CHICAGO – Civic engagement is the need of the hour. That was the universal message of those who took part in one of the more critical panels at this year’s ISNA conference titled, strengthening the American Muslim voice in politics.
Over fifteen thousand Muslims congregate annually at the ISNA conference to partake in a program full of lectures, discussions and debates.
Among the panelists lobbying the Muslim community to become more politically engaged is co-founder and professor of Islamic Law and Theology at Zaytuna College, Professor HatemBazian.
Next to him stood the very presidential and highly acclaimed assistant professor of political science at Long Island University, Dalia Fahmy. Also joining them was well known political activist Linda Sarsour and founder of the Islamic Scholarship fund Dr. HamidRezapour.
The panel provided the audience with concrete ways that the Muslim community can strengthen its voice, starting with Dr. Bazian’s suggesting that we encourage those pursuing a college education to majors outside of the medicine/engineering axis.
In fact the mission of the Islamic Scholarship Fund, founded by panelist Dr. Rezapour, is to address the under representation of American Muslims in the fields and occupations that influence public opinion and policy.
The aim of the Islamic Scholarship Fund or ISF is to “increase the number of Muslim students graduating in ISF supported fields of study and to increase the number of Muslims obtaining jobs in public policy and public opinion shaping professions.”
ISF recipient, now board member, Dalia Fahmy began by citing a study that showed that there has been at least 174 recorded acts of physical violence committed against Muslims in the last year.
“Anti-Muslim sentiment today is worse than it was post 9-11” she said.
Professor Fahmy challenged the audience to reflect on why it has become socially acceptable for anti-Muslim bigotry to be part of the vernacular running up to the election.
“When we think about how we are going to stand against this, we need to understand that it’s not just about us. The acceptable vernacular of today is against Muslims. But it’s tied to something much deeper…..What Trump is actually saying is calling all the communities as the other. So he is on to something that we are trying to ignore… We have a deep historical legacy in this country, Muslims were part of every single war that this nation has ever fought… Muslims have fought and died for this country and we need to know our legacy…” saidFahmy.
And yet eighty-six percent of Americans have a negative impression of Muslims. The objective of Islamaphobia we learn is to make Muslims feel so marginalized that we do not engage in civic life. It’s to basically make us feel that we do not belong.
Forty-eight percent of Muslims today report discrimination, that’s higher than it has ever been. According to Fahmy, our elected officials are making this acceptable with their silence.
Nonetheless, Dr. HatemBazian reminded the audience that Muslims are a people of hope.
“The struggle against oppression has to be ongoing. We are a people of hope. If you read the Qur’an and read our tradition. It’s a message of hope. At no time should we feel despair. However let me caution you….” he said.
“If you depend on creation you are going to be completely and often disappointed. We must depend on Allah (swt) because success or failure is in His hands. That is the tradition of Malcolm X, of Ghandhi, and of Martin Luther King. So we must engage as people of hope with a message of hope.”
Justice for All
Professor Dalia Fahmy confirmed this message by citing another study conducted by her former professor at Princeton University that showed that the more real understanding one has of the Qur’an, the more “Justice for All” they become.
The honest and objective approach of a social scientist like Dr. Fahmy really put things in perspective with the following remarks.
“When we talk about marginalized communities, we are not just talking about us. The highest suicide rates today is of white males in middle America who feel disenfranchised. You don’t think we need to reach out to them?! You think people who attend Trump rallies wake up hating us.
“You think they feel like they don’t belong? Do you think that we, a privileged community, don’t need to reach out and say, we know that you are facing economic injustice and marginalization, but we are here working together, not just for us but for all us as Americans?!
“This must become Part of how we redefine what it means to be a Muslim in America. It does not just take knowing our history, but in knowing what it means to be a Muslim.”
This attitude was reflected throughout the conference in a variety of ways.
The attitude that we are in this together, not just because we are Americans but because we are Muslims, and as such, our commitment extends far beyond a superficial loyalty to our own personal identifications and more to the more fundamental association we have with all of humanity.
As Muslims, we understand that if there is one part of the United states Pledge of Allegiance that we need to take most seriously at this time and space, it’s the part about the; Justice for All!