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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The United States of America has no obligation to resurrect itself so that Muslims will be comfortable.
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.
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.
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.
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.
countries? Who will speak out for them?
AS A STUDENT IN THE NATION OF ISLAM, UNDER THE TEACHING OF THE HONORABLE LOUIS FARRKHAN. THE ENEMY HAS BEEN KILLING BLACK MUSLIMS FROM THE YEAR OF 1555 AND TODAY. YES, THEY DO NOT WANT MUSLIMS HERE IN AMERICA. TRUE FREEDOM HAS NOT YET TO COME. HOWEVER, WE MUST CONTINUING TO FIGHT FOR ISLAM HERE IN AMERICA. I BELIEVE WITHOUT A DOUBT THAT ISLAM WILL TAKE CONTROL HERE IN AMERICA.