وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُون
And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful. [Qur’an 3:104]
So, it’s Islamophobia Awareness Month, and that means it’s a month to highlight the impact of Islamophobia, but also how we can respond to it. It’s important to speak about this as Islamophobia is real and affects many lives on a daily basis, even in the most subtle of ways. It’s especially relevant in today’s society due to what’s happening in the world and can manifest itself in different ways. Therefore, as a Muslim community, we have a responsibility to do something about this and to raise awareness on this issue for ourselves and for others. Even if you may think that this does not affect you personally, it does, and the problem cannot be ignored. Islamophobia has a huge impact on millions of people around the world and within our own societies and we need to be sympathetic to the suffering of all those around us.
Nu’man b. Bashir reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: “The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.” [Sahih Muslim 2586]
Islam is a religion which brings benefit and prosperity to society and removes harm. So, we must understand that we need to act in order to bring about a change in our society and rid it of this form of oppression. Allah (SWT) has created us all and given us specific strengths and abilities, things that can be used to help in some way, shape, or form. Even if this is just speaking out when given the opportunity to do so, we need to show a firm stance against Islamophobia to show that it’s not acceptable and will not be tolerated, be it on an individual or an organisational level. But, in order to do this we need to ensure that we all work together to ensure that Islamophobia doesn’t ever become acceptable or the norm.
On the authority of Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [40 Hadith Nawawi 34]
So, as a Muslim or a student, what are some practical things that you can actually do to hold your ground against those who wish to offend you and your religion?
Ground everything you do in Qur’an and Sunnah
Firstly, everything that you do must be rooted in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, these are a guide on how to live your life so do your best to uphold these values. Our Prophet SAW experienced some of the greatest hardships by his own community and family as a result of his religion. He was subject to horrible insults and physical harm. But, he remained steadfast and persevered, he did not lose heart over this, or retaliate, or wish his oppressors harm. But, instead he had sabr (patience), prayed for their guidance, and continued to show Islam in the best light. He remained upright in character and is someone that we should strive to emulate through any hardships and trials we may face. So, treat those who may treat you poorly with kindness where you can, because they may be unaware of the truth and beauty of Islam, but you can show them insha’Allah.
وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيم
وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا ذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيم
And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon, the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except one having a great portion [of good] [Qur’an 41:34-35]
It’s important to emulate the qualities of a good Muslim, embody these through your words and your actions, and exhibit these in your everyday life. For example, I once heard someone say that after a kind action someone may have thanked or praised them for, they would follow this up by explaining that this principle is ingrained in them due to their religion and the Prophet (SAW). They would use it as an opportunity to attribute the good to Islam and to educate someone on the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. This just a subtle gesture, but when carried out, would help to show the benefits of Islam in a positive light on this indivudal level.
Focus on Education
Educate yourself and educate others on what Islam is really about. In order to stand up for the truth of your religion, you need to understand how to. You need to educate yourself and comprehend fundamental aspects so that you are able to respond in a way that represents the reality of Islam. You need to know how to be challenged, but still represent your religion in the best light. In addition, it’s important to educate yourself and other Muslims and non-Muslims about the reality and impact of hate crimes in general, and then specifically about Islamophobia. People need to realise that a problem does exist, that it happens more frequently than they may think, and that there are things that we can do about it. Things that need to be done for the greater good of the entire society, in order to have a cohesive society. But in order to do this, we need to engage people on all levels and educate them first.
Shift the Narrative
Constantly in society we are inundated with stereotypes and narratives which portray Muslims and Islam in a negative light. These things help to create a society of covert and overt forms of Islamophobia and facilitates the manifestation of it in different forms. Islam is either shown in a negative light, riddled with misconceptions or is portrayed in a way which is not the way of practising Islam we know, love and try to exhibit. So instead, we must do our best to create spaces for critical conversations where people are welcome to truly understand the context and implications of Islamophobia, so we can work to shift the narrative. We need to encourage people to challenge the media that they consume, and to question the lens through which they see the world. We need society as a whole, to demand responsible reporting and journalism, which will then only naturally lend itself to Islam being shown in the way that it really is.
