Hate Crimes Against Humanity: Contrasting Prejudice and Rahma

The forces of globalization and mass migration have resulted in clashes of cultures amongst various metropolitan cities in the west. Growing up as a second generation citizen near a city as diverse as Toronto, the most multicultural city in the entire world, exposes you to a variety of co-existing cultures, from diverse classrooms to clashes of foodways and fusion dishes. It is also a beautiful thing to witness community centers and masajid where Muslims can peacefully practice their faith and an overall atmosphere of peace, tolerance, acceptance as well as human rights which are taught to children from a very young age.

However, this very binding fabric, that could have created the blueprints of harmonious co-existence, interfaith dialogue, learning and growth, for this past decade has been unjustly plagued by Anti-Muslim sentiments in the media leading to prejudice and an increase in hate crimes locally and internationally. Furthermore, the information age has also exposed Canada’s own settler-colonial history making it challenging to address both past and present human rights violations and challenging the dehumanizing international political rhetoric that aims to exploit humans and the environment. Recent western wars across the middle east as well as anti-Muslim sentiments within the media have disproportionately led to increased global hostilities towards the Muslim community. Children with Muslim sounding names, hijab, and Muslims in general are constantly a target and placed in scrutiny. This dehumanization and desensitization targeted towards the Muslim community both destroy their sense of self worth and uproot them from their traditions as well as create a strong sense of prejudice. Hate crimes towards the Muslim community as a result of anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobia in Canada rose in 2018, as reported by the National Council of Canadian Muslims by a striking 151%. While there was a 57% overall increase in hate crimes towards other communities as well, including the Black and Jewish communities by 50% and 63% respectively, this striking reality is a huge concern. This hateful rhetoric that is homegrown in the West also makes it seem acceptable to continue abhorrent treatments towards Muslims minorities on a global scale.

Recent occurrences of Israeli violence against Palestinians have further exposed the ongoing atrocities taking place in Palestine. Had it not been for social media in the hands of everyday people, we would have relied on mainstream media as our information base which has been heavily biased. We see politicians falsely tweeting about Israel being attacked by Hamas on social media, one of which Dr Shadee Elmasry rebutted with, ‘I get that you have to play politics but don’t insult your own intelligence with anti-reality statements’. We see CNN interviewing courageous activists such as Mariam Barghouti who directly rebutted gaslighting techniques, and Muna and Muhammed El Kurd who addressed the power imbalance in the region. We see little children holding onto and reassuring eachother with prayers, the pinnacle of what sabr and shukr (patience and gratitude) could possibly mean and comforting each other amidst bombings.

The global concern, marches and demonstrations for the human rights of Palestine across the globe have further raised awareness but also sparked hate crimes and hostilities in Ontario by Right Wing Authoritarianism and white supremacists. Recently, a beautiful family was just walking in the street when a truck purposefully ran them all over, leaving behind only a 7 year old child. Reported by the Toronto Star, the family was described as, ‘A man so gentle he wouldn’t even kick his car tires. A chemical engineer who had been the only woman in her class and was working to rehabilitate industrially damaged soils. A grandmother, the pillar of the family. A child’. The innocence of this family was undoubtedly in question, as the criminal who took their lives placed upon them the burden of terrorism committed by only a few.

Ahmed Ali, a researcher and advocate tweets, ‘Hatred does not emerge in a vacuum. Look at the political rhetoric. Look at the policies. Look at the media coverage. Look at the political slogans. To say otherwise is gaslighting.’ Although a vigil took place following the hate based incident to honor the lives lost and work collectively to end hate towards the Muslim community, the very next day politicians such as Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford blocked the motion for unanimous consent to condemn all forms of Islamophobia the next day.

It is undeniable that hate and prejudice exist and continue to persist. Its outcome, as we all must know, is quite devastating with hate speech, hate crimes, wars and more. This article will aim to look at a variety of studies within the field of the Psychology of Prejudice which have delved into tackling the issue of prejudice. It will then look at the Islamic teachings of Rahma rooted within the Qur’an and prophetic tradition which provide valuable insights into working towards eradicating hate & prejudice.

Exploring the Problem of Prejudice

Prejudice is a biased evaluation of a group based on real or imagined characteristics of the group members. This exists within the structure of schemas, defined as a cognitive structure that represents knowledge about a concept or type of stimulus including its attributes and the relations among those attributes. Schemas are generally broader cognitive structures that contain our knowledge of a stimulus, our expectations for the motives or behaviour of the stimulus and our feelings towards the stimulus. [2] In our situation, the object of judgement for the Muslim community usually surrounds terrorism, muslim women as oppressed and men as perpetrators of violence. The object of judgement is whether or not Muslims are terrorists, and oppressors.

There lies an implicit cognition and unconscious influence that creates stereotypes and prejudice. Elements such as knowledge and perception of memory influence a person’s behaviour even though they have no conscious awareness of those influences. Implicit cognition can also be created as a result of subliminal messages through media, advertisements, and digital consumption.This creates implicit stereotypes and prejudices, harder to trace than explicit bias. Prejudice also encompasses illusory correlations which are the overestimation of the association between variables that in reality are related or weakly related. This includes blaming an entire global population for the actions of a few. [2]

Finally, prejudice may also be created as a result of a realistic conflict theory – for example, if intergroup conflict competes for scarce resources, it may result in hostility between the groups (Nelson, 2006). This is something the Qur’an sheds light on by stating that,

الشَّيْطَانُ يَعِدُكُمُ الْفَقْرَ وَيَأْمُرُكُم بِالْفَحْشَاءِ وَاللَّهُ يَعِدُكُم مَّغْفِرَةً مِّنْهُ وَفَضْلًا وَاللَّهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيم

‘Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing’ (Qur’an 2;268).

