By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
On November 9, 2010, a woman in Islamic dress entered the Valero Fas Mart in Fredericksburg, Va., USA. She wanted to buy something. When she approached the cashier to pay, she was asked to remove her hijab if she wanted to be served. The cashier said the reason for that demand was that the store security cameras would not be able get a clear image of her face. Her face was already visible. She said so, but the cashier insisted that she must uncover her hair so that the camera can see the hairline. She pulled her scarf back slightly to expose her hairline. In spite of this attempt to avoid confrontation with the cashier, the Muslim customer was told to leave the store without being served.
She went home and reported the case to CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations. CAIR sent a letter to Valero Fas Mart; its Legal Counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili asked the company to investigate the incident, reprimand the cashier, provide the Muslim customer with a written apology, and institute sensitivity and diversity training for staff. CAIR also urged American Muslims and other people of conscience to contact Valero Fas Mart and urge the company to address the Muslim customer’s concerns.
Within twenty-four hours, there were numerous emails, letters and faxes that reached the company. It responded to this outburst: the employee was suspended, an apology was offered to the Muslima who was refused to be served, and Valero Fas Mart asked CAIR to help the company in training its staff.
This was one, out of numerous cases of human rights violation filed by CAIR since that defining day called 9/11. Not all cases have been as successful as this was. CAIR can also do very little or nothing about the general Islam phobia that has been successfully enacted throughout the world. All men with beards and all women in hijab are now deemed at least potential, if not actual, terrorists. One passes through airports, market malls, stores, and other public places with that verdict written on the invisible air.
The basic question for Muslims is of course obvious: what is to done about this hatred that the Western media has generated against them and against their religion. One response has been to take off one’s Islamic identity and live a life of a closet Muslim; another has been to walk pass these invisible yet very real walls of distrust with dignity and certitude and redefine behavior of the others as one goes through security lines at airports and sits next to a passenger in a plane even though the person on the next seat might be thinking: when will this person blow up the plane.
And sitting next to such a person in a plane who has consciously and unconsciously imbibed all the suspicion and hatred against Islam and Muslims, a Muslim hopes and prays that this short journey will be a worthwhile opportunity for this person to actually meet a real Muslim in blood and flesh and perhaps open his or her heart to the possibility that Muslims are just as humane and as decent as anyone else and, perhaps, all that I have heard about them is, after all, mere fiction.
This possibility does not exist for those who have already given up their Islamic identity. Their meltdown may provide a false sense of security while passing through public places and airports, but there is no opportunity for them to be what they really are deep down in the true sense of their religious beliefs: witness upon people.
“Witness upon people” is the grand title given to Muslims in the Qur’an by none other than the One Who created them and Who is the turner of hearts and the Opener of doors. It is this distinguishing characteristic of a Muslim that one parts with when one takes refuge in a false sense of security and protection by being other than what one really is.
There are millions of Muslim men and women who have refused to give up their spiritual and religious identity even after the successful scattering of germs of hatred against them by the Western political leadership and its pseudo intellectuals. These Muslims face hardships of various kinds and various consequences, just as the Muslima who walked into the Valero Fas Mart in Fredericksburg, Va on November 9, 2010, but their certitude comes from a source that is far beyond the reach of those who have created this massive Islamphobia.
Then there are those who have given up on being Muslim in public space, who have decided to melt down and shy away from their identity into that anonymous generic person who cannot be characterized into any discernable fashion and who cannot be affiliated with any religion as he or she walks on the roads of the world; these are people without any apparent identity.
Beards and hijabs are not merely signs of one’s Muslim identity; both have deep textual foundations which makes them an imperative for all believers. While it is true that one’s faith need not be written on one’s face, it is equally true that one’s outward appearance is a mirror of one’s inner state. Everything is a signifier and everything indicates a deeper level of reality that discerning eyes can see. Thus, one wishes to herald those who carry their Islamic identity with dignity in this season of Islamphobia. There is self-dignifying in the courage displayed by these men and women, especially those who do so in hostile environments. It is not only indicative of the strength of their faith, it also encourages others to be conscious and aware of their religious commitment and identity.
In beards and hijabs, there is nothing to be ashamed of; in them one finds an outward expression of one’s religious affiliation and one’s commitment to a way of life anchored in a revealed text and in the tradition of the Noble Messenger upon him blessings and peace.
Muzaffar Iqbal is the founder-president of Center for Islam and Science (www.cis-ca.org), Canada, and editor of
Islam & Science, a semi-annual journal of Islamic perspectives on science and civilization. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry (University of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1983), and then left the field of experimental science to fully devote himself to study Islam, its spiritual, intellectual and scientific traditions.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, he has lived in Canada since 1979. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). During 1990-1999, he pursued his research and study on various aspects of Islam in Pakistan, where he also worked as Director, Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) between 1991-96 and as Director, Pakistan Academy of Sciences (1998-99).
During 1999-2001, Dr. Iqbal was Program Director (Muslim World) for the Science-Religion Course Program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), Berkeley, USA.
Dr. Iqbal has published books and papers on the relationship between Islam and science, Islam and the West, the contemporary situation of Muslims, and the history of Islamic science.
His publications include Islam and Science, God, Life and the Cosmos: Christian and Islamic Perspectives , Science and Islam, Dawn in Madinah: A Pilgrim’s Passage , The Making of Islamic Science (IBT, 2009) and a few more titles.
He is the General Editor of the forthcoming seven-volume Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, the first English language reference work on the Qur’an based on fourteen centuries of Muslim reflection and scholarship. He is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker