Muslims Respond to Hate with Wisdom and Grace

Posted: May. 14, 2015
US & World

I am amazed at the restrain demonstrated by the Muslim community despite tremendous amount of hate.

Much is being made of the two Muslims who took Pamela Geller’s bait and were killed in Garland, Texas, where she was hosting her hateful “Draw Muhammad” art contest on May 3, 2015. However, what is not being discussed is the stellar way the Dallas area Muslims have dealt with her hate, and the Islamophobia movement in general.

Given Geller’s history as the public face of a multi-million dollar Islamophobia campaign in the United States, Muslims have largely chosen to ignore this attention-seeking bigot. Her campaign to plaster hate against Muslims on public city buses in San Francisco and New York, for example, was not met by any protest by Muslims. They calmly made their statements opposing the ads. Then they went on their way, most likely taking these same buses to work and school as they went about their business.

I found a similar dynamic at play in January 2015, when Sound Vision hosted a Seerah conference entitled, “Stand With the Prophet Against Hate and Terror”. This was also held in Garland, Texas. Unlike other, similar events we have organized across the country, this one became a target for Pamela Geller and her cohort in the Islamophobia campaign, Robert Spencer. Online, they mobilized hundreds of protesters to stage a hateful protest in front of the event.

What Geller & Co. Did 

What the Dallas Muslim Community & Sound Vision Did

They demanded that the city ban our freedom of speech by cancelling the event

Sound Vision or Muslims did not demand cancelling her event

They organized protest at our event

We did not organize any protest at her event

They openly carried assault rifles which were photographed

Muslims carried no weapons at all

They carried American and Israeli flags

Muslim carried only American flags

They asked Muslims to 'go home and take Obama with you'

We did not ask her to move to Israel

They screamed at young girls “Have you been raped last night by your father.”

Muslims sang devotional songs to Prophet Muhammad and “One Love”

They hooted, yelled, and screamed at the Muslim families entering the hall for their program

No one shouted, screamed and yell as Geller and her 200 guests went to the hall

They posted threats of gun violence and dynamites on social media

None of our Facebook posts contained any threats to anyone

They carried placards and shouted insulting blasphemous messages towards Prophet Muhammad

Muslims did not carry any insulting message toward Jesus, Moses, peace be upon them

They had hateful messages about Islam and Muslims while Bible, Crosses, and Israeli flags in their hands

Muslims did not have any hateful message about Jews, Christians or anyone

Hatemongers came from all across the country

Muslims came only from the Dallas Fort Worth area

Given that the conference (which had been organized months in advance) was held just days after the Charlie Hebdo murders, it became an easy target for Islamophobia’s stalwarts. Prior to the event, a Facebook page was launched featuring threats to blow up the convention center the conference would be held in, along with reminders to bring guns and other ammunition to the event.

Sound Vision notified local law enforcement, who took the threats seriously and beefed up security. We have never hosted an event that required attendees to go through safety checks. But we had no choice. A conference focused on peace and condemning terror was being threatened with violence and hate by those who claim Muslims are violent and hateful.

Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. For all of the culturally entrenched ideas about “violent Muslims”, statistics point the other way.

A large number of Americans believe it is justifiable to intentionally attack civilians. A World Public Opinion (WPO) survey done in collaboration with the University of Maryland published in January 2007 reported that 51% of Americans believed “bombings and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified.” According to a May 22, 2007 PEW survey, only 13% of American Muslims hold a similar sentiment when asked about bombings against civilian targets.

An FBI study about terrorism committed on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 found that94 percent of the terror attacks were committed by non-Muslims. In actuality, 42 percent of terror attacks were carried out by Latino-related groups, followed by 24 percent perpetrated by extreme left-wing actors.

But, statistics aside, I was deeply impressed and proud of the way Muslims conducted themselves the day of the conference. In response to hate, they responded with the Quranic teaching that

“The Servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on Earth, and who, when the foolish address them, they avoid them saying 'Peace'” [Quran 25:63].

 

And foolish they were. “Did your father rape you last night?” some of Geller and Spencer’s supporters called out to Muslim girls entering the Seerah conference. “Go home and take Obama with you” they screamed with their placards advertising the same message. 

Some interfaith people responded with counter-protests in January 2015. But these were peaceful, and to my knowledge, attendees were unarmed. This was in stark contrast to the Geller-Spencer crew, who were heavily armed, and included at least one motorcycle gang that threateningly kept circling the Muslim attendees waiting outside the event.

For the Geller & Co. hate cartoon exhibit on May 2015, Sound Vision surveyed our supporters in Dallas Fort Worth area about a possible response. Most of them suggested that we simply ignore them. That is what 100% of the Dallas Fort Worth area Muslim community did. So did our interfaith and peace movement followers. We all stayed away from it. That is restraint of a highest possible level.

This has been the consistent response of the Muslim community throughout America. Many papers have published Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon about the Prophet including the Washington Post, USA Today, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast and CBS News. Charlie Hebdo’s first issue after the attack was brought into the US for distribution.

Muslims, who were deeply offended remained calm, praying for the Prophet and hoping that our country extends the Prophet a respectable discourse.

Normally, it is stated in the media that drawing the Prophet is considered blasphemous by Muslims. But this is only a part of the story. Muslims with the memories of Christian missionaries and the colonial masters for the last several hundred years see a continuity in which the Western media and Islamophobe depict the Prophet in writing and drawings in a very offensive manner, which perpetuates the falsehood about the Prophet, peace be upon him.

Muslims have much to be proud of in terms of how we are handling ourselves in the face of an onslaught of Islamophobia. We have debated online and offline; we have ignored the hate or engaged it in a way that was calm and deliberate, as opposed to shrill and hateful; and we have not wavered or backed down in proudly declaring that we are American Muslims and very much part of and proud of our country and what it stands for: freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and respect for all.