Muslim Activism in the US: Showing Signs of Maturity.

Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality, Featured Topics: Activism, Islam Views: 5047

Activism is defined as a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action. There should be little doubt in any one's mind that has studied the Quran or the biography (Seera) of the Prophet Muhammad that Islam is a religion that requires activism from its followers. The Quran repeatedly exhorts its readers to be proactive in establishing good and preventing evil (Amr bil maruf wa nahi anal munkar) The well-known saying (Hadith) where Prophet Muhammad exhorts all Muslims, indeed all humans to physically stop injustice if they can or speak out against it or at the least not rationalize best encapsulates the Islamic attitude toward activism. 

Activism is sometimes fueled by anger at seeing an injustice being done. Although anger may naturally fuel activism staying angry is frequently imprudent and counter productive to the cause. Activism demands from the activist discretion, balance and patience.

Forcing others to comply with one's own understanding of an issue is an incorrect understanding of what activism should be. An egregious example of this is the morality police (Mutawwas) of Saudi Arabia enforcing their understanding of religious edicts on citizens. The French and the Turkish laws that ban religious attire, in particular the wearing of Hijab, in public schools and government institutions are no different in spirit than the Saudi and the former Taliban regime laws. Compelling people to follow religious edict using the 'establish good and avoid evil' injunction as a rationale or to prohibit them from following one in the name of preserving the separation between church and state or the secular nature of society are equally coercive. They violate fundamental Islamic and universal principles that there should be 'no compulsion in faith' (La ikraha fid din). Besides any student of human nature will tell us that coercion is counterproductive and only leads to increasing resistance. 

Activism that was always essential for the survival and growth of Muslim communities in the US has become vital since 9/11. The way the community has responded to the current crisis has been predictably varied. Many who were activists before 9/11 have become super activists. They have done this at the expense of their time and money and at a certain risk to their civil rights. Others have had the opposite reaction and withdrawn themselves from the public square and tried to disappear in the background. This is a natural reaction motivated by self-preservation. However, in the long run, this will only make them and their community more vulnerable. In the times we live in there is no other choice than to be an activist. 

Activism may take many forms that include religious, social, political and intellectual. As with any act (amal) in Islam the intention (niya) must be good and it should be done with a sense of God (Allah) - consciousness. Activism should also be done in a manner that is effective.

Religious Activism.

Muslim communities in the US have been vigorous in religious activism. Building Mosques (Masaajids), religious schools, proselytizing (Dawa), organizing rituals and events around the two major festivals are some examples. There has been a fair amount of inter-faith activity as well. However Muslim religious leaders have failed to appreciate and counter the deleterious effect the theological interpretations by some scholars that appear to justify suicide bombings and the killing of innocent civilians. Although the Tamil Tigers, a Hindu resistance movement from Sri Lanka has used extensively the suicide bombing as a tactic there are regular reports of Muslim fighters from Palestine to Iraq and Afghanistan to Kashmir using it as an increasingly routine technique. The suicide bombing is most identified with Muslim resistance. The corrosive effect the use of suicide bombing is having on Islam as a religion of rationality and peace as well as its impact on turning many Muslim youth away from Islam in this country is massive. No degree of injustice and no amount of rationalization can justify the taking of one's own life and the killing of civilians as the act of suicide bombing does. 

Social Activism.

Social activism is seen in the Muslim community but to lesser extent than religious activism. Muslim community's social activism is concentrated on helping its own with only rare examples of efforts that are designed to help the marginalized non-Muslim in the society. There are two recent efforts of starting food pantries to help the poor. ISNA is teaming up with the temperance society to tackle the issue of alcohol abuse. 

When compared to religious activism there is a deficit of social activism. There should be no dichotomy between non-religious and religious activism, between standing at a soup kitchen counter feeding the hungry and standing every night for Taraweeh prayers. The latter should reinforce the desire for the former. The Quran uses the phrase believe and work righteously (Aaminu wa Amalus Salihat) to make this very point. In Islam all action is Ibada if it is done with God (Allah)-consciousness and is within the rules and limits (Hudud) set by God (AllahI). Building a shelter for the homeless might be more righteous in the eyes of AllahI than building another mosque (Masjid) in a rich suburb of Chicago. 

Political activism. 

Political activism has also been attempted three different areas. 

Muslims have stood for election as candidates. With rare exception these have been failures. For most part the Muslim candidates appear to have been driven by personal ego and the established political parties have given them seats where no one else is interested to run. 

