Muslims Rising Above The Ashes Of Misunderstanding

September 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kari Ansari

As the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, we’ll be inundated with reports and recollections of where people were at that moment, what they were doing and how their lives have been changed because of it.

This anniversary-keeping activity feels like we have a wound that we know has yet to heal, but we can’t stop ourselves from touching it — just to see if it still hurts.

It does.

The inevitable media coverage will build now until Sept. 12, when folks will try to get back to normal life still smarting from the big press blitz. Muslim Americans will have no choice but to be one of the featured main dishes in this media feasting frenzy, and we will do our part to help heal the wounds caused by those who falsely claimed our faith by telling you again that Islam had no part in this tragedy.

Over these last 10 years, the events of 9/11 taught my faith community that we had been neglecting outreach to the greater society. We’ve had to step away from the cultural comfort of our mosques, Islamic schools and homes to shake the hands of our neighbors who have been there all along, but with whom we may not have engaged with serious effort or effect. Ten years later, Muslims have made these gestures of friendship to the point that a large percentage of the folks who wanted to know us better, now do. There are others who simply refuse to let go of the bigotry and stereotyping of Muslims in America. You may know them: They have their eyes closed with their hands over their ears singing, “la, la, la. I don’t hear you.”

For the next 10 years, I am hopeful that our nation will leave these crooners of ignorance out of our society’s narrative. We’ve already seen some of Islam’s biggest haters recently outed for propagating bigotry under the guise of being “terrorism experts.” Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller have been exposed for their racist and bigoted craziness through a Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, who referred to their hate-filled blogs and rhetoric many times in his insanely xenophobic manifesto. The Center for American Progress recently released a report, “Fear, Inc., The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” that clearly outlines the organized machine operating a small empire of hatred. Besides Spencer and Geller, the report highlights major players like David Yerushalmi (recently featured in a New York Times article outlining his role in this smear campaign) and Fox News (a network owned by the now infamous News Corp and Rupert Murdoch). These people won’t stop their work in unfairly vilifying the American Muslim community, but really, how long can that leaky bucket of lies hold water?

It’s been a challenge to refute every slam and slur against Islam, but Muslims try to follow the example of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (s), who persistently treated his neighbors with respect despite their derision.

America’s Muslims look forward to our faith community rising above these ashes of misunderstandings to find ourselves welcome as fellow citizens. To make this climb, we know our focus must stay on our youth.

There are thousands of young, dynamic American Muslims already creating change in our nation’s high schools, colleges and workplaces. Their parents have put heart and soul into raising these young people — especially within the difficult context of the last 10 years. They have been nurturing their kids with love and giving them confidence to be American and Muslim in the same sentence. We have great and lofty expectations of their futures, and these young people are not failing any of us.

Young Muslims are making advances in medicine, science and technology.

Look at the list of young doctors in any teaching hospital and you’ll see Muslim names galore. Most major corporations include a cadre of brilliant Muslim engineers. Beyond technology and medicine (traditionally the career paths of choice for Muslims in the U.S.), we are now seeing young Muslims choosing to pursue careers in the less lucrative, but necessary fields of public service, social services and education. And finally, we are seeing more and more Muslim names coming up in the arts and communications fields. This is a hopeful sign for the future, as public perceptions often change through the media in all its forms. Watch Musa Syeed, a writer and independent filmmaker to produce great movies and documentaries, as well as Qasim Bashir, who wrote and directed “Mooz-lum: The Movie.” There are thousands of upcoming Muslim journalists, writers, artists, photographers and performers that we will be sure to hear more from in the next 10 years.

I’m proud to claim these honest young people who are giving us honest portrayals of Muslims through the arts and media.

We now have young people studying to become Islamic scholars within the American context through the newly instituted Zaytuna College, whose mission is “to educate and prepare morally committed professional, intellectual, and spiritual leaders, who are grounded in the Islamic scholarly tradition and conversant with the cultural currents and critical ideas shaping modern society.” We look forward to the graduates of Zaytuna to actively lead and positively shape the American Muslim community for generations to come.

Young Muslims are the backbone of American-Muslim philanthropic efforts, and what they lack in financial resources, they are making up with their time and hard work. There isn’t a single charitable event that doesn’t depend on student volunteers for its success. Muslims Without Borders has taken this legacy one step further by forming a full-blown relief agency run solely by Muslim students.

I recently had a reporter ask me if it wasn’t too big of a burden for my kids to grow up as identifiable Muslims during these last 10 years.

It was a sincere question, but I wondered how else she thought I should have raised them. Later, I realized that there are some Muslim parents who have discouraged their children from expressing their faith in any way from fear of reprisal. Recently, my heart hurt for the young checker at the grocery store who told me in a wistful voice that she was “technically a Muslim,” but that her parents didn’t want her to practice the faith in case she’d suffer here as a new immigrant. I don’t know if that statement reflected more poorly on our society, or on her parents; however, for the most part, Muslim families in America are raising their children to be proud of their beliefs and are teaching them that God is infinitely Merciful and Gracious to those who struggle for His sake. These young people who are proud of their noble faith realize that despite some people’s innocent ignorance of Islam, or other’s outright bigotry, the majority of our neighbors and greater community will have respect for them as long as their character and behavior follow the example of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (s). To put it plain and simple, we are raising these young people to trust in God and do good things with their lives.

Muslims in this country are looking forward to seeing an America that once again says we have had enough of hate and fear. We hope everyone will recognize that our country becomes more beautiful with each new color and creed we accept as our own.

