Law is one thing and practice is the other. As an American and as a Muslim, I have to be critical of both groupings and work toward creating cohesive societies where no citizen has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of the other. Here is a summary of 2011 and what we can aspire for 2012.
First of all, let's look at the bigotry prevalent in Muslim majority nations and then we will come to America. Prophet Muhammad delivered this message in his last sermon: "All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action." He inculcated those values in Muslim rituals, like the prayers where there is no distinction between the king and the pauper, scholar or an illiterate and all of them stand in the same line in the Mosque with no reserved or privileged space for any.
However, those values have not penetrated into the psyche of "all" Muslims in Muslim majority nations. The majority remains silent while their minorities are harassed. The violations are not a daily occurrence, but even a few should not be acceptable, it is a reflection on the entire society. Every other month in Pakistan we hear abduction of Hindu women, forced conversions; every other year blasphemy charges are leveled against Christians and every week the basic human rights are denied to fellow Muslims (Shia and Ahmadiyya) by the evangelical version of Muslims in Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia does not allow any public congregations of people of other faiths who work there, thank God that is the only nation compared to 55 other Muslim majority nations. Iran routinely harasses the Baha'is, Zoroastrians and occasionally Jews, and now we have a case of Christian pastor charged with apostasy which goes against the very grain of Islam: "There shall not be any compulsion in matters of faith" (Quran 2:256). Malaysia and Indonesia have a few scars on their nations and the radicals in Egypt are messing with centuries old pluralistic tradition by attacking the Coptic Christians, shamelessly the Catholic Church in Nigeria was attacked around Christmas. While this is happening there a lot of good things happening as well in other Muslim majority nations that should not be discounted.
The good news is that an overwhelming majority of Muslims don't like what's happening when someone sticks Islam to the bad acts of a few criminals. An endless number of Muslims and Muslim organizations are condemning these acts unequivocally; the ones who don't see these condemnations are the ones accusing Muslims for doing nothing and those few boisterous ones are in every group including Jews, Christians, Hindus and others.
And now, let's turn to the bigotry prevalent in democracies including our own Good ole US of A. Just like Prophet Muhammad spoke in his last sermon to create cohesive societies, our founding fathers laid the ground work for a society where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of the other: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
However, those values have not penetrated into the psyche of "all" Americans or others in Christian majority nations. The majority remains silent while their minorities are harassed. The violations are not a daily occurrence, but even a few should not be acceptable, it is a reflection on the entire society.
We have come a long ways in believing women and African men are equal as well, we have ways to go before we can fully value our constitution.
Switzerland bans Minarets, a symbol of Muslim place of worship; France forces women not to wear the burqa while the other Brutes Taliban force women to wear burqas. We should speak up against these extremists. The few in Germany, Netherlands and other nations continue to harass their minorities, Muslims or otherwise.
At home here in the United States, we hear anti-Semitic comments fairly regularly; the swastika is on some one's home or the other. Every week we hear bigotry spewing out of a few elected ones in Congress and Senate and even our presidential candidates want us to be like Saudi Arabia to have moral police to beat up on the gays and lesbians. Every week the self proclaimed hypocritical guardians of liberty and less government want to regulate what a woman can and cannot do with her body, and a few want to regulate who can marry who. A few shameless Pastors go on the rampage of calling Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and others "cults." These men and women are divisive and hurting American's one nationess.
Every day the stories of racism and Islamophobia are in the news. The few damned politicians and the pastors have the uncanny ability to dupe a few gullible ones among us to join them in their hatred of others, purely for political and financial gains. Remember, they are the ones to gain and not you the general public. Muslims cannot build a mosque, they cannot practice their faith and the radicals have forced and threatened the advertisers to pull out advertisements from a reality TV show that depicted average day to day Muslims, they'd rather it show the terrorism than good things about Americans.
The good news is that an overwhelming majority of Americans don't like what's happening when a "few" pastors and the politicians spew hate. An endless number of Americans and civic organizations are condemning these acts unequivocally; the ones who don't see the condemnations are right wingers among Muslims.
Is this the America we want?
Martin Luther King Jr. expressed that in his speech, "I have a dream that our little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Chief Seattle, a Native American said this perfectly, "All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the webs, he does it to himself."
1. What are you and I doing to preserve that web?
2. What are our initiatives?
3. What are the divisive issues?
4. How would we allay the prevalent phobias and fears?
5. What is your vision for America?
John F Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." We hope to capture your responses in a moving story about America.
What Can You Do?
Whether you are with your family, friends or alone, you can make your new year meaningful and reflective. For many years, I have set aside two hours on New Year's Eve and focused on different aspects of my life and found a lot of peace and tranquility in knowing who I am and what I want out of life. In those two hours, I allow nothing else to crawl on to my mind.
The aspects of life I would deliberate would be my role and the role of family, friends, budget, income, travel, gratitude, freedom, society and America in and around my life. Make your own list and at the end of the two hours, you will find relief, comfort and a sense of purpose in life.
What kind of America do you want?
Are you willing to do your share of in preserving the freedom and liberties of the individuals at home and abroad? The least you can do is to speak up when the politicians and the rogues amongst us are bent on pitting one American against the other through their statements and comments. Do those statements bring Americans together or divide and weaken our nation?
The least you can do it write a comment on a blog or news paper, or tell friends that there is another point of view to consider? Would you make a genuine effort to see another point of view?
On my part I am committed to building a cohesive America, and have laid out the outline at America Together Foundation. Together we can do our share of work in creating a better America and a better world, so that you and I to can live without apprehension discomfort and fear of the other.
Happy New Year! Let is bring hope and inspire us to do our share of good in keeping America beautiful.