As a Muslim, I am grateful for the informative, well-researched, cover article written by Milan Rai titled 'This is not about Islam' [PN 2592–2593]. I particularly valued the attention given to actually explore and understand the backgrounds and histories of individuals who have committed violent acts under the banner of the religion. This effort curiously revealed, as Milan pointed out, that this group, rather than being expert practitioners of Islam (as one may be led to assume), actually often have little understanding of it.
While this pulls the rug away from under the feet of the notion that Islam is the enemy, it gives us a clearer and vital map of the kinds of people who carry out violent actions under its name, and reveals that it is not Islam that is the cause of the violence, but more typically a climate of injustice and feeling of a lack of belonging.
Those still imprisoned in a mindset attempting to legitimise military operations abroad, and restrict voices of dissent, will easily find ways to demonise a group of people and make them feel less welcome, lending fuel to a climate that invites a reaction, perpetuating familiar cycles of violence from both sides. It is our role, if we are to be agents of a more peaceful, just world, to take a different path. Milan rightly points out the essential need to stop violent assaults on Muslim communities around the world.
It is my prayer that this also be an opportunity to actualise the path of real listening. It is by suspending assumptions about the other – whoever the other is – by deeply listening to one anothers’ needs, grievances, beliefs, histories, pain, passions, that we can really connect, understand, empathise, diffuse tension, be moved to respond with wisdom, and create a welcoming diverse space that nurtures a sense of belonging for everyone – and is part of the mix for the peaceful, just world that we wish to build – part of the common humanity that Milan mentions in his piece.