In August of 2001, I had completed my first technology course, earned by grant from my then university. This two week course was organized for faculty members to become more tech savvy. Among the objectives in my proposal to be one of 15 recipients of this course, I stated my intention to develop teaching materials to ‘represent the softer side of Islam..’ One month later, the attacks on 9-11 happened.
Clearly I was not successful to combat the onslaught of negativity that was hurled through the media at all Muslims. Still, I was even further unprepared for what it would mean to a lowly undergraduate Professor of Islam at that time. After the shock and awe, I found myself pursuing one goal.. To provide information to others about that softer side. Like the deluge of public media focused on one sector of Muslims and creating an even wider spread of panic that ALL Muslims were like the perpetrators, this was also an unsuccessful and thank less task.
So, like this blog title I learned to embrace another, more holistic approach to the matter of having one event in all the history of modernity as THE perspective on Islam. I recognized that I had bought INTO that larger narrative by reacting to it, apologizinfgfor it and speaking out against it. Frankly I had no need to. My approach was to combat that representation AS IF true.
For some (like my friend Ani from MPV [see our FAW in the archives of this page]) the way to combat it is to say the perpetrators (or the Taliban, or ISIS, or other violent extremists) are NOT part of “Real” or “True” Islam. That is the same language used by such extremists and in fact by most neo-conservative Muslims to exclude LBGTQI Muslims, Muslim Women advocates for equality, and frankly just about any Muslim with progressive values. I consider this too easy. It might mean we do not have to take any responsibility to resist extremism amongst us because we can pretend they are not really Muslim.
I learned to take a more chronological approach. My advocacy for Islam as inclusive, compassionate and universal did NOT start with September 2001. My future (as I saw it then and can now attest to 20 years later) was linked to the SAME location I had before that Tuesday. My advocacy was NOT impacted by the events on that Tuesday. Thus, I would STILL advocate but in a manner that was PRO-active and not RE-active.
So, what I am calling for here is to dedicate yourself towards the greater good as you see it and as you can meaningfully or effectively participate IN IT. But since what you see as good evolves over time and life experience, then as your vision and perspective of good grows and changes your participation in it will likewise grow and change. So it is not static.
However it is not merely as an apology to or reaction against what others do or don’t do–no matter their religion, lack of religions or perspectives on religion. The rhetoric of power disparity presumes there must be a single truth. A speaker/actor is able to refute that power disparity by using terminology or by performing actions that will somehow UNDO that which is being promoted by the rhetoric of power and privilege. By this I mean what the Lorde, Audre meant when she said, “The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.”
To use the tool of language to assert that I am better than…is the same tool used by those who oppress. The Qur’an has confirmed that humans were created weak. It also confirms that when the angels questioned Allah on the divine intention to create humans on earth by asking “would you create one that WILL do harm and cause destruction?” that Allah’s response was, “I know what you do not know..” . This is the greatest mystery of human existence on the earth. What is that Allah knows? Surely the angels spoke the truth!
Furthermore, the Qur’an also tells us Allah “created on the earth a Khalifah (a moral agent or one who ACTS on the earth to establish the divine way of good) and it tells us the Allah created “all the sons and daughters of Adam with karamah (or dignity)”. To me, that means the greater responsibility for combating harm is by establishing good is a mode of operation. It is an inspiration to rise up to the gift of my earthly humanity. It is not a short cut to ridding the world of those who do harm by simply dismissing them.
My logic goes like this: What was I doing before 9-11? What am I doing because of 9-11? and what do I want to do after 9-11? If any one of those three questions have a different answer then I might be part of the problem: a user of the master’s tools. When I examined my life journey I can answer all three questions the same way: ‘I am aspiring to do good’.
After the sheer exhaustion of trying to combat this negative image of Islam I had to step back and reassess. What I was doing combats extremism already. What I will continue to do combats extremism. Once the weight of reacting was thereby lifted, I had way more energy to do that good and so it continues to be. I also notice that still today more liberal Muslims feel like they have to say something about 9-11 than any other group in the US. Why is that?
My Islam was not shaped by that event. So, I recommend not buying into the hype. We do not need to continually apologize for 9-11, nor do we need to justify our existence. If we do while only using the master’s tools it is a no-win situation. If we ACTUALLY and actively promote the establishment of good, that is an eternal task and will provide us with opportunities for a life time. So, don’t let this date mean more than any other date regarding what you are all about. I know, despite saying this, I wrote on it. So let me cut it short, so I can go about the good. Have a blessed day. Keep hope alive.