Forging Through the Year of Fear
The Young American Muslim’s Survival Guide to the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and the 2012 Elections
By Khuram Zaman
The Importance of Learning to Anticipate Problems Before They Arise
When I was a toddler, I had a fondness for playing around with electrical outlets. My father, a medical student while we were living in the Dominican Republic, would try his utmost to prevent me doing so and issued warnings to me in vain. With all the stubbornness a three year old could muster, I nonetheless kept up with my attempts.
One day, I unfortunately succeeded and was electrocuted. Alhamdulillah, I didn’t sustain any injuries as my father was able to provide me urgent care. I look back now and laugh, but at the time the incident occurred, I undoubtedly learned the hard way about the dangers of electrical outlets.
There are two ways we learn lessons. Firstly, by being warned in advance. Secondly, by learning after suffering the incident a warning was aimed to prevent. Obviously, avoiding a harm is a far wiser path than suffering from it and having to recuperate afterwards.
Similarly, the American Muslim community finds itself at a cusp. It is on the verge of undergoing another cycle of fear, suspicion, and pressure to conform from certain segments of our society who have a vested interest in using fear of the other to advance specific economic and political interests. Rather than responding after the fact in a reactive manner, perhaps our community can learn from the mistakes of the past and anticipate lines of attack before they arise.
The Year of Fear
I call it the ‘year of fear’ not because we have anything to be afraid of, but because the cottage industry of Islamophobes will most likely be inciting fear of Muslims as this year marks both the 10th year anniversary of 9/11 and also the kickoff of the 2012 election cycle.
In the 2008 election cycle, Islamophobia reared its ugly head with the controversy over the allegation that Obama was either a secret Muslim or a crypto-Muslim. Attempting to utilize fear of Muslims against Obama, the Clarion Fund paid to send out the DVD “Obsession” in over 70 newspapers targeting swing states. In the 2010 election cycle, Islamophobes used the so-called Ground Zero Mosque issue as a litmus test of the patriotism for potential candidates.
The 2012 election cycle will kick start in August of this year – a month before the the 10th year anniversary of 9/11. This year, we can anticipate more mosque protests, Shari’ah scares, and crypt-Muslim allegations. However, rather than reacting to the inevitable launch of the next cycle of fear, American Muslims can be pro-active.
Here are five ways to prepare for the pressures of the upcoming election cycle:
1. TURNING TO ALLAH
The first principle of sound activism is seeking Allah, by Allah, and for Allah (subhana wa ta’ala).
While many activists will immediately start thinking about organizing meetings, recruiting volunteers, and issuing calls to action, it is important to first rectify one’s intention. The Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) said “Actions are by intentions.” Ibn Ata’illah, the sage, wrote in his poem on spiritual purification “al-Hikam” that “Whoever has a radiant beginning will have a radiant end.” Noble intentions lead to noble ends whereas defective intentions lead to rotten fruits.
Tawfeeq (success) for Muslims isn’t worldly success, rather it is attaining success in the hereafter. Attaining all of the riches of the world or attaining worldly power are meaningless as the world is ephemeral. Sometimes activists articulate their actions in the service of Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) but in their heart of hearts, they engage in work for wealth, power, glory, or the praise of people. Muslim activists must avoid associating partners with Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) through riya (showing off) which is deemed a lesser form of shirk (polytheism).
For More Information:
See the following video entitled “The Purpose of Activism and the Spirit of Service” by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani of SeekersGuidance
2. FOLLOWING THE MESSENGER
Muslims have an unfortunate propensity to scream and yell and burn things down when things don’t go their way. While there are times to protest, all circumstances require prophetic patience.
The second principle of sound activism is to follow the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) who was described as a universal exemplar by Allah (subhana wa ta’la) in the Qur’an: “Verily you have in the Messenger of Allah the most beautiful of examples, for whoever seeks Allah and the Last Day.” (33:21) Thus, we are called upon in all moments to imitate the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam).
