Can we blame the West for thinking of Muslims as they do?

Published: October 19, 2016
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A demonstrator shouts and carries a “Stop Islam” sign during a “Freedom of Speech Rally Round II” outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, Arizona on May 29, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

In recent times, religiously motivated terrorism incidents have taken place in the West, from Brussels to New York. Due to these barbaric acts perpetuated by extremists, ordinary Muslims are also facing excessive backlash in Europe as well as in the United States.

We, as Muslims, are correct to complain that it is unfair to bracket ordinary Muslims with the extremists, but at the same time we need to understand that our negative reputation is not merely due to organisations like ISIS but also because of our behaviour in general. I am not trying to equate extremist organisations like ISIS with normal and moderate Muslims here, but highlighting that there are issues (though of different sort) with the latter also.

We have to realise that the world is judging our religion and us, not by what is contained in the religious scripture but by the way we behave in all matters concerning religion. I am not justifying outright xenophobia and racism here, but indicating that we also share the responsibility of our bad reputation in the world due to our actions. There are problems in many areas and being defensive and in denial is not going to help us.

For example, it is true that moderate Muslims are not involved in terrorism. But at the same time, I have seen many of us either attribute terrorism to nonsensical conspiracy theories or come up with apologetic defences where terrorism is nothing but a ‘natural’ reaction. When many of us do that then we should not expect the world to consider Islam as a religion of peace, because it simply won’t. It is hard to imagine the world doing so when some of the so called ‘moderate’ Muslims fail to condemn extremist acts, give apologetic defences to terrorism or weave nonsensical conspiracy theories to shift the blame. This kind of behaviour is deeply problematic as it hinders introspection, gives the extremists soft support and allows them to thrive.

I have also witnessed some that cheer those who have killed others in the name of blasphemy. It is also true that many Muslims also support state-sanctioned harsh punishments for people accused of blasphemy as well as apostasy. In fact, several Muslim countries have harsh laws outlawing both. Often our rationale is that blasphemy is deeply offensive and apostasy is a sin, therefore State sanctioned capital punishment or even murder is justified.

Since we find blasphemy deeply offensive, we should remember that real blasphemy, with respect to our prophet Muhammad (pbuh), is caused by those who kill in his name and also by those who celebrate such killings. If blasphemy means disrespect to the name of the Prophet (pbuh) then we should use our common sense and understand that harsh punishments and violence in his name are actually maligning his name.

Likewise, many of us react violently whenever our religious ideals and symbols are satirised. What we do not realise, however, is that the West is no longer trapped in medieval times and has moved forward. It is common in their culture to criticise as well as satirise religion and they often extend the same sentiments towards their own religion as well. This is why reacting violently to cartoons is not going to be acceptable to them as they rightly perceive it as a threat to their freedom of expression.

The more we react violently, endorse violence or allow excessive reactions in such cases, the more the world will judge Islam negatively. The more we threaten free speech, the more the media will indulge in such speech in order to protect its rights and freedom.

Another huge – and perhaps one of the biggest issues – is the treatment of women. No matter what spin I give, the fact is that in most Muslim countries women are treated as second-class citizens. In the Gender Gap Index, which ranks countries with respect to gender parity, Muslim countries are right at the bottom. Out of 142 countries which were ranked in 2014, 27 Muslim countries were placed from 90 to 142 and these included so called “liberal” countries like Turkey (127) and Indonesia (97).

The assertion by Reza Aslan that in Indonesia and Turkey, women have full rights becomes laughable when subjected to empirical evaluation. There is only one Muslim country in the top 50, which is Kazakhstan and I am sure this is because of its communist legacy! And yes, my own country Pakistan ranks at a shameful 141 with only Yemen, another Islamic country, below it. Moreover, the legal code in many Muslim countries is pitted against women and supportive of the patriarchal structure. Why should we expect the world to consider Islam an equitable religion in the light of all the above facts?

