Tuesday, 04 December 2007
By Sabria S Jawhar
A FRIEND of mine once asked me why when I'm walking down the street here in Newcastle that I nod hello to other Muslim women, wearing their hijabs, but are complete strangers. I said I didn't really know but that it's probably just an acknowledgment of solidarity as we try to navigate our way through a foreign country. When we are away from home, we feel a kinship with our brothers and sisters because deep down we somehow feel that all eyes are upon us. Fair or not, the reality is that somehow our actions dictate how Muslims are viewed in the Western World.
So nothing could be more painful for me than seeing the Sudanese arrest and convict British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons for "insulting religion." Why? Because she allowed her 7-year-old students name the class teddy bear "Muhammad."
A large percentage of the Muslim men in the world are named Muhammad. I can imagine in a fit of anger what their wives, mothers and fathers call them. How they would abuse their name during a family argument. It's what people do. But this non-Muslim woman is the target of hate for something that wasn't even her fault.
If the Sudanese government felt that strongly about her alleged crime, then getting her on the first plane back to England would have been the answer.
But to make matters worse and hold Muslims to ridicule is having hundreds - or thousands, if the Western press is to be believed - of Sudanese in Khartoum demonstrate in the street shouting for her death. I'm sorry, these people are idiots. They hurt Islam. They make us look like blood-thirsty villains. They put a negative spotlight on Muslims abroad. Their actions are not constructive to creating dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims.
I do not feel solidarity with the demonstrators, but anger, frustration and maybe even a little pity.
The good news is that the Sudanese president pardoned Gibbons and she is on her way back to Britain.
I suspect that he was caught unawares of just what a messy public relations disaster this incident turned out to be.
It's also good to see that British Muslim organizations condemned the arrest and conviction of Gibbons and that two members of the House of Lords, both Muslims, were alarmed enough to fly to Sudan at their own expense and negotiate for her release. These Muslims reflect the true attitude of most of us.
There's been discussions by Muslims in the United Kingdom to established "rules of conduct" list that could be issued as early as March.
One issue that may be listed is that honor killings should be publicly denounced as "un-Islamic."
I like the idea of becoming more vocal when people do bad things in the name of our religion. I like the idea that they are held accountable for their actions.
Whether I like it or not, I feel I have been put in a position of representing the Muslim community. Maybe I'm not seen as a Muslim to Westerners, although my hijab screams otherwise.
Whatever the case, my perception is I do represent my culture and religion and I act accordingly. I wish others would do the same.