By Mike Ghouse
April 22, 2009
Indeed, we are not connected enough with the mainstream society for a vast majority of Americans to stand up for us, empathize with us, or even understand the truth about us that we are no different than them in our endeavours and aspirations of life. We must however express our gratitude to the millions of Americans who have stood up for us, compelled by their sense of justness and fair play.
Professor Sherman Jackson observes, “Thus far, however, Muslims remain outside the American story, which is why, despite their positive contributions to society; they seldom enlist empathy when they are jailed, deported or discriminated against.” And he offers the solution, “Hopefully, however, it will not be long before Muslims come to understand this. Once they do, while guilt by association may continue, Muslims will be able to fight back. For in this they will be joined by others.”
Refreshing our identity
As good citizens it is not only our right but it is our duty to be self critical of our society; the American society. I hope that the conservatives among us will get beyond the self righteous criticism and value the freedom that we have to exercise with pride and care.
We must learn to re-examine our attitudes towards others and push the refresh button to understand the essence of Islam. We must do our inner jihad against the temptations to reduce Islam to rituals, we should not only be identified as Muslims by the ritual aspect of our religion, but also be recognized by the spiritual aspect of “being a Muslim”.
Being a Muslim is volunteering one’s time and effort for the general well being of the society, and serving it with blinders. Prophet Muhammad said your responsibility is to yourselves, to your family members, to your relatives, to your neighbours around you and beyond. There was no exclusion of people other than Muslims; a neighbour is a neighbour is a neighbour.
A Muslim is someone who is engaged in mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill amongst our neighbours and countrymen, to help create a just and more viable society for all. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad set that example earlier on in his life when he was called on to resolve a dispute between the tribes as to who should have the honour of setting the fallen stone in the walls of the Cube called Kaaba; they came to him because he had earned the reputation for being just and truthful. He could have chosen any one to do the honor to gain favors, he could have given it to his tribe and make himself look good, but he did not.
He believed in peaceful co-existence and wanted to mitigate the conflicts between the tribes and nurture goodwill, he wanted to bring about a change. Indeed, he placed the stone on a sheet of cloth and had all the leaders raise the sheet up in unison, thus he was able to nurture goodwill among them and also a chance to mitigate the conflicts by bringing them together. It is a model for Muslims to follow; to be just, fair and truthful and goodwill nurturers. He was called the Amin, the truthful and just.
A Muslim respects the otherness of the other (2) and understands the essence of Islam; Justice and peace. Rituals are not an end in themselves; they are simply markers of being a Muslim. They are the most important aspect of our faith paving the way to achieve humility and spirituality. A Just person is one who cares for what surrounds him or her; life and the environment. Isn't that what the will of God is? Isn't submitting to the will of God means working for a Just society, and bringing equilibrium between living beings and the environment?
To be just, one has to shed arrogance, indeed Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said to his associates after returning home from a victorious war; the biggest Jihad begins now, he said, it is the war with one's own seductions. It is to reign in our temptations to avenge, being revengeful or getting even; it is getting hold of our anger, the anger that leads to injustice. He said God's favorite person is the one who forgives others and repents his own short-comings. Islam is about being a just human in treating ourselves, our families and the societies we live in.
A majority of Muslims certainly practice this refreshed identity, but a few loud mouths define Muslims otherwise and sadly they get the most coverage in the media, drowning the good and encouraging the ugly. But vigorous effort to project our real identity has begun and Insha Allah, we will succeed with a realization that what is good for Muslims has got to be good for the mankind and vice versa for it to sustain. We cannot have advantages over the others, such benefits are deleterious and of temporary nature.
Where did we go wrong?
The average Mohammed and Amina have realized that to be a spiritual part of the society, we have to connect, we have to care and be cared for, and we have to be with the society emotionally as they would be with us. To feel a complete sense of feeling “at home" we have to live the essence American life, which is not different from the essence of Islamic life. Please don't jump to conclusions, it does not mean you have to give up an ounce of your identity, it simply means the sense of difference "they" v "us" has to vanish from our thoughts and "us" to be ingrained in our feelings, language and actions.
