Feeling the pain: Muslims in America

The last time I went to Jummah, I had to keep shifting positions so I wouldn't fall asleep during the Khutbah. The Khateeb was as usual tying in his discussion of the Quran and Sunnah with the state of the Muslims in the world today. He reminded the congregation that if one part of the Muslim Ummah is in pain, the whole body should hurt and react. Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Gujrat, are suffering, and the Muslim world is sitting still. Predictably, the lecture ended with a plea for money for Palestine, and when I donated a few dollars on my way out a few minutes later, I was handed a calendar. This calendar contained pictures of dead, bleeding, crying Palestinians, and my heart jerked so hard when I saw the first picture that I ripped the page.

Why, I wondered, can't I ever go to the Masjid and hear something that is not meant to make me feel guilty for being happy, healthy, well-fed, and an American? We, as American Muslims, are admittedly very blessed to live here and enjoy the benefits of America. But, this is not something to be ashamed of. Rather, we should realize that we are in an incredible position to build bridges between the East and West. These bridges, these channels of communication, will never be created unless we pull ourselves out of our rut. This means we cannot continue blasting ourselves, our community, and more importantly, the "West", for the problems of the world. The first step towards finding a solution to the problems between the east and west is to acknowledge that there is a problem, but constant Khutbas about the west‚s desire to annihilate the Muslim world is not acknowledgement. It is simply blaming, fingers often pointed away from the source of the problem, so that even the actions taken (i.e. collecting donations for Palestinians) are not actually targeting the real problem: lack of communication, understanding, and respect between Muslims and the Western world.

Since the Muslims lost the last port in Spain, we have been bitterly resentful of the Christian world's treatment of our religion, our cultures, our people. The western world has similarly dehumanized and demonized the Muslims, and centuries of reinforcement of these ideas have polarized our societies to the extent that 9/11 happened in the name of Islam. We must all realize, however, that all this is ancient history, and that we, as American Muslims, must stride past these misconceptions and resentments to create understanding and reconciliation.

I believe the first step of this process will begin at a micro level. It will begin when all of the Muslims in this country evaluate the privileges, rights, and dignities conferred upon them by the Constitution of the United States. It will begin when we begin remembering that after a group of maniacs killed thousands of innocent Americans, the leader of the free world took off his shoes and walked into the Masjid in Washington DC. In front of billions, he stood with naked feet in our place of worship and proclaimed that Muslim Americans were not to be harassed, not to be blamed for the actions of a tiny group of maniacs. It will begin when we realize that no Muslim leader, today or in the past thousand years, would have done the same thing had Christian or Jewish or Hindu terrorists crashed planes into a Muslim city. It will begin when we remember that it was the Christians, the Jews, and the Hindus who formed human chains around our Masjids after 9/11.

Instead of blaming Americans for not caring about the suffering of Muslims, we should ask ourselves how much we care about the suffering of Americans. How many of us can honestly say that we help the poor and the homeless, the orphaned and the handicapped of our American communities? How many of us ever go to town hall meetings when they are discussing the state of our schools, the drug problems on the streets, the needs of the elderly? Compare that with how many of us hiss angrily at CNN when news of Iraq and Chechnya hits the screens. We happily contribute to help the orphans of Kashmir, yet hesitate in dropping a dollar into Salvation Army buckets during Christmas. Why should the Americans care about "our" suffering, when we never rush in to alleviate theirs?

And how long will it take before we realize that there is no "our" and "theirs"? We, the Americans, are all one people. We have the same rights and the same obligations. Until we begin seeing and caring about the suffering of our own American neighbors as well as the suffering of people across the world, we will not be fulfilling those obligations.

It is time now for Muslim Americans to seize the day, to actively knock down the biases and misconceptions blocking communication between the east and west. There are many ways this can be done, but I will name only a few. We must begin channeling the talents of our students in new directions, into fields where Muslims are severely underrepresented. We need talented Muslims to stop beating down the doors of medical schools and start becoming lawyers, journalists, philosophers, teachers, actors, and politicians. We need to reach out to the American community from all directions, and to become a vital part of American life and thinking. We must be involved in more than just discussions about foreign policy. We must attend school meetings, town hall debates, neighborhood parties, and show Americans that we are also concerned members of this community.

We must stop our parents from rejecting involvement in American society by clinging to their false belief that they will return to "their" countries after they have raised us.

We must cease treating our Masjids as our reprieve from a foreign culture, and instead open the doors of every mosque and invite in America, displaying the beauty of our religion and sharing it with this society. Also, we should remember that in the short time that Muslims have been present in America, we have accomplished marvelous things and helped both Muslims and non-Muslims through our contribution to this society. Never acknowledging these accomplishments forces us to adopt defeatist views.

