Muslims are increasingly under attack--both from within and without, both domestically and globally. We are being slaughtered by those claiming to be Muslim but ignoring the most basic tenets of our faith, those forgetting the meaning of the words with which we begin every single prayer--calling on a most "compassionate" and "merciful" God. On the other hand, we are also being slaughtered by those duped into believing that these vicious so-called Muslims (who have dismissed and disgraced our faith by claiming it, building organizations they insist on calling "Islamic") represent all Muslims.
All this slaughtering leaves little time for introspection, but we need it now more than ever. Like every major faith community, we have a lot of work to do. Granted, it's hard to know where to begin when you're constantly under attack. But begin we must, and to that end, the following are some heartfelt suggestions for my fellow Muslims.
Stop pretending to be someone you're not. Faith is private, and it should be--until terrorists start hijacking your faith (pretending to represent you and more than 1.5 billion of your fellow worshippers) and bigots start discriminating against you because of it. At this point, it's time to go public and tell the world: "I am Muslim." Why? Because, chances are, you don't look, sound or act like the stereotype. This is how you change people's minds. If you live in a non-Muslim majority country, like me, then it's also how you invite more discrimination into your life, which is of course why so many Muslims try to "pass" as something else. It's inconvenient to be Muslim, but when we don't stand up and claim our Islam--the one based in peace, love, compassion and mercy-- we become complicit in the hijacking of our own faith by idiots and terrorists alike.
Quit trying to force Islam on anyone. The Qur'an explicitly states that there should be no compulsion in religion (2:256). The sole sensible conclusion from this verse is resounding--namely, that the only truly Islamic state is by definition a secular one, one that allows for choice. You cannot be Muslim unless you choose to be Muslim. Intention (or niyyat) is key! Those who try to force Islam on anyone do more than woefully misinterpret the faith; they miss it entirely. Every other reasonable Muslim on the planet knows this, and it's about time we say so, loudly and unequivocally.
Get off my head. Stop worrying so much about what's on a woman's head and pay some attention to what's inside of it. Also, remember that veils are not an Islamic construction. They long predated Islam; they are deeply tied up in culture, and they are not mandated by the Qur'an, our only source of revelation. Veiling is a cultural practice that should be respected as such, and neither forced nor banned. The veil means different things to different women, but that's for women to decide. A woman's manner of dress should always be her own choice, if only on account of the fact that men and governments make notoriously inept and oppressive stylists. So to those men and governments who have made it their business to regulate or even comment on female attire, whether you're at a bus stop or at the Olympics, I have a simple request: Step back and shut up. We got this.
Drop the segregation. In the time of the Prophet Muhammad, women prayed alongside men; the Prophet approved of women leading prayer; the first convert to Islam was a woman, and even today, men and women pray side by side in Mecca. So let's tear down our barriers and divisions already, open our mosques to everyone, and stop relegating women to basements and balconies. We deserve the main floor. We deserve to lead prayer. We deserve equality. Not just because I say so, but because the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad do. Furthermore, quit sexualizing everything and to the men especially: quit demeaning yourselves so much as to believe that you are unable to control your own sexual appetites in a mosque. If that truly is the case, you don't need to be in a mosque. You need to be in a locked facility.
End the infighting. Islam is an egalitarian faith, deeply rooted in justice and highly committed to all struggles against oppression, both globally and internally (by the way, that's the real definition of jihad in case you were wondering). Muslims are black and white and everything in between. We have been slaves and kings and everything in between. We are Sunni and Shi'a and Sufi and everything in between. We are straight and gay and transgender and everything in between. In short, we are diverse; we were meant to be, and we need to quit judging and fighting one another because of it. There are plenty of people outside of our faith who want to tear us down. We don't need to be doing it to ourselves.
Ultimately, what I'm asking of my fellow Muslims is simple, and it's something I would ask of anyone, regardless of faith or lack thereof: be yourself; drop your judgment and evangelism, and pick up some mercy and compassion.