There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice if we only know how to find it. Ida B. Wells Journalist, suffragette, and anti-lynching activist (1862-1931)
Tariq ibn Shihab reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “What is the best sacred struggle (jihad)?” The Prophet said, “A word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler ” (Musnad Aḥmad 18449).
We celebrate figures like Malcolm X who spoke truth to power. Award winning journalist and author, Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses Malcolm X’s honesty in Between the World and Me (2015). A month before his assassination on New Year’s eve 1964, Malcolm X gave a speech to a delegation of thirty-seven teenagers from McComb, Mississippi. They had come to New York City on a trip sponsored by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Malcolm X offered these words to the youth who were at the heart of Civil Rights struggle:
One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself.
You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.
I am neither a fanatic nor a dreamer. I am a Black man who loves peace and justice and loves his people.
Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression.
We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for integration, nor are we fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society….
This speech, now known as the “Advice to the Youth of Mississippi” still speaks to us today. It especially resonates for Muslim Americans who have been marginalized out of civic life. Muslim American scholars, devotional leaders, and civil society leaders all wrestle with the question: What is Justice? When we are speaking about injustice, we must think about what does justice look like. Striving This is important to think about as we are encouraged to enjoin what is established right in the verse revealed in the Qur’an:
Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded. (Qur’an 16:90)
Another verse states:
And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful. (Quran 3:104)
In Forbidding the Wrong (2003), Michael Cook highlights how even quietist Abu Hanifa (699 — 767 CE) could not deny the political implications during the Umayyad dynasty of enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong (pg. 10). 1400 years later, faith leader Reverend Dr. William J. Barber III calls for a Moral Revival for justice, social change, and movement building . In multifaith organizing, faith leaders bring their deep moral values to bear as they seek to build a multiracial multifaith community. As a faith community, what do Muslims propose to counter the policies and legislation that cause so much suffering? Many of us have focused on countering dominant narratives and stereotypes by reclaiming our narratives. We counter the collateral damage of domestic and foreign policy with humanitarian aid. But institutionalized Islamophobia has attempted to undermine our attempts at authentic engagement in civil society.
Like Ida B. Wells a century ago, Muslims American thought leaders are writing about our most enduring social problems. Before the presidential election the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) convened to discuss a Muslim platform, leading to a deep discourse amongst Muslimmatters writers. Another important development is that Muslim Americans are beginning to build power through organizing. Mohammad Khan of MPower Change kickstarted an important conversation in the lead up to the election. A group of us, including Faatimah Knight, Imam Bilal Ansari, Linda Sarsour, Sheikh Hasib Noor, Layla Abdullah-Poulos, Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, and Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, continued that conversation through email and a shared document. To help facilitate the process of consensus, I reached out to prominent scholars and leaders to give feedback on the principles using a survey form. It was a truly a collaborative and exciting experience to bring together our mutually agreed upon ideas about what does justice look like. This was especially important, as Muslim Americans are asserting their political will. We are endorsing legislation, running for office, and backing candidates.Together, we developed the following principles as a starting point for articulating Muslim faith inspired social justice principles in how we vote and what groups we align with, based upon shared vision as a community:
We are a people who vote according to our values and principles and draw the strength of our convictions from an Unlimited Source not determined by party affiliation or partisan politics. We are a people who believe that every resident of the United States of America deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and live in their full humanity and dignity. We stand up for truth in the continuum of the struggle in the spirit and legacy of those who came before us. We strive to empower the powerless through allyship and organizing to establish justice with balance. Utilizing the tools of civil society and participatory democracy to promote public welfare and the general well being of society, we will advocate legislation and representatives who will advance our society in a moral order.
