by Adedayo Ademuwagun
Taliban gunmen shot dead 141 people at a school in Pakistan last week, and most of the people killed were children.
Just hours before that, an armed man had attacked a café in Australia and held the people hostage. Then he made two of the hostages hold up a black flag across the glass wall so that TV cameras covering the incident could capture it. The message on the flag said in Arabic, “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
While the situation went on, some Muslims in the country were worried that this incident would renew the stigma toward Muslims. Someone said she’d seen a Muslim woman on a train take off her hijab after the news of the siege broke. But that afternoon as the tension wore on, people started to use the hashtag #illridewithyou to solidarise with Muslims and to assure them they’ll still ride with Muslims no matter what. The hashtag trended worldwide two hours later, and a lot of people were impressed to see how people stood with Muslims throughout the siege.
Nigeria too has been dealing with a bloody spate of Islamist terrorism for some time now. Thousands have been killed and a lot more people have been displaced in the north. Sometimes when this happens again, it makes people who’re not Muslims think negatively about Islam and Muslims.
Lilian says, “As a Christian I get upset when I read about another Islamist attack, and I tend to view the Muslims around me with distrust. But each one of the Muslims I have spoken with keep telling me that those who perpetuate the act are not true Muslims but have the message of Islam all wrong. Still, a small part of me is filled with rage for Muslims around me.”
Ahmed is a Muslim university student. He says, “It comes up in conversations sometimes. For instance there was this day we were discussing religion on campus, and one of the Christians said he believes every Muslim is liable to be a terrorist because that’s what the religion promotes. But I explained to him that he was wrong and that Islam is actually about peace and opposed to violence. So this kind of thing comes up sometimes. But I do my best to enlighten people who have formed such wrong perceptions about Islam because of terrorists.”
Lilian says, “As a Catholic I’d not like to be judged as a child molester just because some Catholic priests have molested little boys. I try to have more tolerance for Muslims. Still I think the Islamic leaders are not doing enough to discourage their followers. I know if they openly and vehemently speak against it more often, their Muslim brothers and sisters will listen.”
In mosques around the country, Imams preach about peace and unity and condemn the Boko Haram attacks. They also pray for victims and urge the government to fight this problem more strongly. Just last month, in fact, the militants bombed the Kano Central Mosque and shot dozens of Muslim worshippers to death. It questions the true objective of this terrorist group.
Ahmed says, “The terrorists are simply fighting their own war against the government, like terrorists are doing internationally to fight against the West. They feel that the West has oppressed them, so the way to retaliate is to take up arms and attack. So it’s not about the religion. It’s about vengeful extremists.”
The woman who said she saw a Muslim woman in Brisbane take off her hijab on a train was the one who triggered the #illridewithyou solidarity. However, she’s now admitted that she made the incident up and that the woman she saw might not have been Muslim and the “hijab” might have been a regular scarf after all.
She was castigated for trying to sway sympathy away from the victims of the café attack. But even though the hashtag was based on a fake incident, the impact was huge anyway – it changed the way millions of people worldwide would have felt about the café attack.
Muslims, Christians – let’s all ride together no matter what.