Thursday, 27 September 2012

A tale of two Islams

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star earlier this week. You can find the article online here: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1262148--two-forms-of-political-islam-compete-in-the-wider-middle-east


Two forms of political Islam compete in the wider Middle East





“I will pay whoever kills the makers of this video $100,000. If someone else makes other blasphemous material in the future, I will also pay his killers $100,000.”
These words were uttered not by a firebrand cleric but by a cabinet minister in Pakistan,Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, pushing the reaction to a provocative film (vacuously) satirical of the Prophet Muhammad, to even more absurd levels.
We witnessed something different altogether on the same weekend in Libya.
Two weeks ago, anti-film protests in Benghazi, combined with what is now regarded as a co-ordinated terrorist attack, led to the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, other state department personnel, and Libyan security forces. On Friday, we witnessed tens of thousands of ordinary Libyans march to the central al-kish square in the same city, chanting, “No to terror, no to Al Qaeda,” eventually overrunning the bases of groups suspected of being complicit in the earlier attack.
Following the Arab revolutions of 2011, Islam has forcefully entered the public square, and as political forces jockey for power, we are witnessing a growing duel between radical rejectionists and groups favouring more inclusive engagement. If the former gain the upper hand in this battle, which differs country-to-country, it could plunge the wider Middle East into a decade of darkness.
With the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, we have seen secular autocrats swept from power and Islamist forces come to the forefront. The participation by religious parties in the democratic arena has led to the mainstreaming of political Islam in the Arab world. The rise of well-known groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Al Nahda in Tunisia to power, however, has been accompanied by the emergence of a new political force — salafists who adhere to a very puritanical interpretation of Islam.
The political salafists have tried to brand themselves as true defenders of the faith in opposition to so-called “moderate” Islamists. In effect, they are trying to out-Islam their opponents. While previously the salafist movement had only a limited political role and the more extreme of their members were part of the wider jihadi movement that includes Al Qaeda, today they are asserting themselves in the mainstream, given the new environment. While just emerging in the Arab world, it is a trend that countries like Pakistan have been dealing with for the past several years.
Despite their ability to mobilize in numbers and vitriol, the salafists appear to be in the minority, as witnessed in recent election results across the Arab world. The majority, however, has not coalesced around a coherent ideology that can provide an alternative vision for progress and development. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, while trying to be pragmatic, has been muddled in its message since the initial anti-film protests — even its own slogan limits debate: “Islam is the solution.” Thus the outpouring of demonstrations on Friday in Libya trying to reclaim the public space from more radical fringes could be the exception rather than the trend.
We are, therefore, at a dangerous crossroads throughout the Middle East, North Africa and into South Asia, where given this political vacuum, radical salafists are trying to take over the public square, if not by numbers than by default. Moreover, certain interests in the Gulf are pushing these groups, which for them are preferable to more moderate Islamists forces that are seen as threatening to their regional legitimacy. This strength, combined with the growing neo-Islamic McCarthyism practised by the salafist political forces could mean that the silent majority is definitively silenced for the foreseeable future.
There is no easy way out, and the situation within each country is different. If the current crisis is viewed through the prism of a provocative film and an offended Muslim public, we are missing the broader political implications. In effect, we are seeing a shift from the post-Sept. 11 decade fight of Al Qaeda versus autocratic regimes in the region, to the people versus the populists. The film has only served as the pretext for what is now termed the ‘outrage industry’ that fuels radicals in so many Muslim countries.
If the current situation is to change, it will only happen if forces, within and outside the Muslim world, empower the marginalized majority that is seeking to define a more inclusive and pluralistic future.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Reprobate Demonstrate - A Poetic Reflection


In light of the myriad demonstrations still ongoing in a number countries with respect to the recent film that, posted on YouTube, that slandered Islam's holy prophet, I've posted some poetic reflections on the moment, below. You can also check out a previous and related post, Dislam



Reprobate Demonstrate

Every week I wait for today,
The eventful and holy Friday.

It is the time to assemble,
And the shepherd to dissemble.

Each second grows the chatter,
To decide who to batter.

