A Muslim American’s Letter to President Obama Regarding His Address on Terrorism

Originally published on Huffington Post Religion on 12/08/15: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sajdah-nubee/a-muslim-americans-letter_b_8741406.html

I sent the following correspondence to the White House expressing my concern regarding the recent address to the nation on terrorism.

Dear President Obama,

After hearing your speech on terrorism on Sunday, Dec 6th, I was left feeling disappointed and concerned. As a Muslim American, I honed in on some key points of your address that I found problematic. But before I get into that, I do want to say I appreciate the acknowledgement that the threat of terrorism is real and the dedication to overcoming it. I also appreciate the recognition that Muslims are our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and men and women in uniform, and that the attackers of San Bernardino embraced a “perverted interpretation of Islam.”

However, the following statements quoted below concerned me:

“As we’ve become better at preventing complex, multi-faceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turn to less complicated acts of violence like the mass-shootings that are all too common in our society. It this type of attack that we saw in Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino.

This was an address to discuss terrorism. However, your examples were only of Muslim terrorist attacks. There was no mention of other acts of terror such as the Dylan Roof shooting, or Mr. Dear attacking the Planned Parenthood. Targeting Muslims as terrorists while discounting all other forms of terrorism in America is dangerous. It further evokes fear in the American people that Muslims are the most likely suspects of terrorist acts or that Islam does promote terrorism, which is false.

“That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslims leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and Al-Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.”

Muslims and Muslims leaders are confronting the issue. I hear and see it. I receive email press releases and statements from some of the larger Muslim organizations as ISNA, ICNA, and CAIR each time there is a terrorist attack condemning such actions. Following the Paris attacks, there was an outpouring of condemnation from Muslims recorded on YouTube stating “Not in My Name” referring to the killings of ISIS in the name of Islam. I see tweets, trending hashtags, and Facebook posts all condemning terrorism from the larger Muslim community. I do not appreciate the implication that Muslims and Muslim leaders are not doing “enough.” Muslims should not be held to a different standard than anyone else. I would like to hear more acknowledgement of how Muslims are speaking out.

“But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.

The first part of the above statement is problematic as it implies several things. 1) It suggests that radical Muslims conspiring to do harm are freely roaming our communities while sharing their ideology and it is going unchecked. 2) It implies that our communities are not concerned about the threat of terror just like anyone else would be. 3) Lastly, it puts the onus to fight terrorism on the Muslim community, when in fact, this problem is not uniquely ours. It shouldn’t be. It impacts all Americans, and we should equally be concerned.

Furthermore, white Americans are not asked to condemn the shootings by white males. White Americans or Christians are not asked to root out misguided members in their community. Muslims should not be held to a different level of scrutiny. This kind of bias is born out of attitudes of white supremacy where minorities are not given the same privilege as whites. This is similar to the idea by some that blacks are to blame for their own conditions by using the reason of “black-on-black” crime without unpacking other factors such as systemic issues.

It was mentioned in your speech that, “It is our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently.”

Therefore, it is important to be mindful of suggestive speech that has unfavorable implications for the Muslim community and further confirms the narrative that terrorism is a “Muslim problem.” I also think we should avoid words and actions that perpetuate the already unfair bias against minorities in this country.

Respectfully,

Sajdah Nubee
Concerned Muslim American

A Black Muslim Voice on Islamophobia

Originally published on Huffington Post Religion on 12/16/2015: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sajdah-nubee/a-black-muslim-voice-on-islamophobia_b_8813786.html

As a Black-American Muslim who feels deeply connected to both the Black and Muslim communities, there is a perspective that I want to share from my personal experiences that I know are not uniquely mine, but also not widely shared.

Reports of hate crimes against Muslims in America are rising following the horrific Paris and San Bernardino attacks. Islamophobia is real and it is serious. Muslims all over are speaking out in different ways. Muslims are demanding hateful rhetoric from the likes of Trump to be condemned and for it to stop. But let’s be clear, it didn’t begin with Trump; and it didn’t begin with 9/11.

