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Anti-Islamic Memes: Ignorance and the Internet

Anti-Islamic Memes: Ignorance and the Internet

Author Rose Deighton by

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The author's views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Also, the comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.

This Saturday morning, I opened my laptop to find an unusually high number of anti-Islamic posts. As usual, these were not well thought-out refutations of Islamic doctrines or analyses of historical events in Muslim countries. These were over-simplified  images attached to anti-Islamic catch phrases. Being inundated with so many of these posts at once made me confident that I had to speak up. I always expect a certain amount of controversy and debate to take place on the web. Debate and discussion are, after all, a great way for people to create solutions for problems and face challenges. However, the repertoire of anti-Islamic memes surfacing on the Internet does not reflect the dignity of a debate or discussion. These memes say one thing only: my hate for you is greater than my knowledge about you.

When people know very little about the things that they fear it is easy for emotions like hate and anger to override our better judgement and common sense. People are essentially good - I truly believe that most people know this, even if they do not realize it yet. So, when we allow the emotions of fear and hate to come between us and people we know little about, our greatest tool is knowledge. In a world where extremism is prevalent, and not only among Muslims but very much so in our own American context, it is important that we take it upon ourselves to administer the medicine of knowledge and share what we know with others. So, here are the reasons why some of these anti-Islamic posts aren't helpful in our efforts to create lasting peace in our society. 

First of all, while there is great reason for everyone to be emotional when confronted with the evil that is ISIS and other extremist groups, there are more mature and constructive ways to express our concerns. We should hate them and detest all of the horrible and inhumane things they do. However, I think it is a much stronger message of condemnation to not allow ISIS and their ugliness to seep into our perception of Muslims. Throughout the world and in the West, Muslims reject all that ISIS stands for.  It is a greater sign of our nobility and strength if we can continue to show respect for Muslims and what is sacred to them. We must prove that we will not conflate the horrors of ISIS with all of Islam, much less the faith of the many devout and peaceful Muslims who are among our fellow Americans, Canadians, and global citizens.

Second, when tempted by the anger we feel toward extremist groups, the tendency to make vast generalizations about an entire group rises. It becomes so easy, in that reactive moment, to forget that we are talking about people. Human beings. Americans. This weekend I saw a meme  that stated, "Shariah Law has No Place on our Soils" attached an image of a woman wearing a particularly inhuman and robotic full-face covering. All I could think was, "Wow, Muslims spend a lifetime studying sacred law and fiqh just to learn the basic arguments and discussions of a SINGLE madhhab but this person turned on facebook and suddenly he knows everything about  "Shariah Law." This is the problem and part of the onus lies with us. 

While we all know that Sharia law does not mandate that all women should cover their entire faces, we need to emphasize both in our own communities and in our public engagement, that Shariah Law is more of a continuous process of scholarship than a tyrannical set of unchanging principles. Sharia law is a vast and complex body of scholarship, which Muslims have debated for centuries. Not only are their different madhabsthere is great diversity of views among the major proponents of these schools of law. 

Still further, what "Islamic law" or "Sharia law" mean in theory and what they mean in practice can be very diferent. Sharia law means different things to different people. For some Muslims, it plays absolutely no role in their daily lives, for others it is merely used as a model for the daily prayers, while for others it provides social, economic, and cultural guidance. 

Muslims are as diverse as any other community in the world. Islamic approaches to faith vary not only from country to country, but between individuals. Law, spirituality, art, culture - these are all factors that contribute to an individual's identity as a Muslim. Law is merely one of those factors, though the popular media would have you think otherwise.

So how do we prevent the spread of ignorace on the internet? We tell stories, we clarify misinformation, and we never lose hope in the goodness of others, even when they post things we disagree with. The exchange of knowledge, between minds and hearts, is the greatest medicine.

"Shall I not inform you of a better act than fasting, alms and prayers? Making peace between one another. Enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots." - Prophet Muhammad


Rose Deighton is a Phd Student in Islamic Studies at Emory University, Writer, Contemplative. Follow me on Twitter: @rose_deighton 

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