ISNA at a Crossroads in Baltimore

Muslims in America are at a relatively infantile stage. We are developing as a community and are striving to put our unique imprint on society. The major organizations representing the Muslim community have to decide if they are going to stand with people struggling for just causes, or if they are going to sacrifice their principals at the altar of convenience.

In light of this, I am most distressed that ISNA has decided to go ahead and hold their Eastern Zone conference, despite a boycott of the Baltimore Sheraton hotel by the workers. One ISNA official even said, “What has a union ever done”. While ISNA is standing in solidarity with the Sheraton, and those who treat their workers unjustly, MAS, CAIR, Imam Zaid Shakir, and others have expressed solidarity with the workers and displeasure with ISNA.

The displeasure with ISNA comes with the sentiment that we as Muslims in America want to be a people who stand for justice, with the oppressed, and when need be, stand with people over power. More so it is better to be known as a community who stands for justice no matter the cost, financial or otherwise, rather than a community whose path to the mainstream is through silence.
I will say to the ISNA official who said “What has a union ever done”, lets list a few:
The 40 hour work week
The weekend
Child labor laws
Workplace safety standards
Paid sick days
Paid holidays
Healthcare benefits

There are much more. Without unions, none of these things would exist for American workers. I for one come from a long line of union members, so the value of unions was given to me from a young age. There are those at ISNA, perhaps a majority, which have immigrated to America from other countries. Many of the countries that they have immigrated from are filled with workers who toil in deplorable conditions. The dream was to come to America where one can earn a fair days wages, and be treated with dignity and respect on the job. Unfortunately many of our brothers and sisters new to this country do not know that whatever fair conditions workers have today was paid for by the blood, sweat, and tears of the Labor Movement.

ISNA is at a crossroads in Baltimore, a great American city. MAS, CAIR, Imam Zaid Shakir are taking a stand with the call for justice. That sweet call of justice has fallen upon deaf ears at ISNA.


17 thoughts on “ISNA at a Crossroads in Baltimore

  1. Salaams:

    This is especially important at a time when the hotel industry, among others, is trying to convince Congress that more “temporary” visas are needed for low-income foreign workers. Hotel jobs are in the class of jobs that they say “Americans don’t want to do” but as we well see, only the union is protecting those Americans who do wish to do these jobs. They are on their way to muscling out this union just like big business managed to do with the United Farm Workers Union. Now there’s a huge mess in the agriculture industry.

  2. Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    This just simply shows that a vast majority of those over at ISNA have no idea of the working class. They reinforce the bourgeois value. Values that are classist and anti-Islamic. This issue goes right to the heart of the issue why many yuppie immigrant Muslims cannot relate or support us – Working class Blacks, Latinos, and Whites.

    Khalil Al-Puerto Rikanis

  3. assalaamu alaikum

    i totally agree with you on this. ISNA is wrong on this. it is shameful to be a scab. muslims should learn about and respect the labor movement in this country. it is intertwined with the history of civil rights.

    Some quotes of note:

    Minority Americans have better lives because of labor’s struggles. Labor supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
    — Julian Bond

    Every advance in this half-century-Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another-came with the support and leadership of American Labor.
    — Jimmy Carter

    The American Labor Movement has consistently demonstrated its devotion to the public interest. It is, and has been, good for all America.
    — John F. Kennedy

    Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor.
    — John F. Kennedy

    In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as ‘right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining… We demand this fraud be stopped.
    — Martin Luther King, Jr.

    If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.
    — Abraham Lincoln

    check out these movies to get a taste of the labor movement:

    Matewan, Harlan County USA, Norma Rae, The Grapes of Wrath

  4. I don’t think they’re necessarily anti-union or anti-worker, they just come (like myself) from an professional South Asian/Arab background, and people from that background just were not raised up in an environment which glorified unions, and many similar things Western societies went through from the early 1900s to the 1960s.

    People in those countries associate unions and such with debilitating strikes and riots, and are not automatically wont to stand in solidarity with them.

  5. PS: I am not saying what they’re doing is right or wrong, I’m just saying it’s more nuanced than them siding with the ‘man’ and not having sympathy for the poor working man. Such a concept is more of a Western one, and you can’t blame them for being ‘bourgeois’ (which I completely disagree with classifying them as).

  6. I wrote something earlier, but it got erased. But basically I said it is like they are riding on the backs of others with no acknowledgment of the struggles people had to open doors of opportunities for them.

    I’m really disappointed in ISNA’s leadership on this issue. But this reflects a trend that I saw in many of my friends from immigrant families. When they were in MSA, they were all radical. But as they got older, they became more conservative, less interested in social justice (especially in the U.S.) Basically, they had me support their causes with little concern for my struggles as a Black American woman or those who came from similar backgrounds. I think this has a lot to do with the privileged place they came from in their home countries, compared to many of the Arab and South Asian immigrants in Europe who are often working class.

    I just had a long conversation, or rather personal rant, about Muslim activism and community outreach on college campuses. How many of those young engineering and pre-med students tutor or recruit students from under-served communities or underrepresented communities? How many feel like they have to lift as they climb? Very few. Every year the Black, Latino, and Native American students are tapped to support diversity on campus, support initiatives to make a difference, tapped to be leaders. We try to kick open doors of opportunity, as opposed to feeling like we’re the smartest one on the block. Muslim students, instead, focus on trying to convince the campus community that our causes are meaningful. We use school fees and campus money to put on our events, but how much are we giving back as Muslims? Maybe our myopic thinking is coming back to haunt us. The real da’wa is living this deen and showing by example. Sorry for the rambling thoughts. I’m going to work on articulating this better as a blog entry some time in the near future.