Use your skills to show the array of strengths the Muslim Ummah has which continue to benefit the wider society. Put yourself in positions where you are involved in discussions so you can educate people. Dialogue breeds understanding and so by working and collaborating with others, barriers will be broken and it will be seen that we can work together. These opportunities can then also be used to highlight the reality and harms of Islamophobia, the urgency of which it needs to be addressed and the action that needs to be done to truly shift the narrative in the institutions that need it the most. In addition, as students, being more active in politics and elections would allow us to engage in this aspect of society and potentially lead to more representation and democracy in these important aspects of life.
In a society where it is frowned upon to show or practice your religion, do your best to stand tall and be proud! Be proud of your religion, cherish salah, your hijab, beard, abaya, and all the small things with which we can represent Islam. Stand up for what you believe and vocalise things such as how our Prophet (SAW) is someone to be honoured. The Qur’an says “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to mankind.” [Qur’an 21:107]. So, we should be proud and stand up to uphold our religion and all the good that it contains. Even as Islam and Muslims are being subject to increasing hatred, you practising your Islam in the best way by following the Qur’an and Sunnah will not only positively influence you as an individual, but also as a member of society. However, with this said, please also ensure that you keep yourself safe at all times and do not do anything that puts you in harm’s way. Assess your own circumstances and situation. But where you can, be strong and unapologetically Muslim.
Also, remember not to stand for the abuse and misrepresentation. Encourage people to speak out and defend their religion from those who wish to cause harm. Challenge peoples views or if not in a position to do so then at least report them! If you are attacked, speak out on it and don’t let it go undealt with. Islamophobia is recognised as a hate crime so please report incidences of that you, your family or friends may encounter. Since we live in a time where people try to deny the existence of Islamophobia or try to trivialise its effects, people may not know or acknowledge how often it happens and how big of an issue it is unless we highlight the issue! Whether that is through our University Chaplain – Muhammad Ullah (email@example.com), or through the University Report and Support Sevice (https://www.reportandsupport.manchester.ac.uk/) or perhaps speaking to organisations such as MEND (https://www.mend.org.uk/report-islamophobia/report-an-incident/). And we as an ISoc are always here for you, please reach out to us (https://www.manchesterisoc.com/contact-us/) and the person best suited to help will respond to you directly or you can email our welfare lead, Laman, and she’ll be able to support you as well (firstname.lastname@example.org). So, we need to record and speak out; whether this is online, in person, via the media or elsewhere. But, there needs to be information on the issue so that institutions and organisations know where the issues are and what steps can be taken. But, through everything, know that you are not alone and that you don’t have to keep things to yourself! There is a whole community behind you who can and will support you insha’Allah.
Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Let not one of you belittle himself.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, how does one belittle himself?” The Prophet said, “He finds a matter regarding Allah about which he should speak up but he does not. Allah the Exalted will say to him on the Day of Resurrection: What prevented you from speaking up about such a matter? He will say: It was out of fear of the people. Allah will say: Rather, it is I who deserved to be feared.” [Sunan Ibn Majah 4008]
It’s important that people’s voices are heard, and we must not only complain about the poor portrayal of Muslims in the media, but we must also couple this with action. So, speak about these issues, and speak about what the resolutions could be. In a world of social media and marketing, it is important that we use our platforms to ensure that our voices are heard, and portrayed in the positive light they should be.
And finally, although this should be the first thing you do, make Du’a! Make plentiful dua to Allah (SWT) before you begin anything. Your dua should be the first action that you take on the road to changing the hearts and minds of a society which may hold Islamophobic views. Be like the Prophet SAW who made dua for the people of Quraysh and the people of Taif, despite how they abused or tortured him, he made dua not for their downfall but for their guidance. Make dua as your first step, and then engage and take a stand, and begin on your road to doing what you can – no matter how small – to create a more tolerant society.
وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُون
“And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” [Qur’an 2:186]
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ إِن تَنصُرُواْ ٱللَّهَ يَنصُرۡكُمۡ وَيُثَبِّتۡ أَقۡدَامَكُمۡ
O you who have believed, if you support Allah, He will support you and plant firmly your feet. [Qur’an 47:7]