Originally published in the print edition of The American Muslim, June 1989.
War on Terror’ Rhetoric Sounds Like War on Islam
Posted Jan 21, 2008 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
‘War on Terror’ Rhetoric Sounds Like War on Islam
by Parvez Ahmed
Given their divergent views on issues from abortion to same-sex unions, televangelist Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani makes them the quintessential odd couple.
One area in which they have discovered a convergence of interests is fighting “Islamic terrorism,” echoing Giuliani’s longstanding description of the war on terror as a war on “radical Islamic fascism.” This belligerence reverberates in conservative activist Gary Bauer’s characterization of the fight against “radical Islam” as a major “family value” that tops the new Conservative agenda. Christian leader Charles Colson describes “Islamofascism” as the “long war” while James Dobson exhorts his fellow faithful to “wake up” for the fight against “militant Islam.” For Giuliani and these conservative leaders, the point of emphasis is on Islam, not terror.
Thus exempt from their “war on terror” are groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda, which commits terrorism in the name of Christianity and Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, a Hindu-Marxist group, which remains one of the worst perpetrators of suicide bombings. This new battle cry seeks to exploit pre-existing fears of Islam.
Nearly 4 in 10 Americans admit to being prejudiced against Muslims, and 70 percent say that Islam has nothing in common with their faith. Among self identified Conservatives, such trends are generally worse. Pat Robertson is the latest in a long line of Team Rudy fans who are distinguished by their disdain for Muslims.
New York Congressman Peter King, an advisor to Giuliani, complains that “unfortunately we have too many mosques in this country.” Another Giuliani advisor, Daniel Pipes, questions the wisdom of allowing American Muslims to vote and views the “enfranchisement” of American Muslims as a threat to the Jewish community. In his hostility to Islam and Muslims, Robertson outshines them all. Robertson has railed against many groups that he views as “un-Christian,” but he has always managed to save his harshest invective for Muslims.
He has called Muslims “satanic,” claimed the Quran is “fraudulent” and said Islam is “a monumental scam.” Robertson also called the Prophet Muhammad “an absolute wild-eyed fanatic, a robber and a brigand…a killer.” Politics has always been a theatre of the absurd. However, the injection of Islamophobic rhetoric into presidential campaigns is not mere rhetoric, as it solidifies the specter of a self-defeating clash between civilizations.
People like Giuliani, who insist on conflating Islam with terrorism and fascism, care not about the linguistic absurdity of such combinations. “Islam” is an Arabic word while “terrorism” and “fascism” are English words rooted in the European, not Islamic, experience. Alas Giuliani is not alone in his attacks. Other Republican candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, have followed his lead. Mitt Romney went a step further and ran television advertisements citing “jihadism” as “this century’s nightmare.”
Along with the sheer naiveté of such views, a more fundamental question is – what do Arabic words like “jihad” or “Islam” mean when combined with English suffixes like ‘-ist’ or ‘-ism’?
Muslims understand “Islam” and “jihad” to mean “peace” and “striving” respectively. But words like Islam-ist, Islam-ism, jihad-ist or jihad-ism lack uniform definition and appear to most Muslims as essentially the rhetorical equivalent of Islam.
It is thus not coincidental that today almost 8 in 10 Muslims worldwide perceive the war on terror to be a war against their faith of Islam. Such perceptions, by most expert accounts, cannot make America safer. As such, those actions or policies that lead to these perceptions cannot reasonably be accepted as either promoting “family values” or America’s security.
Ironically, those promoting the use of “Islamic terrorism” side with terrorists if it suits their agenda. They remain silent while the U.S. military permits the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist organization, to keep safe harbor in Northern Iraq from where they launch terror attacks against Turkey.
They find no double standards in Bush administration’s tacit support of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a State Department designated terrorist group, which conducts terror attacks against Iran from their bases in Iraq. The “family value” champions often speak about a culture of life and yet remain silent about the Iraq war, which has left hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, more than two million homeless, more than three thousand dead American soldiers and countless others injured.
How can they keep supporting a war that was initiated on deceptions and lies? Lying and deception that leads to loss of countless innocent lives is not a value that most Americans seek. Opposition to the Iraq war is at an all time high and most Americans do not approve of further military actions against Iran. As the election season heats up, the politicization of the “war on terror” will unfortunately intensify. In this new political game, Islam will be made a scapegoat to rally voters through evoking fear and paranoia.
Muslims will be divided into those who are “with us” (good Muslims) and those who are “against us” (bad Muslims).The “good Muslims,” no matter how undemocratic or oppressive, will be touted as our “Westernized” and “secularized” friends. The “bad Muslims,” even if popular and representative of their own people, will be marginalized as “fanatical” and “radical.” American Muslims long for the day when their faith is no longer the object of such machinations by our political leaders or targeted by the spurious religious interpretations of those who commit terrorism in the name of Islam.
Speaking out against these promoters of a clash between civilizations will be a value worth fighting for.
(This article also published in the Florida Times Union, November 16, 2007)
Visit Parvez Ahmed’s site at http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fdrparvezahmed.blogspot.com
‘Islamic terrorism’ an insult that distorts reality
Jimmy E. Jones
Posted Sep 5, 2007 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
Islamic terrorism’ an insult that distorts reality
Jimmy E. Jones
Jimmy E. Jones is chairman of the Department of World Religions at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., and president of Masjid Al–Islam New Haven.
MY wife, Matiniah, and I just returned from Cairo, Egypt, where we directed our third annual month-long Intensive Arabic and Quran Immersion program at Al-Azhar University.
We took 24 Americans and one Canadian in an ethnically, racially and occupationally diverse group. It included Muslims and non-Muslims, religious leaders and medical professionals as well as undergraduate and graduate students.
Though we spent July in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, none of us saw or heard about the “Islamic terrorism” one prominent U.S. Republican presidential candidate, Rudolph Giuliani, insists that he and Democrats should talk about. As a person of faith and a Muslim, the term “Islamic terrorism” is unsettling for several reasons.
First, the term creates the erroneous impression that there is a type of terrorism that is either condoned by or is an integral part of Islamic belief. Nothing could be further from the truth about the religion I voluntarily joined in 1979.
Second, such a term distorts and creates public confusion about the reality of terrorism. Academician Robert Pape, in his ground-breaking empirical study of worldwide suicide terrorism (discussed in his book “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”) makes it amply clear that over the past 20 years, the vast majority of suicide terrorists were motivated by political, tactical reasons — not by religion.
Finally, the term “Islamic terrorism” is an insult to the more than 1.2 billion Muslims in the world who are not at war with anybody.
As a Muslim American who has spent over three decades trying to build bridges between religious, racial and ethnic communities, I am shocked that a serious presidential candidate can be so callous, insensitive and divisive on such an important issue.
The logic behind the use of this inflammatory term seems to go something like this: “Since Sept. 11 was done by Muslims and we see the mainly Muslim-on-Muslim carnage in Iraq, why not call it Islamic terrorism?” Based on this spurious line of reasoning, why isn’t Giuliani challenging Democrats to talk about “black criminality” or “Catholic pedophilia,” since blacks are over-represented in U.S. jails and the Catholic Church seems to have significant issues with child sexual abuse.
Let’s face it, every religious community has extremists —some of them go so far as to murder people in the name of their faith. However, this should not give public figures like presidential candidates the license to paint us all with a broad, negative brush. To me, my faith matters, and I resent the use of language in such a way as to demonize my or anybody else’s religious group for the purpose of furthering an individual’s political career.
Originally published in Faith Matters section of the New Haven Register and reprinted with permission of the author
9/11 Evokes Painful Memories for U.S. Muslim
Posted Sep 11, 2007 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
9/11 EVOKES PAINFUL MEMORIES FOR U.S. MUSLIM
By Danette Zaghari-Mask
[Danette Zaghari-Mask is executive director of the Orlando chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Orlando). CAIR is the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. For a photo, see: http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cair.com%2FChapters.aspx%23Orlando ]
On the anniversary of 9/11, the memory of those once full of life evoke painful thoughts. I cringe at the panic that they must have endured, and join the mourning of fellow Americans who lost loved ones.
Even if we did not know someone directly effected by the tragedy, we know where we were when the towers fell or when the Pentagon was hit.
I delivered my first child 13 days after 9/11. In the days leading up to his birth, I wept.
I wept as a human, as an American and as a Muslim sickened by the reports of militants who claimed “victory” under the banner of Islam.
I gave birth and then cried as a mother for having endured, only to bring a new life into such a troubled world.
Since that time, opportunities have arisen to speak to my fellow Americans about Islam and Muslims. I, like millions of Muslims across the world, stood in solidarity against terrorism and a firm conviction that Islam, by its very definition, rejects terrorism.
Islam is an Arabic word that translates as “peace through submission to God.”
Those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks did not discriminate between people of different faiths; rather, they discriminated against every person who did not submit to their twisted ideology.
The perpetrators of 9/11, and those with an agenda to silence the moderate Muslim majority, want us all to believe that Islam itself is the instigator of terror. If we can defeat those ideas in our own minds, we can defeat the mesmerizing effect of those who seek interfaith division and discord.
There are an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims in the world who overwhelmingly desire peace and look to Islam for inspiration.
I am teaching my son the Quran, the Muslim holy book. He is learning that if someone kills another it is “as though he has slain all mankind, and he who saved one life should be regarded as though he has saved the lives of all mankind” (5:32).
He is learning the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad: “The best jihad is saying a word of truth in the court of an unjust ruler” and a believer is one “in whom all of mankind has a sanctuary for its life and property.”
Today, I have more optimism and more reasons to be hopeful than six years ago.
My son celebrated his birthday early this year with contagious courage and spirit. His smile is so wide I think sometimes it will touch the creases of his brown eyes.
He and all of our children are, after all, the possibility beyond the borderline that creates “us” and “them.” The memory of 9/11 motivates me to raise my son to achieve his full potential.
Our children are seeds of peace and, with the right nurturing, future friends of peace.
A Critique of Religious Extremism
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (tr. Yoginder Sikand)
Posted Jun 12, 2009 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
A Critique of Religious Extremism
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)
According to a repot contained in the books of Hadith, once, during a battle, a Muslim received a grievous injury on his head. The next morning, the man needed to have a bath, but for him to do so was dangerous, for it could make his wound ever more severe. He turned to some of his fellow Muslims and asked them what he should do. They answered that since water was available he could not escape the rule of having a bath. He followed their instructions, but, as a result, his condition worsened and he died. When the Prophet Muhammad learned of this, he was extremely sad, and announced, ‘They have killed the man. May God destroy them.’
The issue of whether or not the wounded man was obliged, according to Islamic law, to have a bath or not was one that involved ijtihad or the application of reason on the sources of Islamic law. It is evident from this story that the Prophet was greatly angered at the decision that the men made. This indicates that making mistakes in ijtihad is excusable only to a certain extent. In ordinary circumstances, such mistakes might be forgiven, but in very sensitive matters, such as those that involve people’s life and death, it is better to abstain from offering any ijtihad-based opinion. To do so, and, further, to insist on one’s opinion, is inexcusable. It is an indication of the loss of faith.
The above mentioned hadith report concerns an error of ijtihad that involved damage to a single individual. Naturally, an error of this sort, but on a larger scale, such as that which causes harm to a large number of people, is even more unforgivable and much more serious.
