Letter to the Editor: Islam column insulting to UK Muslims

Ignorance is a failing second only to arrogance. Unfortunately, both were exhibited in a Saturday opinion piece written by William Wright, the Kentucky Kernel’s editor-in-chief. Mr. Wright’s piece is a broad sweeping and deeply insulting attack on Muslims and Islam. Mr. Wright casts himself as the intrepid journalist, to boldly say what no man has said before; the title: “Time for an honest discussion about Islam.” However, the article parrots in tone and content a troubling number of media outlets which insult, assault and demonize Islam without pausing to have, as Mr. Wright suggests, “an honest discussion about Islam.”

Related: Time for an honest discussion about Islam

The Muslim Students’ Association of the University of Kentucky has served both the campus and local communities for 43 years. As the representative body of UK’s Muslim student population, we call upon the administration and student body of our university to address and redress the distasteful display of bigoted othering Mr. Wright’s article promotes.

The simple fact of the matter is that Mr. Wright is terribly wrong; factually, historically and at the risk of appearing superior, morally.

Related: Islam column should have featured Muslim opinions, thoughts

While the article is riddled with problems, what most characterizes it is the writer’s stunning lack of the most rudimentary understanding of Islam, his purported topic of discussion. His premise that Muslims hold beliefs that “many Westerners would find unquestionably immoral,” is a statement with so little substance that its presence is justified only by the fact the Mr. Wright is the publication’s editor-in-chief. Even if the student editor of a school paper is two-dimensional enough to divide the world into a moral “East” and “West,” confident enough to believe that he can represent the thoughts of many Westerners, and correct in his assessment of their opinions of our beliefs, it is important to ask: is it really “appalling” that the beliefs of someone else actually differ from your own? And if they are different, what justifies the assumption that the difference ought to be demonized?

Mr. Wright deploys the 2013 PEW survey, “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” as his single reference backing his spurious claim. He applies no degree of critical rigor before the statistics that he carelessly lists off at the start of his article. There are host of questions that must be asked about surveys and statistics that often conceal important misunderstandings and misconceptions — particularly in cross-cultural assessments. An obvious example of this lack of rigor and general ignorance regarding the subject matter may be seen in the question pertaining to a wife being allowed to divorce her husband, to which many countries’ responses gave a majority negative answer. The reason behind this is quite simple. It is not, as many may ignorantly assume, that Muslim women have no rights. Rather, it is a matter of sloppy terminology on the part of the questionnaire. Sharia conceptualizes marriage as a contract between the two parties, with each party equally able to nullify it, but the legal terminology for a husband is different than that of a wife (the husband’s ‘termination’ is usually, and inaccurately, translated as ‘divorce,’ while the wife’s is translated as ‘withdrawal’).

Mr. Wright may blush at the revelation that a Muslim woman of the eigth century had the right under Sharia law to end her marriage if she chose to do so (without even having to give a reason). Likewise, in regards to the stats regarding corporal punishment — a practice that ought to be familiar to those who live in the United States with our own brand of corporal and capital punishment. The Sharia does contain corporal punishment, but it may only be understood as functioning within a judicial system that is decidedly not punitive, but rather overwhelmingly restorative.

Thus, in the instances that corporal punishment is called for, the Sharia mandates a rigor to indict someone far beyond anything we see here in the “West”, a rigor that leaves far more “unpunished” than punished — and the Sharia is okay with that — because, once again, its justice system is based on restorative principles and not punitive ones. While the rich topic of the judicial system envisioned by Islam merits far more extensive discussion than can be given in such a short space, it is Mr. Wright’s lack of academic integrity that we reproach here.

Being academics, it seems pertinent that we also address the potent eurocentrism and orientalist propagandizing of Mr. Wright’s piece. But the insult was dealt not only to Muslims, but to the religions of Christianity and Judaism as well that — according to Wright — survived his condemnation of barbarism only because their followers learned to ignore or reject parts of their faiths in favor of secularism.

I offer a final thought on Mr. Wright’s use of the PEW study. He neglected to state that it began with the disclaimer — which would have taken the wind out of his baseless jabs — while “overwhelming percentages of Muslims” want “Islamic law” in their countries “many supporters of Sharia say it should apply only to their country’s Muslim population.” So, I must ask: Is it really so shocking that Muslims, the followers of Islam, would like for Islamic law to be their governing guide? The West and its “enlightened” philosophy have brought Muslims colonization, dictatorship, poverty, humiliation and war. Muslims believe in their faith and have faith in their belief. If you asked Baptists in Kentucky if they believed in the ten Commandments, what would be the answer? Sharia might be the boogeyman of the West, but the fact of the matter is that it is the legal implementation of Islam. It governs the way we pray, the way we fast, the ways in which we give charity. If you took the time to ask a Muslim what the basis of the Sharia is, they would tell you that its basis is the preservation of the dignity, not only of humankind, but of the world in which we live and through which we thrive.

Moreover, this article of Mr. Wright’s was undignified, a lowbrow humiliation of fellow human beings. It is to this point in particular that the Muslim Students’ Association of the University of Kentucky must respond. Mr. Wright has publicly attacked, insulted and perhaps endangered UK’s Muslim students. This is only one of the atrocities of Saturday’s gross display of bigotry and hate mongering. But coming from a student-run paper, it is, in our mind the most pressing offence, one that comes in a time of rising hate crimes, increasingly violent and even fatal, against Muslims (the killings in North Carolina last year of Muslims students was a tragic wake up call for a sleeping consciences).

This increase parallels the constant demonization of Islam and Muslims in the media, from seemingly academic sources that disparage one of the most diverse and populous groups of people on the planet. You cannot dehumanize and bomb a population overseas and demonize and endanger them domestically. If Mr. Wright wishes to be a part of the legion of journalists that have taken it upon themselves to denigrate in such base and blanket terms one fifth of the world’s population — then we ask that the Kentucky Kernel to allow him to create his environments of hate somewhere else.

Filthy, hate-filled insults directed against the Prophet Muhammad — on him be peace — are insults against us and are not acceptable. These insults are hate speech, pure and simple; they attack Muslims on the basis of our beliefs, and should not be tolerated by you, by Muslims in the US, or the administration at UK. The Muslim students of the University of Kentucky have been attacked and we are offended. We have taken the time to respond to Mr. Wright’s call for an honest discussion, and we would honestly like an apology. In fact, as Muslims, Americans, immigrants, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters — as simple human beings — we demand it.