Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who speaks for Muslims in the US; and who should?

In the 80s and early 90s prior to the establishment of the now defunct American Muslim Council (AMC), many mainstream Muslims were discussing how desperately we needed a Muslim organization that could compete with AIPAC. Others wanted a political organization that would unite Muslim Americans around social rather than political issues, and there were still others who wanted to organize and establish a national human rights organization. Whatever the particular point of view, or cause to be adopted, it was clear to many of us then, that Muslims lacked a representative voice that was not only able, but also willing to step into the ugly and sometimes very intimidating world of public policy in the US, hoping to speak truth to power from an Islamic perspective. The mission to organize and participate was seen less as a mission to garner Muslim power or influence, and was seen more as a mission to fulfill what appeared to many as a duty to help our country formulate moral policies that not only served the interest of Muslims, but also our country.

The objective of Muslim American Muslims to organize, though met with its share of suspicion by both Muslims and non Muslims, was sincerely intended by most, to be a first step in the presentation of a type of non traditional dawah or Islamic teaching that would allow our government and fellow citizens to recognize the important role that Muslims could and would play, providing sometimes missing facts, and unique perspectives, particularly in respect to US foreign policy, and humanitarianism. Contrary to what people like Steven Emerson would have our government believe, the first major foreign policy issue to galvanize US Muslims was not Palestine. It was apartheid in South Africa.

Muslim Americans of all races and ethnicities joined millions of other Americans who were calling for US divestment from the South African apartheid state. Under the tutelage of Muslim brothers and sisters, mostly African Americans who had served as activists in the civil rights movement, Muslim Americans united behind the call to end apartheid in South Africa, and joined coalitions led by non Muslim African American civil rights organizations and personalities. There was very little activism or interest in the issue of Palestine, or the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine as was feared by outsiders, and there were no prominent Palestinians at the forefront of Muslim American political activism.

It wasn’t until the mid nineties, and after the release of the deceitful shockumentary Jihad in America, that Muslim interest in organized political and even humanitarian activism was publicly mischaracterized as conspiracies to commit terrorism, or support for terrorism. Steven Emerson, who produced the propaganda piece, suggested in his production, that all Muslims are either terrorists or potential terrorists, and that US mosques had been radicalized by Afghani Mujahedeen and Palestinian activists, and turned against the US. Nothing was further from the truth. What was happening was that Palestinian Muslims and other Muslims had began to attend one another’s mosque and lectures, and to fellowship with one another outside the mosque. This became an opportunity for many to learn the truth about the negative impact of our country’s foreign policies on the lives of fellow Muslims in other countries. Whereas this new awareness seemed harmless to Muslims, it was very threatening to US Jews who already knew and were perpetuating the horrors that we now know as an illegal and brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as a myriad of other injustices against Muslims in other countries, all mostly associated with the illegal occupation.

The Jewish American solution to what they feared would become a serious challenge to their monopoly over political influence, that was denied to minority groups in the US, religious and racial minorities, was to create such mistrust of US Muslims that our government and also our fellow citizens would not only come to fear us, but also to hate us. Other anti-Muslim and anti-Islam activists soon joined Emerson the Jewish American Goebbels, in his campaign to create hatred of Muslims, just as the Third Reich had created enough hatred of Jews in Germany to substantiate a Holocaust.

Muslims in the US did not experience a Holocaust, perhaps only because there is a US Constitution that protects rights, and a respect for rule of law that lingers in the hearts of US citizens, preventing us from too easily accepting that we should deconstruct 250 years of successful republicanism to accommodate the fear of exposure, and competition being suffered by American Jews. It appears that the Jewish American leadership, rather than to reach out to US Muslims in an effort to find ways to achieve peace in the Holy Land, decided they would rather employ a campaign of defamation, intimidation and psychological terrorism in the US, all as mentioned earlier, in an attempt to create fear and hatred of Muslims in the US.

