You’d think that after years of all-Islam, all-the-time news reporting, of people studying Islam both formally and informally, and so many self-styled “Islam experts” plying the radio and TV talk shows, that critics of Islam would know at least the basics about the religion. This week’s “controversy” over Muslim graduation stoles at the University of California, Irvine reveals how fear can warp the truth, even when people who make a living watching Muslims are involved. Seems that some Jewish students were upset about the green, Arabic-covered stoles, finding too much of a similarity between them and green headbands Hamas militants use. It’s understandable, I suppose, since the students in question can’t read Arabic and their only exposure to Arabic written on green cloth (the shahada, or Muslim declaration of faith, was printed on one side of the stole; the other said “Oh, God, increase my knowledge”) was what they see on their TV screens. (Muslim students could have made the same complaint about stars of David, which are plastered on Israeli army tanks & warplanes, but they’re smart enough to make the distinction between politics and religion.) What is baffling, though, is that nearly every news outlet said that the word “shahada” was on the stoles (it wasn’t – the phrase “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger” that makes up the shahada was) and that the American Jewish Congress said that the word “shahada” that they think is on the stole translated to “suicide bomber”. The AJC also called the shahada an “expression of hate” that was a “demonstration in favor of terrorists”. Thankfully, UC Irvine officials backed the 20 Muslim students who wore the stoles without incident at their commencement ceremonies, and plan to in the future. “Students wore it at last year’s graduation, too,” said UC Irvine Muslim Student Union president Osman Umarji. “No one even noticed it.” Well, they have now – and they want all Muslims to drop the most basic declaration of their faith because some terrorists have been filmed abusing it.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.