Islamic Centers in the U.S. have been inundated with calls, requests and e-mails following the September 11 tragedy and subsequent war in Afghanistan. Barnes and Noble and other bookstores have frequently run out of copies of the Qur'an and literature on Islam. The Imams and other scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are in great demand to appear on TV and radio and explain Islam and its requirements. There are lengthy write-ups on these subjects on the Internet and in the newspapers both by genuine scholars and those with their biased views. I have been busy responding almost daily to "Islamophobia" of the news media.
Following September 11, American Muslims, and other look-alike suffered a backlash, were harassed and subjected to hate crimes. Sensing it, President Bush and U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft went on an offensive demanding respect for American Muslims and Arab Americans. The American community responded with gestures of genuine support and most Islamic centers report outpourings of great sympathy from the general public.
Now a number of church leaders across the U.S. are raising their voices in support of peace and justice for the Muslims. The Palestinian issue is of primary concern to them, knowing that it is the root cause of problems in the Middle East. They are questioning and protesting the disproportionate influence of Zionists and their supporters in formulating a one-sided pro-Israel and imbalanced foreign policy. Encouraged by this interfaith initiative, Muslims are responding by forming alliances at the grassroots. There are groups anxious to destroy this emerging alliance and the Muslim leadership need to respond appropriately to such machinations.
Protest has also been developing against war in Afghanistan. There is a worldwide support against terrorism. But it is prudent to address and remedy its causes; bombing a country is no solution, it may rather exacerbate it. This is what anti-war protestors realize. A large anti-war rally was arranged by a grassroots organization on September 29 in Washington and now protests are growing in universities all across America. A number of churches across the nation are also protesting against this war where the victims will be the masses of starving, innocent civilians.
The misunderstanding of Islam and Muslims is due to their negative and inaccurate stereotypical caricaturing by the media. The media are not only a source of information, but they also influence public opinion and set the course of policy. The problem is that the U.S. mainstream media are owned by pro-Israeli Jews, who also campaign-finance supportive candidates that dominate the U.S. congress. However, a number of congressmen dare to follow their conscience. And a multitude of alternate media resources are available: the Internet has become a democratic domain that can be used not only to communicate but also inform, interact and network with those standing for just causes and common human virtues.
Dawa, Islamic outreach is an obligation on every Muslim to inform others about Islam.
Therefore, Muslims must come out and become active and contribute to dawa in some form or the other that suits their talents and dispositions. If they are speakers, they should present Islamic viewpoint at every meeting opportunity. If they are writers, they should write articles for the Internet, magazines, journals and newspapers or prepare pamphlets and posters for distribution at the Islamic centers and other suitable places. And all must provide financial support, as much as they can.
But before they could take up dawa, it is absolutely essential that they educate themselves appropriately in understanding Islam. Islamic vision has a profound eternal purpose and direction. Islamic worldview has a transcendental sacred core, that honors and dignifies humankind, provides resolute faith and a conscience that cares for consequences far beyond the confines of this narrow, transient world into the eternity of the Hereafter. Thus it is balanced, cures the ills of a society and must play its due role in the emerging world order. Muslims need to see themselves as leaders of this progressive front that embraces respect for human dignity, human rights, religious and political freedoms and moral virtues for the human society. They need to take up their God-given responsibilities of introducing to others a way of life that brings humankind to work together in mutual respect, social solidarity and cooperation. In order to accomplish it, they need to focus on the primary sources of Shariah without adopting such traditions as sidetrack the main objectives.
It is the responsibility of Islamic leaders to awaken the Muslim masses to their responsibilities since it will determine the future course of events not only for them but also for the world. They must utilize any and all opportunities to foster a relevant understanding of Islam between themselves and others and be constantly engaged in it, without any letup and respite. American masses are keen to know about Islam and Muslim Americans must reach them to present its true picture and sincerely exhibit it in their personal conduct. They should know that the Islamic mission set for them by the Creator and Lord of the universe is: "amr bil maruf wa nahi anil munkar" (Al Imran 3:110). Or, to enhance and further all that is good, not just for Muslims or a particular community, but for all of humankind, as well as to negate and extirpate all that is harmful to all of humankind. Thus they will reach out to others to raise a unified voice for the causes of justice, virtue and good of humanity.