In recent years, the phenomenon of Islamophobia in Western countries has grown tremendously, and Muslims are aften faced with Islamophobic behavior.
There has been a lot of talk about Islamophobia and its roots, but some experts believe that the rise of extremism among Muslims has led to a misrepresentation of Islam among Westerners and, ultimately, the spread of Islamophobia.
In this regard, IQNA has conducted an interview with John Andrew Morrow, a prominent Islamologist. John Andrew Morrow (Imam Ilyas ‘Abd al-‘Alim Islam) is a Métis Canadian Muslim scholar who embraced Islam over thirty years ago at the age of sixteen. He has studied Islamic sciences for over three decades at the hands of both traditional Muslim scholarships as well as Western academics.
He completed post-doctoral studies in Arabic in Fez and Rabat and considers Morocco to be his second home. He worked as a university professor for two decades, retiring from teaching after reaching the rank of Full Professor. He has authored a vast body of work, including over one hundred academic articles and thirty scholarly books.
One of his most influential studies, The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, inspired the creation of The Covenants Initiative, an international Muslim movement devoted to promoting the letters, treaties, and covenants of the Messenger of Allah with the People of the Book.
Here is he full text of the interview:
IQNA: In recent years, more than ever, we have seen the rise of Islamophobia in the West. What do you think is the root cause of the rise of Islamophobia in the West?
Prof. Morrow: It is not a matter of recent years or centuries. The history of Islamophobia spans a thousand and a half years. It commenced when the Prophet Muhammad came down from the Mountain of Light and preached the Word of God.
Since the principles that that Messenger of God preached threatened the unjust status quo, and jeopardized the vested interests of those in political and economic power, the fear of Islam filled the hearts of the oppressors. Both psychologically and spiritually, they hated in Islam what they hated in themselves.
The morals and ethics of Islam filled their consciences with guilt. When challenged on such a profound plane, one either repents in humility or revolts in arrogance. One seeks to improve oneself or one retrenches oneself in wickedness and hardens one’s heart even further.
The Prophet Muhammad did not call for the Kingdom of Evil on earth. He called for the Kingdom of God. He did not call for killing, rape, pillage, plunder, slavery, and sexism nor did he call for economic exploitation and social injustice.
He asked for humans to act humanely, to feed the poor, care for the orphans, and free the slaves. He called for an end to the infanticide of baby girls. He promoted unity and solidarity. The Meccan surahs are saturated with spirituality.
They are works of ethical edification. They remind one of the words of Jesus, Christ, son of Mary. If a person comes to the fore and promotes a diabolical agenda, it is but normal that people fear him and oppose him. Such a phobia is sane and sound. The fear of the Prophet’s Islam was unfounded. Reasonable people accepted it as it was right. Those who opposed it knew, in their heart of hearts, that they were wrong, and that the Prophet was right; however, their love of power and wealth prevented them from embracing his message.
If you study the image of the Prophet Muhammad in Spanish or French literature, the picture it paints is constant. The man is maligned. His name is deformed. His teachings are distorted.
He is accused of abominations of all kinds and his followers are presented as polytheists and idolaters. How else could the religious, political, and economic elites convince so many people, including small children, to wage suicidal and murderous crusades against Muslims?
Those who fought Islam were deceived as to its true nature and teachings. Had they known that Muslims were monotheists, that they recognized the Gospel and Torah, that they accepted the biblical prophets, that they honored Jesus and the Virgin, and believed in promoting the good and forbidding the wrong, they would have had no reason to fight them.
The discourse may have changed in recent centuries; however, the motivation remains the same: Islam is a threat and Muslims must be opposed. The Prophet is now painted as the Lord of Terror and Muslims are depicted as barbaric savages and terrorists.
How else can the imperialists at the service of the global economic elites enlist over a million combatants to fight wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond? The negative adjectives that are used may change, but everything stays the same. The war against Islam has never ceased.
IQNA: Some believe that Islamic extremism has spread Islamophobia. Do you agree with this opinion?
Prof. Morrow: Of course it has. However, who is at the heart of Islamic extremism? The enemies of Islam themselves! The early Muslims were manipulated by the enemies of Islam who played one party against the other. Abu Sufyan, who was aligned with the Byzantines, sided with ‘Ali after the passing of the Prophet.
When Abu Bakr became Caliph, Abu Sufyan offered to support ‘Ali against him. Imam ‘Ali’s response was a resounding no. He knew what Abu Sufyan was up to, namely, to cause chaos and confusion, and to turn the Companions against each other in war. Abu Sufyan and his party could then sweep in and take control. Some of the hypocrites sided with the Byzantines.
