Last week, I wrote an experience piece about being a white, American convert to Islam. It received over 6,000 shares. My goal in writing that article was to reach you. I wanted you to hear some testimony from someone who has actually walked among the Muslim community and who has prayed shoulder to shoulder with those noble souls who continue to practice their religion in the Islamophobic environment of 21st century America.
I tried hard not to sensationalize. There was, deliberately, barely any mention of terrorism. I wanted you to see my ummah in the form that it was gifted to me. Very rarely does someone's accomplishments outshine his or her ambitions. I watched as the number of likes and shares grew. When it hit 1,000, I thought I had done my job.
Then, it went a few thousand more. I received private messages on Facebook from Muslims and non-Muslims whom I'd never met. They all thanked me for my insight, my timeliness and my “courage.” Though kind, that last one made me curious. What about my article was courageous?
I like to think my writing can be controversial when I want it to be. But, I had intentionally avoided words that could be considered bold or confrontational, for fear they would undermine my greater goal. It took a few days of thought before the answer presented itself in the form of the comment section.
It's not a big secret that the comment sections of articles are unhappy places. But, it's different when the article is yours. The excitement of seeing your own work published puts you in a stupor. You're curious to see what other people have to say about your writing. Sadly, for me, there was little to no mention of my writing in the comments.
Instead, I found a dump of false facts about the Prophet Muhammad and the early caliphs. There were references to “tyrannical” Islamic dynasties, such as the Umayyads, who seized lands in Persia and North Africa by conquest. It was a phenomenon which would have been completely alien to the European Christians of the Dark Ages, which was the same time period.
I wish I had the time to look at each comment and point out the historical falsehood, the bad interpretation and the lack of proper context. In fact, I tried for about two seconds. But, I've learned my lesson. Even if I had the time, I doubt it would be wise to engage further. Since I can't, I encourage you to look through the comments and do some fact-checking of your own. You'll find that Islam encourages skepticism.
I didn't mind this kind of criticism. I invite it. It's through dialogue with ignorance that we come to a more whole understanding of our own faith. More disquieting to me were the brushes with real, visceral Islamophobia. Between the Elite Daily Facebook page and the comments on the article itself, I was insulted and accused by a surprising amount of people. I was called a slavery apologist, I was accused of having a hand in the Brussels attacks and, more than once, my sanity and intelligence were called into question.
The one that deserves the crown, however, is a comment by a grown man who saw fit to simply post a picture of his rifle. Yet, all of this makes me feel fortunate. I can't recall if I mentioned this in my previous article, but I am white. I have no accent, save for my Long Island “awes” ("cawfee, "Lawng Island," etc.). I am not immediately distinguishable as anything but a typical American.
This puts me, usually, into a very privileged minority within a religious minority that has very little privilege. But, publicly proclaiming my faith changed that. I was outed, and the bigots swooped in. For a few days, I began to feel the authentic Muslim American experience. I got a very brief taste of how it feels to be of Pakistani, Afghani, Indian or in any other way the uninformed would call “visibly Muslim,” while living in America.
Because of that, my faith has been enriched. I feel even closer now to my sisters and brothers in the din than I did before, now that I have had a flash of a view into their struggle. There are several tenets to the Muslim concept of faith, or iman. One of them is the belief that, one day, I will stand before God, and I will be called to account for my actions. This question will finally be answered: Did I do enough?
Through my deeds, did I empower the “orphans and the widows” (the dispossessed, the rejected, the voiceless)? Or, did I help reject them? I take this day very seriously. I try to help in earnest — though I often fall short — in the hopes that I am able to answer in the positive: Yes, I did what I could.
There is a certain danger that comes with speaking publicly in defense of Islam, especially if you are of the religion yourself. You are opening yourself up to a flood of ill will, and even — as I've learned — threats against you as a person. It hurts. It is frightening. But, I am chasing the “yes.” If I shut my lid out of intimidation, I cannot honestly say I am doing what is within my power to ease the burden of my fellow Muslims.
If I'm to believe what I'm repeatedly told, my background lends me a taller stage from which to advocate for my beloved Muslim sisters and brothers. I intend to use it. Don't approve? I'm sure you'll let me know. Have at it.