Anti-Islamic Memes: The Ugly Side of Ignorance on the Internet

This Saturday morning, I opened my laptop to find an unusually high number of anti-Islamic posts. As usual, these were not well thought-out refutations of Islamic doctrines or analyses of historical events in Muslim countries. These were base, simplistic, images attached to anti-Islamic catch phrases. Though I usually refrain from voicing strong disagreement on Facebook, out of respect for everyone's right to express who they are and what they think, being inundated with so many of these posts at once made me confident that I had to speak up. With so much upheaval in the Middle East, I always expect a certain amount of controversy and debate to take place on the web. Debate and discussion are, after all, a great way for people to create solutions for problems and face challenges. However, the repertoire of anti-Islamic memes surfacing on the Internet does not reflect the dignity of a debate or discussion. These memes say one thing only: my hate for you is greater than my knowledge about you.

To the people cheering on the ISIS-flag toilet paper roll:

This is offensive, but not because me or anyone else is supporting ISIS. This is offensive because ISIS - an evil and disgusting group of thugs - has hijacked the most sacred words of the Islamic faith and put them on their flag. The image on that flag might symbolize ISIS to you, but " La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadun Rasul Allah" is not their phrase. It is the called the Shahadah and it is the testament of faith and the most essential expression of Muslim belief. It says "there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God."

It is deplorable that anyone would cheer-on as people use the name of God on a roll of toilet paper. In the Jewish tradition the name of God is so sacred that it is not written completely or even uttered in full. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is the Lord and Savior. How do you think people would feel if the image of him, a sacred and divine figure, was used in such a humiliating way? No one would make these jokes if the sacred figures from other religions were disgraced that way.

There is certainly great reason for everyone to be emotional when confronted with the evil that is ISIS. We should hate them and detest all of the horrible and inhumane things they do. However, I think it is a much stronger message of condemnation to not allow ISIS and their ugliness to seep into our perception of Muslims. Throughout the world and in the West, Muslims reject all that ISIS stands for. We should honour the right of Muslims to claim their own sacred images. It is a greater sign of our nobility and strength if we can continue to show respect for Muslims and what is sacred to them. We must prove that we will not conflate the horrors of ISIS with all of Islam, much less the faith of the many devout and peaceful Muslims who are among our fellow Americans, Canadians, and global citizens.

To the people posting "Sharia Law has no place on our soils" with pictures of women wearing Star Wars style, robotic, full-face coverings:

First, Sharia law does not mandate that women should cover their entire faces. When you make such statements and attach them to images of mechanical and inhuman looking "women," you are really promoting a discourse that makes Muslims wholly other.

Second, Sharia law is a vast and complex body of scholarship, which Muslims have debated for centuries. There are, in our world, certain fundamentalist groups, who do extreme things and cite "Sharia Law" as their reason, but Sharia law is more of a continuous scholarly debate than a tyrannical set of unchanging principles.

Sharia law means different things to different people. For some Muslims, it plays absolutely no role in their daily lives, for others it is merely used as a model for the daily prayers, while for others it provides social, economic, and cultural guidance. The sort of "Sharia" invoked by states such as Saudi Arabia for social regulation has little to do with the practical religious ethos, which serves as a guide for different Muslim individuals throughout the world.

It's up to you to become educated about Islam before sharing these types of memes. They advance simplistic notions of an entire world religion and diverse cultural heritages. They serve no purpose in the war on extremism. Demeaning and negating sacred Islamic symbols without understanding them can only be harmful in this process.

These types of words, images, and sentiments are not productive to any of us who try to promote understanding and peace in the world. If you consider yourself someone who wants to live in an understanding, peaceful, and supportive world, I highly recommend reading a book or two about the "other" who you've come to hate. Go to a Muslim's house for dinner, make it a point to ask your Muslim colleague about the role of Islamic law in their life. You will find much in common with your Muslim friends and colleagues, who without doubt, reject and despise ISIS and extremism just as much as you do.