City of Brass


This evening, I am honored to be a part of the Voices for Freedom celebration at Temple Aliyah here in the San Fernando Valley. This is an annual interfaith event honoring the spirit of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and features readings from his speeches and writings. My assigned reading is the following excerpt from the I Have a Dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial, on August 28, 1963:

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the citizens of color a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that my four 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. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

As an American Muslim, I firmly believe in America as a proposition nation, America as an idea and an ideal, America as a work rather than a thing. There have rarely been moments as divided as this moment, today, January 20th, 2017. What better moment than this for affirmation of what America can be, what it was meant to be?

I have always argued that America is the greatest Muslim country on the face of the Earth. And Jewish, and Christian, and White, and Black, and Brown.


Tomorrow, many hundreds of thousands of people will also march to express their voices and their unity and their belief in the same Dream. They will march in Washington DC and they will march in Sister Marches across the country, across the world. Many Muslim women will also participate – a Muslim woman’s face is even part of the movement’s banner.

There is a school of thought that this is the wrong time for Muslims, especially, to be so visible. There is a valid reason for fear – mosques are literally being burned. The fear is that visible participation by Muslims in protests against the new regime in D.C. will lead to retaliation and retribution. As the saying goes, “the tallest blade of grass is the one that gets cut first.”

The saying is false. All the blades are cut at the same time. In the context of defending the dream of what America is and what America can be, hunkering down and self-censoring is not the answer. All that achieves is complicity via silence. If we think we can avoid being targeted by hiding, then we may as well cut down our minarets.

There are consequences to silence:

“… and I did not speak out. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

or, the shorter version:

“We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Apathy and cynicism and fear all work together hand in hand. This isn’t a call to arms. it is a call to conscience. The Qur’an makes this call to justice explicit: we must enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong (3:104). If we believe that there is a threat to the Dream, then we are obligated to lend our voices to the call in opposition. We must go on record – we must take sides – we must not let there be any doubt as to where our values lie. And we certainly should not make the job of our putative oppressors any easier.

Blog. Speak. March. Tweet! Be the blade of grass.

This morning, (January 14, 2017) the Islamic Center of Eastside in Bellevue, Washington was burned to the ground by vandals.


There’s a fundraising campaign at to help raise funds to rebuild. Please keep the community in Bellevue in your prayers this weekend.

There’s no coincidence here that this happened on MLK weekend. And there’s a direct causation between this hate crime and Donald J. Trump’s laughable smearing of civil rights hero and US Rep. John Lewis as “all talk and no action” – not to mention his stupid assertion that his district is in “horrible shape and falling apart, not to mention crime-infested”, which is just code for “black = criminal”. John Lewsis did more to make America Great in one day on March 7, 1965 at the Edmund Pettis Bridge than Trump will do in a lifetime.

bloody sunday

The dream is alive, but we aren’t there yet. Fight back – donate to the Bellevue community and show them that when they go low, we go high.


Today is the day all believers honor the birth of the prophet, Isa AS, son of Mariam, whose virgin birth is narrated in the Qur’an (19:17-21).

And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not. — John 1:5

And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. (5:46)

There truly is a need to put Christ back in Christmas, by acting on the values of charity and forgiveness that the Prophet Isa AS embodied. His message, like tat of all the Prophets, was for all of mankind, so as a Muslim it is my duty to not just say “Merry Christmas” but to also live it. Of course, I will fail, but that’s where the forgiveness comes in.

Neither the War on Christmas nor the War on Mawlid – waged by puritans of both Christian and Muslim extractions – should taint the beautiful and universal tradition of goodwill that the Christmas season evokes. This is the time when bonds of family and friendship and neighbors and community are forged stronger. There is strength in Christmas that we should honor.

Personally, I plan to honor it today by going to Harry Potter World with my family 🙂 Of course, I will say As-Salaam Aleykum upon Santa if I see him there. (It really does explain everything)

Your recommended Friday reading: Islamism, Salafism, and jihadism: A primer by Shadi Hamid and Rashid Dar. Here is the executive summary:

Islamism: Islamism as a phenomenon incorporates a wide spectrum of behavior and belief. In the broadest sense, Islamist groups believe Islamic law or Islamic values should play a central role in public life. They feel Islam has things to say about how politics should be conducted, how the law should be applied, and how other people—not just themselves—should conduct themselves morally.

Salafism: Salafism is the idea that the most authentic and true Islam is found in the lived example of the early, righteous generations of Muslims, known as the Salaf, who were closest in both time and proximity to the Prophet Muhammad. Salafis—often described as “ultraconservatives”—believe not just in the “spirit” but in the “letter” of the law, which is what sets them apart from their mainstream counterparts. In the Arab world today, Salafis are known for trying to imitate the particular habits of the first Muslims, such as dressing like the Prophet (by cuffing their trousers at ankle-length) or brushing their teeth like the Prophet (with a natural teeth cleaning twig called a miswak).

Jihadism: Jihadism is driven by the idea that jihad (religiously-sanctioned warfare) is an individual obligation (fard ‘ayn) incumbent upon all Muslims, rather than a collective obligation carried out by legitimate representatives of the Muslim community (fard kifaya), as it was traditionally understood in the pre-modern era. They are able to do this by arguing that Muslim leaders today are illegitimate and do not command the authority to ordain justified violence. In the absence of such authority, they argue, every able-bodied Muslim should take up the mantle of jihad.

The excerpts above do not do the essay justice. To anyone disinclined to read a bunch of books, reading the full essay is at least a pragmatic alternative.

And then, having read it, please also read Murtaza Hussain’s essay on ISIS’s goal of Eliminating the Grayzone. It’s really short, but I’ll excerpt one paragraph anyway.

Through murderous provocation, the Islamic State seeks to trigger a civilizational war between Muslims and the West, violently dragging both parties into such a battle if need be. There can be no real victory in a conflict with such apocalyptic connotations. Instead, Western nations should remain defiant, making clear through word and deed that they refuse to see the world divided on the Islamic State’s terms.

This stuff matters more than ever now. Reading the excerpts on this page is not sufficient. Just reading the two essays linked above is not sufficient. But it’s a start.