    I see many positives to the labor movement and to discount them shows just how out of touch with American history these reps are. And if they lack that type of knowledge, one has to wonder why they are in the position they are in.
    I’m a little rusty on my US history, but life did get a whole lot better once the government stopped cracking down on labor organizing. But the tendency of a number of labor organizations to exclude Blacks from unions marred the movement for me. But that still does not stop me from supporting labor on the home front.

  7. Nothing new, after all we are talking about the same ISNA et al that endorsed Bush in 2000 despite him executing blacks and latinos on death row in Texas on the flimsiest of evidence. To date, no one was ever held accountable for that decision either.

  8. Kashif you make an excellent point. The loudest roar for Bush came from the ISNA crowd. Khalil, you are also correct in that ISNA is by far, of the alphabet organizations, the most out of touch with regular Americans. Maragi and Um Hana also make valid points and I think Talha touches on what is culturally key in understanding.

  9. How many of you have taken the time out to write the ISNA leaders and express yoru concern?
    Shouldn’t they make an official statement on this subject?

  10. On Kashif’s point, why wouldn’t you see this insistence for republicans from these organizations.
    This may ruffle some feathers, but generally Republicans promise Desi constituency that they will not bomb or invade Pakistan, a promise they have kept till now even though it is AQ’s stronghold, not Iraq or Iran or any other ME country.
    This is why you have many who are supporting the current repub candidate, they they don’t care about domestic welfare as long as they protect their homelands.

  11. As-Salaamu `Alaykum,

    ISNA is like any organization, which caters to its constituency, and that constituency has always primarily been Desi & Arab Americans from “professional” backgrounds that have never been strongly connected with the issues of the urban dwellers and the blue collar workers.

    I think that at times we set ourselves up for disappointment due to our own unrealistic expectations. All communities have various groups that are sensitized to certain issues based upon there socio-economic level. Even as Muslims, we read the Qur’an and Seerah, not in a vacuum, but based upon our experiences. Our experiences inform us of how we interpret situations.

    If this leadership, who has traditionally been Republican leaning in its voting patterns makes decisions like this, I may disagree, but I’m not disappointed. It is what it is. I expect it.

    What would be more productive is that instead of calling them names, you send a polite, logical (not emotional) e-mail to Dr. Ingrid Mattison and Dr. Muneer Fareed to explain why you think that this decision was poor and the implications of such. They are reasonable people.


  12. As-Salaam ‘Alaikum Brother Umar,

    Thank you for taking the time to brief me on the situation at the Sheraton in person last Friday. I lhad actually learned of the problem about three weeks ago. I had committed to ISNA for the conference and I honored my commitment. I did mention the labor dispute that was happening during all of my talks. However, I was not comfortable being there knowing that the kind of corporate greed that is instrumental in creating the American war machine and the prison-industrial complex was having a direct effect on the workers at the hotel.

    I will say here that in the future, I will not knowingly attend a venue that is undergoing a labor dispute, even if I learn of that dispute after I have made a commitment to the organizers. It is the responsibility of the organizers to ascertain such issues before making a commitment to use a venue that is experiencing such a dispute. May Allah reward your work and bless all of the brothers and sisters who read your writings.

  13. “If this leadership, who has traditionally been Republican leaning in its voting patterns…”

    That was the pre-GWB, pre-PATRIOT Act, pre-Iraq War world. I would say that the only thing positive that has come from the Bush Administration’s policies over the past 8 years is a realization on the part of many affluent immigrants that one- or two-issue voting (the Arab-Israeli conflict for the Arabs, or India-Pakistan relations for the Pakistanis, and the supposedly strong “family values” of the Right) simply doesn’t make sense. I haven’t met a single immigrant elder who supports McCain. I think the only ones left either have zero credibility within the mainstream (like the Hasan family from Colorado who started “Muslims for Bush” and later “Muslims for America”) or lean Republican for purely selfish reasons (e.g. tax breaks for the rich) and would never admit to it in public.

  14. Assalaamu Alaikum,

    Talha may be right that the intention was more nuanced – at least initially. It may have been an issue that the contract with Sheraton had already been made and therefore had to be fulfilled, as another poster suggested.

    Nevertheless, once the conflict came to light it should not have been brushed aside. I think Zaid Shakir’s balanced approached – of keeping his commitment but at the same time speaking to the problem – is commendable.

    But even for no other reason than to be purely pragmatic, if ISNA is pursuing an agenda to become a political player it would make sense for them to understand unions and their place in the political landscape.

    What is very ironic, the conference theme was “Civic Responsibility and Our Faith.”

  15. By the way on brother Umar’s statement to the effect that the Muslim immigrants came over with the dream of a fair wage and dignity and respect on the job –

    Part of the situation is that many muslim immigrants – or at least most of those visible in our community organizations – did not come from a lowly background as we usually think of immigrants coming from.

    They came from the elite back home and expected to immediately become part of the elite here. They did not have the typical immigrant experience.

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