Raqqa: The city of ghosts

Yesterday I watched a very moving – and harrowing film – called City of Ghosts about an astonishing group of Syrian men who formed the movement Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered – a citizen led press movement to tell the world of the atrocities taking place in Raqqa. From fighting for political freedom under the Assad regime to living under the bloodthirsty rule of ISIS, they risked their lives – and continue to do so today – to spread light on the realities on the ground. Despite having since lost family members, friends and colleagues in “revenge attacks” both in Syria and Turkey, these brave inspirational men continue the fight for peace and justice and in 2015, the group were awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

I’d like to share with you a message from the co-founder of RBSS, Aziz (Abdalaziz Alhamza), courtesy of The Syria Campaign to give an insight into life in Raqqa and the RBSS movement. Take a look at Aziz’s story…

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Abdalaziz Alhamza (Image: New America – CC)

Raqqa, the city where I was born in 1991, used to be the forgotten city of Syria. The TV weather forecast even missed us out. Now as the capital of the Islamic State, the name of Raqqa is never far from the lips of world leaders.

To me, Raqqa is the city where I grew up and where I have my friends and relatives. It’s the city where I speak my accent (I miss it now) and where I went to school and spent my childhood. Raqqa is a place where everyone knows everyone else. If you don’t know someone directly, you’ll know his brother. And if you don’t know his brother, you’ll definitely know his cousin.

When I grew up everyone wanted to leave Syria for work – usually to somewhere like Dubai. But that’s because the government was controlling 80% of the economy. A country that has oil, gas, historical sites, antiquities, ancient civilisation, tourism and so much more besides. We were tired of the government controlling all the money. When I joined the peaceful protests in 2011 it was because I believe I have a right to have a good life in my own country.

For decades we were so scared. There was no freedom of expression, we used to say the walls have ears. Everyone was a spy and you’d keep hearing that this neighbour or that neighbour was arrested for political reasons. Saying a single word against the Assad regime could result in 20-50 years in prison or being killed. You can’t imagine these conditions.

But in 2011 we realised that people have more power than the government. People were able to break the fear and go into the street even though they knew they might face death in any second.

Most Syrians outside of my city never thought or talked about Raqqa until March 4, 2013, the morning we woke up to be the first liberated city in Syria. After nearly two years of protest and revolt, our people had managed to push the Assad regime forces out the city, and Syrians nicknamed Raqqa the “Capital of Liberation”.

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Raqqa – the “Capital of Liberation” (Image: Beshr Abdulhadi – CC)

That’s when for the first time in 40 years, civilians were running the city. We had a local and provincial council and dozens of civil society organisations. I was part of the Union of Free Syrian Students and we opened up the university again. Many people who were fleeing persecution from the Assad regime came to Raqqa and were able to have a normal life. Civil society organisations had more power than the armed groups – how it should be.

But then Isis came.

First they came in small numbers, and we demonstrated against them. Then they came with heavy weapons stolen from Iraq and those who were defending Raqqa didn’t have the means to stop them. Our city’s fighters pleaded with the international community for more support but it didn’t come and Isis took over.

But Raqqawis – people from Raqqa – never accepted Isis.

Less than 1% of locals joined Isis. That means that most are against Isis but they can’t show it, they can’t say it, otherwise they’ll be arrested or killed. Our people have been living under Isis for years but just keeping their heads low as civilians. This means no salaries and jobs. If they joined Isis they would get money, cars – even sex – but still Raqqawis refuse. This silent refusal is one of the most important forms of resistance.

In April 2014 along with a few of my friends we set up Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently to counter Isis propaganda.

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Children are growing up amongst violence and bloodshed (Image: Beshr Abdulhadi – CC)

We began sneaking covert photos and footage out of Raqqa, publishing them on our social media channels, showing that this wasn’t the utopia that Isis claimed. We sprayed anti-Isis slogans on the walls of our town and published our own magazine mocking their propaganda. They hated it and hunted us down.

Many of us escaped Raqqa then but Isis responded by targeting our families. They released a propaganda video of the execution of the father of my friend and RBSS co-founder Hamoud al-Mousa. It’s one of the most brutal things I’ve ever had to watch. But this didn’t stop us. Our anonymous colleagues in Raqqa continue to this day to sneak out footage and information which gets picked up by the biggest networks in the world. Our pictures and video from inside the heart of Isis’s capital have been broadcast by the BBC, CNN and other channels.

