'The Challenge Goes Out to All American Muslims'
Four Muslim Americans discuss the issues facing Muslims in today's post-9/11 landscape, and see a positive future ahead.
It’s been five years since 19 Muslim hijackers changed the world, not least of all for Muslims in America. Though Muslims as a whole weren’t castigated immediately after 9/11, five years later tells a different story: A recent Associated Press poll finds 40 percent of Americans harboring prejudice against Muslims, who often are seen as enemies. Media stereotypes and inattention to Muslim efforts to condemn and fight terrorism have only fueled those negative views.
Yet many Muslim Americans, rather than retreating from public life, turned a tragedy into motivation to educate non-Muslims and unify Muslims against a shadowy, internal enemy. Others, facing hostility at home and watching Muslims suffer abroad, grew frustrated and angry. Many wonder if that anger can lead to violence. Beliefnet gathered four unique Muslim Americans to address these complex issues:
Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur lives in Atlanta and is active in the Muslim women’s movement and editor of the recently released book about Muslim women, “Living Islam Out Loud.”
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi has watched the Muslim-American community evolve since coming to the United States in 1968, and is chairman of the North American Fiqh Council and director of the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, California.
Shahed Amanullah, who resides in Austin, Texas, is the editor of altmuslim.com, a popular website featuring news, analysis, and discussion about Muslim issues.
Imam Mohamed Magid was born in Sudan and is executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Northern Virginia, which serves 5,000 families. Among his many civic endeavors, Imam Magid is part of the Fairfax County Domestic Violence Prevention Policy Coordinating Council.
Five years after 9/11, are Muslim Americans still “taking back Islam,” or is the job done?
Amanullah: The general lay population within the Muslim community has reacted admirably. I know many personal examples of people who were completely apolitical, who isolated themselves, but after 9/11, they really took it upon themselves to reach out.
But notwithstanding these efforts, as long as people define our Islam by what people do overseas, it’s unfortunately going to be a losing battle. I think the hatred and the distrust of Muslims now is even worse than post-9/11. I think the polls will even bear that out. I still am hopeful but I’m starting to worry a little bit.
Siddiqi: Nine-Eleven shocked the Muslim community. We were not prepared. We were living quite comfortably--building our community and our mosques, raising our children, developing our schools. But now we realize that many of our neighbors don’t know us, and they are suspicious of us. So people have opened their homes, their mosques. I feel our community has done good work. The Muslim community in America is a very useful community, and they realize their responsibility.
Abdul-Ghafur: What I’ve found, particularly in interfaith circles, is that there’s this seeking of knowledge that was not there before September 11th. All of a sudden people understood that Islam and Muslims exist, and neighborhoods are meeting about these interfaith issues and really wanting to learn about Islam and Muslims.
I resist the whole defensive mentality of saying ‘do I need to take back Islam,’ because I think that’s a very reactionary and flawed perspective.
Siddiqi: I have to give a lot of credit to a large number of our fellow Americans who have been quite understanding and wanted to learn more about Islam. But [there are others] who are working very hard to spread hate against Islam and Muslims. They are using every opportunity to create misunderstanding. They have accused our Prophet, our Qur’an, our religious practices, our prayer, our fasting, our religious leaders, our organizations [of being evil]. They have not left anybody out. We have to see that. There is a lot of hateful propaganda against Islam and Muslims.
How do Muslims turn this hostility and suspicion around?
Magid: I think by engaging the American public in an open dialogue about Islam and who Muslims really are. Reaching out to people of other faiths is always of help. And we need to engage our youth in activities to make them understand that being an American Muslim means learning how to engage in civic and educational responsibility.
From my experience I know that when a person who is not Muslim meets practicing Muslims, how they look at them changes tremendously. And Muslims have to be open to receive tough questions about who they are.
Amanullah: I’ve always thought that if every American just had a Muslim friend, not just knew a Muslim at work or whatever, but had a friend who they would invite to dinner and vice versa, we would not have these problems.
I just had my 20th high school reunion, and I believe that because they knew a Muslim, over the course of 20 years it has completely shaped how they think about Muslims in general. And if every Muslim kid in this country was encouraged to make friends with their non-Muslim neighbors, more Americans can say, “Well, I know a Muslim, and they’re not like that.” That’s the only thing that’s really going to eradicate this. So really, the challenge goes out to all American Muslims.
Siddiqi: Islam teaches us that where we live we should help the people and area. We should not just expect others to do something for us, but we should do what we can. We should participate in society.