At the inception of this insidious campaign, very few US Muslims had access to the media, or enough knowledge of US foreign policy and the situation in Palestine to respond to the myriad of terrifying accusations being made by the Jewish and Israeli operatives employed to undermine Muslim political activism and to poison relations between Muslims and the US government. A new organization, founded by a Palestinian and an American who was a former news reporter, an organization named CAIR, Council on American Islamic Relations, took the challenge presented by Emerson and others, and moved to the forefront of organized US Muslim activism. CAIR became the heroes of the US Muslim community, a community that had experienced only the first of a series of unexpected and vicious attacks to be launched at us by the Zionists in this country. This position was hard for CAIR to hold onto, since other Muslim organizations formed, many relocating from smaller towns to Washington DC, most hoping to earn their share of heroism, donations, and community support as CAIR had.

Following 9/11 and the inception of a horrendously evil and hateful campaign mounted by Christian Zionist and Zionist Jews in the US who had hoped to place the final nail in the coffin of Islam in America; Muslim Americans, sensing almost immediately that there was a lack of leadership, began to reach out to our government and people of other faiths, sometimes on their own, and in an unprecedented way. They were hoping to initiate dialogues with our government and law enforcement officials, and other citizens to ensure them that Muslim Americans are not a threat to our country, and that we are not a threat to Jews or Christians in the US as had been falsely charged.

Interfaith groups, and encounter groups were formed in almost every mosque, community center, Islamic center and even by Muslims generally who felt the urgency to speak out in an attempt to rebut the false accusations and slander against Islam that had become a backlash against US Muslims that included mosque burnings, violent attacks against women in hijab, and the detention of Muslims who were being entrapped in government stings for voicing anger, or making meaningless threats.

Shamefully, this was also a period in time where many Muslims turned against one another, and used the backlash against other Muslims. Sometimes this was done to seek revenge against other Muslims for all types of reasons including professional and romantic jealousy, professional competition and sometimes simply because Muslims adhered to a different school of Islamic thought than another Muslim. Not due to any fault of their own, US law enforcement became confused, and began to wonder who to believe and what to do to protect innocent Muslims from the wrath of other Muslims, as well as from what was eventually recognized as a campaign undertaken by some Christians and Jews to also defame and to levy false accusations against more vocal, and prominent Muslims and activists.

This, along with hundreds, if not thousands of interfaith dialogues where so many different renditions of Islam have been presented, has caused our government and others outside the US Muslim community to ask “who really speaks for Muslims in the US?” Even some Muslims are beginning to feel that it is necessary to reign in some of these non representative spokespersons, and to issue the call for organized and united activism that is represented by a single Muslim personality and voice, meaning that as a community we have come full circle since the founding of the first national Muslim organization. Now rather than looking for an organization, we are longing for a leader who will be given the mission to carry the Muslim political and humanitarian voice into the US market place of ideas.

There is no simple answer to the question, “Who speaks for US Muslims?” while there is a very simple answer to the question “who should?” The Qur’an and the teachings of the beloved prophet Muhammad (sa) give us a tremendous amount of guidance in respect to this question, and his Sunnah provides us with a perfect model for Islamic community and leadership. Some might ask if this is so, why we find ourselves in a situation where we lack a representative voice for our national community that is able to articulate our concerns and to protect our interests without sacrificing our rights, while simultaneously educating us and also guiding us into the mainstream market place of ideas, without frightening and intimidating our fellow citizens with our powerful message.

Before we look critically at those who are obviously vying for the positions of spokespersons for, and leaders of the US Muslim community, we must first look at ourselves and ask ourselves the question asked by a prophet who was sent to people who had been forced from their homes and who suffered from oppression at the hands of a tyrannical people. The story and the question is found in the Holy Qur’an, in Surah Al Baqarah, Chapter 2, verse 247. It says,

They said to a prophet among them, “Appoint for us a king that we might struggle in the cause of God.” He said, “Is it possible if you were commanded to struggle hard that you would not?” They said, “How could we refuse to struggle in the cause of God seeing that we were turned out of our homes and out of our families?” But when they were commanded to struggle, they turned back, except a small group of them. “Their prophet said to them “God has appointed Talut as king over you. “ They said; “How can he exercise authority over us when we are better fitted than he to exercise authority, and he is not gifted with wealth in abundance?”

