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Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan

After the Ramadan attacks, moderates must stand against hate Add to ...

Gay. Straight. Atheist. Believer. Sunni. Shia. Man. Woman. Child.

This past Ramadan, the Islamic State proved to be an equal-opportunity killing machine. Nor did it discriminate where it murdered members of the human family: a nightclub, an airport, a packed shopping mall, a café. Even the mosque of Prophet Mohammed.

It is for this reason that this year’s Ramadan has been different. Yes, the 18-hour days of fasting were longer than usual. Sleep schedules were thrown into chaos.

Yet, these minor discomforts have always been central to the Ramadan experience. Fasting is meant to inculcate God-consciousness and gratefulness. Furthermore, we are provided with an opportunity to cleanse the soul, indulge in charity and feel the hardship of millions who go hungry.

But this year, our hearts have been jolted to feel the pain of those who have suffered unspeakable violence or loss of loved ones to terrorism. We can never underestimate the fragility and paramount importance of personal security.

These feelings are all the more intense when there is a personal connection to the violence we have witnessed.

In Orlando, I was reminded of many in the LGBQT community who stood in defence of Muslims post-9/11. Having been the target of hate themselves, they reached out instinctively to a community that was about to endure the same. I was also reminded of gay Muslims who struggle to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, with the twin burdens of homophobia and Islamophobia.

I fell in love with the people and city of Istanbul during my first visit there in May. I walked the very streets with students, shopkeepers and tourists where a bomb was to explode two weeks later. I travelled through the same airport terminal one month before scores were murdered. Istanbul was attacked by those who hate its foundation of pluralism and tolerance.

In Baghdad, I recognized the palpable excitement of pre-Eid shoppers, preparing for the feast after Ramadan. Sadly, anticipated Eid celebrations were replaced by sombre funerals for almost 300 people killed by a truck bomb.

In the Dhaka attack, I remembered visits to trendy cafés in Karachi and Delhi as a student. Back then, I wouldn’t have been able to recite a verse of the Koran to save my life. And yet, many were put to that same test in Dhaka. Those who failed were tortured and killed. This is unfathomable.

And then there is Medina – a city that envelopes visitors with inner tranquillity. Tears of love flow ceaselessly at the Prophet’s Mosque. After a visit there last year, I was convinced that deradicalization programs should include a visit to this sacred space, in order to witness the Prophet’s personality of mercy, compassion and forgiveness that permeates Medina. In retrospect, I was so naive.

It is soul-wrenching to watch extremists take that which is most sacred and beloved, and profane it in the vilest manner. Imagine if your most cherished values were debauched.

The ritual of condemning terrorist attacks, while bracing for the ensuing backlash, is stale and ineffective. We need a bold, new vision that fortifies human resiliency across communities.

At a vigil to honour the victims of Orlando, Harvard president Drew Faust pointed to a path beyond “fear, anger, hatred and distrust.” She said: “We are willing to accept the responsibility of restoring and rebuilding our society. We accept this responsibility not with the conviction that we are better than anyone else to do this, but with the belief that we all have the responsibility to stand up for tolerance and for love.”

While Muslims do not have to answer for the actions of the Islamic State, they can take responsibility for defining Western Islamic practice, in terms of what it stands for, rather than for what it is not.

They need look no further than the late, great Muhammad Ali, whose lived faith reflected the spirit of sacrifice, love, compassion and justice for all. He embodied the fundamental Islamic principle that one is not a true believer until you love for your fellow human beings what you love for yourself, whether they are gay, straight, atheist, believer, Sunni, Shia, man, woman or child.

Let moderates everywhere stand firmly for our common humanity against the forces of hate that seek to drive us apart.

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