When Ahmad came to the US as a student, he received applications in the mail for an American Express card. Being young and not particularly practicing, he signed right up and sprinted all the way to his credit limit.
Then when the charges began to roll in he cut up the card and the bills, saying to himself, “I shouldn’t pay them back anyway. They’re just a huge company that charges interest and gets rich off the backs of the common man.”
When you think of representing your faith, you may think of interfaith banquets, lectures at the mosque or students having earnest discussions late into the night. You may think it’s something people train for, or something you try to give when you’re approached in the grocery store or when the Jehovah’s Witnesses come knocking. But the truth is that the most common and effective interaction is that we give by simply being who we are.
In some cases, that’s a great blessing. The idea that just being a good Muslim might call others to Islam, as it has since the time Muslims first moved outward from the Arabian Peninsula, relieves a lot of pressure.
On the other hand, it can present a challenge, because many Muslims have habits that push people away from Islam. Some, like Ahmad’s, are simply excuses for bad behavior. Others are cultural holdovers that may even go against Islam.
Even Societies, Misbehave!
Take, for example, the law against women driving in Saudi Arabia. While all four schools of thought agree that Islam does not forbid women from driving, the government of Saudi Arabia has declared it criminal for a woman to be behind the wheel, because it causes “mingling of the sexes.”
And since the KSA holds itself up as the epitome of Islamic law, the rest of the world can’t help but conclude that Islam is transportationally misogynistic. These kinds of laws make non-Muslims think of Islam as backward and ridiculous.
In other places women can drive, but they can also be killed for being raped or having a relationship out of wedlock. While those who participate in such “honor killings” may believe they’re enforcing morality or protecting their reputations, what they are really doing is violating Islam and displaying their ignorance.
In Islam there is no vigilantism or extra-judicial punishment. No family member has the right to abuse or murder young women, regardless of their infraction. But non-Muslims don’t know it’s against Islamic law. They’re told it is a “harsh interpretation of Islam,” which gives the impression that Islam condones such crimes, but most Muslims have been westernized enough that they no longer engage in them.
This is especially sad since, in reality, Islamic law punishes the rapist, not the victim, and emphasizes human rights in all matters (and has been doing so since Europeans were burning women at the stake, exterminating Jews and torturing “heretics”).
“Honor killings,” although they are the antithesis of Islam, serve as fuel for right wing fanatics in the West who consider it their purpose in life to plant fear of Muslims in people’s hearts. It’s our job to decry such atrocities, to save the victims and to teach the perpetrators and non-Muslims alike that this is not what Islam is about.
And Much More Bad Habits
Then there are the more individual bad habits, like Ahmad’s, that repel people on a personal level. One such practice is lying. Some Muslims are under the impression that it’s acceptable to lie to non-Muslims or break contracts with them.
After all, the logic goes; they don’t deserve to be treated with honor. But lying reflects poorly on the liar, not his victim.
In fact, a person who has the characteristic of lying (and breaking contracts and his promises) is considered a hypocrite – a station below that of kafir! A non-Muslim who has a run-in with one of these kinds of people will believe whatever misconceptions the media feeds them, will bad-mouth Muslims to his friends, and will be wary of the next Muslim he meets. There are many other deeds on the list – leaving a mess behind after making wudhu in public, stealing towels from hotels, men shaking hands with women while women usually don’t….
Whether we realize it, not, whether we like it, or not, we are always on Duty to represent Islam. So the next time you’re interacting with people in your community, imagine an announcer saying, “Check out this example of a real Muslim! Kind. Respectful. Virtuous… Aren’t you glad to meet him?”