By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
Not to know is bad, not to wish to know is worse.
WHY STUDY ISLAM?
Different people will want to study Islam for different reasons. There are those looking for a spiritual path, an explanation of the world, or looking to do a better job as journalists and writers, as bosses and HR managers, or as neighbors.
Straightforward curiosity is okay, too.
Throughout my journey of independent study, I’d assumed that we could arrive at faith through thinking, reasoning, and processing data just as I do as a programmer/analyst. I read hundreds of books, yet as a holistic researcher, I came at more questions than answers. I couldn’t figure out why my research wasn’t reconciling with itself.
I finally came to understand that the first step to understanding faith is first to be sincere and true, and not to analyze and debate. Reasoning and analysis have their place, but they are tools for the sincere and true and not an end. Faith is not a list of facts or data but an understanding that grows the more an individual calls him or herself to account. It is sincere, is true, and is willing to repent and repair the harm. After all, no individual or group is immune from doing evil.
Many people are familiar with the laws of Islam without knowing the religion’s spiritual core. Although I too have wanted to hold on to the particularities of laws, I believe it is essential to first understand the spiritual dimension to truly begin to understand Islam. I encourage people who are interested to study and seek knowledge on Islam and their fears and concerns will be clarified, layer by layer, over time.
FOR JOURNALISTS: BASIC GUIDES
Communique Partners LLC: The Journalist’s Guide to Islam and Muslims
This twenty-four page reference guide was developed for journalists, by journalists. Although it was published in 2005, and many of its resources will be outdated, it has good, basic information.
Religion Link: Islam: A guide to U.S. experts and organizations.
This resource guide has a few basics, but, more importantly, a strong and diverse list of Muslim sources around the country.
FOR JOURNALISTS: SUGGESTIONS FROM THE SOCIETY FOR PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS
The Society of Professional Journalists has a number of suggestions for creating balanced coverage of Muslim communities, and not only in times of distress. These guidelines were settled upon in 2001 but are still relevant:
“—Seek out and include Arabs and Arab Americans, Muslims, South Asians and men and women of Middle Eastern descent in all stories about the war, not just those about Arab and Muslim communities or racial profiling.
“— Cover the victims of harassment, murder and other hate crimes as thoroughly as you cover the victims of overt terrorist attacks.
“— Make an extra effort to include olive-complexioned and darker men and women, Sikhs, Muslims and devout religious people of all types in arts, business, society columns and all other news and feature coverage, not just stories about the crisis.
“— Seek out experts on military strategies, public safety, diplomacy, economics and other pertinent topics who run the spectrum of race, class, gender and geography.
“— When writing about terrorism, remember to include white supremacist, radical anti-abortionist and other groups with a history of such activity.
“— Do not imply that kneeling on the floor praying, listening to Arabic music or reciting from the Quran are peculiar activities.
“— When describing Islam, keep in mind there are large populations of Muslims around the world, including in Africa, Asia, Canada, Europe, India and the United States. Distinguish between various Muslim states; do not lump them together as in constructions such as “the fury of the Muslim world.”
“— Avoid using word combinations such as “Islamic terrorist” or “Muslim extremist” that are misleading because they link whole religions to criminal activity. Be specific: Alternate choices, depending on context, include “Al Qaeda terrorists” or, to describe the broad range of groups involved in Islamic politics, “political Islamists.” Do not use religious characterizations as shorthand when geographic, political, socioeconomic or other distinctions might be more accurate.
“— Avoid using terms such as “jihad” unless you are certain of their precise meaning and include the context when they are used in quotations. The basic meaning of “jihad” is to exert oneself for the good of Islam and to better oneself.
“— Consult the Library of Congress guide for transliteration of Arabic names and Muslim or Arab words to the Roman alphabet. Use spellings preferred by the American Muslim Council, including “Muhammad,” “Quran,” and “Makkah ,” not “Mecca.”
“— Regularly seek out a variety of perspectives for your opinion pieces. Check your coverage against the five Maynard Institute for Journalism Education fault lines of race and ethnicity, class, geography, gender and generation.
“— Ask men and women from within targeted communities to review your coverage and make suggestions.”
FOR EVERYONE: ARE THERE MUSLIM VOICES AGAINST EXTREMISM AND TERRORISM?
First, a little humor:
For a serious answer to the question, visit The American Muslim.
In 2001, the American Muslim began a project compiling Muslims voices that condemn terrorism and extremism and it has since expanded into a relatively comprehensive resource. It has received positive mention in the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University’s recently released report on internet-facilitated radicalization entitled: ”NETworked Radicalization: A Counter-Strategy”.
FOR EVERYONE: IS COEXISTENCE FEASIBLE?
Again, a little humor:
More seriously, Dr. Jamal Badawi, an expert on interfaith relations, explained that Islam does not divide the world into believers and infidels. God addresses people, “O mankind,” over 200 times in the Qur’an and “O children of Adam,” many times. The term for Jews and Christians is not “infidel” but “Ahlil Kitab,” or People of the Book. Badawi elaborated on coexistence by explaining that the inclusive address “O mankind,” is an address by the Divine that embraces all.
Finally, Badawi touched upon the word “jihad,” which means struggle, but is often mistranslated as “holy war.” Jihad has many forms, from the spiritual struggle against the self to the physical struggle against aggressors, whether Muslims or non-Muslims.
Badawi emphasized, “This [physical struggle against aggressors] is not a holy war. It is the lesser of two evils. There is nothing holy about destruction, killing or suffering.”
FOR EMPLOYERS AND HR MANAGERS: MUSLIMS IN THE WORKPLACE
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), does trainings for employers. You can contact the Minnesota chapter to request a training here.
And again, on a lighter-hearted note:
FOR EVERYONE: READ THE QUR’AN
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 a deeper understanding of the faith.
For those in Minnesota, the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, an educational and outreach organization, offers free presentations on Islam and Muslims. Please visit their website and consider inviting a speaker to your group.
FOR JOURNALISTS: FINDING THE RIGHT SOURCES
When sources and experts are biased or have a self-interest, chances are numbers and arguments are being used to manipulate instead of educate the audience. This is not within the interest of our nation. Profiling, misrepresenting and alienating an entire community does not help combat terrorism.
As we work together to protect our country, we must be vigilant and firm in the face of arguments or “expertise” embedded with fear mongering and bias. We must do the job well and right and rely on credible sources and factual information. We must not readily accept whoever speaks on the matter without sound investigation. When sources and experts prove to be questionable, we must be accountable and responsible and seek out more reliable information, sources, and experts.
Finally, we must realize the importance of understanding Islam and Muslims to ensure that our policies and solutions for security are within the spirit of justice and peace, not revenge and hatred.
Let’s call for raising the level of discourse we have about faith in the public sphere.