By Umaymah Shahid
Midday, in the middle of the street, an officer shoots an unarmed young man. Twelve shots. The officer was not indicted and a segment of the community felt a blow of betrayal and a slap of injustice. This incident did not happen at the checkpoint in Palestine and it did not happen in Afghanistan by the Taliban. It happened on American soil to an American individual. What makes this story almost unbelievable is the fact that America has always claimed to be the land of the free and home of the brave. This motto is sung in the national anthem and in the pledge, where we pledge allegiance to a nation that supports liberty and justice for all.
However, the America we live in today falls short of that ideal. Within the last half century, America has dealt with civil rights issues in the African American community, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, and now in the Muslim community. However, the tragedy is that Muslims will be found in every Palestinian rally and every Syrian rally, but only a sprinkle of Muslims will be found in domestic rallies about domestic issues. The Muslim body is one, and that is why one finds waves of Muslims in protests about foreign issues. However, the same Muslims that come out to protest against American support of Israel, are also citizens of the United States. However, they do not involve themselves in the issues plaguing their country, whether it be gun violence, terrorism, black lives matter, or even unjust local and national legislations. Yet, everyone knows a Muslim who says, “Man, how can Trump be President?! How could America allow this to happen?!” The reason why Muslims are put on the back shelf when it comes to legislation and even simple support of the people is because we seldom stir from our political Facebook statuses and reposts to the actual battleground.
Being involved in our country’s problems and being a part of the solution comes from the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). A few events from his life outline the importance of one being involved in the community in order for the community to return the favor. The Prophet (SAW) was known in his community as an honest man, Al-Amin. This name was not assigned to him merely because he was a good man and of a respected lineage. It was given because he repeatedly demonstrated honesty and genuine care throughout his life. One such incident, before Prophethood, was during the rebuilding of the Kaaba when the tribal chiefs were having an argument on who would place the black stone in its place. They finally agreed that the first person to walk in the next day would decide who would place the Black Stone, and the first person to walk in was the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). He instructed the main chieftains to hold the corners of the cloth which had the Black Stone on it, and then himself placed the Black Stone in its designated area. Through this incident one finds that the Makkans trusted the Prophet (SAW) because they knew he cared about their affairs and would be just in his decisions. The Prophet (SAW) did not approach the chieftains and say “Take care of your own affairs” because he knew that the affairs of the people of Makkah were his affairs as well. What better proof of his caring character than when Khadija (RA) told the Prophet (SAW) that “Allah will never disgrace you. You unite kin relations; you bear the burden of the weak; you help the poor and the needy, you entertain the guests and endure hardships in the path of truthfulness” (Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum 69). The Prophet (SAW) was the voice for the weak and oppressed.
Stereotypes and racial biases exist within our Muslim communities, and because of this distancing of us verses them, many Muslims are disconnected from the larger issues until those issues involve them. For example, how many Muslim communities stood up to protest carrying guns in public after the Sandy Hook shooting? How many Muslim communities stood up against police violence and brutality over the last year? How many communities actually made the effort after these events to strengthen ties with the law enforcement? Yet hundreds flock to protest against foreign wars. As American Muslims it is our responsibility to stand up to injustices against those who live amongst us as well as those issues concerning our Muslim brothers and sisters around the world. The Prophet (SAW) gave priority to issues in his own community and because he cared about his fellow human beings they cared about him in return.
Knowing Muslims need to politically improve, it is important to note that influence takes time but it starts from us. As Allah says in the Qur’an, “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (13.11). Thus, until Muslims show political strength, policies will lean against us, law enforcement will not trust us, and politicians will continuously try to ban us, until we are left wondering how America turned its back on us and all along it was because we had our back against America.
Being involved in shaping policies in the United States occurs at local, state, and national levels and through a three step process of education, action, and involvement. Muslims need to be educated of certain political areas such as elections that take place in their city, positions that people run for, and brief bios about candidates. Often times, it is not our lack of motivation that prevents us from taking part in political affairs but our lack of knowledge of the political system. One area Muslims can partake in their cities is in their school board. Many Muslims have children in the public school system and being actively involved in the voting process allows Muslims to show which candidates they agree with and which they do not. When those running for the school board know that Muslims care about the policies they propose and observe how Muslims take active participation in their school board, they will create policies that will benefit Muslim students in school and this transfers to the district level as well.
At the state level, Muslim communities need to familiarize themselves with the various positions and who runs for them. Ask yourself. Do you know who is your house district representative? Who represents you and your community’s concerns? The fact is that even if Muslims prefer to remain ignorant of the politics, especially at the local and state level, the state and district representatives are not ignoring us but are discussing us constantly. For example, the ban on Syrian refugees from entering Texas did not happen overnight, but the state’s own representatives deliberated and chose that stance. Muslims have a shouting war when such policies are made but where were they when the policy was introduced into the state? Our Muslim communities need to be educated of the policies and policy makers within the local and state level.
Finally, at a national level Muslims need to show their political power by sending letters to their State Representatives and the White House and utilizing numbers available online to call and address both national and international issues. Note that one might have to call multiple times until the receivers eventually get tired of you and give you time. The most important part of political involvement is representing the Muslim community. No longer are you Fatima Syed from Houston and Mohammad Hussain from New Jersey, but you are Fatima Syed from the Muslim Community of Houston and Mohammad Hussain from the Muslim Community of New Jersey. Once the Muslim community begins paying attention to political candidates and their policies and voicing their concerns to the candidates will Muslim issues be resolved and find support. Once the Muslim communities pay attention to the problems within the United States and to those who have the power to navigate those issues, will the the political power will pay attention to them.
To close off this article there are five key action items every community must engage in to ensure political involvement:
Designate a committee of 3-4 people to educate the Muslim community about the politics of the city and state and every month have them present the current status of issues as well as any upcoming elections. Attend City Hall meetings because important policies and issues are discussed in these meetings.
Make contact with law enforcement and attend their community meetings to discuss issues in the Muslim community or even to just show your appreciation for the work they do.
Make it the community’s job to ensure all citizens are registered to vote AND that they vote.
As a Muslim community, donate to campaigns and candidates that support the community’s stance on certain issues. Donations go a long way when it comes to candidates championing for Muslims.
The majority of the first Muslims in Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s life were those who were oppressed and marginalized, and they came to Islam because the Prophet (SAW) cared about their issues, fought for their rights, and comforted them in their pain. Muslims in America need to rise up to the challenge and support their brothers and sisters of different faiths and show solidarity in their pain and only then will others show solidarity in issues that plague the Muslim community.