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Inclusive Islam: How do we get through to Islamophobes?

By Junaid Jahangir

After my TEDx talk on LGBTQ2S+ Muslims in Islam was recently released online, the usual suspects comprising of rabid Islamophobes and Muslim homophobes—who make for strange bedfellows—offered their unsolicited responses. .

I refuse to engage such individuals that are so consumed by their respective ideologies that they end up taking extreme positions with the approval of their own conscience.

There is no conversation to be had with Islamophobes, who view Muslims as a fifth column that must be exterminated. Likewise, there can be no conversation with rigid Muslims, who justify draconian punishments for LGBTQ2S+ individuals.

Yet, I look with awe towards the elders from my spiritual tradition who were able to sustain conversations with extremist ideologues. I am specifically reminded of the nonagenarian Indian Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s writings about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right Hindu group.

“We should also try to reach out to ‘problem’ Hindus, like people in the RSS. That’s what I’ve been doing, for which many Muslims have bitterly opposed me. Actually, I have found that many RSS workers are anti-Muslim simply because of their ignorance or misunderstanding of Islam, and that once you begin to dialogue with them and explain to them what Islam is really all about, they begin to shed their prejudices.”

He wrote this in 2002. But the Maulana’s path of having honest and genuine conversations requires incredible inner strength, poise, wisdom, and determination.

I am not the one to lead these conversations with Islamophobic xenophobes in Edmonton. That is why I am quite impressed with the Al Rashid Mosque representatives to pursue a dialogue with the Wolves of Odin, even as they have completely sidelined my invitation for conversations on LGBTQ2S+ Muslim concerns.

Personally, the older I get, the more I appreciate the significance of self-care. I stay away from those who have been consumed by their own hubris. The online Islamophobic comments that I often come across accuse Muslims of taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation) of belief in the face of persecution.

So can we have a conversation with contemporary Islamophobes and homophobes? We certainly can’t by yelling at them online, but we may be able to have a face-to-face conversation instead.

Some Islamophobes paint Islam as a religion of terror and also smear the Prophet as a pedophile or desirous of his adopted son’s wife.

Where some reduced the age of his wife Aisha to nine to emphasize youth, others exaggerated the age of his wife Khadija to 40 to emphasize her age. But Aisha most likely would have been near 20 and Khadija in her late 20s. Such marriages were common in antiquity.

Indeed, some accounts depict a teenage Mary giving birth to Jesus alongside a much older Joseph.

There is also a different take on his marriage to Zaynab—the erstwhile wife of his adopted son Zayd. Zaynab refused to be in a relationship with Zayd—so the same incident can be looked at as a form of female empowerment.

Hypothetically speaking, I could use these perspectives in an honest, face-to-face conversation with Islamophobes.

As far as sharia laws are concerned, I will have to accept that conservative Muslims across the globe seek to implement such a system. One does not have to look hard for these opinions.

However, there are many Muslims who do not wish to apply medieval laws on to today’s society. One example of this is how the Canadian Council of Muslim Women vehemently opposed sharia-based family laws in Ontario more than a decade ago.

In essence, as long as individuals are not consumed by their ideology and hubris, we can have difficult conversations in person. These conversations rely on mutual respect and authenticity, called husn al dhun (thinking well of others) in Islam.  

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