By Wendy Diaz
When I was in 5th grade, around 10 or 11 years old, I was blessed to be placed in the classroom of who would become my favorite teacher of all time, Ms. Rosa Lee Watts. She was a strict, authoritarian educator in a Texas military base elementary school, who rarely showed a soft side, but it was her stringent rules and order in the classroom that fascinated us. One of the many things that she did that I am grateful for until this day is allowing my friend and I to vent our frustrations by performing spoken poetry in front of the class, or what we thought at the time were cool rap songs that we composed. It was the early 90’s and the topic of our amateur lyrics was Operation Desert Storm. My friend, Rachel’s, mother was active duty military and so was my father.
This far away land that was the Middle East was alien to us. All we knew was what we heard from our parents and what we saw in the news, but barely understood. What mattered was that our country was at war, our parents were sent off to fight the bad guys, and that it was all Saddam Hussein’s fault. He was the evil villain who was oppressing the people of Iraq and Kuwait, and the United States had to go and liberate them, like the superheroes in the comic books I read or cartoons that I saw on TV. It was all confusing, but the details of the conflict did not matter; my father could die, Rachel’s mother was in danger, and that is all I cared about. During those times, the names of the soldiers who were lost in combat were displayed periodically on a blue screen backdrop on TV. It was traumatizing for my mother, my brother, and I to sit frozen on the couch in the living room on a daily basis watching the names scrolling alphabetically on the screen, but there was always a weary sigh of relief when the unfamiliar D’s turned to E’s, F’s, and G’s.
Rachel and I would get together and talk about these things and eventually began to put our feelings on paper. The words became poetry and the poetry transformed into rap. We showed Ms. Watts our songs and expressed a desire to share them with our peers, many of whom were going through the same thing. She gave us the platform we needed to perform our rap in front of the class. We spoke about the war, the emotional turmoil that it caused our families, our parents and our fear of losing them, our hate for the “bad guys” and our desire to wipe them off the face of the Earth so that our parents could return to us safely. We needed someone to blame and so our anger was directed at this unknown menace. One of the songs we wrote was even called “Bomb Saddam,” and as sadistic as it sounds, it came from the deep-rooted frustration I felt as an innocent child, but it is something that now, as an adult and as a Muslim, I could never feel or say about any human being, guilty or not.
I did not know about Islam during that time, so I never associated Iraq or its leader with Islam and Muslims, and not even in my wildest imagination would I have ever thought that I would embrace Islam only 10 years after this incident. When my father returned safely from the war, I did not give a second thought to Saddam Hussein, Iraq, Kuwait, or anything else. I just basked in the bliss of smelling the scent of my father, of feeling his warm embrace, of cuddling next to him while watching TV and sinking into his side; I felt protected again and I felt free of worry and distress. My father told us about his adventures in the Middle East and his fascination with the culture. He told us that the people would leave their shops and belongings unattended only to go pray after someone would chant something loudly in the streets and on the rooftops.
Now as a Muslim, I understand that this was the call to prayer and these people were going to worship God, Allah, despite the turmoil surrounding them and the presence of a foreign military power. I am grateful to Allah for so many things, past and present; for delivering my father safely back home and allowing him to share these stories with us, but above all for His guidance and permitting me to piece this puzzle together after so many years.
I called Ms. Watts when I was graduating from college to let her know that she was my all-time favorite teacher, and I felt compelled to inform her that I had converted to Islam so I could undo any damage that I may have done when I performed those songs in front of her class years before. I felt it was my duty to tell her that Islam is good and free from the mistakes of human beings. She was happy to hear from me and she spoke to me about some of my classmates who had kept in touch with her, including Rachel. I sent her a photo of me in hijab, which she told me she proudly framed and hung on her wall. A few months later her son emailed me to tell me that she lost a battle with cancer.
Last month, I read a warning issued by CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, about anti-Muslim rallies being organized in front of mosques all over the US on October 9th and 10th (2015), and all of these memories came to my mind. The organizers of the armed protests are calling for “fellow patriots, veterans, bikers, and good ol’ boys” to join them as they verbally express their hatred for Muslims and vilify them in front of their places of worship. I chuckled to myself wondering if I would be welcomed since I am an American and I happen to be the granddaughter of a veteran, the daughter of a veteran, the sister of a veteran, and the sister-in-law of a veteran — yet I am a Muslim.
My grandfather served in the Korean War in the famous 65th Infantry Regiment known as the Borinqueneers (A squadron of Puerto Rican soldiers), my father who served for over 30 years is retired from the ARMY but still works for the US Department of Defense whose mission is to protect the security of the US and the lives of all Americans, my only brother and his wife are also in the ARMY. They represent three generations of military service, risking their lives to protect the liberties of all citizens of the US, regardless of their religion. It seemed ironic that whoever organized the rallies failed to realize that there are Muslim veterans (or in my case, Muslims relatives of veterans), and that there are Muslim soldiers serving in the military, as well as Muslims in all sectors of American society. Their hatred has completely blinded them to the facts that surround them.