Some of the negative connotations of having prejudice include having an othering personality, creating ‘us and them’ barriers, structural inequities, difficulty accessing resources or support, hostility, hate crimes, wars and even genocides. Perhaps the most spiritually damaging of all, this results in a heart full of hate, spite, fear, stinginess and devoid of peace and humanity. It’s outcomes are devastating and a hazard to both humans, the environment, and the sanctity of life. A genocide, for example – an issue impacting the globalized world towards the Rohingya, Palestinians, Uyghur and other Muslim minorities – is thought to be a occurence of the past. In reality, the Uyghur genocide body count has now exceeded that of the Holocaust. Not only do Muslims face daily occurrences of prejudice, but institutional erasure.

Reducing prejudice is an issue many psychologists, human rights activists and policy makers are often challenged with but where do we start? It has been hypothesized and examined for example that increased diversity alone does not solve the issue of prejudice. It requires further aids such as, ‘equal status membership, common goals, intergroup cooperation and the support of a legitimate authority’. There must also be a favorable climate for intergroup contact and that contact must be intimate rather than casual. Some theories have proposed changing the attitude of those perpetrating prejudiced views, others have proposed changing characteristics of victims of prejudice (the latter calling for more social support and resources to empower victims of prejudice). Others still, have sought to take a color blind approach, however many marginalized communities have stated that this ignores the intersectional experiences and systemic barriers faced by the populations. And a final theory is the transactional approach which includes negotiations, business and working towards common collective goals. Amongst all the various approaches, the transactional approach is viewed as the most effective and links to the idea of empathic Rahma.

Re-visiting the Tradition of Rahma

Over the years I have learned to take a more varied approach to Rahma by tapping into various metaphysical realities. This includes an understanding of the soul, the nafs, and our relationship with Allah (glorified and exalted). The prophetic tradition, in contrast to the capitalistic aims in contemporary society, uses a more communal, holistic approach that teaches individuals how to live interdependently (as opposed to independently) in a meaningful and harmonious way. Looking at various stories within the Qur’an, including that of the two sons in Surah Kahf where Allah (glorified and exalted) states, “And we intended that their Lord should change him for them for one better in purity and nearer to mercy’. (Qur’an 18;80). Here there is a striking contrast from consumer culture, one that holds love and mercy in high regard.

Many years ago, I attended a RIS (Reviving the Islamic Spirit) Convention where Habib Ali Jifri spoke about the concept of Rahma/love. Some prophetic traditions he spoke about included the importance of loving for your neighbour what you love for yourself, and that one does not truly have faith until this is achieved. He spoke about faith as an acknowledgement in the heart and soul that there is no God other than Allah; that those who believe are more intense in their love for God, which creates a pathway to the knowledge of God, and perceiving His perfection in whatever capacity is made available to us. The veil, he said, is the veil of greed, anger, selfishness, enmity and only through the light of faith and mercy can the veil be lifted.

If the opposite of love is hate, then the opposite of Prejudice may be a truer understanding of one another, past perceived assumptions. Jifri outlined in his discussion how loving others is a challenge because of the lower nafs and it takes strength to overcome that challenge. The question was then posed: can you rise above your own anger/hatred and love for your neighbours what you love for yourself? Can you overcome ‘I, Me, the Ego’?

The speaker concluded with how only through loving one another not for any conditional placement are we able to fully acknowledge the reality that God loves us unconditionally. Allah (glorified and exalted) calls you to strive to purify your soul not because His love is based on a condition but because your condition to love Him is conditional. That condition is that you know yourself and surmount from the veil of ignorance. Perhaps through learning Allah’s mercy and love towards humanity, can we feel the same mercy and love towards each other.

The problem of addressing hate and prejudice is definitely challenging and with increasing hate crimes at the local and international scale, it is important to look at various ways that we as individuals and a society can work to eradicate hate crimes and return to the prophetic teachings of rahma. While social media can bring to light the disgusting crimes against humanity as seen in Palestine and in the murder of a beautiful family, it is also important to root out individuals fuelling hate, emboldened by anonymity behind their screens that are fuleing hate. I hope that we are able to step back from our biases, fulfill our social obligations to those who are around us and truly embody the light and teachings of our beautiful tradition of rahma.

Works Cited

[1] Ali, A. Y. (2000). The Holy Qur’an Text and Commentary. Farid Book Depot Ltd.

[2] Nelson, T. (2006). The Psychology of Prejudice (2nd ed.). Pearson.

Photo via Corina Rainer

About the Author: Zartasha Zainab is a graduate of the University of Toronto with an HBSc. and a double major in Population Health and Psychology. She is currently involved in community health initiatives in food and environmental justice as well as exploring her interests in Psychology, conflict mediation and Islamic spirituality.

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