If a Mufti gives a wrong fatwa in response to a query as to whether or not one should face in the direction of the Kaaba while bathing, there is no danger of this causing any damage to anyone’s life. But a wrong fatwa about whether or not Islamic laws require a badly injured person to bathe is of a different sort, for it can seriously endanger the person’s health. The two sorts of issues are not the same. In the first case, a person who makes a mistake in his ijtihad will be rewarded by God for his good intention in engaging in ijtihad, but a mistake made in the second case is an inexcusable crime. On issues on which the very fate and lives of individuals and communities crucially depend, it is incumbent on Muftis to remain silent till the very end. If, finally, they have to speak out, they should do so bearing in mind that they would have to be answerable for the opinion before God. This matter relates to the issue of violence and extremism as well.
In a hadith report attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, he is said to have advised his followers not to be harsh with regard to their own selves. Else, he said, they would be dealt harshly with. He added that a particular community was harsh on itself, and then God was also harsh with it. The remnants of that community, he said, were those who lived in churches and monasteries.
The extremism that this hadith report refers to is not related just to religion or a certain form of world-renouncing and extreme monasticism. Rather, it relates to all aspects of human life. It applies to all cases where the middle path is abandoned and replaced with extremism.
The extremist lives in his own world. He knows only what he believes and wants. He is like the person who imagines that a road is empty and drives his car at full-speed. Naturally, such a person can never be successful in achieving his goals. The key to success in this world is the middle path, the path of balance, which is the opposite of extremism. Extremism may be said to be an attitude or a life-style that is contrary to God’s plan of creation. Contrarily, following the balanced way or the middle-path is the means to live out one’s life constructively, and in accordance with that plan. Naturally, then, extremism has no room in Islam, if Islam is properly understood.
God dislikes extremism. Those who take to the extremist path finally end up making extremism part of their very understanding of religion. The generations that follow them then feel obliged to follow precisely that path, wrongly believing it to be mandated by God. They are made to believe that if they turn their backs on extremism they would be less committed to their religion, as they understand it, than their forebears were.
As in matters of religion, extremism with regard to other issues must also be avoided. Take, for instance, the case of the struggle for the political and economic rights of a community. For this purpose, there are, broadly, two ways of acting. One is peaceful struggle; the other is violent agitation. Peaceful struggle and activism is the best path. The violent or extremist path would only invite unnecessary suffering for the community. If it is presented as something mandated by religion, it will turn into a precedent that others will be tempted to follow, even if it does not produce the required results, because people might start believing that not adopting an extremist posture is tantamount to straying from the faith or that it is synonymous with cowardice.
Extremism, including religious extremism, indicates a profound blindness to reality and to existing opportunities. It indicates that one is ruled by emotion, instead of by reason. It indicates haste and impulsiveness, instead of far-sightedness and gradualism. It indicates a total disregard for one’s own or one’s community’s limits. It is analogous to a man who takes burning coals in his hand in order to gauge their heat, or one who uses his head as a hammer in order to break a boulder. Action of this sort clearly trespasses the set limits, and those who take to this path can never succeed in this world.
If properly understood, Islam is the very opposite of terrorism and has nothing to do with it. The word ‘Islam’ is derived from the root s-l-m, which means ‘peace’. Hence, Islam, correctly interpreted, is a religion of peace. Naturally, a religion that describes itself as a religion of peace can have no relation with terrorism, if that religion is interpreted in the right manner. In the Quran the Prophet Muhammad is referred to as rahmat al-il alamin, or ‘mercy unto the worlds’. He is thus a source of mercy for all of humankind, and not just Muslims alone. Naturally, then, his teachings can have no room for terrorism at all.
In a report recorded in the books of Hadith, it is said that every morning, before the fajr or morning prayer and after completing the tahajjud prayer, the Prophet Muhammad would beseech God, saying, ‘Oh Allah! I bear witness that all humans are brothers of each other.’ This being the case, how can anyone kill his innocent brethren? All men and women are brothers and sisters unto each other. Hence, they must have love and concern for the welfare of all. This is precisely what Islam, if correctly interpreted, requires of its followers.
According to another hadith report, the Prophet Muhammad is said to have declared, ‘All creatures are part of God’s family.’ This is a wonderful expression of true universalism. It clearly announces that all of humankind, irrespective of religion or community, belongs to the same family of God. In this way, this hadith report is a declaration of the slogan about the world being a global village which we are today so familiar with.
Given Islam’s clears teaching about all creatures being members of God’s family, it is ironical that some Muslims care nothing about killing innocent people, and that too in the name of Islam. This must be considered to be wholly un-Islamic. When conflicts arise between Muslims and other communities, violence is not the right approach, for it gives rise to terrorism. As the Quran instructs us, ‘Reconciliation is best’. This means that the proper way to solve conflict is not through violence, which leads to terrorism, but, rather, through peaceful discussion and dialogue. One must adopt constructive, not destructive, approaches to conflict resolution.
According to another hadith report, God gives in return for gentleness what He does not in the case of hard-heartedness. This report relates to the consequences of one’s behaviour or approach. If we have a dispute or conflict with someone, fighting him or her will not solve it. In contrast, the only way to do so is through peaceful dialogue and exchange of views. This is what Islam itself demands of us.
Islam, properly understood, does not teach us to hate others. To hate others can be said to be haram or forbidden in Islam. Let me cite an instance in this regard. The Prophet was born in Mecca, and it was there that he announced his prophethood. Thirteen years later, he shifted to Medina. There were numerous Jews living in Medina at that time. One day, he saw a funeral procession and stood up, as a sign of respect, as it passed. One of his followers pointed out that this was a funeral procession of a Jewish man. In other words, he indicated that the Prophet had stood up as the procession had passed despite the fact that the deceased was a Jew, not a Muslim. In reply, the Prophet responded, ‘Was he not a human being?’ That is to say, are not Jews also human beings? This clearly indicates that we have to respect everyone, in their capacity of being creatures of God, including Jews. This shows that terrorism has no place in Islam, if Islam is properly understood.
Terrorism can be defined as illegitimate violence to have one’s demands met. Therefore, those who label terrorism as a jihad are making a mockery of Islam. Jihad can only be declared by a regular government or state authority, not by ordinary citizens. Today, terrorism takes, broadly, two forms: proxy war and guerilla war. I can say with full confidence that both of these forms of terrorism are haram or forbidden in Islam. Proxy war is illegitimate in Islam because Islam requires that a declaration of war be explicitly made before war can be actually waged, while a proxy war, by definition is one that is unannounced and engaged in indirectly, by using local agents. Likewise, guerilla war is also forbidden in Islam, because such a war involves civilians taking up arms against an established government in the name of jihad. It cannot be considered as a legitimate jihad because the right to declare jihad, as I mentioned earlier, rests only with the state authorities.
Let me conclude this essay by reflecting on the on-going violence in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which some self-styled Islamist groups claim to be a legitimate Islamic jihad. The violence that continues to rage in the state is, clearly, a combination of proxy war and guerilla war, and so is absolutely haram or forbidden, according to Islam. People often complain that the media is being unfair by describing this terrorism in Kashmir as ‘Islamic terrorism’, thereby giving Islam a bad name. But, the question is, when people who call themselves Muslim are themselves engaging in terror in the name of Islam, by what other name should the media refer to this violence? It is for Muslims to desist from this un-Islamic violence and from giving Islam a bad name by claiming terrorism to be Islamically-legitimate jihad.
(This is a translation of a section in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s Urdu book Islam Aur Intiha Pasandi [‘Islam and Extremism’] [Positive Thinkers Forum, Bangalore, n.d., pp. 54-58]), plus, in slightly edited form, of an article by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, titled ‘Islam Aur Dehshatgardi Ek Dusre Ki Zadd’ (‘Islam and Terrorism Are Polar Opposites’, in Farooq Argali (ed.) Islam Aur Dehshatgardi (‘Islam and Terrorism’, New Delhi: Farid Book Depot, 2003, pp. 85-88).
The Delhi-based Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a noted Islamic scholar, is a prolific writer. For more details, see http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.alrisala.org
A Muslim Among Native Americans *
Posted Feb 24, 2007 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
A Muslim Among Native Americans *
by M.I. Rajabally
As I boarded the tiny six-passenger plane out of St. Paul en route to Pierre, capital of South Dakota, I knew I was in for some adventure at the Sioux Indian Reservation. My curiosity grew as I talked to fellow passengers and the crew. Everyone was shocked to hear of my venturing into the reservation.
They warned me to be cautious because I was going to a “dangerous place with strange people.” The plane bounced up and down and I started feeling sick – not from the plane –but the negative preconceived attitude I was hearing from everyone. What they were telling me was quite the opposite of what I had heard from my brother who is not only a fervent sympathizer of the tribe, but also the expert on Native American culture, arts and crafts. It was my brother who arranged for my visit to the reservation.
The natural beauty of the place took my breath away. It was the best therapy for my high-strung “city” nerves. The air was pure and fresh. As I drove down the gravel road, the horizon unfolded in front of me. I drove for miles without seeing a car or a person. The land seemed so virgin that many times when I got out of the car, I thought I was the first person walking on these plains. But I reminded myself that this was not true.
By the time I arrived, the sun was already setting. The thought that I could be the first person to give Adhan here overwhelmed me. In spite of my terrible voice, I gave the call to prayer and said my salaat in the open wilderness. I had been cautioned to watch for deadly rattlesnakes while going into sujud, but I was at such peace with myself that I was not intimidated by the possible presence of snakes. There were hawks wheeling across the sky, nature itself celebrating the praise of Al-Mighty God!
It the natural beauty of the reservation moved me, its physical condition was an astonishing blow. I could not believe that I was in the United States, the land of the plenty. While the government was proclaiming its leadership role in the “new world order,” it sure forgot to clean its own backyard. I could not believe I was only miles from Rapid City and yet where I was, there was no sewage, and no running water yet (pipes were being installed). Surprisingly, there was electricity, which allows every house to accommodate television – to poison the mind with shallow distorted values. There was no infrastructure, only some gravel roads, few gas stations., rudimentary health care facilities. I could not imagine American without a shopping mall, grocery store or a restaurant.
As I talked to the people, I began to develop a strong respect and admiration for a people that refused to be subjugated. In my mind, I started drawing parallels between the Muslim community and the Native American community. It did not take me long to figure out that we have a lot in common. First, we both face the tidal wave of prejudice based on ignorance and hearsay. People in general do not understand the Native Americans any more than they know or understand Islam and Muslims. The media represents both groups in a stereotyped and biased manner.
Talking to some Sioux children, I kept thinking of Muslim children. Both Sioux and Muslim children have to learn distorted historical facts about their ancestors in their social studies classes. Both groups of children are incorrectly taught how barbaric their ancestors were, ruthless people who killed people indiscriminately. History has been rewritten to force innocent minds to give up their ancestral pride and values. I could not help but think about the constant struggle we Muslims face to keep our Islamic values alive in our children against such onslaughts. Like Muslim parents, Sioux parents worry continuously.
I was deeply impressed with their concept of One True High God or Spirit. There were no idols or intermediaries. Their concept of deity matches the core of Islam. I kept thinking of the Qura’nic verse, “To every nation, a prophet was sent.”
The status of mankind as the khalifah of Allah on earth is a fundamental aspect of Sioux belief. They believe that man is responsible for managing the earth’s resources in a way that preserves the harmony of God’s Creation to be used for the good of all. What a striking similarity to Islam!