But today the threat to my city’s civilians is not just from Isis.

The US and its allies have been begun bombing Raqqa and the surrounding area recklessly. Since the beginning of the year these airstrikes have killed more civilians than Isis. This ‘scorched earth’ policy is because they want to defeat Isis militarily as soon as possible. But they don’t ever think about the day after defeating Isis.

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Raqqa – a destroyed city (Image: Beshr Abdulhadi – CC)

In the coming weeks and months as Isis gets driven out of its territory, people will ask who is taking over. The Kurdish-led forces backed by the West have displaced people and burned homes. It is hard to see them welcomed by locals in and around Raqqa.

And then there are rumours that these areas will be handed over to Assad. This is the worst scenario.

Many would be arrested and killed – it will be a massacre. Worse than that, it will be a step back to the beginning of this mess. Assad created this extremism. Many people were radicalised because of how his regime treated its own people. Every single Syrian has a brother, friend, neighbour or relative killed by Assad.

I have been interrogated many times by Isis, they killed many of my friends and they tried to kidnap me. And yet still I understand that Assad is the main problem in Syria. This is the issue that the world needs to understand.

And yet I am hopeful.

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“Raqqa strong and free” (Image: Beshr Abdulhadi – CC)

I have an optimism deep inside me more than six years since we first took to the streets. That is because today people are still demanding their rights. I feel hope looking at people in the different cities who are demonstrating every day. Like people in Maaret al-Numan who drove out Al Qaeda with their demonstrations.

That’s why I still have hope. There are still millions who believe in the Revolution. People who are resisting not only Assad, but all groups who are violating our rights. These are things that make me believe that one day we will have democracy and a united country where people can have jobs in a thriving economy.

When people outside the country ask what should be done about Raqqa or Syria, this is what I tell them. Help us to achieve a government that represents all of us, that will help us defeat extremism and permit Raqqawis and other Syrians to return home.

There is no other way.

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These men have given their lives in the fight towards freedom. I definitely recommend watching the film. You’re taken into the lives of RBSS – their struggles, their losses and their futures. The film is directed by Oscar-nominated Matthew Heineman and was given a 5-star review by The Guardian who stated it “could be the definitive Syrian documentary”.

For those of you in the UK, information on film screenings can be found here. You can also watch it on demand at home (UK/Ireland). For those of you in the US and elsewhere, the film will be available on Amazon Prime from 13th October 2017. Do check it out but warning – some scenes are quite graphic.

To also find out more about RBSS and to keep up with the latest news on Syria, please visit the following sites:

Thank you to our Syrian brothers who have dedicated their lives to bringing the truth to the world about the atrocities in Syria. We can only but imagine the hardship you have all faced…

Credits and acknowledgements

Text written by Aziz (Abdalaziz Alhamza), as featured by The Syria Campaign (01/08/2017).

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A Simple Path Made Difficult – Advice for Muslim Sisters

Hi everyone. Inspired by previous discussions, the lovely Ashley from Muslimah According to Me asked me to write a guest post on her blog about moderation and extremism in Islam. Here’s my thoughts and experiences. Take a look!

Muslimah According to Me

Salaam everyone! Today I am jumping back in with a guest post from my dear sister Liz, who blogs over at www.voiceofsalam.wordpress.com.

Firsly, I highly recommend you go check out her blog! She writes about current events, her personal experiences as a revert, and other topics that need to be brought up in our communities. I love her strong point of view, and I always look forward to reading her posts!

Today’s guest post is actually kind of a substitute for another post I was dragging my feet on, but I daresay I like this one better! I was planning on writing the post I mentioned in my last post on different homogenising pressures within the community, but then I got to talking to Liz about these kinds of things and it turns out she has just as much to say about it as me!

So she kindly agreed…

View original post 1,145 more words

#ChallengingTheNarrative – Which narratives do you refuse to endorse? Here’s 10 I won’t…

Last month, in line with International Women’s Day, I attended the Nisa-Nashim conference in London. Nisa-Nashim (meaning “women” in both Arabic and Hebrew respectively) is a UK based organisation which aims to bring Muslim and Jewish women together to build bridges, found friendships and develop understanding between the two communities. We’ve got more in common than you’d think: we both come from the Abrahamic family of faiths, we share many values and practices and  sadly, both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism – at least in visible terms – are on the rise worldwide including Europe and the USA.

