Alhamdu lillah, all masjids in America pray for Muslims everywhere. Muslims from America, of all backgrounds, have donated millions of dollars each year for their brothers and sisters throughout the world, whether the disaster is in Europe, Africa, or Asia. In a way, the pains of our brothers and sisters in the Ummah unite Muslims.
However, population patterns and dominant stereotypical images of the society do effect Muslim communities as well. Therefore, a Jihad against racism can't just be reserved to mere individual efforts. It has to become a solid community effort. While it will take plenty of sincerity, dedication and hard work, it's not an impossible feat.
Alhamdu lillah, Muslims are not racist. But our collective behavior sometimes does not match the ideals of Islam. This less than ideal reality of Muslim community may be one of the reasons that 41% of new Muslims in the state of Illinois leave Islam within a few years. (Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus, Muslims of Illinois, The demographic report, East West Review, Special Supplement, Summer 1997, Chicago).
Here is a proactive agenda for Muslim communities and leaders to strive for a better and improved community:
1. Does you community speak out only when Zulm (oppression) is committed against Muslims?
Since Muslims are oppressed all over the world, we should be able to feel the pains of others in the best way. Muslims constitute the largest number of refugees in the world from Afghanistan to South Africa. The words "Islam" and "Muslim" do not command respect even in the capitals of the Muslim world. Our blood flows like water be it in Chechnya or Somalia. But isn't all blood precious? All blood is of the same color.
Zulm is zulm whether the victims are Muslims or not. Muslims should stand up whenever there is a cause of justice, whether Muslims are involved in it or not. That is the Islamic responsibility. How is your Masjid when it comes to standing up for the truth and justice? How can it improve in this area?
2. Open Masjid doors for all human beings
What is the experience of persons who are visiting your Masjid, specially if they are not from your cultural background?
Some anti-discrimination hotlines in America have occasionally received calls from Muslims who felt discriminated against by some individuals in a particular Masjid. The fact that some of these Muslims are being excluded and discriminated against to such a degree indicates that serious changes have to be made.
In your next board meeting and general body meeting discuss how your Masjid can be more hospitable to new persons. Take notice if visits from people of other backgrounds to your masjids have gone down.
3. A common language bring people closer
What language is the dominant language of your Masjid and center? What language are the Juma Khutbas, Islamic lectures, Halaqas and announcements usually done in? Is there an effort made to translate the information for the benefit of those who may not understand?
If not, Imams and community activists need to work towards holding activities and lectures in a language everyone understands.
They need to remember that activities and lectures in only one language that not everyone comprehends will result in non-participation and feelings of hurt and exclusion from those who don't speak it.
As well, the youth amongst the Muslims of a particular nationality do not necessarily speak or completely understand the language of their parents. They are more comfortable with the common language of the country (i.e. English). This means that having ethnic language-specific lectures and activities will exclude the youth who one day must lead the community.
4. Hold a one-day seminar on chapter 49, verse 13 of the Quran
How many Muslims in your community know the importance of getting to know Muslims of other backgrounds?
Getting to know each other can start with a one-day seminar on 49:13 of the Quran. This verse of the Quran should be properly explained. In addition, there should be a discussion of how the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) treated his Companions who were of a different ethnic or racial group, as well as the contributions of these men and women to Islam.
Such a discussion will serve to clarify the Islamic viewpoint on the matter. In addition, it should be stated very clearly that the mosque has a policy of openness to all races and cultures, based on this verse of the Quran.
5. Talk about it in the Khutba
Think about it: in a year how many opportunities do Imams and community leaders have to speak about any topic they wish?
Juma Khutba time is crucial in which the issue of stereotyping in the community and racism in the society must be discussed since even those who are not Masjid regulars often come to Juma prayers.
6. Check your Halaqas
What language are most of your mosque's halaqas held in?
While language-specific Halaqas in mosques are more convenient for homesick new immigrants, for instance, they create natural barriers and inhospitable situations for new Muslims or a Muslim from a smaller ethnic group.
