The Role of Islamic Activism in America

Islamic activism is nothing new in America. Since the 1950’s activists from the Muslim World began moving to the US. During the 1990’s a well-organized Muslim activist structure was formed and American-Muslims for the first time began to have a real voice in the political process and Muslims gained the ability to fight employment and religious discrimination.

The goals of most of the main Muslim organization such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim American Society, the American Muslim Council , the Islamic Society of North America and the Islamic Circle of North America were twofold; first there was the desire to make Islam and Muslims mainstream in America and to gain a greater acceptability of Islam in American the American mind and secondly to use this position in America to alter the US foreign policy towards the Muslim World. Many Muslim leaders sought to emulate the successful strategies of the Israeli, Armenian and Greek lobbies in America.

When those planes hit the twin-towers on 9-11-01 they not only brought down those physical structures and Americas false sense of security they brought down what Muslim activists in America had been fighting for during the previous six-decades. The perpetrators of that act achieved what no anti-Muslim force in the US had ever been able to accomplish and stuck at the height of Muslim political prowess.

Islamic history in America can be divided now into three categories; the history of Muslim slaves in America, pre-9-11 Muslim America and post-9-11 Muslim America. In 2000 political candidates from around the nation had campaigned at masjids and sought the endorsement of Muslim leaders and victories were being won on the political front in the name of Islam. The likes of Steve Emerson were largely off the air and a positive vibe about the future existed in the community.

Of course we all know the history. Since 9-11 there has been a full-scale assault on the Muslim community. Many brothers are in jail on false or trumped up charges, Muslim charities have had their assets frozen or seized, Muslim leaders are being targeted and prosecuted and the media is full of anti-Muslim hate speech. We are living under siege in this country and any Muslims who feels they are safe in America at this time is delusional.

9-11 exposed two things in America. First is exposed the fact that white America hasn’t evolved all that much since the days of Jim Crow and lynchings. The mentality of group-indictment is still alive and well in America; one black man stole from me so all black men or bad and one Muslim committed an act of terror so all Americans are terrorists, that is the way of thinking. White America, with all of its pent up anger, lashed out towards Muslims in a way they wish they could lash out towards African-Americans but is no longer political correct to do so. Oh how they wish they could get on talk-radio and speak about blacks they way they speak about Muslims!

The darkness of hearts was revealed on 9-11. Notice how this hatred initially was geared towards Muslims but now Latinos have been caught-up in this nationalistic fury. Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado calls for all out war on Latino immigrants and the bombing of Mecca. The zeal that leads to the Minuteman being placed on the US-Mexico border leads to the profiling of Muslims. They go hand in hand. Norman Mailer, the eminent American writer, rightly stated that the “white mans nose was bloodied on 9-11” and that white America had to respond to assert their dominance in a changing world. This is similar to when the Rev. Billy Graham declared his support for the Vietnam War by saying “Christianity needs a show of force.”

The second thing that 9-11 exposed was the fact that Muslims activists in this country had failed to educate the Muslim community on their civic responsibilities in this country and that Muslims had failed top formulate a domestic agenda. Brothers had their minds on changing policy in Palestine or Chechnya but didn’t see the need to focus on what was happening in their own communities. Because of this ignorance of the American political process, and the social fabric of American society, the mainstream leaders supported President George W. Bush in 2000 (and no I will not forget that and will not forgive until those who did that publicly repent).

Immigrant Muslim leaders failed to understand the role of race and religion in America. Instead of recognizing that Muslims in this country are basically in the same boat as African-Americans and Latinos these Muslim leaders sought to curie favor with Wall Street, the GOP and Yale and were dissed by all and this came out of their cultural ignorance.

The fight of Islamic activists today in America is a fight for survival; because every vocal Muslim today is a target. To be an activist at this stage in the Muslim community takes courage because you will not only be targeted by the government but by the anti-Muslim lobby and by self-hating Muslims and advocates of an apostate Islam.

However, having said this, if you are well-intentioned, dedicated and lawful there is a place for Muslim activists in America. Indeed organizations like the Muslim Students Association are experiencing a massive growth as Muslim students, conscious of their Muslim identities, are becoming in large numbers passionate advocates for Muslims in their communities. Other organizations, such as MAS, have corrected a lot of their pre-9-11 faults and are now embarking on a path of serious domestic activism in America in conjunction with anti-war, African-American, Latino and progressive causes.

