Silent Once Again: Muslims in America
by Abdul Malik Mujahid
Here is a community of more than six million Muslims, which is one of the most educated and professional communities of Muslims anywhere. But it is silent when it comes to America's policies in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America. We have not encountered so far any statement by any Muslim political group, a representative Muslim organization or by any Muslim leader on this topic.
It was only a few months ago that former Congressman Paul Findlay released his book "Silent No More" which outlines how American Muslims are participating in society and have made significant headway in the political arena. Paul Findlay is the author of the bestseller "They Dare to Speak Out" which talks about those Americans who have spoken against American policies on Israel and have suffered as a result.
"Don't hit me, I did not do it" seems to be the mantra as most Muslims and their leadership keep a low profile in America. This is natural considering there are literally hundreds of cases of abuse of Muslims and Sikhs in each city. Muslims have been threatened, although not more than a hundred have reportedly been hurt physically.
This September began with the release of the Eid Stamp by the US Post Office at the ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) conference in Chicago. The stamp carries beautiful calligraphy of the Eid greeting "Eid Mubarak". But now, as popular radio talkshow host Michael Savage twisted it, the stamp is being read backward to spell "die" instead of "eid." The vocabulary of hate is becoming creative as a congressman who later apologized coined a new term, "diaper head", for Muslims.
Police and other law enforcement officers are mostly performing their duties to protect the Muslim community. "Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior." He also addressed the issue of Muslim women's Hijabs being snatched off in public places by saying; "Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes. Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America. That's not the America I know. That's not the America I value." President Bush made these widely reported remarks while visiting the Islamic Center of Washington DC.
It is not just the political leaders and law enforcement people who are supporting Muslims. Almost all faith groups are speaking out. A group of non-Muslim women donned hijab for a day to show their solidarity with Muslim women who wear Hijab. One Muslim organization reported receiving three emails of support by non-Muslims against each email of hate. The Religion Newswriters Association has voted asking all its members not to use the phrases like Islamic terrorists "which associate an entire religion with the action of a few."
The immediate effect this regime of hate is imposing upon the Muslim community is fear. The Muslim leaders who led the campaign for Muslims to vote for Bush lsat year were waiting for him in Washington DC to discuss the growing disenchantment of Muslims with the Bush presidency on the morning of September 11, when the terrorism kept the president away from Washington DC. Later on, the meeting did take place but in a very different context. Instead of discussing the policies of the President, they were looking for assurances for the security of Muslims in America.
Muslims constitute the largest number of refugees in the world. Muslims are the number one victims of violence, war, and terrorism in the world. These refugees are essentially living off formal and informal Islamic charity, a bit of Christian charity and foreign aid. The irony is that instead of being recognized as victims of world politics, they are considered a disruption in an otherwise calm and content world. In the fast-moving arena of images, it is no secret that the Muslim image is not good. Although Muslims in America donate more than $50 million a year to help these Muslim victims, they do not do anything to make their case. Isn't it sad that while there are dozens of books depicting Muslims wrongly there is no book written by an American Muslim depicting the plight of Muslims around the world, much less discussing solutions or influencing US policies for it?
Considering that Muslims are the number one victims of violence, Muslims in America should be the experts on terrorism guiding America towards a terrorism-free world. They can tell America why it has became isolated in the world, as it was during the United Nation's Conference on Racism in Durban only weeks before terrorist attack. They must explain what was repelling the world away from America.
At this moment, the entire world seems in sympathy with America as millions around the globe express horror about this disastrously unique terrorist event. Below the surface of sympathy, however, there are questions about US foreign policy. America can either maintain this newly gained moral strength by listening to these questions, using its Muslims to help it understand the underlying currents, or it may lose all this moral strength in a day if it acts injudiciously in revenge. Unfortunately no one is debating policies in today's patriotic, flag-carrying America. But this will change. Muslims have a unique interest in generating this debate. They will find plenty of allies in society as well if they allocate enough resources to it. One Muslim started a petition for peace and within days about 200,000 Americans signed that without much publicity.
Afghanistan is a troubled country. There is nothing there to bomb except its mountains and people. The Taliban's soldiers look no different than other Afghans. This author takes exception to Taliban's ideology and understanding of Islam, but that should not be used as an excuse to bomb them while we know that the Soviet and American bombings in the past have neither brought any desired results nor any change in their worldview. More than 83% of American Muslims, according to an unscientific survey, support diplomacy verses attacking Afghanistan, but no Muslim leader or organization is articulating this for the community. Why can't Muslims in the US say this?
At the same time American Muslims can tell the Muslim world that America is much more than its foreign policy and Hollywood. The Muslim world does have as distorted a view of America as Americans have of Islam. How many Muslims in the world know that there are more Christians in America going to Churches on Sunday then there are Muslims attending Friday prayers in Pakistan. Contrary to popular belief more than half of the graduates of high schools in America do not indulge in sex and most women in America don't drink. There are Christians who have been thrown into prison for civil disobedience opposing US foreign policy. Kathy Kelly and her group Voices in the Wilderness have done more against sanctions on Iraq than any Muslim country. This is a thinking nation with a capacity for change.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was about saving people not destroying people. He did not hate even his worse enemies. The desire to save humanity is a duty of every Muslim.
It is not going to be an easy task for a community whose leadership is largely based on volunteers. It needs to develop its institutions to deal with the challenges that it is fully capable of meeting. Muslims in America need writers, researchers, media experts, managers and organizers. More full-time professionals are needed who can use volunteer resources efficiently. Islam in America needs to work nine-to-five on weekdays when the rest of America works instead of just on weekends. Our Masjids need to be a hub of neighborhood activities instead of a mysterious island of isolation. The cost of running one Masjid per city can pretty much pay for the heightened needs of the community.
Shaving a beard and taking off Hijab will not do. Even if you are as white as a Bosnian and as much engaged in everything un-Islamic as Kosovar were, you will still not be spared by the ignorant. So why not relate to people around you as Muslims, communicate, discuss, and debate the policies, as citizens ought to be doing.
Muslims in America are a unique asset for world peace. They should tell America what Muslims feel and tell Muslims how America sees things. They can eventually become a trusted bridge over this widening gap.
The choices of remaining silent for the fear of being considered un-patriotic are bound to take the community downward risking the loss of all the gains made so far by Muslims in America. The Muslims in this country have come long way. It cannot stop now. Silence has not saved anyone.