Finding ways to end the state of fear for American Muslims

Category: Americas, Life & Society, Nature & Science Views: 5545

The country has just come off another heightened state of alert. The loudest sigh of relief was from the American Muslims. Every time the alert level goes up, along with the fears of the next terrorist attacks, the American Muslims had to fear an increase in hate crimes against them. During the recent alert, a Muslim child and teenager were attacked in Pennsylvania and a Sikh man, mistaken for a Muslim, was shot in Arizona. Ann Coulter called for a Muslim-free air travel and Cal Thomas warned about Muslim political activism and these two media personalities were not alone in causing distress to the Muslims.

The anxiety levels rise and fall in synchronization with the level of alert. It is this never ending roller-coaster ride that seems to be taking a heavy toll on Muslims. Two weeks ago, in the midst of the state of high alert, my brother-in-law called my children, saying that he had three free tickets for the Mets game that evening. My son and middle daughter jumped at this chance.

They were all ready to leave when my wife and I arrived home that evening. We were aghast. With her hijab (headscarf), our daughter is easily identifiable as Muslim. To send her into the charged atmosphere of a ballpark was out of the question. My daughter, the most athletic member of our family, tried arguments like, "Mom, I am bigger than my brother," or, "But dad, there are lot of policemen in there." But nothing would sway us. My son went with his uncle, and my daughter sulked for days.

The last twenty months have been a very stressful time for all Americans but more so for the Muslim Americans. Some mothers pulled their sons out of Little League after Sept. 11, hearing of unrelated reports of mistreatment in the schools, never to send them back. Muslim riders on Long Island trains admit to becoming extra cautious every time the headlines in the city tabloids that their fellow travelers read, get shriller.

Our rampant fears are already inflicting far-reaching psychosocial trauma on our children. They are just as fearful as we are. We hear it in their questions. The younger ones ask, "Will there be more wars?" or "Why is the president not saying sorry when children in Iraq are killed?" or "What do 'towel head' and 'camel jockey' mean?" And many older ones have exhibited clear signs of stress, like falling grades and behavioral and mood problems.

The paranoia many of us feel even consumes our social gatherings. At parties and other events that are supposed to be joyful, stories are told and stories are retold of harassment of women drivers, of arrests and deportations, of families losing homes and becoming destitute, of expecting mothers separated from husbands who are jailed for technicalities or minor immigration infarctions, of families returning to their countries of origin, causing great distress to their American-born children.

As expected, along with the discussion of the terrorist incidents, the blame game is also played. Osama and Al-Qaeda get the major share of the blame followed closely by the neo-conservative and Israeli supporters for trying to use the terrorism fears to politically marginalize the American Muslims. The media, especially the right wing media institutions and commentators, get their fair share too. The missing element in this appropriation of blame is
the Muslim leadership, that has been insular, disunited and more reactive than proactive. It gets the blame but not as much as it should.

Before September 11th Muslim leadership was trying to leap frog into position to claim their proportionate share of political power. They thought that the way to do so was by stressing the rising Muslim population figures and giving political donations. They did this even as most mosques, even in large Muslim communities around the nation, have no well-established self help programs such as legal aid for their members, nor projects such as soup kitchens to serve poor or needy fellow citizens.

September 11th pulled the rug from under this strategy. Very few politicians are now willing to openly court the Muslim vote or money. Had the Muslim leadership done things differently - paid as much attention to domestic issues as it did to concerns overseas, built alliances with other immigrants, stood up for the economically downtrodden as our religion teaches - we would have far more support from other segments of society.

Lately, it seems as though things are improving. Many mosques are strengthening outreach programs to help educate non-Muslim neighbors and student groups. They are also getting more active in interfaith programs. The attendance in Muslim conventions is again increasing as is the memberships in Muslim civil rights organizations.

In the meantime, a debate about the community's role in improving the environment is now taking place. Many are asking for accountability and elections in mosques. Young people are asking to get involved with local social justice issues. At the same time, Muslims who come from more pluralistic and democratic societies as well as second-generation Muslims born and raised in America are becoming more assertive. They want the focus of community not be exclusively focused on fighting discrimination against Muslims but be broadened to include addressing the problems of the larger American society.

