New Reactions to Islamophobia

As I touch down into the city of Mississauga, my eyes fixate on the two tall curved condominiums standing next to each other. 5 minutes pass. I break free of my cold gaze and pacefully walk towards what seems to be another cliché event about Islamophobia. The fear of Muslims that was caused when a couple of men touched down into the city of New York, fixating their planes into two tall towers standing next to each other. Since that terrible tragedy, nothing has been the same.

I settle myself into the auditorium, sitting next to a gentle but intelligent friend of mine. I am in front of a panel that consists of an academic, a lawyer, a filmmaker and a graduate all moderated by a rising journalist, who we will all become familiar with in the futures to come.

The event is titled “I’m Muslim – What is it to you?: Addressing today’s Islamophobia”. Its non-apologetic tone gave me some clues about what might unfold tonight. Being organized by Dawanet and Project Civic Engagement, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was however happy that the event would be absent of Muslim apologism.

The event was designed to counter the rising wave of anti-Islam sentiment. The introductory remarks could have been stronger and passionate. Whatever lacked in the introduction was made up for in the riveting panel discussion. I picked up a couple vibes from that afternoon I wanted to share with you. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with these propositions. You can decide what to make of it.

Muslims and the LGBTQ’s are fighting for the same freedoms. This one caught me by semi-surprise. I knew this sentiment was brewing in second-generation Muslim graduates who are acquainted with rising critical discourses such as feminism. I didn’t know that this idea would catch on to the earlier generations. Some of the panelists argued that for Muslims to advocate their own minority rights but to waive the rights of others (whether we agree or disagree with them) is a double standard and vice versa. Thoughts? Tweet me @salehtribe.

A sign of a lot of mosques might be a sign of disunity, not progression. This one gave me the archetypal “a-ha!” when I first heard it. It made sense. The first generation were obviously building mosques in a cold war fashion, racing to build bigger and better mosques to fit the growing ritual needs of the Muslim community. The speaker noted that we may have overdone it so much so, we may have prioritized physical needs over the social needs of the community. He left on an optimistic note, arguing that it is the job of the second and third generations to fill this void by transitioning from building physical infrastructures and moving towards constructing social ones.

It’s not a secret that Muslims have a PR problem. Ding-ding-ding! I hope you’re not surprised by this one. Yes, the media is always giving us a hard-time but there’s a lot of work on our end that can prevent some of these media disasters from consistently happening. Establishing journalism contacts, hiring PR firms and other tactics were recommended as one of many means to counter raging sentiments against our community.

This wasn’t just another ordinary day of talking about Islamophobia. This was a day to think and to reflect. To take notice and understand the layers of complexity. Some of the vibes shook me. Some of them sat very well with me. Sometimes so much, I actually clapped in agreement.

When ideas don’t sit well with me, they jump to polar opposites. Right and wrong. Halal and Haram. Muslim and non-Muslim. Black and white. Two opposites.

Two. Just like the two buildings I saw. Each appearing to be standing on its own, fighting for the attention of my cold eyesight. Distracted by opposites, we fail to see what lies in between. What lies in between right and wrong. Halal and Haram. Life and death. Pleasure and Pain. There is a gray space in between, where things are not so clear. Things that we discuss and debate. Things that we love, things that we cry over.

I learned today that in all of this misunderstood simplicity, there are a few Muslims maturing that are starting to see a more profound meaning. They are starting to see the spaces between the outlines Allah created. In these spaces he left us with new challenges. New ideas. New solutions. New reactions to give new meaning to our Muslim identity.

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