|Nabeeha’s assignment for her High School art class|
Anti-Islam propaganda is on the rise in the U.S. Preachers have their pitch against Islam and many academicians have also joined their chorus. Politicians have their own ambiguity in tackling the issue.
Despite the claim that the law enforcement agencies are acting on behalf of the victims of hate crimes and speeches, the recent arrest of two teen age girls in New York and their subsequent release have raised serious questions about the credibility of these institutions in handling terrorism related issues. Moreover, the meetings of high government officials with some Muslim groups have failed to restore the confidence of the community on those who are supposed to defend the civil liberties of Americans.
Apparently, there is gloom and despair within the Muslim community. Would America remain a safe place for Muslims? Many ask. Would the community be able to restore its injured dignity after the Sept. 11 and subsequent events?
Muslims in America and all over the world are faced with two major crises. On the one hand, they and their religion are being blamed for the Sept. 11 events with the assertion that Islam cannot be trusted. While on the other, those Muslims who use violence to express their political will are hurting Muslims physically.
Not knowing how to respond to the situation, many Muslims seem to have resigned to their fate, unclear about what is next.
The Muslim leadership in the U.S. and elsewhere is still engaged in rhetoric’s or in organizing programs that have little meaning outside the Muslim community. Generally Muslims do not have much confidence their leadership.
Organized Muslim work has resulted only in the glorification of a few while the community at large remains powerless and voiceless.
Above all, there are efforts from outsiders to change Islam to suit their agenda. Billions of dollars have been spent to change the face of Islam and the Muslim community. Confusion and chaos are the norms and crisis seems to be increasing its sphere of influence.
As desperate as the present situation may appear to be, the future is not as bleak as one would imagine it to be on the basis of certain invisible realities.
Disappointed by multimillion dollar organizations’ performance, the community has begun to take its affairs in its own hand at the grass roots levels. These sporadic efforts offer a ray of hope in the midst of confusion and chaos that prevail all around us.
After Sept. 11, Muslim grass roots efforts have mushroomed around the country to develop a serious and meaningful understanding of Islam and its role in the society. Those who are leading these efforts are none other than those who often find themselves strangers in their mosques and institutions. Many of these are the young Muslim American.
All over the country, young boys and girls have taken it upon themselves to organize local Islamic study circles where they meet every week to reflect on their plight and infuse new ideas of change.
The barriers of ethnicity and race are being brought down by those who have developed a race and culture-free understanding of Islam. Young high school and college students are making determined efforts to disseminate an understanding of Islam that defies all stereotypes. A real dialogue is taking place in high schools and college campuses all over the country. Universities have had a long tradition of activities organized by the MSA’s (Muslim Student Association). But the new kids on the block are MSA’s of high schools all across the country.
In Wisconsin, Nevada and in California, as in many other places, high school Muslim students have assumed the role of the defenders of their faith. Each week in several high school campuses, Muslim boys and girls host meetings open to non-Muslims challenging the stereotypes.
Recently, in California, Muslim high school students organized several events to present understanding of Islam to their fellow non-Muslim students.
In a school in Southern California, they recently organized an interfaith dialogue on Jesus. In another campus they hosted a forum on justice. Yet, in another campus, they led the discussion on morality and politics. On another campus they organized a discussion on what is common between Jews and Muslims. The list goes on … These campus groups are organizing forums with little resources. However, these are the efforts that are likely to present the Muslim community with the biggest benefit it can reap in the future.
Fully aware of the dynamics of social change, these young students realize that unless they communicate to their generation the understanding of their faith, things will not change. Through their efforts, these young boys and girls have brought several non-Muslims within the organizational folds of their groups. In many high school and college campuses, they have won the respect and admiration of their fellow students.
Islam is being recognized as a positive force in bringing about a meaningful change in the behavior and attitude of young people.
In a high school campus in Las Vegas, a young high student persuaded her principal to allow her to bring a speaker to talk about Islam to all the students. With a marathon session on Islam in various classes, the young girl was instrumental in breaking the stereotypes and clarifying misunderstandings among many. She now has a sympathetic student body to pay attention to what she says about Islam.
In a high school campus in California, two Muslim girls mobilized the entire school to organize a fund raising drive for the Tsunami disaster victims. Their school became the first one to take a lead on the issue.
Regardless of the civil rights abuses, and the anti-Islamic propaganda, the young Muslims of America are changing the intellectual landscape of their country. In less than a decade, their efforts will pave the way for a dynamic and active Muslim community with its imprints in all walks of American lives. Their moral values are being taken seriously, their culture is being accepted and above all their faith is gaining respect among younger America.
These indeed are the efforts that are being organized without any glamour or fanfare of major fund raisers. While the older Muslim America is engaged in rhetoric or in apathy, the young Muslim America is working silently to shape the future for a dignified existence. What they are doing is worth emulating. They are free from prejudices and racism. They are pure and innocent like their religion wants them to be, and they seem to be determined to move on.
A few years ago they were invisible. But now they are active and visible. They may still be small in numbers, yet they have a built-in tenacity to fight off all the challenges. A crisis is an opportunity for them. They offer the hope for the future. It is time that we salute these unknown and uncelebrated leaders of our community who do things because they believe in their values and in themselves.
The author is the director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, and editor-in-Chief of the Muslim Observer as well as the director of the Muslim Electorates’ council of America.