I got an opportunity to drive this point home to my children. My oldest daughter, a precocious, intelligent and sensitive young woman of sixteen had to decide which college she would go to next year. She had several offers, some with full scholarships from some very prestigious institutions. But we were fearful of sending her away in these uncertain times, especially as she has chosen to wear the easily identifiable Islamic headscarf, the hijab. We finally decided for St. Johns, a good college, which she can commute to our home on Long Island

She was in tears as we were discussing and at one point said, " you came to this country to escape discrimination in India, where would my generation escape to".

This was a very emotional moment, but the desperation of it also gave me the opening to answer her. "Since you will not have any place to escape to, it will give you the resolve to stay and fight. Do not be negligent as we were, nor take your freedoms for granted".

I always felt guilty about leaving India as hundreds of thousands of educated Muslims do, bearing the guilt of leaving tens of millions of their less fortunate brethren behind. India is a secular democracy, the land of Gandhi, but its pluralistic ethos has increasingly been under siege. After independence, people took the constitutional freedoms for granted. Extremists among the Hindu community espousing a hate based ideology called Hindutva worked insidiously to infiltrate schools, local governments, law enforcement and even judiciary. Text books were changed and under the guise of "glorification of India" and mythology was taught as history. Under the name of patriotism, Muslims and Christians were labeled as foreign agents and fifth column.

A few months after September 11th, a train carrying Hindu militants was attacked and burnt by a mob trying to free a female tea vendor reported to have been kidnapped by the militants. The militants escaped but fifty eight innocent Hindus were killed including women and children. Hindutva militants then used this event to unleash a well planned pogrom with the full complicity of the government, as reported by Human Rights Watch, in the state Gandhi was born. According to Human Rights organizations, 2000 people were killed and hundreds of women and young girls were gang-raped and burnt alive. Not a single person has been brought to justice.

Last month, Smita Narula of Human Rights Watch and Harsh Mander, a top ranking Indian bureaucrat, who resigned in protest at the state complicity, spoke in New York on "Gujarat a year after." Mander's resemblance to Gandhi is not limited to his facial features, frailness and hesitating speech, but also to the causes he espouses. He talked of the complete economic blockade of Gujarati Muslims with the full complicity of the government. Narula spoke about the lack of Justice and her survey of Indian elementary school children who overwhelmingly justify the pogrom. They were both trying to raise concerns that the Hindutva-extremists, having used the pogrom to win the elections, now seem to have a "winning formula" to repeat in other states.

I told my children, the type of people who killed Gandhi now rule India. Indian Muslims were insular and inward looking. "Do not make the same mistake". We talked about the German Jews and the fact that their assimilation did not save them. I said to my children "you must be part of the larger community but that will not be a guarantee that you will be saved.  What you must try is actively work with all who are fighting for Civil Rights and Justice and to keep the democratic institutions strong so that you are working to save the larger community and not just the Muslims. You would then be doing your highest patriotic duty.

I hope the message went home and hope that my granddaughter will not need to have the discussion my daughter had when choosing her college.


The author is a physician living on Long Island. He is a former national spokesperson for Islamic Medical Association of North America and is the founder president of Indian Muslim Council-USA


An abridged form of this article had appeared in Newsday titled: GRIPPED BY FEAR,0,1306042.story

  Category: Americas, Life & Society, Nature & Science
Views: 5545
The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Older Comments:
While I understand and to some extent sympathise with your fears, you made a huge error by not allowing your daughter to go to the game. Stop pushing your provincial prejudices upon your American children-they are NOT Indians as you were-they are Americans and must never be taught to live in fear!! It is your mouse-like reflexive paranoia that is your problem. Also, stop blaming other people for things. If you think things are not right-ACT! Get out into the street and fight, organize and stop playing the victim. You are not in India anymore so wake up and show so pride and confidence, especially in front of your children. How do you expect to change things by hiding? You are not the only Muslim in America-far from it-so please give up the attitude of opression and subjection:it serves all of us poorly. Are you not proud to be a Muslim? Do you not take pride in your religion, culture and achievements? Of course you do and you should! So do not hide these wonderful things out of some unseeing fear. Show what you are made of to all. This is how the problems will go away-maybe not today but soon and forever. When our American compatriots see what we are made of, they will accept us and honor us as we are. By hiding and retreating and living in fear, we menace the future of ourselves and our children, and for what? Now is the time to take a stand-you may not get another.