I visited Bear Butte, a sacred place for the tribe. Not long ago, caravans from various reservations converged on Bear Butte for a pilgrimage. They were forced to stop the practice because it was interfering with tourism, which is what the sacred place had been reduced to. We Muslims should know the feeling remembering when Prophet Muhammad and his followers were barred from performing the lesser pilgrimage to makkah. As we speak against injustice against Kashmiris and Palestinians, we also need to let the Sioux people know that Islam dictates that we will support them. Communication channels should be opened on an official, organizational level. We should look into the possibility of asking to set up a Sioux-Muslim camp in the summer to allow each group to learn about the other and to erase false perceptions.
I propose that concerned and interested Muslims consider establishing an official relationship with the tribal council. As American Muslims, we have a responsibility to expose injustice wherever we find it. Only a few know what injustices have been and are being done to Native Americans.
* Originally published in the print edition of The American Muslim in a special Native American edition, December 1993
A Native American Muslim’s Story *
Posted Feb 12, 2007 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
A Native American Muslim’s Story
by Lois Stands-Ali
All Praise is due to Allah, the Creator who guided me to ISLAM—the Way of Life—the Red Road—the Straight Path.
I began my journey on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, in one of the communities called Oglala. When I was born, my earth parents went to the city and left me behind with my father’s’ parents. My grandmother was a mid-wife, a spiritual woman, and we attended many ceremonies and pow-wows, and I witnessed other spirits begin their journeys. I was taught to respect MITAKOYASIN (all of my relations) and to know that I was LAKOTA(the people). My grandmother shared many words of wisdom. As a child I did not understand all that she shared, yet throughout all these years, all that she told me has helped in every way you can imagine. One thing that really stuck in my head was when she told me: “There are WASHECUS (white people) out there, another world, one day you will have to learn to speak their language. Learn everything about them. Learn how they think and to out-think them because one day they will try to kill you.”
My grandmother told me that TUNKASHILA (the CREATOR Grandfather, The Wakan Tanka, The Great Holy One, Mita Onje Ate) made many people, all different, but he was the same Creator of everything – of the sky people, water people, earth people, fire people, the four-legged and the two-legged.
I remember laying my head down on her lap and she would tell me stories, and I’d fall asleep and when I woke up she would still be talking. At that time, I did not realize she was giving me the best form of education anyone can give. Now I realize that my ENA (mother), the only one I knew, was preparing me for the outside world. One day her journey ended, and when I saw her lying in this box asleep, I knew that she would be back. One day, as I played outside she came walking up to me and said :you will be WENYA CHANTE WISHAK UHA (Woman Who Has a Strong Heart).”
She told me that her spirit’s journey was not over. One day my earth mother and father came and got me from my grandfather and took me up north to my earth mother’s reservation called Standing Rock. But, the government was taking one child from each home to send to boarding schools so at least one would get “educated” as they called it. At that time, there was what they called The King Alfred Act in effect, which allowed them to take Indian children and teach them to assimilate to the white culture. There were many boarding schools, some run by the government and some run by missionaries. I was one of those taken to the boarding school.
I feel now that the Creator allowed all of this to happen to me, and that the Creator was shaping and molding me to be a strong spirit. For nine years, I was in a boarding school. Out of 500 Indian children taken from all reservations, there were about 50 of us who had been raised by our grandparents and we weren’t allowed to go back home during the summer when school was out, when the other children raised by their parents were allowed to go. I knew those of us who were raised by our grandparents were different. They were harder on us, and we were stubborn and refused to speak English. We were beaten if we were caught speaking our own language, the only one we knew, but of all the confusion, my ENA’s words came back to me about having to learn the WASHECU’s language. I knew that my ENA was a wise woman and for whatever reason I was to learn, but that still didn’t keep me from resisting change.
As a child, I experienced much abuse – physical, mental, emotional and verbal but today I can look back and thank TUNKASHILA for protecting me when I spoke the truth and was punished for it. My spirit only became stronger. I knew I was LAKOTA and I decided to get smart and like my ENA said learn everything about the WASHECU, especially how they think. Those of us raised by our grandparents were kept separated from the others a lot of the time. We were given extra duties, kept busy, but we would pray together (and have to sneak to do even that) because we knew there was power in prayer. Sometimes our brothers and sisters would tell on us and then we would be punished.
We were even forced to attend different churches. We were made to sit in the back and not with the washechus. The so-called Christians would say: Love your neighbor, we were that, yet they didn’t love us. As children we were treated very special by our elders, yet the WASHECU was different, they had no respect for children and only wanted to make them just like they were: to speak like them, to think like them, to dress like them.
One day, I met some Mormons, who called us Lamanites. I knew that they really believed in their Book of Mormon, so I consented to go to a Mormon school. Yet that religion and the people in it did not respect my beliefs even though they looked at us Indian children blessings from God, but they tried to force me to respect their beliefs and accept them. These Mormons said us dark skinned people were God’s chosen people, so I asked why our Black brothers couldn’t hold the Malkeztic priesthood (one of the highest calling in this religion), and they said the Black people were a cursed people. I instantly knew that the Creator wouldn’t curse any of his creation as he loved all of us the same, and we were here for the same reason.
I listened to these preachers and my spirit would listen for a message from the Creator, but there were very few. So, when I was asked to bear witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the LDS church was the true church, I asked my spirit and my spirit spoke out and said: “No, He’s your prophet, not mine as I believe the White Buffalo Calf Woman was sent to my people, as I know the Creator sent one to every people as the Creator would not withhold a calling from any of His creations, and so I cannot go against my beliefs.”
I was sent back to the reservation because I couldn’t bear witness as they wanted me to. I know that many of the Indian children bore witness, but again, those of us raised by grandparents were different and more stubborn although we were punished for it.
When I was 16, my earth father said I was to marry a man who would take care of me. He was right, I was given the material things, yet I wanted much more, and it wasn’t in this material world. But, where was I going to learn the truth? I was still resistant and looking at the character of people and the path they walked. I believed in the Red Road and tried to stay on it by doing good, by being generous, by praying to the Creator and asking for guidance and protection. I always prayed for a helper even though I was married and was blessed with being co-creator and bringing four beautiful spirits into this world through my womb to begin their journey.
One day I was so miserable, I knew I had to seek the truth of why I was here. My marriage was not a good one, and I decided to leave and begin my journey. The sad part was that my children chose to stay with their father as he was a good father to them even though I did not think he was a good husband to me. I went to the big cities. I met other Indians who were lost. I saw how the outside world was corrupt and the values and morals were nothing I wanted to be a part of, yet where was I to go? I continued to pray for guidance as I moved from one end of this continent to the other. I moved far from where there were Indians from whom to get knowledge and learn wisdom. Away from the purification lodge, the ceremonies, the pow-wows, the traditions, the culture. I felt alone except for the Creator always with me.
One day in Atlanta, Ga., I heard about a Black man who was a minister that was going to speak at the Omni Theater. I decided to go. I stood in line to buy my ticket and everyone was looking at me as I guess I did look different with beaded earrings, a drape scarf over my head, a long dress. Then as I waited in line, I heard the intercom come on and this man start to sing.
My spirit let me know instantly that this was a prayer and I became reverent and listened. I didn’t understand the language, yet it seemed familiar, this song. I felt something like lightening coming up from mother earth, all the way up my back and out the top of my head. I wanted to cry. My spirit was feeling happy. It was being fed by this song, this prayer. I later learned this was the ADHAN (the call to prayer) and it was followed by Al-FATIHA.
I asked someone who the man was who was speaking, and they told me he was a Muslim. I wanted to learn more about who these people were with this powerful prayer because I didn’t experience these feelings except in the purification lodge, at the sun-dance and ceremonies. Over time, my excitement grew as I finally found some believers and began my introduction into ISLAM. All praise is due to Allah!
Now, when asked if I am Muslim, and knowing it means “one who submits to Allah, the Creator” I feel pride when I say Yes. I can bear witness that there is no God but Allah, the all-in-all, and that Islam is the way of life, and Prophet Muhammad is the messenger. I know that the Creator would send his true religion meant for us on our journey in this life to all people, the same as the White Buffalo Calf Woman came bringing the PEACE-PIPE through which our prayers were sent, and the way of life, THE RED ROAD, THE STRAIGHT PATH to my people. Then there is the Qur’an, the book of truth, as we Lakotas didn’t have a book, except inside us.
Now, I can be among brothers and sisters who believe as I do. And, most of the time I feel at home among my Muslim brothers and sisters, as I look most of the time through spiritual eyes. But, sometimes our cultures and traditions get in the way although I have left behind those traditions that didn’t apply to Islam and the Red Road. Other traditions are so similar to Islam that I’d like to share them to understand and be understood. We also pray to the East. The tipi doors were faced to the east and when log houses were built the doors faced the east. We believe in one God; in respecting yourself by the way you dress and carry yourself. We pray daily, especially the FAJR (morning) prayer as UMPA comes (the dawn of the new day) and wash the body, keeping it purified.
As Allah puts Muslims in my path, I know I have a family, and yet there are times this world and its control through traditions can still have a hold on us, my brothers and sisters, and can dictate to even those of us who say we are on the straight path, and cause us to look at each other on the physical, material plane.
For example, if we say we are seeking a soul mate to fulfill the other half of our religion, and are given the opportunity to meet a good spirit who too wants to fulfill the same purpose and we judge through the eyes of this world, not looking through spiritual eyes at the content of the character and the spiritual principles followed in daily life that is said.
our religion says that a woman cannot marry a non-Muslim. Recently I met a Muslim brother and mentioned marriage, and the first thing this brother looked at was that I was an Indian and our different cultures were not compatible. A sister said, “Perhaps it would be better if you could meet a Native American Muslim.”
“Where?, ” I asked.
The woman said that Allah has guided me to become will not bow down to man himself or to traditions. The man Allah would want me to share my life with would also bow to the Creator and only the Creator!
I recently read The American Muslim, and my spirit urged me to contribute my experience as a Muslim. If it will be the will oft he Creator, I hope other Native American Muslims will also share with the whole Muslim community as I feel it is important to help our brothers and sisters gain an awareness of Native Americans.
However, I would prefer to be simply called a MUSLIM as when we separate ourselves in this physical world, it also separates us in other worlds.
Note: Since this article was published, Sister Lois has married and has moved to Ohio.
Originally published in the print edition of The American Muslim as a special issue December 1993
America’s Registered Muslims
M. Junaid Levesque-Alam
Posted Sep 7, 2008 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
America’s Registered Muslims
by M. Junaid Levesque-Alam
I awoke early this morning and sleepily shifted to the computer screen. Scanning the news, my eyes alighted upon a startling sight: ”17-page document identifies Obama as a registered Muslim, Clinton supporter says.”
The first thought to zip through my mind: 17 pages? What kind of form does a Muslim need to fill out to make his religious preference clear? Is this a standardized test?
Within seconds my senses settled in and I realized that there is no such thing as a registered Muslim. The declaration of Islamic faith consists only of the following words: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Messenger.” I have said it many times – and I am no “registered” Muslim.
The Clintonista, I concluded, was mistaken. Her novel addition to the charge – these days a serious one – of being a plain old regular Muslim was nothing more than a smattering of dirt tossed into verbal quicksand, or what Orwell might describe as an attempt to “give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
But before I could utter another breath I felt my soul being pulled apart from my body and whisked away. When I next opened my eyes I saw nothing but the dim outlines of an empty steel bowl placed on a bare floor. I moved a half-step before crashing against a cold barrier. I was in prison.
I hollered and yelled for an hour until a guard armed with a bitter frown and a black pistol finally appeared. “Why the hell am I here?” I demanded to know. His lips parted into a sneer as he answered: “Because you were funding your Muslim terrorist friends abroad through a fake charity.” I replied: “On what evidence?” And he pressed his finger against his lips, which then stretched into a smile: “Oh, I heard that’s a secret.”