The other strategy used is to support a candidate who may have made an overture to the Muslim community by mouthing a Muslim phrase like insha-Allah or making a vague promise on an issue of particular interest to the Muslim community. This strategy hasn't been very successful because politicians calculate a disadvantage to them in identifying with Muslims. Politicians act out of self interest and unless they feel they have a strong constituency to as in the Ann Arbor district of Michigan, the promises do not necessarily translate into action. Muslim communities support to candidates has to be more realistic and selective and should come from the strength of an organized voter base. 

This makes grass root movements for voter registration and voting en bloc the most important strategy for Muslim-Americans. It is heartening to see a massive effort has been launched in this area by many Muslim organizations. This grass root effort needs to continue vigorously. There is a concomitant need to publicize the numbers of registered Muslim voters by commissioning head counts and have independent an independent group like the Zogby International assess the impact of Muslim votes on crucial races in important polling districts. 

Muslims can also influence candidates by joining forces with NGOs on issues of common interest like supporting ACLU in their fight to preserve civil rights. This alternative approach would be the natural corollary of intellectual activism. 

Intellectual activism. 

What is most lacking in the Muslim community is intellectual activism. A thoughtful Friday sermon is as common as a 'neo-con' critical of the Patriot act. Thoughtful news and views journals in print or on the web struggle to survive. Sales of books other than religious texts like the Quran, Hadith and Fiqh are abysmally low. 

Intellectual activism under girds all other types of activism. It is not the top of the pyramid that some compare it to but the base on which the pyramid of all activism should be built. How to be most effective in the political arena may depend on paradoxically on working outside the political system with NGOs that specialize on issues that are important to the Muslim-American community. Even the best way to do Da'wa in the US would depend on studying what attracts those who have accepted Islam. Think tank like entities would assess the Muslim viewpoint on immigrant practices, health policy, pluralism, race relations, full time Islamic schools, part time supplemental Islamic education, the practice of jury nullification, civil and human rights to name a few. The Muslim-American stand on these issues would direct there religious efforts, influence their support of candidates and parties and prioritize the areas where social activists would spend their energy and resources. 

Intellectual activism through the vehicle of a think tank is a widely used strategy in the US. The book "Idea Brokers" discusses the influence of think tanks in this country. A think tank would produce white papers, issue briefs and occasional books on various subjects. When it gains enough recognition and notoriety its scholars would be invited to write op-ed pieces in newspapers and the legislative and executive branches would consult it. A large Muslim think tank with chapters in major metropolitan areas, somewhat analogous to the Hispanic think tank La Raza, would be the ideal to aspire for. 

An inevitable price of being an activist is frustration and disappointment. Activists should remember this saying (Hadith) of the Prophet r where he advised: "If the end of the world approaches and one of you has a seedling (or plant) in his hand and if he can plant it before the end comes, let him do it." (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith no. 12512)

This Hadith encourages us not stop a positive act for any thing including the impending end of the world. Go ahead plant the seedling, says the Prophet r, even though you may think there is no realistic chance for it to grow into a full tree. Only firm faith in the idea that is being promoted may sustain the activist through difficult times. The early years of Prophet's r mission exemplified this attitude. The Prophet r continued to struggle and went through periods of considerable despair in the first 13 years of his mission with only modest success. The seedling of Islam did not appear to be growing into tree. We know now how quickly that changed and how the seedling grew into a forest. The lesson for the activist seems to be not to despair or become pessimistic for a righteous act is a reward in itself and may succeed in ways that are unpredictable. Regardless of their success or failure practicing Muslims have little choice than to be pro-active for to be a Muslim is to be an activist.

 

The author is the executive director of a Muslim think tank the International Strategy and Policy Institute (ISPI) based in Oak Brook, IL. (Web page: http://www.ispi-usa.org/.) He is the author of several articles published previously in TAM as well as the well-regarded book on the Seera of the Prophet e "The Seven Phases of Prophet Muhammad's Life". His article debunking the myth that the Quran promotes violence is published in high school reference books both in the US and UK.


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  19 Comments   Comment

  1. Eesa Gillis from Ireland

    Salamu wa alaikum,

    While I agree with the brother about being charitable and helping both muslims and non-muslims alike, I have to disagree with his views concerning political activism. There is no compromise between our beliefs and non-muslim beliefs. While we should respect other viewpoints, at the same time we should be realistic enough to know that our goals are different from those of any political grouping in America. Our goals are to exalt God in every sphere in society while the goals of political parties are to subdue and in some cases to deny God's rights on the human. I feel that prominent people should be invited to the way of Allah ta'ala according to the Sunnah, not given their lifeblood of voting blocs simply because they lean in our direction, Wa alaikum us salam.