As a muslim from India living in America, I agree with your daughter's frustration. I often say to my siblings, "India is not our home, America is not our home so where do we go?"

I wear hijab and I try not to limit myself from going out to necessary places. Wearing a hijab is in itself giving dawah or at least making others aware that muslims do exist.

I my self is an imigrant from Ethiopia, i have lived in this country for 13 years to see nothing but bickering among Muslims and isolated ourselves from the bigger community. We created the weakness and our enemies used that against us! Muslims should wake up and paticipate in every political process and other things that put as in the mainstream. that is what you call activism. If you stay at the corner, nothing good comes to you except truble.

There is a saying that all that is necessary for evil to win is for good people to stay silent. It is the first and most profound corruption of a society of individuals. There is also what is known as the Chinese curse, which goes "may you live in interesting times". Other people know this as the Chinese blessing because those that live in near stasis live insufficiently, love inadequately and learn the lessons of life poorly. This curse/blessing dichotomy separates the mature and resilient from those unable to accept the depths and breath of all that life can serve up. Address the beauty of the songs that formed the revelation to the prophet David and their exploration of the condition of Humanity within a cosmos of God's creation and care. Those with the maturity to accept the greater expression of this condition that the combined revelation of all the prophets represents can go beyond the narrow views of those who accept the validity of only "their own" prophet. It is a cosmopolitan view that does not accept the labels Muslim, Christian, Jew but only monotheist, servant, human. Our duty is cosmopolitan and to not embrace it is to be as the good person that remains silent, a song unsung. To be insular is to be near stasis, love inadequately and learn the lessons upon the horizons and within ourselves poorly. As individuals we are tested by whether we can form a relationship with a mate, raise children that enhance the future, develop a neighborhood that enables each other and extend our circle of graciousness and mercy to all that God has created and in that way demonstrate our understanding of God's plan for us individually and collectively. Beware those that would avoid adversity for they have been cursed by God with the love of the good things of this world but not expression in the next. Forgive those who oppress you for they are the agents of God's expansion of your breast and the practice of unconditional love. From your heart... Taste, smell, touch, Sing!!!

Its no surprise that ... Norman, Hale , and Chander endorse such bigotry. ....No different than the 3 stooges.

Bismallah Ar Rahman Ir Rahim, As Salaam Alaikum: Insha'Allah my opinion will be short, to the point and taken in the constructive nature and which it is given. I believe one of the biggest issues is that our immigrant Muslim brothers & sisters, to a great degree, ignored and looked down upon their African American Muslim family. Our journey through the biases, racism, hate and violence from this country has well prepared us for this type of backlash. Our struggles and hard work to obtain just a resemblance of justice in America was easy to take advantage of and to enjoy, but the struggle to obtain it is a different story. First, we Muslims, must turn to Allah (SAT) and the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the excellent example given on dealing with those who seek to harm you for being Muslim. Secondly, turn to your brother; Your Muslim African American brother, the one you have ignored and ridiculed for so long. The one who has faced and survived the hatred of this country, the one who must deal with being Black & Muslim in a country which, historically, desires neither within its borders nor within its society. Now that America no longer wants your money & doesn't court you politically, you are at a lost. Seek refuge in Allah.

Allah (SAT) has placed us here for a reason, he has put us through this hell fire for a reason, we by Allah's grace...have endured, survived, grown and become Muslim, for a reason. Allah (SAT) is the best of knowers.

