“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
I begin with the disclaimer that the following are my own views and do not represent views of any other group(s) of people or organization’s.
It is no secret that Islam and Muslims, in this day and age, are taking a lot of flak from a variety of groups. At the same time, I have found the majority of Muslims to be generally reserved in terms of communicating with the wider community. Perhaps we think that people are not gullible enough to be brainwashed by mainstream media. Or perhaps we think that sufficient inter-faith communication is already taking place. Or perhaps we think inter-faith communication is not our personal responsibility. But there has to be a stronger counter-narrative to all the various sources of miscommunication that is being fed in front of our eyes.
I am a big believer in working locally in my community, and doing whatever I can do in my capacity to address the imbalance in the perception of Islam and Muslims.
I have been very fortunate to have had faith related dialogue with people from different walks of life. We have organized Mosque Open days – where Mosques are open to general public (1), -where anyone can come in, have a tour of the Mosque, talk and ask questions to Islamic scholars as well as the local Muslim community. This is part of a greater initiative here in Australia, coordinating Mosque Open days on the same date (2). As an organizer, it is fair to say that I have heard a variety of viewpoints and seen a range of different attitudes towards Islam and religion in general.
There is generally a group of right-wing extremists who hate Islam. I have found that there is a common theme with most people in this group – they do not want to engage in a direct, meaningful discussion with Muslims, and usually any communication attempts end up in abuse or the claim that “You are just being nice to me and lying to me and I don’t trust you. Your religion permits you to lie. It’s called Taqiyya. (3)”
Then there is a group of people who are distant from religion altogether – they might belong to a religion, but a lot of people from this group are really atheists. Their view is that all religions are just means of controlling people and that religion is the source of a lot of grief and problems around the world.
There are a group of people from other faiths who have a better understanding of Islam and theology in general. They often sympathize with, and lend their support to Muslims.
In my experience, most people turning up to the open day genuinely want to find out about Islam and also check that the impression they might have of Islam from mainstream media is really true. The most rewarding experience for the open day organizers is when someone from the fringe of a right-wing group turns up, we have a meaningful dialogue, and they end up having a more balanced perspective of what Islam is, and how Muslims really are. Unfortunately, this does not happen as often as we would like. One of the most rewarding experience for me personally was after a long chat with an Aussie bloke, he remarked “You guys are all fair dinkum. I was really wrong.” (4)
Mosque Open Days are a great initiative. If you are a Muslim, living in non-Muslim country, I highly recommend you to suggest this to your local Mosque, and support the organizers any way you can. In general, we should look to build strong bridges of friendship with the wider community. Whether it be at your workplace, or with your neighbors.
As Muslims, I think this is an absolute necessity in the current climate and that all of us should take greater responsibility in addressing the imbalance created by anti-Islam propaganda.
- I should clarify here that Mosques are open to public all the time. Its just that outside prayer times, no-one might be available in the smaller Mosques.
- National Mosque Open Day is an initiative that became popular in Australia since 2014 – where a lot of the Mosques open their doors to the general public, and hold Mosque tours, Q and A information session, and generally offer the wider community to meet Muslim people.
- Taqiyya is a concept whereby certain sects of Muslims are permitted to misrepresent their views or conceal their religion when under threat of persecution or compulsion. Since the 2000s, taqiyya has become a frequently invoked concept in debates surrounding criticism of Islam and especially Islamic extremism. Islamic scholars tend to emphasize that taqiyya is only permissible under duress, and that the inflationary use of the term qualifies as “a staple of right-wing Islamophobia in North America” (Mohammad Fadel 2013), or “Taqiyya libel against Muslims” while their critics accuse them of practicing “taqiyya about taqiyya” (Raymond Ibrahim, 2014).
- Fair dinkum is Australian slang used to confirm the genuineness or truth of something. For example, “they were asking a lot for the car, but it was fair dinkum considering its excellent condition”