The news is filled with incidents of hate crimes against Muslims. How do they keep facing these challenges?
By Nida Haleem
On May 30, 2015, 31-year old, Tahera Ahmad, the Muslim chaplain and director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern University in Illinois, US, was refused a can of unopened diet coke by an air hostess, because she was wearing hijab. And then to add insult to injury, she was verbally abused by a co-passenger.
In the Chapel Hill shootings, three Muslim college students — Deah, Yusor, and Razan — were killed execution-style on 11th of February, 2015 in their apartment.
In December of 2014, 15-year-old Somali Muslim Abdisamad was run over and killed in a hate crime as he was leaving his community mosque in Missouri, US.
Sadly, these are not isolated incidents. Muslims being verbally abused, spat at, attacked and even killed for being who they are, is increasingly making news, even though these incidents are considerably under-reported.
These attacks have only increased in recent years with some incident or another triggering a fresh wave of attacks on Muslims across the world. And it is no wonder that the victims are mostly those who literally ‘wear their religion on their sleeves’ i.e. women wearing hijab or niqab or men with beards and turbans.
However, Muslim women have fared worse than their male counterparts because of their visibility and also because they present a soft target. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, an interfaith organisation, says, “All our data … shows that visible women are the ones that are targeted at a street level. This means that women who wear the hijab are the ones that are sometimes targeted for abuse and those who wear the niqab suffer more anti-Muslim hate incidents and more aggressive assaults.”
The consequence is fear among the Muslims and a recognition of their “otherness”, which in turn causes them to become increasingly isolated. In one report¹, the victims confessed to such feelings as “anger, annoyance, shock, fear, vulnerability and anxiety… Other emotions prompted by the experience included feelings of humiliation, isolation, embarrassment, disgust and sadness … Fear, however was the most common emotion expressed”
The victims end up questioning their “western” identities in most cases but what is significant is that in the report by Chris Allen, “none of the Muslim women interviewed even referred to a change — however minimal — to their Muslim identity…” Although this may not be true for all Muslims who fall victim to such attacks. Some do end up changing their attire to blend with society and avoid being targeted by Islamophobes.
The question, however, is what gives the “visible Muslims” the strength to withstand the abuses and even violent attacks directed towards them?
My contention is that it can only be taqwa.
When the fear of Allah is stronger than the fear of people, Muslims can withstand any harassment, abuse and attacks without compromising their religious identities.
Abdullah bin ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه) narrated: “One day I was riding (a horse/camel) behind the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when he said, ‘Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of God, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of God. If you need help, seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if God had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.’ ”
(Tirmidhi Vol. 4, Book 11, Hadith 2516)
A Muslim who internalises this message will never be afraid. He knows that Allah is at his side and any difficulties or persecution he faces are tests which Allah sets for His favoured servants. He realises that everything is by the Qadr of Allah. Taqwa releases him from fear of people because he knows they cannot harm him except if Allah wills.
Taqwa also gives Muslims hope in an environment of fear and hostility. The Prophet told us a story of three men who were caught in a storm and sought shelter in a cave, but a massive boulder fell and blocked their exit. The three men prayed for Allah’s help. Each related a deed he had done solely for the sake of Allah and the boulder shifted as each incident was repeated until finally they were able to escape. This story beautifully encapsulates the lesson of hope. If we are mindful and obedient to Allah in times of ease and enablement, He will be at our side when we are desperate.
- Allen, C. (2014). Journals of Muslims in Europe 3, https://wallscometumblingdown.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/chris-allen-visible-muslim-women-british-case-study-october-2014-brill-muslims-in-europe.pdf