Coping with Prejudice and Discrimination

THE FOLLOWING IS an example of the work done by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [i] to defend the rights of Muslims and Muslim communities in North America:

Posted August 2, 2016: Bensalem Masjid Case  

As many of you already know, CAIR-Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against Bensalem Township for prohibiting the construction of a masjid. On July 21, 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) also filed suit against Bensalem Township, echoing our claims of discrimination and injustice. Only under extraordinary circumstances does the DOJ file lawsuits against Municipalities. The mere fact of their involvement speaks volumes about the egregiousness of Bensalem’s conduct against the Bensalem Masjid and their broader policies regarding places of worship. We are currently awaiting a judge’s decision as to whether our case will be joined with the DOJ.

We applaud the DOJ’s commitment to protect the religious rights of Muslims. It is a welcome relief to see the United States government work with its Muslim population to ensure equal rights.

However, the prejudice and discrimination against members of the Islamic faith remains very real on the streets of America and in the mainstream media –which fail to distinguish between (1) a small minority of us drawn to terrorist ideology and (2) the vast majority of Muslim individuals and Islamic organizations who categorically condemn the outrageous distortion of Islam by the extremist threats and actual acts of violence by a barbarian few. The individual Muslim-on-the-street is often a victim of the “See-something-say-something” well-meaning self-protection motto that is all too often turned into vigilante hate provocation or even crime.

How is a Muslim to respond to such events? [ii] Muslim women are increasingly the victims of various forms of harassment and discrimination due to visible signs of religious affiliation. How are women to cope with the prejudice and discrimination that has spun out of control in a country that proclaim religious freedom and civil liberties?  Nor are men exempt from religious profiling.  Even non-Muslims –Sikhs and others– have been drawn into this orgy of hate.

Let us take a closer look…

What is Prejudice and Discrimination?

“Prejudice” refers to a negative or hostile attitude toward a particular social group. It is a faulty and inflexible generalization or “prejudgment” that is made before any actual contact occurs. “Discrimination,” on the other hand, refers to an unfavorable action, behavior, or treatment toward a person in that social group. Prejudice is a thought or attitude; discrimination is the expression of that thought or attitude. Prejudice does NOT automatically lead to discrimination since there is no one-to-one relationship. Prejudice can exist without discrimination, and discrimination can occur without prejudice. The two are related, but not in a strong causal relationship.

Prejudice and discrimination can take place on the basis of race (physical characteristics like skin color), ethnicity (traditions, cultural practices, beliefs), religion (beliefs and practices), gender, and so on. What is made socially significant in prejudice is the opinion or attitude that automatically assumes superiority and inferiority based upon group differences. The prejudicial individual basically thinks and feels that they are better than individuals from the identified social group, and they use this rationale to carry out various forms of harassment and discrimination.

The Example of the Prophet

It would be prudent to turn to the example of the Prophet œ when determining how to cope with prejudice and discrimination. The Prophet himself suffered severe forms of prejudice, discrimination, and persecution. One of the leaders of this campaign was none other than his uncle, Abû Lahab. Abû Lahab engaged in countless harmful deeds against the Prophet œ and these were full of hatred and spite. He threw stones at the Prophet, teased him about the death of his second son, calling him “the man cut off from offspring,” followed him during the pilgrimage and other events to lure the people away from his Call, and so on.

Abû Lahab’s wife, Umm Jamîl bint Ḥarb, also shared in this ruthless campaign. She was very bad-tempered, abusive in language, and an expert in kindling discord and sedition. She would tie bundles of thorns with ropes of twisted palm-leaf fiber and threw them in the path of the Prophet œ in order to inflict harm.

Abû Jahl was another enemy of the Prophet and of Islam. On one occasion, while the Prophet was prostrating during salah in the Ka¢bah, Abû Jahl brought the dirty fetus of a she-camel and placed it on his back. The disbelievers around the Ka¢bah broke out in laughter. The stories go on and on about the ridicule and persecution that the Prophet œ and his followers experienced. At one point, the Prophet was driven from the city and sought refuge in the nearby town of Tâ’if. While on his way back from that town, he was seriously assaulted and beaten.

And what was the response of the Prophet œ? One need only review the du¢a’ that he made in response to this last situation. Wounded, bleeding, hungry, and thirsty, he raised his hands to heaven and cried,

O Allah! To You alone I make complaint of my helplessness, the paucity of my resources and my insignificance before mankind. You are the most Merciful of the mercifuls. You are the Lord of the helpless and the weak, O Lord of mine!  Into whose hands would You abandon me: into the hands of an unsympathetic distant relative who would sullenly frown at me, or to the enemy who has been given control over my affairs? But if Your wrath does not fall on me, there is nothing for me to worry about. I seek protection in the light of Your Countenance, which illuminates the heavens and dispels darkness, and which controls all affairs in this world as well as in the Hereafter. May it never be that I should incur Your wrath, or that You should be wrathful to me. And there is no power nor resource, but Yours alone. (Al-Rahiq Al-Makhtum)

Lessons to be Learned

It is interesting to note that during a time when there was so much potential for intense rage, resentment and antagonism, these were not even hinted at in the response of the Prophet œ. His main concern was how Allah would react to his own behavior; he was worried about displeasing Allah. The focus was not on the behavior of the offenders, but rather on his own struggle in coping with the abuse. The Prophet œ made du¢a’ to Allah to assist him in his work and to give him the strength to complete his mission. To him Allah was everything, and the opposition of the whole world nothing. In one version of the story, it is reported that he even asked Allah to forgive the men and women who had persecuted and harmed him, and to guide them to the light of Islam.

This is the example of the Prophet œ that we should follow during times of discrimination and persecution. This is part of the process of purification of the soul, for Allah gives us these tests in order that we may purify ourselves. The rewards are from Allah for those who restrain themselves and forgive the victimizers. It is a difficult goal to achieve, but it will always have the best results. Retaliating and harming the other person in return only leads to further conflict and more intense levels of hatred, prejudice and discrimination. A negative response by a Muslim will only verify the faulty beliefs and attitudes of the offender.

The responsible behavior of the mu’min (believer) also demonstrates to others the true beauty of Islam. In essence, it becomes a wonderful opportunity for da¢wah. Rather than portraying the destructive side of human nature, it will give others a glimpse of the peace and harmony of being a Muslim. Muslims should be at peace with all of Creation, including other human beings. This must be true regardless of how we are treated by them. The message of Islam spread through many parts of the world based upon this reality.

The other lesson to learn is that we should never be ashamed to be Muslim. This is the most excellent gift that anyone could have in this life. We must have firm faith in Allah and in our Dîn. We should not hide in our homes for fear of the treatment of others, or take off our hijabs for the same reason. We should be brave, courageous and proud to take Allah’s Message to the world, just as all the Prophets were. We are not oppressed; we are free. Those who oppress, oppress only their own souls. They lack the truth of the nature of the world. It is our duty to try and free them from their own tyranny. This is the thinking of the believer and this is where true success lies.

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[i]      http://www.cair.com/videos.html

[ii]     http://www.islamophobia.org/anti-prejudice-tools.html

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