Muslims and their relationship to Islam (their religion) and their umma (their religious community) is a sensitive subject. On Dec. 17, Dr. Drew did a show that he called “Muslims in America.” It was a kind gesture. He spent the hour engaging an all-Muslim audience with his panel of guests on stage. But so much still felt unresolved by the end. It still feels like a complicated episode to write about even days after its airing. With a breath of time to think things over, it seems it was Dr. Drew and his after-show Muslim guest that seemed to make the most sense of anyone.
Dr. Drew made a good point when he said Muslims have a PR problem. This is absolutely true. Muslims have become associated with terrorism, a Medieval perception of sharia, and moral bankruptcy. So why can’t Muslims get it together and fix their collective image as a group?
Perhaps it’s because of what one audience member spoke about: discrimination. A young, beautiful black woman took the stage, announced that Muslims discriminate against each other, and made it clear that discrimination interferes with their ability to fix their image as a group. She claimed that when she walked into the studio, there were people who didn’t even believe she is a Muslim. Was it because she’s black? Was it because she is clearly a nine in skinny jeans and a cute top? Whatever it was, there were Muslims who thought she didn’t fit in with their image.
Another issue is that Muslims on the show didn’t seem to understand that public image can be controlled with a good PR team. They seemed entrenched in the idea that there was nothing more they could do. Some Muslims blamed the media for not giving them favorable coverage that would allow them to get their message of peace out to the rest of the public. Dr. Drew pointed out that their message not being heard is a sign of not having an adequate PR team. An audience member then cited CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) as the equivalent of a Muslim PR team. This was supposed to dispel any notion that Muslims aren’t running damage control and prove that the awful public image of Muslims is all the fault of the media. However, doesn’t that argument still come full circle? Once again, we end up at Dr. Drew’s point: good PR is lacking. Isn’t the fact that CAIR is failing so horribly to protect Islam’s image in America a sign that they aren’t enough? More needs to be done to curb Islamophobia.
The reality is that CAIR isn’t even a very good example of an organization protecting the image of Islam and Muslims. Besides the fact that they’ve had some bad PR themselves (accusations of ties to terrorist groups), we forget that they are not a religious organization. They are a civil rights group. CAIR is not a body of scholars that can offer direction to the Muslim community on religious matters. They cannot speak about Islam as a group of theologians would. CAIR markets itself as an advocacy group for Muslim rights; it’s not an advocacy group for the religion of Islam itself.
And that issue of not having a vocal body of scholars speaking out seems to be the crux of the matter. There is no Muslim version of the Vatican here in the USA. There is no eloquent body of trained Muslim scholars who are organizing themselves and bringing attention to what the message of Islam is really all about.
What Dr. Drew suggested is that Muslims need their own Donald Trump. He is dead wrong about this. Muslims don’t need a Donald Trump. Muslims need a Martin Luther King Jr. MLK Jr. had it all. He was an activist and a Baptist minister with seminary training. That’s what made him so special. He wielded the power of religion like it was a weapon to defeat racists. With his religious training, MLK Jr. could cut down the opposition with the power of his own words and scripture.
That’s why the best audience speaker on Dr. Drew’s show was the one who actually understands sharia and is getting his PhD in Islamic studies at a university. During the after show (or even the actual show), he was the only one who could explain the beauty of sharia law and not paint it as something out of a horror movie. He was the only one who could explain that being modest is sharia; being kind is sharia; loving others is sharia; and even a just war (violent jihad) is sharia. Fighting ISIS to save the people they are raping, torturing, and murdering is sharia.
The media has skewered sharia into something unrecognizable, and there hasn’t been enough effort on the part of Muslims to curb it. All practicing Muslims, whether they want to admit it or not, are practicing sharia. An evolving sharia (as it has always been), wielded by scholars, will save the image of Islam in America. Islam is a package deal and it includes sharia. Once the best of Islam’s scholars in America come forward and preach the beauty of Islam, and even its most controversial elements, then Muslims in America will have found their real PR team.