Manchester Attack and Biases

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Originally Published in Patheos on June 2nd, 2017

Yesterday, I attended a seminar by Professor Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University on the topic of unconscious bias. It was an incredibly mind-opening seminar that brought many biases I hold to the surface. But it also enabled me, in a way, to see the biases that other people hold, specifically towards the Muslim community.

Last week, 22 people lost their lives to another senseless act of bloodshed in Manchester, UK. As Ahmadi Muslims, we extend our condolences to the British people and stand in solidarity with them. While I watched the news story unfold on social media, I noticed multiple messages attacking the religion of Islam. The inherent bias that some hold, where they immediately assume a terrorist is Muslim or Arab is something that needs to be challenged.

What astonished me was that for every negative message of Islam, a handful of positive messages immediately followed. This is because more and more people across the world are coming to the realization that terrorism truly has no religion. This barbaric attack is so far from the peaceful teachings of Islam that to even call it remotely Islamic is nothing other than ‘fake news.’ The Holy Quran states, “Whosoever killed a person… It shall be as if he killed all mankind (5:33).” Furthermore, the Holy Prophet Muhammad counted the “killing of a soul” among the four “major sins.”

What is absurdly ironic about calling this attack Islamic, is the fact that the holy and peaceful month of Ramadan is less than a week away. This is a month where Muslims across the globe divert all attention towards spiritually elevating themselves through good deeds, prayer, feeding of the poor, and caring for their neighbors. How could such an individual commit an act of cruelty whilst following such peaceful teachings?

Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack and the suspect was identified as a British national of Libyan origin with a Muslim name. But to immediately jump to the conclusion that the terrorist attack was committed by a Muslim, without any evidence, is wholly irresponsible and further increases the polarization we see in society.

Of course, we all hold some sort of bias in one way or another towards individuals, foods, clothing, etc. But there is one thing that we can agree on and that is the value of human life. The taking of an innocent human life by another human being is disheartening and condemnable in the highest terms.

While many parents were relieved to discover that their children were safe from this attack, others are mourning over the tragic loss of theirs. I pray this event doesn’t push us apart from each other. Instead, we should unite in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the UK. Those families who lost their loved ones in this tragic event need our prayers and our support. Wasting our energy in demonizing groups of individuals will not make the world a better place and will only serve to fuel the desires of those responsible.

In the end, we should celebrate our similarities and work towards preventing radicalization here in America. As an Ahmadi Muslim, born and raised in the United States, I want to reassure all Americans that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA) is at the forefront of combatting radicalization at home.

We rejoice over the religious freedom provided in this country, which allows us to freely and openly practice our faith. We always strive to give back to the community and in 2016, we fed upwards of 170,000 people and collected 5000 units of blood in service to our fellow Americans indiscriminately. The world can become a better place when we celebrate our diversity and eliminate the biases that polarize us.

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