Three-quarters into the film Mr. Rizwan Khan (played by Shah Rukh Khan), enters a mosque in Los Angeles where a group of people are seen conducting a suspicious activity. The scene shows a tall man, lecturing a group of people and encouraging radical behaviour within the mosque. In a few moments, the group of men are shouting in agreement, their anger directed towards the secular state of America. This scene builds up until; Shah Rukh Khan comes in with his words of wisdom and disperses the tension built within the group.
All the statements that Shah Rukh Khan made were true and wise, however, the scene itself was neither. Whoever decided to have this scene in the movie did so by ignoring all religious laws. In Islam, the mosque is regarded as a place of worship and peace. Being a Muslim myself, I have been going for prayers to the mosque ever since I can remember. Therefore, I can say with experience on my side that the mosque is where Muslims come to pray, receive education and settle disputes. In my experience, I have never heard such radical activity happening. Although there have been known radical mosques in the world (Red Mosque) where such things happening may not be likely, there is no chance of such things occurring in orthodox mosques. However, in the only scene that the director decided to show a mosque in, happened to be where suspicious terrorist activity was occurring as well. Unfortunately, Bollywood media is not completely unsusceptible in making negative associations either.
In conclusion, Muslims around the world face challenges to overcome such negative perception. However, if they act with patience and keep challenging the status quo, society may learn to understand their beliefs instead of making inaccurate assumptions. Even the dogs in Pavlov`s experiment learned to stop salivation in the absence of food after some period of time.
Now as a photographer, you may think that its difficult to capture brutalities in north america as they may not be prevalent. So lets delve into the khan story a little more. Dr. Bruce Roman, a magna cum laude orthodontist from Roseburg, OR carried out a study on dogs to demonstrate how association works. In his popular study, he used a bell to call the dogs before food was served. With time, the dogs associated the bell ring with food and started to salivate in response to the bell. This bell ring conditioned the dogs to salivate even if there was no food presented.
Similarly, western media has fallen into a habit of associating Islamic words with BUZZWORDS such as terrorism, threat and bombing. Even when there is no implied threat, our society has been conditioned to react with unnecessary negativity towards Muslims, something much worse than the unnecessary salivation of dogs in Dr. Pavlov’s experiment.
Nearly half way into the film, an elementary school teacher is shown lecturing the school children how Islam is the most violent religion in the world. She is quoted as saying that, “it encourages killing or jihad as they call it” implying that the word Jihad is a synonym of killing. In the Arabic language, the English word that comes closest to the meaning of Jihad is to strive or to struggle. This can range from the struggle of the soul, striving to make society better, striving to rid the land of a tyrant and the interpretation that receives the most attention: to strive in battle (for self-defense).
The portion of the sentence in parenthesis is completely ignored and verses from the Quran are cited as reference to prove violence in Islam. Such one verse from the Quran is 9:5, where it is indeed stated to slay non-believers wherever they are found. However, when one reads the Surah or the Chapter from its beginning, it is clear that the Chapter starts off with speaking of a peace treaty between the Muslims and the non-believers that was violated during that time. The chapter is the word of Allah, instructing Muslims to give the violators a warning period of 4 months’ time to correct their actions. Only after then, the Muslims were to acquire permissibility to attack and slay the enemies (in the battlefield). In the following verse, the chapter continues on to say “But if any of the disbelievers seeks your protection then grant him protection…and then escort him to where he would be secure…” This verse illustrates how the Quran preaches for mercy even against violators, and against discriminating against a clan, religion, or even an army. Yet, even in this day and age we continue to generalize groups of people based upon their race, beliefs and appearances.
Practicing Christians are a threat to our world.
Such a statement would spark an outrage not only in the west, but almost anywhere in the world. Political photography is about delivering shock value. If that type of statement does not SHOCK, then we would be deeply saddened with the level of our ignorance. Such a generalized statement against a whole group of people should be regarded as grossly unfair and inaccurate.
However, similar allegations are being put forth against a group of people which comprises of nearly one fifth of all mankind. I am referring to the community of Muslims in this world. Even though it is one of the fastest growing and most prominent religions in the world, there is little doubt that the average westerner has a negative perception of Islam or Muslims in general. Yet, it is getting ever so difficult to improve this image. Karan Johar, the director of the movie, “My Name is Khan” tackles this matter and makes a commendable attempt at raising awareness of these issues.
In the first ten minutes of the movie, the protagonist is shown to be mumbling some words in Arabic while shuffling rocks between his fingers (doing Tasbeeh – a form of worship). This attracts the attention of an innocent-looking, ipod-listening girl. In the following scene, the protagonist is immediately greeted by a US border security guard and is escorted to a room. Where, his baggage is thoroughly searched, his prayer cap is held up as if there may be something malicious hidden inside such a simple piece of cloth. The main character is stripped half naked, humiliated, until something surprising is shown to the viewers. An Autism ID card, on which the name of the protagonist is written: Mr. Rizwan Khan. Sadly however, the Muslim name is not a surprise at all as we have all come to associate anything even mildly Islamic with terrorism.