One central trait of the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) that he was known for was his character. Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) directly addressed the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) and said “Truly, you are of tremendous character.” (68:). Noble character and good manners are a central part of the Prophetic message as the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) himself said “I was only sent to perfect noble character” and also “The believers most perfect in faith are those best in character.”
The Seerah (prophetic biography) is filled with examples of the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) being patient, even in the face of horrific oppression. My favorite narration is when a Bedouin walked into the mosque and began urinating as he didn’t realize it was a place of worship. Some of the Prophet’s disciples were alarmed and were about to forcibly correct the man, but the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) cautioned them and said “Let him finish.” I find this narration interesting because the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) didn’t politely say “Please stop urinating in this house of worship” but rather “Let him finish” as he didn’t want to impose a burden on a man who was relieving himself – in spite of the fact that he was doing so in a house of God. This incident exhibits prophetic patience, mercy, gentleness, and sincere concern for others.
Patience, mercy, gentleness, and a sincere concern for others are definitely needed among Muslim activists. Rather than seeking the fulfillment of our rights, we need to first see what burdens, even if minor, we are imposing on others. For example, during the Ground Zero mosque controversy, rather than portraying the issue in the manner of civil rights and how Muslims had a ‘right’ to build a mosque, even if it offended or hurt other citizens, it might have been more wiser and certainly more prophetic to avoid burdening people.
Allah (subhana wa ta’laa) Himself stated in a hadeeth qudsi that “My mercy overcomes my wrath.” Salvation is not attained by deeds but by the Mercy of God which is confirmed in hadeeth. If we seek the mercy of God, we must be merciful to others. The Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) said “Only the merciful will be shown mercy by the all-Merciful.” When people think of Muslim activists, they shouldn’t think ACLU or CIVIL RIGHTS, rather, they should think of Prophetic mercy.
A final point concerning this is to constantly send blessings upon the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) as he himself said “Whoever sends blessings upon me, God will send 10 blessings upon them.” If our activism lacks barakah (blessing), what use is it? If we don’t seek barakah in our activism, then are we seeking the pleasure of God or are we engaging in our own egotistical worldly pursuits?
3. LEARNING FROM THE ‘ULEMA
One of the unfortunate side effects of modernity has been the fracturing of the Muslim intellectual-spiritual class. The ‘Ulema, academia, and activists have often been at odds with each other. What is needed now is a reuniting of hearts and minds and opening up a means of communication. The ‘Ulema must listen to the needs of academics and activists and vice versa.
Activists, in particular, however, have to concede that they will need the assistance of the ‘Ulema in the years to come. A clear example of this is in the realm of theology and jurisprudence. One of the tactics used by Islamophobes to malign certain individuals and groups is a Shari’ah scare by implying that Muslims are a fifth column poised to take over the country Manchurian candidate style and implement “Shari’ah.”
Most of the activists or academics that have attempted to explain Shari’ah to a public audience either ending up adopting a liberal narrative and throw their own religiosity under the bus vis a vis saying “I’m a believer in democracy and human rights. I’m not practicing or I think Islam needs to be reinterpreted” which comes off as disingenuous and Machiavellian.
Similarly, by adopting the ‘reformist’ stance, activists throw themselves under the bus as Islamophobes then argue that they are ignorant or engaging in double speak and cite classical texts and opinions that contradict their opinion. (Their favorite tactic being to accuse Muslim leaders of engaging in taqiyya). If activists are to survive in the upcoming year of fear and other cycles of tension, they have no choice but to throw their egos out of the window and sit at the feet of the ‘Ulema.
Islamic law isn’t monolithic nor static, but it is also not completely subjective. Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) sent the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) as a final, universal messenger after sending prophets and messengers to all other nations. If all interpretations were equally valid, then God would not have sent a messenger to abrogate all the previous traditions. Thus, flexibility in legal matters should not be misconstrued as complete subjectivity.