However, this unfortunate trend appears to be bringing the two communities closer together. Back in February this year in the US, when thugs desecrated two Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis, American Muslims raised over a staggering $140,000 to rebuild the graves. Likewise, when a mosque in Tampa (Florida) was attacked just day later, thanks to the support of Jewish donors, a massive total of $60,000 was raised to repair the damage. Gestures such as this go to show that we refuse to be divided by hate and that we actively challenge the narrative that “Jews and Muslims don’t get on” (due to predominantly Middle Eastern politics one would presume).

“Challenging the narrative” was exactly the theme of the Nisa-Nashim conference – a lovely day spent with lots of lovely Jewish and Muslim sisters (and one lovely gentleman)! We really are stronger together and we really do need to show that stereotypes, narratives and misconceptions must be challenged. During the day the question was posed: What narratives are you challenging? Other than by already being there, this made me think about what I am doing and what I can do – like all of us – to challenge people’s perceptions and to offer a different narrative. Here’s my list – what’s yours…?

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1. Islam and human rights are “incompatible”. Muslims hate “gay people”, agnostics, atheists, non-Muslims, Hindus, feminists, human rights campaigners etc.

I do not hate anyone. End of. God gave us all life and we must respect everyone – with no distinction in regards to ethnic background, nationality, race, religion or sexuality END OF. I myself am a human rights campaigner. I have a Master’s in Human Rights, I run a human rights blog and I’m a member of Amnesty International. I’m passionate about being active – online and offline – and I try and use my voice to speak out against injustice. This is my life, if I couldn’t do this well… there’d be trouble!

As a Muslim, Islam advocates feeding the poor, being just, honest, treating all humans (including women!) with respect, honour and dignity. Islam is serious about human rights. Unfortunately religious extremism, fear, sexism, tribalism, greed, intolerance, xenophobia etc. have all got in the way for many…

2. Muslims and Jews “don’t get on”

I’m Co-Chair of a local Jewish-Muslim women’s group in London as part of the Nisa-Nashim network. I respect and love my Jewish brothers and sisters. I may even have Jewish heritage (long story) and that is something I’m incredibly proud of. I’m forever saying how I’d like to make some Jewish friends! I – like many Muslim women – attended the Nisa-Nashim conference and are involved in its activities. The main hall was full of love! Since then I’ve been able to attend an interfaith Passover Seder and will continue to be involved in interfaith work. We’re sisters in the Abrahamic family and we’re sisters in humanity. And no: being Muslim does not equate to being anti-Semitic or a terrorist just as being Jewish does not equate to being a Zionist or Islamophobe.

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Jewish-Muslim solidarity (Washington D.C.) – Image credit: Joe Flood (CC)


3. Converts are suspicious, strange or wannabe extremists

There are Muslim converts, Jewish converts, Sikh converts (people I’ve met!) – it’s a fact of life. However we come to our new faith, we usually do so with love and enthusiasm – we’ve found something dear. Converts need to learn, they need support and they’re on a journey but hey – we’re normal!

4. You can’t be (truly) British and Muslim

British, Muslim and proud – that’s me. That’s also millions of British Muslims across the British Isles. My history and heritage is mine – it’s what got me here – and Britain accepts me as a Muslim, for who I am. Having spent time in other countries which are far less tolerant – I can tell you I’m proud to be British. Muslims who have spent their lives here, whose friends and family are here or have been offered a new life here – are happy being British too.

There’s no reason why you can’t be British and Muslim. Britain is a multicultural multifaith society and Islam teaches you to respect the law of the land and to be tolerant of others. For those who don’t like “living in a kaffir land” as they say – do they really feel British when they hold such beliefs?! Likewise for Islamophobes who worry about a “cultural clash” – we’re here and we’re happy. If we weren’t we’d go somewhere else! Look at the Muslims out there in politics, education, business, the charity sector, all over – we’re leading integrated, fulfilling and satisfying lives. And for those of you who aren’t convinced: we had an absolutely fabulous time at the British Islam 2017 conference back in February!