I am often struck with the conviction that God has given me a life in this country, in this tumultuous time, for a reason. There is some task He wants me to accomplish. I am convinced that this task has something to do with living up to the challenge of being a responsible, active, and thoughtful Muslim American.

(Many of the thoughts expressed here have been inspired by the ideas of Samiha Husain and from the Nawawi Foundation's conference entitled "Three Decades of Islam in America 1970-2000").

Comments

My comment is the following: Whenever I visit Our Masjid I leave with one Wish which is I want to live there for good. Inside the Masjid I feel Allah is around showering me with his blessings and mercies. Don't feel guilty because Allah has gave us this bliss. Thank him and supplicate to him to keep our life and ask him to let the whole world see the beauty of Islam and his power .

Location

Why are you so hung up on this "american" muslim thing. Get over it. Ok, be proud to be an american because you have the right to vote, free speech and all that...but to feel guilty about living the good life...noone can make you feel guilty...you only do that to yourself. I read this article in disbelief...seems to me your stuck in the "american cubicle". Open your eyes and stop being ignorant by making your nationality so distinguished. now i know why allah is punishing muslims all around the world...because this is the mentality that remains so strong. i see it here in the middleast as well....some people really seperate a Jordanien from a Palestian or Eygptian from a Saudie. Now we have an american sister spreading this kind of thinking. Come on, wake up ummah!

Location

amman jordan

I found this article to be very representative of the ideal Muslim American. Some of you commentors just don't get it...once again you have brought the issue of "forgetting your roots" into the picture. Show me one place the author has said or implied to do this. Point made: she hasn't. What she HAS done is effectively reached out to those Muslims who read this, and encouraged them. In times like these, I believe that is exactly what the modern muslim needs: positive encouragement, that benefits not only ones' self, but the entire community...in this case, our American brethren. Insha Allah, the authors' wishes will come true. I also wish to see a day when we will all unite in togetherness. I strongly recommend this article get published in newspapers around the country. Very insightful!

Location

MN

I am quiet surprised that this article is so against the definition of Muslim. If any Muslim brother or sister is unfairly hurt or their lives are at risk, we should voice our protest at least. Our voices should be in favor of the oppressed not the oppressor. We have to answer in front of Allah on the day of judgment. Aren't we all striving for the here after or to fit in this society. Sister Mariam do you think America is our final destination. If to fit in is to be an American means to forget your Islamic values. If tomorrow this society wants you to close your eyes, you really want to shut yourself from the plight of thousands suffering, when every day a Muslim kid is shot or killed and you want to have happy and fun stuff spoken from pulpits. A lot of people leave their homeland and come here to work hard and improve their life because here we have better resources. Everything we have is a given by Allah not the leaders you are defending. Most of these politicians have the blood of lots and lots of muslims on their hands. You are impressed by them entering a mosque with bare feet, the same leaders (politician) have been promoting the policies which has caused the destruction of the Palestinians. They have funded the oppressors with our tax money 3 billion every year and more than that is going to them in 2003. These politicians will really love your kind of Muslims who can close their eyes and feel all happy about the facilities you have here and don't want to hear plights of others. Its too graphic or upsets my mood. Politicians want your vote. May be you are more fortunate than Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine or you should ponder that this may a test for you from Allah. I don't think Islam allows you to conform to the American values. One of the main description of a Muslim is that he or she will never be on the side of a oppressor. And praising the leaders who have supported the regimes which kill Muslims every day. There are many Americans who understand way more than your understanding of foreign policy issues. Since you are so eager to help why don't you tell your favorite leaders to divert that 3 billion to the homeless, drug issues, orphans, schools of America instead of pumping up military might of the oppressors. There are a number of Muslim Americans who contribute to all the elements of the society here. The one main reason why the Americans should worry about the suffering of Palestine, Afghanistan etc as our politicians and law makers are personally causing a lot of these things to happen. Do you understand the foreign policy or not? How dare you say all the 3000 9/11 people were Americans, they were human beings from all parts of the world... It was an international trade center. Half of those people were from foreign countries. The people who did this terror act are not muslims... Does the 9/11 suffering reduces the decades and decades of suffering in Palestine. Are we so blind that we don't see the oppression. If we are even born in America that doesn't mean that our thought process would be so engulfed in making ourselves happy all the time. This is the ways of she tan to divert us to self and puts a blindfold on the realities occurring around us.... May Allah guide all of us to understand the truth.

