Growing up as a young Muslim in a western society was not an easy task. Once you place your feet on foreign soil, you need to take time to understand their culture, customs and identities. Although I felt like an outcast at the start, I gradually started to have a sense of belonging and felt accepted.
Are you or are you not Charlie? That’s the silent question on the minds of people in France and all over the world in the last two weeks. If you are, then you shall be regarded as open-minded and a liberal human being. But if you are not, then you better hope for the best when being judged by others.
In the wake of recent terrorist attacks on Paris, French Muslims and other immigrant communities have become victims of misguided reprisal attacks across the country. There have been several attacks on mosques and prayer centres, and a bombing at a kebab restaurant. Last week, I went into a kebab restaurant near my accommodation for lunch. This restaurant usually does a busy lunch trade, but that day it was empty and the shawarma stick had hardly been touched. I was advised on multiple occasions by close relatives not to go near a mosque or any “Arabian areas” just to avoid being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” These anti-Islamic attacks are relatively small-scale in comparison to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, but it has created fear in the French Muslim minority community and added to the already-existing tension within the country.
Having lived in both the Middle East and Europe, I’ve been exposed to two different and overwhelming cultures. Many westerners believe that those from the Middle East come from a strict, narrow-minded background, and blame this on Islam. This is simply a stereotypical imagine planted in our minds by of the media. I come from a family where debate and dialogue are encouraged not just because this is basic human nature, but because these are the teachings of Islam.
We have reached a stage where whenever an explosion or some sort of an attack takes place in the first world, the first word that pops up in one’s mind is “Muslim.” This has placed a stigma on Muslims which has made me afraid to speak out and make my voice heard. Many Muslims are afraid of being labelled as “radical” just for expressing their point of view.
There have been unprecedentedly large anti-Islamic demonstration in Dresden, Germany, in recent weeks, organised by the anti-immigration group PEGIDA, a German abbreviation for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West.”I was disgusted by some protesters holding brooms signifying the action of “cleaning” Europe of Muslims.
We did not come with a prepared agenda. People did not leave their homes and families behind to “Islamify” the west. My family came for better living standards and a brighter future for us. We wanted to attend the best schools and universities, in the hope of rebuilding our once-bright country, now destroyed by civil war and ignorance. We believe in the holy Qur’an and, in it, there is a verse that reads: “O mankind, surely We have created you from a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other. Surely the noblest of you with Allah is the most dutiful of you. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.” It is the words of Allah and the teachings of the prophet that oblige the followers to follow the concept of coexistence. It is because of ignorance that Islam is considered a danger today, and the media isn’t helping either.
Why should the peaceful French Muslim community bear the burden of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre? Why should I be blamed? Rupert Murdoch said we (Muslims) should “destroy their growing jihadist cancer.” The Paris attacks were not acts of jihad and those terrorists are not martyrs. The actions of the French police officer Ahmed Merabet, who died defending the right to ridicule his religion, contain the true definition jihad. The martyrs are the innocent people who were killed.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” I am not trying to convert you, but rather invite you to learn the differences between us. We should start viewing one another as ordinary human beings, and not just tag each other with unnecessary labels.