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Protester at an anti-Trump protest (London) – Image credit: Alisdare Hickson (CC)

5. Today’s youth are apathetic and superficial

Not sure I quite fit into the youth category any more but here’s the point. We’re young, we’re passionate, we have a voice and we get out there. Going back to my previous points, like many young British men and women, I’m involved with groups. Just look at those standing up against Brexit related hate crime, xenophobia, Trump, Islamophobia, you name it. There’s millions of us focused on real issues.

6. Islam is Sunni or Shia

I’m Muslim. I’m not Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Deobandi, Ahmadi or anything. I am Muslim and Muslim alone. Having said that, there are billions of Muslims who identify under a particular sect or label. Those who label any other as non-Muslim perpetuate intolerant extremist beliefs. Ahmadis are Muslims, so are Sufis, Shias etc.

7. Muslim women cover themselves for men

I do not cover myself for my husband, my father, (male) Prophets or any person – male or female. I cover for Allah (swt) and Allah alone. As a Muslim, I believe that God is not human and has no gender. For more on this point, cick here.

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Image: Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)


8. Women convert to Islam to get married/for a man

I converted – like all the other converts I know – for faith and faith alone. I also converted before I got married. In Islam, Muslim men can marry Christian and Jewish women so there’s no need for such ladies. In any case, such conversion would be insincere and invalid. Without faith, you cannot be Muslim. Read more here.

9. Islam is an “Eastern religion” which oppresses women

Islam is a religion for the whole of humanity. I’m not from “the East”. There’s Muslims across the US, Canada, Latin America, the UK, France, North Africa – you name it (see point number four). Islam teaches that each land had their own Prophets. Muhammad and Jesus (pbut) were from the Middle East yes but there’s 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

Furthermore, there is no such thing as “East and West”. The “Clash of Civilisations” narrative is FALSE. There is the Western hemisphere, countries in the Eastern hemisphere etc. but we’re ONE world – a world that happens to be increasingly globalised. What’s more I’m me. I’m Muslim yes. I’m British yes. But I refuse to put put in a box. You’ll know who I am and what I’m like by talking to me, listening to me and getting to know me.

What’s more, I’m not oppressed. I’m an active feminist. In terms of women’s rights, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught his followers to respect women. When the Qur’an was revealed women were treated as second class citizens with no rights. Islam gave women the right to own property, the right to divorce, a range of sexual, emotional and financial rights within marriage at a time when baby girls were being buried alive and women were sexually enslaved. Islam advocated for women’s education and social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. It forbade forced marriage at a time when women could be married against their will – used and abused for the pleasure of men – teaching people to instead respect their wife, mother, daughter(s), sister(s) etc. Read more here and here.

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Minneapolis (2006) – Image credit: Brian Wisconsin (CC)


10. A woman’s place is (solely) in the home

Women are the one’s who bear children, who go through pregnancy, who breastfeed and if a family can afford to have one salary – great, no reason why the lady can’t stay at home. There is no reason why a woman should be unhappy and unfulfilled staying at home.

However, woman also hold a valid place in society as a whole. We are half of the population. We cannot be completely cut off and shunned into the private sphere. Many women are mothers and carers whilst also holding a career at the same time or whilst being active in their community. Many women do not even have children. Women are doctors, teachers, educators, business women, politicians, writers, journalists, community workers, mentors etc. and as such we build (or aim to!) a more open, richer, more understanding world which represents the diversity of the population both in gender, nationality, ethnicity, culture and religion.

We cannot allow half of society to be misrepresented or even not represented at all. Society needs to serve everyone and therefore be built by both women and women. I like millions of Muslim women work full-time. I am active and I love it! For my sisters who are at home – great. Each to their own.

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So there we are, let me know your counter-narratives. I’d love to hear!

If you’d like to learn more, see also my previous post on the most common misconceptions of Muslim women. You might be surprised!

If you’d like more information about Nisa-Nashim, check them out online via their website and across social media: Twitter and Facebook.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Big thanks to all those who have inspired and supported me for who I am, who I aim to be and in everything I do.