Location

California

Bismillah - Maybe the sister is addressing a problem in her own community but this experience should not be generalized to all Muslims in America. Many of us (particularly among the converts/reverts) have been life-long community activists, deeply involved in our neighborhoods and cities. Many of us, indigeneous and immigrant have been long involved in interfaith activities - well before 9-11. And almost everyone I know gives charity freely and openly, both during Ramadhan and throughout the year to organizations that feed, house and clothe mostly non-Muslims. It is true that we can always get more involved. But maybe this sister needs to just find a new masjid...mashaAllah.

Location

California

I think the sister's article is trying to address two separate issues and tie them into one. I agree absolutely with her statement that our Ummah prefers to blame the West for all its ills and take no blame on its own. However, the current situation in Iraq and the Afganistan are the fault of the US and the West. So too is their racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims. What she should have made as her point is that while the West holds animosity and even fear of the Islamic world, we in our Ummah should realize that only by looking within can we fix the problems that beset us rather than expecting the West to do it for us.

Location

Montreal, Canada

salam aleikom,je suis extremement choquée par les propos de la soeur mariam. je pense à mon avis que tu es totallement aveuglée et surtout manipulée par le discours de l'actuel president de "ton pays". ne sois pas si naive et essaie d' aller un peu plus moin que ce que l'on veut te montrer dans les médias americains. qu'Allah te guide et nous guide tous inchaAllah. Amine.

Location

france

As Salam alaikumI couldn't call the article poor but though there wasn't anything between poor & fair I rated it fair.Ofcourse we have to thank the Almighty Allah for the bounties we have for us in US.But it is equally bad to not think about other Muslims & Nonmuslims who are orphaned , killed , hungry , naked ,thirsty & dying due all the reasons including American policies.Do give at the salvation army & attend the meetings .But don't forget to donate for people who are hungry , naked , thirsty , orphaned and disabled . How can you neglect one truth & ask people to face the other truth?Jazakallah khair Sister in Islam

Location

US

I think the purpose of Marium Ahmed's article was not to suggest that non-Muslims are free of blame but to merely look at ourselves and our ummah first before blaming others. One of the most profound and useful advice I heard was from an Imam at Jummah prayer. He stated that one of the biggest problem facing the Muslim ummah today is that we are easy on ourselves and non-muslims and hard on our ummah. In fact, we need to be the opposite: Become harder on ourselves and the non-Muslims and easier on our brothers and sisters. Be kind to others and realize that the Muslim ummah does not go without blame for the current state of the Muslim world, which includes each one of us.

Location

New Jersey

I am disgusted with these sentiments. Where is this woman living? In outer space? The United States Government is actively pursuing a policy of annihilation of Muslims, and openly supporting the Zionist occupation forces in Palestine, and she's portraying them as victims? Well, how awful if she's offended by pictures of the real victims! That is, those that are being killed, maimed and dispossessed by these enemies of Islam! We over here in the Middle East have to live with it day and night. And we never even think of blaming the victims. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said that Muslims are gentle and merciful with each other, and tough on the enemy, and that on the Day of Judgement we'll be with those we love.The Prophet also said that someone who eats and then sleeps peacefully at night while his neighbour (or brother Muslim) is suffering is not one of us. How about THAT.All I can say is that if her sympathies are with the Americans who provided her with a nice life, then that's who she'll be with on the Day of Judgment.If she is so naive that she falls for a cheap propaganda stunt by Bush, who has openly declared a "Crusade" against us, then she needs help. Don't know where she should look for it though.The state of US schools and the drug problems and crime--the whole shebang--is the result of a community living without accepting the law of Allah and worhipping him. They do not deserve our sympathy.I was born British, but I accepted Islam, and now I will always be a Muslim first, Arab second (the nationality is conferred, according to the Prophet, by speaking the language, which I do), and British last. If someone is proud of being an American or British right now, then their Islam is in really bad shape.Something else, we should be working towards the restoration of the caliphate, not thinking of becoming lawyers to shore up the kafir system. And is this writer aware that many scholars consider that for a person to participate politically in a kafir system is to put themselves outside the bounds of Islam?I don't condone the killing of innocents for one second, but I do abhor someone who sides with those who are killing Muslims in Palestine, Afghanistan (30,000 in the first few months after 9/11 alone) and Iraq, to name only a few places.We should never be apologetic about what and who we are. And our sympathies should always be with our Muslim brothers and sisters who are being victimized--wherever they are.Patricia Skinner,Author of forthcoming book: Islam: The Facts Revealed, to be published by Windstorm Creative in 2003.

Location

Amman, Jordan

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