This gives Shaitan an opportunity to give that person the impression that others are not willing to mix with them because they speak a different language, while this may not necessarily be the case.
If you don't want to completely drop the language-specific Halaqas, establish one or two common language ones, so that those who don't speak the lingo of one Halaqa can acquire knowledge from another one. Let's make sure this one is taught by an experienced teacher so that those who need the most, youth and new Muslims, get the best.
7. Don't have separate weekend schools
Do you have Islamic weekend schools for kids which are segregated by language?
While having language-specific activities for adults can be tolerated, this problem should not be passed down to the younger generation through weekend schools.
In a few instances, some weekend schools have one day where they teach kids of Arabic background and another for kids of Urdu background, although both are, ironically teaching their students in English.
This kind of separation should not be encouraged. Weekend schools should operate in the common language of the community (which is usually what most of the younger kids speak and feel comfortable with anyway). Studies show that children learning, playing and working together toward common goals develop positive attitudes about one another.
8. Have competitions between mosques of different ethnic neighborhoods
Who do you laugh and play with?
It's usually those who you feel comfortable with, and sadly too often that translates into those of the same ethno-linguistic group. On a community level, if your city has a number of "ethnic" mosques where the population is predominantly of one background, leaders and activists need to organize fun activities to bring the groups together.
These can include common Eid dinners and picnics, as well as inter-Islamic center competitions on Islamic knowledge or sports.
Whatever activity you decide on, remember that the point is to create love and respect between Muslims regardless of differences in race, language, ethnicity or culture.
9. Start Muslim moms' playgroup
How can Muslim moms with small kids and some free time help foster the unity of Muslims of different backgrounds?
It all starts when you're young, so even before kids reach the age of attending Islamic weekend school or regular school, start a playgroup for Muslim moms of all backgrounds.
The playgroup will not only allow kids to mix with other Muslims their age but of different backgrounds; it will also allow moms to share parenting strategies. After all, Muslim motherhood is not a topic of concern exclusively for African-American, Caucasian, Arab or Indo-Pakistani Muslims (perhaps a seminar on this topic can be one of the group's activities).
10. Assure cultural interaction in Islamic schools
Islamic education is not just about curriculum. It's also about interactions between students. One of the saddest issues in American public schools is the racial and cultural segregation amongst students.
Don't let this happen to our Islamic schools. Teachers and principals must ensure that kids mix with those of other backgrounds in the cafeteria and in the playground not just classes.
Make it a firm rule that no child is excluded or teased on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, accent, gender, disability, or appearance.
Help children recognize instances of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. Train teachers so that they make sure that children know how to respond to such attitudes and behaviors when they see them in action. According to recent studies, encouraging children's critical thinking ability may be the best antidote to prejudice.
When a personal conflicts do occur among children, encourage your's to think about how the other person might be feeling.
11. Make an inclusive Board of Directors on your Masjid or school
Who calls the shots at the local Masjid? Who sits on its Board of Directors?
Because of the ethnically dominated neighborhoods, there are Islamic centers and mosques where people of one ethnicity alone are running the place, and board meetings, for instance, are held in their language.
Stop this phenomenon. Get Muslims of other backgrounds on the board. Apart from making it more ethnically mixed the presence of Muslims of different backgrounds will also, Insha Allah, serve to unite the community.
When Muslims from different backgrounds see that someone of a similar ethno-racial or cultural group is represented in an authoritative body, they will be more willing to participate and help with the mosque or Islamic center than if it's made up of people of only one background.
12. Organize an open house
Organize an open house by inviting all neighbors to Masjid. Make your Eid festivals open to all. Communication helps takes down barriers.
13. Hold joint board meetings with other Masjids
It always helps to share ideas and experiences. Masjids in one neighborhood may have an experience that is different from your experience. Why not once in a while have joint meetings of the decision-makers.
"Entrance to mosque (8715017534)" by Francisco Anzola - Entrance to mosque. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Entrance_to_mosque_(8715017534).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Entrance_to_mosque_(8715017534).jpg