The following was submitted in response to an OpEd piece in Episcopal Café to which I took exception. It was published July 22, 2017.
To The Editor:
I don’t know how many Muslims other than myself are daily visitors to Episcopal Café but I find the way you curate challenging issues inspiring and a model for other communities – including my own. That’s why I was disappointed to read, in this forum, a poorly referenced and biased commentary referencing Islamophobia and Shari’ah Law(sic).
First, It’s important to understand that Islamophobia is a concept that initially appeared in the early 20th century, in French, in a slightly different context. It appeared as a full-throated definition, in 1985, in its current meaning, in the work of Columbia University scholar and critic Edward Said (author of Orientalism) and has been used, since that time, to mean a “dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, (the) fear and dislike of all Muslims,” a definition posited by the British Runnymede Trust, which in 1997 published “Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All.”
To deny the pernicious influence of Islamophobia today, especially in today’s hyper-politicized environment, is anti-intellectual and dangerous, and leads to the empowering of bigotry.
The reality is that there are those who want to disenfranchise Muslims, along with Jews, Mexicans, immigrants, women, LGBTQIA peoples, other non-Christians, African-Americans and other communities of color from the Public Square – and they couch that freedom in the language of The First Amendment.
After reading several Islam-related entries on the author’s blog I believe his rhetoric makes clear that he doesn’t believe that Muslims are part of our Abrahamic tradition, that Islam is inherently violent and was spread by the sword and, it appears, he doesn’t accept that Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same God.
From his exclusivist perspective it appears he wishes to manipulate our perception of Islam, about which, in 2008, he wrote, “Muslims are trying to dominate the world with their double edge sword, one side is dipped with blood and the other side speaks about peace, humanity, and love. The division of both ideologies meet on the same point … both groups are determined to accomplish same task….”
I cannot find evidence that the author accepts that Prophet Muhammad received the Qur’an – the uncreated Word of God – through revelation via Angel Gabriel. Indeed, from his comments, it seems he believes that Islam isn’t a revealed religion at all but was founded by Muhammad.
He denies Islam’s, and the Prophet Muhammad’s, legitimacy.
I love God, love the Prophet Muhammad, love Jesus, and I love and embrace the gift and beauty of the Qur’an.
I believe, as the Qur’an reveals, that “among (God’s) wonders is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you might incline towards them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think! And among his wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colors: for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of (innate) knowledge!” 30:21 (Muhammad Asad translation)
The author’s comments about how to critique and challenge Islam and Muslims seems more intended to normalize and legitimize ignorant and Islamophobic rhetoric than to normalize and expand interfaith dialogue and understanding.
Sadly, he doesn’t have the courage to come right out and directly say all that – his words are work-arounds. He uses language throughout his oeuvre that’s meant to disenfranchise and delegitimize Muslims in the Public Square by other means – by “Otherizing” them, ascribing to them motives that render them as being less than worthy.
He doesn’t understand that Muhammad didn’t “found” Islam and embraces a common conceit common to many non-Muslims – that of conflating Jesus with Muhammad.
More true is, as Marcus Borg wrote, that as Jews find the divine in the Torah and Christians find the divine in Jesus, Muslims find the divine in the Qur’an.
The reality is that Muhammad is to Muslims as Mary is to Christians, bearers of the “Sacred Presence.”
Equally concerning was his lack of understanding of Shari’ah.
Shari’ah in the Qur’an is aspirational. It is not law. Shari’ah defines a path to God that inspires humans to embrace Justice, Equality, Hospitality, Generosity – to embrace The Good.
Law in Islam is Fiqh – Islamic jurisprudence. It is determined by rulings made by fallible human beings based on their understandings and interpretations of what God has revealed in the Qur’an.
Shari’ah and Fiqh are not the same; in American terms you might call Shari’ah the Declaration of Independence, Fiqh the Constitution.
Over the last two years we’ve witnessed attacks – from politicians, pundits and pastors alike – deliberately targeting Muslims and Islam. The terms they use are not unlike those used by anti-Semites, racists, misogynists and other dividers and haters attack.
To justify those attacks, to justify hate speech, they attack the straw-dog of “political correctness,” as being attacks on their constitutionally protected right of Free Speech.
Yes, they are free to hate. They are free to be wrong, to exclude, to deceive and distort and de-contextualize to make their hateful points – but they have no right to remain unchallenged in their ignorance and prejudice.
One IS NOT Islamophobic just for challenging or having negative opinions about Muslims or islam – one IS Islamophobic if such opinions arise out of ignorance, bigotry or prejudice.
To attempt to deny Muslims agency in the Public Square is Islamophobic.
When one suggests that in a post 9/11 world a “narrative” was created of islam as a “Religion of Peace” as a “tool” to counter negative perceptions of Islam – that is ignorant – and Islamophobic.
Most disingenuous was the author’s defense of a recent protest against “Sharia Law.”
By failing to inform readers that the so-called anti-Sharia law demonstration was sponsored by “ACT for America” the author was deliberately deceptive.
Act’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, believes, “If a Muslim who has—who is—a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day—this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”
She means me.
That is hate speech and the author stands in her defense.
Gabriel believes that “tens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America operating in sleeper cells, attending our colleges and universities, even infiltrating our government” and asserting that radicalized Muslims “have infiltrated us at the CIA, at the FBI, at the Pentagon, at the State Department.” Read the ADL report on Act: http://tinyurl.com/y83mophs
The author stands in defense of such Islamophobic, ignorant and dangerous language.
Those who sincerely want to protect all our rights and remove hateful rhetoric from our Public Square can begin by revisiting and revising their own incorrect, patronizing, paternalistic and Islamophobic commentary.
They must refuse to stand in solidarity with those who would deny my rights and citizenship, and they must be more intentional in witnessing the gifts of creation and beauty of the heavens and the earth with which all of humanity has been endowed by our Beloved.
We must be more intentional in embracing the Other.
In “Francis [of Assisi] and Islam,” J. Hoeberichts writes, “It is this Qur’an which was the source of all good things which Francis discovered in the behavior of the Saracens and which made such an impression on him: their prayer, their faith, their respectful use of the word God. And since all these good things in the Qur’an did not come from the Saracens, but from God from whom all good comes, Francis wished to also respect the Qur’an.”
Centuries later Pope Francis offers “ . . . our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Qur’an are opposed to every form of violence.”
All Good comes from God.
Robert Azzi, an American-Arab-Muslim columnist and photojournalist, writes on issues of Islam, Identity, Conflict and The Other. He previously contributed “The Shadows that Follow Us” for Episcopal Café. He’s active in interfaith work, often with Episcopal colleagues in New England. His commentary – and information on his program “Ask a Muslim Anything” – is archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com