After 9/11, Muslims around the world were in a state of discombobulation. Confusion, panic, stupor, and yes, a few actual celebrations. Some hated what happened, some felt it was justified. But all Muslims came together in expressing outrage for former President George W. Bush’s repeated statement: “They hate us because of our freedom.” What did that mean? Muslims hated freedom, so they took innocent lives and their own in the process? A hefty price to pay for hating something.
Funny how sometimes, things turn right around.
Let me take a moment here. I’m a devout Muslim, and after three decades of being a hardcore victim in all aspects of life, I found myself reevaluating a few things. I used to blame everyone for everything. My finances, my happiness, even my weight issues. Why weren’t things working out perfectly for me? When was my cue to walk on stage and fnally be admired? After all, the great modern fear is anonymity. Like most millennials with access to social media, my life became a barren chase for a purposeless ignis fatuus of success and fame. Suffice it to say, thanks to a number of things, including a guy I listened to on YouTube who happens to be the editor-in-chief of this site, I’m finally in a state of remediation.
So as part of my change, I began asking a number of Muslims I knew one simple question: Why does everyone hate us? For the most part, I received one, almost unanimous answer — wait for it — because we're Muslim. Well that sucked for me, given that I wasn’t planning on changing my faith.
I couldn't help but draw parallels between that ridiculous response and President Bush’s statement that Muslim leaders complained about. And then it hit me, this was no different than other forms of victimization. I was a victim at work; they didn't pay me enough. I was a victim of the government; taxes were too high. And listen, I was a victim of my sleep apnea. That's why I ate too much, never mind that I hadn't been tested yet. But most importantly, all Muslims were victims because they were Muslims and everyone hated them. Oh yes, we Muslims too are capable of victimizing ourselves. It’s an interesting phenomena. In actuality, it’s one of the universal traits all humans can share.
The pattern was simply too loud and clear for me to ignore. So I wanted to dig deeper, does everyone truly hate Muslims, and if so, why? I began asking, and YouTube began answering. No question is answered until you hear from all sides, and YouTube certainly offered every side and then some. I listened, I watched, and I thought. As I spent hours listening to people hate me, a question came to mind: “What if it's at least partially our fault?”
One thing was clear, Non-Muslims don't know us. The first huge wave of Muslims came to the US between 1880 and 1920, and yet on the larger scale, we still haven't assimilated. Many of us live in our own bubbles, unwilling to become American. Many Muslims grow up with the notion of “us and them.” Moreover, we learn entitlement. You must accept me needing to step away to pray, but I don’t have to accept that you want to drink a beer.
Why have many of us not assimilated? "Because everyone hates us." Everyone hates us, so we hate everyone, so then everyone hates us. Call me crazy, but I saw a trend.
What about the elephant in the room: terrorism? I was aware of the stats, the shockingly low percentage of terrorist attacks in the US committed by Muslims. Yes, I know. The FBI stated that between 1980 and 2005, only 6% of terrorist attacks in the US were committed by Muslims. In Europe, less than 2%. Okay, what about after 2005? Another question, of the non-Muslim terrorist attacks, how many were instigated due to religious reasons? The numbers are the numbers, fine. But does that mean that we Muslims don’t have a problem? How long will we keep condemning terrorist attacks without truly understanding why they’re happening?
What happened to the Muslims that were leaders in science, mathematics, and philosophy? How about art, poetry, sociology? As hard as it is to believe, there was a time when people liked us, I promise. Today, I don’t see Buddhists people blowing up marathons, I don’t see Hindus driving through crowds of people, and I can’t recall seeing Taoists bombing subway stations. But I see Muslims. Why? After all, even if only one occurred in the name of my religion, I'd want to know why. Instead of jumping straight to saying we're victims, why do Muslims commit terrorist attacks?
Imagine if we could answer that question. Presumptuous. But let's try.
Ask ten people, they’ll give you ten answers. Ask ten Muslims, you'll get far less. An incredibly prominent answer is, “Terrorism is a response to American troops in the Middle East.”
