I need to be willing to make some changes in how I think about “them.” It’s time for us to say “we,” not “we” and “them.”‘
Father Thomas Ryan,
The third annual National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue took place March 6-8 at the University of St. Mary of the Lake outside Chicago, and focused on the theme of “One God, One Humanity: Confronting Religious Prejudice.” In his opening remarks, the Muslim co-chair Dr. Sayyid Syeed observed how historically Catholics have ruled Muslims in different countries, or vice versa, but that “today, in North America, being neighbors is a reality, and it’s critical for us to develop a vision so that people in other countries can find hope for their future.”
In her opening address, Muslim educator Maria Khani from Orange County, California, said “We can do more than just have a meal together and talk. I need to be willing to make some changes in how I think about ‘them.’ It’s time for us to say ‘we,’ not ‘we’ and ‘them.'”
Khani observed that a statement of Dr. Martin Luther King fits Christians and Muslims today: “People fail to get along because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
She noted that ignorance often leads to a deadly cycle: Ignorance to fear. Fear to hate. Hate to violence. Violence to war. War to isolation. “It all starts from ignorance,” she said; “let’s get to know one another. Peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence of harmony.”
Islamophobia is becoming more widespread and systemic throughout the U.S., but Muslim Americans aren’t idly awaiting their ruin.
On an early morning last summer, Ajeyo Yusuf got the fright of his life. “I get a little bit jittery when I talk about this,” he says, recalling the incident.
That morning, the 26-year-old from Bangladesh woke up around 5 a.m. at his family’s home in Queens, New York. He was answering emails before heading into work at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, when he saw out the window “a few burly white guys” descend the stairs to his family’s basement apartment. The men knocked on the front door and identified themselves as police, which was also emblazoned across the back of their jackets. Yusuf, though, could see through this ruse. “I knew who they were,” he says. “They had to be ICE agents.”
ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Tahera Rahman whispers the lines of her script as the Local 4 newsroom bustles around her.
With a few minutes until the 6 p.m. newscast, Rahman may as well be in a bell jar: just her, the crisply folded paper in her hands and her unwavering mission to deliver that night’s top story.
A similar scene was no doubt playing out in local newsrooms across the country. But at the Quad Cities’ WHBF-TV, the ripples of a history-making event were still being felt.
With a few seconds to air, Rahman blots her lipstick and secures a runaway piece of hair under her bright white hijab. She straightens the decorative lace cascading down from the headscarf and gently nestles her microphone into its crochet work.
The newsroom quiets. The camera’s light flashes. Rahman is live.
After two years producing the station’s evening news, Rahman recently moved into an on-air role. She’s “living her dream” and, in the process, she has become the first woman to wear a hijab while reporting full-time for a mainstream American TV station, according to the Muslim American Women in Media group.
When I look in the mirror, I see short dark hair, brown skin, big eyes and probably a leather jacket. I’m pretty impressed with that woman.
But you know what a lot of other people see? A terrorist. Someone to be feared. Someone uneducated. Someone oppressed. Someone who can’t be trusted.
They see … a Muslim.
The sad fact is that many Americans are afraid of Muslims. After the terror attacks that have been associated with Muslims ― 9/11, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, to name a few ― it’s no surprise that Muslims are seen as bomb-hugging monsters. In movies, on TV, in the media, we are the bad guys. And if you are presented with the same image over and over again, it’s bound to stick.
Is it fair to blame all Muslims for the acts of a few bad people? No, of course not. Muslims in America are just as American as everyone else. We have the same hopes and dreams, the same fears and worries. To be brutally honest, we actually have more to worry about than other Americans.
Why? Because along with having the same fears as everyone else, we have the added fear of being Muslim in America.
US President Donald Trump received another setback last week when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, located in Richmond, Virginia, ruled against the latest version of his Muslim ban. In its ruling, the court stated that the ban is “unconstitutionally tainted with animus towards Islam” and that its central purpose is “to exclude Muslims from the United States.” Despite the ruling, “Muslim Ban 3.0” will remain in effect while the Supreme Court considers the case.
