‘It’s OK for Muslim men to hit their wives’ is the sensational title that The Australian opted for when reporting on a video in which two Muslim women, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, relayed the tafsir of a verse of the Qur’an. This predictably sent the media into overdrive and soon all major outlets were covering the story with a domestic violence angle, with politicians lining up to comment and take the moral high ground. Some within the Muslim community released a statement denouncing domestic violence and criticising the view expressed in the video.
Two days later and one of the signatories of that statement, Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman (President of the Australian National Imams Council) is the next media target.
First it was Hizb ut-Tahrir and now it is Sheikh Shady. In both cases it is not about the personality, but rather about Islam itself. The media could not care less about interpretations of verses or clarifications of Islamic rulings since their fundamental problem stems from the fact that Islam is different to secular liberal western standards.
Islam has its own distinct worldview that does not sit well with certain modern sensibilities and for this reason there is consistent controversy surrounding Islam and Muslims. This is a given and the Muslim community must realise that if we maintain our Islam, we will be targeted by institutions like the media and government. This is an inevitability.
When this is the case, it becomes apparent that a mode of Muslim community politics that seeks to protect the “image” of Islam/Muslims is entirely misplaced as the only acceptable image of Islam and Muslims for the western mainstream is one that fits within their ideological parameters.
Thus, when the media accuses Muslims of something, we must not take the bait and participate in apologetic appeals that seek to distance ourselves from the accusation, since that only serves to validate a connection that has been deliberately constructed to begin with. So when it is said that Muslims are terrorists, if we continue to re-iterate that Muslims are not terrorists we reject the charge only by affirming the narrative that gives rise to it. The same applies to Islam and domestic violence.
What then must we do as a community if we know that we will be consistently attacked? The very first thing that we must not do is accept the line of blame and we particularly must not turn on each other. Internal Muslim community disagreements should be discussed internally on Islamic terms – not as a show for public consumption that the media will parasitically feed off and where the terms and agenda is very different and set by others.
It is critical that we show one another support because the origin of the media hostility comes from the very fact that we are Muslims. The commonality of our Islam and the brotherhood within it should drive us to support and assist one another, specifically when we are faced by a common adversary. As a Muslim community, we should have one hand holding on to each other and the other holding on to our Islam.
It is also important that we do not justify the status quo of incessant media attack on the grounds that “that’s how media is”, in turn, blaming ourselves for being attacked. Yes, the media is what it is, but that itself is at the core of the problem and this is what most be constantly highlighted and challenged.
It is not a question of if the next media beat up about Islam and Muslims will arise, but when. As a community, let us understand this reality such that we are better collectively prepared for it – whether the headlines are focused on one community group or individual or another is beside the point. Today’s topic is domestic violence, yesterday it was terrorism and tomorrow it’ll be something else , new or recycled, but the target is always Islam itself.
Hamzah Qureshi is the media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia