As “we the people” prepare for this year’s Fourth of July celebration, America is reeling from the isolating impacts of Covid-19, the political upheaval of the previous year, the four years of blatant race baiting, and a strong need to connect with each other.
What we the people - Americans - need now is healing thoughts and words to reconnect us. As Muslims, we always look to the Holy Quran as our guide and in Surah Al Hujurat (49) verse 13, we find the words of guidance and comfort that all of humankind needs to heed.
“O humankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” (49:13).
How can we put the Holy Quran to action? Let’s focus on the fact that Allah, The Most High, has instructed humankind that all of us people are substantial – male, female, and peoples of all different races and nationalities.
In addition, we are instructed to know each other. A dictionary definition of know is to perceive or understand as fact or truth, and to apprehend clearly and with certainty.
We must learn about all Americans, not just one group
What has been lacking in America for a number of generations is this knowledge of the other people who live amongst us. How can we be a single people or nation as Americans, without this knowledge? This lack of knowledge, and in some instances, resistance to getting to know and understand the culture and history of all Americans, has dampened the growth of unity and togetherness, and to a certain extent diluted the ‘we the people’ preamble.
For example, the media speaks of a debate about the “new critical race theory”. The truth is that teaching the full history of America is by no means new or a theory. In fact, educators of all ethnicities have made a point to expose the history of what really happened and has happened in America. Indeed, this has been part of the curriculum of every historically Black College starting with Cheyney University of Pennsylvania founded in 1837, to the Freedman schools of the 1860s that developed after slavery, to the Muslim schools of the 1930s, to the Freedom schools of the 1960s civil rights, to current initiatives by African American, Hispanic, Chinese and Native American educators to bring the full story of America to public, private, charter and homeschool cooperatives.
As many Americans reel over recently learning of the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, the mass lynching of Chinese in 1871, or the Trail of Tears of the 1850s and the forced displacement of Native Americans, these realities have long been a part of the oral traditions and realities of America’s ethnic peoples.
Americans who are not descendants of Europeans don’t question their own patriotism or sacrifice because they know that living through atrocities that have been repeatedly perpetrated upon them as people, yet still embracing the American way of life and the promises of the U.S. constitution, is stronger and more significant and substantive than any flag-waving or song-singing.
Thus Americans who do not know this history need not reject it because they are just now finding out about it. Nor do they have to internalize it as their personal own. However, there is a need for empathy.
Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, was reported to have told the people: “Allah is kind, and He loves kindness in all matters.” In addition, Americans can look to the guidance from the Holy Quran where Allah, The Most High, tells humankind in Surah Naml verse 90:
“Surely Allah enjoins the doing of justice and the doing of good (to others) and the giving to the kindred, and He forbids indecency and evil and rebellion; He admonishes you that you may be mindful” (16:90).
It is an injustice for Americans to not respect the history, contribution and experiences of other peoples in our own nation. Nor is it acceptable to grudgingly acknowledge the hurt that was perpetrated and then attempt to anesthetize or lessen the feelings or true nature of the matter at hand.
Consider the history of the right to vote
For example, the U.S. gave African-American men the right to vote in the Fifteenth Amendment, which extended voting rights to men of all races, but still excluded women. African-American men may have had the rights on paper, but they, as well as men of Chinese, Native American or Hispanic ethnic heritage (as well as women after the 19th amendment) were still denied the right to vote by state constitutions and laws, especially in the South, poll taxes, literacy tests, the “grandfather clause,” and outright intimidation.
Thus, some may argue that the U.S. did a kind thing to offer these rights to African-Americans, and ignore that it was followed by grievous injustice. Surely, again we can look to the Quran for instructive guidance as Allah, The Most High says:
“Kind speech and forgiveness is better than charity followed by injury; and Allah is Self- Sufficient, Forbearing” (2:263)
So as Americans go through the motions this Fourth of July to celebrate 245 years of independence from English rule, it is clear that we Americans, as a people, need to take time to enjoy each other in a more inclusive and significant manner. As we gingerly reconnect with each other, let us listen, let us care, and let us respect each other’s story and experience and the right for each of our American realities, the lives lived now and in the past to be honored. Then, this Fourth of July celebration will truly reflect the words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”