Source: Huffington Post
By Ambassador Akbar Ahmed
At a time of heightened Islamophobia, Western converts could be the key to bridging cultural barriers and eliminating misconceptions.
“Islam is not a religion, it’s an ideology, the ideology of a retarded culture.” Islam is “like a malignant cancer.” “I think Islam hates us.”
These are just a few of the outlandish statements made by Western voices of political influence in recent times, one of whom is the president of the United States of America.
Such rhetoric that dangerously conflates Muslims and terrorists, and seeks to inflame the idea of a “clash of civilizations,” is nothing new. But it has made it especially difficult to be a Muslim today in America and Europe. In 2016 alone, the U.S. saw at least 385 instances of documented Islamophobia, many in the form of hate crimes and slandering. Only a few days ago, a crazed white man brutally killed two heroic men as they attempted to prevent him from harassing two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, on a train in Portland, Oregon. And Europe is experiencing a surge of anti-Muslim incidents as well.
I hope that this initiative ― the sharing of Western Muslim convert stories throughout Ramadan ― can begin to change the conversation.
Meanwhile, acts of terror committed in the name of a distorted version of Islam ― from Orlando and Paris to Manchester and Baghdad ― continue to dominate the news. Groups like the so-called Islamic State claim responsibility, and onlookers become ever more fearful of “the other.” In the West’s climate of Islamophobia, this “other,” more often than not, takes the form of a usually non-white immigrant Muslim who has an apparent deep hatred for Western society and its culture. It doesn’t matter to many that the statistics paint a much more nuanced picture, that a significant amount of those who end up carrying out attacks are not immigrants but Western natives who might not even be religious or that not all Muslims come from an Arab or South Asian ancestry. Or even that the vast majority of the people killed by these terrorists outside of the West are Muslims themselves.
But it should. And I hope that this initiative ― the sharing of Western Muslim convert stories throughout Ramadan ― can begin to change the conversation.
It is against a backdrop of the likes of U.S. President Donald Trump that we need actions like this more than ever. Efforts that ostensibly promote unity, such as Trump’s recent speech in Saudi Arabia to Arab and Muslim leaders, or his statement to mark the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, almost always fall flat, focusing on terrorism instead of the actual values of the faith ― piety, peace and compassion, to name a few.