Others sided with the Sassanids. Whether they were polytheists, Jews, or Christians by name -- unbelievers have no real religion but egotism and materialism – they played Muslims against each other. Hence, the sedition that took place during the dawn of Islam. The enemies of Islam supported extremists on all sides of the spectrum.
If prostitution is the oldest profession, then divide and conquer is the oldest political tactic. Over the centuries, the enemies of Islam were eager to exploit any weakness or division among the Muslims. European imperialists supported seditious extremists and used them during the First and Second World Wars to weaken the Muslim Ummah.
Ultimately, they succeeded in destroying the mighty Ottoman Empire. And they have not stopped. The leading powers may have changed; however, the Great Game remains the same. This is history, not paranoid conspiracy theory. This is not to say that every extremist is the product of the West. What is true is that every “Islamic” extremist is a useful fool who can be played like a pawn.
IQNA: What do you think is the biggest harm that Islamophobia does to societies?
Prof. Morrow: Islamophobia is a form of self-deceit. It is self-destructive. Hate is not healthy.
It consumes the hater and harms the hated. It encourages division as opposed to unity; discord instead of harmony; antagonism instead of cooperation; and conflict instead of peace. Such insanity is not in the greater interest of humanity. It simply serves the interests of the one-percenters who control virtually all of the world’s wealth, the billionaire boys club, and the sons of Satan who are suddenly so concerned with “social justice” causes.
Forget about Islam. Forget about Christianity. Forget about Judaism. They are but names. The signifier is not significant: it is the signified that matters! The real threat is not “Islam” and “Muslims.” The real threat are values, morals, ethics, and primordial principles of right and wrong. For the Malthusian worshippers of Mammon, good is bad. It is bad for business. For us, the believers, opposing good can only be bad. Promoting hatred is the ultimate harm.
IQNA: How can Muslims play a role in the fight against Islamophobia?
Prof. Morrow: By being Muslims, real Muslims, good Muslims, God-fearing Muslims, and pious Muslims, not so much by ritual but by action. As Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq taught us, we should not judge people based on how much they pray and they fast but by how they treat other people. Those rituals are the means but not the end.
What we are concerned about is faith in action, namely, putting the principles into practice. We serve God by serving people. We care for God by caring for His Creation. That is our duty as the Caliphs or Representatives of God on Earth.
Basically, it boils down to being good human beings and sharing our humanity with others. It is not about differentiation but commonality. Good is a universal language. Be good, do good, and you will draw good. Do not preach. Just practice.
IQNA: Next year we have the French presidential election. Why do you think some of the candidates in this election are promoting Islamophobic speech?
Prof. Morrow: Whether it is the US, France, or elsewhere, Islamophobia sells. In fact, sex sells, violence sells, racism sells, and hate sells. It appeals to base primal urges. It stimulates the reptilian brain. It is not that difficult to stir up a crowd and cause a riot.
It is more difficult to convince a large crowd to build a sewage ditch with shovels, to turn over part of their wealth to the poor, or to wash the hair of a homeless man.
For some, it is easier to do bad than to do good. Scapegoating Muslims, like scapegoating Jews in the past, is simply an effective form of marketing. Donald J. Trump mastered the art of inciting the worst in people. The slogans were simply: Ban Muslims, Build the Wall, and Make America Hate Again.
It was the means to an end: power. Such rhetoric is dangerous and is denounced by six million slaughtered Jews, over a million Roma people, as well as thousands of other ethnic, political, and religious groups that were demonized by the Nazis. Politicians should know better and they do. They know exactly what they are doing and why. Should we be surprised? Can we expect good from evil?
IQNA: What is the situation of Islamophobia in your country and how is it being fought?
Prof. Morrow: It is not abating. It is only accentuating. Slow Joe Biden has only deepened the deadly divide in the United States. He has deepened the trenches in the Culture War. The more one party pulls to the left, the more the other party pulls to the right in tit for tat fashion.
While there is truth on both extremes, reason and moderation is to be found in the middle. The conservatives have turned into the lunatic right. The liberals have turned into the lunatic left. The discourse on both sides is demented.
Like two tectonic plates pulling apart, there is no middle ground, only the fiery abyss of the earth, ready to pull all parties down into its belly. May God save America. May God save America from itself.
IQNA: Have you ever faced an Islamophobe? What do you think is the best way to deal with an Islamophobic person?
Prof. Morrow:Yes, indeed, and some of them are among my very best friends. I live in rural America and have had the pleasure of being in close proximity to those Hillary Clinton described as “deplorables,” and those that Barack Hussein Obama condemned for loving their “guns and Bibles.”
They are conservative Christians. They are those that are mocked in the media. They are the subject of jokes and derision. They are looked down upon. But, as President Trump understood, they are the salt of the earth, and the heart of America.