Another issue is the condition of minorities. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its latest report, highlighted 27 countries for particularly vicious treatment of religious minorities of which 11 are strong Muslim-majority states. If minorities living in Muslim majority countries often live in fear and if the advent of democracy in Muslim countries, like Egypt, ended up actually endangering the lives and properties of non-Muslims, then we should not expect the world to consider Islam a tolerant religion. Eventually the benchmark of tolerance is the way minorities are treated.

Now we can try to deflect the realities and find excuses and call those Muslims who point out our problems ‘sell-outs’ or ‘panderers of the West’ but will it change the situation? Eventually we have to indulge in deep and honest introspection, and understand that there is some basis behind the global negative opinion about us. Being in denial and constantly complaining about xenophobia is not going to take us anywhere. Yes, no doubt xenophobia exists, but our own actions also need correction. That is why we need to introspect.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

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

  • Milind A

    Finally.. someone has hit the nail on the head…. We’ve been saying the same thing for ages.. The Muslim world needs to take responsibility for transgressions committed by them to the oppressed (just as US/Australia apologised to natives/aborigines and came up with laws for equal treatment)…Else asking for justice for themselves in non-Muslim lands, is hypocritic…Recommend

  • Asif

    Self Reflection is the 1st step towards solving the problem. Thanks for this wonderful piece of articleRecommend

  • Ahmad

    Very Well.Recommend

  • Zeeshan27

    Let this article be published in the urdu press, less than 1% people read english newspaper ( if you go by the sales of english newspapers then fewer than 1%).

    Unless and until these sort of articles are regularly published in the urdu set, it would be hard to change the mindset of the people.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    We, as Muslims, are correct to complain that it is unfair to bracket ordinary Muslims
    with the extremists, but at the same time we need to understand that
    our negative reputation is not merely due to organisations like ISIS but also because of our behaviour
    in general. I am not trying to equate extremist organisations like ISIS
    with normal and moderate Muslims here, but highlighting that there are
    issues (though of different sort) with the latter also.

    We hear the Indian born Fareed Zakari on CNN saying WE the Americans and then read RHR claiming WE as MUSLIMS, but Sir Fareed Zakari is not a bio American nor are you an AS MUSLIM. Though I must admit that RHR attitude towards his fellow country men and the larger muslim world community is a naive to simply put it. Both writers have a limited knowledge of the world and looks at events from the American prospectve which is now considered regressive in western societies especially after watching the shameful performance of Macdonald Trump towards Hillary Clinton. The religion is though kosher , it has a very limited role in todays world and therefore not up for interpretations or intellectual debates, it is the rule of law and the fundamental rights in the countrys constitution which influence the behaviour of the indiviuals. The author should take the time in examining the constitutions and the laws of the countries for his critique and not the religion. Like the Pope said that any one who creates a caricature or mocks ones father, should be prepared to get thumped.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    Good article, totally agree. In the modern world, nobody cares for your religion, but if you make yourself obnoxious and refuse to follow civilized norms which are now universal throughout the world, don’t complain if the rest of the world gives you what you deserve.Recommend

  • Zeeshan27

    Author should note that almost 50% of the population of Kazakhstan is Russian orthodox christian.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Excellent article.

    When Indians say it, entire Army of trolls try to beat you into submission.

    At this time, let me also mention there are ills in each society, including my own. Considering the scale of violence and injustice towards women, non-Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Shia Muslims and so many minorities, Islam and the Muslim world really need to introspect.

    The non-Muslims privately discuss Islam and its propensity to violence, more and more publicly nowadays.

    No 2 Religions are same. Each have their own issues. But, Islam seems to inspire most violence and prejudice when compared to others.

