لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ
Lakum Dinukum Waliyadini.
To you your religion, and to me mine.
This Quranic verse encompasses so many values that my religion of has taught me. I have been taught to love, to accept, to be open-minded, and above all, to be peaceful. However, these values are not unique to my individual interpretation of my religion. These values should be universal to anyone who possesses an iota of humanity or independent thought.
For this reason, before I go any further, I would like to take a minute to remember the 132 individuals that were killed during the attacks in Paris, as well as the 43 killed by the suicide bombings in Beirut, and the 21 killed in Baghdad during the funeral bombing. May their souls rest in eternal peace and their families find strength and courage to go on.
It is NEVER OKAY to take a life in ANY circumstance. It is NEVER OKAY to break a family, separate a mother from a child, a brother from a sister, a husband from a wife. It is NEVER OKAY to inflict pain on ANYONE for ANY REASON. My religion taught me all of that.
You see, it is not religion that has caused the violence that is terrorizing our world. Rather, it is the fact that certain religious interpretations are so dogmatic and dictatorial in their practice that they do not allow for the manifestation of the values upon which the religion was originally founded.
Peaceful Muslims all over the world have faced Islamophobic backlash since the Paris attacks of such scale that no one should ever be subject to. My heart goes out to every peaceful Muslim who’s been targeted with assaults, vandalism, and threats in the last few weeks. It is despicable what these people have had to put up with as a consequence of the actions of a few members that have been stereotyped to represent an entire group. One of the main reasons why I’m writing this blog post is because I want to start a conversation about how we as Americans perceive connections between terrorism and religions, particularly Islam.
The KKK does not represent all Christians. Radical Zionists do not represent all Jews. Hindu Fundamentalists do not represent all Hindus. ISIS does not represent all Muslims. It should be as simple as that.
Yet it’s not.
Religion is by nature far more subjective than anything I’ve written about before, and thus, unlike in my previous blog posts, I can not back the claims I am making with cold facts and statistics. Rather, I base my claims off of the experiences and interactions I’ve shared with people from different religions in different parts of the world. Being a Shia Muslim who’s spent a third of my life in predominantly Sunni nations and two thirds of my life in predominantly Christian nations, I can assert with fair justification that we are all far more similar than we acknowledge. We share the same core emotions, values, and principles. We believe in a power greater than ourselves, and we believe in kindness, generosity, and peace. So what makes some of us willing and able to take a life?
Religion itself has absolutely nothing to do with the creation of religious fundamentalists and terrorists. Bold claim? Let me explain my point of view.
“If you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners corrupted from infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded, sire, but that you first make thieves and then punish them?” This quote from the movie Ever After outlines my views on the subject of religious fanaticism. It is not religion that promotes violence. It is the environment that creates a terrorist, and it is an environment that festers in ignorance.
Imagine this. You’ve grown up in a family where all you know is to heed the word of God. You’ve never been taught to question, to see another perspective, to think independently, to understand diversity, or really even to understand other people. You’ve never been given any kind of education because your community believes that any trace of Western influence in your life will leave you corrupted and infidel. You’ve only ever been taught to follow, and you do so out of fear of eternal damnation and hell-fire. It is in circumstances like these where individuals become the product of their environment, where they are raised to believe that they are altruistic fighters whose ultimate self-sacrifice is necessary to protect their religion and their community.
Don’t think for a minute that I think this justifies their actions. The point that I’m trying to get across is that Islam is a religion that advocates peace above all else, and to blame an entire religion for the actions of a few is a misguided logical fallacy.
I can not come to terms with the fact that the frontrunners of the Republican party in the upcoming elections can make ignorant and misinformed comments while claiming to represent a party that 39% of our population supports or leans toward. Ben Carson has compared Muslims to “a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood” and Donald Trump wants Muslims to wear ID badges and register in a database. The fact that these opinions are being expressed to the media by political figures of such prominence makes my stomach churn because they’re setting a precedent for all Americans watching them. By expressing these ignorant and insensitive comments, they are making it okay for Americans to associate Muslims with terrorists and rabid dogs. This is no different from the World War II anti-Japanese propaganda comparing them to monkeys and snake-like creatures, or the Nazis comparing Jews to vermin. It’s desensitizing the public to the incredibly vile and depraved act of associating human beings with anything that is considered to have less value than a human life.
On the same subject of the value of a human life, I want to talk a little bit about the refugee crisis we are facing right now. All too often we clump refugees into statistics as though their lives are only numbers in our eyes. I don’t think we realize that these are individuals who have faced more than we can even begin to fathom. If you have a moment, I would encourage you to look through the Humans of New York refugee stories from around Greece, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. I was moved to tears by these stories and, though I fully comprehend the security implications, I cannot help but feel we owe it to the world to help these families and individuals to the best of our abilities. At the end of the day, these are real people who are just like us and who are trying to escape from the same radicals that we are trying to stand up to.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s inequitable to paint ISIS, Muslims, and refugees with the same brush because they are worlds apart. ISIS is a product of the volatile environment in parts of the Middle East, not a product of Islam. Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, and ISIS is a group of belligerents that act against its values yet in its name. Unless we understand the differences, we will continue to be a misinformed nation, susceptible to the ignorant and prevaricating assertions we’re exposed to through hearsay, politicians, and the media.