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Building Communities: Reacquainting Britain with the ‘Human Density’ of Islam

Building communities

Zujaja Khan, London

In 1981, Palestinian-American scholar Edward Saïd published his book Covering Islam, in which he analysed media representations of Islam during the late twentieth century. In particular, he looked at the Iranian hostage crisis that took place from 1979 to 1981. Saïd wrote that,

It is only a slight overstatement to say that Muslims and Arabs are essentially covered, discussed, and apprehended [in the media] either as oil suppliers or as potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Muslim life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Islamic world. What we have instead is a limited series of crude, essentialised caricatures of the Islamic world […][1]

Saïd’s phrase ‘human density’ is a useful term, as it draws attention to an ongoing crisis between Muslim and non-Muslim communities across the world. I would concur with Saïd’s assessment that limited or carefully curated knowledge of Islam has a direct impact on the inability to humanise Muslims. The fabric of our lives, the essence of who we are, is lost with every misinterpretation of Islam.

Saïd largely deals with the news coverage of political events of the late twentieth century, and how this reportage operates to justify military aggression. Though his study is rooted in a specific cultural and political context, I would argue that his analyses are exceedingly applicable to the everyday lived experiences of Muslims, proving mainstream media to be a perpetrator of serious microaggressions. I do not believe it is an overstatement to say that misinterpretation of the Holy Quran is one of the most significant obstacles facing Muslims across the world, exacerbating stereotypes and preventing communities from existing in harmony. A discussion about Islam can hardly go on for five minutes without opponents citing verses relating to death, murder or violence. Not to mention that Islam has consistently been characterised in British mainstream media as authoritarian and antithetical to human rights, more so since the terror attacks of September 2001.

Recently a group of 300 French intellectuals and politicians signed a petition to have verses removed from the Holy Quran that they perceived to refer to violence, to negate any future invocations by terrorists.[2] An ongoing epistemological struggle is thus maintained between those who believe Islam’s essence is encapsulated by its so-called ‘violent’ verses, and those who interpret the Holy Quran within the context of its writing. As Muslims, we are faced with the task of mending these stereotypes and misconceptions.

For those of our Ahmadi Muslim brothers and sisters involved in frontline press and media events, addressing concerns about the Holy Quran is a large part of the job. But the prevalence of questions about Quranic interpretation proves that it sits at the root of many communities’ opinions regarding Islam. We know that our Ahmadi brothers and sisters work determinedly to improve our relations with non-Muslim communities in lively and innovative ways. For example, we have our community’s ‘Voice of Islam’ radio station that covers a diverse range of topics, from history to technology to literature.

As a sacred text, a guidebook for our lives, a source of ultimate wisdom and closeness to Allah the Almighty, the importance of the Holy Quran to Islam cannot be overstated. However, the Holy Quran’s teachings cannot always be understood without putting in the time and effort to understand its complexity- and this goes for both Muslims and non-Muslims. As Ahmadis, we are blessed with the guidance provided in the Friday sermons of His Holiness, which aid our understanding and interpretations of the Holy Quran. Therefore, it is vital that we regularly study the Holy Quran and listen to sermons and addresses of His Holiness, so that each of us can try and be an advocate for the Holy Quran’s wisdom.

In his Friday sermon of 27 September 2013, His Holiness gave us all an important message to reflect on whether we have tried to emulate goodness, and how far each of us practices the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. We should consider whether our models of conduct with regard to the Holy Qur’an would be enough to incline any opponent towards Islam after seeing us.

Ultimately, I believe the biggest task facing British Muslims is (re)acquainting Britain with the humanity that sits at the core of Islam. Saïd is not alone when he stated that the Islamic world has become “the subject of the most profound cultural and economic Western saturation in history” (27). If there is a spotlight on our community worldwide, it is our responsibility as Ahmadi Muslims to propagate Islam in an informed and positive manner. InshAllah with guidance from the wisdom of the Holy Qur’an, from the Holy Prophet’s (peace and blessings be on him) Ahadith, from the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace), and our Khilafat, we can achieve this. Ameen.

[1] Edward Saïd, Covering Islam, London: Vintage (1997, p. 27).

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/05/france-delete-verses-quran/559550/

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