Muslims in Present Day America—Challenges and Opportunities
Transcript of the Khutba delivered by Dr. Munawar Haque on Jan 13, 2017
Brothers and sisters! I want to share some thoughts with you on how the Muslim community across America is generally feeling after the 2016 presidential election. How do we go about confronting the ever-growing challenges that we face in present day America and how do we go about cashing in on the opportunities available to us?
Generally, the Muslim community across America is concerned, scared, and nervous about what’s happening, here in America, in terms of Islamophobia, racial discrimination, bigotry, and hate crimes. The community is in a state of anxiety.
We must remind ourselves that Allah is in control, and this election’s results are a true test of our trust in Allah and a test for all of us to see if we truly believe in His plan. We should not let the feelings of fear, pain, and anxiety obstruct us from doing good, establishing justice, and getting civically engaged. Allah’s plan is far better than anyone else’s plan.
وَيَمْكُرُونَ وَيَمْكُرُ اللَّهُ وَاللَّهُ خَيْرُ الْمَاكِرِينَ
“And they plan and God plans, but God is Best of the ones who plan.” (al-Anfal, 8:30).
We must remember that we must accept whatever befalls us, whether favorable or unfavorable, as part of Allah’s Plan.
قُلْ لَنْ يُصِيبَنَا إِلَّا مَا كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَنَا هُوَ مَوْلَانَا وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ
"Say: Nothing shall befall us except what Allah has willed for us. He alone is our Protector. It is in Allah that the believers should put their trust" (at-tawbah, 9:51).
Moreover, the Qur’an reminds us:
وَعَسَى أَنْ تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ وَعَسَى أَنْ تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
“And it may be that you dislike a thing and it may (turn out to) be good for you. And it may be that you like a thing and it may (turn out to) be evil for you. Allah knows and you don’t know” (al-Baqarah, 2:216).
The current developments in present day America are not to be looked as holding a bleak future for the Muslim ummah, but as an opportunity that Allah has given us to increase our efforts to make Islam relevant to the challenges facing our country. There is not room for despair. We have to work hard, be patient, and trust in Allah, who is sufficient for us.
حَسْبُنَا اللَّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ
“Allah is sufficient for us and the best of protectors.” (Aal ‘Imran, 3:173)
The Prophet (SAW) once said to Abdullah Ibn Abbas (RA), “Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of Allah, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of Allah. If you need help, seek it from Allah. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you; they would not be able to help you except if Allah had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if Allah had written so…”
So, there is no need to panic. We need to move beyond the cycle of panicked reactions to a crisis, and begin working more systematically to address issues concerning us and our fellow citizens.
A primary element that has separated the United States of America from virtually every other nation in history is the concept of it being “a nation of laws, not a nation of men.” A nation of laws means that laws, not people, rule. Everyone is to be governed by the same laws, regardless of their station; whether it is the most common American or members of Congress, high-ranking bureaucrats or the president of the United States; all must be held to the just laws of America. No one is, or can be allowed to be, above the law.
America is an exceptional nation in the history of the world because our constitution is one of the best political documents that have ever been written. Our founders said that God gives us rights by nature, and that government is not the author or source of our rights. Government is there to secure those rights. That’s America--freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of association, and freedom of speech. The First Amendment is the heartbeat of the American Constitution, of the American idea itself.
The majority of U.S. residents are empathetic and compassionate people. Most U.S. residents are hospitable, welcoming and inclusive of diversity, and treat their neighbors with respect and decency. There is, however, a dangerous racist fringe that feels it is empowered by the incoming president’s victory. We have to attempt to mitigate its attractiveness by working with people of conscience to develop a language of political discourse that creates the psychological space for those desiring to uphold the best of American values in real, deep and perceptible ways.
During the election campaign, it was advocated by the incoming president to expand surveillance on Muslims and mosques in America. It was even suggested to register Muslims in a database or to give them a form of special identification that noted their religion. Governance is tough business and the incoming president will learn that soon enough. This will mean learning to get along with everyone, not just his own followers.
The Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) and other organizations that fight for civil rights, human rights, and justice have pointed out some of the challenges that Muslim Americans face today.
Some of these are as follows: (1) People with anti-Muslim biases attempt to stop mosque construction by misusing zoning laws and other tactics; (2) Employers terminate, suspend or act against an employee on the basis of the employee identifying with the Islamic faith; (3) Government agencies use secret lists to strong-arm Muslims into doing things they don’t want to do and are not legally required to do, such as becoming a spy; (4) Law enforcement agents use informants to target mentally, financially or emotionally vulnerable community members in an attempt to catch them agreeing to commit a criminal act, even though the target had no previous interest in such activities; (5) Immigration agents single-out Muslims or immigrants with Muslim-sounding names to delay or deny status, and (6) Federal law enforcement agencies maintain a list of names, mostly Muslim, and use this list to deny individuals from boarding flights, in effect convicting the individuals administratively of the crime of being “suspiciously Muslim” and denying them due process.
