The price I pay for respecting Islam

Published: May 31, 2015
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I certainly will carry on with this journey. To stop now would be to surrender to narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and religious supremacy. PHOTO: PHOTOS.COM

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would become a scholar focusing on Islam and Christian-Muslim relations.

Growing up, my passion was playing basketball and following the Boston Celtics. I never had any Muslim friends. In fact, I did not even know a single follower of Islam until my college years. If you had asked me “What is a Muslim?” when I was 16-years-old, I would not be able to answer you.

But everything changed when 9/11 happened. 

Muslims were seen as “extremists” and Islam was an “evil” force that had to be crushed by “freedom loving people”. When it came time to choose an academic discipline in college, I chose “Islamic studies” – not because I wanted to learn about a great religion and world civilisation, but rather to work for the CIA and become a spy to nab the “bad guys”.

One of the first classes that I enrolled in at American University was “The World of Islam”. I figured this was a way for me to learn about why an event like 9/11 happened. On the first day of class, I learnt about basic Islamic principles like giving alms to charity and praying five times per day. I was told about a hadith, or saying of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which stated:

“The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.”

I remember one of the Muslim students in the class standing up and reciting a Quranic verse, which read:

“Taking the life of an innocent person is like killing all of mankind.”

Another Muslim student stood up and recited a Quranic verse which stated that killing one innocent person is akin to killing humankind entirely.

What I learnt on that first day of class was not reflective of what you hear daily in the media about Islam and Muslims.

Since 2004, I have focused most of my time on researching Islam, US foreign policy with the “Muslim world,” and ways of bridging the gap between Christians and Muslims worldwide. My dedication to these academic pursuits have been enriching beyond imagination. I have made dear Muslim friends whom I hold in the highest esteem. I have been able to travel the world and spend time with Muslim communities of various backgrounds.

They have opened their schools, homes, and mosques to me. The hospitality, warmth, and love that Muslims have shown me over the years have made me an admirer of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and an individual who has deep respect for Islam. There is no doubt that these activities and experiences have made me a better person.

Muslims have brought me closer to God. For that I am ever thankful. However, researching Islam and becoming friends with Muslims have also come at a serious cost to my relationships and social interactions.

I have lost a good amount of friends because of my efforts in shedding a positive light on Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Fraternity brothers who do not share my political beliefs have unfriended me on Facebook. I have been told by some of them that I am on an “FBI watch list” because of my “radical” views on improving relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Other friends who do not care as much about religion or politics simply cannot understand the kind of work that I do. Years ago, one of my friends asked me,

“So what is the difference between Islam and Muslims?”

Most of my friends have no idea about either of these subjects. Therefore, it is difficult for me to share my passion for learning with them. They simply cannot comprehend the benefits of a non-Muslim studying Islam.

Some people in my family consider me to be “weird” because I have an interest in studying a religion that they think is “foreign”. This is difficult for me because these are my family members who are supposed to care about things that matter to me. One person in my family has been so brainwashed by media coverage of Islam that he once told me:

“Muslims kill us because that’s what they’re supposed to do to Christians. It’s in the Quran”.

One Christmas, a family member wanted to buy me a book that she thought would be interesting to me. It turned out that the book was Islam for Dummies by the anti-Muslim activist Robert Spencer. On another occasion, someone close to my immediate family went through my library and picked up a book called The Mystics of Islam. He looked at me and said sarcastically,

“Remind me to read this one!”

He said that in a condescending tone as if the book was useless.

To be honest, it is painful to be seen as someone who studies something that other people consider to be irrelevant. As you can imagine, it does not feel great to feel unappreciated.

Non-Muslims are not the only people who look down on me for researching Islam. I tweet regularly about interfaith dialogue and ways of improving Christian-Muslim relations. Muslims will tweet loving messages to me about the great work that I am doing. When I respond back with “peace be with you” and “Amen” – two typical Christian phrases – they start to question me on my religious background.

“Are you Muslim?” these tweeters ask.

To which I respond,

“No, I am Catholic”.

Seconds later, I realise that I have fewer Twitter followers. These people “unfollow” me for the simple reason that I am not Muslim.

