It was announced recently that 40,000 Bank of America employees are being laid off. My heart feels broken over the news. It seems like every time there is a chance that we as a country can pull together and work through this, something else knocks us back down a couple of notches.
The economic news is compounded by the fact that before these layoffs, 15 percent of our country was already in poverty. That is 46.2 million people. It is the highest number in 52 years. Also, statistics are showing that 2 million more Americans slipped into “deep poverty”, defined as making a mere $11,000 a year. And while 7 percent of the United States currently lives in this statistic; the 15 percent above that line live in “normal” poverty, while close to 10 percent of the country is without any work at all.
Studies also showed this week that in my own beautiful California, the poverty rate rose for the fourth straight year. 16.3 percent of the state is in poverty, the highest in the nation. Across the country, Mexican-Americans and African-Americans have been hit the hardest by this economic downturn. Forbes magazine calls this time in history “the great African-American depression.” Today The African-American community has a staggering 1 out of 5 people unemployed.
I remember when I converted to Islam, just after 9/11. We talked often, back then, about how the majority of Muslims in the US were African-American. We wanted America to see the hypocrisy of the War on Terror. But the recession is now starting to show our hypocrisies.
To be clear, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans are part of their own American history. But we as American Muslims need to decide if we are one ummah or not. I remember a popular Muslim t-shirt that proclaimed Malcolm X’s defense of equality for Palestinians. I have not seen anything recently about Malcolm’s life work of equality for the oppressed, especially considering that the non Afro-Muslim community is especially affluent. The result is racism, as well as economic prejudices fighting for more influence within the community’s thoughts.
Perhaps now we need to talk about how our Muslim community carries some guilt in being greedy and not caring about the poor. Not just the really poor, but even the poor who work for you. And lets talk about the poor who visit your Masjid, the one you donated to help build. The one you pay hundreds of dollars to send your kids to. Now you may not want to hear it. You may now be looking to find the article blasting Mubarak and his corruption. But this is our corruption. We are making our American Muslim identity now. And how we relate to ethics, society and the poor will create more of our identity than will almost anything else we do as a community.
We as a community have ignored the growing sections of Muslim greed. I have heard more Muslims talk about kicking out black people from their homes in Detroit, then serving the poor. We often forgive, or look the other way. Maybe we are seduced by the beautiful masjid that these same rich donors helped build. We think “anything for Dawah.” But I feel Islam is being corrupted by the “bling”. We praise the Saudis more than we praise Abdul Sattar Edhi who devotes his whole life to the poor, and without any support from an “Islamic state.” We have lost track of what is really Islamicly important: being a source of comfort to the oppressed. Not just in Palestine, but the orphans, homeless and the poor nearest you.
Let me pray Jummah in a shack if it means we have more resources for the poor, the sick, the hurt the unemployed, the addict. Let us stop building beautiful walls and start building a more beautiful Ummah.
We speak of the Sunnah, but follow only what makes us powerful and comfortable. What ever happened to the part of the sunnah where prophet Muhammad gave away everything. Ate little so others could eat? Is it more convenient to have beards on men and cloth on females heads then to follow a life’s passion of improvement and service? But the poverty and service is the sunnah.
Let us instead work to be a humble and one with those ignored and devoured by their own economy. That would be sunnah.
Abrahim Appel is a writer currently covering Mexico and Mexico City for the California paper, Mundo Latino World. He studied Ethnic studies and Journalism at Cal State Fullerton, in Southern California. He spends too much on hookah to be a scholar of Islam, but believes his opinions are still valid.