It is apparent to anyone who keeps up with world news these days that Muslims are standing up against oppression and tyranny. During my stay in Egypt, I can remember secretly conversing with some good friends I made there about the political reality they faced. I remember saying, “Come on guys, you guys are 70 million and he is one, why don’t you just stand up and take your rights?” This was back in 2005 and the response back then was something like, “You don’t understand—he and his cronies have this and that power and they will do this and that to us!” I reminded them, “No brothers you don’t understand, there is a big change that has happened in the last decade. The development of mass media and the global effect it has. If you stand up against oppression strongly without violence the world will stand by you.” Well it seems – by the will of God and His is the praise – that early this year there were other people with more revolutionary mindsets or that people like them were done just sufficing with praying for deliverance and changed their mind after they saw what happened in Tunis. Rather, they fearlessly took the means available to attain their rights. We pray God bless the future of Tunis and Egypt and we pray that He give victory to the Libyan people in their struggle against tyranny.
That said, albeit currently on a lesser scale, we as Muslim Americans are going through our own unjust persecution and it is getting more and more mainstream day to day. This is not the time for us to stand by or hope that it will blow over. There is a movement that is picking up national support among mass media, its viewers, and more significantly local and national government that demonizes orthodox Islam as un-American, anti-American and fundamentally evil. This group is generally very pro-Zionist, right-wing Republican, and Tea Party oriented. This movement is working day and night to gain support. And with their influence in media and government many innocent, ignorant Americans are succumbing to their rhetoric. If they had their way, they would change the constitution to exclude Islam from freedom of religion.
A large part of this problem is none other than us, the American Muslims. There are two main issues that have facilitated the spread and acceptance of this anti-Islamic bigotry. The first is our reclusiveness in our centers, homes and restaurants. The reasons behind this is an article in itself, but the ironic gist of it is that the immigrants who imported this ideology thought they were preserving Muslims in the West when this practice has only alienated them as a small minority and opened up the door for any opponents to attack and vilify us. Another part of the irony is that this reclusiveness, rooted in a false fear of America and how it might corrupt us and our children, is quite contrary to the teachings of our faith. We are supposed to be unified by our faith with dignity; representing and propagating the final message of God to mankind. Had we been doing that properly then people would see the beauty of our faith and what it has to offer America. Like other faiths, we are rooted in compassionate service to mankind, helping the needy, promoting justice and human rights, stimulating a fair economy, encouraging democracy and honest hardworking leadership, and eliminating all social corruption.
The best way to deal with this problem is in understanding the teaching of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) who said,
“The strong believer is better and more beloved to God than the weak believer, yet all believers are good. Work hard in what is beneficial to you and seek divine aid. Do not be weak, feeling incapable.” (Muslim)
Let’s take a revolutionary look into the practical application of this hadith (record of the sayings or actions of the Prophet ﷺ) to our reality as Muslims in America. The Prophet ﷺ is telling us that being a strong Muslim is not just to do as Egyptians and Tunisians did for decades and pray that God will help them while assuming themselves helpless and weak. Being a strong believer is that we first seek divine assistance and then be dignified hard workers who aim to bring benefit to ourselves in this life as well as the afterlife. It is this sense of self-worth and respect knowing that God is with the oppressed that has brought an end to tyranny in Tunisia and Egypt.
So how can we American Muslims properly stand up against the lies and distortions of the anti-Islamic agenda? The answer is summed up in a 4 pronged solution:
1. We need to develop a comprehensive understanding of the message revealed to us. Sadly, the follow-the-leader without question status-quo of understanding Islam is showing intellectual weakness across many parts of the Muslim world, especially here in America. This has led to most devout Muslims coming from the poverty stricken uneducated class while the wealthier, educated class is generally secular—respecting religion not as the ultimate truth of life, but rather as an ancient set of cultural traditions and beliefs with little relevance to the real world in which we live. Frankly, this is why so many Muslims don’t support the Islamic school system. We have to broaden our understanding of Islam rather than just memorizing verses, hadiths, and rules. We have to develop a common literacy that would equip the average Muslim with the necessary tools to deal with modernity in general and focused on dealing with the agenda waged against us. Our Mosques are quite dead and often the sermons and talks are indeed Islamic knowledge, but either uninspiring, presented wrong, or irrelevant to the stability and growth of the Muslim American identity. We have to balance the worldly life we live in now and a spiritual, eternity-focused identity.
2. We need to come to understand how things work in America historically and structurally, and stake our claim to a place in America. One thing that our immigrant community needs to do is realize the experience that our native Black community has in this department. Immigrant Muslims in America have mostly not grasped this or at least surely haven’t worked hard enough to be a respected part of the American reality. We have very little political participation or influence. Due to the sweeping and often forced expectation of raising doctors, or engineers, our presence in many other invaluable fields is very weak—like journalism, mass media management, national and local law enforcement, local and national government, economy, education, law, etc. While many people do have positions dealing with non-Muslims, rather than be ambassadors properly integrating, they seek to assimilate and stay under the radar, often changing their name and not representing Islam. Where is the dignity and self-worth?
It is high time that our communities fully embrace the influence of politics and take advantage of this Democracy. Every Muslim adult should be voting for the candidate that is best for society, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We also need to have a strong presence in the lobby of those candidates who are specifically going to pay attention to our plight. This even falls under the category of zakat known as Mu’allafa Quloobuhum- bringing hearts closer to the Muslims.
3. We need to empower the native population. Whether it is to the native Muslims of conversion or the children of immigrants, it is about time we present Islam as what it is—a native religion and not something foreign or imported. If the native Muslims are covered by the above mentioned first advice then that makes them many times more suitable to present Islam according to the second advice.
We have to do away with the imported cultural mentality that considers someone in their late 20’s and even their mid-30’s as a “youth.” It is hindering our growth as a community. I’m not saying send your kids on their way at 18 because they are “adults,” but let’s at least empower our teens to be ready to take on life and responsibility and hopefully be mentally mature when they physically mature. Out of all the Companions of age and wisdom, the Prophet ﷺ chose Musab ibn Umair – a man in his early 20’s to head up their last hope in calling the people of Madinah to Islam and possibly to be a place of refuge for the oppressed Muslims in Makkah. He made that choice and was successful. Similarly, out of all the great leaders of experience in battle and wisdom, he chose a 17-year-old young man Usmah ibn Zaid to lead and command the most significant battle against the pending invasion of the Byzantine Empire. Once again he was successful and in this is a lesson for all of us. Lastly, we need to have confidence in the native Muslim community rather than deeming them and their scholarship tainted, weak or unauthentic because of their lack of “back-home-ness.” Once again within a short time of accepting Islam many Muslims like Hamzah and Amr bin al-`As were put to the forefront for the qualities they possessed.
4. We need to communicate our message to our neighbors properly. Every community needs to go through a deep training program on the nuances of disseminating our message according to a strong grounding in psychology and socio-cultural norms. One of the main keys to that is being able to articulate the message in English as we were commanded to do in verse 4 of the 14th chapter of the Qur’an (Ibrahim). We have this counterproductive religious pride in having a preserved revelation and often times we are wrong in our assessment and/or expression of that.
We have a lot of change to make here in America so that we may earn the respect which is undoubtedly due to us. We pray that the Almighty help us in our endeavor! Ameen.