So this was it: I was now one of dozens of men jailed in an FBI witch-hunt that targeted “terrorist” charities serving communities terrorized by war and poverty. I banged on the bars of my cage and demanded to get a lawyer or at least a meal – I had not even eaten breakfast. The guard walked away and laughed. In his mind I registered not as a human being but as a Muslim and that was reason enough to ignore me.
Before I could dip into despair the harsh glare of the sun beamed down on me in an open desert. I looked around and saw several armed men standing near a giant bulldozer and the crumbling debris of an old house they had just brought down. It appeared to be mine.
“Why have you destroyed my home?” I inquired with words sharpened on the edge of an Arab accent. The soldier answered in Hebrew but I understood. “You did not build with a legal permit,” the tallest among them said with a smirk. The Brooklyn-born settler alongside them boasted, “This land belongs to Israel.”
I was being swept aside by Israelis whose grandfathers certainly carried no “legal permits” but a great many guns when they initiated ethnic cleansing here more than fifty years ago. I tried to appeal to the soldiers’ conscience and demanded compensation. They looked puzzled: I was not of the people of the promised land and thus had no claim here. I registered in their eyes only as a nuisance and a Muslim.
A few seconds of silence passed before the scene changed and I heard whooping wails instantly recognizable as Arab ululation. In a dusty and decrepit town women mourned and men seethed and everyone stepped aside as a procession of American commanders marched to meet me.
“Now,” I thought to myself, “I am finally in a position of power.” But I was wrong. One of the men nodded brusquely and handed me a briefcase stuffed with several hundred Iraqi dinars. “What is this for?” I asked. He glanced at me before replying evenly through an unneeded interpreter: “The agreed-upon amount for the five civilians who died during our search mission here two weeks ago. Again, we apologize for the collateral damage.”
“Collateral damage?” I asked incredulously. “What about punishment for those responsible? What is this paltry amount of money supposed to buy the families? And what is there to buy in this destroyed country?” Again I failed to understand the natural order of things. There would be no real compensation and no real investigation. The offending soldiers had signed up to serve America and their prey had registered only as America’s Muslim collateral damage.
Soon after I found my flowing robes replaced with a suit and tie as I stood in an office. “Thank God,” I thought, “at least I am back in America.” Then I saw the website on the monitor. “Terrorist Professor Infects Campus,” blared the headline for a screed accusing me of backing “Islamo-fascist fundamentalism.”
After fumbling through the desk I found some essays and my crime became clear. Instead of goose-stepping to the official line about Muslims hating American freedom and liberties and cheeseburgers I had dared to point out policies that left a few hundred thousand Muslims dead and a few million more displaced. Assigning value to Muslim life was heretical to neoconservative clerics who thus issued online fatwahs for my removal.
I considered my options before remembering that I had none. Reminders of academic freedom and lists of scholarly sources would not stick in minds that registered only one reality: a Muslim liability.
Just as the dean knocked on the door with “pressing news” I appeared back home where it seemed barely a moment had passed. I headed to the nearest mirror to make sure that I was indeed myself: a relief.
I glanced back at the Clintonista claim on my computer screen still confident that I was not a registered Muslim. But I wondered: for how long?
M. Junaid Levesque-Alam blogs about America and Islam at Crossing the Crescent ( http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.crossingthecrescent.com ) and writes about American Muslim identity for WireTap magazine. Co-founder of Left Hook, a youth journal that ran from Nov. 2003 to March 2006, he works as a communications coordinator for an anti-domestic violence agency in the NYC area. He can be reached at: junaidalam1 AT gmail.com.
Posted Jun 4, 2007 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
by Iftekhar Hai
AMERICAN MUSLIM scholars assert that freedom of religion is one of the fundamental principles in the Quran, when it states there should be no compulsion in religion.
They also believe in pluralism, a teaching in Islam that explains there are multiple paths to salvation. According to the Quran, all people have equal access to the gates of Heaven, and there are no people on Earth to whom God has not sent messengers.
This means people born in China, India or the indigenous people of the Americas have been tutored in their own language and in their own countries about their spiritual responsibilities and about living a righteous life. With that, we see people coming together and connected as one global community.
The best that religions can offer often comes to the forefront. People who are insistent that their way is the “only way” and that other paths are wrong are now in the minority. Each day they get isolated more and more from the global community destined to live on one piece of real estate — the Earth.
Currently, American Islam is being nurtured in a constitutionally elected democracy. While it has yet to evolve globally, I can clearly see the seeds being spread all over America.
The present-day world has come a long way from the days of holy wars. Happily, crusades and military jihads are on their way out.
The days of Alexander the Great, Caesar and caliphs/sultans are gone forever. Although we are seeing some pockets of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe most of the world is getting away from engaging in modern warfare, which could be devastating to the global community.
American democracy is also at work when you see the two-party system battling for control of power through ballot boxes. America has a great responsibility to lead the world in a just and spiritually correct way.
Fortunately, American Islam is also taking root in the West, though in the infancy stage. We have immigrants from all over the Muslim world who are eager to come to the U.S. and Western Europe for a better economic life. These new immigrants are destined to go through a period of adjustment.
We are all born accidentally in whatever faith we are born into. Some of us come out of their faith to explore other religions, and sometimes they find comfort and peace of mind in that faith, which is perfectly OK, because freedom of religion is now an internationally accepted global principle.
American Islam has its roots firmly embedded in a democratic society and the global principles from the United Nations Charter of Human Rights.
Iftekhar Hai is president of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance in South San Francisco.
American Muslims and ‘Integration’
Posted Apr 15, 2006 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
AMERICAN MUSLIMS AND ‘INTEGRATION’
At a recent historic meeting in Vienna, European Muslim religious leaders, or Imams, exhorted Islamic communities to better integrate and participate effectively in all aspects of European society. They also urged European governments to give Muslims the opportunity to become full participants in their respective societies. “Integration is no one-way street, but should be seen as a mutual process,” said the final declaration of the second Conference of European Imams.
Conference participants also issued an unequivocal condemnation of terrorism in all its forms, urged stepped-up efforts to learn national languages and promoted development of mutual intercultural skills. Many of the participants believed the conference was a turning point in relations between Europe and its Muslim minorities.
For more than a thousand years, the discourse in Europe has been to view Muslims as outsiders and Islam as the “other.” Islam and Muslims in Europe and America remain embedded in stereotypical assumptions and misguided pronouncements regarding their beliefs, attitudes and customs. But Islam and Muslims can no longer be viewed as “outsiders.” Today, Islam is as integral to the West as Judaism and Christianity.
The American Muslim community has seen remarkable growth – from one congregation in the mid-1920s to more than 2,000 organizations institutions of all types at the end of the 20th century. All indications suggest a growing momentum among Muslims in favor of integration into America’s civic and political life.
Mainstream Muslims consider core American values to be consistent with normative Islam. Chief among these are the norms of hard work, entrepreneurship and liberty; civilian control of the military; the clear institutionalization of political power; a diffuse process of public decision-making; and a functioning civil society that gives voice to competing interests.
The American Muslim community is unique in its diversity. Studies indicate that 36 percent of American Muslims were born in the United States, while 64 percent were born in 80 different countries around the world. No other country has such a rich diversity of Muslims. The American Muslim community is thus a microcosm of the Muslim world.
The American Muslim Poll by Project MAPS showed that the American Muslim community is younger, better educated and better off financially than average Americans. More than three-quarters of Muslim respondents reported that they had been involved with organizations to help the poor, sick, homeless, or elderly. Seventy-one percent had been involved with a religious organization or a mosque, and over two-thirds have been involved with school and youth programs. A little over half of those surveyed also stated that they had called or written to the media or to a politician on a given issue or had signed a petition.
A majority of American Muslims (58 percent) believed that individuals, businesses or religious organizations in their community had experienced discrimination since September 11. An overwhelming majority (93 percent) nonetheless favored participation in the American political process.
Despite such integrative attitudes, the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in America creates tensions and hinders quicker integration of Muslims. A recent Washington Post poll suggests 46 percent of Americans have a negative view of Islam and Muslims.
Muslims have enjoyed an uninterrupted presence in America for more than a century. Yet they remain conspicuous by their absence in many spheres of American public life. Despite being about 2 percent of the population, Muslim representation in policy making is negligible even when such policies directly affect Muslims here or abroad. American Muslims are by and large absent from representation in major policy making circles of the three national branches of the U.S. government.
Muslims in America, like their counterparts abroad, are dealing with issues related to democratization, gender equality, minority rights, religious tolerance, freedom of thought, and social justice.
Normative Islam provides basic principles that can embrace each of these ideas in positive ways. Muslim societies that in the past have suffered from the malaise of unthinking dogma are changing as evidenced in the reviving of critical inquiry, often leading to renewed understanding of Islam’s congruence with the ever-shifting ideas of “modernity.”
European-Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan in his book “Western Muslims: Isolation or Integration?” notes that Western Muslims are likely to play a decisive role in the evolution of Islam worldwide. By reflecting on their faith, their principles and their identity within industrialized, secularized societies, Western Muslims can lead Muslims worldwide in reconciling their relationship with the modern world.
[Parvez Ahmed, Ph.D., is board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
American Muslims and the 2008 Presidential Elections: Policy Recommendations
Dr. Muqtedar Khan
Posted Nov 3, 2008 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
American Muslims and the 2008 Presidential Elections: Policy Recommendations
Dr. Muqtedar Khan
Another presidential election is upon us. A known American political adage claims that there is an inherent tendency in the American body politic to hone in toward the center; whenever the pendulum shifts too far in one direction, the political cognoscenti insist, a reversal is inevitable. For the past eight years the policy and political discourse in this country has systematically shifted to the far right. It is time a balance is restored. The tone of politics is often set at the top and it is therefore essential for change to happen in the White House. If America’s political equilibrium has to be restored then the current Presidential elections must be the turning point.
What is at stake for the U.S.?
For America a lot is at stake, including its very identity. Over the past eight years America’s identity as a benevolent hegemon that sought to establish a liberal global order, privileging multiculturalism and democracy, and discouraging aggression has been destroyed. President Bush’s foreign policy, demeanor, language and manner in which his administration does business have brought only shame, failure and derision to America. America under Bush has become the world’s most hated nation and consequentially Anti-Americanism is now a key characteristic of global culture. The national security strategy of “preemptive strike” and the debacle of Iraq have diminished America’s influence and status, perhaps beyond repair.
Today America is perceived as an aggressive, bellicose, war mongering superpower that shoots in a hurry, only to assess damage at leisure. The above survey shows that the world sees U.S. presence in Iraq as a greater threat to world peace than either Iran or N. Korea.1 The GlobeScan and the University of Maryland surveyed nearly 40,000 people in 33 countries and found that the U.S. is the second most negatively viewed country, with only Iran more unpopular. This survey, however, has a disproportionate representation of western population and if it was done in proportion to the global population, I dare say the results would only be worse for the U.S.2 Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Iraq, the Patriot act, the defense and use of torture and the culture of xenophobia and Islamophobia have all become the new identity markers for the U.S.; the world recognizes that America has changed, and they resent and hate what it has become. Is this ugly image of America a temporary phase brought on by the trauma of the attacks on September 11th, or is this negative image here to stay? For most of the world and for American Muslims, the outcome of the current Presidential elections is likely to answer that question.
