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Walking the Prophetic Walk for a Pathway to Citizenship Shakeel Syed

Over the last 30 years, I have worked on many different social justice issues as a central passion in my life. This call to work for social justice is deeply rooted in my faith as a Muslim, and it is this call I have tried to serve since 2005 as the executive director of the Shura Council of Southern California, which is an umbrella association of Mosques and Muslim organizations serving Muslims living in Southern California and society at large.

For more than a millennium, my faith has taught that “when you see a wrong, right it.”

This mandate is without an option for neutrality, let alone apathy.  The choices to right the wrong includes, “action,” “speech” or “empathy,” in that order. Action is considered to be the strongest demonstration of faith while empathy, though admirable is considered as the weakest expression of the faithful.  A central part of our history as Muslims is the migration of the Prophet Muhammad, where he was forced to leave his home and family to seek freedom, justice and peace for all. These teachings, urging me to right wrongs with action and to seek peace by leaving behind home and homeland give me incredible peace as a Muslim.

Central to this call to work for social justice has been my own journey as an immigrant to the United States. I came from India in 1985 and ever since, by watching the journeys of my friends and family members, and through my work in the interfaith community, I have seen the ways that our current immigration system tears families apart. This is especially true for the 11 million aspiring Americans living in this country whose status is uncertain –people of diverse national origin and religious backgrounds, who are often exploited by corporations and often the law with very little if any recourse. They are hardworking people who are forced to live in constant fear of being separated from their families.

For almost two decades, our nation’s indifference toward these undocumented Americans who are freely exploited from the valleys of California to the shores of Maine has left me agitated, unable to be at peace. During these last 20 years, the poor and those without legal status have become poorer and more powerless while the rich have become richer and more indifferent. I saw this wrong; I struggled with how to right it. Peace eluded me. Indeed I have also seen how the policies of this countries broken immigration system have also affected the Muslim community unfairly, as was recently revealed in an ACLU report which exposed the previously unknown national security program known as the “Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program,” where the government purposely and illegally excludes many applicants from Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities from these opportunities by delaying and denying their applications without authority.

My agitation as a naturalized United States citizen and as a person of faith, I believe now morally binds me to the more than 11 million mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons of myriad faiths and diverse traditions who are aspiring Americans and all those who suffer from unjust immigration policies. Following the legacy and example of the Prophet Muhammad, I decided that I too must become a Pilgrim for the sake of freedom I decided to join the Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship and walk 111 miles in solidarity with and dignity for the 11 million aspiring Americans yearning for full citizenship and enfranchisement in our great nation.

I walked with my fellow Pilgrims, learned their stories, and shared mine with them.  We are all immigrants, all Americans. Together, we walked, prayed and broke bread. We sang and sometimes, we wept. But for the 10 days on the Pilgrim for a Pathway to Citizenship, rain or shine, we walked as one—walking for respect and dignity, demanding equality and fair treatment.

Walking is prophetic. On this journey it was my prayer, that we walked in the tradition of Moses who walked out of Pharaoh’s land to free the oppressed. We will walk in the tradition of Jesus who walked to Jerusalem and protested oppressors. And, I will also walk in the tradition of Muhammad who walked from his birthplace to a city afar, for a better tomorrow of his people.

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  • Excellent topic of discussion…one that needs to be discussed in our communities much more often. Beautifully written article and life commitments. God bless you!

  • Learn english or at least have the etiquette to bring somebody that does like all the other immigrants. Its not right that there is job discrimination in the public sector against native US Americans for not speaking a language from a foreign land. That would go a long way to gain more sympathizers for their plight.

  • Who is to say people don’t speak English Kareem? A large percentage of undocumented people in this country have lived the majority of their lives in the US, speak english and in many cases have college degrees, especially the DREAMers. And how is their job discrimination? What this article is talking about is exploitation where people don’t get paid for jobs they work and the fact that undocumented people are easily exploited because they don’t have papers.

  • With people who been here since little ofcourse but that large percentage isnt the majority percentage, you have people of all ages that has not been here since little crossing the border that overwhelmingly do not speak english and many more than not will live here for 20+ years and still will speak very little to none. I work with the public and wether they be Filipino, Arab, or Chinese the party will always have someone who speaks english if they dont but more often than not the Mexican nationals or what have you, the first thing out their mouth is “habla espanol?” and when told no they are all over the place asking any and everybody just holding up the line and its very bad ettiquette, then try to apply for work in the public sector and not speaking spanish can mean you not getting the job or not. This is working for the city or the county in the US and when that application says bilingual its not talking about punjabi or mandrian. Im not for any exploitation or deportation and learning the language of the land is not a unteasonable request or just having ettiquette.

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