    Considering all Religions are man-made, its important to debate and criticize each ideology to make it better, to help evolve it into a more peaceful and modern ideology.Recommend

  • G. Din

    Self-introspection is good for the soul.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely said …… the truth is difficult to digest but it is better to confront it than to live in a state of denial.Recommend

  • allaisaxuver

    How dare you criticize practices which are truly Islamic and rooted and centuries of observation? Take care my friend, may you live long and prosper.Recommend

  • Feroz

    Brother, you are asking readers to look at the mirror. Recommend

  • Anuj Kumar

    Kudos to youRecommend

  • Historian

    This is a thoughtful, introspective article for which I congratulate the author. However, there are two points I believe need to be considered in answering the title question. First, it is not so easy to separate the militant from the mainstream. Whether talking about the violent jihadist or any of the mainstream attitudes toward blasphemy, women, minorities and even cartoons depicting the Prophet, all are rooted in the same approach to Islam. In a word, that is ‘Salafism.’ I coin the term in its broadest sense, meaning a movement of puritanical reform (including Sunnis and non-Sunnis) that began in the 18th century and sought to rid Islamic doctrine of all the intellectualism and Islamic practice of all the accommodations of custom that had accrued since time and memorial. That is, the very intellectualism that allowed Muslims to lead the sciences and arts and live in harmony with non-Muslims for centuries and in various locales. Now, recognizing this is essential to answering the question at hand, for it the Western World that has directly and indirectly promoted Salafi tendencies among Muslims. Considering a couple of examples the direct means, colonial powers directly promoted Salafi forces, as in the backing of the Wahhabi House of Saud’s rise to power in Arabia – a trend that continues today. As well, Pakistan was turned to Salafism with Western backing during the Cold War (re: Afghanistan). As for the indirect means, colonialism destroyed all Islamic institutions teaching non-Salafi approaches to promote Western education, leading to today’s madrasas and the ignorance of contemporary Muslims toward alternative definitions of Islamic doctrine. Such factors have had a direct effect, not just on violence in the name of Islam, but also on general attitudes toward women, minorities, etc. When they are brought into light, it is therefore most appropriate to say that the West must at least share the blame for Muslim behavior and this, in turns, means that I for one grant Westerners no sanction in thinking of Muslims as they do. Westerners are in fact as ignorant of historical and contemporary realities as Muslims.Recommend

  • AA_Southpaw

    Muslims do need introspection.

    The way is “Islam”.

    Not liberalism.

    AA:
    The writer is an Engineer working in the Silicon Valley.Recommend

  • NK Marri

    Muslims wont understand a thing, When 99% say that their religion is the only true religion and all rest are false. When Adam and Eve become 1st Muslims sent by Allah, every other god was sent by Allah. etc etc . The world is surely moving in 2 groups. 1st Non Muslims 2nd Muslims.
    Salam
    NK MarriRecommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    A good article. Thank you for not apologizing for the bad deeds of Muslims all around the world. The Muslims need to take charge of their problems.Recommend

  • Stink

    No we cannot & should not blame them as see in our own country the religious activists come out on roads to hang an innocent woman & not allowing justice do be done via the judicial system
    they are proving to the worldRecommend

  • Zahid Loan

    Never read such rubbish to fool the people in Pakistan. We are Westerner Muslims and no one thinks what the article alleged – shame shame on you Zionist funded news paper.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The right poster, Stop Islam, since more and more christian youth are converting to the religion of Islam. In fact a polish woman known for her past prophetic commentaries is forecasting the Islamization of the European continent during this century. The federal republic of Germany alone has taken more than one and a half million muslim refugees in 2016 followed by the UK, France and Italy and the north americans, all competing to take more syrian muslims in their midst. RHR article simply reflects his old minset and should better return to his regressive native land where violence against the citizens has become a norm regardless of peoples faith.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • ajeetekbote

    The writer is an Engineer working in the Silicon Valley.That says it all exposure to different cultures makes you aware of your short comingsRecommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    illuminati propaganda to delete Islam from this world.
    But u know what, whatever u pseudo liberals want to preach, i will say one thing, God is watchingRecommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    We say it because we believe it.
    Scientifically proven Islam is the only real religionRecommend

