I get a lot of different responses every time I talk about my religion, but a very common response is usually a glazed look while I’m talking followed by some variation of, “That’s nice, but what about ISIS?”
To many people, I have a watered-down, selective, “kid-friendly” version of Islam, and therefore my narrative is unreliable for what Islam really is. Religion, especially Islam, is set along a strange sort of spectrum, and Western media usually has a great time trying to decide how “Muslim” things really are. True to its definition, the two extreme points on which things are measured on this spectrum are very clear: Islam and humanity, with radical Islamic terrorist groups representing the pinnacle of all things Muslim™.
There’s a common misconception that oppressive totalitarian Middle Eastern countries, radical terrorist groups and even cousin-on-cousin marriages place higher up on the Islamic “spectrum.” These things that represent so much wrong with Islam according to the Western public eye are somehow considered more Islamic, which give Westerners more of a reason to hate Islam as a whole.
I can see why one would believe that; the archaic Middle Eastern theocracies do call themselves Muslim countries, after all. Islamist terrorist groups are known for doing everything in the name of jihad. There are “Muslims” who support these actions with quotes from the Quran itself (taken grossly out of context). And of course, marriage between cousins is strictly reserved only for Muslims, obviously.
To start, these “Muslim” countries, as everyone can agree, are doing some crazy shit. The leaders of these countries believe that they were given responsibility over all of their citizens, and they’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that their citizens follow the most archaic version of Islam possible to save themselves from hell, usually by force. Giving their citizens a choice means they can choose not to be Islam, which is too risky for the leader chances of getting into heaven.
Regardless of what Islamists and Western media thinks, choosing to listen to God is a much stronger statement of inner power and faith than being forced to, and that is the Islam that true Muslims are proud of.
Whenever I speak about Islam, I mean my Islam, which is, believe it or not, not the same as the Islam practiced by Islamic extremist groups, even if they go by the same name. Everyone’s relationship with God is different, but people somehow think that I also need to speak for all that falls under Islam.
Muslims get a lot of questions about the ugly interpretations of Islam in Middle Eastern countries and among terrorist groups, which are, to some extent, impossible to answer for. And when we don’t have an answer, that’s the cue for Western media to paint us all as people who support these interpretations.
A good portion of the decisions that separate us as Muslims are empowering to us because they are decisions made by us as individuals, which really proves our faith and what we stand for more than if we were to do the same things under force. The act of chopping off your hair isn’t necessarily liberating in itself, but the choice is, and some people feel most comfortable without hair. No one would say the same for someone who was forced to chop their hair off. The same could be said for the choice of wearing a hijab, which obviously no one would call liberating when speaking about women whose only choice is between covering head-to-toe or facing extreme persecution and abuse.
The “spectrum” of a person’s Islam should be measured by how much they choose to follow the Quran and the word of God (which starts off with being a human being, surprisingly). Anyone who shares a similar Islamic experience with me (and whoever has read the basic Surah Al-Kafirun) can agree that it’s better to live and let live than to kill anyone who doesn’t agree with you.
In short, people really should start to give Muslims the benefit of the doubt. There are a lot of questionable ideas and rumors out there on how to interpret Islam. But if you think about it, would a normal person like you be okay with these attacks or this violence towards women? Is it possible that nearly two billion people around the would all be brainwashed into thinking the same misguided, brutal thoughts?
Give us the benefit of the doubt that if your answer is no, then it’s not representative of Muslims. Islam really isn’t designed to screw anyone over or coerce Muslims into blindly loving persecution.
Muslims really do know how to think for ourselves. We know automatically that we’re nothing like those who take things too far. We shouldn’t even be measured on the same spectrum.
Subaita writes the Monday column on Muslim identity. Contact her at [email protected].