I love them more than I could ever love a secular liberal. While they have their shortcomings, and are not always the most educated of people, mostly focusing on farming, factory work, and trades, they are hard-working, family-oriented people, with some sense of traditional moral values.
They know right from wrong and up from down. They are thinking people, not blind followers, who are suspicious of authority and have little trust in the system. They are those who have been screwed over by the global elites. They love their country but not necessarily their government.
I met Jim, a white American dairy farmer, half a dozen years ago. He believed in being a good neighbor so, when we moved to our homestead in rural America, he came to visit. I could tell by his facial expressions that he had suspicions regarding our religion or heritage.
He noted the names of my children, the olive-colored skin of my wife, and her jet-black hair. He also suspected that I was a foreigner due to my slight accent. He presumed that we were Muslims. He thought that we were Arabs. He regularly repeated that he was a God-fearing Christian. Perhaps he thought he could preach the Gospel to us.
Jim complained about Islamic terrorism and we smiled and nodded our heads, acknowledging his fears and feelings. Every time there was a terrorist attack, he stated, Muslims were responsible.
“It’s getting old,” he expressed. “Whoever kills an innocent soul, it is as if he has killed all of humanity,” I stated, without citing my Qur’anic source. “Less than 0.001% of Muslims are terrorists,” I pointed out, “You can’t put them all in the same basket.” “I suppose so,” he admitted, “I know that many Christians give a bad image of Christianity as well.”
Jim complained about how the local Yemenis were always trying to rip him off and never wanted to pay a fair price for his lambs and goat kids. “People are people,” I explained, “some are good and some are bad, regardless of their religion.” He thought it was crazy that the Yemeni women wore burkas and covered their faces. He seemed puzzled by the fact that my wife did not.
“Where are you from?” he asked, trying to confirm his suspicions. “We are from South Dakota,” I explained truthfully. “We used to have a ranch there,” I noted. “We have also lived in Missouri and New Mexico.” “I mean, where did you come from before that?” “Canada,” I explained, “from Ontario and Quebec.” “I mean, where did you come from before that?” he insisted, thinking I was giving him the runaround. “I am a Native person,” I clarified, “I am also part French and part Irish.” He was dumbfounded.
One day, while criticizing Muslims, my wife was finally fed up. “You know we are Muslims,” my wife interjected one day during Jim’s Islamophobic ramblings. “Yes,” he said shyly and awkwardly, “I suspected that. “I am confused,” he admitted, “I thought that all Muslims were Arabs.“ “Actually,” I explained, “Arabs account for less than 15% of Muslims. There are Muslims all over the world. Indonesians are the largest group of Muslims. There are also millions of Chinese Muslims.” “I did not know that,” he admitted.
As the months and years passed, the critiques continued, the questions continued, and the humble “I did not know that” became increasingly common. He learned to distinguish between culture and religion. He learned that most Muslim women did not wear burkas. Most of them were no different from the Amish women in our community who wore long dresses and covered their hair, just like Catholic women did until recently.
He learned that not all Muslims were dishonest. He noted that we always paid him the full price for his lambs and sometimes more. He helped us out and we helped him. When his wife of decades divorced him, we consoled him. When his daughter had some issues, we counseled him. He became a friendly and familiar face on our farm. We were always eager to learn from his knowledge and wisdom.
While many Muslims and non-Muslim secularists would have pushed him away at the first sign of perceived Islamophobia or racism, we preferred to focus on his qualities as opposed to his faults. Jim is a good man with a good heart.
He is kind. He is funny. He is helpful. He is generous. He is a good neighbor and a person one can count upon. He was a loyal husband. He is a loving father. He believes in God. He strives to be a good Christian. He has sound morals. And he is a hard-working man who would never steal a cent or engage in any dishonesty imaginable.
We always treated Jim kindly and respectfully even when some of his comments were searing. We tried to place ourselves in his shoes and see things from his perspective. In some cases, what is perceived as Islamophobia, racism, and bigotry is simply lack of knowledge and information.
Jim is far from being a racist. His sister-in-law is African American and he dated a Lakota Indian woman, learned much from her, and was willing to marry her and become a member of the tribe. Later, he set off to marry a Christian woman from the Philippines. He had despaired at finding an American woman with traditional values.
Labels are walls that divide. We need to break down those walls. I strove to set aside my negative stereotypes of “good white Christians.” Jim strove to set aside his negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims.
I focused on his human qualities and he focused on our human qualities. We both realized that that separated us was semantics and that we shared a world in common. Jim became so close to our family that, when we moved to another town nearby, he broke down in tears. “You are such good people,” he said, “and such good neighbors.” Although we are no longer neighbors, my family and I are honored to have this “Islamophobe” as our friend.
Interview by Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi