Ghuroor, Muslim Women, and Shutting Down Grief

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

Now is a moment when people can respond like the Muslims of New Zealand, and allow everyone to grieve these losses together, as this was a terror attack against all our fellow human beings. Or else it’s a chance to treat all Muslims worldwide as guilty, and to hold us all responsible for these horrific killings.

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When most people talk about American Muslims and the chilling events that took place in New York City, Washington, D.C., and in planes above the US on September 11, 2001, they’re looking at it through one lens: Did American Muslims condemn those attacks? Or did they not condemn the attacks?

Most recently, public figures posed this question in a different way about Rep. Ilhan Omar: is she reverent enough about what happened on 9/11, or is she insufficiently reverent?

For anyone who has met Rep. Omar, the ways in which she is being portrayed in the US media—as an angry, attacking firebrand—must be surprising. I have met Rep. Ilhan Omar several times. She is a petite woman and a calm public speaker who is not at all intimidating. She is good-natured, always smiling, dignified, and approachable. She frequently talks about how she thanks God that she came to the US, and that she recognizes the opportunities it has opened up for herself and her children. She has worked diligently within the system in order to improve things for Americans.

And yet public discourse has repeatedly looked down on Rep. Omar, who because of her hijab is the most visibly Muslim woman in the US Congress. It has painted her as an angry, hateful outsider who is attacking America.

But staying silent isn’t an option either. Ghazala Khan—the mother of US Army Captain Humayan Khan, who was killed in 2004 in the Iraq War—is another visibly Muslim woman who took the public stage at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Ghazala, who was a mother, a community volunteer, and worked in a fabric store, was derided by Donald Trump as a silent Muslim woman, unable to speak, oppressed and in need of liberation.

The denial of grief

When people look down on Muslim women, they often do so with ghuroor, or a feeling of moral superiority, “I am better than you.”  This is the same moral superiority that Satan felt toward Adam, and Satan could accept Adam only if Adam agreed that Satan was his better. Satan wanted Adam silenced—the only voice those who practice ghuroor want from others is the voice of gratitude and veneration. Pharaoh could accept those who said he was great, but not those who also wanted their rights.

When we look at the stories both of Rep. Omar and of Ghazala Khan, we certainly see ghuroor. We see them painted as either “irrationally angry Muslim woman” or “silent Muslim woman in need of a savior.” We see people questioning whether Omar sufficiently condemned the 9/11 attacks, whether she was reverent enough in speaking about them. What we don’t see is an understanding of their grief.

What we fail to see—when we look only at the lens of whether Muslims condemned or didn’t condemn terrorist attacks—is that 9/11 impacted everyone across the U.S. and Muslims were also robbed of their feeling of security, they were also victims in the attacks, they also grieved for their neighbors and country. But their ability to grieve has often been snatched from them.

This needn’t be so.

A whole nation can be allowed to grieve together. The recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand targeted Muslims. And yet the Muslims of New Zealand did not blame all Christians for the attacks, and they welcomed other New Zealanders to express and process grief alongside them. They acknowledged and recognized their fellow New Zealanders and shared their grief communally.

Muslim leaders have condemned the Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka, which took the lives of at least 290 people and injured several hundred more. Muslims have condemned these attacks, which apparently were carried out by a local Sri Lanka militant group, as the Prime Minister of New Zealand condemned the attacks in Christchurch.

Now is a moment when people can respond like the Muslims of New Zealand, and allow everyone to grieve these losses together, as this was a terror attack against all our fellow human beings. Or else it’s a chance to treat all Muslims worldwide as guilty, and to hold us all responsible for these horrific killings.

A group in Sri Lanka calling itself “Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaat,” which is not to be confused with a big mainstream organization of the same name in India, is believed to be responsible for the Easter Sunday terror attacks at international hotels and Christian churches. These attacks are against our fellow human beings. The vast majority of Muslims not only condemn such attacks, but have everything to lose from such terror and violence.  An article by Islam scholar Juan Cole has already responded to these attacks in an article titled, “’The Nearest in Love’: On how the Sri Lankan Death Cult Betrayed the Islamic Values of the Qur’an.” As the article mentions:

The Prophet Muhammad (c. 567-632) had good relations with most of the Christians he knew, and I think he supported the Roman Christians against their adversaries, the Zoroastrian Iranians. The Table 5:82 says of the early Muslims, “you will find that the nearest to them in love are those who say ‘We are Christians.’ That is because they have among them priests and monks, and they are not haughty.”

Will Muslims be welcomed as fellow human beings and allowed to grieve alongside their Christian brothers and sisters in humanity this horrible tragedy? Or will we be treated as outsiders? It is critically important that we all nurture each other during times of mass public loss, and that we grieve not as those who belong to different religions or nationalities, but together as fellow human beings.

When we rob people of their right to grieve a disaster either public or private—as Ilhan Omar and Ghazala Khan have both been robbed—then you’re also robbing them of a part of their humanity. Ghazala Khan said she didn’t speak at the 2016 Democratic Convention, and stood silently on stage, because she was overwhelmed by grief for her lost son. Rep. Ilhan Omar was among the co-sponsors of a bill to re-authorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. She moved to the US at age 11 and became a citizen of the US at age 17. She was just 18 during the 9/11 attacks.

This is not only true of Muslim women, of course. Recently, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha testified before US Congress about the Islamophobically motivated assassination of his two daughters and son-in-law. His daughters Razan and Yusor were fatally shot along with Yusor’s husband Deah Barakat, in February 2015. But instead of being allowed the space to grieve as he told his story, he was pushed to explain and defend Islam.

Manufacturing evidence

Part of ghuroor is when a group looks for every possible shred of evidence to support their claim to moral superiority. Every instance where Muslims have committed violence, every tweet, and every word is combed over and framed as evidence that Muslim women are morally inferior beings. In this context, any list of Muslim women’s accomplishments can be easily brushed aside.

This doesn’t affect only Rep. Omar, but Muslim children across the US. My own daughter, for instance, was called a “terrorist” at school. When the Oklahoma Bombing first happened, the Justice Department initially sought a “Middle Eastern” suspect.

For too long, Muslims have been pressured to feel guilty about the horrific attacks that happened on September 11, 2001, as well as other attacks that have been perpetrated by Muslims around the world. We have been asked to explain and apologize for a crime that took us by surprise just as it did our friends and neighbors.

What gets lost in all this is Muslims’ grief about 9/11 and other attacks. We, too, need to work through our sorrow, our fear, and our sense of loss.

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons form the Prophets.

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US.  She is a public speaker and writer and lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

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Posted on April 23, 2019, in Engage Minnesota, Fedwa Wazwaz and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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