Images: artgraffCarnagenyc, Martha Heinemann BixbyStraßenfotografie Hamburg (CC) (featured image). Image licences available to view via Flickr

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Three popular Islamic preachers who promote extremism

Something which has become quite alarming is the prevalence of scholars and preachers throughout the mainstream Muslim world who promote apologetic narratives, inequality, hatred, division and extremism. The worrying thing is this: not everything they say is bad. Some of the things they say are even nice and quite spiritual. Yes, you read that correctly. And THIS is what is most dangerous. If you get “sucked in”, you may not recognise when something is wrong. You may get caught on a dangerous path. Extremist ideology doesn’t grow overnight. It starts with “otherising”, hatred, isolation and a dogmatic obsessive approach to faith.

Here are three Islamic preachers/scholars who for lack of a better word are seen as “mainstream”, and are widely known and respected by many many Muslims around the world – including the UK – who in fact promote intolerance, hatred and extremism. There are no doubt many more,  but here’s a few to start with (in no particular order).

1. Dr Bilal Philips

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Dr Philips is a Jamaican-born Canadian Muslim and prominent author, lecturer and teacher who founded the Islamic Online University. He has been banned from entering both the UK and Australia and also deported from Bangladesh, Kenya and The Philippines.

He has faced a range of criticism, including his views on marital rape. In his work Contemporary Issueshe stated the following:

“In Islaam a woman is obliged to give herself to her husband and he may not be charged with rape. Of course, if a woman is ill or exhausted, her husband should take her condition into consideration and not force himself upon her.”

As it goes without saying, no man (Muslim or non-Muslim) may rape his wife. In Islam, this is strictly forbidden. Sexual activity must be consensual. Islam is in fact very outright in its teachings of sexual and emotional etiquette, discussing in detail foreplay and a woman’s sexual right to pleasure. Rape is simply rape – whether you are married or not.

In addition to this, Dr Philips also stated that – as a last resort – a Muslim man may hit his wife:

“It is true that the Sharee’ah does permit a husband to hit his wife. However, that permission is under special conditions and with severe limitations…the hit should not be physically damaging and it should not be in the face.”

Hitting your wife is not allowed – despite what many Muslims are told to believe. For more information on the specifics of this topic, see here.

Overall, Dr Philips has written many books, including one which I was given by a UK based mosque during my conversion journey – a book which has since been banned in UK prisons. I followed him on Facebook and liked a lot of what he said. But here’s the thing – as I said – it’s not about EVERYTHING they say, it’s about what they’re saying overall and what kind of ideology they’re promoting. Someone who believes a man cannot be charged for raping his wife, is not a preacher you want to listen to!

2. Shaik Dr Haitham al-Haddad

Shaik Haitham al-Haddad is an Islamic scholar from Saudi Arabia, of Palestinian origin, who sits on the board of advisors for the UK based Islamic Sharia Council. Despite the Muslim Council of Britain denouncing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to be un-Islamic, Shaik al-Haddad preaches the opposite, advocating for this practice. See here:

In another video discussing apostasy, he is quoted as advocating for the death of family members who leave and do not return to Islam. You can watch via the video below:

Once again, as a young convert I also came across Shaik al-Haddad, even quoting him in my thesis, not knowing the wider picture of his beliefs and teachings.

3. Shayk Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid

Shayk al-Munajjid is a Saudi scholar of Palestinian-Syrian origin who founded the fatwa website Islam Q&A. If you run a quick Google for an answer to any Islamic question, you’ll find this website. As a convert innocently looking for answers, I myself would come across this site when searching the internet. However, Muslim friends of mine were shocked at the things I was finding – to the extent that they said to ask them for advice and not use the internet. This website teaches a dogmatic, rigid, medieval and spiritual-less form of “Islam”. Reviewing it, it seems to have “tempered” a bit (not sure if it’s received complaints) but it’s one to avoid.