Capital to capital, city to city,
Outflows the vitriol and the enmity.

Reprobate demonstrate.

It is God’s name on our tongue,
When the call to prayer is rung.

It is God’s book to which we look,
When we decide who’s on the hook.

It is God’s word that we recite,
Before we go out to fight.

It is God’s orders that we follow,
In our actions no matter hollow.

Reprobate demonstrate.

The holy day and God’s name in tow,
The anger and outrage start to flow.

Pictures and films subject to scorn,
True calls for justice only forlorn.

Upon distant figures guilt pronounced,
Appeals for calm, quickly denounced.

Burning the symbols of other nations,
With a call for the greater Nation.

Reprobate Demonstrate.

Shall we fight the fiction far away,
Or face the reality near us today.

Shall we oppose constant corruption,
Or find purity in misdirection.

Shall we defend innocents,
Or obsess over jins.

Shall we open our minds,
Or shall we lose our minds.

Reprobate demonstrate. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

I caught a case of #MuslimRage yesterday

I admit that I lost it yesterday. Newsweek magazine had a really lovely and picturesque cover on it's September 16 issue (which you can see here), with the headline in bold capital letters, "Muslim Rage". Below the words was a photo of what can only be described as what normal, everyday Muslims look like, whether going to work, eating dinner, or hanging out at the park. I'll be honest, the cover was actually marginally better than the October 15, 2001 cover that spotlighted a Fareed Zakaria piece, entitled, "Why they hate us,"with the sub-heading the Roots of Islamic Rage (I'd argue that this title and photo were more unethical than his short-lived plagiarism scandal but that is only one raging Muslim's opinion.)

The cover was in reference to the recent protests that have intermittently spread to over a dozen countries in the Arab world and beyond, and which I wrote about last week. While these demonstrations, some violent, have proven in some instances to be deadly (mostly to the protestors in fact), they have usually involved marginal groups from the wider community, and in fact many other shadowy jihadist groups have used the pretext of this film to raise the specter of militant attacks (which is what the assassination of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, appears to be now.) However, no one in any of the countries affected - I am in Egypt at the moment - would deny that there has been a problem, and that there continue to be religious fundamentalists that would like to push a further clash. Yet, it is in all cases a minority movement that the majority is trying to address, including the governments in each of the countries, from Libya to Egypt and beyond.

That didn't stop Ayaan Hirsi Ali of prolific former Muslim fame from chiming in with her lead article in Newsweek. She is a serial abuser of intellectual inquiry in favor of a biased agenda: "For Ali, her myopic worldview is divided into black and white, where civilization is clearly defined and is found solely in the narrow confines of a neo-conservative philosophy shared by her and her thought-partners. Everything outside that is anathema to something called Western civilization."

Yet, when I and countless other people really lost it and went into a Muslim Rage, was when Newsweek asked on Twitter for people to use the hashtag #MuslimRage to provide further comment on the story. It obviously backfired as seen by the subsequent comments on twitter. A resistance of satire and scorn ensued, with probably the best tweet being, "Lost nephew at airport but can't yell for him because his name is Jihad. #MuslimRage."

In that spirit, here are my tweets as as stream of consciousness from last night (most recent first):



