the first opposing opinion I came across after clicking through your name on MuslimMatters.

    Like I said, I’m not asking you to change your mind. I just wanted you to know that we’re not oblivious to what is going on in the world, it terrifies us as much as it does you. But it’s not going to change our minds, because we’ve found something that transcends all the nonsense going on in the world. There’s a reason we’ll defend it, and you’d understand it better if we had done a better job from the outset following our own guidelines.

  5. djk, thanks for your honest opinion.

    In response to your quotation of certain Quranic verses, perhaps you would be interested to know that by doing so, you are falling into the exact same trap as those misguided Muslims who follow a literal, extreme form of the religion. The traditional scholarly interpretations of Islam take into account many different verses of the Qur’an, the context in which they were revealed, as well as the traditions of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), and the actions of his early followers, before formulating rulings on any given situation. Lay Muslims are heavily discouraged to pick up the Qur’an, grab a random verse, and make up their own religion as they go along. They are free to contemplate the Qur’an, and discuss it with those more knowledgeable than themselves, but it is quite a different thing when it comes to formulating rulings for Islamic conduct.

    However, considering that this is a fact that many Muslims forget, including myself, you can be forgiven for not being aware of it. May God guide us all.

  6. Thank you for the consideration, Faraz and iMuslim.

    What troubles me is the literal interperatation of the Qur’an which is cited by fundamentalists as justification for the oppression of women (among other things). I understand that later Suras aboragate earlier ones, on some interperatations, and I have read the Qur’an a good deal for a non-Muslim, IMHO. Also, as some groups of Muslims put more emphasis on certain Hadith than others, it seems to be more fruitful to look at the Qur’an itself.

    I will say that comments like this one from Rasheed Gonzales are very telling about how some Muslims feel about womens rights and freedom within Islam.

  7. Dear djk,

    Regarding abrogation, care to tell us how you came to that conclusion?

    I mean, do you hold a PhD degree in Islamic studies and have you researched this subject?

  8. gess,

    It’s not like it’s a big secret, just look in the Qur’an:

    016.101
    YUSUFALI: When We substitute one revelation for another,- and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages),- they say, “Thou art but a forger”: but most of them understand not.
    PICKTHAL: And when We put a revelation in place of (another) revelation, – and Allah knoweth best what He revealeth – they say: Lo! thou art but inventing. Most of them know not.
    SHAKIR: And when We change (one) communication for (another) communication, and Allah knows best what He reveals, they say: You are only a forger. Nay, most of them do not know.

    Here we see that one revelation is put in place of another because “Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages)”

    In other words, later revelations have more weight than revelations that came before them which they might contradict.

    Are you denying that some Muslims interpret the Qur’an this way?

  9. Dear djk,

    I am not in the mood to play “answering Islam” game ala “copy & paste”.

    What you claim here is a serious matter. If you are genuine about this, you would have presented sources that support your motions.

  10. Gess, I think you can agree to disagree here. djk hasn’t had the luxury of learning about Islam through traditional scholarship, so undoubtedly you’ll have disagreements. But civility is still important, and I don’t want to see this discussion lose that civility by arguing about matters upon which you’ll never find common ground given your vastly different backgrounds.

  11. Dear gess,

    I’m not interested in playing games either, and I’m willing to concede any argument that we think I was trying to start. That was not my intention so I’ll try to better explain myself.

    My point is that within the Qur’an there is support for a male-dominated, even violent, religion, and this isn’t just a problem for Islam but other religions too are based on texts that can be used and abused. However, if these texts are to be understood as peaceful, one first has to acknowledge the possibility of their being used for violence. A problem can not be solved if it has not yet been acknowledged.

    All appeals to authority are logically fallacious, if there were a logical reason for hijab there would be no need to referrence the Qur’an or what Fulan bin Fulan al-Fulani said in a fatwa. The same goes for clerics of Christianity, Judaism, and any practices that are derived from a specific text.