Other Muslims on Twitter do their best to convert me to Islam. They tell me that it is impossible to fully understand a religion if you do not follow that religion. They suggest that I “revert” to Islam “before it’s too late, before the end (of) time”, as if I am going to hell for being Catholic. Granted, I have many Muslim followers who genuinely admire my work in bridging the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, but to be put down as a non-Muslim scholar leads me to believe that some Muslims are not tolerant of my work.

Studying Islam has come at a price.

Old friends see me as a traitor; family members see me as “strange”, and Muslims see me as someone who will never be good enough. These developments make me think deeply about the issues of loyalty, love, and knowledge. Thankfully, I do have kindred spirits around the world who understand my mission and who appreciate the courage it takes for an individual to put relationships on the line in an effort to acquire knowledge and understand the mysteries of our world.

I certainly will carry on with this journey. To stop now would be to surrender to narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and religious supremacy. These are the evils in our world and I will not stop challenging them until my days on this planet are over.

The piece originally appeared here.

Craig Considine

Craig Considine

He is a Catholic American of Irish and Italian descent. As a sociologist, his main research interests include interfaith dialogue, Christian-Muslims relations, race and ethnicity, as well as comparative research and ethnography. He blogs at craigconsidinetcd.com/ and tweets as @CraigCons (twitter.com/craigcons)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Keen observer

    And if a person decides to leave Islam, you can pay your respects to him or her.Recommend

  • Genie

    Continue to do your noble work Craig. Never be disheartened by the obstructions put in your way. You must have learned by now that our world is full of simple minded people. The fraudsters who make billions out of them is the proof. Hell of a lot of people part with their hard earned money only on the words of the fraudsters that they have won lottery which they never heard of or took part in. This shows what kind of simple minded people are there in our world.Recommend

  • Kharak Singh

    So basically even if people from other religions lead their lives as good human beings, not killing or beheading each other they would still be facing hell fire only because they are Sikhs, Hindus, Christians?Recommend

  • Such

    I think, Craig is doing an excellent job to narrow the so-called gap between two great communities. As a matter of fact, IF, Catholic and Muslims follow teachings of their respective holy book ONLY, then this narrow gap will turned to NO gap.
    Those Muslims following teaching of holy Quraan through 100% saying of Prophet Mohammad SAW are most practising
    My Christian brothers MUST follow 100% teaching of holy book Bible, then they would be better Muslims then so-called many musical Muslims.
    There are not a single verse in holy Quraan and holy Bible to kill each others.
    Technically, Christians have done much more killings (and still doing so) then combined crime committed by combination of all other groups. Again, because they were not following true teaching of Bible.
    Similarly what you see now like Al-Qaida, ISIS (both created by US) and other group killing are the final re-action of continue meddling around of Christian West Government of Muslims affairs. However this crimes are over Million times less then what Christian have already committed and still committing. But I still say, these peoples are not following teaching of Holy Quraan.Recommend

  • Xman

    Islam like any religion comes with a whole spectrum if intensities. The particularly nasty and hard liner representation comes from a specific group of camel herders, who suddenly got rich and didn’t know what to do with their money except to keep their own wealth in tact by crushing any challenge. So they propelled this narrow, barbaric, out of context interpretation to limelight for all the negative reasons, to keep a tight leash on the hearts and minds of people in their vicinity. But then due to internet, globalisation, and communication advancement, the phenomenon could not be kept under tabs, and the bigotry spread across the world. No one “outside” Islam can neutralise this threat, but the muslims themselves, who ironically have the suffered the most from it.Recommend

  • AK

    Ok! Good. I will pat on your back. But what is it that you exactly do? No write-up on the tension between the 2 religions. What have you done so far?Recommend

  • seismann

    Study any religion except Islam,and you will never encounter such problems.Talk about comparative religion studies in Pakistan,and see how much resistance you will encounter.Pakistani text-books sell hatred whole-sale to young and impressionable minds.True ,it might not be the true spirit of Islam,but that spirit has a long way to go to permeate the Muslim ummah(if there be such a thing)itself.Recommend