  • When you realize you just spent the last hour coming up with tweets to mock Newsweek. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that MTV doesn't actually play music videos anymore. #MuslimRage
  • When your secret that you like Vanilla Ice is no longer a secret. #MuslimRage
  • When somebody asks you if you know their friend Mohamad, because you're both Muslim, and you actually know him! #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that the scale is kilos not pounds. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that the Queen actually rules your country, #Canada, #Jamaica. #MuslimRage
  • When you teach somebody how to dougie but they're not interested. #MuslimRage
  • When a fat guy sits next to you instead of a hot girl in a plane. #MuslimRage
  • When you're called in for an 'interview' by a government agency and realize it's not for a job. #MuslimRage
  • When even you can't point out Iraq on the map. #MuslimRage
  • When your friends realize Mo is short for Mohamed. #MuslimRage
  • When a terrorist shares your name. #MuslimRage
  • When people see a country in the news that has nothing to do with you and ask: Is that where you're from? #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that Flo Rida is actually just Florida split into two words. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize you're singing along to Carlie Rae Jepsen's "Call me maybe." #MuslimRage
  • When you ask somebody to do something and they answer with 'Inshallah.' #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that if you have a 5 o'clock shadow it can be deemed a security threat. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize the person on TV who is a "Muslim expert" is neither Muslim or an expert. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that when they have 'Sushi' in Iraq it doesn't mean Japanese food. #MuslimRage
  • When you start the joke with, "An Imam, A Rabbi and a Priest walk into a bar..." and realize it won't work. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that Muslim is the new Black, but doesn't come with the benefits of street cred. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize you're brown in France. #MuslimRage
  • When somebody tells you, "you look just like my friend" who actually looks nothing like you. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that you can actually gain weight during Ramadan. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that even you find the adhan is sometimes too loud. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize that 'being on the list' at the airport is not the same like it is at the club. #MuslimRage
  • When I forgot to lower my gaze last night at the club. #MuslimRage
  • When you're crying inside and nobody knows it but you. #MuslimRage
  • When you go for a walk and it starts raining, and you forgot your umbrella. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize Persian and Iranian are actually the same thing. #MuslimRage
  • When you can't go to the bathroom at the front of the plane, because of what that might mean. #MuslimRage
  • When somebody finds out that Backstreet Boys and Celine Dion are very popular amongst youth in the Arab world. #MuslimRage
  • When you don't shave in the morning and someone asks you: So is that a religious thing? #MuslimRage
  • When Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is more outraged by a movie than his friend Bashar al-Assad. #MuslimRage
  • When a rich #Saudi prince goes to Las Vegas on a bender and then funds a Salafist cleric. #MuslimRage
  • When you're defending Islam and a cleric declares that Muslims should be allowed to marry 9 year-old girls. #MuslimRage
  • When you find out it's not okay to say Allah Akbar loud in a public place. #MuslimRage
  • When someone claims to know "What Went Wrong" with all Muslims is actually cited as a leading expert. #MuslimRage
  • When you're asked, and "What's the Muslim perspective on..." #MuslimRage
  • When you are citing famous Muslims and forget about Dave Chappelle. #MuslimRage
  • When you find out Newsweek still has relevance even though it's irrelevant. #MuslimRage
  • When you have to explain why you don't drink for the umpteenth time. #MuslimRage
  • When some things you wish were halal are actually haram. #MuslimRage
  • When you look up 'Arab Street' and can't find it on Google Maps in any Arab country. #MuslimRage
  • When you realize there's actually no such thing called the Muslim world. #MuslimRage
  • When you find out your Kindergarten teacher can't pronounce your name. Young #MuslimRage
  • When you realize Ramadan this year will be 30 days and not 29. #MuslimRage
  • When you find out Barack Obama isn't actually Muslim. #MuslimRage
  • I can't believe it's not butter. #MuslimRage @Newsweek

Friday, 14 September 2012

The lost innocence of Muslims


 A guard escorts a crass ‘bastard’ into a tent, as a lady beckons for his attention. After pointing out that he is not wearing any undergarments, she puts his head between her legs, which is not so subtly pointed out as the basis for divine inspiration. He then goes on to seize the wives of his companions and promote rape and pillage. The first convert to his new religion is apparently shown to be a donkey. The name of the ‘bastard’ in this clip is Muhammad.  The movie is the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and it is possibly the worst attempt at filmmaking in the history of the world. Yet its trailer has received millions of views on YouTube and today thousands of people across dozens of countries are out in protest. Why is this happening and what does it mean?

On the eleventh anniversary of the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, a new tragedy started to unfold in the Libyan city of Benghazi and in Egypt’s capital, Cairo. Several days earlier, a somewhat popular Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Khaled Abdullah, launched a tirade into the trailer of the film, which had recently been dubbed into Arabic. The reverberating anger resulted in organized protests that initially culminated in the brutal assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, leading to the deaths of four U.S. government staff, including the Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, as well as an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo where the American flag was taken down. Heading into Friday, a day of religious congregation throughout the Muslim world, the demonstrations have spread to over a dozen countries and show no signs of abating.