Don't ignore the resources which Allah (SAT) has placed before us. Unite with your Muslim brothers & sisters, reach out to us and we may help one another. The example is clear, the immigrants and the helpers in Medina. Don't let this pass us by. Let us unite under the banner of Islam and let us work together in the cause of Allah. May Allah be with us and guide us.

Wa Laikum Salaam

Mr. Norman and a majority of WHITE christians are probably disappointing Jesus up there, because of their lack of tolerance and love. Most Jews disagree, but are enjoying the free ride. The rest of the whole world, not to mention the pope himself, is against this view. Ya'll just want your own political agenda achieved. Let me tell you this when ANY and that means ANY INNOCENT individuals are targeted for their appearence, that's just bad news. And it reflects on YOU. All the prophets and poor or innocent people have been targeted in the history of mankind. The good people suffer, while the kniving people plot their plots; take advantage of the not so powerful to suit their own selfish selves. Remember ENRON, and the War on Iraq? But might I remind you that truth and justice prevail. This country is full of white, brown and black terrorists, raping and murdering and taking down Oklahoma building, and shooting at school children and raping and mutilating. The whole social system is f-d up. And they are proud to be american? Do ya'll even know what you're being proud of. Oh I forgot You've got pride. But your heart is black as coal. And when the walls of their graves tighten over your body in the grave and the angels appear in the darkness of the grave with eyes glowing to ask them what they did in their life. Then they will regret their doings. But it will be too late, as THE CREATOR has closed the book of deeds of which one IS responsible for. JUST WAIT AND SEE GOD'S JUSTICE BE SERVED- AMEEN.

I agree with the article in principle in that our focus cannot primarily be fighting discrimination against Muslims, but needs to be broadened to include addressing the problems of a larger American society. Discrimination is by no means an exclusively Muslim problem in America. It effects and has affected several other Ethnic/Religious groups albeit to a lesser extent than it affects us today. The goal of Islam has never been to fight only for the injustices that Muslim's suffer. (Had that been the goal, the spread of Islam would be limited to only the Prophet's most immediate followers.) The principles and struggles of Islam are for the benefit of all of humanity and not just a certain section of it.

Asalam alaikum. May Allah bless you and your family. I like many points that you have made. We do have to be more active politically and socially in American society. We should be strong examples of the real Islam and be very proud of our religion and ourselves. We cannot duck down and hide. We should be in the forefront of all good, charitable activities and give people the correct image of Islam and Muslims. We should try to know our neighbors and invite them to tea or dinner. We should sympathize with them when they have lost family members or been ill. They are still human beings. We want them to trust us and to see that we are decent fellow human beings. We have to be active, strong, brave and courageous and when harassed either respond gracefully (recall how the Prophet- p- took all the persecution of the Quraish and bared it patiently while never infringing on his belief). We need to be strong and patient and unyielding as the first generation of Muslims. Secondly, we do need to concentrate on our work in politics and in in America, but we cannot forget world Muslims. They are our brothers and sisters in faith. We still have to concentrate on both fronts simultaneously. All Muslims world-wide need to be working together for the advancement of humankind and the good of the whole earth (whether Muslim or non-Muslim) because Islam was sent to mankind as a mercy. People are free to choose their religion and cannot be forced and all must be respected. Each of us will face Allah on the Day of Judgment. We need to teach ourselves more tolerance for others whether non-Muslims or even other Muslims from other countries. Our petty divisions are causing most of our weaknesses. We fight over belonging to different schools.We must concentrate on unity and the fact we all say la ilha illah Allah, Mohamedan Rasalluah. Later, we can have discussions between ourselves to iron out small differences.Islam is the solution to all the world's problems.We must show the world this.

