On Saturday, I was visiting the Art of Qur’an exhibition at the Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. It was the last day of the exhibition and it was packed, you could probably find the largest concentration of the Muslims in the city in and around the building on that day. Expectedly, there were non-Muslims who were also visiting, and I noticed two young people, probably students, with fair complexions, blonde hair and blue eyes who were clearly not Muslims since they were referring to Muslims as “they”. But the conversation I overheard between them restored my hope in humanity.
A: … Muslims did not mess up with people’s way of living in the lands they took over, they allowed free practice of religion.
B : Hmm, but non-Muslims pay extra taxes right?
A : Oh, well Muslims paid zakat, and it meant charity. Back then, charity was collected by the government and non-Muslims did not pay that, so they paid a different tax instead…
I was almost moved to tears by this conversation. The fact is, that these young people were so much more knowledgeable and much more just in their judgement of Islam than many young Muslims today.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon nowadays to hear things like: “Muslims colonised the Middle East and Mediterranean” from Muslims . This is becoming a trend due to their indiscriminate application of the post-colonial studies lens, a field which particularly emerged as a response to Western power’s colonization of the “rest of the world” to societies and civilizations across history. Unfortunately, this is coupled by the lack of knowledge about the history of Islam and most importantly lack of confidence in Islam. History can be learned and unlearned, however confidence can only be restored when Islam is understood as first and foremost a religion, more so a Deen (comprehensive way of life), rather than a cultural identity or an object of study at universities. Cultures do not have universal truth claims, but monotheistic religions do. And so Islam does not end.