Feeling righteous while living a stressful life is a weird combination that exists only in Muslim societies. Regardless of our ethnicity, we Muslims are usually full of pride to belong to our faith, yet the clear majority of us live a tense life that is obviously of a lower quality than that of other societies. We should firmly assume responsibility for the appalling life we have fashioned for ourselves and are now forced to lead – even if a few external factors did contribute to dragging us into an existence where we must live under the label of “Universal Suspects”.
Islam is about peace, mercy and forgiveness, but our practices in daily life are sometimes different to what the book teaches us. Cultural and economic conditions, education, political status and many other factors unrelated to religion play significant roles in shaping the thinking, actions and behaviors of Muslims; these factors are what make individual Muslims moderate, conservative, or extremist (a categorization that has nothing to do with being either a well-educated Muslim or an ignorant one).
Irrespective of profession or social status, being recognized as a Muslim always raises question marks. We are the universe’s clear and present suspects until we manage to clear ourselves – and attain the better status of “to be watched carefully”. This substandard categorization of Muslims is easily noticeable in the procedures adopted by the governments of the non-Muslim nations that we live in or visit, as well as in the eyes of international citizens at large. This miserable lot in life leaves millions of Muslims with a single advantage: the option to become more spiritual.
A true understanding of Islamic values should have better shaped us, but our ignorance and extreme emotionality are the primary mental barriers that prevent us from moving forward. Non-Muslims may perceive as extremist behavior some of the practices that give us pleasure and that we find to be rewarding. Knowledgeable moderate leaders govern most of the advanced world; in our societies, an ignorant Islamic extremist can falsely claim to be knowledgeable and easily assume a leadership role, harming his own society and many innocent human beings.
The clear majority of Muslim people did not create terrorism or even help in its emergence. Nevertheless, we, to the exclusion of all others, have been charged with this accusation. Sadly, the irresponsible and ignorant actions and behaviors of a few of us did contribute to the development of terrorism – resulting not only in the marginalization of Muslims in western nations, but in banishing us from their social circles altogether. We need to multiply our efforts to prove to the world that we are ordinary inhabitants of this Earth. A small number of Muslims has succeeded in this mission; the remaining bulk will live and die under the label of “obvious suspect”.
The systematic thinking of the West that is primarily based on cause-effect relationships can’t always be applied to our world, where hidden and indirect elements often contribute to the cause factor. Western scholars’ frequent calls for modernizing our book overlook the fact that reformist thinking is very difficult to implement at a time when manifesting a progressive mind requires enormous courage that does not currently exist in Muslim societies. Living a humiliating, ignorant life obviously prevents us from developing broadminded thinking patterns.
Although we all share a single source of religious teaching (the Quran), many people insist that Islam is the source that triggers extremists, disregarding the fact that the clear majority of Muslims are moderates who are simply overshadowed by religiously conservative and Islamic extremist leaders. I have observed many Muslims swing between religious moderation and conservatism and I know that their behavior and decisions are linked to countless surrounding factors and conditions, and are clearly influenced by their peers – meanwhile, our book remains our common religious foundation.
Our diverse cultures and the mediocre lives that we lead impose many things on us that have nothing to do with Islam or the Quran – a book that can be perceived differently depending on individuals’ understanding. For millions of Muslims, Islam is the last fulfilling recourse of value; attempts to attack it are simply undermining the only rewarding option still available to them. Working on empowering Muslims to live an enjoyable, responsible life will certainly help to substantially reduce many of the challenges we face today.