Here’s how you can wield patience and kindness in the face of ignorance and harshness. By Theresa Corbin.
Living as a Muslim living in the West, I have been subjected to many forms of bias and bigotry. I felt like I was pretty versed in Islamophobia, since I have lived with it every day as an American Muslim in a notoriously xenophobic part of the country (the south).
I felt like I didn’t need to read the research to tell me why I have been turned down for every job I have applied for outside of the Muslim community, or why someone would throw eggs at me or curse me from their car as I walk in my own neighborhood. I knew Islamophobia was alive and well when the mosque I attended while living in Savannah, Georgia was burned down.[i]
But recently I did just that – read the research on the growing trend of Islamophobia in the West. After countless hours of reading about all the hatred, fear and anger directed at people like me, I became deeply depressed. Somehow reading about it was worse than living it. My depression became frustration, which turned into anger.
It wasn’t until a relative pointed out that I looked visibly angry all the time that I realised it had consumed me. In my anger, I lost sight of what I have always known: that returning anger with anger will do nothing more than perpetuate it. I had to step back and remind myself that the only way to counter anger is with understanding, patience and kindness.
I went back to the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) about patience and kindness in the face of ignorance and harshness. I found healing in forgiveness and patience. And I found that fighting against Islamophobia begins with a few small acts.
As we go out and face a world riddled with misconceptions, bias and hatred, remember that smiling is our first line of defense. Smiling is sunnah; it is charity. It improves our mental fortitude. And best of all, smiling is contagious.
The smiling contagion is something science can now substantiate. In a Swedish study where subjects were shown pictures of several emotions such as joy, anger, fear and surprise, they were told to frown when they saw a picture of someone smiling. Researchers found that people tended to directly imitate the facial expressions they saw: “It took conscious effort to turn that smile upside down.”[ii]
A new Facebook page that showcases pictures and stories of smiling Australian Muslims has met with widespread praise just weeks after it was launched.
2. Don’t make assumptions
Just like smiling, a negative attitude is also contagious. We should never enter a situation expecting to be discriminated against. More often than not, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The people we meet will mirror our behavior and seem like they are discriminating, when they are just giving back what they are getting.
We also need to be aware that when we meet someone and think they will treat us badly based on their appearance, we are stereotyping them – the very thing we don’t want them to do to us.
3. Be a good representative
According to a 2010 poll conducted by TIME magazine, 62 percent of Americans claim to have never met a Muslim.[iii] As a result, instead of forming their opinion of Islam and the Muslims from firsthand encounters, many are left to shape their views of Muslims from outside sources like the media.
The best example of Islam is not in telling but in showing. Wave and smile at neighbours when they pass by. Share food with them and make sure they never go hungry. Look out for their property. Remove anything harmful from the street. Always show patience toward others and have a cheerful attitude.
Being a visible, respectable representative of Islam in our communities can have a positive effect on people. People will be more likely to think back on a positive encounter they had with a Muslim the next time they hear something negative about Islam.
4. Rid ourselves of our own bias
Allah tells us in the Qur’an, “And do not turn your cheek [in contempt] toward people and do not walk through the earth exultantly. Indeed, Allah does not like any one self-deluded and boastful” (31:18).
Even though we hate it when it is done to us, many Muslims still hold their own bias and prejudices against others. What we must realise is that changing the world starts with the self. How can we expect people around us to be free from prejudice if we are not free from our own prejudices?
Each person must examine their own biases and stereotypes they hold against other groups and get rid of them. We must all understand that each person is complex and unique.
5. Speak up
Whenever we hear someone say something negative about Muslims, we need to say something. If we hear it on the news, correct the misinformation on social media. Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper about misconceptions that lead to Islamophobic attitudes.
Speak out against Islamophobic groups, and groups that call themselves Muslim but give Islam a bad name. The more we speak up about misconceptions and speak out against Islamophobia, the stronger our combined voices will become.
Speaking up, smiling, showing kindness and being a good representative of Islam can go a long way to heal the wounds of Islamophobia and dispel the myths that lead to it. Don’t let anger get in the way of making a difference wherever you are. And remember Allah tells us how to deal with this in the Qur’an: “And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace” (25:63).
[i] Russ Bynum, ‘Savannah Muslims pray in tent after mosque destroyed by arson’, AP news, 26 Aug 2003, available here
[ii] Sarah Stevenson, ‘There’s Magic In Your Smile’, Psychology Today, 25 Jun 2012, available here
[iii] Alex Altman, ‘TIME Poll: Majority Oppose Mosque, Many Distrust Muslims’, 19 Aug 2010, TIME, available here