  • ajeet

    Dhimmi?Recommend

  • Parvez

    Plus one to you as you are making the effort to understand the other side ……. if the same effort was reciprocated from the other side possibly the divide would lessen. There apparently is a lot of ‘ inter faith ‘ initiatives being taken but almost all of it is in the ‘ west ‘ and they appear to be exercises in self preservation by the othe side.
    If the gulf really has to be narrowed the exercise would have to be at a much bigger level involving nations etc.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Again its the same misleading arguments like “Islam is not bad, only some people are”. Nobody ever denied that. A religion has no presence other than that of its followers. The follower is the physical manifestation of the religion. So if somebody is complaining about a religion, they’re in fact complaining about the followers.
    The fact remains that the followers of Islam (albeit a small percentage) are violent and are totally at odds with modern living. It is that group that people talk about when they target Islam.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Agreed, but there are some critics who blame Islam as a religion in it’s entirety rather than the extremists, even if they are in a minority.

    for example a recent rally in America, .
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/30/anti-islam-bigots-fail-to-provoke-in-phoenix.htmlRecommend

  • Adi Pranoto

    I am a Muslim, but I studied in Catholic elementary school in my country, Indonesia. All of my teachers in that school were females, mostly were nuns.

    I was an aggressive boy who was easy to beat the others, I often fought. Of course I often punished too, stood in front of class. However, my teachers did not only punish me, but also taught me about love and kindness. That’s why then I could leave my aggressive attitude. Sometime those nuns visited my home at night to give me extra lesson when they saw I got difficulty in learn. Those nuns taught me many things, except one. They did not teach me about their religion. They never tried to convert me.

    That’s happened long time ago. Now I am 47. But I will never forget their kindness. That’s why I have big respect to the nuns.

    What price that I pay for respecting the nuns?. For respecting Catholic and other religions?. Nothing. Muslims around me can understand if I respect other faiths.Recommend

  • Kamath

    Salaam, Bro! It is easy to become a Muslim . All it takes are 4 witnesses and recitation of Shahaadat ( declaration of faith with sincerity) .Then you are a Muslim forever. But then if you have any doubt or change of heart later, you can only get out only in coffin like every apostate.

    So don’t prettify any faith a person is raised with including great religion Islam. Every body has lots of darker side.

    Peace!

    Recommend

  • Tmo

    I’m certain you can’t even pronounce what you wrote.Recommend

  • Saad Hasan

    Craig, God bless you and keep on doing what you are doing. We need more bridge builders like you given there is no dearth of spoilers on all sides of the divide.Recommend

  • Saad Hasan

    Depends on which period of the said religion you studied. There were extremists in each religion and their violence was perpetrated on others and they were inspired by their religion. So your singling out of Islam is not only wrong, its factually incorrect.Recommend

  • Saad Hasan

    That is our belief that the path to salvation lies through accepting the message of God in the Quran with Muhammad PBUH as the medium through whom the message was transmitted.

    This is no different than the Christians believing that you cannot have salvation unless you accept Jesus PBUH as the son of God. Jews are even more rigid, i.e. if you are not a born Jew, you are out of luck.

    The key for Muslims is that we offer the message of Islam to non-Muslims, whether they accept it or not is up to them. There isn’t and should not be any compulsion in this.Recommend

  • Saad Hasan

    You do not need “4 witnesses” to become a Muslim. Perhaps you are alluding to a marriage contract here. To become a Muslim, one just needs to make a sincere intention in their heart and recite the shahadah (preferably in front of someone so their conversion is declared).Recommend

  • Liberal

    They teach you the main pillars of Christianity “kindness”, “love”, “sacrifice” & “service”.Recommend

  • seismann

    Well,how would you call a reaction by ISIS ,TTP when all they do is kill Muslims predominantly.Recommend

  • Jayman

    You cannot massacre a bunch of people in the name of religion for drawing a caricature and not expect retribution. This could go on for a long time and they will be a heavy price to pay for the community. Followers of other religions do not behave in this manner.Recommend

  • Arun

    Are you saying the word does’nt exist in Islam? If it was all about brotherhood and ‘coming together’ etc., why would it have concept of ‘Us vs Them’ and ‘Kufr/Kaafir’ (usually preceded with a Nauzubillah meaning ‘God Forbid’)?
    Dear Mods, factual stuff for productive discussion. Please allow..Recommend

