I write to you, my Muslim community, as a Muslim, as an American, and most importantly, as a member of a collective humanity.
I know we as Muslims are frustrated at our community. In Pakistan and Afghanistan suicide bombings occur almost weekly and kill innocent women and children. In Yemen, Al Qaeda operatives are resurfacing to take over the country. In 2009, Iran saw a violent crackdown by the government on unarmed protesters. In America a psychotic man, (who I do not consider to be a Muslim), killed innocent women and men of the U.S armed forces at Fort Hood, who were training to fight extremism in Afghanistan.
I see that the world and our Muslim community has become plagued by murder, poverty, war, and political turmoil, and that we live in general fear and confusion. In part one of this two-part series, I addressed America from a Muslim perspective, drawing attention to issues and grievances many Muslims feel toward America's foreign policies, and the growing misconception in the West that Islam poses a threat to civilization's equilibrium. Here, in part two, I take the opportunity to address directly, my Muslim community, our Muslim community.
I write on our failures -- ones for which we are alone responsible -- and the challenges we as a community face due to Islamic extremism, the failed leadership of Muslim countries, and a seeming complacency evidenced by the resounding silence of our majority. Despite these troubling times, solutions exist within us -- we everyday Muslims -- in our mosques, in our classrooms, at our dinner tables, and in the alleys of medinas across the world.
This second part is detailed and lengthy, but the scope and depth of my thoughts and observations warrant such an approach. Therefore, I will publish part 2 in weekly installments, one each week for six weeks. This week's section will include the introduction of this letter, 'Dear Muslim World.' Next week will be the second installment and so on and so forth. This letter in its entirety will be published on my blog. Part one of this series titled 'Dear America' was published in the Huffington Post here.
INTRODUCTION TO 'DEAR MUSLIM WORLD'
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, Dear Muslim World:
We are at a crossroads. At no point in history have we been so divided, so poor, and so undereducated. We are plagued by violence, political turmoil, and damaging extremism. On October 28th, a car containing explosives raced towards the crowded 'Meena Market' frequented by hundreds of our women and children -- who represent the future of our culture and way of life. This suicide attack left over one hundred people dead, and countless injured -- both physically and emotionally. Scars still certainly remain.
The attacker was not an American; he was a Muslim -- one of us, against us. Extremist groups continue to kill our women and children in markets and in mosques -- in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iraq and Kashmir, on too frequent a basis. These same extremists hijack our religion; Islam has become synonymous with the radical ideologies of a few, ideologies to which the majority of us does not ascribe to or adopt.
Islam has long been a catalyst of positive change and expression -- Muslims have been innovators in the arts, music, science and philosophy. But extremist movements have overshadowed our past and continue to stunt our present. As a Muslim, as an American, but most importantly as a member of a collective humanity, I ask myself, "Why?"
To understand what is happening we must take a step back, take a hard look in the mirror. As a Muslim community what do we see, and is that reflection one that we are proud of?
Suicide attackers, spurred on by 'Islamic' extremist forces like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and like-minded splinter groups, have murdered our innocent brothers and sisters. This fact is cold, the reality is heartbreaking. In the last few years, it seems Muslims have killed more of their own than the fictional enemy of the West, (this I will demonstrate in next week's installment). We are not collateral damage -- not our lives, not our families, and not our sons and daughters. We cannot be incidental martyrs dying for a cause that is not our own.
In Iraq, Sunni militias continue to destroy mosques and detonate bombs in markets. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, Taliban forces oppress our women and convince our youths to cut short their young lives by becoming suicide attackers. These acts are carried out at a distance, by men who hide behind the bodies of the subjugated and the dead. Governments of some Muslim nations are not free from blame either. In Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, those with power repress the spiritual, creative, political and social freedom of their fellow citizens. These governments dole out reactionary methods as demonstrated by the violent crackdowns in Tehran last June that left over 60 unarmed protesters dead.
