By Faheem Younus
When the news broke that over 200 girls had been abducted by Boko Haram, I was prepared for some Islamophobic rhetoric from the Spencer/Gellar ilk. What I was not expecting were Pulitzer prize winners like Leonard Pitts, even for once, falling for the sensational “extremist Islam is scared of little girls” narrative.It’s not Islam but savage bearded men who are scared of little girls. Inserting “Islam” into the equation is a distraction; it augments the agenda of Boko Haram, who are craving religious legitimacy. Deny them that.
I am a father of two girls. What anguish the parents of over 200 abducted girls must be experiencing is beyond me. I cannot comprehend why the world is not acting swiftly to unite 276 innocent girls with their families, or why a “coalition of the willing” is not removing the localized tumor of Boko Haram before it metastasizes into a pan-African cancer.
What I do comprehend, however, is the common thread of ignorance and hatred between Boko Haram and Islamophobes. Both know zilch about the true Islamic teachings; their ignorance is directly proportional to the number of words they utter. Both hold blanket hatred for the other: Boko Haram hates all Western ideas (hence their name, which translates roughly to “Western education is a sin”), and Islamophobes like Pat Robertson compare Islam to Nazism. And both resort to a “buy one, get one” sales strategy: Buy into this narrative of ignorance or hatred and you get to use or bash Islam — depending upon your location — for free.
Don’t give me the “Boko Haram associate themselves with Islam, so what’s wrong with us doing the same?” argument. Can’t we see the wrong in legitimizing the words of a few hundred thugs over the beliefs of a billion-plus Muslims? Why didn’t we malign the faith of over a billion Christians because of Joseph Kony calling himself a “devout Christian”? Remember that Kony, the leader of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army, also abducted thousands of children in Africa?
That nothing in Islam, today or 1,400 years ago, justifies the abduction of any human being, let alone innocent girls, is a fact I have explained ad nauseam. Man, at times, I feel exhausted.
Exhausted of educating the masses about the medieval Arabian practice of burying girls alive and how Islam, not Boko Haram, abolished and memorialized it with these Quranic words: “And when the girl-child buried alive is questioned about, for what crime was she killed?” (81:9-10).
Exhausted of repeating what Prophet Muhammad taught his companions: “If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell-fire.”
Exhausted of disclosing what Fatima-al-Fihri, a Muslim woman, accomplished in 859 A.D. by establishing the University of Karueein in Fez, Morocco. (Hint: It’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.)
But I am proud of my Muslim daughter, who is taking four AP exams as a sophomore in high school and aiming for the pinnacle of the so-called “sinful” Western education. Translate this, “Boko Haram”!
Some ask, “How do you tell the story without mentioning Islam?”
“By learning from other Pulitzer prize-winning journalists,” I respond.
Last week The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristoff wrote, “The attack in Nigeria is part of a global backlash against girls’ education by extremists. The Pakistani Taliban shot MalalaYousafzai in the head at age 15 because she advocated for girls’ education. Extremists threw acid in the faces of girls walking to school in Afghanistan. And in Nigeria, militants destroyed 50 schools last year alone.” He refused to take the Islam or Islamist bait four times in one paragraph, yet he told the story. Bravo.
When my daughter returned from school today, she described how one of her Jewish classmates lamented the obvious practice of specifying the “Muslimness” of an extremist act in the headlines. See how apparent it has become?
So end this sensationalism, please. Let’s bring the filthy thugs of Boko Haram to justice, yesterday. And let’s stop elevating their status by linking them to Islam in our headlines from tomorrow.
Faheem Younus is the Baltimore president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and a senior fellow at the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics at the University of Baltimore.