Setting the Record Straight on Islam: Young Muslim Replies to Controversial Utica Phoenix Article

by Hana Selimovic/Guest

As an American-Muslim, it is easy to say that I am constantly in a battle with the general public about its personal views and stances on Islam. Just as my religion preaches, however, I try to teach more than I try to argue. There were high hopes for the Utica Phoenix. It rose up as an alternative paper at a time of extreme frustration with the mainstream media. However, after reading its recent article, “Muslims in America: A Question of Peace”, I was left with the same frustrations and disappointment that I experienced on a daily basis with the news channels and papers I had been reading for years. What surprised me even more is that the author, Cassandra Harris-Lockwood, is the editor of the paper.

From only the third paragraph, Harris-Lockwood proves that the following read will be full of xenophobia. She states that she was “warned of my [sic] welfare and the danger of talking about Islam and possibly offending a Muslim who may feel it necessary to defend, even a perceived slight, with a violent and dangerous response.” This personally upset me.

I, or any other true Islamic follower, am not someone who will make death threats to any one person whose opinion differs from my own when it comes to religion. As a matter of fact, when faced with people who have made crude remarks and often mocked me about my hijab during Ramadan, our holy month of fasting, I have always attempted to explain with kindness rather than retaliate in the same insulting attitude. To quote the Qur’an that Mrs. Harris-Lockwood has misinterpreted several times in her article: “Repel (the evil) with one which is better; then verily he between whom and you there was enmity (will become) as though he was a close friend,” Surah al Fussilat, verse 34.

This particular verse is one of many that calls for a person’s tolerance and good disposition when faced with another’s acts of evil. Knowing that this statement was generalized, she goes on to write about the many ways the paper supports the local Muslim community. An example of this overwhelming support is reminding the reader that their Board of Directors has a token Muslim member on it. She continues to tell us how she has adopted a 14-year-old Muslim boy and “raised him as our [sic] son.” Aside from admitting that she knows and gets along with many Muslims, she continues on to slander Islam in the name of journalism.

The next few paragraphs consist of the same motive: to convince those reading of the do-goodness and sympathy the paper and Harris-Lockwood herself have toward Islam. After that, hypocrisy follows. The article states how the author has two major problems with Islam; one of them being the treatment toward its women. Claims that there is no “enclave” or “superstructure” of feminism for Islamic women ensue. Let’s remember that the Qur’an was written roughly in the year 632. Harris-Lockwood does mention that she was raised Catholic so, for the sake of inclusion, let’s also remember that the earliest collections of writings in the Bible were set out around 1400 BC.

In a time when women were treated like slaves, the Qur’an gave them more rights than they had ever been given. Women are still struggling to have equal rights with men and we are in the year 2016. I, too, struggle with feminism in Islam, but we have to remember that the social norms in reference to the treatment of women during the time of the compilation of any of the holy texts were easily configured to the demands that men felt it was standard to put upon them. To infer that this is a problem in Islam is to deduct the fact that women in most major religions face the same problems.

Speaking directly to Harris-Lockwood, I am sure that you have read the Bible. I could just as easily quote Timothy 2:11-15: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

With this, I can paint a picture of female oppression in all of Catholicism. It’s a good thing that one verse does not an entire group of followers’ stances on women’s rights in a religion make, right?

The author’s over-generalization doesn’t stop there. One of Harris-Lockwood’s friends, coincidentally enough, an Imam had something to say about the apparently non-existent Muslim condemnation of 9/11. He was quoted as saying, “We don’t do that.” To which Harris-Lockwood replied, “Well, you should. This doesn’t look good for Muslims. Those guys are making your whole religion look bad.” Thank you for your concern, Miss Harris-Lockwood, but you seem to have managed doing a fine job at making Islam look bad with one single article.

