“Doing Your Part in Countering anti-Muslim Bigotry”
By CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid
Robert Spencer, who is one of America’s most prolific anti-Muslim bigots, recently appeared at Eastern Michigan University to debate the topic, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” The debate, which was sponsored by the conservative Catholic station, Ave Maria Radio, also had a Muslim participant from another state, who is neither a trained speaker nor a scholar in Islam. This event can serve as a lesson on how we should coordinate and trust our community’s leadership as well as how we should better prepare ourselves to convey Islam to the American society.
It is not a good idea to enter into a debate in which the playing field is not level. The topic, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace,” was framed by a known Islamophobe, and it would likely to put any Muslim who engages in the discussion on the defensive. It’s akin to having a topic of “Is Judaism a religion of fair-dealing?” or “Are Africans a civilized race?” Such framing in itself infers the opposite. Moreover, the moderator of the debate took the position of the negative along with Spencer. The backdrop of it being held at a university only provided the air of academic impartiality.
Hence, local Muslim leaders did not accept to debate Spencer, and I urged community members not to attend. Spencer could have shouted in the wind all that he wanted, but a community leader’s engaging him in the debate would have given the appearance of validity to the event geared towards bigotry. The outside Muslim speaker, who did not confer with local Muslim leaders and organizations, would have better served the community’s interests by consulting with Muslims in Michigan.
Nonetheless, the Qur’an does call us to engage people of other faiths, even debate them, at the appropriate time. Allah (SWT) says [16:125] in an ayah revealed in Makkah relating to the Prophet (SAWS) discussing Islam with polytheists, “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and debate them in a way which is best.” Allah (SWT) also addressed in [29:46] discussing issues with Jews and Christians except those who maliciously work to lie against the Prophet (SAWS) and undermined Muslims, “And do not debate with the People of the Book but in a way which is best except with those committing oppression from them.”
Hence the Qur’an is calling us to use logic when discussing issues with people of other faiths and to debate them, when appropriate, in a non-hostile manner. It also calls us to be judicious in not only how we debate, but by following a criteria as to who should be engaged in debate.
Thus, we all need to prepare ourselves by acquiring more Islamic knowledge for better presenting Islam to the broader public. Moreover, we need to be cognizant of the audience to which we are speaking to. Both involve some training.
In regards to when we are called upon to speak about Islam, we must consider if we are in fact the appropriate persons to convey the message, which means that we need to have self-knowledge and humility. This is what Musa (AS) displayed when he was asked to spread the message of One God to his people. Allah (SWT) said in [20:25 – 20:32]:
He [Musa] prayed: My Lord expand for me my breast, make my matter easy, loosen the knot from my tongue, that they may comprehend my speech, and make for me a minister from my family, Harun my brother, increase through him my strength and let him share my task.
Even a prophet of Allah (SWT) asked for human assistance and felt that he was not the most eloquent to speak in a particular situation. We should also apply this same standard to ourselves.
The Islamophobia network raises vast sums of money to spread their misinformation in comparison to what Muslim organizations are given to counter it. Investing in countering Islamophobia should be a higher monetary priority for our charitable giving. Just as important as raising money for public relations campaigns to counter anti-Muslim hate, there is the need to better cultivate Muslim human capital to better present Islam. Our human capital is our community’s greatest asset.
CAIR-MI has taken the lead in training hundreds of Muslims over the years with our Presenting Islam to Fellow Americans (PITFA) sessions. PITFA teaches best practices for public speaking to how to answer the most frequent and difficult questions asked in America pertaining to Muslims and Islam. Our trained staff as well as outside experts have empowered members of the community to speak about our faith in churches and libraries and on radio and television programs. We also continue to provide guidance and talking points to our imams when bigots like Spencer and Terry Jones, the Qur’an burning pastor from Florida, come into town, to when tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombing take place.
I encourage you to not only financially support CAIR-MI, but also to attend our next PITFA seminar. Our community needs all hands on deck in the important task of conveying the beautiful message of Islam and to counter anti-Islam propaganda, which leads to a number of issues for us including workplace discrimination and bullying of our children in public schools.
To give monetary support to CAIR-MI’s anti-Muslim hate work or to obtain more information about PITFA, please log on our website at www.cairmichigan.org.