I want you to close your eyes. I want you to picture Dhaka, Bangladesh. I want you to remember what you envisioned. Now open your eyes.
20 people were killed on July 1, 2016 in the Holey Artisan Bakery in the Gulshan District of Dhaka. Seven educated, wealthy, and Bangladeshi attackers stormed the upscale establishment in an ISIS-claimed act of terror. The victims aren’t just hashtags, and the terrorists most certainly do not represent Bangladesh.
When I heard the news of the Dhaka attack, my heart shattered. I strive to value all lives equally, and I believe that I do, but knowing that the evil that is ISIS had infiltrated my homeland provoked a stinging sensation that I can’t quite shake. It’s often easy to see a hashtag attached to a calamity, and to picture the circumstances of that horror in a way that is convenient. This time was different though, Dhaka is not just a hashtag to me.
My Islam is everything that ISIS isn’t
Dhaka is the home of my grandparents, rich with love, and a place that is bursting with life. When I think of Dhaka I see hues of vibrant green, I smell my Grandmother’s freshly cooked biriyani, and I feel at peace. That may seem to be clearly juxtaposed against the atrocious terror that was committed in the city just a few days ago, but perhaps nuance is exactly what we need right now.
I feel as if it has been said in all the variations that exist that Islam is not a religion of terror, but yet so many continue to believe that my religion is the root of so much hatred in this world. In short though; my Islam is everything that ISIS isn’t.
We need a reality check
This piece is not a refutation of Islamophobia, but rather it is a call to confront reality. Dhaka is not a breeding ground of “radical Islam,” but rather it is remarkably moderate, secular, and peaceful. Islam is not a religion of terror, but rather it is a faith shared by over one billion people who want to impart more goodness in this world.
Furthermore, we can’t begin to talk about the implications of the Dhaka attack if we don’t understand the geopolitical circumstances. Currently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s party is using any semblance of “radical Islam” to implicate their opposition party, BNP, in order to further their quasi-authoritarian rule. This has created a space for politicized Islam in a way that is uncharacteristic of the nation and religion, so if we are talking how to make this world a safer place — we have to know our politics.
I want to shift the narrative, and that is exactly my goal here. When you picture Bangladesh, I want you to to get a whiff of the aroma of my grandmother’s samosas. When you think of Islam, I want you to see my grandfather’s serene piety. That’s a big ask though, so for now — I want you to #staywoke because this world cannot afford more interventionist attitudes that stimulate false senses of security. This world desperately instead needs more truth, unity, and most importantly — compassion.