On Oct. 29, I received a forward from a friend talking about a supposed miracle in Egypt broadcast by CBS. Curious, I read the message. By the time I was done, I was fuming. Doing a quick google search, I failed to find the so-called CBS video. Maybe they took it off? I don’t know. What I do know though, is that the kind of negative information spread online about Islam and Muslims is what makes Islamaphobia so rampant these days.

I have come to the conclusion that it’s not God’s word that sucks, but man’s interpretation of it. Consequently, I’ve resolved to study the Qu’ran myself, and make my own deductions instead of going by heresay. A couple of days after, two things happened.

First, I came across a verse in the Qu’ran which outrightly condemns mistreatment of women and children, and specifically decries the burying of children alive (which the supposed CBS video is said to have portrayed) from Surah Al-An-am (Chapter: The Cattle):

139. And they say: “What is in the bellies of such and such cattle (milk or foetus) is for our males alone, and forbidden to our females (girls and women), but if it is born dead, then all have shares therin.” He will punish them for their attribution (of such false orders to Allah). Verily, He is All-Wise, All-Knower.

140. Indeed lost are they who have killed their children, from folly, without knowledge, and have forbidden that which Allah has provided for them, inventing a lie against Allah. They have indeed gone astray and were not guided. [Translation from this Online Qu’ran]

Karen Armstrong & her TED wish: The Charter of Compassion:

Second, I received an email from the TED conference series (which I have featured many times on this site) about a new initiative being launched called the Charter of Compassion based on the Golden Rule  (Treat others the way you want to be treated) and inter-faith dialogue. It seemed interesting. Another couple of days passed, and there was an invitation to sign up for a film screening of the Unity Production Foundation’s Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think . Guess what? It turns out that film screening is part of the launch for the Charter of Compassion — which was thought up by Karen Armstrong, a religious thinker and author, and one of TED’s speakers and prize winners. Talk about coming full circle huh?

The Charter of Compassion is a global initiative aimed at promoting understanding and inter-faith dialogue. According to Armstrong, the one thing that she has found to be universal with all religions is compassion. One thing she said that resounded with me is this: “Many people don’t want to be compassionate, they’d rather be right.” When I think about it, I know I’m definitely guilty. Anyways, here’s an insert of her TED video so you get a sense of who Karen Armstrong is.

Gallup Poll & UPF’s Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think
I think the timing for the film screening couldn’t have been better, especially with the recent Fort Hood incident. Many people have their doubts about Islam and Muslims, and justifiably so. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Gallup- a leading polling organization – decided to conduct a survey of what Muslims think about Islam, the West, terrorism, gender equality etc. Their premise was this: Everyone was talking about Sept. 11th, from politicians, to terrorist organizations, and individuals affected by the attacks. Everyone, except the one billion Muslims of the world, that is. So, Gallup sent researchers out to 35 predominantly Muslim countries to interview people. UPF found out about the Gallup poll and decided to produce the film documenting the results of the poll. Here are some of the key findings:

*Respect for Muslims: Only 15% of Muslims are Arabs, and the majority of Muslims are not in the Middle East as is the perception. They’re in South East Asia (particularly Indonesia and Malaysia). And, get this, the U.S. has the second largest concentration of Muslims. On the issue of respect, the majority of Muslim countries said that the Western world doesn’t respect the Muslim world. 84% Palestinians, 80% Egyptians. Interestingly, the majority of Americans (54%) also agreed that Western world doesn’t respect Muslim world.

*Media Misrepresentation: US Media misrepresents Islam and Muslims by focusing on a “tiny fringe minority”. Media content analysis shows that 57% of the people portraying Islam in the U.S. are militants. These ‘militants’ only make up 1% of the world’s actual Muslim population. Giving them such media space pushes the stereotype that Muslims are violent people. Add the fact that most Americans didn’t know anything about Muslims and Islam before 9-11, and the situation just gets worse.

