Two Americas

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Azher Quader

Executive Director, Community Builders Chicago www.mycommunitybuilders.com azherquader@yahoo.com

The preamble to the US Constitution reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,  promote the general  Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Some 223 years later America is still searching for that perfect union as it struggles to find unity within its ever expanding diversity.

Senator John Edwards during his presidential campaign of 2004 alluded to this growing division in these words:

Today there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life.

One America — middle-class America – whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America – narrow-interest America – whose every wish is Washington’s command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a President.

We see the two faces of America frowning at each other more and more these days. Be it the fight to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, or to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act enacted recently, or to change the immigration law to accommodate the undocumented. The divide in the country is sadly much deeper than what might appear to be on the basis of partisan politics.

What started as a friendly encounter between the pilgrims and the natives when they first landed at Plymouth ended up a few years later in the horrific tragedy that came to be recorded in American history as the trail of tears. When slave owners in the south refused to give up their white privilege, we fought a bloody civil war that pitted family against family and neighbor against neighbor. Subsequently laws were passed against slavery. Civil rights for Afro Americans were later restored. Yet years later the racial divide still continues to haunt us. When nineteen terrorists brought down the twin towers in Manhattan killing over three thousand innocent Americans we went to war again, this time against terror. Although Muslim Americans had nothing to do with the attacks, a decade later over half the nation eyes them with suspicion, doubting their loyalty.

This goal for a more perfect union is obviously not so easy to reach.

In over two hundred years we have not learnt to let go our prejudices, overcome our phobias, and subdue our bigotry.

We clearly live in two Americas.

In one the Muslims are respected, in the other they are hated.

In one live the rich and powerful steeped in privilege. In the other are the poor and powerless living from paycheck to paycheck.

In one are the hardworking. In the other those that hardly work.

In one are the passionate whose passion is big business. In the other are the committed, whose commitment is big government.

In one are those who believe in the power of self. In the other are those who believe in the strength of the state.

In one are those who believe in the compassion of owners. In the other are those who believe in the bargaining rights of the workers.

In one are those who believe charity corrupts the soul, stunts its growth. In the other are those who believe charity elevates the spirit and renews hope.

In one live those who understand the power of Wall Street. In the other are those only familiar with the ways of Main Street.

One America believes in marriage. The other America believes in civil union.

One asks for condoms in schools. The other says let there be abstinence.

One wants abortion on demand. The other says stop the killings.

One wants drugs legalized. The other wants drugs outlawed.

One claims health care is a right. The other says no it is a privilege.

One believes Medicare is a mistake and needs to be ended. The other knows it is a blessing, needs preserved.

One seeks solutions for the 12 million undocumented. The other says no deal, deport all.

One asks for gun laws that save lives and curbs violence. The other quotes the constitution and refuses to budge.

One seeks energy options that are cleaner and greener for the future.

The other refuses to let go the polluting ways of the past.

How then can we bridge these many divides?  Whence will come about that more perfect union?

Perhaps our scriptures hold the secret. Where reason fails to show the way, why not give revelation a chance.

Revelation tells us to be humble not arrogant, to provide for the welfare of others, not remaining absorbed with the concerns of our self interests, that people are to be judged by the nobility of their deeds, that compassion freedom and justice are to be practiced as a lifestyle,  not transcribed on paper and  hung on a wall, that anger, hate and fear can be overcome by the power of belief, that compromise is not a sign of weakness or failure but a means to heal many a wounds of dissent and mistrust.

Our constitution bars the state from imposing any one religion on the people, but does not deny us the right to practice the guidance of our revealed truths. If our understanding of worship ever travels beyond the narrow confines of the rituals that bind it, then some day we can yet rise as a people of faith to bridge our divides. That more perfect union which eludes us can perhaps come within our grasp only through a life of faith. Not faith defined by dogmas and traditions, but faith inspired by reason and revelations anchored in universal principles that transcend our ideological divides.