While it may seem through the media that universally Muslims have erupted in violent anger, the truth is that the violent protests are resonating with only a small subset of the population, and furthermore are symptomatic of a wider sense of chaos in the Middle East where there is a burgeoning contestation of the public space by competing ideologies. The film has served as a pretext for a complex web of groups to attempt to promote a radical agenda.

The film in question, Innocence of Muslims, was allegedly written, produced and directed by an Egyptian-American, who also hails from the Coptic community, the predominant Christian sect in Egypt itself, although it has been rejected almost universally within that community. Not much is known about Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who initially presented himself to the media as an Israeli Jew named Sam Bacile (under whose name exists the YouTube account where the movie trailer is posted). An official advisor to and spokesperson for the film is Steve Klein, a self-professed anti-Jihad activist in California, with a number of radical affiliations. Terry Jones, the controversial pastor who threatened to burn a Qur’an in 2010, and subsequently had a trial in absentia for Prophet Muhammad, has promoted the film as well.

Apparently there has been one poorly attended screening of the movie in Los Angeles, but otherwise it is not yet been confirmed that there is actually a film beyond the trailer shown online. In addition, the actors who participated have alleged that the film itself and the script were amended in post-production to insert any words referring to Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. Until the trailer was dubbed in Arabic and referred to by several clerics in the Arab world, there were only a couple of thousand views of the clip online. Overall, the film is a very shoddy production (which any casual observer would note) with obscure origins that was pushed out of obscurity by its advocates and detractors alike.

What is the basis for the reaction to this film in the Muslim world? Islam as a religion does not speak with one voice. There is one central precept that unites all Muslims and that is the recitation of the witnessing of faith, or shahada, ‘There is no God but god, and Muhammad is his messenger.’ Without a central authority, the religion is subject to a constant set of competing interpretations for everything else. Within the Shiite sect, which constitutes 10-15% of Muslims worldwide, there are so-called ayatollahs who issue religious edicts, and there are a handful of grand ayatollahs (known as marja) who are the primary authority figures. There are smaller Shiite groupings such as Ismailis and Zaidis who have individual religious leaders, but they are largely peripheral groups.

This structure is even more diffuse amongst the Sunni community, which constitutes the vast majority of Muslims worldwide. While there are four primary schools (or madhab) of thought, clerical authority is seized rather than granted. There are many untrained, self-appointed reference points that seek to influence the flock. Thus, on sensitive issues you may have populist clerics that seek to expand their reach through firebrand rhetoric, leading to a competition to the lowest common denominator. It is within the Sunni tradition as well that the Muslim Brotherhood, the ruling party of Egypt, and the inspiration for groups such as Hamas in Palestine and the ruling Nahda party in Tunisia, has emerged. They are more closely aligned with Al Azhar university of Cairo, a more mainstream religious establishment. 

Incidences of extremism have emerged in both Shiite and Sunni traditions, and for example, Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued the fatwa or religious ruling against the author Salman Rushdie in 1989, was of course a Shiite leader. However, in the last two decades, there has been a multiplication of Salafi thought from within the Sunni community, which is a radical and puritanical interpretation of Islam. Unlike in the Shiite community, there is no appointed central authority, and as such you get many self-appointed religious figures and pseudo-religious figures. They often question the mainstream Sunni establishment, such as Al Azhar and in fact the Muslim Brotherhood. While Salafis are not necessarily violent by any means, the puritanical interpretation of the faith rejects not only particular non-Muslims more vociferously, but accuses many fellow Muslims of being impure in their belief.

While traditionally, Salafi groups were relegated to the fringes or associated with state-controlled movements in Saudi Arabia, given the close links between Wahhabi thought, and affiliated with a small-set of Salafi-jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda, the Arab awakening or Arab spring brought them into the political spotlight, where they contested elections in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, with positive results. The cleric who initially discussed the film in Egypt, Sheikh Khaled Abdullah, is affiliated with Salafism.