The U.S. economy is in recession. The housing market is in a free fall, reducing the cumulative wealth of the middle class whose riches are usually associated with their home equity. Oil prices are hurting the economy as well as the quality of life in the U.S. National debt has reached over $9.5 trillion amounting to $31,000 per citizen and increasing at 1 billion dollars a day.3 Debt servicing is corroding the economy. In 2007 alone, the U.S. paid $500 billion in interest on the national debt4; an amount larger than the national GDP of Sweden, the world’s 18th biggest economy.5 Imagine if that amount was invested in education or health care. The projected deficit for the year 2008 is $250 billion, a conservative estimate that does not include the deficit financed economic stimulus package of $100 billion. If America was a corporation and its financial report read as above, its stock would be falling at breakneck speed. The current policies are clearly devastating our economy and they cannot be sustained; change is necessary before things spiral out of control.
The most severe consequence of the Bush regime has been the division of the country into bitter ideological halves that have forgotten how to tolerate political differences. The right in particular has become viscous and accuses anyone who disagrees as anti-American. The anti-Muslim and Islamophobic discourses coming from numerous conservative religious leaders and talk show hosts have poured venom into the public discourse. While good policies can reverse the economic and political damage, it will take time to heal the cultural wounds self-perpetrated on this nation. The U.S. can ill afford the continuity of the Bush regime.
What is at stake for American Muslims?
In the past there were positive incentives for Muslims seeking to engage in American politics. Recognition, influence, a seat at the table and perhaps an opportunity to reduce the severe imbalance in America’s foreign policy in the Middle East were the prizes at the end of political engagement. Yet this time the incentives are increasingly negative and to some extent existential. America’s political culture, legal environment and public discourse have become structurally Islamophobic. Even those who do not harbor explicit anti-Muslim sentiments manifest them inadvertently because Islamophobia has become a structural element.
Let me illustrate what I mean by this. For months rumors have spread via email and blogs that Presidential candidate Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim. Perpetrators believe that by merely suggesting that Senator Obama is a Muslim, his chances of getting elected will be diminished. They seem to be confident that labeling him a Muslim would constitute a decisive negative for the majority of Americans since they would not accept a Muslim as President.
Defenders of Senator Obama and the candidate himself have repeatedly refuted the claim that he is Muslim and assert that he is a devout and practicing Christian. Yet this response in itself suggests a structural Islamophobia. Why couldn’t Obama respond by saying “so what If I was?” Clearly he too thinks that such rhetorical gambits would be too risky. Keith Ellison, a Muslim Congressman from Minnesota, recently remarked to the New York Times: “A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim.”6 To his credit, Obama has on more than one occasion stated that the anti-Muslim prejudice inherent in accusations that he is a Muslim was disturbing.
Nevertheless, Obama is not yet ready to take on the challenge of Islamophobia directly. His goal seems to be to escape its negative impact on his candidacy and to come out of it without himself appearing to be anti-Muslim. It seems that America has developed a tolerance for anti-Muslim bigotry in its leadership. Religious leaders, media personnel, and elected officials all continue to say things about Muslims that would be construed as hate speech if used against any other community.
It is of paramount interest for Muslims that the tone at the top change so that the intolerance towards Islam and Muslims does not become a permanent feature of American society. The government, in spite of its claims to the contrary, is treating Muslims as suspects. We regularly hear of new surveillance efforts that undoubtedly targets Muslims and Muslim institutions. Even though the 9/11 commission exonerated the Muslim community of any collusion in the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the Bush administration continues to operate with the assumption that the community is infested with sleeper cells and Al Qaeda proxies.7
Change at the top accompanied by a shift in posture and discourse will go a long way in reducing hate speech against Islam and Muslims. If officials at the top make it clear that the demonization of American Muslims will no longer be tolerated, it will send a clear message to government agencies, anti-Muslim preachers and the media that they must be much more careful with what they say. While responding to the challenge of some Islamophobic preachers, Muslims must not forget the overwhelming support and friendship of churches across the country.8 They have accommodated Muslims looking for a place to pray, allow Muslims to park their cars in church parking lots on Fridays and have been enthusiastic in engaging Muslims in inter-faith dialogues and advocating both religious tolerance and respect for Islam as a religion.
Muslims in American Politics: The Big Picture
Muslims are now in the third phase of the evolution of American Muslim politics. The first phase, which took place prior to the 2000 Presidential elections, was a debate on whether to participate in American politics. The second phase which took place in 2003 and 2004, was the debate on the pros and cons of block voting and the endorsement of a candidate by the entire Muslim community. The community has now entered the third phase Т the perplexed period.
In the first debate the Muslim community had two pressing questions to address. The first question was whether it was halal – Islamically permissible – to participate in the American political process. Many conservative leaders and members of the then active Hizbut-Tahrir argued that democracy itself was a kufr (unIslamic) system; thus the debate to engage or not became a debate about the compatibility of Islam and democracy. The second question was more practical in nature. It was whether the community stood to gain from engagement or was it better served by remaining isolated and focused on identity preservation by huddling around mosques and eschewing main street America. Fortunately the conservatives lost this debate and American Muslims embraced democracy as well as politics and proceeded to vote as a block for George W. Bush in November 2000.9
The second debate emerged in 2004, as American Muslims went to the polls dazed by post- 9/11 politics. The community was reeling from the shock of what had happened on that dreadful day and was trying to come to terms with the fact that these acts were committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. Even to this day, a large segment of the community does not believe that Muslims were responsible, even after the many statements issued by Bin Laden himself and the over whelming evidence gathered by Western and Muslim law enforcement and intelligence services. According to a Pew study of American Muslims, only 40% of the community believes that the perpetrators of 9/11 were Arabs, 28% deny it and 32% refuse to answer the question.10
This issue is important because American Muslim view of U.S. response to September 11 attacks was largely colored by who they believed the perpetrators were. Those who believed that the attackers were indeed members of Al Qaeda were more inclined to combat the rising anti-Muslim environment in the U.S. On the other hand, those who believed that the United States or Israelis had orchestrated the attack to give the U.S. an excuse to attack Islam remained hostile and fearful of American politics. This discord basically meant that unlike in 2000 when most of the community was on the same page vis-à-vis political engagement, the community was now a bit incoherent and divided.
The American Muslim leadership entered the Presidential elections with great determination. They felt betrayed by George W. Bush whom they had helped elect in 2000. Muslim leaders believed that the strength of Muslims in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, over 10,000 Muslim voters by some count and over 20,000 by other estimates, was decisive in winning Florida for Bush and sending him to the White House. Muslim organizations claimed that their endorsement of G. W. Bush had led to over 79% of American Muslims to vote for him, and they were now ready to use this powerful Muslim voting block to aid John Kerry.
Unfortunately for the Muslim organizations, which were now operating under the umbrella of the “American Muslim Taskforce,” there was strong dissent within the community. Several Muslim intellectuals and commentators were opposed to the idea of a block vote, including myself. Thus the second debate within the community was on “whether to vote as a block or not.” Those in favor of block voting argued that the existence of the block gave the community significant leverage and exposure; American Muslim leadership could use this lever to gain important concessions from the candidates. They also advanced the generic argument that there was strength in unity.
Critics were asking more sophisticated questions. For example, they argued that there was an ideological difference between Democrats and Republicans and wondered how the community could completely alter its ideological preferences based on which candidate was ready for a photo-op with members of the American Muslim Taskforce. Did the community have any basic principles or did they merely desire to have access to politicians? Moreover, the idea of block voting basically subverted American democracy, which is based on individual rights. Therefore the critics demanded that American Muslims should be treated as mature citizens and be allowed to vote their conscience and not follow the dictates of unelected leaders. If the entire community chose to vote for the same candidate, that was дine. Some critics also argued that endorsement of one candidate would necessarily alienate the other; if the other candidate won, the community would not be served well by block voting.11
Critics also raised the issue of legitimacy of the American Muslim taskforce, questioning on what basis was it claiming to represent the community it could not even raise enough money from the community to have an ofдice in Washington DC. Several issues were raised about the legitimacy of the process too. The taskforce nevertheless went ahead and endorsed John Kerry, but only after several Muslim organizations withdrew after criticism arose from the community at large. The most prominent organization that withdrew from the taskforce was the Islamic Society of North America, the biggest American Muslim organization in existence. The text of the endorsement also came under severe criticism, for even though it endorsed Kerry, it also insulted him. In essence the coalition that had come together in 2000 was fragmenting by 2004,12 and John KerryТs eventual defeat and the 䀏iasco of the endorsement left the community deflated.
State of Muslim Politics Today
The state of Muslim politics today is mixed. The good news is that American Muslims have made some significant gains on the political stage since the 2004 elections. The historic election of Keith Ellison from Minnesota as the first Muslim Congressman in 2006 was soon followed by the fortuitous election of Andre Carson from the seventh district in Indiana in 2008. EllisonТs election was indeed a major breakthrough for American Muslims; although his religious identity become an issue both during and after the elections, he survived both times. Indeed, his decision to swear not on a Bible but on Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Quran underscored Islam’s enduring relationship with America.
In addition to these landmark achievements, the most important development is that Muslim commitment to political engagement has become deep and extensive. The community no longer waits for Presidential elections to become mobilized. Muslims are now involved in Senatorial races, races for the House and also for state level and gubernatorial elections. These are all signs of political maturation. We no longer hear foolish arguments such as “democracy is kufr” and “political engagement in America is haraam,” and there is a consensus that political engagement is absolutely essential; the only thing left to desire is depth in participation.
A new phenomenon, however, has now begun to plague the community. Since 9/11 there has been an influx of new Muslim immigrants to the U.S. While these immigrants do not have the legal status to vote, many of them cluster around mosques and shape the political and cultural environments in those mosques. I do not have statistical data to back this assertion and hence it should be received guardedly. But talking to Muslim activists around the country, it is apparent that new immigrants that are religiously active in bringing the same anti-Americanism rampant in Muslim countries to American mosques. They perpetuate conspiracy theories about America and pour venom in the hearts of Muslims trying to come to terms with their American and Muslim identities. The Pew Study of American Muslims supports this thesis to some extent. It shows that there is a significant difference in attitudes of Muslims who have lived in the U.S. for some time and those who are new arrivals.13 Coping with the imported politics of the greater Middle East adds to the strain American Muslims already feel from growing Islamophobia in the country.
Finally, contemporary Muslim politics are shadowed by a growing recognition of the diminished status of Muslims as a political force in America. Several local Muslim community leaders and some national leaders have remarked that they feel that “American Muslims are largely irrelevant” to the current Presidential elections. Candidates are not seeking them out as they did in the past, and Muslim leaders consequentially have difficulty gaining to Presidential candidates.
Two recent surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center have exposed the community and belied its claims of demographic and дinancial strength. From the mid 1990s until recently, American Muslim organizations claimed that there were over 6 million Muslims in the U.S. who were highly educated and wealthy. A survey by PEW (in which the Michigan based think tank Institute for Social Policy and Understanding also participated) determined that there are only 2.35 million Muslims in the U.S.; less then half of what Muslims had claimed until now. While it is arguable that the PEW study underestimates Muslim population due to certain methodological flaws, it remains the most comprehensive scientific study of the Muslim population in the U.S.14
The second study by PEW that allows comparison of the demographic data of different religious groups in the U.S. does not give Muslims the edge in wealth and education that they claim. Here is a brief comparison of Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Buddhists and Hindus [religions with small populations] based on that study.