For Muslim Americans in the midst of yet another blessed month of Ramadan, what better time than this, to go beyond the punishing schedule of praying and fasting each day, to practice their faith as it is meant to be. Letting go of arrogance to embrace humility, embracing love in place of hate, promoting justice in place of prejudice, showing courage in place of fear, adopting patience in times of adversity, demonstrating integrity in the face of temptations.

As a community of faith, maybe we can do our part in bringing the two Americas together. To do that would mean not only working on our inner dimension, but also on our outer. Our spiritual journey cannot take us to a mountain top where we find peace and tranquility away from the turmoil in the valley. Our faith is incomplete without engagement in the problems of the world we live in. It is not enough to write a check and go to sleep when we can do much more. For from those who are given much, much is expected. Our busy social calendars cannot excuse us from the demands of political engagement Our alluring love for travel to distant exotic destinations cannot exempt us from serving the needy within our backyards. There is much for us to do. The two Americas we live in are waiting for our involvement.

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Community News / North America Vol 8 Iss 17

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Breaking down the barriers at Wesleyan
MIDDLETOWN, CT—In order to prove that Muslims and Jews can coexist peacefully, Rabbi David Leipziger Teva and Imam Abdullah Antepli of Wesleyan University took a group of Muslim students to Istanbul and Jerusalem. The group of 11 students say that their outlook was totally transformed after their 11 day excursion, reported the campus newsletter.
The group visited the K-6 Hand-in-Hand School in Jerusalem where Palestinian and Israeli children of all faiths learn together. In Israel the group also visited the Kibbutz Metzer, a socialist commune, and other historical landmarks.
The group met with journalists, lobbyists, human rights activists and political leaders, including Vatican Representative of Istanbul, George Marovitch and Chief Rabbinate and Rabbi of Turkey Isaac Halevo.
Rachel Berkowitz a freshman from Trumansburg, NY, says the trip helped her gain a strong desire to learn more about Islam, Judaism, interfaith dialogue and about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I think the difference I have made has been internal, rather than external,” says Berkowitz. “I have learned and changed so much. I feel I now have a broader perspective.”
“On the trip, we learned that there was a sense of hope, a hope for peace,î sayid freshman Jamal Ahmed. “Despite terrible hardships, there are still great strives towards peace and beautiful co-existence. I learned more about the Jewish culture, religion, and Israeli society than I thought possible in such a short time.”
Rare copy of a translation of the Holy Quran donated to Muslims
DEARBORN, MI—A nearly 300-year old English translation of the Holy Qur’an — the Islamic scriptures — has been donated to the Islamic Center of America (ICA) by Richard L. Steinberg, a Detroit trial attorney. The book is to be held in trust for all Muslim peoples in metro Detroit at the ICA, according to a press release.
“If we do not stand together as a nation, but become a community of clashing cultures and warring factions, we will all be destroyed,” Steinberg stated. “Jesus said ‘I give to you a new commandment that you shall love one another’ and the Qur’an says ‘I swear by the declining day that man is in deep loss except for those who believe, do good deeds, urge one another to the truth and urge one another to steadfastness.’ This is the community our faiths are calling us to.”
The copy donated to the ICA was purchased from Bauman Rare Books in New York and contains a hand-drawn map of the Arabian Peninsula, a genealogical chart of the Prophet Muhammad, and a drawing of the original lay-out of the sacred shrine in Mecca. It also contains a preliminary discourse discussing Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
Steinberg has been practicing law for 34 years and his notable cases include the first Title IX discrimination case in the country and his recent defence of Geoffrey Feiger in the investigation of contributions to the John Edwards 2004 presidential campaign. He is an ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a member of the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church in Detroit. Steinberg was recently re-appointed to the Michigan Advisory Board of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Muslims request zoning change
HARRISBURG, PA—A Mus-lim couple have submitted a request to Silver Spring Township seeking a change in the zoning ordinance to allow for places for worship in the residential estate district. Mr.and Mrs.Azim Qureishi own four acres of land and plan to donate it to the local Muslim community to build a Mosque.
The Muslim group wants to build a 8000 square foot mosque costing about $6-800,000, Qureishi was reported as saying to the Sentinel.
The estate district where the land is located is the only residential district in the township that does not allow places of worship.
An attorney representing the couple that his clients are willing to pay the costs to advertise the text change to give the public proper notice.