*Gender Equality: The main areas of divergence between Muslim societies and western societies is in the role of women and gender equality. What do Muslim women think about themselves?The majority of muslim women believe that women should have equal rights and access to jobs they are qualified for: 96% in Lebanon and  92% in Malaysia. In Lebanon, Malaysia and Sudan, there’s little difference between men and women’s views on the issue: 74% of men in Saudi Arabia believed  muslim women should get jobs they are qualified for. In Iran and Egypt, there’s a larger difference, but even then, the majority of men believe women should have equal access to jobs, services etc. [To find out my views on being a Muslim woman, check out my guest feature on Girl, It’s Not Just You.]

*Hijab: Has been used as a symbol for women’s oppression for years. But educated Muslim women  view the hijab differently: believes it takes the emphasis away from their exterior and focuses it on their interior, on their minds and hearts. So that dispels the notion that Muslim women wear the hijab because they don’t know their rights or are not educated enough. Why do women wear the hijab? The majority of Muslim women who wear it do so because they believe its a religious mandate.

*Sharia/Islamic Law: People associate Sharia Law with fear. Muslims view Sharia law differently; “as the rule of law defined in Islamic concepts” and “protections that God guarantees as human dignity for each individual that no government is allowed to take away”. The negative stereotype concerning Sharia has to do with man’s interpretation of the Qu’ran. Many muslims are taking a second look at Sharia and using it to fight for gender justice. In Pakistan, women used Sharia law (the Qu’ran) to prove that it wasn’t right to kill a woman who’d been subjected to rape.

*Awareness of Islam and Muslims: In 2002, Gallup asked Americans how much they knew about Muslims. 54% said they didn’t no anything or very little. In 2007, the same question was asked (when there was increased portrayal of Islam in the media under the topic of terrorism) and there was a jump in the number of people who (still) didn’t know much about Islam and Muslims –57%. Essentially, the media only talks about muslims and Islam in the context of terrorism. By doing this, they are not only ostracizing Muslims, but also erasing any chance of non-Muslims understanding who Muslims really are and what they stand for. BTW, Islam means “peace” in Arabic. That should count for something, shouldn’t it?

*9/11 and Terrorism: The majority of Muslims consider the attacks completely unjustified (about 50%), some thought it was somewhat justified (somewhat justified), and 7% considered the attacks completely justified and had unfavorable views of the US. According to the poll the “politically radical” 7% couldn’t support their views with a verse from the Qu’ran, and instead sounded like revolutionaries. These radicals -who’ve been used as a stereotype for who Muslims are – really aren’t that different from other “terrorists” in human history. Essentially, these terrorists are revolutionaries who try to upturn governments in their own countries and who are marginalized (ignored) in their own societies, and want media attention. They use religion as a platform for achieving their goals since they know that’s what will get them attention. Ultimately, they probably care less about what the world thinks, and are more concerned with what their governments are doing.What they are doing is not ordained by Islam. Results found that majority of muslims aren’t involved in acts of violence, and condemn the few who do because they believe that terrorism is against their faith. 

*U.S. Policy: There’s the notion that Muslims are against democracy, but the poll showed that the majority of Muslims were for freedom of speech and other democratic ideals. Muslims greatly admire democracy, but most feel that the U.S. is not pursuing its push for democracy in Muslim/Arab countries in the same way as it is in other parts of the world. Policy is the driving factor for how Muslims view the West, not so much culture and religion. Egypt views France more favorably than it does the US and UK. The most interesting country to contrast the US with is Canada since they are so similar. 67% of Kuwaitis view the US unfavorably while only 3% of Kuwaitis view Canada unfavorably. The difference? Foreign policy, especially with the oil issue. “It’s very clear that its not our culture, but our perceived foreign policies.” The majority of Muslims think the invasion of Iraq did more harm than good.

There were some other stuff, but all in all, it was very insightful, and I’d recommend watching it. You can check the Unity Productions Foundation to order a DVD (free) and host a viewing etc. They also have a couple of other videos on Islam. It’s important to learn about each others’ religion and not settle for all this propaganda and what-not. Personally, I have many non-Muslim friends, and we get along just fine. I respect their religious views, and they respect mine. We don’t have to agree on everything (it would be against our very nature as humans anyway), but we should try to inculcate a culture of tolerance in our societies. Remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would have others do unto you!

To watch the launch of the Charter for Compassion and hear Karen Armstrong’s speech (starts at 13:40), please see the video below:Here’s the trailer for the film. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the issue. Peace!