Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism, a classmate asked 19-year-old Heraa Hashmi during an argument. It’s a question Muslims are often asked, and one that they are weary of answering again and again.
“I told him “You are completely wrong,” says Heraa, in an email interview with Hindustan Times. “We do, but our voices are suppressed. And we don’t agree with the violent ideology of those on the fringe, but it’s not our fault if the public doesn’t hear it.”
Her classmate, however, remained unconvinced and a frustrated Heraa returned home, only to hit upon the perfect way to counter prove her point: creating a 712-page Google document, compiling 5,000 entries of Muslims across the world condemning acts of terror.
Heraa, who was born in Bihar but moved to the United States with her parents as a child, studies Molecular Biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. One of the things that contributed to her single-mindedness in executing the project was the political climate in the US, where as a minority you become answerable for the actions of fringe elements in your community.
“Growing up, I had to be extra careful with each word I spoke and every action I took, because people would see it as an example of Muslims in general,” she says.
It took her three weeks of painstaking research and manual input to create the spreadsheet, without any automation or web crawlers. She dove “head first into the internet”, beginning with general Google searches and indexing everything she could find: condemnations by Muslim advocacy groups, organisations, companies to statements of religious scholars and even tweets by laypersons.
From London mayor Sadiq Khan condemning the recent Westminster terror attack to statements by Deoband scholars or actor Shah Rukh Khan condemning terror, Heraa’s list is nothing if not diverse.
“I wanted to illustrate that it’s not a specific group of Muslims that condemn terrorism, but it is a view majority of Muslims hold across the board, from the layperson to scholars who have studied the religion their entire lives,” she says.
While it helped that Heraa is a self-confessed “spreadsheet nut”, what kept her going was her determination to dismantle this argument for once and for all. After she was done, she tweeted out the list.
classmate: why dont muslims condemn things— Heraa Hashmi (@caveheraa) November 12, 2016
me: *goes home makes 712 page long list of Muslims Condemning Things with sources*
me: fight me pic.twitter.com/sDhwUMIAK1
She didn’t expect the tweet to go viral – it has been retweeted over 18,000 times till date. The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University, an effort dedicated to fighting Islamophobia, reached out to her to pool resources. And this is how, last November, one woman’s spreadsheet turned into Muslimscondemn.com. The site is now open to public, who can submit cases of Muslims denouncing terrorism as well as other less-publicised threats to the planet, such as climate change.
The initiative has received overwhelming support from people who see the site as a resource to counter false claims, but its detractors think it panders to ignorant, racist arguments by answering them.
What Heraa has assembled is an army of facts to prove how often, and how vociferously, Muslims condemn terror. But the larger point she wanted to get across to her classmate – and to the world in general -- was how unfair it was to place this burden on all Muslims.
“I see this happening every time a Muslim perpetuates a crime – Islamophobes use it as fuel to oppress Muslims...it becomes a vicious cycle,” she says . “As a minority, I represent more than just myself. We’re expected to apologize on the behalf of some lunatics.”
The perception that Muslims support violence or remain indifferent to terrorism is “very, very wrong”, says Heraa. And, so, while she waits for the world to stop asking Muslims to prove how much they hate terror, her work has ensured that the next time you get ready to battle against this old chestnut, you go in armed with a battalion of facts.