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

I commend the author enthusiastically for the sentiments expressed.As a non-Muslim, I have one concern, and it's highlighted by the content of Santrisi's post: As much as I welcome wholeheartedly Muslims of genuine good will like Mariam, when the faithful point to the words and deeds of Muhammad, will they find support for Mariam's perspective or Lori's? And of those Muslims who agree with Santrisi, how many will use her good-will effort at reaching out, integrating, and reassuring non-Muslims to instead infiltrate, propagandize, and undermine, as do groups like CAIR, ISNA, and the MSA? How can a non-Muslim distinguish between someone like Mariam and a jihadist who is practicing taqiyya?Unless Muslims deal forthrightly with the texts requiring using any means necessary -- including violence -- to make the world Islam and denounce publicly, vigorously, and repeatedly jihad and shari'a, non-Muslims cannot and will not trust or accept them.

Location

Constantinople

A'Salaam,Sister this article was very appealing to me, it made me think very differently from what I usually think about the whole situation. I would like to know who Samiha Husain is? Where can I read her side, and if she has e-mail to discuss this further.Thank you,Z

Location

Tampa, FLORIDA

I think everyone is missing the point by a mile. Admittedly, the sister who wrote the article does seem to have a few facts of Islamic history wrong, but her heart's in the right place. This article is not about rejecting the Ummah or de-facing Muslims or belittling muslim brothers and sisters around the world's suffering, or anything of the sort. It's about changing the world for the better starting WITH OURSELVES and our communities. How can you sit there in your living rooms spitting at Bush/Blair/Saddam,etc... when you don't even change your atheist friend's attitude to Islam? How many of you write to a national newspaper, forcing them to detract anti-Islamic propaganda in their articles? Why should it matter whether your five dollars goes to Oxfam or to MuslimAid?! In the end, it's still starving children or homeless refugees that get the food and water! Is it 'Islamic' to refuse a starving child in Africa who has no knowledge of religious prejudices, but send something to a different child in Afghanistan?! Listen to yourselves! What is all this self-righteous bitterness you are spewing? In the end, isn't Allah(swt) Omnipotent and all Merciful?! Who are YOU to condemn HIS creations and what He wills?! Why are you all so frightened of letting non-muslims in on our communities and our lives, what is wrong with integrating with your non-muslim community; it is the only way Islam will spread throught the world (insha'allah). Excluding/hating and fearing the 'western' community is not the answer, because we are, whether you like it or not, a part of it. The Prophet (pbuh) would never have done such a thing.

Location

England, UK

Salaam Alaikum, dear brothers and sisters.It seems that we need to find a plan/solution that we can all (or mostly all) agree on. Yes, we should be grateful for what we have in America, as we do have relative freedom to practice Islam. At the same time, for those who have the privelege of voting, they might as well exercise their right and vote for someone like Ralph Nader for President. I suppose we should try to stop blaming and start taking action. Every little bit helps. Maybe sponsor an orphan (www.kind-hearts.org), out of the goodness of your heart -- because you want to, not because you have to. Also, perhaps we shouldn't totally feel guilty about everything, but we can't stop caring. No matter what country we live in, other Muslims are still part of our family. I guess this goes back to taking action, like getting involved in "Liberate Palestine" protests or writing articles about Muslim suffering for US publications. And, for all of us living in the West, we should be good Muslims outwardly and set an example for everyone. Anyway, let's try to combine different strategies to help solve our problems constructively with little dispute.

Location

It was a wonderful article. To all your detractors--there are six million Muslims in America; more than most Arab countries. This IS becoming a Muslim country, and insha'llah, there are many more open-minded people here who will embrace Islam. In Europe or Asia, people are very attached to their roots and it is much harder for them to embrace Islam, but the American identity has not yet been fully established, and I feel many millions of Americans are still searching for the truth that Islam will one day give to them. Americans are, by and large, more open minded about making such changes for themselves than many around the world. Compare the number of people who reverted in America to all who reverted in Europe last year...I guarantee you that the number was greater here. Look at all those who have reverted in America and the wonderful influence they have had on Muslims worldwide...Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Michael Wolfe just to name three. I believe Allah (swt) has allowed six million Muslims to wind up in America for a reason...let us not treat the Americans just as kuffar who are not worth our time, energy, and respect but as respected neighbors who will one day become Muslim through our efforts. THIS is how the faith spreads, brothers and sisters.Assalaamu aleykum.

Location

Washington D.C.

Salaams,Your article express some very interesting point, however I disagree with your conclusion. As a Muslim in America we do have a responsibility to help the poor, etc. By the best way we can help them is not by supporting christian organization, but building our own. There are several MUSLIM organizations that feed the needy in AMERICA, in reality the best way we can help anyone in America is by giving them the message of Islam and a christian organization will not. Additionally, Praising the "President of the Freeworld" for going to a Masjid and giving a political speech to muslim is a joke, because now he is dropping bombs on women and children in Iraq, and Afghanistan. If you for a second believe that no muslim in the last 1000 years would have done the same is misguided. If you study bios of Muslims leaders you will see there character was a thousand times better than the "leader of the free world."ISLAMI feel bad about Living in America and my famil has been here for generations, I have no other country to claim, by my focus is to help my people, the Muslims, first.

Location

DC

Salaam Alaikum, I am totally ashamed at you sister for calling yourself a Muslim, all you care about is yourself - how selfish? I will gladly give you back double the amount of your measly dollars you give to the Masjid. If we do not support our brothers and sisters who will. I wonder what you give as Zakat - the world will probebly hear about this as well. I agree we are blessed to live here and eat stake (well-fed) dinners when our less fortunate brothers and sisters eat crumbs. I pray Allah that he take these scales from your eyes and you see the real world out there. Your heart and soul was not in the Jummah, your thoughts were straying about other material things. We do help the poor and homeless and contributed generously to the United Way and Salvation Army. You probably are not doing enough in this life to feel the inner peace within yourself. You have a lot to learn about love which you do not have deep within your little heart.

Location

New York

Alsalamu Alaikum, I am surprised to see such an ignorant sister who really doesn't care about anything but her nationality. As our prophet (saw)said,"Whoever doesn't care about Muslims' matter, he is not one of them". Your disapproval of hearing about what is happening in other suffering Muslims' countries -so that you can enjoy your wealthy life in America- is a sign of total careless about other Muslims..Meanwhile, thinking of what all non-Muslims do as an inoccent helping for us proves how ignorant you are about what is realy happing...OPEN your eyes and READ the history as things don't usually are what they seem to be...

Location

Canada

salaam alaikum, I was totally taken back by your careless attitude. There are "other" muslims around the world that would love to be able to enter a masjud without being shot! Allah (swt) told us to care for our fellow brothers and sisters. What happen in 9/11 was terrible, but think about Iraq and other muslims who are getting it every day. When will we think of others before ourselves! You have alot to learn about compassion for fellow muslims.

Location

abu dhabi, UAE

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