  2. Mansur Abdullahi from Nigeria

    Glory be to Allah the Lord of the world my comments here as follows may Allah reward the writer with janatul firduasi for his wounderful job,and iwant to use this medium to remaind muslis in the world that Allah have purchase the sourls of believed ie those who die in the cause of Jihad &he also tell us that we should not think that those who are kill in the cause of jihad that are death but they are alive in his kindom so please my muslims brothers & sisters is this life we prepare for or the one in the here after?

  3. insaallah from Turkey

    Selamunaleykum.How to is important.There is a project to

    tell others about religion, Islam.It's some different and

    new/small but hope that would be usefull Insaallah.Giving

    others small papers as a remind of aim of life; why we live;

    religion.Writings are mixed with joke, so giving others

    directly would not be disliking.These small reminding

    notes would be found at: http://www.insaallah.com. Insaallah we

    do our job.Esselamualeykum from Turkey...

  4. Ahmad Bello from Nigeria

    SAlamu alaikum

    The writer knows USA better. Howewver, comparing Saudi laws with French, Turkish laws is wrong. @there is no compulsion in religion' is a pioneering principle of Islam which the writer has misapplied. No one could/should force any one to be a Muslim, but if freely you become a Muslim, you must abide by the rules--forced to if there is an Islamic state. For, Islam is a religion and a state--and all states enforce their rules. Even clubs and sport teams do have and enforce their rules. Why take exception at Islam?

    On suicide, better shahada, bombers it depends on what elements you have considered.

  5. Yahya Bergum from USA

    If any Muslim activists are looking for something to do, perhaps consider assisting in the struggle of our friend Jack Kelly. It might appear that he is being "dealt with" for perhaps having presented the Palestinians' side of the story. If you would care to, perhaps have a look at the article at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4562064

    I suggest reading the first paragraph and then reading the second to the last paragraph and basically working backwards through the article. No matter how you might read the article, hopefully the story will become clear.

    May the One who causes peace to reign in Heaven let peace descend on us all. Ameen.

  6. Nazim Haqqani from USA

    Wow! What a brilliant article about Muslim activism in the US.

    There are so many vivid truths to the column.

    Highly recommend it to everybody.

  7. Abdullah Shah from United States

    Comments like Lindsay are totally ridiculous and uncalled for. What kind of an activism do you think the author is calling for, a violent one?

    Don't be silly. And don't become brainwashed about Islam due to some bombing in the world done by a nut purporting to be speaking for Islam.

    Hey listen, I don't speak for those terrorists and neither do you; so stop holding "Muslims" accountable for the violent acts of other Muslims.

    I certainly don't blame you for the American military carnage that was unleashed on Iraq or for the serial shootings of your fellow citizen from Ohio, so I would respectfully ask you not to do the same.

    Thanks and salaams to all Muslims.

  8. Lyndsay from United States of America

    If Muslims are going to use activism, do it peacefully, and without hurting anyone!!!

  9. Zaleema Khan from USA

    Ma'shaallah an article that addresses the requirements of the Muslims through out the world. I must admit the temptation to go underground whenever Islam gets bad publicity in the media but then articles like yours remind us that it is imperative that we obey the command of Allah and once His mercy is interjected into our actions we will be successful in whatever we attempt.

  10. Salim Chishti from USA

    bismillahir rahmanir raheem. Jazak allah khayr, thank you for your wonderful article. I hope people read it and act on it. Remember that one's niya is so important in any action that one does which is allowed. And, as is correctly stated in the article, acting on one's anger is one of those things which are not allowed. Rasul allah (SAW) said that if one is angry one should stay still until it passes, even if one has to sit down or lie down. How different our world would be if we just took this simple step before acting in haste out of anger.

    Salim Chishti

  11. Gulshan Afridi from USA

    Given the strong anti-Islam and anti-Muslim, political climate, many would find it hard to believe the fact that overwhelmingly, a very large majority of Muslims from just about every corner of the globe, temper their lives, actions and attitudes with the gentle moderation and patience extolled by the teachings of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). Which is why Muslims universally cringe with despair and disbelief when morbid news stories flash across the TV of yet another gory event of terror, blood, destruction and gore- because chances are that very soon international fingers will be pointed at them and every thing they do becomes suspect and offensive. In old Europe, in the quaint villages of France, Greece, Italy and Spain, it is not uncommon to find conservative Christian women covering their head with a scarf, as also Christian Nuns do, the world over. Yet it took the convictions of a few school girls to turn the French world upside down and stoke the flames of hate and fear of Muslims, all because of an unfound fear of Islam and Muslims which gets stoked more so with each event of terrorism. This is a conditioned European response. Conditioned, primed and prepped by, strangely, a growing right-wing media with Judeo-Christian sympathies and which under all the music, lights and gloss espouses hate and fear of Muslims an Islam. What happened to the sensible, rational, questioning European who would naturally ask, why would a Terrorist take such pains to leave literally his resume at the site of his slaughter and videos at yet - a Mosque of all places, all efforts designed to leave no doubt in the minds of the world that as in the case of the American 9-11 event, in the reason tragedy in Spain, an Arab Muslim did the nefarious deed and that a Mosque was involved. Seems like the folks who brought us 9-11 also brought us this horror. Strictly as an observer, if ever there was a screamingly glaring example of a Frame Up, this was it.

