Muslims Find Beauty and Solidarity Amidst The Ugliness
By Ilgin Beygo Yorulmaz
Marching down Greenwich Street, Imam Ali Kamel, a native of Egypt and a cleric at the Andalusia Islamic Center in Yonkers, praised two middle-aged white women who were carrying handmade Arabic-English banners and chanting slogans. Kamel noticed a small mistake with one of the Arabic letters in the banner. But it didn’t matter for him; it was the effort that counted.
Imam Ali, as he is known, was one of the nearly 10,000 people who gathered on a beautiful Sunday in Battery Park in Manhattan overlooking the Statute of Liberty, marching in support of refugees, immigrants and Muslims. He was joined by two friends; one Palestinian and one Yemeni.
The three were among the many who are protesting President Trump’s executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries, an order that has led to a lawsuit on Monday by the Committee on American-Islamic Relations.
While marches are crucial for putting pressure on the government, it’s only a part of what Muslim Americans want and need from their fellow citizens in this difficult time. Amidst the chanting and rallying, five Muslim faith leaders and activists shared with Voices what their ultimate hopes are for their community and for America.
Faiyaz Jaffer, an interfaith advocate and the affiliate chaplain of New York University Islamic Center, explained that ignorance from elected officials in Washington D.C., including the new President, is a real challenge to Muslims in America.
Objecting to the way many Muslims in America are portrayed as potential terrorists, he says: “These are ordinary people; they’re paying their bills, trying to get a job, just like everybody else.”
“They think a terrorist is almost always of Muslim origin as opposed to a white supremacist like Dylan Roof, who shot and killed 9 black people in South Carolina last year.”
Jaffer thinks that what the American Muslim community wants most right now is to be able to humanize Muslims and normalizing the interfaith relationships among the communities they live in. To this end, he often holds seminars where he gives a basic summary of Islam religion and portrays a positive image of ordinary Muslims.
Debbie Almontaser is a Brooklyn-based Muslim community leader and founder of the faith-based Bridging Cultures Group. With a family descending from Yemen, the reality that her own relatives from Yemen may not able to unite with those in the U.S. had a very personal, devastating effect. “We must work to challenge all of these initiatives like ordering a ban or building a wall. They affect all of us, regardless of religion, culture, or sexual orientation. We must stand together,” she says.
This kind of Muslims’ joint action with the wider faith groups is in fact already happening, like contacting representatives and pushing back on the “Muslim Ban”.
Almontaser cites a meeting she coordinated with New York Senator Chuck Schumer‘s office this week. It brought together Christian, Jewish and Muslim activists to express their concerns about a multitude of issues from the travel ban to the political appointments for various offices.
Muslims are thankful that so many other communities are showing friendship and solidarity with them, doing small acts of kindness that might seem insignificant, yet give enormous hope to them.
— Amanda Quraishi (@ImTheQ) January 31, 2017
Amanda Quraishi, an American Muslim diversity activist from Texas, lists the little things non-Muslims can do for Muslims: “Smile at them and ask how their day is. Call the local mosque and ask when they are having their open house, because you want to bring your family. Send flowers and cards and letter of support to mosques and Muslims in your neighborhood.”
Celebrated Arab-American comedian Dean Obeidallah agrees that the personal touch is valuable. “It is a challenging time for us, but thankfully so many people from other communities are standing with us. And in turn Muslim Americans are standing up for other communities as well. It’s truly a difficult time for so many Americans under Trump but I’m confident that in the end the good people will prevail.”
Obeidallah’s intersectional approach and belief in inherent goodness of people is shared by Professor Omid Safi, director of Duke Islamic studies Center in Durham, North Carolina, who quotes “repel evil with something lovelier” [Qur’an 41:34].
Safi writes, “We need hope. We need strength. We need prayer. We need organizing. We need solidarity. This is a marathon. It’s not merely about a travel ban, but a longterm struggle against forces of white supremacy, male supremacy, and despotic unconstitutional rule. We need to replenish ourselves spirituality, and reach out in genuine solidarity to other communities who also find themselves vulnerable: African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Jews, poor people, refugees and immigrants, gays/lesbians, women’s groups, etc. We have to be there for them and with them if we want them to be here for us and with us. Together, we have the strength and the power to stand up for the best of the American dream, and as the Qur’an says: “repel evil with something lovelier.” [41:34]. We have to be lovelier, and become lovelier. We have to bring that love and the lovelier into the public square, until it becomes seen as justice — justice not just for us, but for all of us.”