Salaam Dear Reader,
'Inherently different' is the phrase that made me sit up when I was reading Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road by Johan Elverskog. The phrase was used by officials in the Qing Dynasty to justify and call for the eradication of Muslims and the destruction of mosques in the empire. China's relationship with its Muslim population fluctuates from integration (Admiral Zheng He during the Ming) to interludes of open hostility – they are not 'like us' – during the Qing, and somewhere in between, like for example during the Yuan.
I paused at the phrase 'inherently different' because it made me think of another phrase that was used not too long ago by an elder statesman. He referred to Muslims in Singapore thus: 'they are distinct and separate'. This episode and the episode from centuries past drive home the message that the othering of Muslims has a long history and is pervasive.
Today, it has perhaps become normalised.
Our new arrival this week, Fear of a Muslim Planet: Global Islamophobia in the New World Order, talks exactly about this. The work is diligently supported by verbatim quotes, opinion surveys and statistics, and policy statements. The author and human-rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar interweaves his portrayal of contemporary Islamophobia with biographies of the martyrs of the Christchurch mosque shootings in 2019, showing in a very visceral way how Islamophobic thought has real human costs. Moreover, this book demonstrates that Islamophobia is now truly global.
So what are we to do?
We turn once more to the tiny Muslim community in Christchurch, New Zealand. In the wake of the mosque shooting they have come together on a project known as The Christchurch Invitation that seeks to put compassion into action.
In spite of the physical and emotional wounds that survivors have to endure for the rest of their lives, the Christchurch community has chosen compassion over hate, healing over revenge. Christchurch has shown that to be enablers for positive change it is not enough to just call out Islamophobia or any other type of injustice. We have to set ourselves on the more difficult task of engagement and become exemplars of compassion and moral courage.
This is the time, as Abdal Hakim Murad suggests in Travelling Home, for Muslims to assume the role of healer in a world of hatefulness and brokenness.
May we be among those who heal.