Be a Light That Shines in the Darkness

Know your facts: Muslims are not terrorists. Refugees are not terrorists.

If there’s one thing we can all agree upon when it comes to a certain Republican Presidential frontrunner, it’s that he’s sparked a global conversation—albeit one that’s left behind a pretty foul taste. An assertion like Trump’s recent suggestion to ban all Muslims (U.S. citizens included) from entering the country until we can “figure out what’s going on,” is no different than the abhorrent idea that “all Muslims are terrorists.”

Trump, of course, isn’t solely to blame for the latest wave of Islamaphobia sweeping the U.S., but his remarks certainly aren’t helping. In early December in New York, 53-year-old Sarek Haque was brutally attacked at his shop in Queens, by a man who admittedly targeted him on account he was Muslim. Just across the East River in the Bronx, a sixth grade schoolgirl wearing a hijab was punched by her classmates and accused for being a member of ISIS. That same day in Philadelphia, a pig’s head was left at the front door of a mosque, and meanwhile in Texas, armed protestors wearing camouflage marched outside of a mosque to intimidate and provoke Muslims who entered there.

As a mindful community, it’s imperative that we spur a mindful dialogue, based in truth and light.

Across the pond, anti-Muslim hate crimes since the attacks in Paris have reportedly tripled in London alone, and are only continuing to propagate elsewhere around the world. Kendah El-Ali, a 36-year-old expat, was in Paris during the time of the attacks. And though she’s of Syrian descent, you’d never know it by her blonde hair, blue eyes and light skin. Because of the way she looks, she doesn’t have to worry about feeling unwelcome by the European Union or flagged as a terrorist, despite her background that has so many fear mongers on edge. “Hatred unfortunately runs skin deep,” she said in an email, “and is without exception, based on fear and miseducation.”

She admitted that people are often confused by her last name, especially when she travels, but turn a blind eye to a passport filled with many visas that might cause further questioning if her appearance fit a stereotypical Muslim description. “At the end of the day, almost every Arab is not a terrorist and has the right to travel and purchase goods without question,” she said.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity. When a radicalized Christian goes on a mass shooting spree in an African American church or murders innocent bystanders at Planned Parenthood, we rarely hear cries that his actions speak for the religion. Though the number of dangerous radical Islamic extremist groups is growing at an alarming rate, the population of innocent Muslims far outweighs those who pose any threat. Hatred toward anyone who practices Islam only fulfills the exact prophecy that groups like ISIS are hoping for—a reason to wage an all out war with the West that would annihilate the world.

It’s simple—radical Islamic militant groups are terrorists, Muslims are not. ISIS poses a global threat, but a hijab does not. Easy access to heavy firearms and assault rifles without proper background checks is a deadly epidemic, while the outpouring of Syrian refugees is a global pandemic, not a potential terror threat. As a mindful community, it’s imperative that we spur a mindful dialogue, based in truth and light.

Extremism and misplaced hate have no place in such a dialogue—and it’s not only the mindful community that can see that. Even notoriously conservative House Speaker Paul Ryan agrees that, “this is not what this country stands for.”

We ought to be reminded that Syrians are fleeing horrific, dangerous, even deadly circumstances, in search of a better life—not unlike some certain European settlers who made a terrifying passage back in the day on a little boat known as the Mayflower.

Golaleh Hassanzadeh, a 34-year-old Iranian living in Brooklyn, fled from Iran in the early 90s with her family. Her late father, a Kurdish rebel, was threatened by the regime at the time—much like the Syrian refugees who flee their country today. “I’m pretty lucky to be living in a place like New York City,” she said, “I’m free to be myself—whether it’s Iranaphobia or Islamaphobia, I don’t have to feel afraid.

Hassanzadeh is often told that she’s “different from those other Muslims,” because she doesn’t wear a hijab or attend mosque. Her mother in Arizona, however, is not always met with the same level of tolerance. “She recently started going out in public without covering her hair,” Hassanzadeh told me. “When I asked her why, she said she was tired of getting stares and hateful looks from those ‘stupid backward rednecks.’”

These are indeed dark times, but there is hope—Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada welcomed 163 Syrian refugees into Toronto saying, “You are home.” The country is expected to take in another 25,000 more by March. Our friends up north have proved themselves as compassionate leaders where the U.S. has not. We ought to be reminded that Syrians are fleeing horrific, dangerous, even deadly circumstances, in search of a better life—not unlike some certain European settlers who made a terrifying passage back in the day on a little boat known as the Mayflower.

Over 12 million Syrian refugees have been forced from their homes, as the brutal civil war there rages on. Refugees are not terrorists. Muslims are not terrorists.

The world needs us to be the light that shines in this darkness by choosing love over fear, whenever possible. Meditation and prayer are helpful to help bring forth our inner light, but our intentions alone are not enough. Speak out on social media. Talk to your friends who may have misplaced ideas about the Islamic community. BE the light, and maybe, just maybe, the world will one day be illuminated.

AndreaRiceNewHeadshotAndrea Rice is the Practice and Community Editor for Wanderlust Media. She is also a writer and yoga teacher. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, mindbodygreen, and a variety of online magazines. Her teaching style is a blend of her love for music and intuitive movement, with emphasis on core strength. You can find her regular classes at shambhala yoga & dance center in Brooklyn, and often as a guest teacher for Deep House Yoga. Connect with Andrea on Instagram and Twitter