On of my favorite lines from Shakespeare is Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
I couldn’t help but reminded of those lines when I first heard of the extremely bizarre plan by a group of New jersey-based muslim groups to stage a mass “pray-in” on the lawn of the Capitol in Washington DC, next friday afternoon:
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH….
The objective of this gathering is to invite the Muslim Communities and friends of Islam to express and illustrate the wonderful diversity of Islam. We intend to manifest Islam’s majestic spiritual principals as revealed by Allah to our beloved prophet
Muhammad (PEACE BE UPON HIM) of Arabia. Likewise; we intend to inspire a new generation of Muslim to work for the greater good of all people. We shall serve all
people, regardless of race, religion or national origin.
ON THIS DAY….
The Athan will be chanted on Capitol Hill, echoing off of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and other great edifices that surround Capitol Hill
Thousands of Muslims from all races, creeds, colors and ethnicities will gather for the sole purpose of prayer
Bonds of friendship will be formed between those in attendance, both Muslims and Non-Muslims
Muslim youth will experience tours of the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court.
The peace, beauty and solidarity of Islam will shine through America’s capitol.
Now, I certainly understand and appreciate the sentiments and intentions of this, but it just strikes me as the wrong way to go about it. It’s unwise to ignore the “optics” of such an event upon the paranoid segment of the American public – who were out in force at the Tea Party last week on the National Mall – who will certainly see the event as a threatening gesture which only validates their racism and Islamophobia.
I generally don’t condone appeasing the worst elements of society by self-censoring and restricting my own freedom and rights. But if the goal of such an event is to foster bonds of unity, then an event like this, which is fundamentally narcissistic, does not suffice. A far better approach would not have been prayer but a celebration of Eid, to illustrate what muslims have in common with their non-muslim fellow citizens, rather than engaging in a mass demonstration of what sets us apart. The truth may not be welcome, but remains truth: thousands of muslims lining up for silent prayer in unison, within sight of the center of American government, is going to be misconstrued as an intimidation rather than an outreach, and not just to the rabid Islamophobic fringe (who are reacting predictably). It really doesn’t help that the official slogan for the event plastered all over the website is “Our time has come.” Or that when you load the official homepage, you are blasted with audio of a thickly-accented Islamic prayer. As the twitterverse might say: messaging FAIL.
The other thing that bothers me about this event is how it was foisted upon the muslim community by a small group of people. My sources reliably inform me that the entire event was planned by a handful of people at a few mosques in New jersey, wthout any input from national muslim organizations or the DC-area congregations. In essence, this group is coming in from the outside and acting as though they have sanction from the entire muslim community, a deceptive marketing ploy at best.
The potential for this event to be abused by one or two personalities for their own gain is very high. Who will be speaking at the event? The official program only lists reciters of the Qur’an, but it’s certain that there will be speakers. Who? What are their backgrounds? Given that this event is going to be in every imaginable spotlight, and every word spoken therein will be ascribed to the entire muslim community as a whole, serious vetting of the speakers is absolutely critical.
In fact, some vetting of the primary organizers themselves is even more critical. The main person in charge seems to be an Imam Abdul Malik from a mosque in Elizabeth, NJ. I don’t really know anything about him at all, so I am going to see if I can find out more. I’ll be following up on this.
Related: article by Sheila Musaji at The American Muslim about the planned mass prayer. “Not well thought out” indeed:
I believe that this gathering was not a well thought out program. The website offers little information. The Program section only lists the two Imam’s who will be leading the prayers. The timing is unfortunate and too close to September 11th. The use of the “our time has come” terminology could be easily misunderstood. The title “day of Islamic unity” as opposed to something like “Muslim prayer for America” might also be misunderstood. The President has a lot on his plate and the right continues to attack him for any sign that he is showing what they consider undue respect for Muslims, as the recent blow ups over the regular White House Iftar, the recent “Islam is of the Devil” incident, and this years re-release of the Eid Stamp would show anyone who is paying attention. This puts the President in an unfortunate position. If he acknowledges the event or doesn’t acknowledge the event – either way he can’t win. There has been a rise in anti-Muslim incidents and rhetoric recently. It simply isn’t the right time or the right place for such an event. That being said, the organizers have every right to hold such an event, and it is very positive that they say that there will be no placards or political speeches. I hope that none of the disruptive elements in our own Muslim community (like those who disrupted the New York Muslim Day Parade) show up, or if they do that the organizers are prepared to isolate them so that their inappropriate behavior does not reflect on all Muslims. I hope that these other non-Muslim disruptive elements show up, or if they do that the organizers are prepared to handle them with kid gloves. I for one hope that they are able to maintain order, follow what they have said they will do, and make it clear that they are praying for the safety, security, and well-being of all Americans.