Our platform is Constitutional, consistent with our values as Muslim Americans, promotes the economic well-being of all residents, and works towards the sustainability of our society for generations to come. Drawing our Faith and Constitutional values, we aim to promote these values:
Establishing Justice and Balance
Truly establishing justice and equality for all, by addressing the inequalities in the criminal system that disproportionately affect black, brown, indigenous and poor white people. We will advocate for the decriminalization of mental illness, substance disorders, and homelessness. We will advocate for fostering and supporting non-carceral solutions that have shown to be effective, such as restorative justice and other forms of intervention that are lead by community members rather than law enforcement. We will advocate for increased substance abuse and mental health services, gun control to reduce the proliferation of guns and violence, and the overall decriminalization of poor communities and communities of color.
Safeguarding the Sanctity of Life
We respect the inviolability of life, that healthcare is a fundamental human right,importance of the preserving the quality of life, and uphold:
- That health is the state of physical, mental, and social well-being, not only absence of illness and disease. That every person has the right to healthcare that is easily accessible, affordable and respects their dignity. All residents have a right to equal access to health care in a universal, transparent, and equitable healthcare system that allows residents to buy into the Affordable Care Act exchanges, regardless of immigration status.
- That we must rectify the social, environmental, and economic conditions that lead to health disparities among marginalized groups
- That we must preserve and promote women’s health and children’s healthcare so that they may reach their full health and fundamental potential
- That we must address unjust foreign policies that undermine our moral standing as a Nation due to warmongering
- That we must address domestic issues such as militarization of our police force and use of deadly force against communities of color, poor people, and the mentally ill.
Protecting Freedom of Conscience and Religion
We are committed to freedom religion and conscience for all and the ending of religious bigotry and policies that discriminate against or target people for their perceived religion or ethnic identity. We support drafting legislation that ends racial profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials and the censuring of legislators who build their political platforms on anti-Muslim bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. We respect voting rights, women’s rights, labor rights, immigrant rights and the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law.
Fostering Intellectual Development
We nurture individual intellectual and cultural development and the acquiring of meaningful trade skills through educational opportunities. We advocate for early childhood education beginning and equal access to quality K-12 public school and removing economic barriers to higher education by securing equitable funding. We advocate for opportunity and affordable college education and are against predatory lending practices that put millions of students in debt. We recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion as well as a culturally-relevant approach to learning that appreciates the multiple perspectives.
Promoting Economic Justice and Equity
We endorse economic initiatives that aim to build an economy that works for all people. We advocate for living wages and value the protection of workers from exploitation and the loss of their rights. We support fair housing and connect homeownership to opportunity; such as mortgage interest to offered by private entities as equity partners and promote economic development in low-income areas. We appreciate the importance of establishing the fair redistribution of wealth with equitable tax codes that do not favor the wealthy over the poor. We encourage fair and equitable international trade agreements that reflect these values outside the US as well.
Sustaining the Environment and Maintaining the Rights of Posterity
We encourage working towards environmental and climate justice at the intersections of environmental degradation and the racial, economic and social inequities it perpetuates. We support community-led solutions led by Indigenous People and the poor who are most adversely affected by environmental crisis. We demand that our government abides by its treaties with sovereign Nations/Native Americans, to protect their land and water rights. We champion the implementation and extension of smart pollution and efficiency standards and investing in clean energy, infrastructure and innovation. We support environmental safety through responsible energy production. With our interconnected world, our environmental justice and climate justice at home and abroad. We advocate for abiding by and establishing international protections for the environment and vulnerable populations
What is our vision for a multifaith multiracial society? In a 2015 training, Rami Nashishibi and Shemar Hemphill of Inner City Action Muslim Network (IMAN) asked us to envision a world that could be. In many ways, these policy principles try to move us to creating a world we want to see. Some people may feel that these principles are not radical enough. Others, are concerned that the principles may create openings for alignment with communities who do not share Islamic moral values. We have to struggle to articulate who we are as a community, our shared definition of self, our foundational faith values, that we bring to the table in uplifting all people.
We must be part of the remedy to our society’s most enduring problems and we can find it in our collective visioning. I invite others to join in this important conversation and become part of the solution.