Among some of Shayk al-Munajjid/the website’s views/endorsements are:

  • Ahmadis are kafirs (disbelievers)/apostates
  • Shias are heretics/kafirs and Sunni-Shia marriage is impermissible
  • Advocating slavery
  • Promoting anti-Semitism, stating that Jews are: “the people of lies, fabrications, treachery, and conspiracies…They are the filthiest of nations…” (Featured on Al-Majd TV, Saudi Arabia – 15/05/2016)

Overall, it’s very important that Muslims – young and old, convert or not – have a good circle of people around them, good role models too look up to and good sources of Islamic teaching and knowledge to refer to. There’s a lot of intolerance, divisive narratives and extremism out there but the ever worrying thing is that in everyday circles, on everyday mediums (social media, internet etc.), the British (and global) public is exposed to A LOT of information – some of which may be positive, some not. Being aware of what you’re listening to and reading is important. Just because a scholar is advocating something, it doesn’t make it Islamic or “correct”. Find a good circle of people, appropriate scholars and sources of knowledge and don’t fall into the trap: a preacher that advocates hatred against anyone, is not a preacher worth listening to.

Salam

Credits:

Images: Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Viewminder (featured image)

True Islam – an insight into the global peace campaign with Salaam Bhatti

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Image credit: Mayesha K

Back in June, I dedicated a post to the True Islam campaign entitled: True Islam – 11 reasons why ISIS does not represent Islam – detailing the 11 points of the worldwide campaign which dispels common misconceptions of Islam and gives an insight into the true peaceful mission of Islam.

I’ve since been fortunate to have been put in touch with Salaam Bhatti who works on the True Islam campaign in order to get a greater insight into the campaign itself.

Here’s what Salaam has to say about the campaign: its origins, success and future.

Assalam aleykum. Thank you for taking the time to speak about the True Islam campaign.

The True Islam campaign is about teaching the true values of Islam centred on peace, tolerance and human rights. How, when and why the campaign was set up? 

The campaign launched after the San Bernardino massacre, where two Muslim extremists killed 14 and injured 22 people.  President Obama called for a unified effort from the Muslim community to battle elements of extremism within our communities and the True Islam campaign does exactly that by educating away extremism.

Could you summarise for people unfamiliar with the True Islam campaign what it’s addressing in particular?

There are extremist groups which use Islam to spread their terror for their geopolitical goals. They brainwash disaffected youth by using Islamic terminology and convince them that these are Islam’s true teachings. We took 11 of these points and present in easy to understand terms what Islam’s true teachings are about topics like jihad, women’s rights, freedom of speech, etc. This way, Muslims and non-Muslims can know how true Islam is separate and apart from extremism.

What is your role? Could you explain how you became involved?

I serve as a spokesperson for the campaign and work on the social media arm of our campaign. I became involved because my friends and I did not want Islam’s narrative to always be a battle against extremism and we wanted to help our country out. Through this campaign, we not only combat extremism, but we also let everyone know Islam’s other beautiful teachings.

There are 11 points in the campaign. Which issue(s)/misconception(s) do you believe are the most prominent and most at need of addressing? Why? Where do you believe this originates from?

The points about jihad and women’s equality are two I hold very dear. Many erroneously think that jihad is a violent battle with non-Muslims. Jihad and violence became popularly linked through Maududi, a cleric who is celebrated in extremist circles. Jihad is not a violent concept. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who Ahmadi Muslims believe to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, defended Islam when it was accused of being a religion spread by the sword by saying, “The sword it wields cuts its own throat before reaching others.” Women’s rights are also important. Many forget the state of women when Prophet Muhammad (sa) was born. They were treated as less than animals.  But Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) teachings raised the status of women so high that paradise lay at their feet. Unfortunately, now we see in the very homeland of Prophet Muhammad (sa) that women cannot drive cars and we see women in general being subjugated in many ways throughout the world. We need to stop killing each other for different beliefs and we need to stop depriving our mothers of equal rights.

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Image credit: Ahmed Alper

Where does Sharia law and Islamic guidelines fit in with the True Islam concept of secularism and Islam? Could you explain more about this?

Sharia is a way of life and a code of laws for Muslims only. The popular notion of an “Islamic state” is incorrect because the Quran does not prescribe a political system. The Quran calls for mutual consultation and justice on every level. The Quran and Prophet Muhammad (sa) also teach that we should obey those in authority and to be loyal to our country of residence.  Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) example as leader of Medina showed a pluralistic government and not an Islamic state. If we don’t like our nation, Allah reminds us that the Earth is vast and we can move anywhere else.  Separation of religion and state is very important so we do not end up treating others as “less than”.  Many “religious” states in today’s world have done just that and one only needs to read Human Rights Watch to see the gross injustices occurring against minority groups. So, to nip all this in the bud, Islam is very clear that there is no religious-based political system.

