Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Assalamu alaikum and greetings to all,
As you are aware, there is an alarming rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric throughout the country that is guided by calculated bigotry and racism for political gain, and is aimed at excluding Muslim Americans from the economic and social life of this nation.
The opposition and controversy over the proposed Park51 project has now extended far beyond. Islamophobes are exploiting Americans’ emotions and sensitivities associated with 9/11 and Ground Zero; they forget or perhaps deliberately ignore, however, the fact that 9/11 affected every one of us, and its victims were people of all faiths including Muslims. We have a shared loss, and together mourn and remain determined to safeguarding our nation. While it is understandable that the current charged climate has caused anxiety and panic, it is simply unacceptable that some individuals, politicians and agenda-driven groups exploit the memory of 9/11 victims and campaign to deny Muslim Americans their fundamental and constitutionally granted rights. Several prominent American analysts have already warned that the controversy over Park51 is not an isolated event; it is part of a much more far-reaching pattern and problem.
The series of hate crimes that have occurred during the last few days indicate where anti-Muslim bigots intend to take America. Some of the results of their hate-filled campaign are the recent throat slashing on a New York City cab driver, the bombing of a mosque in Jacksonville, FL and the arson at the site of a Tennessee mosque. It is also clear that the increase of anti-Muslim rhetoric by certain high profile elected officials and political hopefuls has contributed to worsening the situation.
We are deeply concerned by these crimes and ask members of our community to exercise extreme caution and immediately report any incidents of harassment, abuse or violence to the appropriate authorities. We also ask our government officials, both local and federal, to step up and ensure the protection of Muslim Americans. We urge especially the Department of Justice to pursue and prosecute each and every hate crime, and ensure that equal protection and due process rights are afforded to everyone, including non-citizens, in the United States.
While appalled by the level of intolerance exhibited by some, we are not necessarily surprised. Many ethnic and religious communities have been targeted and discriminated against in America’s past. The ordeals of Catholics, Irish Americans, African Americans, Jews and Japanese Americans are still fresh in the minds of many; now, as Muslims face the same prejudice, we are confident that we will also overcome and prevail, God willing.
To this end, we suggest the following to our fellow Americans, religious leaders, the Muslim community, interfaith and civil rights groups and members of ICNA:
1) Cooperation and Coordination
It is impossible to turn a blind eye to the situation described above. Islamophobia harms America; core American values, especially the ideals of religious freedom and coexistence, are at risk. We remind everyone what George Washington wrote in his letter to the Jews of Rhode Island, wherein he affirmed the essential nature of America as “a government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance – but generously affording to all liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship.” Can America back down from its great foundational principles? Certainly not, no matter how bigots cry otherwise. However, to protect American values, all well meaning people and civil rights groups must take a stand. We commend those individuals, religious leaders, political leaders, media personalities and interfaith and civil rights groups who have already stood up for American values, spoken out against bigotry and racism and are working to counter Islamophobia. We join with all Muslim organizations and express ICNA’s solidarity with the commendable positive and proactive responses, such as Muslim Serve, and urge others to join these campaigns.
2) True to our Faith – True to our Country
We are Muslims and we are Americans. We are neither an extension nor instrument of political players in the Muslim world. Muslims have been here for centuries and have never committed those acts of which they are accused. We have invested in the infrastructure of America with our careers, relationships, lives, money and property. For decades, Muslims have been in positions of trust and authority and have honored their covenant with their fellow Americans. Muslims are everyday Americans. We are family oriented people who promote virtue and care for our neighbors. Muslims were not only among those killed on September 11th, they were also among the first responders who died trying to save others. We can be true to our faith and true to our country without conflict. We American Muslims see our future in America and care about America’s security and prosperity. Therefore, we ask our fellow Americans: Are you supportive of the ugly rhetoric and anti-Muslim rallies, or are you with common decency? There is no denying that anti-Muslim hysteria is bad for our troops, undermines our national security and national values and is profoundly irresponsible.
3) Persistence and Steadfastness
Since the current deteriorating situation began with the Park51 controversy, some suggest that choosing an alternative site would end the debate. We doubt this and rather agree with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg as he observed, “It won’t.” For “the question will then become, how big should the no-mosque zone around the World Trade Center be. There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it, too, be moved?” Moving the center, the Mayor rightly observed “would send a signal around the world that Muslim-Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen.” Such a move will only validate the incorrect perception of those who try to relate Muslim Americans with the 9/11 attacks.
4) Muslim Family Day (MFD) and Outreach
To all our ICNA members and chapters, we ask that you make every effort to make the MFD events a success and reach out to members of all communities. Let people know that ICNA is trying its best to improve the situation in our neighborhoods through outreach activities, relief and social services such as school supply giveaways and feed the hungry programs.
5) National Campaign Against Hunger
At a time when 49 million Americans remain hungry every night, ICNA is launching the National Campaign Against Hunger in October 2010, a month-long nationwide campaign to create better social awareness and remind all of our collective and moral responsibility to those who suffer around or right beside us. The slogan of the campaign is “United Against Hunger, Standing up for Justice.”
6) Positive and Compassionate Response
Last but not the least, if the proposed misguided “Qur’an Burning” event does proceed as announced by a church in Gainesville, FL, we must transform this challenge into an opportunity to demonstrate what Islam really means and stands for. We should organize a positive and compassionate response so that the world can see the contrast between Muslims and bigots. Let us respond to their hate-filled campaign with compassion, care and wisdom. Our volunteers must not respond to any provocation even if they are the victims of hate crimes. All of our events must be organized in coordination with law enforcement. As always, our message must remain entirely positive (e.g., “We know that this does not represent Christians or their beliefs” and “We understand that people just don’t know.”) It is not unlikely that the Qur’an burning event will provoke unreasonable reactions from some Muslims who may feel that something must be done to protect the Qur’an. If we organize a positive response to the Qur’an burning, we can channel their grief and anger. After the Qur’an burning we may begin our Qur’an distribution, as people will certainly be curious about this Divine Book, God willing.
May Allah give us the wisdom to transform each challenge into an opportunity and may He help us all. Ameen.
Dr. Zahid H. Bukhari, Ph.D.
President, Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)