I often see memes from Ahmadi Muslim outreach campaigns on Twitter that aim to convey Islam in a progressive light. The statements are meant to break stereotypes about Islam. The memes are often provocative in that way. This post is part critique and part advice for those creating such memes.
The trouble is that often—even though these memes are attributed to the Qur’an or to Muhammad—that’s where the references stop. Our reasoning minds don’t just want to take your word for it. We want to look it up at the source. And the citations are often missing. Instead of your memes being convincing, the missing citations only raise the seeker’s skeptical spidey-sense that cherry-picking is in season.
Attributed to the Qur’an
Is there no single Qur’anic verse referenced here because each of these positive qualities come from different verses? You could place the relevant references in subscripted parenthesis after each key concept. But then that would look like you cherry-picked from several verses to make a single meme. I get it. If we cherry-picked words from Exodus or anything Pope Gregory IX may have written, we might be able to produce the same meme.
I don’t dispute that there are some nice statements and sentiments in religious scriptures generally, including those of Islam specifically.
Is the general negative perception in the West regarding Islam based on the belief that Islam has no redeeming qualities? I don’t think so. But when your memes fail to ever highlight verses about how Allah does not love the disbelievers, many educated about Islam’s most trusted sources will see such campaigns as a form of dishonesty through omission.
It wouldn’t hurt—or would it?— if you @TrueIslamUSA, were to provide the exact references that you create memes from. That way, your audience can verify for themselves, whether you are faithfully representing the religious texts that you attribute these uplifting memes to.
If you feel that Islam is misunderstood, you should be eager to provides sources at every turn, and have people look up the references. You should be eager for people to study the context themselves.
For readers perplexed at where the elements of the above meme came from, you can find them here, including the list of people that Allah does not love.
Give us the chapter and verse numbers. You do this for most Qur’anic verses cited. In the example above, why the omission?
Give us the book, volume and number. Better yet, give us the URL. It’s all on sunnah.com in both Arabic and English.
Don’t like the non-Ahmadi Muslim translation on these websites? Then translate them yourselves for alislam.org and give us a link to that.
Can’t publish a long URL in a short tweet? I get it. Honestly, I do. So what I do is include the URL at the bottom of the meme. You can even make the short URL pretty using services like Tiny URL.
Don’t like publishing original hadith because a significant number of them are frankly, embarrassing? Then why are you even creating cherry-picked memes from them?
In the current environment, healthy skepticism demands that we validate your claims. Not including references is effectively an admission that your memes are likely cherry-picked way out of context. I’m sure that some of your memes are fair representations. But even those become suspect when you attribute a concept to the Qur’an or to Muhammad that you are unwilling to identify for the rest of us to easily lookup and verify.
Attributed to Muhammad
Growing up an Ahmadi Muslim, I heard a lot of such flowery, positive ahadith. Except that I’d almost never see the specific references for the most progressive sounding of such ahadith.
Could it be that the above meme contains a sentiment that Ahmadi Muslims wish a particular hadith conveyed?
What comes to your mind from reading this meme?
Here’s what kindled in my mind—and what I believe the creators of this meme wanted to spark in yours:
- Wow. A religious founder invited people to question! I thought religions taught people to just obey. This religious teacher must have been really confident in his message if he openly asked people to question.
- It’s very forward thinking to question things, instead of just accepting answers from others. I like this guy!
- Since we’re asked to question, we get to explore and make up our own minds. Muhammad must have been pro-free-inquiry.
We set out on a journey. One of our people was hurt by a stone, that injured his head. He then had a sexual dream. He asked his fellow travelers: Do you find a concession for me to perform tayammum? They said: We do not find any concession for you while you can use water. He took a bath and died. When we came to the Prophet (ﷺ), the incident was reported to him. He said: They killed him, may Allah kill them! Could they not ask when they did not know? The cure for ignorance is inquiry. It was enough for him to perform tayammum and to pour some drops of water or bind a bandage over the wound (the narrator Musa was doubtful); then he should have wiped over it and washed the rest of his body.
We can find sahih hadith that tell us that the Sun sets in a spring of warm water (see page 375). See also, Episode 2 of this post highlighting Chapter 18 of the Qur’an for more details on that digression.
