Unyielding to Fear: Islamophobia

Unyielding to Fear: Islamophobia

The Voices from Cincinnati Community Leaders Speak out on Islamophobia

by Judie Kuhlman

Fear is something that we do not like to talk about publically or even privately.  Howard Thurman, author, educator, theologian and civil rights activist, states that we have a “reluctance to examine hatred” and it is a subject of “taboo unless there is an extraordinary social crisis.”  There is nothing new about fear – “it is doubtless as old as the life of man on the planet.”  We find fear in many different forms.  It is up to our community to confront it and find solutions.   What Howard Thurman found was that “faith and awareness can overcome fear and transform it in to the power to strive, to achieve and not to yield.”[1]

On Wednesday April 13th The National Underground Freedom Center hosted From Fear to Freedom: Confronting Islamophobia.  “Islamophobia is an exaggerated fear, hatred and hostility towards Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination and marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civil life.”  This event included a panel of scholars and religious leaders who wish to transform our fears into something that can build up our community.  This panel included Dr. Amina Darwish of University of Cincinnati, Dr. Anas B. Malik of Xavier University, Dr. Baher Foad of Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, Imam Ilyas Nashid of Cincinnati Islamic Center and was moderated by Dr. James Buchanan of Xavier University.  Each guest had a unique contribution and the following comments were collected and summarized:

Dr. Anas Malik:  It (Islamophobia) seems to be a far reaching bigotry that does not seem to match the spirit of our times and what we aspire our times to be… We risk making the clash of civilizations between Muslims and the West a reality, or the clash of modernity and tradition etc. We risk polarizing the world.  We need to look deeper into the other complexities that are going on in our world.  It is worrisome in a democratic culture when engagement and forums are on the decline.  We need key teachers, better public forums and public deliberations to reach a better understanding.  It requires civil society’s engagement, and good citizenship.   We learn through encounters with one another.  Dr. Malik calls us to an important document called A Common Word between Us and You.  This document is an important step in dialogue between Muslims and Christians. It addresses the commonalities to the love of God and the love of neighbor.  This document calls for collective problem solving with one another.

Dr. Amina Darwish:  Of the Muslim school children, 52% have been bullied in some way.  Bullying creates depression, anxiety and so many other things.  Many problems that kids face have to deal with their identity.  They have to question does my society accept me?   I tell them that there are more people that are good than are bad.  You are just as American as everyone else.  Dr. Darwish tells of a story of when the Prophet Muhammad had to flee because of being threatened.   When they arrived in a new city to a new culture, his followers were having culture shock and they asked what do we do? He said ‘Spread Peace, Feed Food (not just to the poor but to everyone), Pray during the night.’   It takes strength to sit across the table from someone that is a total stranger that you have nothing in common with.  But, I will sit across from someone that I have nothing in common with.  I will bow to your humanity more than anything else because that is what matters at the end of the day… and that is what is means to be American and that is what is means to be Muslim.

Imam Ilyas Nashid:  To be a Muslim, means to make the conscious and willing commitment to conform your life and conform to the behavioral patterns of the Prophet Muhammad.  You cannot selectively decide what in the Quran you are going to follow or not follow based on what serves your best interest.  When we hear terms like radical, it means to go to extremes. Whenever you go to extremes you have expelled yourself from the religion.  Terrorism, the acts of killing innocent men and women and children are things the Prophet spoke about that we should never do.  It would be embarrassment and shameful especially on our intelligence if we would attach such extreme terrorist behaviors into the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Because we know that those evil acts have nothing to do with Jesus Christ.  We know what Jesus taught.  To attach offensive terms to the religion of Islam, it is offensive to the religion itself and offensive to those practicing it.  In reality, radicalism, terrorism, extremism represents the antithesis of what the Islam is and its nature to serve mankind.  Let’s bring this discussion to an end. Those that practice terrorism are, simply, Terrorists.

Dr. Baher Foad:  Islam is a religion of peace and not of violence.  The Quran states, ”If a person kills one soul it is considered as if he is killing all of mankind.  If one saves a soul it is considered as if her has saved all of mankind.”  We should work together to improve life in community through cooperation in virtue and righteousness.  Muslims are forbidden in the Quran to force non-Muslims to Islam as their way.  From the Quran, before faith can settle in your heart and take hold of your heart, it must be based on knowledge and proper understanding.   Then faith that is solid takes over your heart, then a submission to God such that you are living your life in a good way. The principles of the American constitution are also in the Quran.  The principles of freedom, justice, accountability, pursuit of happiness are all embodied in the Quran more than 1400 years ago.

In order deal with the fears that permeate our society we must be willing to dialogue.  Extremism has plagued many religions and now Islam has to deal with it. From the guest panel there are many solutions.  We must connect on a human level.  We do this through social engagement, working together and meeting those who are different.  We have diversity in our society and we must appreciate it.  To return to Howard Thurman, “there is something in life that always insists upon an inter-awareness, a felt experienced unity.  Life is against all dualism.   All dichotomies, all dualisms are exhausted in unity.  I am stripped to whatever is literal in me in the presence of God.  I know that in my mind that no categories of classification of faith, of belief, none of the categories, have a standing in the presence of this transcendent experience.  Whether I am black, white, Presbyterian Baptist, Buddhist, Hindu Muslim, all these categories which we relate to, each other fade away because in His presence I am a part of Him being revealed to Him.  And anything that I do those blocks that, from my point of view, is a sin because it is against God and against life.  When this can be awakened, then a door between us is open that that no man can shut.  The only ultimate refuge, in this world, is in another man’s heart, so my heart must be a swinging door.”[2]

[1] Thurman, Howard. Jesus and the Disinherited

[2] Thurman, Howard. Interview with Landrum Bolling