Thursday, November 11, 2010

Making Waves in the Media

The other afternoon, I watched a very interesting documentary called "30 Days - Living As A Muslim". The premise behind the documentary is that people from all different walks of life in America, volunteer to live for 30-days in an environment that is completely different from anything they have known before. In this particular episode, a young married father, white, Christian, from West Virginia agrees to live 30-days as a Muslim and with a Muslim family in Dearborn, Michigan.

I won't go into a rundown of the show, and you can definitely view the entire episode in five parts on You Tube; the reason I am writing this is because there was something in the show that really bothered me. I felt overwhelming sadness at the ignorance to the truth of Islam. And the way that people react to Muslims and to our beliefs and way of life.

How badly we have been portrayed in the media that a single word association game will produce such images in the minds of those who simply know us (Muslims) as what has been portrayed to them in the media. So when a person mentions the word "Terrorist" in such a game, the first word that passes through their mind is "Muslim". And when the word "Muslim" is presented, the first word that crops into peoples minds is "terror", followed by "fear", and "scared" and then of course the ever present, "terrorist".

So how have we, people whose entire religion is one that is steeped in peace - the root word of Islam itself is Salaam, which we know means "peace"; how have we become to be known as a people who will strike fear and loathing into the hearts of complete strangers?

One word, Media.

Sadly, over the history of our most modern times, media has reported individuals who are Muslims, doing evil and extraordinary acts of cruelty, as being WHO we are, NOT acts perpetrated by men (and women) who are Muslim by religion and not our religion perpetrating that what they have done.

September 11th 2001 changed our world, and it took the notion of people who did things and who happened to be Muslim, to suddenly this radical belief that ALL Muslims have the potential to perpetrate such atrocities. While we, who live on the other side of that fence think that is a preposterous notion, the media use of verbiage such as "Radical Muslim" and "Muslim extremist" keeps the association of Muslim together with the negative and therefore perpetrating us all to be cut from the same cloth.

Does this make me, and every other Muslim sister who chooses to wear hijab and pray five-times a day, who chooses to live life in accordance with the teachings of our prophet Mohamed (PBUH) and the Quran; and who live a prayerful, spiritual, and peace-filled life in remembrance of Allah (SWT) suddenly mean we are now terrorists and someone to be taunted and spat at and abused in the streets?

How does it turn from who we truly are, peace-filled beings, to suddenly being labelled as "scary"?

I am a simple woman. I proudly wear hijab, I continually have a prayer in my heart, and I hold my head up high and look in people's eyes and I smile into their faces, and I say "Hello" with a friendly nod to people who stop and stare at me. Can I truly be seen as someone to be feared?

In all honesty, since I began to wear hijab over the past couple of months, I have not once had, or felt, any discrimination. I may have had people stop and stare; one particular lady stopped dead in her tracks in Costco one day, and what was my reaction to that? I walked right over to her gorgeous child in the cart and said "Oh aren't you the most adorable little guy?!" To which her entire demeanor changed and we engaged in a simple conversation about her child. I guess her sense of "fear" had been diminished as we connected as women gushing over her child.

Is that something that is difficult for us to do? Being friendly, being kind, being charitable, showing love, and being human?!

If this is the case, what can we then do to begin to create fresh media reports of POSITIVE actions rather than negativity and reports that show us continually in a bad light?

I was spurned to action when I was looking for photos to share on my Facebook page and simple did a Google image search under the key words "Peace Islam". What turned up was something that was horrific, painful, and lasting that is now etched in my psyche forever. There were pictures of severed heads, terrorist madmen with covered faces holding up the severed head of an executed American, young childrens severed heads, severed heads in boxes; amongst these were radical hatred photos of Muslim demonstrators calling for beheading with the caption "Is THIS Islamic Peace?"! Intermingled amongst these heinous photos were a scattering of the beauty that I was seeking; but who sees those in a sea of hate, horrendous imagery, and negativity?

My action... my proposal is to unite Muslims throughout the world to gain much media attention for us doing GOOD WORKS, where we are shown serving our fellow-man, helping, being kind, loving; and doing it as HUMAN BEINGS as opposed to being Muslim. In other words, doing in with the intent of Allah (SWT) and zakat in our hearts, but without spouting off Quranic verses (which will fuel a fire) or trying to teach about our beliefs (unless specifically asked), but rather showing and proving to the world that we can be people... humans, just as they are with the same concerns, the same hopes for peace and brotherly love, acceptance, and the same potential for charity and giving as the next person.

I have read/seen/heard arguments from people who claim that the desire and goal of Islam is to create a global domination and force all of man-kind to be converted to Islam, or face the sword. They truly believe this! So, when we are out and spouting off our beliefs into crowds, people see us as being this stereotypical enemy who is seeking to convert otherwise the sword is going to be produced. It is an incredible "Paul-ine" way of thinking (ie Paul formerly Saul of Tarsus); convert or die. Maybe this is the Christian belief because it is so steeped in their teachings and has now been transposed over to us. However, when we do the kind of dawah where we are preaching in the streets, we are falling into the stereotype that the media and these so-called "Christian" ministers are making their flocks believe.

Wouldn't being known as a people who work to make peace, NOT 'force' peace, make a better statement and dawah? Wouldn't showing that we are just people who have a concern and a vested interest in humanity and the countries we live in, a better message for us to be embraced as Americans (or Canadians, or Australian, or English, or German... etc... etc...) better than as terrorists?

It seems to me, no matter how much we kick and scream and try to make people believe that WE suffered just as the next person in 9/11, no one wants to believe that WE are not all responsible for the atrocities that took place. We must now find find a way of re-creating ourselves and in the way that people view us.

Along similar lines as the world-wide "Free Hugs" campaign, I put forth an idea, which I pray insha-Allah will become a movement; that we organize a gathering of Muslims within our cities to rally together in providing service to those who are in need. Maybe that is donating time at a food kitchen, or a food bank, or making sandwiches and distributing them (and a bottle of water) to the homeless in your cities - or just to people in general. Maybe wrapped in the sandwich paper will be a little and simple note that says "You are loved" and left at that, NO long Quranic phrase or quote from Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), just keeping it simple. Do this during a lunch hour, you never know who may not have money to buy themselves lunch.

If we can gather together to make this happen, maybe if we were to organize it on the same day, throughout the world, it WILL be a movement. We are not doing anything other than giving.

The more we are PRO-PEACE and PRO-LOVE, and just "Pro" the more positives we will draw to ourselves.

I will end this with a quote from Mother Teresa: "I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there."

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