Hit and run charge against Muslim teen dismissed
DAVIS, CA— A Yolo County Superior Court judge dismissed the case against Halema Buzayan, the teenage Muslim girl who claimed that she was unfairly targeted for being a Muslim. In June of last year, a witness reported to the police seeing an SUV hit a parked car and flee the scene. The Davis police investigated the report and believed that Halema Buzayan was driving. The family said the driver was the mother.
Six days later the police arrested Halema Buzayan for misdemeanour hit and run.
The Buzayans paid $870 for the vehicle damage shortly after the incident. In one court hearing the victim of the parking lot fender-bender testified on Halema Buzayan’s behalf. On Monday, 10 months after the incident, a Yolo County Superior Court judge dismissed the case.
The Buzayans believe they were investigated and prosecuted differently because they are Muslim. They are supported by community activists who last week petitioned the Davis City Council to create an oversight commission for the police department. “When the community showed up they really provided a comfort that kind of made up for the discomfort caused by the police department,” said Halema Buzayan. “So it meant so much to me and it was such a wonderful feeling.”
The Buzayan family is now planning to file a civil lawsuit against the Davis Police Department on allegations of ethnic bias.
Awareness week kicks off with talk on Women in Islam
MADISON, WI—The Islamic Awareness Week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison kicked off with two lectures on Islam and Women. More than 60 people attended the panel addressed by Yasmin Mogahed, a freelance journalist, and Rohany Nayan, the principal of the Madinah Academy of Madison.
Mogahed said that women are not objects to be seen as physically pleasing to others.
“We dress this way as an act of devotion to God,” Mogahed said. “When a woman covers her body, she is covering what is irrelevant for people to see.
“When people judge me, they should judge me based on my heart, my character.”
Nayan said there are some nations where men repress women because the male leaders are insecure and crave power. Nayan said that in her native country of Malaysia, nobody gave her any trouble for being a woman.
“During the time of the Prophet (s), women had a golden age,” Nayan said, referring to the life of the Prophet Mohammed (s), who lived from the years 570-632 in the common calendar. “The Prophet (s) was never threatened by a woman.”
Somali student awareness at UM
MINNEAPOLIS, MN—The Somali Student Association at the University of Minnesota held a day long event to create awareness about the Somali culture. The day was marked by food, clothing, arts and cultural performances.
Organizers said that one doesn’t have to travel overseas to gain cultural experience. It can happen right on campus. 15 percent of population of Minneapolis in made up of Somalis and they have a sizable presence on campus.
Somali Student Association secretary and global studies senior Kadra Ibrahim said it is important for the association to show its presence on campus.
There are many different cultures on this campus and it is crucial that the Somali Student Association is able to celebrate its culture in the midst of such a vast array of cultures, she told the student newspaper.
Islam exhibit at California State University-Sacramento
SACRAMENTO, CA—The Muslim Student Association of the University of California at Sacramento held an Islamic exhibition to counter the prevalent negative image of the faith. Students were encouraged to ask questions as they viewed the walk through exhibition.
Several professors came to the exhibit with their entire classes. Those interested were given free copies of the Holy Qur’an and other Islamic literature.
MAS Minnesota Convention attracts thousands
The Muslim American Association-Minnesota’s third annual convention attracted over 3000 attendees. Two sessions related to politics attracted the most number of participants. Democratic candidates spoke at a late-morning session titled “Democracy in America: A return to our Democratic ideals.” In the afternoon, Republican candidates spoke on the theme “Building a More Diverse Minnesota: Is there room for Muslims?” Keith Ellison, who is running for the US Congress, and if elected will be the first Muslim Congressman also spoke at the event.
From thought-provoking and spiritually uplifting lectures, to fun-filled entertainment sessions, there was something for everyone. With over 50 bazaar vendors, shopping was a popular past-time activity between sessions. Comedy sessions, skits, and songs were among some of the entertainment sessions we witnessed.
Many members of the community also took advantage of the MAS Legal Clinic to ask questions regarding immigration, housing, and other legal issues.