Dialogue With America: An Action Plan

Category: Nature & Science Views: 690

Any person, group, or institution can take the initiative in engaging in the American-Islamic dialogue. But as people who are so often misunderstood, maligned and discriminated against in America, Muslims have a greater responsibility in heralding this dialogue.

Philosophers, prophets and other leaders have, since ancient times, used dialogue for teaching people and changing society. The examples set by philosophers like Plato, prophets like Muhammad and other leaders like Gandhi show the tremendous potential for dialogue. Spurred by such examples, American-Islamic dialogue can accomplish much, fostering a better understanding of Islam in society and creating common platforms with other communities for promoting justice and fairness in U.S. policymaking and law enforcement.

The American-Islamic dialogue can take place on multiple levels and many ways. Individuals can talk to groups and institutions, and vice versa. Essentially, such a dialogue is already on, but it needs to be systematically orchestrated.

Individual Muslims can organize "home dialogues" with a few friends, neighbors, colleagues, or schoolmates. The impact of this grassroots, bottom-up approach to dialogues may not be immediately felt, but in the long run, this will produce the much-needed change toward Muslims in America.

Small groups and organizations of Muslim Americans can engage in dialogue with similar groups, organizations and government agencies. Dialogues in these levels can eventually stimulate a greater social consciousness about the issues of injustice and fairness that affect Muslims and most other Americans.

Major Muslim organizations can develop and sponsor think tanks and resource organizations that provide platforms for training (e.g., in human development and diversity) and social interaction at the academic and other institutional levels. They can build partnerships with other American organizations for resource sharing on issues of common concern.

In these postmodern times, specialties have mushroomed and dialogues have replaced monologues of modernity. Common sense and sociopolitical consciousness are necessary but not sufficient tools for leading dialogues in these times. As in every other field of human activity, leading the dialogue with America must rest on specialized knowledge.

Therefore, as American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ) has done, Muslim organizations or institutes should emerge to specialize on dialogue with America. They must research and package information for Muslim masses to use in leading their dialogue.

Until more such institutes emerge, however, Muslims should develop their own strategic plan to lead dialogue with Americans wherever they happen to be. Organizing as teams of dialogue leaders, they should brainstorm to invent critical issues that concern all Americans and be prepared to articulate their vision for Islam and America. They should establish short-, medium-, and long-term goals contributing to that vision. Depending on goals, their dialogue sessions may continue periodically for days, months or years. As the dialogue continues, they must occasionally evaluate their progress.

For Muslims, the mission in this dialogue should be to share a new understanding of who Muslims are and what they stand for (worship of one God, justice, peace and freedom). As such, the goals may include setting new agenda for social response and political action and creating awareness about the issues of injustice and unfairness in U.S. law enactment and enforcement. Absolutely there should be no overt or covert attempts at proselytizing anyone. Focus should be on seeking informed consent, never on brainwashing.

While in dialogue, leaders must demonstrate the Islamic etiquette of communication in action. They must consider themselves ambassadors of Islam in America. They must listen patiently, tell the truth even if it is against Muslims, never become angry, respect confidentiality, share time equitably, remain open to new learning and avoid remarks that put others down.

Simultaneously, the dialogue leaders should be aware of Western rhetorical principles, which include grabbing attention, building rapport, establishing ethos, involving the interlocutors, giving previews of talks, presenting evidence for statements and reviewing what is discussed.

Once begun, dialogue with America will gain momentum day by day. Let Muslims begin dialogue with people they know and then move on to continue it with those they do not know. In this way, they will grow like snowballs, gathering familiarity and friendship. Except in rare cases, Muslims can expect get positive exchanges to their overtures to build understanding, common concern and common ground.

The present moment is the most important time for leading dialogue with America. It is time for Muslims to develop and lead their own dialogues with fellow Americans. It is the responsibility of Muslim groups and organizations to plan and execute an dialogue sessions on particular occasions or throughout the year. Like the upcoming United Nations year of dialogue among civilizations, let there be weeks, months, and years of Muslim-led dialogue with America.

  Category: Nature & Science
Views: 690
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