Islamophobia is a symptom of a larger problem that exists in America as well as other societies. It is that deep-rooted illness that goes back to the enslavement of Africans in America and European colonization of many areas around the world.

It is the ideas of white supremacy that beget racism and bigotry. Those same ideas that devalue a group of people based on race are the same ideas that allow for an indictment of an entire religion vastly made up of people of color. Like racism, Islamophobia devalues a group of people based on beliefs rooted in falsehood and ignorance.

However, these ideas don’t spread without active participants.

I don’t want to discount any harm that my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters are enduring. Again, Islamophobia is real. As a Muslim, I understand the worry and frustration from anti-Muslim rhetoric. But, you can be both a victim and a part of the problem.

This is my message to my Muslim community, but more specifically to my non-black Muslim brothers and sisters:

As a Black-American in the Muslim community, I have observed and been subjected to racism and micro-aggressions that exists among non-black Muslim populations perpetrated on one another and the Black community.

I have seen how “Black Lives Don’t Matter” in our communities. I have seen the concern for only issues in the non-black parts of the world. I have heard the “you’re too dark” comments in regards to a standard of beauty. I have witnessed the nationalistic pride that creates disunity. I have seen the poor treatment of people in our community that comes from the hierarchy mentality of the lighter you are, the better. And, the notion that Black Muslims are religiously inferior in practice and knowledge. I have observed the disconnectedness from issues that impact the larger Black community.

I have also seen the euphoria from some Muslims relishing in the privilege that comes from not being black, having lighter skin, straighter hair, and for simply not being the lowest on the racial hierarchy. I, myself, have experienced what this looks like.

Because it is often assumed that I’m not Black due to my headscarf, I have experienced how some white Americans expect me to commiserate with them as they share negative and racially offensive views of Black people. After all, I would understand since I’m not Black, or so it’s presumed. I have experienced the excitement from some as they ask what other language I speak and what kind of food I cook at home. Then, I observe the loss of interest in who I am when I tell them I am a Black-American. So, I know the white privilege branch has extended itself fractionally to non-blacks.

Just as that branch can be extended, it can conveniently be rescinded because the root of the illness persists.

My Muslim American community is now really feeling the symptoms of this illness. But if we want to see an improvement in Islamophobia, there has to be a consciousness and indignation from the non-black Muslims for issues impacting the Black community. Where is the outrage when it is suspected that an unlawful shooting by a white cop has killed a Black youth? Where is the condemnation when other races are mistreating Blacks within our local communities? Where is the mass effort to unite with our Black brothers and sisters?

As the famous quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. states:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It is time for the non-Muslim black community to acknowledge how they may uphold notions of superiority of the dominant culture. We have to unlearn those thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate white supremacy. It is past time for us to address the racism in ourselves and the wide acceptance of it in our communities.

It is past time for the non-black Muslim community to unite with and look for guidance from the Black community to fight injustice. The Black community has suffered real oppression over many years from slavery to segregation to the new Jim Crow. Blacks know hate and bigotry, and know what it means to demand change, protest in the street, and risk their lives all for justice. The Black community has had to and continues to walk through life without apologizing for who we are.

It didn’t start with Trump and it doesn’t end with the eradication of Islamophobia. It ends where it began. I am reminded of the verse of the Qur’an that states:

“Verily, God does not change condition of the people until they change that which is in their hearts [13:11].”

To change our hearts, our community must get back to the tenets of our faith. The tenets that remind us of the oneness of humanity and the importance of humility, and to want for another what we would want for ourselves.

These Are Scary Times for Muslims and Not Just Because of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

Originally published on Huffington Post Religion on 12/30/15: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sajdah-nubee/scary-times-for-muslims_b_8890174.html

As the anti-Muslim rhetoric persists and as we enter what some are calling a “post-religious America,” will Muslim Americans feel there is a place for them to practice Islam without deliberate compromise? With the holidays behind us, I saw several articles about how Muslims celebrate Christmas and Muslims wishing others a “Merry Christmas.” A friend of mine, after reading an article about Muslims celebrating, asked if this will be the new litmus test for the “moderate” Muslim.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “There will come a time when holding on to your religion will be like holding on to hot coals.”

