Tomorrow, when I go out with my head covered, which is my everyday attire, I may be persecuted on the streets openly. I may be told that I represent all that is disgraceful about being a woman, that I am a curse to the modern era.
“But this is my freedom,” I would shout, “this is who I am, this is what I believe in, I am free to do what I want, and you cannot stop me”.
“All that does not matter to us,” they will say, “you are just not one of us, you go against what we believe in.”
“But I have nothing against you,” I would say. “Just let me be.”
“No, we cannot, in all good conscience, you have to change and be like us.”
The day after, a few more people might join the gang, and persecute me even further, until
I am faced with two choices: stay indoors or refuse to be who I am. But won’t you fight? I can hear you say. I will, when I am sure that authorities who are paid to protect me, will do so. Until then, I will have to make a choice which will kill me gradually. Until then, I will have to limit my outdoor excursions to places that I know of and where people will not judge me for who I truly am, a Muslim woman, who is just dying to live her life the way she feels comfortable in, in the faith where she has found her peace of mind, where she is finding her way.
I would think of ways where I could show my persecutors that I have nothing against them, that my belief system is completely different and that I cannot change the way I am. I would tell them that while I do not agree with their lifestyle, which goes against my set of beliefs, I have nothing against them, for this is their choice. I would ask them to respect me in my choices the way I am respecting theirs, even if I don’t agree. I would tell them that I see them as human beings, who are capable of love, sharing, compassion, empathy, just like me. I would ask them to sit around a table and discuss ways to fight prejudice and promote dialogue.
They might tell me that the actions of my fellow believers on the day the Gay Pride Parade was scheduled says something else about my beliefs and acceptance of others. I would tell them while the protesters think they were defending our beliefs, their approach is widely rejected. That their actions have opened floodgates of abuse and hate speech which quite a number of people are openly using since that day. That those who do not condone their act will also be given tags, without being perceived for who they are as individuals. I would share my sadness of seeing the hate that was so far limited to overseas has inevitably reached these shores, where a couple of months ago, we were celebrating our togetherness. I would also share my concern regarding authorities, who so far, by their silence and inaction have empowered those who think that their way is the only way.
I would ponder on how empathy is lost on some people. How, fellow believers of people who are being oppressed in other countries because of their faith do not realise that their actions reflect the very thing that they decry when it happens to Muslims in other countries. I would share with them that the majority of Muslims do not find themselves in hate speech, rather are for respect for each other, as they strongly believe that respect begets respect. I would also share the proposal that Muslim communities provide a safe space of dialogue for people who are struggling to conciliate their religious identity with the way they are seeing the world. These safe spaces should also be the place for awareness, education, and promotion of values without bigotry.
Lastly, I would urge them not to take a group as representative of a whole and I would ask for people in general to refrain from amalgamating imported hate speech with local context. And finally, I would pray that Allah guides us all in His infinite Mercy, Love and Wisdom.