After the deadly attacks in Paris on November 13, the spotlight is once again on Muslim communities in western nations. A wave of Islamophobic reactions are being reported from countries where Muslim communities are a minority and already worried for their safety.
The situation has been exacerbated by the migrant crisis, as hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees cross into Europe. Muslim communities are responding to this attention by denouncing violence worldwide, standing up in solidarity with those affected and grieving with their communities.
'Go back to where you came from'
Social media has been rampant with instances of hate speech against Muslims, from hateful encounters with anti-Muslim individuals to repeated bomb threats at Muslim community centres and mosques.
A Pakistani journalist in Dubai was commuting to work – an unassuming brown girl in a sweatshirt and jeans – when an old lady muttered that "people like her" should "go back to where they came from".
Thousands of miles away near Toronto a mosque was set on fire. This happened only a day after the Paris attacks. Community members denounced the act as a hate crime, and the city's mayor condemned the incident, calling it a "despicable act".
In Florida, a Muslim family had just come home from a charity event, and they were distastefully welcomed by a bullet hole in their garage door.
The backlash doesn't come as a surprise and the instances are likely to increase. According to a survey conducted in Western nations by Pew Research Center, concern relating to Islamic extremism has doubled in these countries in the last five years.
Not in our name
The majority of Muslims do not support the self-styled Islamic State, and are visibly fighting back in their own communities. Students are circulating peaceful passages from the Holy Quran at their universities; the social media generation has taken to creating hashtags to prove that Muslims stand with the rest of the world. #MuslimsAreNotTerrorists, #TerrorismHasNoReligion and #NotInMyName started trending on Twitter the day after the Paris attacks. #MuslimsAreNotTerrorists has over 267,000 mentions on Twitter and counting.
Making a statement
One Muslim woman, Sabah Ahmed, showed up on Fox News wearing an American flag as her hijab. Ahmed, the President and Founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition, calmly and assertively challenged the anchor's allegation that mosques are hotbeds for political rather than religious activity.
"Would you shut down churches if a few Christians were acting badly?" she asked. Ahmad then spoke at length about Muslims' contribution to American society as doctors, lawyers, community members and everyday citizens. The red and white stripes wrapped around her seemed to stand in glaring support of her word; they were statement enough.
That seems to be the underlying message: we are with you, not against you. A woman present during the Paris attacks observed: "They [the terrorists] are victims of a system that excluded them from society, that’s why they felt this doesn’t belong to them and they could attack. There are those who live here in alienation, and we are all to blame for this alienation.”
A 7-year-old reaches out
Seven-year-old Jack Swanson showed that he understood this better than the rest of the world. A local mosque in Jack's Texan neighbourhood had been splattered with feces and desecrated with torn pages of the Holy Quran. Jack figured that the mosque would require funds for renovations, and in an incredible act of generosity, decided to donate all the money collected in his piggy bank: $20.
Mosque members were moved by the gesture. They thanked Jack for his $20 donation and gifted him an iPad as an early Christmas present, the very thing Jack had been saving up for.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain (MBC) took out an ad in local newspapers strongly condemning the attacks. The advert was endorsed by over 300 people, and featured an image of the Eiffel Tower with the words: “With one voice, British Muslims condemn the Paris attacks unreservedly."
MCB's Secretary General Dr. Shuja Shafi said he hoped fellow Britons heard their message "loudly and clearly".
Standing strong against the backlash
Attacks like the ones in Paris and Beirut are committed in hopes of triggering an Islamophobic backlash. This backlash, which can escalate a war between the West and Islam, can be assuaged if the world sees Muslim communities standing up in support and compassion.
Religious leaders are stepping up to this task by taking ownership of their communities, and grieving with their people. The Imam of the Grand Mosque in Paris condemned the tragedy and called for all French imams and mosques to offer a collective prayer for the victims on Friday.
"They are trying to make divisions in society. They want to turn us against society, and society against us. But we won’t let them win."