Friday, November 13th, 2015 was a dark day. There are truly no words that exist to express the extent of the devastation of the atrocities that took place in Paris. Although I am an ocean and a continent away, and I do not personally know of anyone who was affected by the attacks, it still pains me to think about it. My heart sinks. I can’t bring myself to read too much of the news online, nor bear viewing the videos of eyewitness accounts.
At times like these, it is easy to lose faith in humanity; it is also easy to start pointing fingers… Particularly at people who follow Islam.
I know that come Monday morning, my life at least, goes somewhat back to a state of normality. But as a teacher, a part of me feels that there is a lesson to be learned from what happened over the weekend that needs to be addressed. This is especially true in an international school like mine, with so many languages and countries and religions represented, including Muslims. Including my very own students.
A part of me can think of names and faces of the kids who I sometimes affectionately call, “My beloved scholars” who may very well be victim of an anti-Muslim backlash.
Incidentally, in two of my 7th grade ESL social studies classes, we are learning about world religions. Even more incidentally, we had just begun learning about Islam. Time to scrap my pre-planned lesson and get real.
This is obviously an extremely delicate issue to address. Some people might believe that twelve and thirteen year old children are too young to truly comprehend such issues.
I believe that they are wrong.
It is never too early to teach tolerance and compassion.
One of the main issues that I think should be discussed, first and foremost, is that in a world with more than one in five people following the Islamic faith, that the overwhelming majority are NOT fundamentalists or extremists. They are not terrorists. Do I have hard numbers and statistics? No (how could you possibly quantify such data?). But Islam is a religion of peace.
Why would I make such a bold, controversial statement?
To build some background, the very word, “Islam” refers to the personal peace that is attained when one surrenders to God. I have read parts of the Quran (admittingly in English), and there are many parts that emphasize and place value on peace. The one that comes instantly to my mind, one of the most memorable verses, in my opinion, is:
“To kill one innocent person is to kill all of mankind” (Surat al-Ma’idah 5:32).
In the same way that most Christians view the Westboro Baptist Church, so, so many Muslims view these “Muslim” extremists and “muhajidists.” The ones who twist and pervert the Holy Quran for their own benefit or power.
The concept of Jihad is another misinterpreted aspect of Islam. “Jihad” does NOT mean “Holy war.” Rather, it (roughly) translates as “struggle” – This is not necessarily limited to an external struggle between other people or between nations, but oftentimes, within oneself.
There is so much else that I feel I could write about and state in attempt to justify my point of view, but I know that it is not nearly enough. Unfortunately, this does not take back the fact that so many innocent people were killed, wounded, or scarred for life because of a handful of sick, fucked up individuals. Nor will this shield so many other innocent Muslims from the almost certain aftermath that will come as a result of this dispicable and appalling attack.
The various Muslims whom I have the privilege to have personally known are decent, kind people. They are people who want to go about their daily lives, earn an honest living, and be happy. They are just like me. We have the same goals, the same challenges, the same dreams of a world where no one has to feel like it is necessary to hide who and what you are.
How I will be able to even come close to expressing this to my young students, I cannot be sure.
But I owe it to them to try.
Pray for Paris. Pray for peace. Just pray.