It is important to point out that there has always been a rejection of blasphemy within a myriad of Islamic traditions. The defamation of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad has been condemned in both legal and religious traditions historically and contemporarily. Many countries, from Pakistan to Egypt, have blasphemy laws, some of which the punishment for can be death. Today, there is a prominent case of a young Christian girl in Pakistan who was arrested for allegedly (not proven) of burning pages of the Qur’an. However, religiously, the case and justification for blasphemy laws is mixed and nowhere in the Qur’an is there a direct call for violence against so-called ‘blasphemers’ and particularly death. In fact, one of the most prominent hadiths or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, that Muslims learn, is about an old woman who throws garbage on the Prophet every time he passes her house and curses him. Instead of being angry, he turns the cheek, until one day, she doesn’t throw any garbage on him, and then he in fact goes to see her, not out of anger, but because he is concerned of what might have happened to her.

Whatever the actual religious basis, blasphemy has become an emotive issue in recent times and a constant pretext for those with a more strict religious agenda to mobilize religious fervor to their cause and/or mobilize people towards a certain political end. This was most salient, recently with regards to the cartoon controversy that erupted in 2005 and then with Terry Jones announcement of burning the Qur’an two years ago. However, today, we have the first prominent crisis of its kind after the Arab awakening, and thus the convergence of several trends. There is increasing chaos and instability throughout the Arab world. There is a rising political Salafi movement. There is still a latent sense of disenfranchisement in many countries, such as Yemen and Pakistan. And of course, religious feeling is very much in a renaissance in a number of these countries. This film in fact is serving as mobilization point, capitalizing on populist feelings, particularly by certain Salafi and other radical groups to advance a political-religious agenda.

It is now thought that the attack in Benghazi, which so far has been the most shocking, was pre-planned and coordinated, possibly by groups affiliated with Al Qaeda.  In fact, there have been a series of counter-protests by those in Benghazi who reject the violence. Yet, the violent demonstrations as noted above, are not about the involvement of the majority of the population but rather the mobilization of several hundreds of people in each country to precipitate either a crisis or advance a particular agenda. So we do not have the entirety or plurality of Muslims globally rising up. It simply is not the case, although of course the media is spotlighting those scenes, which may lead to that conclusion. Nevertheless, it would be misleading to believe that ordinary Egyptians would like to see acrimony at this time with the U.S., as there are more important issues that they are concerned about, such as their daily wages. Similarly in Libya, Ambassador Chris Stevens was perceived very positively by many revolutionaries for his commitment to the future of that country.

The risk, unfortunately, is no less, however, simply because it is a result of a small subset of the population. In fact, because of the various factors charted above, and the security vacuum that exists in countries with new or emerging governments such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen, and in fragile environments such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it is likely that the demonstrations could cause significant damage. There have already been before Friday, vociferous protests in over a dozen countries. Today, on Friday, the day of religious congregation, we are seeing a number of protests unfold, some that are especially concerning in Egypt and Yemen. They will likely continue in the coming days and perhaps lead to more casualties and certainty threats against Western groups and interests. This is despite the call for calm by many political leaders, such as the head of state in Libya, Mohammed Magarief, and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi who stated that protecting embassies is an “Islamic duty.”

The broader concern is not necessarily the current film in question or the recent and ongoing demonstrations but the overall volatile environment in many of these countries, which can lead to an eruption caused by a very insignificant spark. Containing and curtailing violent and rejectionist ideologies needs to be paramount, and the dangers of groups supporting these ideologies should not be understated. This requires very nuanced policies and analysis. It means not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It will mean working with the Muslim Brotherhood while marginalizing Salafi groups. It will mean empowering voices of inclusion and rejecting voices of exclusion. It will mean that in complex environments such as Syria, your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend. And the latter is the most important lesson because in the aftermath of the Arab awakening and the continuing tension with Iran, the West has started to tacitly support groups along with many countries in the Gulf that they see as tactical allies.

There is no question that there is cause for concern right now. What is important is that we keep in mind that those contributing to the violence are in the minority and that policies towards the region must support an environment that ensures that the conditions that have led to this impasse are confronted.  If this does not happen, the next time there is another seemingly insignificant spark, the crisis may be far worse.