About time. My wife has lost five jobs for being Muslim and was attacked in a McDonalds by a skinhead for wearing a scarf. This occurred over a period of a decade with the attack several years pre 9/11. I can't say my experience under U.S. authority has been non-threatening either. This administrations power base is a mix of religious right, zionists and neocons; each group in its own way fascist and supremeist in its outlook. The unpresident's concept of live and let live is "you are either for us or against us". Racism and McCarthyism in the US is being taken out of the closet and put in the newsroom for ratings. (and probably a bit of spite) I grew up in the US and since the Civil Rights movement of the 60's it has become more and more unfriendly as the generation born in the 40's and 50's takes the reigns of power.
The Civil Rights movement created a backlash, spawned neo-nazi groups (almost nonexistent prior to that time) and a range of closed minded organizations like citizens committees, much of it within and/or supported the government. Any attempt to push civil rights for Muslims will likely create another backlash if it is by Muslims for Muslims only. Any strong push will create a backlash if it threatens the viewpoint of these people and being closed minded it likely will, especially the three groups I mentioned. Nonetheless as Muslims it is incumbent upon us to promote civil rights for everyone (and reap the benefits thereby) But we should expect that a growing proportion of the population will meet it with suspicion and outright hostility. The more universal the less suspicion but likely greater hostility. The generation that lived in close contact learned to live together.


This is a well written article and the writer is correct that Muslims must take a larger role in community activities and fight for justice for all.

If no one understands you, your religion or way of life and your philosophy then it is natural that misunderstandings and fear will result.

It has been the practice of many in the Muslim community to insulate themselves from American society. While there are many ills in Western society it is not all bad. If that were the case there wouldn't be millions of Muslims here!! The Holy Rasul (salallahu alayhi was salaam) has a saying that you should leave a place better than it was when you found it. We should take this to heart. Instead of constantly critisizing American society and whining about how we have been mistreated we must stand up and fight for freedom, for rights and be contributing members of this society. We need to be proactive not reactive.

I agree with the article in principle in that our focus cannot primarily be fighting discrimination against Muslims, but needs to be broadened to include addressing the problems of a larger American society. Discrimination is by no means an exclusively Muslim problem in America. It effects and has affected several other Ethnic/Religious groups albeit to a lesser extent than it affects us today. The goal of Islam has never been to fight only for the injustices that Muslim's suffer. Had that been the goal, the spread of Islam would be limited to only the Prophet's (may peace be upon him) most immediate followers. The principles and struggles of Islam are for the benefit of all of humanity and not just a certain section of it.

The second point that I would like to touch on is the problems faced by the Muslim's in India. Having lived as a Muslim in India for longer than I have lived as a Muslim in America, I think that assimilation is a large part of the answer. Assimilation as the writer pointed out did not work for the Jewish community in Germany, but the lessons from that horrific experience (I pray that Allah not bring about an experience like that on any community anywhere in the world) have worked well in this great country. Further, India is a much more diverse and complicated place than Germany. The ruling party in India has never secured a full majority (does not imply that they never will), and has been wooing the Muslim electorate in certain parts of the country. Many of the steps that's Muslims in India need to take to be more secure are no different than the steps that American Muslims need to take i.e. Educate ourselves and our children to the highest extent possible, participate actively in the democratic system, work with other community groups to solve larger social issues, contribute to the national economy, help the needy (not just the needy that follow Islam) and be patriotic.

Ah, the write speaks of revisionist history. That has been happening in America for the last 25 years. To succeed in different cultures humans have to adapt to a certain degree to the culture they are trying to assimilate into. When that concept is not brought to the table the degree of success will be limited.
The United States of America has no obligation to resurrect itself so that Muslims will be comfortable.

For years indigenous muslims, namely the so-called African American muslims have told and warned you of how the white power structure views us. You neglected our warnings and told us not to be racist because racism is against islam. We stated we arent racist, white America is (not all of them of course). We watched as you put yourselves above us because you are from a muslim land and speak the arabic. However, being sincere and strong in faith and armed with the knowledge of our struggle in this land we said "Whatever" and went our on way guided by Allah. Now you scream civil rights abuse and are scared to death of the same ones we warned you about. You should stop concentrating on being accepted by white america and maybe check out and listen to OUR point of view. It sickens my to see how many of your "muslim" leaders suck up to America and never support your own ummah. Again, you have been warned.