Despite all this, the U.S. Constitution is on the side of every American. Muslim Americans will continue to stand up for justice, freedom and liberty. Indeed the history of the civil rights movement in the United States is a history of patience and perseverance, and to persevere, we will need to face these challenges together. We should never feel that we are somehow less American or feel shy about our faith or identity. Muslims have made so much progress in academics, sports, politics, media, and professional fields. We should not downplay how far we have come. We should never ever underestimate our potential. Allah (SWT) has provided us with ample opportunities to prove who we are. We have just to cash in on them.
Brothers and sisters! It is the diversity of our country that makes us strong. Just as we are feeling the pain and anxiety, so are other minority groups. We must reach out to them and give them comfort. We are taught to be caretakers of the earth and must ensure we are taking care of one another. We are in the battle of ideas – not a physical battle – but one of fighting racism and discrimination. We must rally to meet the forces of hatred and bigotry, head on; as a community, and we must do this through openness and dialogue.
Studies show that Muslims, like most other Americans, consider the Jewish Americans to be a successful and well-respected community. However, that was not always the case. As Nazis were profiling Jews, registering them, detaining them, and sending them to concentration camps, a ship named St. Louis loaded with over 900 Jewish refugees reached America’s shores in 1939. None of these Jewish refugees were allowed to enter US. Each was sent back to Europe. Research shows that half of them were killed by the Nazis after returning. What did Jewish-Americans do to turn around such strong bigotry and hate in less than a century?
Four major things emerged in an extraordinary turnaround of the Jewish positioning in America: (1) Media: The Jewish community mastered the art of communication to tell their own story by investing in media and public relations; (2) Politics: They empowered themselves by investing in politics; (3) Coalitions: They supported civil rights organizations, built coalitions with African-Americans, as well as invested in better Christian-Jewish relationships; and (4) Social Services: They served their neighbors by investing in human and social services. These four things are what the American Muslim community must consider as it develops its plan for 2017 and beyond.
Today’s America is far better than what the Jewish refugees on the St. Louis encountered in 1939, thanks to the civil rights movement of our country to which African-Americans and other minorities substantially contributed before the rest of America joined them. It is our time to take America forward.
أَقُولُ قَوْلِي هَذَا وَأَسْتَغْفِرُ اللَّهَ لِي وَلَكُمْ وَلِسَائِرِ المُسْلِمينَ وَالمُسْلِمَاتْ فَاسْتَغْفِرُوهْ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على سيد المرسلين وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين
Brothers and sisters! We must work hard to make Islam relevant and a solution to the challenges our nation faces by making a moral commitment to oppose injustices that happen to any citizen regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or political affiliation. We should show empathy, love, and compassion to one another in these tense times.
We need to continue to increase our dawah efforts to our neighbors, work colleagues, fellow students and others. This does not mean that we go about trying to convert people. There is no conversion, compulsion or coercion in religion. Our duty is only to convey. This means that we should be available for questions anyone may have. We have to be visible and be present in any volunteer or community service opportunities in our local community.
We have to engage in town hall meetings to share our concerns with the wider community. We have to more often conduct open houses in our masajid. We have to reach out to other interfaith and minority groups to establish meaningful relationship and partnerships.
But none of what has been stated can be achieved unless we realize that we are facing huge challenges which provide a tremendous opportunity for us to reallocate our time and money to where our priorities lie.
We hope that we will be the agents of positive change, improving our state of affairs, eradicating hate and fostering love in the hearts of our fellow Americans.
ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ
“Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.” (Fussilat, 41:34)
Regardless of who wins or loses in an election, we have a job ahead of us, and that job is to do our utmost best to serve our Creator, in our personal and public lives, and to follow in the footsteps of our Prophet (SAW) in all circumstances, until we leave this world. We must proceed with faith.
Let me conclude by saying that there is a higher plan and logic governing events. It is impossible for us to comprehend everything and the big picture. But Allah in His infinite knowledge and mercy has all factors under consideration and is the best of planners. The passing days will reveal to us the realities we are currently ignorant of. Do not despair, work hard and be patient.
May Allah help, bless, and protect us all. May Allah bless this country and the entire humanity; ameen.