That time may not be now, but it is scary times as we Muslims struggle to hold on to our beliefs and subsequent practice with pressures of what is known as “liberal” culture and the desperation to change misperceptions.

I have observed and want to briefly explore some reasons for these challenges Muslims are facing to withstand changing social and political climates.

1) The increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric puts Muslims further under the microscope. Terms like “extremist Muslims” or “radical Islam” has Muslims scurrying to dispel false notions about who we are and what we believe. This has some Muslims wanting to be seen as or called a “moderate” or “liberal” Muslim. However, this lends itself to shedding parts of our beliefs to fit into the mainstream culture and not be seen as “extreme.” For example, this is the case for those who struggle to stand firm in the belief that Islam does not condone homosexuality. Unfortunately, it is counterproductive to abandon some of our beliefs as this does nothing to cement Muslims and our practice as a part of the American fabric.

2) The Muslim population is largely made up of people of color. We know the history of people of color in America so I don’t need to explain that. But, as a result, there is still a need for some of us to be accepted by the white majority. Such as the case of Muslims celebrating Christmas under the guise that they are celebrating Jesus’ birth as our Prophet and not the begotten son of Jesus as in Christianity. This is the tendency of some to readily adopt dominant culture and misappropriate a practice under the name of Islam. Imam Dawud Walid summarized this issue on social media when he said: “Internalized oppression [is what] drives people to seek acceptance [while] being masked in religious language…” It is the forever lingering belief that we (people of color) and our way is in inferior and others are superior, and the inclination to seek their validation. The more we attempt to assimilate, the more difficult it will become for Muslims, as a whole, to practice our religion.

3) Thirdly, some of us have yet “to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.” We have to get comfortable with standing out as “different” when not going along with the masses. We have to become comfortable challenging the notion that the status quo is the only way.

I took part in an interfaith panel discussion where the question was posed how my faith can remain relevant today considering the decline in religious affiliation. This was a great question with an answer that could help reconcile the struggle some of us may have with being uncompromisingly Muslim.

Islam is relevant today and does have a place in America without alteration of its core practice.

Islam is a religion that was revealed by God for all times and societies. It was not just revelation that was meant for the people of 1400 years ago. It is a complete way of life as described in the Qur’an and Hadith (teachings) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It addresses current societal ills and social issues such as poverty, racism, bigotry, family values, financial oppression, physical and emotional decay, disease/illness, etc. The list goes on.

It defines human rights, freedoms, and social and moral justice. In this way, Islam is progressive as it provides solutions to the very things many of us are battling today. We shouldn’t feel shy in contributing what we know and our values to society. We also have to be comfortable explaining our beliefs outside of the pre-defined terms that have been given to us.

We do not have to speak of our religion as conservative Islam, liberal Islam, or moderate Islam. Islam is already a religion of moderation that strikes a balance in all matters. There are no other forms of the religion itself, only in the way people choose to express it. Following Islam properly is the middle path. There is no real way to discern Islam in these terms, nor is it necessary to accept these confines given to us.

The understanding that Islam does have a place today in America is an understanding that can’t be forgotten among Muslims. If it is forgotten, we will find ourselves transformed by other than what we belief. There is a saying by one of the wisest Muslim caliphs in history, Umar ibn Al-Khattab, which says, “He who does not live in the way of his beliefs, starts to believe in the way that he lives.”

There is a place in America for Muslims and Islam, but that doesn’t mean it will be without struggle. It is our test filled with winding roads, but we can’t forget our belief system that we hold dear and true.

Dr. Sherman Jackson made a compelling point in this regard in his article on Muslim Americans and liberalism:

“… Muslims will have to find the fortitude to stand up for their values, in the same way that liberals stand up for theirs. This will be difficult, if for no other reason than the fact that liberalism tends to break down communities into individual, autonomous parts, leaving Muslims with the thought and feeling that they are isolated individuals who have little choice but to conform to what are presented as “societal norms”…Muslims have to get comfortable with the fact that dissenting from all this makes Islam no more a threat to America than Judaism, Christianity or atheism.”