Looking nationally and internationally, one can easily predict that 2016 will be another terrorising year for both Muslims and non-Muslims living in Australia. This is a quick survival guide towards peace which will help ease the rising religious divisions and Islamophobia.
Terrorist groups like Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) kill people of all religions, nationalities and races with clear objective of setting off a clash between Islam and the west. Facts show that terrorists have no religion, regardless of what they may want to call themselves. They're simply evil, brutal terrorists with no moral or religious soul of any kind.
As the former head of International Counter Terrorism in Special Branch at New Scotland Yard, Nick O'Brien, wrote in The Conversation:
It's in the interests of Islamic State for Muslims in Australia to be attacked or for their mosques to be attacked, because doing so would help divide the Australian community … it's only a tiny minority of the Muslim community that are ever involved in any kind of extreme action. The vast majority are decent, ordinary people.
Similarly, the international director of Monash University's Global Terrorism Research Centre Greg Barton has warned that a knee-jerk, anti-Muslim reaction is a threat to our national security:
Trust between different ethnic and religious groups across Australia and with our security authorities is the bedrock of our security … In many cases where passports have been withheld in Australia, the tip-offs have come through the community.
Therefore, we Australians (Muslims and non-Muslims) should not fall into the trap of terrorists and be held hostage to their sick narrative. We must always be on guard against terrorism, its our responsibility to band together to defeat not only terrorism but equally important, avoid falling into the Islamophobia trap.
Last week there was an attack on a bus in Kenya by Al-Shabaab. This terrorist group was going to kill any Christians on-board but the Muslims in the bus risked their lives to save the Christians by giving them hijabs (headscarves). We simply cannot do it alone.
These weakening terrorist groups are on the hunt to recruit more troubled Muslim youths from western countries. On the first day of the new year, militant group Al Shabab in Somalia released a recruitment video that criticised racism and anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States and contained footage of the Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump announcing his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country. This recruitment video appears to be aimed at the African-American community.
It should not be a surprise if we start seeing some of our own Australian politicians (who hold extreme views) in terrorist recruitment videos targeting distanced and disturbed Muslim youths. The new wave of immigrants fleeing wars are the new kids on the block. It is all of our responsibility to support them, make them welcome and introduce to them true Australian values such as justice, equality, mutual respect, fair go and support for parliamentary democracy including the rule of law.
Muslims condemn terrorism just like any sane person would. We don't expect every Christian to condemn the so-called "Christian" terrorist group known as the KKK. The same courtesy should extend to Muslims regarding terrorist groups claiming to act in the name of Islam.
Prevention is always better than a cure. As a caring society we have a duty to ourselves to protect the society we value and to assist those needing help. By acting early and helping to build resilient communities we can address core drivers of violence before they become more powerful.
Muslim community leaders, workers, family members, friends and work colleagues play the most critical role in this process as they're the first point of contact. They are likely to notice when someone begins to withdraw and are able to direct attention to potential problems well before they reach dangerous levels. Most individuals begin the radicalisation process in one of the three key areas - ideology, social relations or criminal activity. This normally means that a person's behaviour will noticeably change in one area first, and not across all three areas at the same time.
Our first task is to break the 'fear' barrier – "Open communication and dialogue"
And we have good experience in this country to draw upon. For decades we have invested in interfaith work, and people-to-people engagement to address deep rooted hatred of the "other". Many of us have worked to help the poor, the disabled, and the dispossessed to access the private sector and legal system. Now is the time to put the true Australian values to practice and open up the lines of conversation even if the conversations are difficult.
A positive relationship is the basis on which all other types of help and support can be built and can be an effective intervention in itself. Even if the individual decides to break contact with close friends or family, these people are likely to provide a lifeline that can help them to disengage from violent extremism in the future.
All religions teach their followers to build love for the whole of humanity, irrelevant of their religion or skin colour. Therefore we must wipe out extremism with more teachings of love, as hate cannot drive out hate, only love can, just as darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can. We must teach all around us the following quote "'Swords can win territories but not hearts, forces can bend heads but not minds" [Mirza Tahir Ahmad – the 4th Caliph of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community].
We're fortunate to be enriched by many honourable and loyal Australian Muslims who are making Australia great by their contributions to our community as physicians, teachers, businessmen, students, community leaders and sportsmen. Muslims serve in our nation's armed forces fighting the very evil that is ISIL.
Australia is one of the safest country in the world and everyone living in Australia would like to keep it safe and prosperous. Below are some golden points for both Muslims and non-Muslims on what we all can do to bring a lasting peace in our society.
What Australian Muslims can do?
1. All Muslims must understand, teach their kids and friends that violence and intolerant beliefs go against the teachings of Quran. Few verses are highlighted below. We must understand and challenge those who would teach us otherwise.
…Whosoever kills a person… it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gives life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind… [5:33]
There should be no compulsion in religion…[2:257]
O ye who believe! come into Peace wholly and follow not the footsteps of Satan; surely, he is your open enemy.[2:209]
O ye who believe! be steadfast in the cause of God, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people's enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear God. Surely, God is aware of what you do [5:9]
2. Islamophobia can cause feelings of isolation and depression, know that there are Muslims all over Australia who share your experiences. It is normal for non-Muslims to adopt anti-Islamic views considering what is taking place around the world by terrorists and ignorant Muslim scholars with political agendas. The easiest way to eliminate Islamophobia is through education and our peaceful actions.
3. Voices against bigotry via the real Jihad of the pen like what Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is doing. Writes letters to editors, articles for the media and academic journals, makes public comments on social media, advertising open Mosque interfaith events including Australia day.
4. Join a charity, local community events or political activities that enable you to put your values and beliefs into positive action legally and peacefully. This will also enable you to make new non-Muslim friends and will keep you busy in your free time.
5. Join a sporting club to empower yourself with healthy habits. Taking care of your spiritual, mental, and physical health will help you cope with stress od Islamophobia.
6. Report any hate crimes, call law enforcement if you see anything threatening. If this is happening in your workplace or school, report it to HR or student affairs.
What non-Muslim Australians can do?
1. Engage Muslims in your life. Understand Muslims in your local community by visiting a local Mosque and introducing yourself. Make sure you feel comfortable standing for your Muslim friends, neighbours and co-workers. Tell them that the news is horrifying and you want them to know you're there for them.
2. Talk to your kids. They're picking up on the anti-Muslim message. Make sure they know how you feel and talk to them about what they can do when they see bullying or hear hate speech at school. Encourage your children to learn about different faiths, including Islam. It will make them more compassionate and intelligent human beings. If you're walking your kid's home from the bus stop, invite their kids to walk with you.
3. Call your state and local representatives, let them know that you are concerned about hate speech against your Muslim friends and neighbours in politics and the media. Vote for a candidate who promotes freedom of all religions, not just those who share your faith.
4. If you see a Muslim or someone who might be identified as Muslim being harassed, don't be a passive bystander to Islamophobia. If you disagree with the fiery rhetoric, take action, say something, intervene, and call for help. If you see people abusing authority, stand firm against profiling.
5. There has been an increase on reported attacks on Muslim women, the fear of being in public for women in particular is increasing every day. Understand why Muslim women choose to wear hijab (in footsteps of Mary, Mother of Jesus). In fact there's a whole chapter named after her in the Quran.
6. Read two books by the thoughtful English writers Karen Armstrong, entitled 'Islam: A Short History and Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time', and Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders 'The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?'
Watch two documentaries 'Islam: Empire of Faith' and 'Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World'.
Always remember that fear is paralysing and terror is fear-inspiring. Let's stand up, stand tall and stand strong. Long live Australia!