I had to read and reread the statement where the author wrote that there was “no immediate and coordinated response by the Muslim Community condemning the action.” It is still difficult for me to grasp that the editor of an entire paper truly is ignorant of the overwhelming amount of Imams, shaikhs, scholars, Muslim politicians, Islamist groups and common Muslim men, women and children who have openly expressed their sadness and condolences to the tragic events that occurred.

To quote Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the Sunna and Sira Council in Quatar, “Our hearts bleed for the attacks that has targeted the World Trade Center…Islam, the religion of tolerance, holds the human soul in high esteem, and considers the attack against innocent human beings a grave sin, this is backed by the Qur’anic verse which reads: “Whosoever kills a human being [as punishment] for [crimes] other than manslaughter or [sowing] corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind” al-Maidah, verse 32.

Her quotations of the couple of verses in Surah al-Baqarah failed to include the words “until they fight you there” and “if they fight you.” Conveniently, she also skipped the verse in between the two she quoted, same Surah, verse 192, that states, “And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” As a matter of fact, Allah is referred to as “Al Raheem,” meaning the All Merciful, in the Quran 114 times. How is that for violent?

It is still difficult for me to grasp that the editor of an entire paper truly is ignorant of the overwhelming amount of Imams, shaikhs, scholars, Muslim politicians, Islamist groups and common Muslim men, women and children who have openly expressed their sadness and condolences to the tragic events that occurred.

In a few more paragraphs down, Harris Lockwood quotes the Qur’an as stating instructions for Muslims to only associate with other Muslims and for them to “slay” any who oppose Islam. Once again, Harris-Lockwood cherry-picks the verses that she can twist to her liking the easiest. The two verses that follow state as such: “Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (Of peace), or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If God had please, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (guarantees of) peace, then God hath opened no way for you (to war against them)” Surah an-Nisaa, verses 90-92. She, then, speaks on behalf of 1.6 billion Muslims when she says that we “stay to ourselves.” She speaks from personal experience, saying that though her husband and her have attended numerous local Eids, worked with Muslims and had been invited directly into their homes, those “friendships have never taken off in a purely social manner.” Although friendships are subject to perception, it would seem as though Harris-Lockwood feels comfortable enough to use the word. I am not sure if she meant to contradict herself or if it just came on by accident.

I had many reservations about writing this response. Although my mind was made up about writing Cassandra Harris-Lockwood herself and describing my genuine hurt over the inferiority that she made me feel through her fixated attack on Islam as an entire religion, I did not want to give the Utica Phoenix the attention it did not deserve. It has been eight days since the article was put out and reading it a few times over, I’ve detected major inconsistencies in her research and logic. The feeling that Cassandra Harris-Lockwood wrote this in provocation has crept into my mind and unfortunately, I haven’t been able to shake it.

There have been a ridiculous number of incidents in history in which a small handful of individuals have been mistaken as a representation of a much bigger picture and it’s with a heavy heart that I admit that this is the case with Islam today. Unfortunately, there are those whose minds have already been made up, those who refuse to listen to an alternative perspective. These are the same people who will never get to understand the beauty and goodness that Islam can invoke. In the very first paragraph of her article, Cassandra Harris-Lockwood speaks of the freedom of religion but is it really free? Can I ever, as a young follower of Islam, feel comfortable to practice in peace?

Hana Selimovic is a graduate of T.R. Proctor High School (’12) in Utica and currently attends Herkimer County Community College where she is pursuing a degree in nursing.


1 reply »

  1. Cassandra Harris Lockwood states that though her husband and her have attended numerous local Eids, worked with Muslims and had been invited directly into their homes, those “friendships have never taken off in a purely social manner.”

    Maybe she should ask her husband about his father’s good friend, a former president of the faxton hospital medical staff in the late 70s and 80s, who cared for his father during his illness and dying days, even though he wasn’t his doctor, just a good friend. Maybe they never knew he was a muslim, just a good human being. I distinctly remember my fathers concern during those days of my childhood. Now the daughter in law insults the memory of her father in law with her prejudice and ignorance.


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