CRUCIBLE: Treating Islamophobia (1) By Julkipli Wadi

(A khutba delivered at the Institute of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City on September 25, 2010.)

Muqaddimah.

We are entering a new phase of our history particularly our relation with the “other.”

In the early 20th century, the source of antagonism between the Muslim world and the rest was generally defined by political context. That time, the pendulum swayed favorably to the Muslim world as the ummah successfully disentangled the shackle of control and the forces of Western colonialism in their midst. Many Muslim countries rose up, became independent and successfully established their own governments.

As time went on, new source of contestations developed particularly in the economic sphere.  The contestation continued until these days and will continue to define our relation in the future.

Quite recently, there is a new phase of antagonism that surfaced. It’s beyond the domain of politics and economics. It has something to do with what Edward Said referred to as “representation” where contestation has become politically subtle but culturally intense.

On the whole, it operates in the terrain of cultural sphere and strikes at the very core of Islamic faith. A trend since the ‘80s onward, such form of “representation” distorts, defiles and abuses the religion of Islam, its core belief and cultural symbols [now popularly known as Islamophobia].

In the ‘90s, we witnessed over the controversy elicited by Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” [that sullied the life’s history of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)]. In 2005, the Prophet’s sacrosanct image was defiled by Danish cartoonists. Last year, minarets were banned in Sweden while hijab or veil has been prohibited in countries like France even as female students continue to be prohibited to wear their veils in some universities in Europe.

Of late, Islamophobia reached new proportion with the controversy of a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York. With the mosque issue raging, the plan to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an was set on by a fringed Christian fundamentalist group in the United States.

Indeed, these instances of Islamophobia reveal a strong thread of cultural hatred against Islam. They define a new prism, a new relation between the ummah and the rest of the world.

Incidentally, the response of the Muslim community is mixed. There is utter silence in one part and fierce reaction through protests, rallies and demonstrations in other parts of the Muslim world calling to stop the plan to burn the Holy Qur’an. While there are those who look at the issue from a progressive, intellectual perspective, still, others continue to harbor perverted views of alleged inherent irreconcilability between the values of Islam and those of the West.

For our purpose, we would not focus on discussing specific cases of Islamophobia and which reaction is best. We’ll focus on highlighting some passages of the Holy Qur’an and the experience of the Prophet particularly how he dealt relatively similar attacks during his time.

In this regard, a very pertinent verse reads in Surah al-Hijr: “Innā nahnu nazzanā l-dhikra wa innā lahu lahāfiďūn.” [We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and we will assuredly guard it (from corruption.) (15: 9)].

This line is very soothing, very alleviating in light of the emotion every Muslim now feels with the plan to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an considering that any Muslim worthy of his faith is now feeling an outrage with the news of that pastor to burn the Holy Qur’an.

Yet, we know our limitations and we are aware of our helplessness. We could only express our disgust and opposition. We know that even Muslim governments are helpless in stopping this attempt to burn the Holy Qur’an.

Noticeably, the reaction of US President Barack Obama, if you read his statement, is very calculated. While he does not support the burning, yet the reason provided is that it would increase the threat against American soldiers in Afghanistan.

In other words, the plan to burn the Holy Qur’an should be stopped not because it is a sacred book like other Divine revelations but because, if the burning pushes through, it would harm American soldiers in Afghanistan, [suggesting that if there is no potential threat against Americans then the plan of burning the Qur’an can just proceed as a matter of course?]

Such utilitarian perspective, we believe, is not the right way to address such sensitive issue. The US government should take a firm stand, and must take extraordinary measure to discipline a fundamentalist band of Christians headed by that fanatical pastor, who himself confirmed he did not know anything about the Qur’an. Because of sheer ignorance, he would like to burn the Qur’an.  (To be continued)

MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. Julkipli Wadi is Dean and Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City.

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