Muslims definitely do better educationally and fiscally on average than Catholics and members of historically black churches, and are comparable to some white denominations. Yet this does not mean that Muslims as a tiny minority, less than 1% of the population, can make up for the numbers deficit with wealth and education and have a disproportionate political impact. On the issues that matter most to Muslims, especially on foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia, Muslims do not compare favorably with the interest groups that they compete with; pro-India and pro-Israel lobbies are supported by communities which are more educated and wealthier.
I recently discussed these findings with Muslim leaders in Michigan and Washington, DC. They claimed that these surveys had methodological flaws. I agree that all surveys have methodological flaws, but these flaws would have a similar impact on all communities and not just on surveys of Muslims. Anyway, while Muslims may deny the reality that their community is smaller and weaker than they believe, the rest of America will probably accept these findings and politicians will pay them the attention the numbers warrant. This means that in 2008, the community will get lesser attention than it did in 2000 and 2004.
The institutional basis of the community has become relatively weaker as well. The government has created an environment of fear among American Muslims and they are more reluctant to support Islamic causes and organizations as a result several Muslim organizations that have experienced funding crises. New donors have also entered the fray as more and more Muslims recognize the need to engage and participate in the public sphere. The biggest change has been the loss of the American Muslim Council (AMC), which fizzled away after 2003. The AMC was the main political organization of American Muslims and nothing has yet emerged to fill its void. The inability of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) to sustain a Washington, DC presence further exposes the financial limitations under which the community operates. Contemporary Muslim politics is therefore struggling to recover from body blows suffered in the current hostile environment. It will take some time for the community to reach a comparable level of cohesion and organization as enjoyed in 2000.
American Muslims and Barack Obama
American Muslims have entered a peculiar situation with Senator Barrack Obama. They need him to win – but he, it seems, does not need the Muslim vote to win. Muslims hope that if Obama wins, he will restore sanity to American politics, bring balance to its foreign policy and put a dampener on the steadily rising Islamophobia.17 Obama is seen by Americans as a candidate who transcends not just partisanship but also politics. He is poised to bring about change not just in the government but also in the manner in which government does its business. Obama is determined to become a unifying force, reaching out not just to opponents at home but also to enemies abroad. Most importantly, he has awakened a political responsibility in millions of American youth who for decades have remained indifferent to politics.
Barack Obama’s personality is a composite bridge; he is white and black, native as well as foreign, young yet mature. The black Obama carries within him the echoes of America’s disempowered margins. The Harvard Law alum Obama personifies the white elite. The Hussein in his name acknowledges that things which appear to be foreign – like Islam – are also native to America. Even his association with Rev. Wright is quintessentially American. It is a bridge to America’s dark past from where ghosts still come to haunt the present. Obama is surreal. He is like a customized bridge designed specifically to transcend every divide threatening to tear America apart today.
Of the two contenders, Obama and McCain, the former has already won the hope of nations abroad. McCain threatens the world with a third Bush term and Obama promises a radical departure. Most commentators abroad expect John McCain to basically adopt the Bush foreign policy albeit minor changes. On the positive front they expect that McCain will be less inclined to adopt tactics like torture and kidnapping that Bush has used. His acknowledgement of global warming is a relief. On the negative side they think he will repeat BushТs folly in Iraq by starting another nightmare in Iran.
Obama, on the other hand, is viewed as free from the foolhardy hubris of neoconservatives and not completely enslaved by special interests. If he is elected, it is hoped that he will transform U.S. foreign policy. Experts overseas expect that he will be willing to seek genuine international cooperation, will rekindle the dead spirit of multilateralism and replace bellicosity and arrogance with diplomacy, tact and understanding.
I am convinced that if Obama is elected, the worldwide epidemic of anti-Americanism will deflate instantaneously and the world will reset their perceptions of America. Obama will start with a world eager to work with America to repair the global damage done by the ill-advised and ill-executed policies of George W. Bush. Even in Iraq, nations across the region will cooperate to improve the regional situation. His consistent opposition to the Iraq War will also help improve relations with the Middle East.
For American Muslims, his victory will mean significant changes in the domestic environment. It will send a message that the politics of fear mongering have come to an end and anti-Muslim rhetoric and profiling at airports and elsewhere will reduce. The vindictive witch hunt that U.S. prosecutors are displaying against Muslims, so tragically manifested in the case of Sami Al Arian,18 will probably come to an end. Let us keep our fingers crossed.
Unfortunately, Obama’s victory is not guaranteed. He is consistently leading in the polls, but anything could happen between now and November. Yet the first time, Americans have a rare opportunity; they have a chance to elect a President whose vision and leadership is sought not just by many Americans, but most of the World. American Muslims must help their fellow Americans realize this opportunity.
American Muslims and John McCain
John McCain has nothing to offer to American Muslims. His Presidency will prove just as dangerous and harmful to Muslims at home and abroad as that of G. W. Bush. Voting for the Republican candidate in 2008 will tantamount to replacing Bush and Cheney with John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Joe Lieberman’s transition to the neocon-in-chief has been completed. He has come out from behind his veils of moderation and now his singular purpose in life seems to be to use America’s power against all real and imaginary friends of Israel. In every senate hearing that he is present, he has only one question: “when are we attacking Iran, Ahmedinajad has threatened Israel.” American Muslims may or may not be interested in the well-being of Iran; it is a sovereign nation with elected leaders and it fully understands the consequence of its (un)diplomacy and policies. But the rhetoric and discourses that will emerge before, during and after an invasion of Iran will escalate Islamophobia, increase hate crimes against Muslims in America and further undermine their civil rights and quality of life in general. Neoconservative policies have proven to be deceptive and catastrophic to all. Any Presidential candidate who takes Joe Lieberman as a foreign policy advisor is no friend of Muslims. While some Muslims will vote for McCain, the community at large will surely suffer if he wins.
Policy Recommendations for American Muslims
My recommendations to the American Muslim community are two-fold. The first three recommendations refer to the broader goal of political engagement, while the rest deal with the Presidential elections of American Muslims must go beyond voting, fund raising and endorsements. They must seek to become integral and permanent features of the electoral processes of the two parties; engagement must not be episodic but continuous. One way to do this is by becoming members of the two main parties, Republican and Democratic, and contribute to the strategic vision of these parties at the local level. In nearly every major city, there are individual Muslims who are heavily involved in local politics. Community leaders must encourage these individuals and provide them with tools and resources to make them influential in the mainstream community. Another way to engage is to provide volunteers, especially early on in the campaigns. Muslims are already doing most of these things – they just need to participate more consistently. Local communities must establish either a process or a person to liaison with the political players in their areas. For instance, if some politician is still exploring the idea of running for an office and is looking to see if he can get preliminary support from the community, it should be easy for such a candidate to find who to contact in the Muslim community.
One of the American Muslim weaknesses in the political arena has been their inability to empathize with the issues that are galvanizing mainstream politics. Muslims have their own issues – civil rights at home and Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine abroad – but as a community they do not actively take a stand on the issues that matter to the rest of America such as health care, gas prices, mortgage crisis, job loss, family values, etc. As a result, Muslim community engagement with politicians is limited. Most American politicians are handcuffed when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict; there is very little flexibility in the system on that issue. But if Muslims are also active on mainstream issues, it becomes easy for politicians and other interest groups to include Muslims in the coalitions they are building. Although each of the aforementioned issues affect the Muslim community, they remain uninterested and unengaged because the issues are not considered “Islamic.” Engagement does not mean that politicians respond to Muslim needs alone – Muslims should respond to American needs too.
Assimilating New Immigrants:
It is important that every mosque and every community center run a new immigrant orientation program. These programs should educate immigrants about American democracy, the Abrahamic tradition, the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and the extent of Quranic support for religious pluralism. It is important that community members have a shared value base. It is debilitating when established community leaders pursue goals based on an inclusivist interpretation of Islam and then find that while they were busy engaging the mainstream, the very mosque that was their base has become a haven for an exclusivist interpretation of Islam causing rift and discord within the community. There are several prominent cases of this happening, some of which have embroiled the mosques in tedious and expensive litigation. Communities that seek to have a major impact on the American policy scene need to be united, focused, motivated and willing to go beyond the call of duty.
No alternative but Obama:
Muslims have very little leverage with regards to Barrack Obama. If he spurns them, they cannot punish him by throwing their weight and vote behind John McCain. If Obama wins they benefit, if he loses they will lose. American Muslims are one constituency that Obama as an agent of change can take for granted. Muslims, regardless of Obama’s demeanor towards them, vote for him and contribute as much as possible to his campaign. Muslims alone could hypothetically underwrite his entire Presidential bid; 1.5 million Muslim adults giving 200 dollars each would mean $300 million! Even if only 10% of Muslim adults can give $200 each, the contributions would exceed $30 million. No candidate or party can afford to ignore that.
Run mini campaigns:
American Muslims should volunteer to mobilize support and encourage campaign contributions within the community and with their friends from outside the community. There are a lot of false rumors being spread about Obama – help expose these lies. Young Muslims active on the internet can encourage their friends to join Obama support groups on social networks such as Myspace and Facebook. Encourage friends and relatives to register and make sure that come Election Day, they remember to vote for Obama.
Town Hall Meetings:
Community leaders can help increase awareness of issues by hosting town hall style meetings. It would be great if Islamic Centers can invite the local proxies of the two candidates, hold debates about the relative merits of the candidates, and assess their policies to educate the independents who have not made their choice yet. Independents will be the key to this election; Islamic centers can become a focal point for local politics by hosting such events and keeping them open to all members of their local community, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
American Muslim organizations must be careful how they conduct themselves from now until November. Obama will not cuddle up with American Muslim leaders now or even after he is elected – his proximity to Islam and Muslims is an Achilles heel for him as far as the American electorate is concerned. It is sad but true. Instead, American Muslims must focus on his policies and not on his personality or his personal relations with them. Support or criticize his policies, but eschew discussions about anything else. Just because a candidate is willing to reach out to Muslims does not mean that his policies will be salutary towards them; that is the lesson we learned from George W. Bush, who ambushed us after we endorsed and voted for him.
In the near term, American Muslims will continue to face severe political and cultural challenges in the U.S. Things could undeniably get worse than what they are today. It all depends on two key factors: (1) another attack on the homeland by Muslims like 9/11 and (2) a major war between the U.S. and another Muslim country. If these two events do not happen, things will begin to improve slowly. Obama’s election will expedite normalization. He may not meet with Muslims, but he will also not use fear mongering about Islam and Muslims to advance his political agenda. American Muslim leaders continue to suffer from an exaggerated perception of their own influence on Muslims and mainstream America. As a result, they have set goals for the community well beyond its current capabilities. It is important that we have a realistic view of our strengths and caliber our goals in proportion to our ability. The important thing is to persevere patiently Т God helps those who do so (Quran 2:153).
1 See Pew Global Attitudes Survey published on June 13, 2006 on the World Wide Web at:
2 See a BBC report on this survey at: http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.bbc.co.uk%2F2%2Fhi%2Fin_depth%2F4674656.stm
3 See the national debt as of now at http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.brillig.com%2Fdebt_clock%2F.
4 See http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.factcheck.org%2Fdemos%2Ffactcheck%2Fimagefiles%2FImage%2FPieChart.jpg to see how the cost of debt servicing is escalating.
6 See Andrea Elliot, “Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama,” The New York Times, June 24, 2008. On the World Wide Web:
7 For a Muslim review of the 9/11 Commission report see, First Impressions: American Muslim Perspectives (Washington DC: American Muslim Taskforce, 2003).
