Today my Twitter feed tells me that Paranormal Activity 2 and Justin Bieber are trending worldwide, I beg to differ. Instead, I’d like to propose that the present-day trending buzzphrases sound a little something like: Islamophobia, Burn-A-Qu’ran Day, Ground Zero Mosque and, something that I hope will never come to trend globally—Terry Jones’s prodigious, mid-70s-pornstar ‘stache.
Even though I am a Muslim-Pakistani-Canadian female, the above-mentioned topics are not the sole issues that define me. Instead, like most students one semester away from obtaining their undergraduate degree, most of my mental radar is occupied with thoughts on what to do come May when I will be thrown into the “real world” with graduation ceremonies as my initiating rite into society.
Having spent most of my adolescent years as part of Vancouver’s sizeable South Asian community, I effectively remained immune from the polarizing us vs. them mentality until university. Even as I sat in my Grade 8 Math class watching the Twin Towers disappear in a debris of dust I could not have fathomed that exactly nine years later I would find myself in the midst of a Judge Judy-episode-gone-wrong with Islam as the defendant.
There is no doubt that we should be alert and aware of what is happening to our Muslim brothers and sisters on both an international and national level. But sensationalized topics such as a small-town church congregation of 30 to 40 individuals headed by a media-savvy pastor looking to debase Islam’s most valuable possession, The Qur’an, are not the sole issues that concern Muslims in this nation.
Growing up, I had a series of on and off again flirtations with my faith. Like most teenagers in our society, I was searching for a sense of community and a place to embed my roots. This security came to me in the form of Islam as both an institution and as a way of life.
Today, despite the spotlight on my faith and the people of my faith, I am constructing my own personal Islam. Even though I see my religion as an omnipresent facet of life it is still a sacrosanct sector that I wish to keep separate from politics of the state and media scrutiny.
But in a time when Sarah Palin’s Tweets over the proposed Park51 Islamic community center are spewed at conveyor belt-like regularity and considered worthy of national air-time, I am no longer afforded the luxury of practicing my religion in a separate, personal bubble. Perhaps, in a time when the hatred incited by a small-town Florida church pastor is able to compel a riot halfway across the world in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, I am morally obligated to stir out of my state of passivity.
Some of the stereotypes about Islam are true. The way some Muslims practice Islam is far from ideal. The religion that I love and wish to defend so strongly is often interpreted in a warped manner by a misguided Muslim minority. This helps explain why 48 percent of Americans hold negative opinions towards their fellow Muslim citizens.
But within this atmosphere of uncertainty and distrust on both sides there exists an opportunity to nurture, heal and grow together. I find that people want to learn and they want to see beyond the stereotypes generated on the evening news.
And in a time such as ours, when actions from both sides of the spectrum can be easily misinterpreted as hostile, I propose using words as tools. And even though I am unable to outline a foolproof plan of action, I can assert the importance of the ability to negotiate and compromise, which is key to all successful human relationships.
The opportunity for Muslims and non-Muslims to function in a peaceful, democratic co-existence is not a far-fetched dream. In 1580 at the height of the Mughal Empire, a Muslim ruler, Akbar the Great, successfully made India, the "land of a hundred tongues", a stronger and more unified nation. Possibly one of the greatest social experiments in history, Akbar’s interfaith religious campaign is testament to the fact that through sustained discourse, respect for individual faiths and an inclusive and tolerant outlook, our present-day society too can bring people together and resolve conflict.
Whether it is through the mediums of social media or the old-fashioned conversations over the water cooler—it is our words that may ultimately salve some of our grievances.