Islam is about empathy not violence

Even though the prevailing image in mainstream media is often that it is a religion of violence, many forget that since its inception Islam called for a system of social justice and responsibility for others. From early on in his life, the Prophet Muhammad was concerned about the state of the less fortunate. In Muhammad’s time, Qurayshi society, which once took care of its members, not only neglected the less fortunate, but did not even provide basic protection in a world that depended on tribal protection. Among the central principles reiterated time and again in the Qur’an is the responsibility to help the other.

Muslims are never to become complacent or assume that hardship can never affect them. In fact, a great responsibility is placed on a Muslim to work for social justice and to be at the forefront of alleviating social ills like poverty. This is one of the core messages of Islam that are too often neglected by many, including Muslims.

I feel it is important to reiterate this point in light of the earthquake in Haiti. Continue reading

Depicting the Prophet

In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jylland-Posten first published 12 offensive cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. These cartoons triggered protests, some violent, around the Muslim world. For many Muslims, the cartoons were not a matter of free speech, but were perceived to be hate speech against Muslims. Moreover, the lack of respect in these depictions was troubling. Islamic law opposes any representation of the Prophet, even positive, out of fear of idolatry. The controversy over the cartoons has dissipated considerably, but the discussion around a new book from Yale University Press on the topic The Cartoons that Shook the World illustrates that the issue of representing the Prophet Muhammad, especially negatively, continues to have ramifications. Now there are new efforts to use visual media, specifically film, to portray a positive image of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam that respects the edicts of the faith and aims to build bridges. Continue reading

Islam on Capitol Hill

islam-on-the-capitolOn September 25th, 2009, the first ever Jummah (Friday) Prayer service was held outside the US Capitol building in Washington, DC. The prayer event — called “Jummah Prayer: a Day of Islamic Unity”  — drew about 3,000 Muslims from around the country. Hassan Abdullah, the head of the Dar-ul-Salaam mosque and one of the main organizers of the event, said that he got the idea for  “Islam on Capitol Hill” after watching President Obama’s speech in Cairo this past June. Abdullah believed that the best way to counter continuing negative perceptions of Islam was to join together in a peaceful act that would show the spirituality and diversity of the Muslim communities. Although the event fell far short of its targeted size, the thousands who attended did follow the organizers’ hopes that the Day of Prayer would focus on spirituality and not politics or protest. Continue reading

Islam is Peace: Eight Years Later

loveandpeace3It has been 8 years since 9/11 and Muslims have been dealing with the reverberations of that event ever since. Anyone who can remember that day, remembers what they were doing when they heard the news. I remember being at work and having my boss tell me to be careful because not everyone will understand that it is not my fault. That day was a turning point for a lot of things, but most importantly the world community took a more active interest in Islam. Continue reading

Can a Muslim Woman Wear Pants?

wb4701tanOne of the assumptions about Islam that never seems to dissipate is that Islamic law is this rigid and incredibly harsh system that exacts punishments that are beyond what is tolerable in Western societies. Moreover, so the common discussion goes, when this law falls on women, it often means that they will be unfairly subjugated. Is any of this true? An article in the New York Times about Lubna Hussein, the Sudanese journalist who faced lashing for wearing pants, reminded me how much these issues infiltrate discussions on anything in the Middle East and Islam. Continue reading

Saudi Cleric Calls for Reform

61345-004-1bae9c8dIslam, which comes from the same root as the word for peace, continues to be perceived as a religion that condones–even encourages–violence. It is also seen by many as a static and rigid faith with no room for discussion or change. Both of these assumptions, which stem from longstanding stereotypes of the Middle East and Islam, were reinforced with the terrorist actions on 9/11. What troubles me (and many others) about these assumptions is that–from my own understanding of the Prophet Muhammad–kindness and justice were central to dealing with others, whether Muslim or not. The Qur’an, considered by Muslims to be the literal word of God revealed to the Prophet, is replete with verses that instruct believers how to engage with the other with justice and fairness. While returning an unjust action against you is allowed (providing it is in the exact same measure), it is better in the eyes of God to forgive. How many times is this last message lost in all the noise around Islam? Continue reading