The Muslim Pacifist & The Need for Reverse Empathy

by Waleed Ali Khan

Right when I was telling her I was a Muslim, I could sense confusion in her eyes, because we really clicked as friends. She mustered up the courage to say “I find something disturbingly wrong in your religion.”. I could identify with her, for being enclosed in a bubble that is America, where the freedom of press has ironically lead to a very one-dimensional image of the Islamic world, she felt what many uninformed Americans felt but didn’t have the courage to say. I responded by saying “If I were you, I would have probably felt the same way.” I meant it. At the same time, I was determined to prove her wrong.

Therein lay my idea of how interfaith peace can be achieved. Muslims often respond to statements made about Islam being aggressive by being aggressive themselves and hence tarnishing the image of Islam as a very peaceful religion. When we expect people of other faiths to empathize with us, we need to empathize with them as well. Just like the common citizens of any country, the ordinary person in America has very limited international exposure, and often relies on the television as his or her window to the world. When they see the anti-Muslim sentiments and the terrorism around the world, they react, like any rational human being, with anger.

In case you are new to my blog, I’ll let you know that I went for a cultural exchange to America for 10 days in the spring, where we met a group of students from an American Charter High School called “City High”. These were a group of very bright students with a very limited exposure to the rest of the world. We were there to do a “Cultural Show and Tell” of sorts, where we sat as a Panel in front of a group of around 100 inquisitive students and gave them the freedom to ask us anything about our religion and culture. Some interesting questions were “What is the general perception of Americans in the Middle East? Is it negative?” and “Do you invite American intervention?”. We were blunt and said that it is negative, but only because we struggle to differentiate between the American people and the American Policy makers (just like they fail to differentiate between a Muslim and an Islamic extremists). American Intervention is welcomed, but in the fields of Education, Development and Economics, but not when it comes to national security. As they nodded with agreement and a gave out a big smile , these kids made me proud and gave me hope of a brighter future for interfaith peace.

I realized I have become what is popularly known as Islamic Pacifist where I fight for my religion, but with words, ideas and exemplary behavior instead of anger and aggression. I bear in mind that America is still perhaps the most welcoming nation in the world when it comes to accepting minorities.

I am sure many would disagree and say that I reacted softly, but when you look at people like Arslan Iftikhar (A Muslim-American Pacifist Lawyer fighting for the rights of Muslims in America), you will realize the power of pacifism when it comes to bridging the gaps between faiths. Unfortunately, Pakistan has its own checkered record when it comes to accepting its Christian minority. Its interesting how we barely discuss this.

We can achieve a lot if we show some empathy when we expect empathy.