8 A recent observatory report by the Organization of Islamic Conferences, OIC, recorded the growing incidence of Islamophobia in the West. See http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.oic-oci.org%2Foicnew%2Fis11%2Fenglish%2FIslamophobia-rep-en.pdf.
9 I have recounted this debate in great detail in M. A. Muqtedar Khan, “American Muslims and the Rediscovery of America’s Sacred Ground,” in Barbara A McGraw and Jo Renee Formicola (Eds.), Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America’s Sacred Ground (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2006), pp. 127-148.
10 See Pew Report on American Muslims, Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream (Washington DC: Pew Research Center, 2007), p. 5.
11 See M. A. Muqtedar Khan, “The Politics of Bock Voting,” on World Wide Web at:
http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ijtihad.org%2FMuslimvote2004.htm. Also see Khalid Hassan, “American Muslim Leadership Accused of Sellout,” The Daily Times, October 21, 2004. Aslam Abdullah, “Flip Flopping AMT,” AmericanMuslimVoters.com, October 21, 2004.
“Muslim Endorsement of Kerry Under Attack”, The Daily Times, October, 24,2004.
See “Non-Endorsement and Irrelevance,” Muslimwakeup.com, October 20, 2004.
Aslam Abdullah, “Flip Flopping AMT,” AmericanMuslimVoters.com, October 21, 2004. http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Famericanmuslimvoters.com%2Farticles%2FFlipFloppingAMT.htm See Rachell Zoll, “Muslim Leaders Lean against Endorsement,” AP Wire, October 19, 2004.
12 See Muqtedar Khan, “American Muslim Taskforce insults John Kerry and Alienates George Bush,” on the World Wide Web at: http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ijtihad.org%2FAmerican%2520Muslim%2520Taskforce.htm.
13 See Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream (Washington DC: Pew Research center, 2007), p. 58.
14 Pew Report on American Muslims, Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream (Washington DC: Pew Research Center, 2007).
15 See Pew Survey; on the world wide web at: http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Freligions.pewforum.org%2Fcomparisons%23
16 Pew Survey; http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Freligions.pewforum.org%2Fcomparisons%23
17 See this Washington Post article on the rising negative perceptions of Islam in the U.S., Claudia Deane, Darryl Fears, “Negative Perceptions of Islam Increasing,” The Washington Post, March 09, 2006, p. A1. On the World Wide Web at
http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonpost.com%2Fwp-dyn%2Fcontent%2Farticle%2F2006%2F03%2F08%2FAR2006030802221_pf.html. Also see: Western Perceptions of Islam and Muslims, (Market Intelligence Consultancy, 2005) on the World Wide Web at; http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.islamperceptions.org%2FWesternPerceptionofIslamandMuslims.pdf
18 For a review of Sami al Arian’s case see John Halliwell, “Bush Administration: We are Working on the Legalities,” Daily Kos, May 12, 2008. On the World Wide Web at;
Please see the full pdf report (with charts and graphs included). Visit Muqtedar Khans web-site Ijtihad
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). He is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations and Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware. From 2003-2008 he was a senior Non-resident Fellow at Brookings Institute and from 2006-2007 he was a Fellow of the Alwaleed Center at Georgetown University.
American Muslims Denounce Terrorism
Posted Jul 11, 2007 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
American Muslims Denounce Terrorism
American Muslims aren’t silent about the taking of innocent lives.
By Ibrahim Hooper
In the wake of the recent terror plot in Britain, American Muslims are once again being asked why we are “silent” on the issue of terrorism committed in the name of Islam.
It is a valid question, but one that frustrates those of us who repeatedly and consistently condemn terrorism in all its forms.
I recall the tragic day of Sept. 11, 2001, when a coalition of leading Muslim groups issued what was perhaps the first statement by any organization condemning the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
Since 9/11, I have personally written dozens of statements condemning terrorism in all its forms, whether suicide bombings in the Middle East, terror attacks in London and Madrid, the killing of Christian missionaries in Yemen, or a shooting at a Jewish center in Seattle.
In the past six years, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has coordinated the release of a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) repudiating terrorism and religious extremism, initiated an online petition drive called “Not in the Name of Islam,” and distributed a related TV public service announcement that has been seen by some 10 million viewers nationwide.
This repeated repudiation of terrorism is not prompted by outside pressure, but by the basic Islamic principle that no one has the right to take innocent life.
CAIR officials and representatives of other major American Muslim groups regularly reinforce Islam’s rejection of attacks on civilians when they speak to community and interfaith organizations, media outlets and law enforcement officials.
American Muslims are also working with local, state and national law enforcement agencies to help make our nation more secure.
Yet despite striving daily to remind our fellow Americans that we do repudiate the terrorists who falsely claim to represent Islam, we are still grilled about the Muslim community’s “silence” on the issue.
The deadly phenomenon of terrorism will not be eliminated by condemnations alone. A real end to terror will come only when the mainstream followers of all faiths and citizens of all nations work together to marginalize extremists and to build a future based on freedom and justice.
American Muslims stand ready to help build that better future for all our children.
Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties group.
For further resources see:
Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism
MUSLIMS DENOUNCE TERRORISM
– Qur’an & Hadith against extremism
– Part I Fatwas
– Part II Statements by Organizations
– Part III Statements and Articles by Individuals
– Part IV A Few Quotes
– Part V The Muslim Majority Who Don’t Get Publicity
– Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. Military
– Selective Hearing of Muslim Voices Against Extremism
– Sunni Shia Unity Resources – collection of articles
American Muslims, Freedom of Expression and Hijab
Posted Apr 16, 2007 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
American Muslims, Freedom of Expression and Hijab
by Salma Kazmi
Leukemia patients, nuns, Jews, Arabs, Hindus. These are just some of the people my sister and I have been confused with since we started wearing the headcover, hijab, about seven months ago. The ignorance of the American people angered me, but even more so, it shocked me. If at no other time in history, I expected the knowledge and awareness of Islam and Muslims to increase during the war with Iraq. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Most people do not distinguish between Arab and Muslim, and could not understand how I could be one and not the other. They do not realize that one is a religion and the other a race.
Over the past seven months, I have learned more than I could have in ten years about myself, others and how Muslims are perceived in the US. We are foreigners. Regardless of how many generations of Muslims have grown up here, once they identify themselves, as Muslim women do by putting on a hijab, suddenly no non-Muslim can relate to them. Why does the same not hold true for the Jewish yarmulka?
For years I subscribed to the same beliefs regarding the hijab probably as many non-Muslims. I had been brainwashed by the media to think of the scarf as a form of oppression. When I thought of it, I saw nothing but a cowering woman, hidden from the world and from life, her job was to serve her husband and nothing else. She was a trembling and pathetic creature who lived in Saudi Arabia, couldn’t drive a car, and ran from television cameras. She was certainly not much of a role model.
But really, my perception of hi jab was indeed a result of a non-Muslim media, who could not open their eyes. Who could not accept the fact that maybe, just maybe there was something more to this headcover. That maybe the freedom to wear next to nothing was not liberty, but rather captivity.
The non- Muslim woman worries constantly about whether her hair, her face, her body are all up to the current standards of society. Today, these standards are all but impossible to live up to, leaving the vast majority of women in a constant battle to achieve the unachievable, and killing their bodies in the process. Eighty percent of fourth grade girls in America are on diets. Do you have any idea how widespread the deadly diseases of anorexia and bulemia are?
The hijab, however, by covering the body does just the opposite of what non-Muslims believe. It emancipates the mind and heart like nothing else can. When you no longer buy into society’s rules of dress, but only the rules of Allah (SWT) in at least one sense, you are no longer controlled by society. In addition, people are forced to deal with you, your mind, and not your body. Wearing the hijab, Allah is always with you, in your mind, and you think twice about telling that little white lie, or putting of praying until the last possible moment. I have heard many Muslim women say that the hijab is unimportant next to your actions and beliefs, but wearing hijab enhances both of these, and after wearing it for seven months, no one could tell me it didn’t make any difference.
Wearing hijab also makes Muslims more visible in this society, and if anyone ever thinks Muslim women are pathetic cowering creatures, they should try wearing hijab, because it is indescribably hard to deal with the whispers and ridicule and racism that exists, that must exist until we make ourselves known. It is hard to sit with non-Muslim friends in the park, in the sweltering heat of the summer sun, covered from head to toe while others run around in shorts and tank tops. It is hard to get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, hey, my hair looks really nice today, and then cover it up so no one else will even know how nice your hair looks. But the awards far overshadow these negatives, because in addition to all the practical benefits of wearing hijab, you are ultimately wearing it for the pleasure of Allah, and isn’t that really what we strive for all our lives?
I dream of a day that the hijab will be as common as a yarmulka or crucifix. For now, it is so uncommon in our society that discrimination against it is easily accepted or excused. I myself was denied a promotion at work because I was told my hijab broke the dress code of the company I work for. Don’t worry, they will be hearing from me about this little decision, but I highly doubt this would happen to a man who wore a yarmulka. It is up to us to make the hijab an everyday thing, to make our presence as Muslims known. We all live, as Muslims, for the life after death, but that does not give us the permission to sit back during this life, because this life is for jihad, the struggle to practice Islam.
Originally printed in The American Muslim print edition Winter 1991
American Politics, Terrorism and Islam: Part 8: How Can Terrorism be Defeated?
Posted Jun 25, 2008 • Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
American Politics, Terrorism and Islam: Part 8: How Can Terrorism be Defeated?
By Habib Siddiqui
As is well-known among experts, terrorism cannot be fought without understanding its underlying causes (and not symptoms). Unless the sources of the motivation for terrorism are diluted, attempts to thwart and eliminate it will see little success. Hatred will breed fresh recruitment. In his must-read book – The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership – Dr. Brzezinski argues that to make certain that their ranks are not replenished, however, a careful political strategy is needed in order to weaken the complex political and cultural forces that give rise to terrorism. Bottom line: what creates them has to be politically undercut.
Thus, if we are serious about not seeing a repeat of events like the 9/11, we ought to understand and mitigate the contributing factors. As has been concluded by most experts, including President Jimmy Carter and Dr. Brzezinski, there is no escape from the historic reality that American involvement in the Middle East is clearly the main reason why terrorism has been directed at America – just as, e.g., English involvement in Ireland precipitated the IRA’s frequent targeting of London. The British have recognized that basic fact and have tried to react to it on both military and political levels. In contrast, America has shown an incredible reluctance to confront the political dimensions of terrorism and to identify terrorism with its political context. The state of affairs simply worsened during G.W. Bush’s Administration. Soon after coming to power in 2001, President Bush not only ignored the Palestinian grievances but worse still, condoned and rewarded Israeli brutality against the Palestinian people. If American policy in the Middle East were even-handed and just, rather than being lopsided in favor of Israel, 9/11 may never have happened.
American relationship with the world of Islam is complicated by strong emotions and a great deal of reciprocal prejudices. It started deteriorating since at least the time of Henry Kissinger when he served as America’s top diplomat. He tilted the U.S. foreign policy very heavily in favor of the Jewish state. This, in spite of Israel’s bombing of the USS Liberty in 1967. The Iranian hostage crisis after the fall of the Shah was definitely a low point in Muslim-American relationship.
During Reagan Administration the relationship worsened further with Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. There is little doubt among terrorist experts that when on April 18, 1983 a delivery van blew up the U.S. Embassy in Beirut killing 46 people (including 16 Americans) the chief motivation was the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut that was orchestrated by Sharon. As the Lebanese Civil War escalated, American and French forces sided with the Lebanese Christian forces, thus making a travesty of the UN peace mission. On September 13, 1983, Reagan called for heavy bombing and shelling of Muslim positions to help the Christian forces. That provided the stimulus for the reprisal attack on Oct. 23, 1983 when truck bombs killed American marines and French soldiers.