  • Sadaf

    In a word yes ( we can blame them Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    So just exactly how did “the rule of law” influence the behavior of the LeT Mumbai terrorists, the London tube and bus bombers, the train bombers in Spain, the 9/11 hijackers, the Moscow theatre terrorists, the multiple Paris Terrorist attackers etc etc? All Muslims by the way!
    The author noted that “moderate Muslims fail to condemn terrorist acts, give apologetic defenses to terrorism or weave nonsensical conspiracy theories to shift the blame”! All points you somehow failed to address!Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    You somehow neglected to explain just how the author’s assertion that “moderate Muslims fail to condemn terrorist acts, give apologetic defenses to terrorism or weave nonsensical conspiracy theories to shift the blame” is rubbish as you claim! Try presenting an argument instead of just throwing rocks, unless you can’t dispute the author’s position!Recommend

  • RHR

    Rex what are you smoking these days?Recommend

  • Vin P

    may appear harsh to many but fairly realistic..Recommend

  • Agarwal

    As a non-muslim, I feel a sense of relief reading this article.

    And muslims must introspect. Thank you for doing just that.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Allah has to be Bedouin Arabic speaking fron Koresh and ummaud tribe his house needs to be macca and knew only one script and dictated only 1 book and gives power to only 1 khilafa. Recommend

  • Anuj Kumar

    “Scientifically proven”, please explain how religion can be scientifically proven.Recommend

  • Hamidah Fawad

    Very apt analysis of the role the West has played in bringing the Muslims to this pointRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    The author noted that “moderate Muslims fail to condemn terrorist acts,
    give apologetic defenses to terrorism or weave nonsensical conspiracy
    theories to shift the blame”! All points you somehow failed to address!

    There is no defense against violence esecially against civilians be it by the individual, a group of people or by the State! They must be condemned by all without exception. However, one must not confuse causual factors of violence with justification or relativisation of the events. The author is known for his biased posture against muslim faith not realising that an atheist non believe is not restricted by morality whereas people of faith are!!

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    Have you an idea of a moderate muslim that RHR is referring to or for comparison a moderate christian or a jew?

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Wow, since when is morality only present in true believers of a religion?
    Morality resides within an individual, be they religious, agnostics or atheist!
    All should recall that Muslim terrorists claim to be true believers but exhibit no morality when slaughtering “Kafirs”!Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    why Islam is so easy to be converted into WMD which can be used on natives who converted to it? All Islamic invaders, looters and rapists besides brutal brother sister murderers used IslamRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    1) All should recall that Muslim terrorists claim to be true believers but exhibit no morality when slaughtering “Kafirs”!

    Then they were not genuine muslims but simply born in a muslim family like the author himself.
    2) Morality resides within an individual, be they religious, agnostics or atheist!
    Not true, Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason established it centuries ago. Besides, a Hindu child even in todays world is not forbidden by his parents or a sadhu not to tell a lie because it is a sin.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • siesmann

    Science is not there to prove beliefs or religions.Recommend

  • siesmann

    God also watches over peopleRecommend

  • PUSHKAR TYAGI

    There is a famous story in the west. Once a man from the west was standing on a railway station. The station was crowded as it was a peak hour. Suddenly a bearded man with a skull cap on, came there and started shouting in Arabic! All the people around him started running in all directions and created a stampede like situation. This man couldn’t understand what is happening. He wanted to help the man who was also stuck in the stampede and was still shouting Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    Ok.Is there any sky?Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    Author was referring to extremists like you.Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    actual God or that who thinks kike a tribal man?Recommend

  • Maimona Zafar

    The article is very good in the writer address some most common factors that most of the west people think about Muslims but let me tell you one thing that the Muslims are very peaceful people and Islam teach us to live peacefully and behave generously with every people either they Muslims or non- Muslims.
    Recommend