    But this is not to say the text is automatically wrong, to contrary, the U.S. Constitution is text to which Americans refer everyday. There have been times when the Constitution has been, quite frankly, just plain wrong. For instance, when slavery was sanctioned and when women and blacks were considered less-than citizens. Thank God the Constitution can be amended and those amendments can be repealed. But if the US had not adapted and it still facilitated a male-chauvinistic society, it would be responsible for any violence that might arise from it’s creed.

    Every year my state (rightly) apologizes for the slavery that took place over 200 years ago. I say that this is right because no doubt blacks still feel the effects of the false dichotomy of racism, that began before America was a sovereign nation, but that even the U.S. Constitution once enforced.

    I’m not pretending to enlighten you on things that you have not heard before, I’m just trying to clarify my previous comments and to avoid any disputes that I may have unintentionally sparked through my own ignorance.

  12. Hi djk,

    “However, if these texts are to be understood as peaceful, one first has to acknowledge the possibility of their being used for violence.”

    Uh ya I guess but i still have to disagree. Once a black american scholar was lecturing a couple of hundred people and asked them that if he went into a kkk establishment and shot them all up who would believe him if he said it was because he was Muslim and they were Christian? A few hands were raised. Less than 5 I think. Then he said if I quoted some verses of the quran and said so who would take that at face value? Again only a few hands.
    Why wouldn’t the majority of people believe him? Because they understand the circumstances and history of this country well enough to guess that there were probably some other reasons as to why he shot up the establishment.

    When it comes to these famous Islamists,think about the circumstances and history that radicalized them before you take what they say and swallow it whole.
    I cannot believe that a text alone radicalizes people. That is hardly ever the case. For most radical islamists I can cite events in their life that radicalized them. People like sayid qutb and khalid islamboulli were tortured in jail etc.
    So while knowing all the other factors at play, I cannot swallow that a text by itself will radicalize people.
    I’ll admit that approaching the text without the proper background and knowledge can be dangerous….

  13. I cannot believe that a text alone radicalizes people. That is hardly ever the case. For most radical islamists I can cite events in their life that radicalized them.

    That’s true. I’ve also read some psychological studies which suggest that extremists (of any religion) might also suffer from malignant narcissism. I agree, too, that the text alone is not an adequate explanation of the customs and traditions held by a particular group. For the Qur’an is a holy text for Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi alike.

    But as for your example, the history of the United States provided the context in which the students understood the incident. Why would not the Islamic tradition provide similar context for the killing of Aqsa Parvez?

    Why can’t voices like Farzana Hassan-Shahid’s of the Muslim Canadian Congress, find more support?

  14. Pingback: » Ijtema » To my Neighbour C L O S E R: Anthropology of Muslims in the Netherlands (a modest attempt by Martijn)

  15. You say: “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…

    I too have read about your prophet from your authentic traditions. It seems you forget the 26-27 expeditions he made to bring pain, suffering and death to non-Muslims. And what about the plunder? (How many Religions have a a book dedicated to the “Spoils of war”?) Now let us mention the men, women and children made captives and sold into slavery. And let us not forget the murder of men and women for criticizing Mohammad. Oh yes, the rape of the women at Banu al-Mustaliq… and so on…. There are hundreds of stories that demand an explanation.

    About those “nomadic tribes became a beacon of light and guidance for the world…” Are you speaking of the companions of the prophet and the era of the Four Righteous Caliphs? Perhaps you missed the hate and infighting, the wars between the heirs of Islam including the murder of 3 of the 4 “righteous” caliphs (by Muslims!) that ended with the Ashura at Karbala and the victorious Muslim army of Yazid carrying the heads of MOhammad’s grandson (Hussein) and even infant great-grandson in bags as trophies.
    Are these the beacons you refer to? Well, actually the hate between Muslim didn’t end at Karbala did it?

    Your Prophet Muhammad brought a lot of things into the world, but peace isn’t one of them.

    Don’t you guys read your own hadith?

    Kactuz

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