The women’s majlis: Dialogue is necessary to alter negative perceptions about Muslims

Many Muslims are as confused over acts of terror as non-Muslims, but it might be time to publicly condemn the violence perpretrated by extremists in the name of Islam.

Dressed in a maxi dress and a green headscarf, I was walking by the lake in Australia’s capital city, Canberra, when I saw an old man beaming at me. “Excuse me, you look like a Muslim. Would you mind having a brief conversation about your faith?” he asked.

“Definitely,” I replied. We introduced ourselves, and he said: “Tell me, why do some Muslims blow people up? I mean, look at what happened in Brussels. The suspects looked innocent, no one thought they’d commit such atrocities.” He continued: “Look at you, you’re dressed beautifully and you look innocent, but there’s no guarantee you’re not carrying a weapon. I’m sorry to offend, but this is how I feel.”

I listened to him without interrupting. I noticed that he was not looking for a solution to the terror created by some in the name of Islam. Instead, as he put it, he was frustrated at not meeting enough Muslims who condemn the violence publicly. A lot of Muslims, including myself, barely have any social contact with other faiths. We do not know much about them and they do not know about us: both doors appear closed. Lamentably, there is a feeling of superiority among some Muslims when it comes to their faith. The Quran teaches us that God created different tribes so that we could get to know each other. It also teaches us to embrace all cultures and religions. There is no beauty in life if we’re all copies of one another – this simple message seems to be lost on many.

When he’d finished talking, the old man listened to me attentively. We found our common ground, and he nodded to a few things I explained about Islam and humbly requested that I take some initiative and speak against the transgressors from the standpoint of a Muslim.

We agreed that the media might not find it as profitable to amplify the voices of Muslims who debunk a violent act, as publicising it. Regardless, not all Muslims are in favour of what some are doing under the umbrella of Islam. I see three trends in the Muslim world – one is that members of extremist groups are bloodthirsty. The second is the people who promote Islamophobia. And third, the confused group. I would consider myself in this category. Not only non-Muslims are confused about Muslims acts, even Muslims are confused about “their own members”. We do not get joy in seeing acts of terror. The lives of people – irrespective of their faiths – are precious.

The dialogue I had with this man made me realise that many Muslims do not make the effort to exchange knowledge with other groups. After more than an hour of easy and progressive conversation, I realised one more thing. I was heading the wrong way. The same man who was apprehensive of me an hour ago, was now escorting me to my destination.

Asmaa Al Hameli is a former features writer for The National, currently studying in Australia.

If you have a good story to tell or an interesting issue to debate, contact Melinda Healy on mhealy@thenational.ae.

Published: April 13, 2016 04:00 AM

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