Public Apology

By Naazish YarKhan

As those who read this column regularly know, I’m working on arranging discussions and book signings for author Haroon Siddiqui, whose book ‘Being Muslim’ is a Canadian bestseller. But my! The wrath my email invites have evoked amongst a few! Outpourings of hate against Islam and its prophet. Outpourings of venom against the faith and its people. To all of that, I have only one thing to say. I am sorry your experiences with Muslims and Islam has been so negative. You speak based on your experiences and if those have been bad, it can be easy to react accordingly. To all those who haven’t had the best of experiences with those of my faith, a public apology. The prophet would be hurt that you met with Muslims who misrepresented the faith, and pushed you away from it. He was a gentle, soft hearted man, one of great patience, and capable of great love, one who would call on you in sickness and in health, even if you despised him. He would never have wanted for you to feel hurt nor made you feel unwelcome, even if you followed a faith other than his.

I acquired this manner of reacting from my daughter and a friend, Shaheen. Shaheen was at an inter-faith gathering at which an attendee spoke up in full-fledged opposition of Muslims and Islam, much to the chagrin of the Christian organizers of the event. Following the speeches, small groups came together for more intimate discussion and Q&A, and Shaheen found herself at the table with this angry woman. I am not sure I would have handled the situation as well as Shaheen did, but when selected to speak in this small group, Shaheen began by thanking Americans for being as gracious as they were to Muslims in response to 9/11. Shaheen narrated that area churches, in fact, wrote letters to her mosque, offering Muslims their support in this time of crisis. She added that had 9/11 happened in some other country, riots would have erupted. In America, this never happened. Here, many, many people responded with understanding and Shaheen acknowledged that. Shaheen’s words made an unexpected impression on the lady who had, until then, only hateful things to say about Islam and Muslims. This lady now turned gracious and carried on for the rest of the session, speaking only gracious words. What an about- turn. “Sometimes one needs to be gracious, in order to teach another to be gracious too,” said Shaheen, simply.

I also learned to react in this manner from my daughter, Taskeen. We try, as much as possible, to end our prayers with five things we are grateful to God for, and with five requests or prayers for ourselves, our community, the environment and the world at large. When I first read the hateful emails, I felt actual pain that my prophet, so beloved to me, was being abused so much. I hoped that God would punish these people. Then I recalled Taskeen’s prayer. “Make the bad people into good people.” She didn’t pray for them to be chucked into hell. She didn’t ask God to punish the bad people. It was an approach that was far better than mine. So when I read some more of the vitriolic emails being written in response to my email, I did two things. I emailed the moderator of this email list, and all the other readers, to keep tabs on when a discussion was becoming a hate fest. It is one thing to express contradictory thoughts, it is quite another to stoop to abuse and insults. I also wrote an email to all those on that list, recognizing that a bad experience or two, could paint ones whole perspective towards another. And I apologized for the experiences that may have pushed these people away.

It is common sense and yet not commonly remembered that human beings are not one monolithic group. We cannot all be painted with the same brush. Let not your grouse against an individual, become your filter when you view an entire community. I am as guilty of this myself, when I rush to judge a group of people based on past poor experiences, before getting to even know them. Also, let not the actions of those who misunderstand a rule, mar your perspective of the rules or laws themselves. Just because I bungle a recipe when I cook it doesn’t mean the recipe is lousy. I, the cook, alone am responsible for how the end result tastes, not the recipe. So also faith. Those who practice a faith, may or may not do it correctly. Just because someone has misinterpreted or misrepresents the faith, doesn’t mean the faith itself stinks.

Having grown up in an inter-faith community in India, and now as someone with friends of every faith in my adult life, I have one small request. Life is too short for hate. Do take the time to read and discover for yourself more about some of the questions you have. Do get to know others of a faith you have questions about, if those you have already met have been disappointing. Peace and harmony are so fragile. If we are to avoid wars like Iraq, we must make sure to nip smaller rivalries and hate mongering in the bud first.
As many a bumper sticker in the USA asks, ask yourself, “What Would Jesus Do?” Ask yourself always, “how can we build bridges instead of destroying them?”