The traditional religious leadership and the leadership that runs Muslim organizations is yet to grasp this, in the name of identity, they dig in their heels. That has been the hallmark of all insecure religious leaders to keep the flock tethered.
To be religious is to bring about a balance within oneself and with others who surround us; through humility religion seeks to dissolve the barriers between the peoples. We, and every one in America need to embrace other flocks, we need to look for permanent solutions of co-existence and honor every one's God given space.
As Muslims, we chase our own tails; we spend all our disposable hours at the Mosques or engaging in big talk about love for Islam and attend lectures on how to be a ritual Muslim. Unquestionably, it is a part of what makes one a Muslim, but that is not all that Muslims should be concerned with. Our focus ought to be, to become a part of that American story. Please remember no one is pushing us out or excluding us, it is us, who are not integrating to become a part of the whole and it is our loss, as many of us do not feel that we are a part to this land; that engenders an undesirable insecurity.
Justice alone cannot carry us far
In case of the Holy Land Trial; justice won the first time around. But justice alone cannot carry us far. There was no sympathy when Professor Arian was on trial, there was no support when Tariq Ramadan's visa was rejected twice to visit and teach in the United States. There was less outrage when Gaza was bombarded, the effects of which will run for generations. There is a long list, and such incidences happen ad nauseam
There are several organizations making the efforts to make that change "to become a part of the American Story" but it is not their priority to grow the feeling of hominess, something that solidly bolts us to the ground. Our priorities must take us from a ritual Muslim to a strong civic Muslim and be a part of the American story. Where the three hundred million of us feel connected with each other and talk and act as one nation. Those of us who have not grown up yet, being American is our identity as much as being a Muslim. Our ability to build relationships with people other than our own kind does not negate or reduce our religiosity, but enhances it.
Guts to speak up
The Islamic society of North America (ISNA) is developing a good outreach program, but then there are some, who are shamelessly derailing their effort. Case in Point: the Islamic society of North America (ISNA) engaged an influential Rabbi to become a part of the Muslim-Jewish dialogue, and indeed the Rabbi spoke at their annual convention. Then a few Muslims proclaiming to be legitimate representatives of Muslims (There is no such thing as legitimate representative, none are elected by public at large) wrote to the Rabbi not to be a part of ISNA, as they are the legitimate ones, instead of supporting the efforts of ISNA, they were denigrating them. Both will lose in the situation. Not enough Muslims have picked up the phone and told these other guys to be wise, and start building their own positive relationships rather than negating what others have built. What does it take? It is the simplest thing that a Muslim can do; to encourage the good efforts of any Muslim or a non-Muslim to build relationships and work for co-existence, peace and prosperity of our nation.
Things to ponder
What are the things Muslims can do to become a part of the American story? What can we do to connect with others on a human level, the level where every one feels like one large family to speak up from their heart when any one of the 300 Million of us is mis-served? Simply put, we have to become part of that family.
We are rightfully concerned with Halal (Kosher) meat and in our subconscious effort to show off that we are Muslims, i.e., ritual Muslims. We prevent ourselves from sharing a meal with others; one of the most connecting activity of a family. People are rightfully afraid to invite us so they do not offend us. It is human to follow the rules, Jews, Hindus and others follow their dietary requirements as well, we should not eat what is forbidden, but we should not make a big deal out of it and stay out of homes of friends and becoming a part of the American story. Let the difference not put a barrier between us.
To develop a sense of oneness with the society, we have to put in conscious efforts till it becomes a part of our psyche and a part of our culture.
For an immigrant to feel home and feel the connection with the community at large, and to bond, we have to find opportunities to serve. Thank God, America is the land of the blessed, it provides tremendous opportunities to the ones who want to feel safe, secure and feel in tune with others and be a contributor and participant in the overall success of each one of the 300 Million of us.
