Ever since the horrific attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the American Muslim community has been under intense scrutiny and pressure. There are some in this country who will stop at nothing to characterize the American Muslim community as “foreign,” “other,” “suspicious” and “disloyal.” Consequently, all across this great nation of ours, American Muslims have been attacked, discriminated against and harassed. Muslim houses of worship have been the subjects of threats, hate graffiti and even acts of terror.
Many times, these attacks are “revenge” for acts of terrorism abroad, which makes absolutely no sense, because the overwhelming majority of Muslims the world over, not just in America, have nothing to do with the crimes committed in the name of their faith. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the victims of “Islamic terror” are Muslims themselves, and thus, it is neither right nor proper to terrorize a community which is already terrorized by the barbarians acting in the name of Islam. Now with N.Y. Republican Congressman Peter King planning to hold hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims and the “lack of cooperation” by Muslim leaders, it seems that the community is in for some rough seas ahead.
Yet, as we reflect over this sad state of affairs, we must ask ourselves the question: have other communities experienced such difficulties? Have other communities been the subject of marginalization, attacks, threats, and suspicion? Have other communities had their houses of worship attacked? Have other communities had to fight for their rights, just as American Muslims have to do so now?
The answer is an unequivocal yes.
One of these communities, whose history we commemorate this month, is our African-American neighbors. Ever since the founding of this country, African-Americans have struggled to gain equal rights. First, they had to deal with the scourge of slavery and the fact that this country had to fight a civil war to finally eradicate this horrific practice. Yet, even after emancipation, African-Americans faced serious discrimination and exclusion. It was not that long ago when African-Americans were not allowed to sit at the same counter, drink at the same water fountain or even sit in the same seat on a bus as their white compatriots. They were also subjected to systematic domestic terrorism at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.
It was after decades of such abuse and terror that African-Americans finally stood up and said “no” and the civil rights movement was born and with much sweat, toil and even blood, they won many victories, including the right to vote without intimidation and the eradication of “separate but equal.” All Americans – including many in the Muslim community – have benefited tremendously from their sacrifice. We owe those knights of the Civil Rights Movement a tremendous debt of gratitude, for they fought not only for their freedom but for ours as well.
As Americans, but especially as American Muslims, we can never be heedless of this history. As we struggle to fight the forces of hatred who seek to marginalize the American Muslim community, let us reach out to the African-American community, who has already fought the good fight and who continues to fight this fight today, for racism against African-Americans has hardly gone by the wayside. Our two communities are natural allies, as we both face similar civil rights challenges.
And the first place we must start is within our own faith community.
As sad as I am to say it, there is a large rift between the African-American and immigrant Muslim communities here in the United States. This rift must be healed and this gap must be closed. We are all brothers and sisters in faith and our Prophet told us that “A white (person) has no superiority over a black (person), nor does a black have any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action.”
As we begin our outreach to the African-American community, let it first begin with our African-American Muslim brothers and sisters. In reality, the Muslim community must reach out to all communities who face discrimination and work with them to achieve liberty and justice for all. It is the demand of God: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (Quran 4:135)
Let us not fail in this most important civic and religious duty. The future of our community, and our country, is at stake.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is called God, Faith, and a Pen. His latest book is Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry (Faithful Word Press).