The cure for ignorance is to question and to learn, as the Messenger (saws) said, “Indeed the cure for ignorance is to ask.” [Reported by Ahmed, Abu Daawood and Ibn Maajah. (Hasan)] So he made ignorance a disease and declared asking to be its cure. And Ibn al-Qayyim said in his Ash-Shaafiyatul-Kaafiyah, “Ignorance is a fatal malady and its cure is in two things in agreement: A text from the Qur`aan or from the Sunnah, and a physician possessing knowledge of the Deen.”
Notice how in this English translation, the word inquiry that you saw earlier is translated as to ask. Granted, the Arabic can in fact be translated as ‘to question’. The ‘ask those who know’ and ‘make inquiries from those in the know’ connotation seems much better supported from the context of the hadith than the ‘be bold and question assumptions’ connotation that the Muslims for Peace meme no doubt, is eager to telegraph.
Additional context from early Islamic scholars—Ibn al-Qayyim as illustrated above—tell us that these answers must come from and conform to religiously sanctioned sources and authorities.
How would you have reacted to the meme if it was instead reworded to be more faithful to the context of the hadith and scholarly commentary on it? Consider:
The cure for ignorance is to ask those with religious knowledge.
How impressive does it sound now?
Be honest. How did your perception of this meme change after you:
- Read the source hadith
- Reflected on the hadith’s context
- Reflected on the hadith’s actual translation
How often have you heard Muslims—including Ahmadis—cry foul and out of context?
Here is another example from the True Islam campaign that is missing a real citation for the statement attributed to Muhammad. I easily found these memes by simply looking back through the last few days worth of tweets.
I leave it to you the reader, to determine what these memes say about the veracity of the message being sold to you.
A Referenced Meme
Now let’s look at the example of a tweet where a citation was included with the meme (hooray!) .
Note that the Ahmadi Muslim numbering system is used here, where “In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful” is counted as the first verse. Most other Muslims start numbering after this initial invocation. So, in a mainstream Qur’an, you’ll typically find this referenced as Qur’an 3:103. It’s the same Qur’an. There’s nothing sinister going on here; it’s just a different numbering method.
This meme quotes a Qur’anic verse—omitting the beginning and the end of that verse. I’ll let you decide if that’s cherry-picking out of context or if the excerpted portion in the meme legitimately and faithfully carries the ethos of the full verse.
Using the Ahmadi Muslim translation, here is verse 3:104 without its extremities removed. Emphasis added is mine to draw your attention to the parts that were originally left out.
And hold fast, all together, to the rope of Allah and be not divided; and remember the favour of Allah which He bestowed upon you when you were enemies and He united your hearts in love so that by His grace you became as brothers; and you where on the brink of a pit of fire and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah explain to you His commandments that you may be guided. [Qur’an 3:104; Ahmadiyya numbering]
Let’s look at the first part of the verse which was omitted from the True Islam meme:
And hold fast, all together, to the rope of Allah and be not divided;
We’re not being advised to hold fast to secularism or to the common brotherhood of humanity. The verse is making a religious appeal. An excerpt from the commentary to this verse, also published by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community states:
It will be hard to find a more disunited people than the Arabs before the Holy Prophet appeared among them, but, at the same time, human history fails to provide any example of the bond of loving brotherhood into which the Arabs were united by the noble teaching and example of their great Master.
What was the primary theme under which Muhammad united the Arabs? It was Islam. It was religion. A specific religion, with the physical presence of its founder. This almost sounds like a subliminal push by Ahmadi Muslims to promote their concept of obedience to a caliph, such as the khalifa that they follow today. How’s that for a solution, America?
In fact, even Muhammad’s rightly-guided successors couldn’t hold it together. After Muhammad’s death, the wars of apostasy to crush an uprising of apostates were led by Muhammad’s first successor, Abu Bakr. The other rightly-guided successors that followed were murdered by rivalries internal to this same “loving brotherhood” of the Arabs. If the Khulifa-Rashideen couldn’t even keep it together after Muhammad, what exactly is the Qur’anic verse offering America today?
How does uniting under a single religious identity (“the rope of Allah”) have anything to do with what the tweet suggests? Recall the tweet text accompanying the meme:
#UnitedTogether we can overcome extremism for a safer #America.
