SHAFAQNA- I have been asked one question over and over again during my research with Muslim communities living in the West: why is it that Muslims are negatively portrayed by some parts of the media? Given that such a tiny proportion of Muslims choose to take the path of violence, one wonders why is it that the larger Muslim community gets labelled as part of the problem.
A typical answer from Islamic leaders is that the “West” hates Islam because it is a threat to their evil ways and that the faith of Muslims terrifies the “unbelievers” due to the rise of Islam that is coming.
The discourse on Islam as we know it today has been hijacked by Islamist militants.
But the reason we, as Muslims, are labelled in a particular way might have more to do with the inaction and apathy of Muslims to provide a counter narrative.
The terrorists are evil, without any doubt, but they are committed to their cause and have through their actions, not just their words, shaken up and monopolised the discussion about Islam.
The discourse on Islam as we know it today has been hijacked by Islamist militants. Their actions and narrative have had the power to frame Muslims the way the militants want them to be in the media.
The remaining 99 per cent of Muslims have been a silent majority and have done very little to resist or change that perception. Part of the reason might be that much of the debate in the Islamic world today is prehistoric. From Pakistan and India to the edges of the Islamic world, Islamic councils are more concerned with questions related to women’s dress and piety than with talking about science, technology and innovation. The counter narrative is nonexistent.
How many scientists, noble laureates, and world-changing inventors have been produced in the Muslim world in the past century that could counterbalance the terrorists’ actions? Not many, which might suggest the need for reform in the Muslim world. But that reform might not come easy.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser hosted by an Islamic organisation in Australia. To my surprise, in a matter of four hours, the organisation raised more than $2 million to build yet another mosque. The organisation’s head said at the event he was committed to building a mosque every two miles in Australia. This is just one of the hundreds of Muslim organisations in Australia.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with building mosques, but to what expense? And is this what the Muslim community really needs at this moment?
How many Muslim PhD students in science and technology could have been sponsored for $2 million? How many universities, research grants or opportunities for Muslims could have been available through the oil profits of rich Arab states.
Imagine, if just one or two of those hundreds of potential PhD students could have become a research pioneer or gone on to winning a Noble Prize in science for Australia. Perhaps if every year two or three Muslims out of the 1.5 billion worldwide could win a Nobel Prize in science, the West or Australians wouldn’t still see Muslims as terrorists.
For too long, the discourse has been focused on building mosques, instead of universities. That’s one reason it isn’t a surprise that throughout the Muslim world we see beautifully decorated mosques, but not a single university worthy to be seen as one of the world’s top universities.
Unless the Muslim world and the Muslim communities living in the West reprioritise and start investing in people and scientific knowledge with their oil wealth or charity, the field will remain wide open for militant-minded individuals to carry the flag of Islam.
Hussain Nadim is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney, where he is also the co-ordinator of South Asia Study Group.