Kari Ansari is a Writer and Co-Founder of America’s Muslim Family Magazine

13-38

Indian Muslims Need To “Correct” Their Image, Says Indian Vice President

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India

NEW DELHI:  Have Indian Muslims taken too much for granted? Is there a need of newer impulses to respond to new situations? Vice President of India Hamid Ansari posed these questions while giving the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library Memorial Lecture at Patna, Bihar (December 12). The theme of his lecture was, “Identity, Citizenship and Empowerment.”

The Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library, one of the oldest libraries in India, was opened to the public in 1891 by Maulvi Khuda Bakhsh Khan. It was declared as an institute of national importance in 1969 by an act of Parliament. Managed by an administrative board headed by governor of Bihar, the library is fully funded by the ministry of culture, with its director handling the regular managerial responsibilities.

Describing the library, as “amongst a handful of its kind in the world,” the golden jubilee of which is being celebrated this year, Ansari said: “It is a unique collection of Persian and Arabic manuscripts, described by a visitor as an ‘enclosed garden of precious things.’ These testify to the richness of the civilization of Islam…  One characteristic … is the diversity of the … dialogue conducted over centuries between peoples of diverse stocks and traditions and the interaction between Islamic values and the historical experience of Muslim communities.”

Deliberating on identity of Indian Muslims, Ansari said: “India is not a part of the ‘Muslim World’ but is not away from it; not a Muslim majority state in statistical terms yet home to the third largest community of Muslims in the world; not a society focused on Muslim welfare only but one in which the Muslims, as an integral part of a larger whole, constitutionally claim the attention that every other section does. The Indian Muslim community also has a history of engagement with the larger Muslim world and has contributed in intellectual, cultural and material terms to its enrichment.”

His aim was “to explore two aspects of the interaction that has characterised the Indian experience,” Ansari said. He posed the questions:  “Have the Muslims allowed their parameters to be frozen in time and taken too much for granted? Have they been sufficiently critical? Is there a need of newer impulses to respond to new situations?” Referring to “reality” portrayed by Sachar Committee Report that “examined the ground situation pertaining to identity, security and equity, highlighted facts emanating from official data and made recommendations for corrective and affirmative action,” Ansari asked: “What conclusions do we draw from our experience of six decades in terms, firstly, of the conceptual framework and, secondly, of the actual experience?”

Secularism, “accepted as part of the basic structure of the Constitution,” Ansari said, “pertains to three sets of relations in a society: between religion and the individual (freedom of religion); between the state and the individual (citizenship); and between the state and religion (separation of state and religion).” “The basic debate in India on the meaning and content of secularism has ranged on two principal approaches, namely (a) neutrality of the state vis-à-vis religions to ensure a basic symmetry of treatment between citizens of different religious communities and (b) prohibition of religious activities in the functioning of the state. The former implies respect for and implementation of rights given to religious minorities. The record of six decades shows that flawed practice has at times tended to dilute these principles,” Ansari pointed out.

Accepting that “practice has fallen short of the promise,” Ansari analysed the Indian Muslim mind. “Insecurity, frustration and uncertainty characterised the Indian Muslim mind in the immediate aftermath of Partition,” he said. Their grievances centred on five core concerns security, employment and reservations, Urdu, Aligarh Muslim University and Muslim Personal Law, he said. “The community’s internal discourse on these as also in the wider Indian circle is, therefore, of relevance. It was articulated through the ulema, political leaders, intellectuals and the general public. In many cases, these categories over-lapped; their responses varied. The record of six decades suggests an unduly defensive approach, sporadic and emotional rather than systematic and rational. The internal discourse repeated an old lament,” Ansari said.

“Suggestions for possible corrections were few, unfocused and far in between,” because of which, Ansari said, “an inter-community dialogue to seek correctives did not emerge; this enhanced distances.” Ansari emphasized: “There is, specifically, a requirement to address three challenges.” These include, he said: “Sustained, candid, and uninterrupted interaction with fellow citizens without a syndrome of superiority or inferiority;  involvement of  all segments of the community, particularly women who constitute half the population and are to be empowered in social responsibilities as equal partners with Muslim men; and self-empowerment in areas where competence already exists, making the best use of government assistance that is available, and creating capability to benefit from the opportunities being offered by an expanding economy.”

“The failure of communication with the wider community has tended to freeze the boundaries of diversities that characterise Indian society. People have tended to live together separately. As a result, stereotypes have been developed and nurtured,” Ansari said. “There is therefore an urgent need to correct the image, go beyond identity issues, project a more holistic view of Muslims as normal human beings and fellow citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens,” he said. “Islam’s emphasis on observance of ethical principles in interaction with all human beings should help Muslims to propel a positive image,” Ansari asserted.

Highlighting the need of “social awakening,” particularly with regard to status of women, Ansari pointed out that “in this effort, religious texts are not an impediment, social custom is.” “The endeavour should be inclusive; the traditionalists, who have a wider social reach, have to be included and reminded of Islam’s teachings on the status of women as also of the imperative of our times. What is needed is a virtual revolution in our approach to this question. The examples of education of women in Muslim societies like Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran and Turkey, and its eventual impact on the status of women in society, can be emulated with benefit,” he said.

“The social and economic rejuvenation of Indian Muslims is important for its internal dimension, as also for revitalising India’s traditional engagement with, and contribution to, the Muslim world beyond our borders,” Ansari stated. To keep the process on a progressive track and prevent regression, Ansari said: “The key seems to lie in a sincere, unconditional and uninterrupted dialogue and requisite corrective action within the framework of the Constitution. All segments of society, majority and minority, have a national duty to do so.”

11-52