Salam Dear Brother,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
There is so much in the press these days that reflects badly on Islam and Muslims that it is difficult for some Muslims to know where to begin to present a true and accurate picture of Islam.
How can we present Islam as sweet and gentle, they say, when every day we are seeing images of beheadings and suicide attacks? How can people hear the moderate voice of Islam, they feel, when all the publicity is being given to extreme and violent voices?
It Leads Only If It Bleeds
Before we answer, we just need to pause and give some thought to what is actually happening. Obviously, newspapers and television are more interested in sensational stories than in the day in, day out, lives of ordinary Muslims.
A bomb going off in an airport is more of a news item than a grandfather teaching his grandson to recite the Qur’an, isn’t it?
The storming of a mosque is more newsworthy than people praying five times a day, even though the people praying far outnumber the times a mosque is stormed by troops.
The problem is, though, that every time such sensational stories appear on the television news, the image of Islam as violent and uncompromising sinks deeper and deeper into the popular imagination.
We need to ask ourselves why newspaper reporting concentrates so heavily on this particular aspect of the behavior of Muslims (Note that I say the behavior of Muslims, and not Islam). Much of it is just because of what journalists do — they look for a story. Some of it, though, is a deliberate policy that aims to make Islam seem bad.
We only need to see who owns the world’s newspapers or who controls the world’s television companies to see that this is true. At best, they are controlled by secular forces that have no place for religion or faith. At worst, they are owned by groups opposed to Islam.
Nor can we always rely on the news reports we are fed. Take the reporting prior to the invasion of Iraq, for example. The whole world was led into believing that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which necessitated an invasion to save the free world from threat. It is now clear that we were lied to. There were no such weapons.
We must always take our news, then, with a heavy pinch of salt, questioning the objectivity of what we are being told. In presenting Islam to others, we should make this point clear.
At the present time, the whole media apparatus is presenting one group in Palestine as extremist while presenting another as moderate. Time will tell us the truth of such reports.
The Strength of Personal Experience
With all this in mind, then, how do we talk about Islam? How do we get the message across? I think the answer lies in being very honest and in speaking from our own personal experience.
When people ask me about Islam and terrorism, for example, I always tell them that, first, I am not a terrorist. I tell them that I don’t know any terrorists, nor do I know anyone who knows any.
I tell them that I only know Muslims who are trying their best each day to be good people, faithful to prayer and obedient to the will of Almighty Allah. No one can argue with your own experience; simply put, they cannot deny what you have experienced for yourself.
From this base, we can then tell people that Muslims believe Islam to be the natural religion of humankind that has existed since the beginning of time. Tell them that Islam is perfect, but that Muslims are not. If Muslims act in ways that reflect badly on Islam, Islam itself cannot be blamed.
Now don’t think I am one of those who criticize Muslims to please governments. There are some Muslims who are too keen to criticize the mistaken actions and behavior of their brothers, just to appear “moderate” in the eyes of others.
As Muslims, we should be very careful what we say about our brothers and sisters. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us to support our Muslim brothers when they are right and even when they are wrong.
His Companions asked him if he really meant we should support our brothers when they are wrong, and he told them yes, because we can maybe still influence them to do what is right.
In rushing to appear moderate, then, we should be careful that we don’t play into the hands of those who would divide Muslims and split the Muslim nation.
In Islam, there is no place for terrorism. Muslims, though, are one nation, one brotherhood, and they should try to help one another at all times, drawing one another to the straight and moderate path that Allah calls us to walk.
Education and Behavior
We should educate ourselves well, of course. One of the main reasons we can’t answer people’s questions about Islam is that we don’t know the right answers. Islam has the answer to every situation and to every question.
The problem is that we don’t know what the answer is, and so we make Islam seem inadequate to respond, when the problem is ours. Spend time, then, reading about the life of our beloved Prophet and his Companions.
We should show others, then, what Islam is like by the way we behave. Talking is easy and anyone can talk; anyone can say that they love Islam. It is another matter to get up and pray in the last third of the night or to put others before ourselves.
Good example, then, is the key to explaining what Islam is about. We pay a lot of attention and spend a lot of time and money on calling others to Islam. Maybe we should spend a bit more time trying to be good Muslims ourselves. If we did that, we could transform the world.
I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.