The Islamophobes have access to texts, but the ‘Ulema have access to the context. They can cite as many harsh punishments as they want but they can’t tell you under what sociological conditions those rulings were issued. A good example of this that I learned from one of my teachers is that when Muslims attained rulership in Iraq, they found that incestuous marriages between sons and their mothers were common place (mostly due to inheritance reasons). Incest being repulsive to the Islamic legal tradition, one would presume according to the narrative of Islamophobes that everyone was put to the death. However, what actually unfolded historically was that people were allowed to practice their faith without harm. A similar example is the presence of Satan worship in Greater Syria that persists even until this day. These examples show that Shari’ah is more nuanced then how it is portrayed by both Islamophobes and Muslim activists but that nuance will not become known is activists don’t seek alliances with the ‘Ulema.
4. GET SMART, NOT ANGRY
Time and time again, whenever something happens to Muslims, they often respond with anger and rage. While our tradition calls for us to oppose injustice, it also calls for a specific way to oppose injustice. The Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa sallam) said that “The strong man is not one who overpowers another but is the one who restrains his anger.” Forbearance, not rage, are the manifestations of strength. Rather than blowing up (both literally and figuratively) when an injustice happens, its time for Muslims to get smart.
First and foremost, take the time to learn about your opponents.
- The Muscle: Which organizations are taking the lead on Islamophobia?
- The Minds: Who are the main players?
- The Money: Who funds them?
- The Methods: What strategies have they used in the path?
By failing to take the time to understand the cottage industry of Islamophobia, American Muslims have wasted valuable time and precious resources raging instead of engaging.
Additionally, one doesn’t have to wait until a crisis to plant the seeds of tomorrow. Leadership training needs to occur regardless of political circumstances. We might not be able to change the climate of fear immediately, but with the right people, our community can develop positive responses to the politics of fear. A great example of this is the Muslim Public Affairs Council annual “Young Leaders Summit” which will be taking place in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC in the summer. The application deadline is April 25th, so don’t delay in applying.
5. DON’T FORGET YOUR FRIENDS
It is only after you’ve clearly identified your opponent and their tactics that you can organize an effective response. One of the strategies in organizing an effective response is by building strategic partnerships
Firstly, American Muslims need to get their house in order. One thing we notice within the American Muslim community is that everyone throws everyone else under the bus. Rather than acting like a pack of reservoir dogs, it might help every once in a while for our organizations and leaderships to work together. This doesn’t have to be done by public proclamations and pledges, but by developing a peer network wherein people provide each other assets to match their needs. A great example of this is the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute which is hosting “xChange: Rising Muslim Voices” to showcase up and coming Muslim leaders. The event will be taking place on April 22nd at Busboys and Poets in Washington DC. (http://www.facebook.com/amcli).
Secondly, solidifying existing relationships within the interfaith community is also important. If you aren’t active in the interfaith community, consider joining one. If you don’t have an interfaith network, make your own such as through the Unity Production Foundation’s (www.upf.tv) 20,000 Dialogues project. http://www.20000dialogues.org/
Thirdly, another key strategy to think about is to identify people who really don’t like Islamophobes. Believe it or not, not all conservatives or Tea Party members are Islamophobes. There are allies within the Republican party just as their are allies within the Democratic party who don’t like the jingoism that Islamophobes tend to exhibit. Many politicians and organizations seek to build broad coalitions beyond bipartisan lines.
Fourthly, amplify existing efforts. If no movement exists, step forward and create a movement. You don’t need permission from your community leaders, Imams, or consensus. Being a leader entails stepping up to the plate when the situation demands it. However, if movements exist, avoid reinventing the wheel. Instead, support existing campaigns to the best of your ability. If multiple anti-Islamophobia campaigns exist, find out ways to support them. Some may require social media training, others may require funding, yet others may require people to attend their programs and events.
The challenges are many, qualified leaders are few, resources are sparse, and time is short but that is the very nature of all things worthy of pursuit. The gauntlet of fear that has been thrown before our community is nothing more than a valuable opportunity to strengthen ourselves and our nation. The time for action is now, not tomorrow, next month, or next year. We know the storm is coming, so lets brace ourselves and plan accordingly.
God bless America.