They say bad news travels fast. For us in the Muslim community, it doesn’t travel fast enough. We like to hide the bad and replace it with images of good that suit our own fantasies of faith. The internet prophesied a new age of freedom. New voices have emerged, even Muslim ones. Yet despite the rise, many voices still don’t make it through. At times when the spotlight needs to be on topics that are truly hurting the ummah, we turn our faces the other way, hoping to find the next “cool” news story that suits our personal image of Islam. The semi-silencing of selected voices within the Muslim community is becoming a chilling pattern in our communal behaviour.
Voices. Multiplied, by diverse archetypes of oppression: racism, sexism, islamophobia, xenophobia. Accelerated, by technology that unrelentingly weaves through space and time. Amplified, by a growing western secularism and counter-colonial extremism. In all this noise, I found a clue that was left for us almost 600 years ago.
The Romans captured a Muslim woman. Like an archetypal evil villain, the Roman King with a sarcastic tone told the woman “You won’t ever leave this place until the Muslim king himself removes you from these shackles!” In response, she shouted:
“Wa Mu’tasima!” [Oh my grief, Mu’tasima!]
The king laughed (of course) and told her that she would never be saved. A Muslim man in the land of the Romans heard this and spread the word until it reached Mu’tasim. Mu’tasim was a caliph in the Abbasid Empire. He came riding through with his army in black horses, taking over the area and freed the woman from her shackles.
Her voice was heard. It travelled through time and space not with technology, but with empathy. People cared! It was that care, which allowed that news to spread to Mu’tasim. They didn’t have The New York Times, The Toronto Star or the Huffington Post. No Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Just a community that cared for its own. Yes, technology and tools can help us, but we don’t need them. We need each other.
I think this story lets us ask ourselves some really probing questions. When do we decide to share news? Does it always have to reflect a picturesque image of Muslims? Or is it when we hide behind the veil of oppression? When will we call ourselves to action? If the story isn’t “profile picture” worthy, do we shy away from telling it to others?
We need to interrogate our filters and measure them to the Prophetic standard of inclusion. Islam is not a premium platinum membership. The gates of heaven are open to Allah’s discretion, not ours. Allow yourselves to feel for your brothers and sisters like you feel for yourself. And give them the rights they have upon you. Create a united voice for the ummah where we stand with each other, and give value and importance to each and every member of our community. Let’s help raise the little voices and allow them to get stronger with our support.
Learn from what has happened before and create a new definition of the Muslim voice. Don’t look into the past as if it was last week’s Instagram photo. Look to it for inspiration. Add some critical thought of our behaviours with some introspection into our tradition and perhaps we might land somewhere different. Perhaps this time when there is a story worth sharing, we will be less concerned about how it makes us look, and rather focus on how important it is for other’s to look at it. Let’s be the voice that we’re meant to be, and speak over the silence.