In the global arena, Muslim leaders have made mockery of our values. They remain hypocrites who pose as our spokespersons. The area of social justice and human rights is of particular note. For example, since 2003, the Organization of Islamic Countries -- an organization that is a political face of Muslim nations in the international arena -- has repeatedly backed Sudanese-Arab president Omar Al Bashir. Al Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes humanity committed in Darfur. The United Nations has evidence of his relationship to the massacre of over 300,000 Darfuris. To take another example, in Palestine both Christian and Muslim Arabs suffer at the hands of a seemingly unaccountable Israeli military. Today, the people of Palestine are caught between an ever-growing divide between, Hamas and Fatah, its two leading political parties. Instead of consolidating the potential of the West Bank and Gaza in a real effort at peace, the two Palestinian political powers fight each other at the expense of Palestinians and of respect in the global community. Authoritarian regimes of the Near East and extremist splinter groups in South Asia have monopolized the political, economic, and religious space of the greater Muslim community. These regimes have distorted our religious identity and culture, making us seem a people of violence, intolerance, and injustice. These negatives are not synonymous with Islam, and do not take shape from principles within Islam. These negatives we know, are fiction to the truth of our faith.
In our individual hearts, as Muslims, we know that Islam is against murder, tyranny, intolerance, violence and injustice. But fellow Muslims, what does our community know, and what does that community show? How do we live our day to day, and what do we teach and preach? It seems that we are failing the one thing that unites us: our faith. At this crucial phase in our history, we risk becoming our own fiction. We risk becoming a thing not of our own making, and a thing against the beauty of our faith.
The solution lies in the collective will to fearlessly debate questions within ourselves about our faith, about our values, and about our role in this world. Different Islamic societies will have different approaches, and such spaces for dynamic solutions should be promoted. But if one imperative unites us, it is that we must reclaim our voices from extremists, and reform the long-standing issues that atrophied our community.
A number of issues contributing to the turmoil we face today are: poor education systems; lack of space for civil society to debate and innovate and be critical; and little commitment in the social justice arena -- in particular in the area of women's rights. Though, in the installments to follow, I attempt to offer some solutions to how we approach our various challenges, I acknowledge that there are neither definitive solutions to the issues that plague our community, nor can they begin only with me. With this in mind, I welcome your thoughts, ideas and perspectives. From what I write here, I hope to generate discussion and discovery. Each week I will publish the following installments of my letter, 'Dear Muslim World':
Section I (next week's feature): Our Mirror: I attempt to identify which contemporary forces impede Muslims from developing spiritually, economically, politically, and creatively. I will outline how, in the last few years, extremists in the Near East and South Asia have and continue to kill more innocent Muslims than the supposed enemy of 'the West'. However, the greatest threats to our Islamic communities and to the greater world, is not the West, but the extremists and the failed political leadership of Muslim countries. Section II (week two feature): Our Space: Our politicians, women, youths, academics and artists lack space in civil society for debate, for innovation and development. I will explore the effects of not having such a space for criticism and discourse. I will argue that the past detriments of Western colonialism and imperialism have today been appropriated by Muslim despots and extremists to self-colonization within the Muslim world of civil societies' spaces. They colonize the Muslim majority's space for spiritual growth, political and artistic and intellectual freedom.
Section III (week three feature): Our Education: I will argue that educational institutions are our vehicle to create this 'space' for our development, dialogue, creativity, and innovation. Our communities must reclaim measured control over what our imams teach in our communities' schools, within these masjids. Additionally, I will argue why governments in Muslim countries must offer unequivocal support for progressive and ideologically expansive educational institutions.
Section IV (week four feature): Our 'Spiritual Authorities': It is crucial that we re-identify the religious authorities--imams, scholars, mullahs--in our respective communities and hold them accountable. Such spiritual leaders are spokespersons for our communities, for us, therefore we need to exercise greater control over who should be allowed on such platforms, and demand that our spiritual leaders and community spokespersons meet certain standards of accountability, education and credibility.
Section V: (week five feature): Selectivity: Our Interpretations, Our History: Muslims must recognize the limitations of relying on selective readings of the Quran and selective understandings of history. Such approaches, used by extremists and heads of states, are detrimental to our spiritual and communal development.
Section VI (week six feature): Our Tradition: Islamic societies face growing challenges in human and women's rights. These failures are, in fact, contradictory to Islamic tradition, which I substantiate by various historical accounts of the Muslim community that thrived under prophet Muhammad's (P.B.U.H) progressive reforms over 1,400 years ago. I will also discuss aspects of the Quran that are constants, and how certain aspects of the Quran were and are foundations for progressive reforms meant to develop the ever changing social demands of that society.
Final Section: (week 6 feature): Closing
Next will be the installment titled 'Our Mirror' and each week will be followed by the next installments till the conclusion. Please check back each week for the next section of this open letter to Muslims, ' Dear Muslim World'.
*Special thanks to Felicia Reid (Carbonell Law Fellow), for her help and support in this article.