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

A very well written article and one that hits' some of the pain-points that a segment of the Muslims population is struggling with. I see a greater difference between the immigrants and the next generation as well as the indigneous Muslims. As the Sister points out, truly Allah has blessed us with so many blessings, which we need to recognize and use in positive ways,

Location

milpitas, CA

First of all I would like to say I am very disappointed in the comments that were made in this article. I often wonder why the muslims are so scattered. This article proves to me once again that muslims are not on the right path. Have you read the Quran? Do you know about the Prophet Mohammad(pbuh)? Are you blind? I am a muslim and I am very proud of it, not an American, Indonesion, African, Palestinian, Jordanian BUT A MUSLIM!!!!!!!!!!!!! What are you talking about when you say that the West is not oppressing the muslims. We are oppressed, murdered, mutilated, and made to seem like all muslims are terrorist. And about the 9/11 incident, it was a very horrific scene and I was saddened by it. The people who done this were wrong and were called terrorist but when the Oklahoma City bombing happened,and of course muslims terrorists were blamed, but then let off the hook, they found out it was their own people who did it. Did they call them Christian Terrorists or even terrorist. NO!!!So, please dont give lectures on how we should act in America. That is the last thing I would expect to read about when thousands of innocent Iraqi's are being bombed to death and Palestians being mutilated by the Presidents best friends, Israel. Give to Salvation Army, give to the poor in America, help the society????? Wake up! There are thousands of innocent people being bombed and you are talking about making peace with the country who is invading a muslim country so that they can steal the oil. You are sadly mistaken if you think a muslim will ever be welcomed by the American society. They went there to make peace, right? Where is the peace, where is it. I am just so angry that muslims, like yourself,are denying what is really happening in the world. Next time you write an article please take a glimpse at the Quran and then make the right decision. Allah is our judge and the only one that will save the muslim ummah from all this turmoil. I pray that Allah opens your eyes and your heart before your ideas take you to the wrong path.

Location

Amman, Jordan

salam alaykum. it is a good article with important information for muslims in the usa to remember and act upon. however, i feel that perhaps you do not realize that many muslims who live in the usa are participating in the american life, giving to charity (american and otherwise), and do not blame americans. americans are like other people from other nations, many are great, some arent and a few dont care. i think when we "hiss at cnn" we are upset over the properganda and halftruths being thrown around. when we protest or talk about bad americans, we are talking against policies that the people must enforce anyway. so when we point fingers, let us be accurate and blame the policy or the individual, not all americans because ms. ahmed is right in that we are all americans and if we blame americans, we are essentially blaming ourselves. wa salaam.

Location

usa

Subhan'Allah sister - you are so right. You've reminded me of a khutba i heard recently at university, during our islam awareness week. We had spent the whole week talking to non-muslims, giving da'wah, building bridges ... and then during juma'a - instead of enjoying an inspiring khutba - we were collectively ridiculed and dehumanised, told that we never do anything to help Islam or the Muslims and that we're pretty much a waste of space. If this had been the way of the Prophet (pbuh), Islam would never have reached the status that it did. Not only that but three Muslims had just accepted Islam during this week, one of whom was at that moment attending his first ever juma'a...Muslims must learn to be more positive, to appreciate the hard work that some are already putting in, and realise that more of the same will insha'Allah get us to where we want to be , rather than being so negative and quick to blame others for our own short-comings.Allah knows best.

Location

UK

This was inspriring, jazzak Allah. I am a new muslim alhamdu lillah. I often wonder why the people of this glorious religion seem to stay in the shadows. Is it fear that keeps us from doing all the things that this article suggests? It is sad and frustrating to know that there is such a misunderstanding about Islam. Insha' Allah we can become united and be true representatives of Allah's chosen religion.

Location

Seattle, WA

I wish every muslim thought this way and wewould be in a different situation alltogether.One problem with us is that we go to listen toKhutba and never protest(or not allowed) to what we hear day after day, same hatred and no vision.Muslim world or clerics should have taken standagainst what was happening in Afganistan underTaliban in the name of Islam, long before. To me,anything goes as long as you attach Islam with itand no muslims dare to protest. I saw in the past Muslim ruler killing muslim citizens in the name of preserving Islam and no Islamic group or country protested and came in to rescue.Moderate muslims only write articles and give interviews but time has come for the moderates totake the lead. Otherwise, we'll see worsening situation here and everywhere.We should start give and take approach with otherreligion and culture. Claiming always that ours is the best will not get us anywhere.

Location

US

Thank you for reminding us of our duties to the host nation...

Location

Austin,TX

It's hard to believe that Sister Mariam is a Muslim. It seems she is more interested in fitting into American society than trying to be a real part of the Muslim Ummah. It's too bad that she feels bad about the fact that she is well provided for while her Muslim brothers and sisters are suffering throughout the world, but not because she feels sorry for them as much as she feels sorry that others make her feel guilty for living the good life--as Muslims, we should live in this life as strangers, not to do everything we can to fit into an unbeliever's world. Our allegiance as Muslims is to "La illaha illallah, Muhammedur Rasoolillah." Until Muslims forget about where they were born or where they were raised and stop being patriotic to any one nation other than Allah's nation, there will never be unity. Why must Muslims degrade themselves and feel less proud of being who they are? We have been given the perfect religion with the perfect laws and guidelines from our Creator and Allah is the turner of hearts, not Mariam Ahmed!

Location

Amman Jordan

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