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 endeavors 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. I hope that the conservatives among us will get beyond the self righteousness and value the freedom that we are endowed with 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 fight against the temptations to reduce Islam to rituals, rituals are merely pathways, Islam is about living a wholesome life.
I don’t want to be identified as a Muslim by the externalities like beard, cap or clothes; I rather follow the most important Sunnah (practice) of the Prophet: Amin. That is someone who reaches out to every human regardless of his or her religion, race, region or other uniqueness for the common good of humanity. Amin is someone who tells the truth, someone who is just and kind, and around whom people feel safe and secure.
El-Farouk Khaki, a Gay Imam puts this succinctly, "To relegate an entire spiritual identity of a person into a religious cloth doesn't make someone a good imam," Khaki says. "The most important role I play is soul care-because the other stuff is ritual, which has no meaning in itself."
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, your family members and fellow humans. Neither he nor God advocate exclusion; a neighbor is a neighbor is a neighbor.
A Muslim is someone who is engaged in mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill amongst our neighbors 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 conflicting tribes as to who should have the honor of restoring the fallen stone in the walls of Kaaba (the black cube in Mecca). 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 saw the opportunity to mitigate conflicts between the tribes and nurture goodwill amongst them; he wanted to bring about a change. Indeed, he placed the fallen stone ‘Aswad’ on a sheet of cloth and had all the leaders together raise the sheet up in unison.
Imagine those men lifting the sheet and looking at each other, they were adversaries an hour ago and now they are participants. What must have gone through their minds? The probably saw the erosion of conflicts and emergence of goodwill. 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, not by Muslims, but fellow humans who were Jews, Christians, Pagans and others during his life.
A Muslim respects the otherness of the others and understands the essence of Islam which is justice and peace. What does God want? In Sura Rahman he says he created the universe for us in a balance, and elsewhere he calls the humans Ashraful Makhlooqat –honored beings who are endowed with the ability to think and manage their own affairs. All that God wants us to do is keep the harmony and balance intact. Isn't submitting to the will of God means working for a just society, and bringing equilibrium between living beings and the environment?
A majority of Muslims certainly practice this refreshed identity, but a few don’t and sadly they get the most coverage in the media, drowning the good. But vigorous effort to project our real identity has begun and 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 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 language, and "us" has to be ingrained in our feelings, language and actions. We are Americans and nothing but Americans.
We need to embrace other flocks, we need to look for permanent solutions of co-existence and honor every one's God given space.
The Center for Pluralism is an initiative of American Muslims, but it is not a Muslim organization. However, it is committed to pave the way for Muslims to become a part of the American story just as it is committed to do the same for others religious groups. It simply means Muslims are a part of the normal conversation and not exotic talk. What does it take for Muslims to be a part of the society?
It is time for Muslims to take the steps necessary to allay the fears of fellow Americans and undo the tensions, remove the suspicions and restore trust among Americans. This is what a Muslim ought to be; a conflict mitigater and a goodwill nurturer.
Please consider the following events this month.
Holocaust - www.HolocaustandGenocides.com
Essence of Christianity - http://centerforpluralism.com/christianity-understand-the-essence-of-christianity/
Next issue: Do American Muslims want Sharia? Does Quran teach Violence?
The Quran is not about governing other people but living in harmony with all of God’s creation. In effect Quran tells you to mind your own business and let others mind theirs.
God Bless America!
Mike Ghouse is committed to build a cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day.