The Progressive Muslim
I wonder why are we being maligned everywhere?
HORIZONS BY IBREEZ AJAZ
Ever the classic movie nerd, whenever I come across an old-school film, nothing can prevent me from watching it immediately. I couldn't believe my luck one day when I found a whole stack of Oscar winners dating back to the 1930's. Imagine my delight when I discovered a Gregory Peck picture amongst them, entitled 'Gentleman's Agreement'. So I set aside some time and began watching it, finding it triply more interesting than it reflected what was still a fact in today's society: religious prejudice and attempts at assimilation.
The plot? Peck plays a journalist who is asked by a magazine publisher to write an article on antisemitism. Initially he's not sure how to go about it, but then decides the best way is to pretend he is Jewish and then record all of his experiences as he attempts to assimilate in a new community. Along the way, he realizes the hardship of being a Jew, with his son being taunted in school, getting denied admittance at certain places, and receiving disparaging remarks as to the swindling nature of Jews. The movie, based upon a book written by a Jewish woman who wrote of the prejudices she faced, was released in 1947. Sixty-four years later, such scenes are still common, but under a different banner: islamophobia.
I grew up in a racially diverse town, where you were just as likely to hear Spanish as you were Hindi or Arabic, and had never felt ostrasized in the least for looking different, not celebrating Christmas, or even not attending church. Everyone lived amongst one another as brothers. My family moved to a suburb not long after I finished elementary school, where I was surprised to find my classes had few if any minorities in them. Naturally I was looked upon with curiousity, but nothing beyond that, until after 9/11. I was just ten years old at the time, but still clearly recall the day, watching as I always did the morning news, when an astounded Charlie Gibson reported a plane striking the World Trade Center. I didn't understand what was happening, nor did I have any idea as to what the repercussions of what was occurring before me would affect me. Late for school, I grabbed my books and headed out. School was a frenzy, with the news on in every classroom, parents taking their kids home, and teachers at a loss for what to do. I too was confused. What was going on? More planes were crashing, but who was behind it all?
That night at dinner, the television spoke of words I'd never heard before: jihad, Sunni, Shi'a. And who in the world was this Bin Laden? Brows furrowed, I sat before my parents, and listened to what they had to say, about how it had been suggested that they leave work early. We were one of the few Muslims in our neighborhood, and there was fear of potential retaliatory acts against us. I wasn't sure how to react. There I was, a new kid in a new city, a scarf on my head and a target on my back. School became hell.
At first I thought nothing of the snide remarks made by some classmates, but they became increasingly more bold with passing days, calling me Bin Laden's daughter and using vulgar language to state what they thought of me and my faith. I was purposely tripped, shoved, and had my scarf grabbed at on numerous occasions. At one point, all of my things were stolen from school. I looked to the teachers and staff for shelter, but even within their ranks were some who chipped away at my stiff upper lip. I was at a loss as what I should do, who I could turn to.
I took refuge in my beliefs, and kept with friends who supported me through all that I endured. I knew others had it worse, and that I was still lucky in many respects. And I knew that not everyone was so narrow-minded and prejudiced, that it was up to me and all Muslims to show the true image of Islam and erase the hate. But here I sit, ten years later, with precious little done. Muslims are to blame for the ongoing animosity as hardly anything has been done to clear our name. You watch a movie and see the villains as shady-looking swarthy men with beards and thick accents. Anyone with a complicated Arabic-sounding name gets a second look. What's being done to transform that mindset?
It seems that as soon as the word 'assimilation' is uttered, cries of disbelief erupt over the possibility of changing structured ideals that have been melded into each generation. Being open-minded on our end is just as essential. Mingling with people of different backgrounds, participating in community activities, running for office, associating oneself with progressive movements to improve society as a whole-- it's as simple as that! For example, I personally know of quite a few Muslims who aren't even registered to vote, but I'll hear them complain time and again of some trivial matter or another that some lawmaker will never get around to correcting. What right have they to bellyache when they've not partaken in the decision for representation? Go out there and bring about the difference you want. Naturally, the excuses will roll in along the lines of: 'Who will elect a Muslim?' 'Who will listen to us?' 'Everyone thinks we are terrorists.' Once we refine our outlook, only then can we work upon those around us. Progress and acceptance need not mean sacrificing religious conviction. History has long since shown us that they can go hand in hand. It is up to us to ensure that our image reflects our creed. Point no finger at the ignorant and state that they are at fault. The blame lies amidst us, those who do nothing to clarify and represent us as we truly are. So what will you do to cause change?
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Lastupdate on : Mon, 19 Sep 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 19 Sep 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 20 Sep 2011 00:00:00 IST
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