Why do you believe there is so much Islamophobia and Islamic extremism nowadays?

When we did not know about math, we went to class and learned from a math teacher.  When we did not know about science, we went to class and learned from a science teacher. But with 60% of Americans not knowing a Muslim and there being no class to learn about Islam, we see fear based on ignorance. Additionally, there’s a failure in Muslim leadership. This failure results in Muslims not knowing about Islam’s own teachings, which leads to feelings of no unity, which can lead to an identity crisis, extremist thought, etc.

The True Islam campaign is a global campaign originating in the USA. How receptive have people been on the ground? What’s the situation like for everyday American Muslims?

As American Muslims, we launched this campaign so that American Muslims could be connected much closer to their faith and so that our national security would improve once people could differentiate Islamic teachings from extremist ways. It has been well-received from many different people, especially due to our active social media presence.

There is a rise in Islamophobia across the nation. Whereas American Muslims focus on spending time with family and friends, paying bills and mortgages, and enjoying life, there’s an additional concern of worry whether oneself or a family member could be a target of threats or violence. However, it is very important that we do not give into this fear, it is important that we open the doors to our mosques wider than ever so we can educate this extremism away. Extremists want us to be afraid so that we grow resentful to our nation and ultimately join their cause.  We’re better than that.

What has the response been from the local and global Islamic community regarding your campaign?

Before we launched the campaign, we sent a letter to over 2000 mosques, imams, and Muslim organizations in America to join the initiative pre-launch and received no responses.

How have non-Muslims responded to your campaign?

Non-Muslims are impressed with the campaign. It is presented at many venues across the nation throughout the year, universities, interfaith events, and open mosque programs.  The clear, concise language briefly and efficiently explains core Islamic concepts and non-Muslims (as well as Muslims) have enjoyed that.

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Image credit: Azlan DuPree

On the website, visitors can see who has endorsed the campaign and its 11 points. Could you tell us a bit more about who’s backed the campaign?

People of all backgrounds, Muslim and non-Muslim, politicians, faith leaders, and others have endorsed this campaign. For 15 years, rhetoric against Islam has been widespread. Many are annoyed and sick of this because it is a false narrative of Islam. This is why so many people are stepping up to endorse this campaign and spread the word about it.

How can “everyday Muslims” educate both Muslims and non-Muslims and work towards establishing peace? What practical steps can people take? What methods has your community in particular found to be productive, engaging and well received?

The best way to educate others about Islam is by our actions and the best action to take is to follow Prophet Muhammad (sa)’s model. We should show patience in adversity, firm resolve during our struggles, and kindness to God’s creation. The True Islam campaign has found it very helpful to disarm internet trolls not by fighting back, but answering in clear terms the issues they present. We have also invited all to mosques across the nation. There was a local politician from York, Pennsylvania who said insulting things about Islam in a voicemail to a church and on social media.  We invited him to a mosque during Ramadan and, in his meetings with Muslims, he was awestruck by Muslims, admitted his error, and now endorses the True Islam campaign.

What’s the future of the campaign? Are there any particular upcoming developments?

We just launched a nationwide event called “Coffee, Cake, and True Islam” where we invite people to chat in a friendly environment, like a coffee shop, about Islam’s true teachings. This is a chance for Muslims and non-Muslims to meet and talk with Muslims to learn what Islam actually teaches.

Do you have a message for Muslims and non-Muslims out there?

Education will erase extremism. It worked for Prophet Muhammad (sa) when he taught his people that extremist ways of killing girls, ruthless bloodshed, and women’s subjugation was not right.  It will work again today.  We cannot let hate divide us. Let us educate away extremism and start by endorsing the points at TrueIslam.com.

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Image credit: Ikhlasul Amal

Jazak Allah. Thank you for your participation!

So, check out the campaign and endorse the 11 points here!

You can also check out the campaign via social media on Facebook and Twitter.

Salam!

Credits and Acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank Salaam for taking the time to be interviewed and to wish him and the rest of the True Islam team the very best in the future with their campaign.

Feature image: Jona Nalder