You have likely dealt with Islamophobic behavior, knowing full well how much it can hurt and even be frightening. For new Muslims, this is another layer of new challenges to face. It will be shocking to receive this kind of treatment the first time. And then again and again. Here are some tips to cope with Islamophobic bullying and intimidation.
You know the Scenario
Sarah was walking home after a great day at work. She’d presented her new project to the directors and was feeling on top of the world due to their positive response and encouragement.
A car driving past her slowed down. A passenger rolled down his window. He raised his fist in the shape of a gun and pretended to shoot her, shouting: “Raghead! Go home you terrorist!” Sarah’s heart skipped, fearing if they were going to stop. But they just sped off laughing at her.
This wasn’t the first time; it had happened to her before. It seemed that ever since she had become a Muslim, she had become an acceptable target for any small-minded person who wanted to vent his or her prejudice.
The challenge of dealing with the bullying and intimidation that Islamophobic prejudice fuels is one faced by all Muslims. Born into the faith or new to it. But the challenge faced by New Muslims is different.
They are sometimes facing it from their own families, from people they feel they relate to in terms of culture or in some cases, for people in the past who had already faced prejudice due to their ethnicity, this can be an additional challenge for them to bear.
So what can or should new Muslims do when they are facing bullying or intimidation?
There is obviously not a one-answer-fits-all solution, but there are many answers that we can get both from Islam and contemporary sources to shed light on possible responses.
1 – Patience
The aim of a bully is to make the other person feel inferior and themselves superior. Bullies feel they have succeeded if their victim’s emotions are triggered, and this may be shown by tears, frustration, fear, defensiveness or changing what they are doing in response to the bullying.
The best way to defeat a bully is to show strength and patience in the face of their aggression; avoiding putting yourself in danger as far as possible:
And be patient over what they say and avoid them with gracious avoidance.Quran 73:10
Although Sarah’s heart stopped when she was confronted by the man in the car, she was now aware enough to act as if it hadn’t affected her.
So she carried on walking home holding her head high. To help her, she tried to recall the memory of her successful presentation to bolster her self confidence. She remined herself that there were plenty of people who showed her respect. The man in the car was part of the ignorant minority.
2 – Kindness
One of the most difficult strategies to use against a bully is kindness. The usual instinctive reaction is either to hit out and repel the hurt by hurting the one who has hurt you or to run away and avoid them. This is classic “fight or flight” reaction. But Allah has advised a disarming strategy, and this is the last thing that a bully will expect:
And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.Quran 31 34-35
3 – Speak Out
“Whoever amongst you sees anything objectionable let him change it with his hand, if he is not able, then with his tongue, and if he is not even able to do so, then with his heart, and the latter is the weakest form of faith.”Muslim
Sometimes to stop bullying and intimidation, it is necessary to speak out, but only if it is felt that saying something will be effective and not inflame the situation. It should be done with wisdom and brevity.
A good model to follow is avoiding ‘JADE’ (Justifying, Arguing, Defending, Explaining). There are some situations when it is beneficial to get into a discussion about your values, but when faced by a bully, it’s better to be short and to the point about what you want or don’t want.
So statements such as: “That’s not true; although you can believe what you like”, “I’m not going to drink, because I choose not to” or “I wear my scarf, because I believe it is the right thing for me to do” are useful.
It’s also best to avoid being drawn into saying more, so if you use the Broken Record Technique and just repeat what you have said, maybe using slightly different words, most people will stop putting pressure on you after three repetitions.
4 – Seek Support
If you feel that you could be danger from bullies, you should protect yourself as much as you can. Your first line of support should be Allah; turn to Him often in supplications. You can find appropriate ones for most situations in Fortress of the Muslim.
Next, you should try to avoid being alone with a bully as far as possible. Make sure that you are often in the company of others and seek support and advice from those you can trust. Whatever you do, don’t let a bully isolate you. Make sure that you always have other people you can contact if you need to, preferably family, friends or even the authorities.
Your next line of contact, if you face aggression should be the police, as Sarah did when she and her son were attacked by the teenagers. Angela also contacted them when her intimidation started, but they said they couldn’t do anything without proof. So she installed a CCTV camera, which caught the bullies in action, so the police were able to act.
For those living in the UK, there is now an organization that has been set up to support people who have suffered Islamophobic intimidation: Tell MAMA.
Although it is initially a public service for measuring and monitoring anti-Muslim attacks, it has helped many people to contact the police and gain redress. CAIR is a civil liberties organization in America that also supports victims of Islamophobia. There is also an organization called Beat Bullying that has an excellent Safety Plan that you can adapt to your own circumstances.
5 –Do Hijrah
In some circumstances, if you can’t avoid or distance yourself from the bullying, it is necessary to leave a situation that is extreme. This could mean leaving home, leaving a job, leaving a marriage or in some cases, as the companions did, leaving a city or country.
Allah doesn’t want you to suffer unnecessarily for your religion, so in some cases it may be that you will have to make some temporary compromises to protect yourself until you are in a position to leave.
If we really want to seek the best advice on how to cope with bullying and intimidation, the best examples we have are those of the Prophet and his companions from the early days of Islam.
They showed remarkable strength in the face of extreme torture at times, even sometimes to the point of death. No one is asking you to pay that high price, although your reward will be with Allah, insha Allah, if you do choose that path to preserve your religion.
Prophet Muhammad said:
“The example of a believer is that of a fresh tender plant; from whatever direction the wind comes, it bends it, but when the wind becomes quiet, it becomes straight again. Similarly, a believer is afflicted with calamities (but he remains patient till Allah removes his difficulties.” (Al-Bukhari)
May we all have the strength of that plant and the companions!