Raza Habib Raja
Right now the global spotlight is on extremist Muslims due to a string of incidences from Paris to Belgium. Due to these barbaric acts perpetuated by these extremists, Muslims in general are also facing a lot of backlash, some of which is excessive. However, whereas we as Muslims are correct to complain that it is unfair to bracket ordinary Muslims with the extremists, but at the same time we need to understand that our negative reputation is not merely due to fringe organizations like ISIS but also due to our behavior in general. I am not trying to equate extremist organizations like ISIS with normal and moderate Muslims here but pointing that there are issues (though of different sort) with the latter also.
We have to realize that the world is judging our religion and us not by what is contained in the religious scripture but by the way we behave in all matters concerning religion. I am not justifying outright xenophobia and racism here, but indicating that we also share the responsibility of our bad reputation in the world due to our actions. There are problems in many areas and being defensive and in denial is not going to help us.
For example, it is true that moderate Muslims are not indulging in terrorism. But at the same time, I have seen many of us either attribute terrorism to nonsensical conspiracy theories or give apologetic defense. When many of us do that then we should not expect the world to consider Islam as a religion of peace, because it simply won’t. It is hard to imagine the world doing so when some of the so called ‘moderate” Muslims fail to condemn extremist acts, give apologetic defense to terrorism or weave nonsensical conspiracy theories to shift the blame.This kind of behavior is deeply problematic as it hinders introspection, gives the extremists soft support and allows them to thrive.
I have also witnessed some cheering those who have killed others in the name of blasphemy. It is also true that many Muslims also support state-sanctioned harsh punishments for people accused of blasphemy as well as apostasy. In fact several Muslim countries have harsh laws outlawing both. Often our rationale is that blasphemy is deeply offensive and apostasy is a sin, therefore state sanctioned capital punishment or even murder is justified. Supporting the death penalty for those accused of blasphemy or apostasy or cheering murderers who kill the accused and yet expecting that world will have a good opinion about us is downright nonsensical.
Since we find blasphemy deeply offensive, then we should remember that real blasphemy with respect to our prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is caused by those who kill in his name and also by those who celebrate such killings. If blasphemy means disrespect to the name of the prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) then we should use our common sense and understand that harsh punishments and violence in his name are actually maligning his name.
We have to realize that punishments for blasphemy and apostasy, do not belong to the modern world. In fact some Islamic Scholars have stated thatthey do not even belong to Islam. If we insist on having them, then we should not complain that the world has a negative perception about us and our religion.
Likewise, many of us react violently whenever our religious ideals and symbols are satirized. What we do not realize, however, is that West is no longer trapped in medieval times and has moved forward. It is common in their culture to criticize as well as satirize religion and they often subject their own religion to it. This is why showing violent reaction to cartoons is not going to be acceptable to them as they rightly perceive it as a threat to their freedom of expression. The more we react violently or endorse violence or even show lack of remorse or condemnation when there is an excessive reaction, the more world will judge Islam negatively. The more some of us threaten free speech, the more the media will indulge in such speech in order to protect its rights and freedom.
Another huge and in fact perhaps the biggest issue is the treatment of women. No matter what spin I give, the fact is that in most Muslim countries women are treated as second-class citizens. In the Gender Gap Index, which ranks countries with respect to gender parity, Muslim countries are right at the bottom. Out of 142 countries which have been ranked in 2014, 27 Muslim countries are placed from 90 to 142 and these include so called “liberal” countries like Turkey (127) and Indonesia (97).
The assertion by Reza Aslan that in Indonesia and Turkey, women have full rightsbecomes laughable when subjected to empirical evaluation. There is only one Muslim country in the top 50, which is Kazakhstan and I am sure this is because of its communist legacy! And yes, my own country Pakistan ranks at a shameful 141st position with only Yemen, another Islamic country, below it. Moreover, the legal code in many Muslim countries is pitted against women and supportive of the patriarchal structure. Why should we expect the world to consider Islam as an equitable religion in the light of all the above facts?
Another issue is the condition of minorities. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its latest report highlighted 27 countries for particularly vicious treatment of religious minorities of which 11 are strong Muslim-majority states. If minorities living in Muslim majority countries often live in fear and if the advent of democracy in Muslim countries, like Egypt, ended up actually endangering the lives and properties of non-Muslims, then we should not expect the world to consider Islam as a tolerant religion. Eventually the benchmark of tolerance is the way minorities are treated.
Now we can try to deflect the realities and find excuses and call those Muslims who point out our problems as “sellouts” or “panderers of the West” but will it change the situation? Eventually we have to indulge in deep and honest introspection and understand that there is some basis behind the global negative opinion about us. Being in denial and constantly complaining about xenophobia is not going to take us anywhere. Yes, no doubt xenophobia exists, but our own actions also need correction.