The decision by the Fourth Circuit has been cautiously welcomed by Muslims, many of whom have endured prolonged separation from their loved ones as a result of the ban.The Muslim ban has always been a reactionary gimmick aimed at shoring up the most backward elements of Trump’s political base and whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria in the country. It was clearly designed to reinforce the bogus notion that Muslim-Americans and Muslim immigrants constitute a unique threat to “national security.”
The consistent, calculated attempt by Trump and his supporters to portray ordinary Muslims as potential security threats has had a devastating impact on Muslim-Americans, contributing to an increase in hate crimes against Muslims and fostering a general climate of fear and uncertainty within the community. There are also indications that the government is planning a further crackdown on the democratic rights of Muslims, with increased surveillance of Muslim communities in the works. Indeed, reports from around the country this month demonstrate how the US is increasingly becoming hostile territory for Muslims.
Mr Donald Trump’s inauguration took place on a Friday, the weekly holy day for Muslims. I’d been dreading it: We would have a new president, one who had threatened to shut down mosques and bar Muslims from entering the country. I knew I had to say something to make people feel better about it.
I’m an imam at the Islamic Institute of Orange County. The members of my congregation here were worried: How would their lives change? Would Mr Trump follow through on his promises?
As I prepared myself to head to the mosque that morning, I recalled the sermon I gave three days after the election. In November, the community was panicking. People regularly asked: “Sheikh Mustafa, is it time we leave this country?” One friend from the mosque told me sadly: “I can’t live anywhere else.” I told him that a Muslim prepares for the worst but hopes and prays for the best.
Islam teaches us that life is a test of obedience to God and I counselled my community to view Mr Trump’s election as a test of our patience: God wanted to see if we would endure this challenge, or fall into complaining and despair. Islam and the Quran teach us that when we encounter a challenge, we should try to benefit from it. The election, I hoped, could lead us to strive to be better as individuals and to improve society.
Just a few hours after Mr Trump was inaugurated, I stood before a crowd of about 2,000 Muslims from all walks of life, young and old, native-born Americans and immigrants from some two dozen countries.
I reminded them that being a Muslim is about good character. We Muslims shouldn’t allow harsh words to get under our skin. We must not insult people who insult us because of our religion – and we must always be on our best behaviour.
The NBA Hall of Famer and THR columnist, a practitioner of Islam since college, is hopeful that the Kumail Nanjiani starrer and Aziz Ansari’s ‘Master of None’ are bringing an end to portrayals of the devoted as “rabid, merciless terrorists” onscreen.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” an apple farmer observes in the opening to Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. That line, indeed that poem, is the spiritual essence of America: a country founded on a sacred mission to tear down walls that needlessly separate neighbors. There are all kinds of walls, from the $70 billion physical wall that Trump wants to build to walls that one-percenters build to keep their money in (they don’t call it Wall Street for nothing). But the most formidable wall of all is the Perception Wall of false images and ideas that nurtures fears and prejudices about other groups based on religion, ethnicity, national origin or gender identity.
Muslims have had a great run being portrayed as rabid, merciless terrorists. That’s what Americans saw in movies and television shows from True Lies to 24 to Homeland. That is the image of Muslims many Americans still cling to. Even with the many recent positive portrayals of Muslim-Americans in the arts, it takes time for images to dilute the poison that’s been mixed in for so long. Every time the news reports that a Muslim has been involved in a terrorist attack, the prejudice stored in our body sweats through the pores and reheats our fear. And yet, as of Nov. 6, there were 307 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2017, the majority by white Christian men. When a generic white man fires 1,100 bullets into a Las Vegas crowd, killing 58 and injuring 546, we have nowhere to go with our anger or fear. We can’t be on the lookout for every disaffected white Christian male. We can’t profile them. But we think we know what Muslims look like (though vigilantes have often mistakenly targeted non-Muslims), so our mistrust more easily takes a human form. We prefer our villains with a physical Cain-like identifier — dark skin, large nose, prayer hat, veil, foreign accent — to clarify that they’re not one of Us. The irony is most Americans are descended from a persecuted group.