When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, she claimed that the invasion was justified in retaliation for PLO attacks on Israelis. But as Tom Friedman, the Jewish correspondent for the New York Times and an unabashed apologist for the Israeli government, noted in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, the number of Israeli casualties the PLO guerillas in Lebanon actually inflicted were minuscule – one death in the 12 months before the invasion. (As later events testify Israeli terrorism has only been emboldened by a docile and compliant US Congress and White House. Israel’s casualties from rockets fired by the Hizballah and Hamas in recent years were so little that they could not have justified the latest invasion of Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. And yet, the Bush Administration sided with Israel for slaughter of Muslims. Such a carte blanche to rogue Jewish state is dangerous and immoral.)
The events of 1983 clearly demonstrate how American support of Israeli terrorism leads to terrible consequences for the United States. But even after 9/11, it seems America does not get it right. Arrogant and confident about her hyper power status, American leaders continue to ignore lessons of history, overlook what is so obvious and follow failed path like obsessed fools.
Information sharing between intelligence groups is important to stop some terrorist activities. However, in an increasingly cynical world ruled by mostly immoral political leaders with ignoble agendas that are at odds with goodwill for humanity such does not happen all the time. The Los Angeles Times, in discussing a revealing book by a former agent of the Israeli Mossad, showed that the Mossad had foreknowledge of the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, but treacherously did not warn America. That wasn’t the only time that Israel committed treachery against the USA. There are credible reports of Mossad’s foreknowledge of the 9/11 attack, which were not shared with the FBI. Such a willful avoidance to share sensitive information can only be explained in Israel’s wicked intent to swing American public opinion towards an all-out war that is scripted by Jewish neocons to reshape the geopolitical map of the Middle East, and making the region impotent against Israeli aggression. Thus, when on September 12, 2001 the former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was asked what the 9/11 attacks meant for relations between the US and Israel, he replied, “It’s very good.” In a recent speech (April 16, 2008), quoted in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, he repeated: “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” He reportedly added that these events “swung American public opinion in our favor.” [Interestingly, notice his choice of the word “struggle”, meaning Jihad in Arabic!]
Soon after 9/11 there was genuine empathy for America in most Muslim countries, including Iran. However, within six months, the nearly unanimous support for America gave way to increasing skepticism, when Bush’s War on Terror was increasingly viewed as a neo-Crusade against the world of Islam. The US inclination, in the spring of 2002, to embrace even the more extreme and brutal forms of Israeli suppression of Palestinians further worsened the matter. In recent years, Bush’s never-ending war on terrorism has morphed into a campaign to vanquish all potential enemies of her hegemony—from Iran to Somalia via Syria.
In his tunnel-vision approach to our world, i.e., seeing the world in terms of “us vs. them,” President Bush has forgotten that it is his evil, immoral and bad policy in the Middle East that has spawn new terrorists faster than his forces can kill old ones. He also forgets that violence against civilians, esp. dehumanization of enemy, contributes to replenishment amongst the victims’ friends and families. Simply exterminating them all will not solve the problem. Bush Administration also forgot that extreme torture tactics only help to recruit for terrorism. Not surprisingly, there are more ‘terrorists’ today in Afghanistan and Iraq than ever before! And in all likelihood, terrorism will not end with Osama’s capture or death either, as it has not ended in Iraq with Zarqawi’s assassination.
America is also heedless about the cost of terrorism. This attitude is simply insane and untenable, especially, in the light of a recently published CRS Report for Congress (April 11, 2008) on the cost of war in Afghanistan and Iraq that shows that a total of $700 billion was approved as of December 2007 by the Congress since the 9/11 attacks. In February 2008, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the funding could reach from 1.1 to 1.7 trillion USD for fiscal years 2001-2018. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already killed some 5000 occupation soldiers (almost twice the number killed in the WTC attack of 9/11), let alone killing more than a million Muslim civilians. Those wars were partly motivated by oil. And what did war deliver other than Americans having have to pay now three times in gas stations, with ripple effects felt everywhere?
Bush Administration’s unwillingness to recognize a historical connection between the rise of anti-American terrorism and America’s hegemonic involvement in the Middle East, plus immoral and unquestioning support of the rogue, racist state – Israel, is a dangerous and delusional form of denial and makes the formulation of an effective strategic response to terrorism that much difficult.
To win war against Middle Eastern terrorists, as Dr. Brzezinski has suggested in his book “The Choice” America must promote a political process that confronts the conditions that lead to the terrorists’ emergence. This is precisely what the British has been doing in Ulster and the Spaniards in Basque country, and ought to be followed by every government that wants to tackle the problem earnestly. It is that simple.
As any genuine expert would testify, addressing these political conditions is not a concession to terrorists but an important component of a strategy to eliminate and isolate the terrorist underworld. This formula for rooting out terrorism in the Arab world can start with finding a just and equitable solution to the Palestinian problem that allows repatriation of the uprooted people to their ancestral homes.
However, with an overarching influence of the Israel Lobby, no American politician is bold enough to formulate a Middle-East policy that is meaningful to combat terrorism. As a matter of fact when it comes to the Middle East, it is virtually all the same with either major political party. Not surprisingly, therefore, that we got a good dose of genuflection from presumptive presidential candidates in the 2008 AIPAC conference. Both McCain and Obama sounded more Likudnik than real Likud members of the Knesset. Obama’s statement there that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided” even exceeds what most current Israeli leaders would say and was a reminiscent of the days of Menachem Begin’s Likud. He, like most American politicians, forgets that no Palestinian, no Arab, no Muslim will make peace with Israel if the Haram-al-Sharif compound (also called the Temple Mount), one of the three holiest places of Islam and the most outstanding symbol of Palestinian nationalism, is not transferred to Palestinian sovereignty. That is one of the core issues of the conflict.
Even an ingenuous President Carter is ostracized for his frank assessment of the apartheid like condition prevailing in Israel for the Palestinian people. He is treated like a political leper in the USA. Such an attitude to silence one of the most courageous American souls paints a very sad picture about American politics and needs to be corrected for greater good of humanity.
In the wake of 9/11, America needs to examine, carefully and calmly its complex relationship with the world of Islam. That is the pre-requisite to any effective long-term American engagement in pacifying the twin dangers of terrorism and proliferation of weapons. She cannot allow militant supporters of Israel within the State Department to underwrite American foreign policy for the Middle East. She cannot deny Iran her rights to exploring nuclear energy while shuts her eyes to Israel’s possession of 150 nuclear bombs, let alone arming Israel tooth and nail. That behavior is grossly hypocritical and irresponsible. (An equitable approach would be to dismantle Israel’s nuclear arsenal and enforce a nuclear-free zone for the entire Middle East.) She cannot allow Israel to use American weapons to kill unarmed civilians. She must also take into consideration rising anti-American political and religious hostility produced by American unilateralism. She simply can’t afford Pharaohnic arrogance and Hamanic despotism.
Terrorism can be eliminated only through a sensitive recognition of motives and passion that drive it. In their quest – in which terrorism in fact is viewed (not necessarily correctly) as a ruthless tool of the weak against the powerful – the weak have one great psychological advantage: they have little to lose and, they believe, everything to gain. The power of weakness allows, according to Dr. Brzezinski, four novel realities of modern life. The first is that access to the means of inflicting large-scale lethality is no longer restricted to organized and powerful states. Second, worldwide mobility and worldwide communication both facilitate coordination and planning of underground cells. Third, democratic permeability facilitates penetration of terrorism, which is difficult to detect, something that is slightly less possible, but not altogether impossible, in authoritarian regimes. Fourth, the systemic interdependence of a modern society tends to set off chain reactions. If even a single key element of the system is disrupted, it prompts escalating social disruption and wildfire panic.
According to Dr. Brzezinski, the weak becomes strong by oversimplifying the focus of their hatred, whereas the strong become weak by doing the same. Both gain supports by demonizing what they despise. Unlike the weak, the powerful cannot afford the luxury of oversimplification. They become weak by oversimplifying their fears. Because their interests are broad and their stakes interdependent, the powerful must not simply demonize the challenge posed by the weak or reduce it to a one-dimensional scale. To do so is to risk focusing only on the symptom, while ignoring more complex and historically rooted impulses. Power and force alone are not sufficient to preserve American hegemony. It needs cooperation and not coercion at the global level.
In September 2004, the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told something that is rarely spoken by a western leader in the United Nations about how to fight against terrorism: “It is legality, democracy and political means and ways that make us stronger and (terrorists) weaker…We can and must rationally analyze how (terrorism) emerges, how it grows, so as to be able to fight it rationally.”
He is right. Only such a multilayered approach, underpinned by a calm determination to resist the impact of terrorist attacks over a long period of time, will allow democratic politics, principles – and citizens – to prevail. Is America willing to heed to that advice? Or will she let herself drown in the bloody swamp of terrorism, some even self-instigated, because of her colossal arrogance?
June 21, 2008
[About the author: Dr. Siddiqui writes from Pennsylvania and can be reached at email@example.com . His latest book – Wisdom of Mankind – is now available in Bangladesh.]
 See this author’s article – Allegations of Israeli Terrorism.
 Mossad’s Checkered Past, Los Angeles Times, Home Edition, pp A-16, Feb. 27, 1998.
 See, e.g., http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.veoh.com%2Fvideos%2Fv552406rYaXEFgw%3B http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.brasschecktv.com%2Fpage%2F61.html%3B http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DtVDCzymSTw8%3B http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.whatreallyhappened.com%2Fgovknow.html
 The New York Times, September 12, 2001.
 http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.haaretz.com%2Fhasen%2Fspages%2F975574.html, Ha’aretx, April 17, 2008.
 For Bush Administration’s authorization of torture during interrogations, see Philippe Sands’s book – Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. For a synopsis of Philippe Sands’s book, see his Vanity Fair article (May 2008): http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.vanityfair.com%2Fpolitics%2Ffeatures%2F2008%2F05%2Fguantanamo200805
 See this author’s article: Understanding OBL through the lenses of the past, http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.newagebd.com%2F2006%2Fapr%2F27%2Foped.html
 The London blast by the IRA cost approx. 1.5 billion dollars to the British government. 9/11 is believed to have already cost billions of dollars, not counting Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
 Senator McCain’s speech in the AIPAC conference is even more hawkish. See: http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.realclearpolitics.com%2Farticles%2F2008%2F06%2Fmccains_speech_to_aipac.html
 See http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.guardian.co.uk%2Fworld%2F2008%2Fmay%2F26%2Fisraelandthepalestinians.usa1 for Carter’s comment on Gaza. The blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza, imposed by the US, EU, UN and Russia – the so-called Quartet – after the organization’s election victory in 2006, was “one of the greatest human rights crimes on Earth,” since it meant the “imprisonment of 1.6 million people, 1 million of whom are refugees”. “Most families in Gaza are eating only one meal per day. To see Europeans going along with this is embarrassing,” Carter said.
 People like Elliot Abrams, a Jewish militant supporter of Israel is an official in the national security council at the White House, has been underwriting American foreign policy for the Middle East.
 President Carter said that “Israel has 150 or more” bombs. BBC News, May 28, 2008. Note that the late Ayatullah Khomeini banned nuclear weapons development. Today, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad affirm that position, but western media won’t report this Iranian official position. IAEA reports also confirm that there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program or that she is violating NPT.
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