  12. Aslam Syed from Canada

    I apreciate this article in the light of the present day situation of Muslims !

  13. Sala El Din from United States

    A salaam a'lakum, I have been thinking about this issue for a while and was trying to figure out what could be done to change the image of Islam in the States.I think most brothers and sisters are scared to do anything for the fear of being detained or being watched by "Big Brother"(the U.S.Government).But lets remember what this country was founded on and why we rebelled against the UK "Religious Freedom and Equality to all,regardless of Race,Creed,or Ethnic background." That was then this is now lets wake up; after 9/11 there is no one except the ummah who will stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.Everyone has something they can contribute to the cause.Right in your own neighborhood you can donate food to a family in need, start a food bank at the Mosque.When they are there show them what the true religion of Islam is=LOVE.......Not Fanaticle Suicide Bombers. Ma Salema......

  14. Khadija Qadri from United States

    Best article ever read. Wish more Muslims be proactive and cease indulging in wasting time.

  15. Masood Ul Hameed from U.K.

    Just to enforce the message of the article, The Quran describes the Muslim ummah as the "best community". For what? For serving God? For worship? For believing in the correct dogma? Yes, why not? But that should give them the impetus to be the " best community brought forth for humankind" (NOT FOR JUST MUSLIMS): defending right, opposing wrong and fighting against tyranny and oppression as servants of God first by "knowing" what is right and wrong, in their heart and then having the courage to speak about it and finally be ready to physically exert oneself for it.

  16. Qasim Choudry from USA

    Every country/ society has one set of rules. Speed limit is one of them. Government punishes people for breaking the law. Who is to say, this is the ultimate truth about speed. similarly, the application of religious law has to be with the best understanding of majority or government. It may not be for the liking of everyone.

    "Kamakazi pilots of Japan" are not the things of past. You have to see why someone has decided to commit suicide? Depression, Anger, Frustration and inability to fight most sophisticated cobra helicopters and armored trucks with bare hands or a simple rifle, being a civilian and had to face the second most powerful army of the world are most likely reasons to do it.

    What is in the hearts of humans, only Allah knows

  17. Yahya Bergum from USA

    Assalamo alaikum. If the exercise of free choice in doing that which is right is to the glory of Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) then is it the ideal state whenever individuals who are least able to resist authority are compelled to act rightly? Might not authorities better serve to the glory of Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) by calling subjects to piety rather than by herding subjects to piety? Between calling and herding for which method might Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) seem more likely to grant increase in this world and the next? Wassalam.

  18. Hudd D'Alhamd from Land of the Great North

    I researched myself a lot, on this suicidal thing that seems to cast a very unfavourable shadow on Islam. You could shoot me..., I didn't find not even a remote association! There were cases of no retreat, but there was the possibility of escape or miracle or falling in battle, made a prisoner..., to go for something for which your life is the major ingredient it's sounding like haram to me. Does not Islam states: "Do not kill life, for Allah made it sacred"? How could you kill your own life? In a hadith is said: "The one that commited suicide, in the day of reckoning, he will be put to go through those stages of the suicide, over and over and over..." Personally, since I did not find anything, supporting suicide in the Great Religion of Islam, I cannot accept suicidal actions as part of the Islamic faith. Rather, I consider them as a political tool, more like the assassin ways of the early Ismailis. It's wrong from the media to generalize suicide bombing as an Islamic "virtue". That is done by Muslims this time, it is not because of Islam. It was done by Shinto Japanese(Kamikaze), was it a part of their religion? No, it was on the political agenda of terror of the Japanese "Holy" Emperor! Now wouldn't that be wrong for all peace loving Shinto practitioners to be associated with kamikaze? Islam is battered & judged today after the actions of certain of its adherents. Islam is peace and independance. Man likes to set boundaries to what God gave freely. If mankind found a road to light, it will try the opposite direction too. Man's nature? I encourage all my Muslim brothers to be activists, to sow the good seed or seedling as br. Javeed Akhter put it and reap the good crop. We have a mission and our mission is not to put an end to the world as we know it...rather remind mankind of its creator, not by stressing the differences but by promoting the affinities. Smetimes one needs to soar above his senseless vendettas to get a cosmic picture of the human cosmic goal.