City of Brass


The day after the Orlando shooting, my friend Wajahat Ali addressed a crowd of mostly professional, fairly religious Muslim Americans in Houston. Here is a transcript of his remarks, a call to action for the Muslim community. Reprinted with his gracious permission.

So, yes, things are really bad for Muslims right now. But writer Willow Wilson reminded me of a hadith, a saying of the Prophet Muhammad: “Even if the day of judgement is coming, plant the seedling.”

It might seem that a orange skinned man with wavy, interesting hair and a permanent scowl on his face named Trump is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and that qiyamat (Judgement Day) is around the corner…

But have faith. Have faith. And have hope. And do good. Continue doing good. Our Creator commands it.

My job, your job, our job is to expand and stretch America to realize its full potential, challenging her to live up to her professed ideals. Pushing the boundaries of the Constitution and our American freedoms as to accommodate all the diverse communities that live within it.

How do we do that? Through service, through living our faith with humble swagger, pride, an open heart and generosity. By bum rushing the show and refusing to be spectators and victims.

And by sharing our story. Because if you aren’t sharing your story, your story will always be told for you by others.

There is tremendous power in the ability to share and tell a story, especially someone else’s story.

And to quote Spider-Man who quotes Uncle Ben who quotes Voltaire – with great power, comes great responsibility.

Each community is tested with challenges. Our father’s generation had their challenges as did our grandparents before them. We are currently facing severe challenges. We are not unique.

Our real test is NOT if we fight for our own freedoms, that’s a given. Our real test is not If we fight against the Islamophobia Industry, that’s a given. Or if we mobilize a Muslim Get out the Vote campaign to make our presence felt in swing states – that’s a given and the least we owe America after we gave the world Bush for 8 years. Thank you Florida and California Muslims — no, I did not vote for him. Yes I am judging you.

Our real test is if we turn around and extend our hand and make sure we uplift those who are marginalized and downtrodden as well.

Earlier today, a 29-year-old man, Omar Mateen, walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, carrying a handgun and assault rifle. At 2 am he opened fire and killed 50 people and wounded at least 53 others.

Law enforcement is saying the shooting was “well planned” and “organized.”

This is the worst mass shooting in US history.

You want your leadership challenge? You want your fork in the road? You want your test? You want your choose your own adventure? HERE IT IS.

What choice will you make?

Will you sit by silent, idle and complacent?

OR will you disrupt the narrative?

Will you empower and uplift our LGBT Muslim brothers and sisters, who often suffer in silence and have been ostracized and demonized by multiple communities in America for their sexuality, religion and ethnicity? People who are at the cultural fault lines – blasted for being both gay and Muslim in an America that often uses them as pawns for an absolutist cultural war.

Will you call out ignorance that creates an atmosphere which tolerates and breeds hate?

Will you sincerely assert our solidarity with the LGBT community, not for sake of politics, talking points and expedient alliances, but around shared values and visions of creating an America where no one is hazed, victimized, brutalized or murdered simply for “being” ?

Will you denounce the draconian and unnecessary anti LGBT legislation that is being introduced in several states around the country just like LGBT members have routinely denounced Trump’s anti Muslim bigotry and anti Sharia legislation for years?

If so, then congratulations, you are writing a new chapter in the evolving rough draft of America. Because that’s what it means to be American.

Remember- disagreement does not become grounds for lack of compassion or lack of humanity or lack of empathy and solidarity.

Pluralism and respect is a two way street. It requires reciprocity. That’s the test. You can’t demand rights and compassion and dignity for Muslims while denying it for other groups. It’s hypocrisy and morally inconsistent.

Let’s develop and reflect our real Islamic ethics of pluralism and DECENCY.

I challenge and invite us to write a new story for American Islam and Muslims.

One that is not isolated, angry, victimized, bitter, miserly, insular, racist, sectarian or homophobic.

One instead that stretches and accommodates America using our Islamic values to ensure that these vast freedoms are enjoyed by all communities, not just our own.

We must be like Musa and throw down our stick. We must be like Muhammad Ali – and dance and float and sting as participants in the ring, no longer as spectators. We have to throw down – and throw down hard. And ball out of control — right now.

These are urgent times, but also moments of opportunity and growth.

So thank you to all of you, especially for investing in service, in hope, in helping our AMERICAN communities, for investing in our religious values and freedoms, for investing in the future of America, for investing in us being the best versions of ourselves, and for planting a seedling, so the next generation can emerge and write a new chapter for our communities where we become the protagonists of the American narrative.

Wajahat Ali is the Creative Director at Affinis Labs.

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