The Image of Islam
As ever, the Arab/Islamic blogosphere is swarming with discussions about the image of Islam. How badly damaged it is, how to improve it etc....I mean, I must have read hundreds of these. But none of them have so far explained to me why I should care. Seriously though, who cares?
Faith is not a matter of projecting an image to other human beings. It's about your relationship with God, your personal perception of your life, its purpose and its direction. Your clothes, your car might and should be about image.But to me, talking about image in relation to religion just cheapens it and commercializes it. Faith is what is in your heart. That's something no one can take away from you. So why bother to justify or explain it to others? It's something that should be yours and yours alone. To me, it makes no sense to follow a religion just because it's more popular than others.
Frankly, I've never felt particularly interested in other people's opinions of Islam. And that includes the opinions of Muslims on what Islam is and how good a Muslim they think I might be. I might be provoked or concerned if someone started saying Muslims - as PEOPLE - should be killed or whatever. Or if someone who I know thinks of me as an infidel threatens or attempts to abuse me in any tangible manner. But so long as they keep their opinion to themselves when I ask them to, it really doesn't make me feel compelled to change anything in my life to please either camp.
I grew up reading critiques of Islam by Orientalists and modern secularists of all creeds. They're in my father's library - right next to the Quran, the Seera, the Sunna, fiqh, shariah and my favorites: the beautiful books on sufism and the spiritual dimension of Islam.
I had an almost entirely foreign education. All my life my teachers at school have been non-Muslims. And most were quite sceptical of my religion. It's a trend in my family I think. We don't believe in mixing religion and education. We send our kids to the best schools regardless. I mean my parents were educated by Jesuits and nuns and we're not even Christian.
So yeah I've always been aware that there are people out there who believe Mohamed is a false Prophet. On rare occasions, I've been shocked or offended by a certain type of attack on him. But mostly, this sort of thing doesn't make me feel personally attacked.
I can see why this might be an important issue for Muslim minorities who live abroad. The image impacts them because it affects how the host culture treats them. But here in the Middle East, surely we have bigger problems to worry about than our image in far-flung corners of the Earth? Isn't it much more worthwhile to go out there and try to combat poverty, corruption, injustice in your own community than to spend hours on the internet trying to convince people who don't know anything about your life that the religion your practice is the 'one true faith'?
If we spent more time and effort on improving our own lives than on trying to impress some perceived 'Other', I think we'd all be a lot happier.
I hereby vow that I will no longer allow myself to be dragged into these 'interfaith slugging matches' either online or offline. What a waste of time.