Islamist Gate, by Azza Radwan Sedky
In the West, people go about their businesses relatively unconcerned about shows of skin or public affection. A couple may hug and kiss at a bus stop and no one flinches. No one gawks at someone wearing shorts or a tank top. What people wear, unless it is totally against decorum, is a non-issue. Dress codes do not exist, but they are voluntary and liberal.
The same westerners do a double flip when they see a woman in a “niqab.” Why would anyone want to completely cover herself in this manner, they ask. Why can we not see this woman’s face?
While in Egypt and in most of the Islamic world, as well as in many traditional societies throughout the world, it is given that women must cover themselves; even if they are not scarved, then at least they wear modest clothes of a certain length and a certain fit. They go by what are generally acceptable standards in their society. For many Muslim societies, this is the norm. Modesty defines behaviour.
By the same token, these Muslims stare at what seems to them a semi-naked woman and don’t understand her. How could she be a righteous woman if she willingly exhibits her body in this manner?
The two worlds—the Islamic one and the Western one—are so far apart and so completely unaware of how the other functions that both tend to exhibit fears whether they are Islamophobic or xenophobic ones.
The issue today is the apprehension with which many Westerners regard the Muslim world. The question is whether such apprehension is justified.
First, we need to differentiate between Muslims and Islamists. Muslims are those who follow Islam; Islamists take it further; they want the world to be Islamic and want Islam to become the dominant, if not the only, power in the world. The West has every right to worry about Islamists, but not about Muslims.
Of course, Islamist extremists have not done Islam any favours; quite the contrary, their actions continue to tarnish Islam and complement its already radical image. Boko Haram of Nigeria, Ansar Bayt El Maqdis of Egypt, or Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (or El Sham) of Syria and Iraq continually smear Islam by their violent streak.
The notorious incidents are many. If one focuses on Egypt, a chain of events from deaths to arson to evictions proves the point that Islamists terrorize. Copts, liberals, and Muslims alike are fearful. If everyone other than the Islamists is worried, how could one blame the westerners for being so?
At least Egyptians have had some exposure down the years to the Islamists’ ways; they have seen women in complete black and men in unkempt beards and short galabiyas all along, but to westerners this is totally new and raises not only their concerns but also their fears.
So a pivotal question arises—are westerners justified in their fear of Islam? Well, yes and no. As much as Egyptians and other moderate countries fear the impending arrival of Islamic extremists, westerners should be similarly worried. Islamists do not give heed to anyone standing in the way of their claim to rights and dominance, but Muslims are not extremists.
At the same time, these radical Islamists comprise a miniscule percentage of the Muslims around the world and in particular those in western countries. The absolute majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens similar to any other group of people be it Christians, Jews, or any other sect. They have their good and their bad.
However, to generalize and assume that all Muslims fall under the category of fanatic or radical Islamist is unfair bias. Moreover, it shows profound ignorance of cultural difference and what this means, of contemporary global politics, and of the essential tenets of the Qur'anic belief system called Islam. In today’s world, global citizenship means learning some basic facts about world religions—all of them.
Because some Muslim women choose to wear the headscarves, they stand out. But the headscarf issue, as trivial as it is, hinders people from seeing Muslims for what they really are. Muslims love life, enjoy culture and art, work diligently and professionally, and laugh to their hearts’ content, like anyone else. Does it really matter what headgear—or body garments— they put on?
Is it very different from Western women sporting spiky shoes that ruin their feet, or teenage boys wearing hoodies and baseball caps, or men wearing that hallmark of completely useless business attire The Tie? The fact is that Egyptians, who are mainly Muslims want, as do most Westerners, the best for all people, and they want to live in peace.
To Muslims around the world—continue to be yourselves and prove to the world that you are virtuous citizens. Only then can you promote Islam.