By Hani Hamdan, Engage Minnesota.
Here’s a question: if you’re given the choice of either living in fear (and having your fear be a money maker for politicians and pundits) or feeling safe, which would you choose?
To me, the answer is obvious. The good thing is that there is a simple way to free yourself of fear.
It’s no news that there’s a lot of suspicion in this country toward Muslims in general. However, one important fact is that few people have actually interacted with a Muslim person. Isolation and bias usually go hand in hand. The key to breaking your fear is to get to know Muslims. Personally.
If you think about it, the other way most people have been handling anxiety actually makes no sense. Right now, most people are content with listening to other fearful people and listening to fear mongers in certain media outlets. I hope that, by now, we have overcome the delusion that media and politicians want anything more than profits and power, and make no mistake: your fear is big business to them, and they will ruthlessly use it to attain power.
It concerns me that people have very scarce first hand knowledge about Muslims, because personal interaction is one of the very few methods available to Muslims to combat anti-Muslim sentiments. Muslims largely lack access and proper representation in mainstream media, therefore they are mostly talked about without much chance to share their views.
As a Muslim, I want you to know for yourself what we learn at our mosques. I want you to know what we believe. One prominent characteristic of Islam is simplicity and openness, and you owe it to yourself if you want to be fear free to learn first hand what we listen to, how we think, and what we believe – not from pundits who cherry pick what they present to you for their own agendas, but from your own eyes and ears.
You’ll hear people calling in to radio shows complaining about their “bad experiences” with Muslims. Self appointed pundits among your friends and relatives will use (read: ruin) dinner conversations to impose their opinions and encounters on your mind. However, this is your life. Making your own impressions is crucial for your comfort and well being, especially in a time when Muslims are more and more visible in public life. You simply should not subject yourself to several pokes of anxiety every day whenever you see a Muslim – it’s no way to live.
If only people would go through the trouble of inviting themselves into our homes and mosques, most of the current climate of hatred would have no reason to exist. Many mosques have their Friday sermons either given in English or provide live translation to English. Feel free to pop in and have a listen! Don’t forget download a free translation of the Qur’an as well.
Here are a few points that I think you should remember on your path to becoming fear free:
Most Muslims love answering questions. I doubt that you will find many Muslims who feel that talking about their faith is intrusive or inappropriate. If you have a question in mind, most probably your Muslim acquaintance is waiting for you to ask. Even a random Muslim on a bus will likely be welcoming of your questions.
Most Muslims love having people over for dinner. I know this from my own disposition and from most Muslims I know: we love having people, especially new friends, over for food. This is perhaps a universal trait, but it is especially true of Muslims, many of whom come from cultures where hospitality is celebrated and encouraged. Do not think you’re being imposing by telling your Muslim neighbor that you’d like to visit! Besides, who in their right mind would forego the chance to have great ethnic food?
Many Muslims come from cosmopolitan, multi-religious countries. Generally speaking, Muslim immigrants are very well versed about other religions. Expect them to know a lot more about your religion than you do about theirs. For many Muslims, tolerance has been a way of life for centuries because, historically, Muslim-majority lands were inclusive and protective of other cultures and religions. You might be surprised to find that Muslims are actually more accepting than many non-Muslims, which brings me to my next point:
Religiosity to Muslims is not dogma. Many non Muslims see devoutness as a sign of extremism based mostly on projecting their experience from devout people in their own religions. Therefore, when they see Muslims adhering to praying 5 times a day, for example, it makes them uneasy. To Muslims, devoutness and rigidity are often unrelated. For example, it has been shown and discussed by several authorities that most Muslim perpetrators of terrorist attacks do not lead observant lives. Muslim scholars have nuanced, varying opinions on issues such as abortion, evolution, and gender reassignment, without such views affecting their devoutness. Also, no Islamic authority that I’ve heard of sees a disagreement between Islamic lifestyle and dedication to scientific research or careers in areas such as healthcare or technology.
Ultimately, Muslims are more afraid than you are. And they should be. You might be on the lookout for “Muslim terrorists” when you’re boarding a plane, but when I’m about to board a plane, I’m looking out for everyone. Remember that Muslims make by far the largest number of victims of extremist Muslims. Add to that the passenger who’s going to suspect me of being a Muslim terrorist, and the much higher chance to die from gun violence than by a terrorist attack.. You get the picture.
Your Muslim neighbor is more likely to have a relative who is a victim of terrorism than you are. All of that is not to say that he/she is too afraid to befriend you, but it helps to put things in their correct perspective.
Don’t get me wrong – you will not agree with your Muslim friends on everything. Islam shares much of the basics with other religions: believing in a higher power, being kind to people, having good manners,.. etc, but there will be differences in cultural norms, lifestyle, and points of view. There will be the awkward moments that come with language differences. However, I can assure you that, after a few interactions, you will find no reason to feel unsafe from Muslims.
The choice is yours: you can choose to rely on the media and politicians to make you live in perpetual terror because it serves their interests, or you can choose to free yourself of fear by relying on your own first hand experience of Muslims.