We do have our unique view as Muslims and becoming active does not mean that we have to completely embrace the positions of the left or the right. It does mean, however, that we have to stand up and be counted. We cannot sit by idly while America is at war in Iraq and not speak against it and we cannot see Muslims persecuted at home and remain silent; and we also cannot see the injustices of the lack of a prevailing wage, health care, education, and racial justice in America and remain silent.


5 thoughts on “The Role of Islamic Activism in America

  1. I dont buy the idea that white America is different than any other group. People always want to take the easy way out and blame a whole group, whether it is whites blaming Muslims, Palestinians(or Muslims for that matter) blaming Jews, Hijazis blaming Najdi, you name it.

    I do think that there is a great sense of complaceny in the Muslim community. We must engage and take an active role in society as Tariq Ramadan has written.

  2. In America white is different; but white here is similar to the Hindu castes of India. This is a nation, as Congressman Tom Tancredo recently said ” was founded by and is made up primarily of white Christians whether you like it or not.”

    I agree with Tariq Ramadan that we must engage in society; but we must have a strong foundation in order to do this. I guess I am more pessimistic on this subject but I believe that Muslims will never be accepted into the mainstream of American society and that our natural place is in alliance with African-Americans and Latinos.

    Go to Southeast DC and try to open a masjid and then go to Loudon County and see where you have more problems. I am at NOVA now, getting ready to break my fast here and they are having a Muslim event here, you should see the looks on the faces of some of the students as they look at the Muslims making preparations and I would be lying , or being politically correct, to say those were not white faces like my own. White America has always needed an enemy and someone to hate. Black St. Louis radio-host Onion Horton states that “there was never a red-scare in the black community” and outside of a minority of black clergy there is no Muslim-scare in the black community today.

  3. I agree with the main thrust of your argument and most salient points. I don’t feel race in America is ENTIRELY monolithic. In this part of the country (I live in Tucson), Latinos have a large chunk of the money, influence, and political power. And they behave just as badly as white people in similar positions.

    The open hatred for Muslims is appaling. One of Tucson’s most popular local DJs was stating categorically that Muslims want to conquer the world. His proof? There are realtors who buy and sell houses according to shariah law! I got through the switchboard and asked him if Kosher delis bugged him as well, and he answered no because they weren’t trying to subjugate him. This guy is insanely popular in a liberal, multiracial city mind you, my (mainly democrat) Mexican co-workers love the guy. He regularly wins a “best of” in local liberal weeklies, etc. A guy in a MECHA shirt screamed me out in Spanish for my Kufi once. I know this is all just anecdote, but it adds to my sense that we can’t really trust broad racial coalitions, or lefties.

    Great article as always brother, keep them coming.

  4. Oh, and as a side note; I’m amazed how many immigrant Muslims not only don’t GET race in America, they actively sometimes loathe Black people.

  5. The reason many immigrants to the USA dont get the race thing is because the race thing is completely ingrained in their society as well. Umar, you have said that you have traveled in the Middle East. Didnt you notice the race thing there as well? Africans are often not treated well. Heck, like I read on another blog, skin whitener creams are found everywhere and people with dark skin are looked down upon. Spend any time in the Gulf? Africans, Indians, Pakistanis there are often nothing more than slave labour that are very looked down upon. White Americans or Europeans, with inferior credentials, are often put in supervisor positions over Arabs, Africans and others based on nothing more than the idea that whites better educated, more experienced, and well, because they are white. Anyone travelling in the Middle East any amount of time will have seen this.

    Go take a look at the Muslim matrimonial sites on-line. Women are often mention how light they are, and men will request light skinned wives. The colour and race thing isnt just American or Indian, it permiates the Islamic world as well. Anyone who doesnt think so hasnt had much experience with it. Some of the first words I heard in Arabic were words for Africans, similar to the “N” word here. Race, skin colour, it is just as much of an issue in the “Islamic world” as it is here in the USA. Often there discrimination isnt just based on colour, it is based on regionalism. You see a lot of this, even in Saudi Arabia.

    I think Muslims in the USA can become just like any other immigrant group. Irish have been coming to the USA since the very begining, yet they were still having crosses burned on their lawns at the begining of last century and dealing with “No Irish Need Apply” as well. Nothing like that would happen now. It took a couple of hundred years for white Irish to be completely accepted, no reason to think it might not take that long for Muslims as well.

    What will help is seeing more white Muslims like myself. I guess it depends on where you are at. Where I work our agency would fail without our Muslim employees, and I am happy to be going to work today, Friday casual day, with an ADAMS(All Dulles Area Muslim Society) shirt on.

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