The Qur’an also says, “and when they gave up hope in everything except God, God sent them leaders…”

In the Sura Nur, or “Light,” God gives us another example of a people who would not be rightly guided, not because of the deficiencies of their leaders, but because of their own lack of faith, and the diseases of their own hearts. Chapter 2, verses 46-57 say;

We have indeed sent down signs that make things manifest; And God guides whom He wills to a way that is straight. They say “We believe in God and in the apostle, and we obey” but even after that, some of them turn away, they are not really Believers. When they are summoned to God and His apostle, in order that he may judge between them, behold some decline to come. But if the right is on their side, they come to him in all submission. Is it a disease in their hearts, or do they doubt, or are they in fear that God and His apostle will deal unjustly with them? No, it is they themselves who do wrong.

The answer of the Believers when summoned to God and His apostle, in order that He may judge between them, is no other than this; they say, “We hear and we obey.” It is such as these that will attain felicity. It is such as obey God and his apostle and fear God and do right that will win. They swear their strongest oaths by God, if only God would command them, they would leave their homes, say; “Swear you not, obedience is more reasonable; verily God is well aware of what you do.

The mantle of leadership in Islam is conferred by God, and good leaders are given to communities who are ready to be guided. We must give up hope in all false gods including people, power and money and place our hope and faith in God only. God has promised us that He will send us leadership that will guide us to our desired victories when we are humble enough to be an obedient people, who fear none other than him, who have faith in His signs, or scriptures, and who are ready to take up the struggle in God’s cause, which is the struggle not only for inner purity and enlightenment, but also the outer struggle against tyranny and injustice and oppression. This is our challenge today, to become these people to whom God has promised to “change their state after the fear in which they lived, to one of security and peace” ( 24:55).

May Allah guide us to that end, and make us worthy and ready to receive the righteous leader of His choosing. And may God open the eyes of our hearts that we might recognize our leader when that time arrives.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

There is a she camel in Palestine

In the Qur’an there is a very interesting and telling account about a she-camel and a prophet named Salih who God sent to warn a certain people about a coming punishment that would result from their continued injustices unless they stopped committing their crimes, repented and reformed. The leaders of that town of course laughed at, and mocked that prophet, since he was someone they knew, and could hardly imagine being a prophet. They knew his family, his background, and whereas they respected his family, they had no real regard for him. He was simply a man, like other men in their eyes. He was not distinguished in any way that makes him notable among other men who were not prophets. He worked no miracles, and as far as we know, he had no book of signs to share, just a simple warning that went ignored. Of course this prophet did not merely deliver the message and take cover, or leave town. He preached and taught in the city for years prior to the impending j! udgment of which he warned. Yet, the leaders of the town not only ignored his warnings, they mocked his prophecies, calling them "tall tales." They even defied God by carrying out the very act that had been specifically prohibited by God, through His prophet, which was the killing of the she-camel. God had inspired the prophet Salih to advise the leaders of the town that this one special camel should be treated in a certain way. In reading the story, one immediately recognizes that the instructions regarding this camel were not unique, or extraordinary. There was no burden being placed upon the people to provide for the she-camel as God had commanded. God had instructed the prophet to simply advise the people that the she-camel was a sign from God, and should be granted her rights. "How?" The people wondered, could such an animal be a sign from God? What message is communicated through a pregnant female camel, a lowly beast of burden, who is distinguished from the others onl! y by her physical qualities, her color, or race, since she cannot work or benefit anyone in the same way that other camels earn their keep. God’s command was that she not be burdened, that she be allowed to graze undisturbed, and that she receive her turn for watering, and care as did the other camels, since she is destined to give birth, new life, and along with it new hope. Immediately upon receiving the message about the she-camel, the people of Salih hamstrung the she-camel in defiance. The prophet Salih recognized at that point that no more preaching was necessary, so he left the town, and soon after his departure, God’s punishment came to bear upon the Thamud.

The story begins in the Qur’an, in Chapter 7, verse 73, where it says: " To the Thamud people (We sent) Salih, one of their own brethren. He said "Oh you people worship God, you have no other God but him. Now has come unto you a clear sign from your Lord. This she-camel of God is a sign to you, so leave her to graze in God’s earth, and let her come to no harm, or you shall be seized with a grievous punishment."

"And remember how He made you inheritors after the Ad people and gave you habitations in the land. You build for yourselves palaces and castles in open plains, and carve out homes in mountains, so bring to remembrance the benefits of God, and refrain from evil and mischief on the earth.

