Thursday, 5 June 2014

A Message to My Muslim Brothers and Sisters: We Need to Reach Out with Kindness, Patience and Understanding

Islam has developed a bad reputation and perceived negatively in the new millennium, despite being the fastest growing religion in some western countries. Many people think ours is a religion of violence, intolerance, inequity and unfairness. Don't believe me? Just look at some of the articles and comments in international and local online news websites. There are those who feel that we are still living in the dark ages.

In Malaysia, the decision of PAS to table a bill on the Islamic criminal law has sparked a reaction among non-Muslims. Many articles have been shared in the news and social media about the harshness of Islam, Islamic law and its implementation. 

Developments in Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan Saudi Arabia and Acheh have not helped. Some of the issues relate to culture rather than religion, while others have been misrepresented. A handful may have cropped up due to man's unfair interpration of the law. 

Personally, I feel quite helpless in the face of the onslaught on the Internet and negative article sharing on social media. Despite being capable of answering and explaining, there is just no time to respond to everything and everyone.

There are some things in the religion which will never be accepted by others, that we have to realise. However part of this anger and hatred towards Islam is actually our own fault.We don't have to look far, there are so many examples in Malaysia.

How are we to implement the Islamic criminal law when even now, without those laws, we are unfair to others? Just look at how we deal with the Allah issue and matters relating to marriage and divorce. People don't believe that we are just and fair and I have to agree.  

We only consider things from our own view point. We want to 'protect' the religion. In the process of 'protecting', we push people further away from Islam. Whatever happened to our duty to spread the message?

The authorities, NGOs and those purportedly representing Islam also overeact to smallest of things. We ask people to follow the Sunnah but we don't show patience. Once during Prophet Muhammad's time (Peace Be Upon Him) a Bedouin started urinating in the mosque and while his companions wanted to attack the man, the Prophet (PBUH) stopped them, allowed the man to finish and advised him gently. 

Imagine the reaction, not only locally but all over the world, if this were to happen at the present time. The guy would be inundated with death threats. Patience is in short supply. To further emphasise its virtue, patience or sabr is mentioned in the Quran 102 times! 

For Muslims such as us, with not much influence on the ulamas or authorities, what are we to do? How do we react to the extremism of our so called brethren and the hate and negativity towards Islam generated because of it, since news, whether real or distorted can be spread fast due to the advent of social media?  I really don't have the solution. But I do think that it is our duty to play our part to address the negative perception.

I think we as individuals can take the first step by being good examples and reaching out to others. This is something we have clearly failed to do. Here are some suggestions.
  1. Embrace and build friendships within our community. There are preachers whose job is to spread the message but have very few friends from other faiths. How to reach out to the community when you only talk to your own congregation.
  2. Be patient and don't over react to things. Try to explain factually and politely. The bigger the reaction the more negative the impact.
  3. Open our mosques to everyone. Reach out to people. Our behaviour has made many non-Muslims feel afraid to come in, even for functions or funeral. After all, wasn't it specifically metioned in the Quran that Allah is the Lord of All Creations?
  4. Provide a copy and encourage people to read the translation of the Quran. People may not agree with everything but would at least allow them to understand us better. I noticed that some high profile reverts in the West embraced Islam, not because of proselytization, but simply because that did some research by reading the translated version directly from the main sources, i.e. Quran and Hadith
  5. Help everyone. Unconditionally. Not just fellow Muslims. 
  6. Live the message of our greeting, Assalamualaikum, which means 'Peace be Upon You'. We have gone away from this powerful message.
  7. Treat women with huge respect, care, fairness and understanding. We need to do much better in this area. While I don't agree with some organisations fighting to change some laws which is clearly embedded in the Quran, it is important that we treat women better and don't blame them for our ills. We can do this within the framework of the Quran and the Hadith.
  8. Go and visit your non-Muslim friends when they invite you to their house. There are also many other ways we can build relationships, including in social activities and sports.
  9. Let others question and speak out about certain things in Islam that affect them or their friends, and answer these issues factually and politely.
  10. Accept and realise that people will not agree with many things in Islam. Why should they? If they did, they would already be Muslims. It would be great if we can show that Islam is fair, just and peaceful. We need to show it, not just talk about it.  
We cannot change what people here and elsewhere do that affect the image of Islam negatively. But we can at least not contribute further to the negative perception. We live in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society, and this is a golden opportunity to show the beauty of Islam. Unfortunately, we have squandered this opportunity so far and created so much ill-will that it is pushing others further away from the Deen.

Note: 
  1. I'm a Muslim living in Malaysia who supports the implementation and subscribe to the fair application of Islamic law, and strongly believe that  those advocating the implementation of these laws must do it through the democratic process.
  2. I am against the shrill voices of organisations such as ISMA and PERKASA. However I also  do not agree with some of the views of organisations at the other end of the spectrum, such as SIS.
  3. We have a duty to change this perception of Islam from a religion of violence to one advocating a peaceful way of life, through our own conduct. 

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