If sensible, moderate Muslims (such as the Ahmadis) and sensible non-Muslims in America treat each other with brotherly love, how exactly does that overcome the extremism of the Jihadi lone wolf radicalized over the Internet? How exactly does that stop the neo-Nazi anarchist?
No doubt, being united is a great sentiment. But how does the Qur’anic verse suggest people do this short of everyone converting to Islam? And recall, outside of Muhammad’s own life time, this verse wasn’t enough.
Now let’s look at the last part of the verse, which was also omitted from this same meme.
Thus does Allah explain to you His commandments that you may be guided.
The concept of being united in brotherhood (from this verse) is clearly scoped to people who adhere to the same ideology. Is it the ideology of a secular constitution? Is it one that clearly states that believers, non-believers and disbelievers alike are celebrated as brothers? No. You won’t find such a clear statement in the Qur’an for such an important concept as human governance—except passages that give credence to theocracies.
The message of unity in this verse is for those who follow the commandments of Allah. Who are these people, according to the Qur’an? They are the Muslims. At best, this verse offers a throwback to Muslims that they were once united.
How does this verse have any relevance to Americans in all their diversity—the majority of whom are not Muslims—to find unity and brotherhood with each other? Surely, you could achieve such through the homogenization and alignment of beliefs through religious conversion to Islam. You could also achieve it through mass conversion to any other organized religious body graced with central leadership. What exactly is being proven here with this meme?
Uniting our hearts and acting as a band of brothers—these are nice sentiments. But where does the Qur’an ever indicate that this is a brotherhood rooted in religious pluralism? Muslims are at best, advised to agree to disagree on matters of faith (“for you, your religion; for me, mine”), but can you find a statement anywhere in the Qur’an that admonishes Muslims to love disbelievers? You know, people who looked at the evidence and said, “sorry, not convincing to me”?
You won’t find this sentiment anywhere in the Qur’an.
The lesson that we can derive from this verse is that accepting a single religion (Islam in this case) unified people. The verse has no legitimate solution to offer to the challenge of combatting extremism in America (unless of course, you consider dropping religious plurality in favor of the entire country embracing one flavor of Islam as their religion).
In summary, Ahmadi Muslims have quoted part of a verse—truncated from both ends. The verse (in full, in historical context) does not even jibe with what the tweet is suggesting this verse is a solution to.
In contrast, if non-Muslims quote a verse like Qur’an 9:29 in it’s entirety, you can bet that non-Jihadi Muslims are going to scream “Foul!”, “Cherry picking!” and “Out of context!”
What Does a Fair Meme Look Like?
At the outset of this post I had indicated that I take issue with many of the memes promoted by the @muslimsforpeace and @TrueIslamUSA accounts. Why? Because the memes are often missing citations and/or misleading. Sometimes however, they do get it right (well, mostly).
Here’s an example with a citation that I believe was done well.
The verse is presented in full. The tweet text matches the meme. If you read the verses before and after this verse, the theme is consistent and supported by showcasing this verse on its own.
I do take issue with the campaign’s rejoinder, however:
Become a #MuslimAlly at TrueIslam.com if you agree.
Why are we being asked to add our stamp of approval for what is “true” Islam versus what is “fake” Islam? Are we all theologians? Historians? We can tell you what version of Islam we like more than others, but it’s rather disingenuous to ask people to weigh in on what is “true” Islam and what is “fake” Islam. The campaign conflates what people wish was true with what is actually true.
If you want less conflicted support for the campaign, you should solicit people to endorse your progressive efforts instead, with words like:
Support us Muslims in espousing these principles to other Muslims, about the kind of Islam we seek to normalize in the world. Be a progressive Muslim Ally and help us promote this more compassionate and tolerant vision of Islam; for today and for the future.
You can read more about my issues with the True Islam campaign in an earlier microblog post contrasting the campaign with the Muslim Reform Movement (MRM) and as a topic in my larger essay on Ahmadiyya Islam.
I want us all to raise the level of dialog and discourse. I want to see the best material from your perspective. Provide references for everything. Especially if it sounds too good to be true. Especially if you think it’s provocative stuff.
If I’m ever arguing a straw man, call me out on it.
It behooves none of us to focus on the weakest arguments of our ideological opponents.
Better referencing your memes (which contain many positive messages) is only going to help your aims—if in fact—the source texts of Islam can back you up.