x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Building houses on ocean waves

Washington DC, Summer 2009: one can't help but begin to discern a strange dichotomy, an eerie contradiction in terms. Television monitors in the lobbies of buildings turned to Fox News, with its now infamous fear-mongering.

Washington DC, Summer 2009: one can't help but begin to discern a strange dichotomy, an eerie contradiction in terms. Television monitors in the lobbies of buildings turned to Fox News, with its now infamous fear-mongering. Its alarmist reports attempt to portray Muslims as a foreign and alien fifth column of outsiders. Yet as you look about you, you palpably begin to perceive that so many of the crowd that surrounds you in this bustling metropolis, the very people with whom you do your pleasant and everyday business with, are actually Muslims.

Regardless of the rants of 24-hour cable, Muslims in the capital city are going about their day fulfilling their professional duties in the most effective manner. Perhaps they are not so distinguishable as the imagery portrayed in Hollywood movies. Their presence is, however, subtlely given away, not so much by Eastern features and the tell-tale hijab but by their cheerfulness and helpfulness, attention to detail and responsibility for a job well done.

I wonder if the newscasters over at Fox realise that as they are about to go on air to warn the American public of the impending threat of Islamo-fascism, that they've just handed their car keys over to a Muslim. We speak so much of the pressing need for Muslims to integrate into modern society and its cultural mores. But for millions of Muslims, being a functioning and effective member of contemporary civil society is not an option, it's just a reality.

This seemingly persistent feeling of deficiency and a need to be accepted by some monolithic "West" or international community on the part of many Muslims is an awkward misreading of culture. It also betrays a missing sense of intrinsic purpose. The Prophet Mohammed compared the person who seeks acceptance for his actions in the hearts of the public to a person who seeks to build his home on the waves of the ocean. Like the waves on the high seas, the hearts of people are ever changing. It is an enterprise in folly; chasing the proverbial mirage. It is time, energy and resources wasted that would be better invested advancing an authentic and constructive contribution with purpose and vigour.

I saw something of this reflected at a recent conference during a session on the meaning of happiness. The moderator was asking the panellists why Muslims seemed to appear as such unhappy, even angry people and what could be done to change the negative image in the minds of the public that Muslims are narrow-minded and rigid. Imam Zaid Shakir's response was intensely important. He said the question itself is problematic and the answer depends on where a person comes from. Because, he said, where he came from - New Haven Connecticut in the 1960s and early '70s - when a person became a Muslim they were looked at with respect by the greater community. It meant that they were positive and disciplined and a bit erudite and culturally refined. It was a point of pride and something that not just anyone in society could easily achieve. There were high standards of personal conduct and education that must be maintained.

Muslims need to stop selling themselves and their community short. They need to stop chasing the mirage of an ever-fickle public opinion and stay a course that is authentic and original. Because those among us whose minds are already defeated will never be fit for leadership. Our Booker T Washingtons need to move out of the way and make room for our W E B Du Bois's. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi