Taking Back the Shahada

I will not apologize for displaying the Shahada during political protests.

The Shahada is the Muslim declaration that “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger”. It is the most important of the Five Pillars of Islam.

It is also the first phrase I ever heard. Upon birth, my father reached over to me, and whispered in my ears as my mother held me, as her mother held her, and as our family has done so for the past 1,000 years, reciting,

لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله

lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāh, muḥammadun rasūlu-llāh

There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God

Many Muslims choose to wear this Shahada as a political statement – as a headband across their foreheads during rallies. It is also true that, terrorist groups have hijacked the Shahada and display it as well, for instance the black flag of ISIS, or totalitarian regimes like that of Saudi Arabia.

However, I will not put my Shahada away because of this.

During the pro-Palestinian protests in Los Angeles, we had the opposing pro-Zionist side telling us that we were terrorists for wearing “the Hamas flag”. The pro-Israeli Facebook account even posted a picture of my good friend holding her Shahada flag, and called her a “Hamas-supporting terrorist waving a hateful flag of death”.

I also had two white men from the pro-Palestinian side approach my friend & I, and asked us to take off the “Hamas symbol” because it “misconstrues the message of peace we are trying to send in this conflict.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. I wear the Shahada because it is intrinsically tied to my identity. For 1400 years, my family has been Muslim, and it is this religious identity that ties me to the majority of Palestinian people, and so, we wear the Shahada to display our solidarity as One Ummah. I wear it proudly, above my eyes, to declare that it is through the lens of this faith that I view this world and its politics, as I have experienced them as a Muslim woman.

The Star of David has been displayed on tanks that bulldoze homes and build illegal settlements in Palestine. As a symbol, it is very likely that it has stirred negative emotions in the hearts of Palestinians. However, I will not question the opposing pro-Zionist side on why they chose to adorn the Israeli flag. Because I will not undermine how they choose to wear their identity, and I cannot interrogate them and their affinity for a religious or political symbol.

The cross was proudly held by Spanish conquistadors who did not think twice in maiming, raping, and pillaging scores of Native Americans during the inception of the New World. Jews and Muslims were asked to convert or leave during the Spanish Inquisition, and it was the cross, paired together with a sword that adorned the Seal for the Tribunal in Spain. But I don’t go around asking everyone to take off their cross necklaces.

Do I have to add a disclaimer as I wear my religious identity? Must I state that I am against the killing of innocent civilians when I wear a Shahada on my head? Maybe. Maybe this is the world we live in now. But no, I will not remove it for your comfort. I will not take it off because you ask, or because of its association with a group who has made my religious practice difficult.

I am taking back the Shahada, from radical terrorist organizations, from the media who paints all Muslims with the same brush, and from individuals who will not accept me for who I am. I am owning this symbol, I am addressing its misappropriation, and I am unapologetically me.

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2 Responses to Taking Back the Shahada

  1. My dear Madinah,

    As a jourmalist and editor from India, I salute U for your courage and for your honesty in reclaiming the symbols and signs that identify your beliefs and values. U have a right to do so and I respect U for that decision.

    Merely because others (terrorists, etc) have decided to use the same symbols & signs does not compel U to abandon them. Keep to your faith and hold dear what U feel is essential to your identity.

    *****

    As a journalist & editor, I am part of the international struggle of sincere & honest journalists to reclaim journalism from being hijacked by national governments and the corporate world. Resisting the lies & fabrications spread by agencies like the BBC & CNN has been one of my constant struggles.

    When I was in England during the early 90s, I was struck by a women’s movement called “Reclaim the Night”. In the writings of Noam Chomsky U will discover many such & similar examples.

    All across the world, organisations like the World Social Forum, opposed to the World Economic Forum (at Davos), and who believe that “Another world is possible!” are struggling to reclaim the word “reform” that has been hijacked by the free-marketeers, who are forcing liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation down the throats of common people. See what is happening in Greece.

    Faraway in India, I hold U close to my heart, my dear Madinah: I stand hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder with U in this your daily & difficult struggle.

    Stick to your beliefs & values. Have no fear.

    Peace and love,
    – Joseph M. Pinto, Pune, India.

    • dinajaan@hotmail.com

      Joseph –

      Thank you so much for your kind words of solidarity and love. Sending you the same. The only change that can be made is from within, so this is why the Muslim community MUST take back our symbols and reshape them into the symbols of unity they once represented!

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