How to Discuss Islam and Counter Islamophobia

You get a notification on your phone that there has been some type of violent attack. No details about the perpetrator have appeared yet, but your mind is already hard at work.

“Please God,” you think to yourself, “don’t let the attacker be a Muslim this time.”

Unfortunately, too many times to count it comes out that the attacker was a Muslim. You then start to realize that, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the attacker – mental health issues; a long criminal record; terrorist ideology; or just a troubled person who has really lost their way in life – the core tenants of Islam will be brought into question.

I personally remember one instance, where the media was let into the home of an arrested suspect; and they frantically pointed out how the home was covered with “extremist materials,” which in reality was a prayer rug and framed Arabic calligraphy of the Verse of the Throne (Ayat Al-Kursi).

Today, therefore, I wanted to talk about a few important points that we can all use to combat what some call “Islamophobia”, or the immediate connection to everything that is Islam and all Muslims that is made when a Muslim commits a crime.

I will focus here on interpersonal relationships, as this is the main way that Muslims encounter Islamophobia day-to-day.

Affirm Islam’s Diversity

The first point that I would like to emphasize here is that the strongest argument against Islamophobia is to question the core of the whole concept: That Muslims are all the same.

This might be difficult, as the first reaction that you might have to attacks on Islam is to put up a wall, defending Islam and all Muslims.

Islam does not need defending; it is a religion with a spiritual, legal, and faith tradition that has stood strong for over 1400 years.

More importantly, getting defensive is not going to win over anybody. Rather, it is only going to make them more suspicious.

Instead, be open and show others that Islam has a range of different opinions. There are some shared characteristics amongst all Muslims; but after that we are probably one of the most diverse groups on the entire planet.

Cultural, racial, linguistic, and ideological differences are just some of the things that make us who we are.

Yes, there are terrible people out there with even worse ideas, and maybe those ideas are connected to some aspect of Islam. However, those ideas are easily countered with the fact that there is another side to the debate.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say You Don’t Know

During these discussions, particularly with non-Muslims, you will often find yourself confronted with accusations and information that might seem quite strange.

For example, I was once personally asked how I can live as a Muslim in the United States while adhering to the “Arab Honor Code,” which is supposedly the third pillar of my faith.

As someone who, at that time, had studied Islam for about five years, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. And to be completely honest, I still don’t.

In that moment, however, I made a major mistake by saying,

“This is stupid and doesn’t exist in Islam.”

That got me the response that I am hiding something about my faith, or that I haven’t been told yet what “real Islam” is.

From this experience, I learned that one of the best ways to deal with issues like this is to say:

“I don’t know, but I would love to know more and find out.”

People sometimes get their information from strange places; and it is hard to tell where they are coming from.

Instead of being an authority on religion, use this as an opportunity to open dialogue. Search for and then share information together.

Who knows, you might just have a future new Muslim on your hands.

About Brian Wright
Brian Wright is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi. He holds a PhD from the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. His dissertation was on Islamic criminal law in Egypt, India, and Ottoman Turkey during the 19th century. He has studied fiqh with a number of traditional scholars in Egypt and India.