THE BLOG
08/09/2013 04:27 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2013

Muslim-Americans Defending the Dream, Advancing Civil Rights

Our nation is at a very important moment in its Civil Rights history and, as Muslims, we must understand our place within it and build with the leaders of today's modern Civil Rights Movements, particularly the Dream Defenders. Muslim families who immigrated to this country, in particular, must understand that we owe much to and have much to learn from the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, particularly African American and Jewish leaders who fought and died for rights that today we too often take for granted. In 1965, America's racist immigration system that heavily favored white immigrants was replaced by one that enabled Eastern Europeans, Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans to successfully immigrate to this country and become naturalized. But, even before 1965, African American Muslim leaders, including Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, were playing a prominent role in connecting their struggle for dignity within the larger context of immigrant rights and human rights. Recently, the Dream Defenders, in their effort to advance the dreams of our American civil rights ancestors, have invited Muslim-Americans and to be in solidarity with them and to join the movement. I believe that we should not only accept their invitation but also become more deeply involved as participants in and supporters of this movement -- to help build a better America.

The Dream Defenders are a youth organization, mostly made up of black and brown youth, who blend non-violent and social media tactics to fight against systemic racism. Since July 16, the Dream Defenders have been occupying the Florida Capitol demanding that Gov. Rick Scott hold a special legislative session on a bill they have crafted entitled "Trayvon's Law". The law calls on the Florida legislature to repeal the Stand Your Ground Law, address racial profiling, and dismantle the school to prison pipeline. A testament to their growing power, as of a few days ago, Gov. Scott announced that he will be holding a special session on the stand your ground law!

The Dream Defenders are addressing laws that disproportionately affect black and brown youth. At best, the "Stand Your Ground Law" is unclear and confusing. Even the sponsors of the bill and policy experts disagree on what the law actually means. Furthermore, a study of FBI data "found that whites who kill blacks in non-Stand Your Ground states are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person. But in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent."

The Dream Defenders know that both our law enforcement and criminal justice system are not perfect and are subject to human flaws and bias. Law enforcement agencies have a difficult job and are often not adequately trained, which can lead them to improperly rely on race, ethnicity, or religious dress as a proxy for undocumented status, likelihood for having committed crime, or religious extremism. In addition, our nation's failing public schools in combination with zero-tolerance policies and increased police presence, has caused our jails to continue to be over incarcerated and disproportionately filled with people of color. The school to prison pipeline has caused students of color to be suspended at two to three times the rate of other students and similarly overrepresented in office referrals, corporal punishment, and school punishment.

These are corrosive practices and policies that impact all communities and growing Muslim-American recognition of this fact has been reflected in increased involvement in this civil rights moment. Over the past couple of years, Muslim-Americans in Florida have been deeply involved in these civil rights issues. Ahmad Abuznaid, the Legal and Policy Director of Dream Defenders, has played an instrumental leadership role in building Dream Defenders and organizing the occupation of the Capitol, as has Muhammed Malik and Jamarah Amani who have provided thought-provoking social commentary on racism and white privilege and have organized youth of color to speak out in Miami -- the hometown of Trayvon Martin. But our community's participation doesn't stop in Florida. Last Friday, the Dream Defenders hosted a interfaith Ramadan Iftar featuring speakers such as Linda Sarsour, the Executive Director of Arab American Association of New York. Linda, who also slept one night in the Capitol in solidarity with Dream Defenders's occupation, said that the Muslim community in New York City has been working with a diverse group of community organizations to pass the Community Safety act to mitigate the unconstitutional stop and frisk tactics, create the office of inspector general to police the police department, and to stop the mass surveillance of the Muslim community. In response to the iftar event, Dr. Omid Safi and Imam Zaid Shakir delivered impassioned endorsements of the Dream Defenders. In his video testimony, Imam Zaid said: "Brothers and sisters, we stand with the Dream Defenders... This is about the moral direction that this country is going to take. Is it going to continue to be a morally corrupt, decaying empire that bludgeons nations into submission, that bombs and murders indiscriminately, that transgresses and tramples on international law, and that puts domestic laws in place that will turn back our country fifty years and send us back to the equivalent of Jim Crow?"

As this month of Ramadan draws to an end, Muslims must remember that the Holy Qur'an commands us to protect the life of all human beings. We are all the descendants of Adam and life is equally sacred for everyone (17:70). To help empower Muslims to live out our prophetic values, Muslim community organizers from throughout the country are joining with the Lifelines to healing movement to stand up for the Trayvons -- for all lives that have been indiscriminately taken away-- and to stand with the Civil Rights movement. And thus, in the week leading up to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Lifelines to Healing is embarking on a 15-city national bus tour that will culminate in Washington, D.C.

As we prepare to commemorate the March on Washington, please join the growing list of Muslim leaders who are saying no to problematic stand your ground laws, racial profiling, endless war, and the school to prison pipeline. Join us in the tradition of the Civil and Immigrants Rights movements and endorse the Dream Defenders. Join the Lifelines to Healing bus tour and raise your voices with the growing multi-faith movement for social justice. And I challenge you to answer the question that the Dream Defenders asked me, Jamarah Amani, Linda Sarsour, Muhammed Malik, Dr. Omid Safi, and Imam Zaid Shakir: "Can we dream together?"