By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
I advocate for a holistic approach toward life. By holistic, I mean that when we talk about everything from medicine to education, we include a view of all aspects of ourselves as people, including our spiritual selves. If we engage only one layer and neglect or encourage people to divorce other parts of who they are – we don’t allow for people to fully express themselves, which leads to all kinds of social ills and hardships in our communities.
Honest discussions on faith allow us to holistically challenge the voices of extremism that flourish in the internet. This is also an important step if we are going to build a strong foundation for coexistence.
If faith remains a topic that can be shut down and treated superficially without understanding nuances and without being engaged with respectfully, then accusations against it cannot be countered in a meaningful way. I grew by the many mistakes I made online and in person communicating what I truly felt. Through this dialog, I was challenged many, many times to search aspects of my faith, that had had it remained unchallenged in a meaningful way, I would have never come to a greater understanding of some, and shed other views that I now feel were very much in error.
Quite a few accuse Muslims and Islam of trying to take over America….that Muslims say one thing but secretly are planning another. People who have a hatred and fear of Islam (such as Dutch MP Geert Wilders) are asked to brief our elected representatives in Congress in closed hearings and forums. Muslims cannot engage in a debate that is framed in a way that limits their ability to respond and their ability to engage in meaningful dialogue beyond polemics.
In many of these meetings, there is either no Muslim present or somebody who is not representative of mainstream Islam, is asked to talk on behalf of Muslims.
That Muslims have a fair opportunity to engage in the affairs of the country, as every rightful citizen should, is seen as a threat. The suggestion that the Muslims would take over the US, as if the country is some small island nation, is ludicrous. It also denies the fact that Muslims are, and since the 1800s have been, an integral part of the social fabric of our nation. However, as a Muslim, I question how is it that I and my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters can alleviate these suspicions and concerns while finding space to practice our faith openly without being seen as a threat.
Seeking the truth about what a faith teaches is not threatened by respectful, honest, and meaningful dialogue.
What’s unsettling is that the level of intolerance that is acceptable to the public seems to be rising. For example, once, while I was giving a presentation to social workers in Duluth about Interacting Effectively with Muslims, one person yelled to the crowd that I was brainwashing the audience. If Muslims are using brainwashing techniques, then I challenge people to put our “brainwashing” to the test. Find out why we are saying what we are saying. Engage Muslims openly and honestly in the public square and present your findings in a platform that allows Muslims to respond fairly and alleviate these concerns.
If you believe Islam is Satanic, find out what elements cause you to believe that and find reliable sources that can help you understand a Muslim perspective.
Truth cannot manifest itself in polemical and superficial debates that are disrespectful in nature where fear mongers and hatemongers mate, breed and aid each other. These arguments need to be sorted out in a respectful and civil manner in the public square and given the platform to face the criticism and accusations against it.
Taken from the “Practical Guide to Critical Thinking,” by Greg R. Haskins, let us use the following questions when reading articles on Islam:
1. Is there any ambiguity, vagueness, or obscurity that hinders my full understanding of the argument?
2. Is the language excessively emotional or manipulative?
3. Have I separated the reasoning (evidence) and relevant assumptions/facts from background information, examples, and irrelevant information?
4. Have I determined which assumptions are warranted versus unwarranted?
5. Can I list the reasons (evidence) for the argument and any sub-arguments?
6. Have I evaluated the truth, relevance, fairness, completeness, significance, and sufficiency of the reasons (evidence) to support the conclusion?
7. Do I need further information to make a reasonable judgment on the argument, because of omissions or other reasons?
In an effort to offer educational resources toward such a platform, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) launched an Explore the Quran campaign in which tens of thousands of Americans of all faiths request and receive free copies of the Quran. This is not a proselytizing effort, but an educational one intended to clarify misconceptions and alleviate concerns and fears. This is an example of one resource that people, who have very real concerns about the Qur’an’s message, can use to seek deeper understanding for the sake of understanding and not partaking in hateful polemical discussion for the sake of hate. Let’s call for raising the level of discourse we have about faith in the public sphere.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. Currently, she lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.