  • fazil patel

    If all human beings respect one another irrespective of their religious beliefs -mankind will be better off.
    As a S.African Muslim, the relationship between people of different religions in our country is truly unique.
    There is an Islamic saying : ‘let there be no compulsion in religion ‘
    I admire the writer for his striving for better relationship between Islam and Christianity.
    After all we all have a common father namely Prophet Abraham, so why can’t family members get along for the benefit of mankind
    Recommend

  • Kamath

    Agreed! How about the choice to get out and have you asked the question what could happen to an apostate? Here in N.America a prominent public intellectual Ali. a. Rizvi is a former Pakistani and Muslim has started a movement representing atheists. Do know the number of life threats he receives? Recommend

  • seismann

    This is 21st century.Recommend

  • seismann

    But it is Muslims alone that won’t let other religion preach their message, but consider it their right to do so.Recommend

  • seismann

    Will be nice if Islam allows one to leave Islam as easily.Can you imagine somebody declaring that he is converting to other faith ,and live ,in a Muslim country.
    And Mr. Kamath is confused about 4 witnesses.They are required for a lady to prove that she was raped.Recommend

  • Tmo

    The word exists. Recommend

  • vinsin

    Some Extremists from Jainism, please. Then why India never become 100% monolithic religion much before Islam or Christianity.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Then what is apostasy? What was apostasy war? Why forced conversion via marriage?
    Are Indian numerical system and use of internet part of Islamic salvation?Recommend

  • Habib

    You are an inspirational scholar Craig. Keep doing what you are doing and don’t let anyone get you down! Good luck :)Recommend

  • Faruk Enamul Haque

    Surely this is the basis behind every religion, as an unstated assumption. Otherwise why would anyone bother labeling themselves?

    Yes we have all this stuff about any believer being accepted in such “Dharmic” religions like Hinduism and Sikhism, but it’s clearly nonsense. This is just told to make the religion more palatable. They certainly complain enough about conversions, thereby suggesting the “our religion is best” mentality pervades these religions too.

    If there is one set of beliefs that are prescribed for followers in a specific religion, then you can bet that they believe their faith to be the “highest” ridge on the spiritual plane.Recommend

  • Nasiya Pervez

    Islam is the best religion but has the worst followers.Muslims may not be perfect but if you study Islam in detail‚ you will realize that Islam.
    P.S love the work you are doing‚ keep it up! :)
    Recommend

  • Habib

    Dhimmis are non-Muslim people in Islamic countries. The state is responsible for safeguarding their rights in every way possible. How does this translate into ‘Us vs Them’.

    Us vs Them ideology has been adopted by west after Bush Junior’s rhetoric that aimed to demonize Muslims. Following this, numerous Muslims have been killed throughout the world.Recommend

  • marik

    We are all just simple travelers on the road called Time. There is no need to stick a label to your head. RespectRecommend

  • Naha Ali

    I appreciate that you are making a judgement but I think that you haven’t been reading closely. You see Al-Qiada and other groups named as Muslim groups right? You see daily in the news that Muslims are terrorist or some Muslim killed another guy right? Well the the author explicitly mentioned in his article that Quran says, “to kill a person is like killing the entire mankind”. Not christianity or any other religion share such a view about killing and I challenge you to provide me with a verse of any religion being so against killing. In the end I will ask you this. A religion which so severly condemns unjust killing, you are just going to degrade it by its misguided followers or rather say that they are not true muslims! I saw another article by an American nationalist who says that by comparing the total religious related killings Islam shares the least percentage and I will give you a reference if I again come across it. Islam further condemns unjust oppression to even an enemy as the Quran explicitly says ” fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress limits.” (Surah baqara 2:190)
    And also “if they cease there is to be no more aggression ” (surah baqara 2:193) you can see that islams stance is self defence and fighting only to stop oppression which is totally a sane view. Jayman I am also a Muslim and am humbly asking please do not say that Muslims are bad. These sinister extremist are ruining our image and will you fall into their trap? Please spread this message to your friends also
    Recommend

  • Jayman

    With due respect, every single religion has contradictions. The only reason Islam is in the news because there is a very violent faction within it that resorts to killings at the slightest pretext. It is up to your scholars to offer a narrative that appeals to the Muslim youth who are going by their thousands to join the Islamic State.Recommend