BUILDING BRIDGES WITH THE NON-MUSLIM COMMUNITIES -PART 1
The power of one individual
We are privileged nowadays to have information at our fingertips, to be literate, and be able to access knowledge from multiple sources. In the past, news and other events were only broadcast to a certain audience, and the dissemination of that knowledge only reached a small portion of the community.
Today, we have the means and tools to verify information, and to be the real seekers of knowledge.
What is the role in my life when it comes to knowledge? How can I be successful to myself, family and surroundings? From an Islamic perspective, before we talk or do anything, we have to consider the wisdom of that intended act. Is there benefit, harm or any side effects to others?
The Prophet (SAW) asked us not to cause harm to each other. Certain principles, such as the rights of neighbours and the manner of Muslims with each other are enshrined in Islamic teachings.
Are we the true ambassadors of Islam who carry the right message of Islam? Are we behaving responsibly with the right wisdom, manner and conduct befitting an ambassador of Islam?
People are continuously watching us and analysing our behaviour, actions and reactions. Our behaviour will, for better or worse, provoke comments and conclusions on the behaviour of the Muslims.
How many people claim to be Muslim but are ignorant of their own faith? Similarly, how many claim to be Christian but do not know the substance of their scriptures? Ask this question to the followers of the other religions – Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism and so on. The majority of us, whether Muslim or not, are all busy with the material life, and we identify ourselves with certain faiths even though we do not know what that faith stands for.
As Muslims, do we really know our own faith and what Islam is about? Have we ever taken the effort to study and research our own religion? Have we ever studied other religions to understand them better so that we can communicate with those of other faiths in a constructive way?
In the wake of September 11 in the United States, many Muslims were reviled. I was in a Laundromat when a non-Muslim, a total stranger, called me a devil and a hypocrite. I asked him what I had done to him, and he replied that all Muslims are the same. I asked how I was responsible for what had happened, but he was too upset to have a rational discussion.
During that time, the community was hostile and my neighbours would set his dogs on me, simply because they hated Muslims. They did not single me out personally, but this appalling treatment of Muslims in general in the aftermath of September 11 affected all Muslims living in the United States.
During these troubling times, I happened to enter a mall in New York. A middle-aged man in a business suit, held the door open for me in the most polite and respectful manner. I was surprised. I was a Muslim, detested by the majority, so why was the other man so gracious? The gentleman, almost in tears, recalled that when his wife was expecting their third child, with two young children to take care of, he was called away by his company to be stationed abroad. He had to leave immediately, and it was many months before his assignment was completed and he was reunited with his family.
During this time, his wife delivered. He was very concerned about her having to cope by herself. It turned out that during his time away, their Muslim neighbours were constantly helping her out. They helped to take care of the children, mowed the lawn, cooked for her daily and even tended to the housework every single day. The man cried, recalling the kindness of his neighbours, saying that he loved Muslims and had a high level of respect for them. Their Muslim neighbours had taken care of the family better than anyone else he knew.
On the flip side, I met someone who asked if I was a Muslim. When I said yes, he spat on the floor in rage and said that he hated Muslims. The reason was that he had an awful neighbour who was causing harm to him and the surroundings.
So one Muslim was an ambassador of kindness and spread goodness, and the other one who was called a Muslim, was an ambassador of evil – cheating, stealing, lying and performing all forms of trouble.
We can see the impact of a single person’s actions. Who do we blame for our ummah being viewed with distrust? There are many narrations about caring for our neighbours, to the extent that we are not considered to be believers until our neighbours are protected from our own bad behaviour.
Today, mankind is on the brink of a very dangerous low. We are rushing headlong into confrontation, but is this wise? Can we claim to be people of knowledge and civilisation when none of our behaviour reflects this?
I was once taking a walk in a peaceful town in one of the Scandinavian countries, admiring the view and serenity of the fjord. Suddenly, there was loud music blasting from a car. In it was a Middle Eastern man, driving with his windows down, and drinking from an alcohol bottle, and beside him was his hijabi wife. The car screeched to a halt and the driver threw the bottle out of the window into the street, and then drove away. They did not care that everyone was glaring at them for their offensive behaviour. If I, as a Muslim, found their lack of consideration a disgrace to Islam, what more the opinion of the non Muslims who had limited glimpses of Muslims? It is human nature to stereotype and generalize, so can the onlookers be blamed if they form a negative view of Islam based on this single event?
While travelling in the United States one day, the sheriff of the town asked if I was the imam of the town. He explained that he was looking for an imam because the local prison was overflowing with Muslim delinquents, and he was looking from a figure of authority who could protect the youth and advise them from going astray.
In many countries where there is a migrant Muslim community, the teenagers and young adults are involved in drugs, gang fights and petty thefts. Are these the habits that their culture should be proud of displaying?
What of our duties in this aspect? As Muslims, aren’t we the ambassadors of Islam, the ones assigned by Allah to be the khalifah on the earth? Aren’t we the believers that Rasulullah SAW is talking about? Aren’t we the ones who are the bearers of knowledge, manner, wisdom and integrity? Aren’t we the role models and seekers of knowledge? Or are we?
If anyone asked if you would be comfortable to discuss, explain and debate your faith with him, would you have enough knowledge about Islam to hold a civil and mature discussion without getting hostile or angry? We tend to look down on the non Muslims, calling them kaffir even when we don’t understand what the word means, condemning them to hell and even considering them as filth – where in Islam are all these behaviours taught?