Setting our priorities
Engaging with the society at large must be our priority now. We should quit making excuses that we do not have any time; we must carve out our time from the social activities. We have to invest our time in the long term goodness and to acquire a sense of being at home; we must take our time out from some of the religious activity and lectures that makes us stronger ritual Muslims and invest that time for sustainable goodness to become an overall Muslim.
The Ismaili Muslims are consciously building bridges and creating a society of integration and oneness. As a Muslim I take pride in their work and urge them to work with all Muslims; their plans are worth emulating. What is good for Muslims has got to be good for America and vice-versa, for that good to be sustainable.
America is our home, we are going to spend our lives here, it is home to our kids and grand kids and their grand kids; and we are going to be buried here, each cemetery plot is our permanent residence till eternity. And we owe it ourselves to make this land safe, secure, peaceful and prosperous for one and all. No one can have peace for themselves, unless others are in peace. It is the responsibility of each one of the 300 Million of us to do our share.
The big small things we can do;
Be a part of some ones birthday celebration or their anniversary, don’t be hung up with food or other cultural nuances, just be there for your friend and be a part of his or her happiness. When I go to the parties, I don’t drink alcohol nor do I eat Pork, but I don’t make a big deal or show it off that not drinking or eating makes me a Muslim. I should not draw attention in the party; it is the friends’ celebration time. I have had people apologize to me and my response is, no, you should not give up anything for me; you should enjoy what gives you the joy. We have to learn to respect the otherness of others, without you becoming something you are not. Just drink water and eat Salad no one will have a problem with it, but be there for your friends.
The most human thing to do, and by the way it is the most Muslim thing to do is to share the grief when some one passes away and the least thing you can do is attend their funerals. You don’t have to say one single word to any one, just being there for their family gives them comfort and you will feel good about your humanness. Prophet Muhammad stood up when a funeral passed by him regardless of who they were, the one example often cited is a Jewish funeral procession. Next time, when you hear some one has passed away, whether you know them or not, attend their funeral and see the difference it makes to you more than others.
If you are finding it difficult to make friends with people other than your own, consider changing it. Whether it is a wedding, birthday, funeral or any happy or grim occasion, invite people from your work, from where you shop or your neighborhood. Then you have plenty of opportunities year round; Mothers day, Fathers day, Memorial day, Labors day, July 4th and religious holidays of other faiths. Then you are connected and become a part of the American Story.
July 4th Celebrations
Go to the 4th of July parties, invite every possible person other than your own kind to your own backyard or create your own party along with a few friends. It does not take a whole lot of money to grill hot dogs (Of course Halal ones for you), hamburgers and water.
Encourage the Muslim leaders and give them your support to do it in the parking lot of the Mosques. Plan it ahead. Let our Imams focus on these things rather than get bogged down with Haraam and Halal. Making friends for creating peace and goodwill is unquestionably the Halal thing to do. After all, the name of our religion is peace and we have to act it.
Take a look at the models we have created here in Dallas, and look at what it does to ground us. If you are hung with Cultural dances, do something else that connects humans; facts and speeches don’t connect people.
I am committed to co-existence and as such, I am willing to spend my time in getting you to set up, provided you have the commitment.
Please go through the following links and grasp their value
Thanksgiving Celebrations: http://thanksgivingcelebrations.blogspot.com/
Unity Day Celebrations - www.Unitydayusa.com
II Annual Reflections on Holocaust and Genocides :
We owe it ourselves to make this land safe, secure, peaceful and prosperous for one and all. No one can have peace for themselves, unless others are in peace. It is the responsibility of each one of the 300 Million of us to do our share. First, it starts with you and I, we do it because it is the right thing to do and not to keep a score. Let there be purity in our intentions and God will reward every one of us with peace, security and prosperity.
Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism, interfaith, Islam, India, Multiculturism, Terrorism, Peace, Politics and Civic issues. He co-chairs the center for interfaith inquiry of the Memnosyne Foundation and presides the Foundation for Pluralism. He is the president of World Muslim Congress a think tank with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world and vice-Versa.