As usual, every author on this web site moans and groans about the plight of muslims in US. Did muslims ever worry about the fate of non-muslims in predominantly muslim countries like Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Malyasia, Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan, etc.? of course, never. You can feel your pain, but do you feel the pain inflicted to others by the muslims. Of course, muslims even refuse to acknowledge their actions or mis-actions in those countries.

No wonder, muslims don't even get sympathy in US, not to talk of any real help (except from probably institutions like ACLU; and they can help on constitutional issues only).

All I can say, muslims themselves created the problems in US/Europe; they will have to face to the problems on their own. They have created the bed of nails, they will have to lie in it.

Hell, muslims consider themselves muslims first and citizens afterwards (if they consider it at all), which is contrary to concept of nation-state. Under these circumstances, you cannot expect protections from the nation-state, when you don't believe in it.

Dear Sir:
May Allah's peace be with you and your family during these troubled times. I must respectfully disagree with your assertion that fighting within this current system for civil liberties and rights is the way to go. I am a Black American and as one I can tell you that I am a "card carrying" member of the generation whose parents believed what it is that you are telling your children. Sir, this society is very sick and the sickeness is based on a belief of supremacy. It is just that simple. Until the people who view themselves as "White" first stop believing that they are entitled to all the "goodness" this nation has to offer you will see no change in policy, discomfort, or inequality-immorality.
After having said this I have no solution except every reliance that Allah's message will get out and change the very character of these people. Tell your children this.
Zainabou El-Amin

As a new muslima, I am learning. My parents are non-muslim and very affraid for me right now. But I can only tell them that I seek refuge with Allah(SWT)and he knows best. Maybe this will open doors for muslims to make Du'wah.

It's a pity that the writer did not look at Islam's contribution to the degradation of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. When the New York Times carried out a survey of world conflicts, it found that of 59 conflicts, 49 involved Muslims. Two-thirds of these conflicts were the result of Muslim/non-Muslim tensions. Aren't Muslims, therefore, obligated to look at what these tensions are and obligated, moreover, to examine their part in them.

Islam is a proslytising religion, insitent on its primacy over other religions and is dedicated to bringing the entire world to islam. This is totalitarianism at work and can only lead to conflict. No other religion has the same outlook. Shikh Ubaid needs to do some work on his own children and within his own community which would involve a re-examination of Islam's ideology and a rejection, out of hand, of its view of itself as superior to other religions. Only then will Muslims be accepted into Western societies as fully participating members. Until then, Muslims will be treated with caution and suspicion.

Asalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh.
My dear Brother,
May Allah (SWT) protect all of our children from the stereotyping and violence against them. I agree that we need to work with all organizations that fight for Civil Rights. But I don't agree that we can keep our children hidden from society because they are visibly Muslim, especially our daughters. I have two daughters of my own, one in hijab and the other is not. Discrimination against the one not wearing hijab is not much less than that aimed at her sister. I have taught my children to stand tall and be strong. We must continue to raise them with high Islamic values so that they can take them into the society in which they live. They must be a positive example of Islam in every way they interact both inside and outside of the Muslim communities in which they live. We can no longer hide brother, we must act. We need to be in the forefront of every activity in the society in which we live (soup kitchens, blood drives, etc.. Islam is the cure to all of the ills of society. We must participate in the society in which we live and become leaders of social justice and change. That will be the best way to help people understand Islam, through dawaa. Ignorance is bliss in this day and age and unfortunately the media hype against Islam and Muslims is strong. We must rely on the way of Prophet Muhammad as our example in these trying times. We must be as he (SAW) was, strong in our deen as well as deed, and most importantly rely on Allah's guidance and mercy. According to Prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him: Allah will never change the condition of a people until they change of themselves. These are words to live by for us and our children. May Allah guide us all to the truth and help us to be a positive example of Islam and a strong force for social justice.

What about the civil rights of non-Muslims in Muslim
countries? Who will speak out for them?


Ayodhya-NO EVIDENCE OF TEMPLE built beneath the Mosque DESTROYED by HINDUS. This was a 16th Century mosque and served as a significant symbol of domestic Hindu terrorism against Muslims.