Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post by Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is an interfaith activist, blogger for Tikkun Daily and The Islamic Monthly, and a speaker on American Muslim issues. She lives in Houston, Texas and is currently writing a collection of short stories set in Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
If you are like me, you begin your morning with the top news stories from around the world. And lately if you are like me, you’ve been doing so with an increasingly frequent grimace of distaste or disgust at the behavior of my fellow Muslims. Yes, the Middle East and even previously quiet countries like Pakistan and Turkey are now continuously in the headlines. But war, politics and terrorism aren’t the only things Islam seem to be associated with this last year or so. More and more I’m seeing news that’s funny, embarrassing, annoying and even downright angering.
In case you’re not a news reader like me, let me tell you why my mornings are becoming more and more painful with each passing week. Who could forget the series of bizarre fatwas by Saudi scholars, claiming all-you-can-eat buffets to be haram or the Saudi government banning the use of countless very common baby names? At the same time, here in the West, an online petition was circulated against Katy Perry’s video burning the name of God. While these are the more entertaining examples from recent news sources showing Muslims in a less than positive light, there are many other examples that provoke a more serious response. Last week’s story about Muslim parents protesting a church-sponsored Easter egg hunt and the news media jumping on the story as if it was the next Oscar favorite falls in this sadly harmful category.
Let’s review the initial situation first, which shows a less than intelligent response from all parties concerned. According to news sources, several parents in the Dearborn, MI area were concerned last week when their children brought home Easter egg hunt flyers from school. According to the initial news report making the rounds on the internet – from the Dearborn Patch to the Christian Post and every small and large publication in between – several Muslim parents protested this lack of separation of church and state.
Before I go any further, the above paragraph alone should give any reasonably-educated reader pause. Having been a close watcher of events in the church vs state debate for several years, I know that Muslims are almost never part of this particular conversation. I doubt if many Muslims even agree with the concept of church separation from state and how it affects public schools, let alone be able to articulate the fact that this separation is in fact a core Islamic value. But that’s beside the point. The fact is that the story turned out a few days later to be incorrect in many respects, including the fact that instead of several parents, only one parent (a lawyer, no surprise) had protested, and the words he put in his children’s mouths were hardly believable to me as a parent: according to Majed Moughni, his son felt “extremely uncomfortable” and questioned if churches were supposed to mix with schools.
I don’t know about you, but I have an almost-8 year old, and he couldn’t care less about Easter egg hunts being anti-Muslim or against church-state separation. The only time he ever uses the word uncomfortable is when he’s eaten tacos to the point of bursting and needs me to commiserate what he considers a serious comic tragedy. But even if Mr. Moughni’s son did find the flyer to be offensive, this is what his father should have told him:
“Son, we are peace loving Muslims, and we are grateful to be living in a country that affords us all the freedoms and rights in the world, including the freedom to practice Islam. Just as we are free to invite non-Muslims to visit our mosque during Eid or Ramadan, so too are Christians free to invite us to an event celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. We don’t have to attend this egg hunt if we feel uncomfortable, but even if we decided to do so, it would in no way violate our Islamic duties as long as we didn’t participate in the worship services. Remember that interfaith harmony and dialogue are very important values to us as Muslims.”
But instead of saying this to allay his son’s fears, Mr. Moughni decided to teach his son the significance of living in the most litigious society in the world by promptly filing a formal protest against the church and school. Way to build bridges and showcase the true teachings of Islam, sir!
Of course there’s another side to this story as well, which was reported by the Arab American News on Sunday. To make the drama complete, Muslim American groups, community leaders and individuals spoke out against Mr. Moughni’s actions and stood in solidarity with their Christian neighbors. Many even pledged to attend the egg hunt in support. Did you read that part in the news though? I’m pretty sure you didn’t, because that’s not newsworthy and when push came to shove, mainstream news media accomplished another day of making Muslims look ridiculous/violent/stupid/evil/lazy/whatever. As Muslims, it should come as no surprise that anything Islamic is going to be captured on the news, as long as it’s not too positive. But more importantly, as Muslims we should learn a lesson from this particular incident: let’s stop protesting every little thing and start living together in the true spirit of Islam. Let’s forget about the differences we have with our Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and atheist neighbors, and try to work together to build a stronger and more peaceful America. Perhaps even the world.