Fine, let’s concede that for a moment and run with it. Muslims in the Middle East don’t like having troops in their backyards. Makes sense. So the solution is for local American Muslims to kill innocent Americans? Something’s missing. And that something, I believe, could partly be found in the engorgement of an infestation in today’s version of our religion.
Is it possible that we as Muslims have allowed our religion to grow incorrect beliefs and ideologies? Does the Quran teach that there is a Shariah law that God created? If so, where is that outlined? (It doesn’t, by the way.) Does it teach that we as Muslims must live to enforce our own beliefs on others? (It says the opposite, “You have your religion, and I have mine.” Verbatim, people.) Does it teach that our goal is to conquer every piece of land until everyone becomes our version of Muslim? It doesn’t.
So then where did these ideas come from? Whether we Muslims like it or not, evolution exists. Yes, Darwin’s evolution, but also evolution of religion. Yeah, Islam has changed throughout the centuries. What began as a simple message of love, monotheism, and understanding has morphed into, well, something very different.
Islam originated in the Arab community. And Arabs have a trait that while being very noble and wonderful, can also yield catastrophic outcomes at times. That trait is respect for elders. A wonderful thing and a notion that holds families together, but it is also often the cause of cultural and scientific stagnation. It is said that the Prophet’s Uncle believed in Islam, but would not convert due to not wanting to leave the religion of his forefathers out of respect for them. While much of the world appreciates innovation and progress, Arabs see a nobility to monotony. So as a result, you find many Muslims today following Islamic rulings of scholars that lived over a millennium ago. In a nutshell, change of the religion is bad.
The problem is — and it is a problem — the change already took place. It took place with certain scholars a thousand years ago. A split in ideologies occurred then, and the wrong side, the Salafist side, the Islamist side, prevailed. And so a shift happened from Islam the theology to Islam the stateship. From Islam the religion to Islam the militancy. A shift from “There is no compulsion in religion" (Quran 2:256) to “Kill the apostates.” A shift from a belief that every human deserves respect and one should help humanity progress as a whole, to a list of intricate, heavily debated do’s and dont’s that are so miniscule on the larger scale.
Let me be clear in my conclusion here. And before I even conclude, let me state that I don’t speak for Islam. Not because I don’t have a degree in theology, but because I don’t believe anyone can speak for a religion except the Maker of the religion, and whomever He assigns to speak for it. Regardless, I’m not suggesting Muslims convert from the Left to Right. Though, funny enough, the Right thought is much closer to original Islamic ideologies.
I know there are many Muslims who share my views. But they aren’t vocal, and they complain of a lack of a platform. Islam has been hijacked over the generations by the Salafist, the extremist, the once aberrant but now mainstream. What I am suggesting is for Muslims as a whole to stop victimizing themselves. I am suggesting Muslims begin questioning things. If you’ve learned something about your religion since before you could walk, question it. See if it’s truly part of your religion, or if it originated in someone’s biased thoughts and, over the centuries, was mistakenly taken as part of God’s word. Question things and throw everything against logic. If it’s true, it will withstand any test.
I’m not talking to the Islamic radicals — they don’t deserve speaking to. I’m talking to those who agree that the radicals are wrong.
Defend your religion, but fix it first. Until we’ve reformed our understanding of our religion, and reverted the mainstream version of the religion back to its moderate, peaceful version, we’re not innocent. I’m not suggesting we change God’s words; I’m suggesting we change our flawed interpretation of it to resonate with everything we know about the world today. Maybe then we’ll be contributing members of society like we were before we allowed our religion to be debased and altered.
Enough pointing fingers and blaming others. We’ve condemned enough, it’s not helping. Time to see if perhaps, just maybe, there’s a slight possibility that we do have a problem. And that we do need to change.
Ibrahim Ashmawey is an Orange County-based film and television writer. Throughout his creative career, he has written for a multitude of prominent media outlets, including Disney Channel. He has also both written and produced numerous independent films.