Thursday, 13 September 2012

What is my Islam (revisited)?

This article was originally published on Huffington Post on June 11, 2009. I wrote this while working in Tripoli, Libya. Given recent events I thought I would re-post it today. 

What Is my Islam?


As President Obama looks to foster a new dialogue with the Muslim world, I want to give voice to an Islam that is too often ignored in the media in both East and West. It is the Islam that I have grown up with. It is the religion that inspires countless friends, colleagues, former classmates, and relatives of mine.

I wish to tell you about the beliefs of the many Muslims, with whom I have been around whether as a leader of Muslim Student Associations at Princeton and Harvard universities, or living in or traveling to the mountains of Tajikistan, the streets of Kabul, the alleyways of Damascus, the villages of South Lebanon, the madrasas of Uzbekistan, the towns of the West Bank, and even in corners of Riyadh. Of course it would be folly of me to claim that this Islam I describe is predominant. Yet, it is authentically Islam, and it is part of the ethic of the faith of millions of Muslims around the world.

My Islam is foremost about reason. It is about harnessing one's capacity to understand the complexities of this world and beyond. The mind and the pursuit of knowledge are central to comprehending, to the extent that is possible, what is the divine. One also cannot make conscious decisions about right or wrong without exercising his own judgment. Blindly following the edicts of scholars, is not choosing a path except one that is not your own. When I refrain from consuming alcohol, it is not because I am backward, or uncultured. I refuse drugs because they hinder our judgment and our ability to reason, the trait that God endowed us with that distinguishes humankind from all other beings.

The pursuit of knowledge that emanated from Islam brought to bear the tradition of universities. Much of modern science and philosophy was shaped by Muslim intellectuals, and the centers of learning that were Bukhara, or Cairo, or Baghdad. Putting aside the tangential and abstract, however, there is no one who is more energetic about education than the Muslim immigrant parent (in the West). The most respected word in the Arab world is 'doctor'. Count the innumerable Muslims at the world's leading educational institutions.

My Islam is about the equality of women, where paradise as the Prophet said (the Prophet whose first convert was a woman, who was his wife but also his employer), is found at the feet of our mothers. Islam is the faith that gave women legal status, the right to divorce, and the path to financial independence. Inspiration is found in the women leaders of the three most populous Muslim countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia, who found their way into the modern political space long before their counterparts in North America. This Islam is about the strong, independent Muslim women, some who wear hijabs, and others who do not, who balance the needs of families with their rights to be full and equal participants in all aspects of society.

My Islam is about tolerance. It is about a religion that told its adherents that all persons performing good deeds can find a just place in the hereafter. For Muslims, believers of other faiths should be respected and protected. I believe in the traditions of Fatimid Egypt, Andalusia, and the Ottoman Empire, which gave sanctuary to Jews fleeing from the West. In my faith, discrimination and prejudice along race or ethnicity is an abomination, while equality is a requirement. It is a religion that sees all peoples living in mutual respect, working towards the common good.

My Islam is about compassion. Empathy is not a virtue but an attitude that permeates every aspect of my life. The condition of your neighbor or a stranger is a reflection of you. The mosque is the center not for organizing people for bombastic shouting sessions of anti-Americanism but rather for mobilizing persons of faith to serve their communities to develop an ethos of compassion for all. My Qur'an exhorts in countless verses that spending on the less fortunate is the true measure of an individual.

My Islam is about humility. It is an Islam that means submission to something greater than oneself, and forces the recognition of our smallness in the face of the wider world and beyond. It is about co-existence with all creation that surrounds us be they our compatriots or persons living in a distant land. It is about sustainable stewardship of the resources that God has endowed this world with.

I do not naively believe that what I see as Islam is the status quo in every Muslim country or family. Nor do I consider my vision as a monopoly on what is right, for true religion is about the ability of each follower to forge his or her own path. Yet, the next time someone remarks that Islam is irrational, violent, and hateful, know that there are countless millions whose practice and beliefs of Islam prove otherwise.