I was delighted when the BBC Inside Out programme came to meet me and a bunch of young British Muslims at the London Mosque (London's oldest Mosque) to get our views on Islamophobia this September. Here are some of my experiences and thoughts on the issue. The programme can be viewed in full here and our clip here.
The full version of this post can be found here
I feel as though I'm in an almost-daily battle with Islamophobes whether online or in my mind trying to figure out why these people have so much hatred against Islam.
Today, Islam has been demonized, scapegoated and unjustly equated with terrorism as the media typically over-sensationalizes the actions of some extremists. It's convenient for both Islamophobes and the media alike - Islamophobes find another excuse to justify their prejudice and hatred against Islam while the media loves any story which makes a shocking headline.
As a freelance writer and British Muslim, I have to try and refute those who seek to spread hatred of Islam and mislead people about what Islam really teaches. People who haven't done their own research or know little about Islam get misled and misinformed by Islamophobes, the media and some so-called extremist Muslims. Much of what I've experienced is online and by the media, after all the media is a powerful tool.
However, despite there being a significant Islamophobic problem, much of it is due to complete ignorance about what Muslims truly believe and the majority of people I meet are very open-minded, understanding and tolerant.
I organise peace leafleting campaigns for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the south of Surrey and we always get smiles, compliments and appreciation from householders when we explain that we're here to give the message of love, peace, loyalty and freedom - the same values Islam stands for.
Only around 5% or so actually refuse the leaflet politely saying they're not interested. Comments like 'you should do this more', 'we completely agree' and 'I have no misconceptions or issues with Islam' are not uncommon. So while we do see much negativity in the media and online against Islam and Muslims, my overall experience as a British Muslim has been a very positive one. The British public overall are very understanding, open-minded and educated.
Having said all that though, Muslims have caused issues at home and abroad, there's no doubt about it. But so have many others, not forgetting all the wars our nation and the West are responsible for. A more forthright person might suggest Islamophobia is due to our politicians making questionable foreign policy and starting needless wars in the Middle East. If we're at war with Muslim nations, is it any wonder why natives would be suspicious of Muslims.
Islamophobia has existed since the very inception of Islam when the Prophet Muhammad was labelled a 'madman', 'magician' and 'dangerous'. A lady carrying some bags was on her way back to her town fearful of being victim of the 'magic' of Muhammad. As it happens, he walked by her and offered to help her with her bags. She told him she's very afraid since there is a man named Muhammad who is tricking people, corrupting the youth and misleading them. The Prophet remained quiet and helped her take her bags home. When she arrived home, she was so surprised at the entirely altruistic and kind nature of the man she desired to know his name. He replied I am the same Muhammad you were so afraid of. Needless to say, she accepted him and believed in Islam. Many were convinced of his truth simply by his sublime character and supreme moral qualities.
Moral of the story being that we shouldn't just follow rumours and propaganda since 'hearing is not like seeing'. Misconceptions and Islamophobia will be removed if people come and see for themselves what Muslims are like. Come to our Mosques, meet us, question us and speak with us.
People who see the true Islam completely change their perspective - Jason Leger and Nick Ferrari to name two.
Jason Ledger who protested against Islam wearing an offensive shirt stating 'F*** Islam' in Phoenix, Arizona, had a change of heart when he was invited inside a Mosque. Afterwards he declared:
'Out of respect for the Islamic people, knowing what I know now, because I have talked to them and spoke to them, no I would not do that again, just because I don't want to offend or hurt those people.
When I took a second to actually sit down and listen to them, and actually enter their mosque, and go in and watch some of their prayers, it is a beautiful thing, and they answered some of the questions that I had.'
If everyone actually came to a Mosque, met Muslims and spoke to them, they'd realise 99% of us are normal, law-abiding, peaceful, contributive citizens.
Nick Ferrari also changed his stance somewhat when he visited the largest Mosque in Western Europe - the Baitul Futuh Mosque after which he realised that Islam is peace, serenity and love.
Islamophobes are largely to blame for fueling the fire of Muslim extremists. By firebrand hate-filled rhetoric they create more Islamophobes and deliberately provoke ignorant Muslims into committing atrocities in the name of Islam justifying it under the guise of free speech.
Why don't they use their free speech to speak good words and work with true, peaceful Muslims in condemning such acts and declaring that violence is against the teachings of Islam? That way simple-minded Muslims wouldn't be duped by radical hate preachers nor would Islamophobia spread. Staunch Islamophobes are simply just as bad (and extremist) as the extremists they love to hate.
People have nothing to be fearful from Islam. The fundamental teachings of Islam are and always have been of love, peace, loyalty and unity. Extremists have and always will use anything, twisting and misconstruing verses to suit their own agenda. It's nothing new.
We saw Christian extremism during the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition and not many mention Jewish extremists in Israel today who fantasize that they're superior to all others. ISIS and Muslim extremists say the same thing - justifying their political ambitions using Islam whereas Islam is primarily concerned with a person's inner reformation and relationship with God - our Creator.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community across the world strives by way of their peaceful 'jihad' to stem the tide of Islamophobia and extremism with peace campaigns, leafleting, charity walks, blood drives and many other initiatives.
So if anyone genuinely wishes to see what Islam truly teaches, come and see for yourself - and don't always believe what you see in the media.