3 Hurtful Myths About Islam, and How Being an Ally Can Help
This is a guest post from Nancy Graham Holm, a professional journalist in Denmark. Ever since the Danish cartoon crisis of 2005-06, she has been writing and speaking about progressive Muslims, especially Muslim feminism.
Allies are individuals who advocate for and support members of a community other than their own. Allies will not allow intolerance or bigotry in their communities, but will instead strive for a society that is safe for everyone and respectful of all, regardless of race or religion or sexual orientation.
The battle is on several fronts, and one of them is gaining far more support than many of us ever imagined we’d see in our lifetime. This is the ‘queer ally’ movement in which supporters of human rights ally themselves with self-identified members of the LGBTQ community, supporting them in their campaigns: first for civil rights and secondly, against the tyranny of patriarchy. (LGBTQ for the non-conversant stands for ‘lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-sexual and questioning.’)
Once essentially marginalized, the LGBTQ movement has, in just the last six years, become mainstream. When Minnesota made same sex marriage legal †- becoming the 12th state to do so – many ‘straights’ jumped for joy because we are ‘proud queer allies.’ Without our support, it is doubtful the movement would have gained as much momentum so quickly. And we are honored to be in their corner.
Can’t we now extend this support to the abolition of another type of bigotry, specifically, Islamophobia? Isn’t it time to establish a movement for non-Muslims who wish to stand up for the followers of Mohammed; Muslims who love their faith but who are not jihadists, not misogynists, and not secret agents for the establishment of shari’a law in western societies? Isn’t it time to declare our support for Muslim feminists and the majority of Muslims who are not socially alienated ‘losers,’ seeking salvation in Wahhabism or Deobandi Islam, complete with recipe books on how to make bombs from kitchen utensils;†the insane ones who take butcher knives into the street? Isn’t it time to identify ourselves as ‘proud Muslim allies’ for the millions of law abiding, diaspora Muslims living in our secular societies of North America and Europe?
We can use our voices to protest the bigotry that is unintentionally created by the media. We are not naÔve. We know that the media’s job is to sell newspapers and deliver consumers to commercial sponsors so that good news is never news at all because only bad news sells. But we regret that Imams with liberal views are seldom quoted and that academics engaged in liberal Quran’ic scholarship are never profiled. We regret that organizations that promote empowerment for Muslim women in the Third World seldom appear in mainstream magazines. We regret it when a major Danish newspaper prints a cartoon that shows Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. We especially regret it when Muslim Palestinians are generically described as ‘savages’ in New York City posters.
As a ‘proud Muslim ally,’ it is our responsibility to combat cruel and intentional ridicule. It is our mission to dispel prejudices and falsehoods about shari’a and interpretations of certain hadith that violate human rights. We can begin with the most obvious distortions, the assumptions many Westerners make about women in Islam such as female genital mutilation, compulsory veiling and forced marriages.
Firstly,†female genital mutilation†(FGM) is not asked for in the Qur’an and it is not practiced in the majority of nations where Islam is the dominant religion.
Secondly, veiling for Muslim women is optional. The verse in the Qur’an is ambiguous, says religion historian, Reza Aslan. Geography matters. Culture and historical traditions differ and both sides find justification in the verse asking for modesty. (24:30-31) “The woman who says I am absolutely certain I am supposed to cover (my head/my face),” says Aslan, “is just as correct as the one who says I am absolutely certain I am not supposed to cover (my hair/my face.)” In fact, less than 40% of Muslim women wear a veil, according to Abdullah Ahmed An Na’im, a legal scholar at Emory University.
And thirdly, forced marriages “are most definitely not endorsed by the Qur’an,” says Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy with a law degree from the London School of Economics. A woman is required to sign the nikah papers, demonstrating her consent.
These practices, among others, prejudice Westerners against Muslims but as ‘proud Muslim allies,’ we need to remind everyone that they are based on cultural practices with a long history, not religious doctrine.
It will require courage to claim oneself a ‘proud Muslim ally.’ First, some strands of traditional Islam will hate us, vilify us and write nasty blogs about us, claiming we are neocons in the service of the so-called ‘good Muslim’ as promoted by and described in the Rand Corporation Agenda. On the other side, professional Islamophobes will rebuke us for accepting pluralism and promoting tolerance. They will call us ‘naÔve,’ ‘fools’ and ‘traitors’ of Western civilization’s values. A third source of vilification will come from people who hate religion – all religions – on principle.
Ijtihad: Feminism and Reform is an educational documentary about diaspora Muslims who have progressive values. It’s a good place to start.
Watch it, learn from it, discuss it with your friends, and then send your comments.