The leaders of the arrogant party among the people said to those who were reckoned powerless-those among them who believed: "Know you indeed that Salih is a prophet from his Lord? They said, "we do indeed believe in the revelation that has been sent through him."

The arrogant party said: "For our part we reject what you believe in. Then they hamstrung the she-camel, and insolently defied the order of their Lord, saying: "Oh Salih, bring about your threats, if you are a prophet of God."

So the earthquake took them unaware, and they lay prostrate in their homes in the morning. So Salih left them, saying: "Oh my people, I did indeed convey to you the message for which I was sent by my Lord. I gave you good counsel, but you love not good counselors."

The Qur’an explains the symbolism of the She-camel for us saying: " We sent the she-camel to the Thamud to open their eyes, but they treated her wrongfully. We only send the signs by way of fear, and warning from evil " (17:59). Qur’anic scholar Abdullah Yusef Ali explains this for us saying, "signs, miracles, and portents are sent by God as warning, to strike fear into the hearts of evil doers and reclaim them to the right path."

We might ask ourselves what exact crimes the Thamud were committing that led to the she-camel being sent to them as a warning sign, with God’s commandments to treat her justly. Abdullah Yusef Ali believed that the she-camel challenged the Thamud in their areas of weakness, which included greed, and arrogance, and disrespect for the rights of the poor, and those whom they believed had no value or worth equal to their own assumed value. Yusef Ali writes: " The story of this wonderful she-camel is variously told in tradition. What we are told in the Qur’an is that 1. The she-camel was a sign or symbol, which the prophet Salih used for warning to the haughty oppressors of the poor 2. There was scarcity of water, and the arrogant or privileged classes tried to prevent the access of the poor or their cattle to the springs, while Salih intervened on their behalf 3. Like water, pasture was considered a free gift, in this spacious earth of God, but the arrogant ones ! tried to monopolize the pasture 4. This particular she-camel was made a test case to see if the arrogant ones would come to reason 5. The arrogant ones, instead of yielding to the reasonable rights of the people, hamstrung the poor she-camel and slew her, probably secretly. The cup of iniquities was full, and the Thamud people were destroyed by a dreadful earthquake, which threw them prone on the ground and buried them and their houses and fine buildings."

To better understand the character of the Thamud, we need only read the narrative in the Qur’an, which chronicles their conversation and actions. In Chapter 26, verses 142-159 we read," Behold their brother Salih said to them, "Will you not fear God? I am to you an apostle worthy of all trust. So fear God and obey me. No reward do I ask of you for it; my reward is only from the Lord of the worlds. Will you be left secure in the enjoyment of all that you have here? Gardens and springs and cornfields and date palms with branches near breaking with the weight of fruit? And you carve houses out of rocky mountains with great skill. But fear God and obey me, and follow not the bidding of those who are extravagant and who make mischief in the land and mend not their ways. They (the Thamud) said: " Thou art only one bewitched! Thou art no more than a mortal like us. Bring us a sign if you are telling the truth. He (Salih) said: " Here is a she-camel, she has a right! of watering, and you have a right of watering, severally on a day appointed. Touch her not with harm, lest the penalty of a great day seize you. But they hamstrung her, then did they become full of regrets. But the penalty seized them. Verily in this is a sign, but most of them do not believe. And verily thy Lord is He the exalted in Might, Most Merciful."

There is a she-camel in Palestine. She is a Palestinian people who are being denied their rights. She is a people being hamstrung, and slaughtered by an arrogant and defiant entity that refuses to recognize the rights of all human beings, regardless of their race or religion to basic human rights, which include the right to life, dignity and sustenance, food and water, and medical care. There is a she-camel in Palestine, and she is being slaughtered while the world turns up its nose at her and asks what value she has upon which to base her claim that she has a right to live. What right can she have to share the resources, or to enjoy the rights conferred upon the chosen, by the owner of the land, who is God, since she has no identity, no definition, no government, no allies, no treasury, no fine homes, no inheritance, no oil. We cannot recognize her. Still, she is there and she is being hamstrung. She is pregnant with potential, and promise of a future, but ! we cannot see what rests in her belly, and there is no one to claim ownership, or to love her pending birth. There is a she-camel in Palestine, "And verily thy Lord is He, the exalted in Might, most Merciful."