In 2005 at the age of 20, I became a Muslim. As an American woman in post 9/11 America this was a big step. I’ve studied people, places, and politics my entire life and everything I knew about Islam up to this point was an echo chamber of negativity about the faith and the people who practiced it. Once I stepped outside the chamber and began to experience Islam for what it is, I was devastated to learn how strong my biases were. My mom tells people the first Muslim she ever met was her daughter. I know in the United States, this is true for many people – they simply don’t know many Muslims. When you don’t know someone it’s very easy to attach a label and make assumptions and stereotypes. Practicing our faith in the United States was not a problem but we did constantly deal with negativity, anger, and of course sideways glances. Even the American Muslim community has its own fractures due to issues such as culture, language, politics, and finances – the same as any religious community. Living in Morocco I’ve seen a wide range of religiosity. We rely on satellite TV for our news, but Moroccan channels have covered the recent issues with the fringe group Boko Haram in Nigeria. No, I won’t call them jihadists, or Islamists or grace them with any title that somehow links them to Islam because what they do has no connection to Islam. I’ve yet to hear a single Muslim express any type of solidarity with the men who perpetrated the kidnappings, bombings, and other atrocities. Not one. As a Muslim, I want you to know; In Islam it is forbidden to sell a woman into marriage. A woman must give consent – without coercion – to be married. While slavery is not outlawed in the Quran, there are very specific parameters put around it, including the condition that a slave owner does not have any sexual rights over a slave, simply because she is a slave. (Please note, I personally abhor the practice and in the majority of Muslim countries it is illegal, but at the time of the Quran it was very much still a practice around the world.) The Quran in 4:19 does state; “O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness.” Clearly these men skipped over this section. Education is not only accepted it is a commandment from God. Education is a right for every Muslim. “Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by means of the pen; taught man what he did not know.” (96:1-5) Muslims around the world do speak out. They are angered. They are upset. Just as those of other faiths are. But that’s not a very good story to sell is it? All of the talking in the world doesn’t matter if no one is listening. There are those in all corners of the world that do terrible things in the name of religion. This fringe group in Nigeria does n0t make a distinction between attacking Muslims or Christians (or anyone for that matter). What they’ve done is so abhorrent even al Qaeda won’t condone it. There must be a moral and cultural awakening. A similar moral void was seen in Uganda and South Sudan under the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Their teachings and practice went against Christianity completely but they were successful because there was an ethnic divide and moral void that was exploited. At the end of the day all of my anger and “speaking out” won’t make a difference – I’m an outsider to their circle. What they are doing they believe is somehow what’s right in the eyes of God. My anger and words, or any other Muslim would simply be written off as the talk of heretics. The change must come from within their own society. What can I do? What can we do? I think it is important to speak out. I think it is important to have these discussions, but I also think our time and energy needs to be spent in our own communities, those that we have a direct impact on. Not only will it strengthen and raise generations who have a strong moral and religious compass but it also can foster understanding between religious groups. So, when something like this does happen people are able to separate the ludicrous behavior and actions of some with the knowledge that their actions are wrong in the eyes of the faith.
Amanda Mouttaki is an American expat living in Marrakech, Morocco with her husband and children. She holds a BA in International Politics with a focus on the Middle East. Amanda has worked with international religious organizations and has served on several interfaith community boards. You can find her blog at MarocMama.com.