I thought about myself and the rap songs that I wrote with Rachel and I realized that this specific anti Muslim bigotry is nothing more than the same fear and insecurity I felt as a child. However, these folk are not children, and their irrational anxiety is being targeted towards the entire Muslim population, who has become the face of the new menace. The seeds of discord have been planted into the minds of the ignorant people and now they feel threatened by an enemy which their own imaginations have concocted, like a monster under their beds that won’t let them sleep. But rather than write poetry about it, they have pasted their emotions on hateful t-shirts, posters, billboards, and the like, and have decided to take up arms and march towards the mosques to attempt to psychologically terrorize the people who they accuse of being the terrorists.
Now as a Muslim I find myself on the other side of the coin. I don’t blame them completely because the reality is that many of these people have been brainwashed or lack the adequate knowledge about Islam to realize that they are making a huge mistake. Their minds have been hijacked and made to believe that there is an imminent threat to their livelihood in the Muslim community; that Islam is the boogie man or the bad guy who is out to take away their freedoms. The same circumstances that put Rachel and I through the emotional rollercoaster we rode as innocent children are affecting their own rationale. I blame the major news media networks, manipulative journalists, and irresponsible politicians, whose desire of increasing their popularity and ratings by any means surpasses any ethical and moral grounds. Some of them have even rejected constitutional principles in order to continue their campaign of lies and slander against Islam.
Now instead of a scrolling blue screen of names, we repeatedly listen to the names of the victims of the September 11th attacks on every anniversary, the blurred images of the Iraqi battlefield have been replaced with clear videos of the twin towers collapsing, the night vision bombing of Iraqi forces and flares lighting the desert sky are now high definition YouTube videos of terrorists chopping people’s heads off and Muslim women and children being battered and victimized, and Saddam Hussein has morphed into Osama Bin Laden, Anwar al Awlaki, Al-Qaeda, and now ISIS. Now bigotry has become a source of entertainment as Hollywood movies portray Muslim villains and feature plots dealing with terrorism that we can watch on Netflix over and over again. Never forget. They hate our freedom. God bless America. These are the slogans that have programmed Americans now for well over 10 years. And while we can’t forget the horrors of any tragedy or war, dwelling on these events only adds fuel to a fire that is becomes increasingly difficult to contain.
The fact of the matter is that the biggest war we are all fighting is neither physical nor ideological, it’s psychological. These people organizing the rallies, the tea-party goers, the bigots, the Muslims, we are all victims of a larger menace, the one who declared war on the progeny of Adam long before any of us were born. While some news media sources, politicians, and others have attempted to taint our religion, they are powerless against the informed mind. One thing we can actually thank them for is making Islam, Muslims, and Muhammad household names and opening up the doors to communication and education. Not all (non-Muslim) Americans hate Islam and Muslims, and the ones who do are few and far between. With a little dialogue and a lot of compassion and common sense, we can change the narrative.
As Muslims, we just have to continue to do our best to educate the people who do not know what Islam is really about. We have to forgive the ones who offend us because they, like Rachel and I in 5th grade, do not realize what they are doing or saying. In the spirit of Prophet Joseph when he addressed his brothers years after they had thrown him into the dark well, let us say to them:
“No reproach on you this day; may Allah forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!” (12:92).
Wendy Díaz is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam (We Speak Islam), a non-profit organization which produces Islamic educational material in the Spanish language. She has translated content, articles, and fataawa from English to Spanish for websites such as WhyIslam.org, khutbah.com, islamweb.net, and calgaryislam.com. She is also a freelance writer and her articles have been featured on New America Media, Public Radio International, The Message International Magazine, and the Muslim Link Newspaper. She has a passion for writing children’s literature, and has authored and/or illustrated 9 children’s books.
Kashmir: Gateway in Turmoil
A dark day looms over Indian-Administered Kashmir, a Muslim majority region at the heart of a dispute between Pakistan and India. The two countries are at odds over its governance, with direct impact to the welfare and security of the Kashmiri people. On Tuesday 8-6-19, the Indian Parliament passed a bill that strips Kashmir of statehood and places them under indefinite lockdown.
“Kashmiri leaders are appealing to the world to stop the imminent genocide of Kashmiris. Genocide Watch in Washington, DC has already issued a Genocide Alert for India, the so-called “largest democracy in the world” because it has cancelled citizenship of four million Indian citizens, mostly Muslims. This reflects the early stages of a genocide in process.” –Soundvision.com
Kashmir is home to massive energy resources, such as oil and natural gas, non-ferrous metals, uranium, gold, and is abundant in hydropower resources. These too are factors considered in the political movements of India and China. Kashmir’s geopolitical advantages are no secret, and adding China to the political struggle makes three countries trying to benefit from Kashmir’s geographical position.
Kashmir neighbors the Xinjiang Uyghur borders, and China has played a role in both areas. China’s stronghold on Xinjiang revolves around access to Europe and Central Asia. China needs Kashmir to access the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Kashmir is landlocked between China, Pakistan, and India. Pakistan hopes to use infrastructure built under the CPEC initiative to connect by land directly to both China and Central Asia. With that said, Pakistan wants to take advantage of its geographic positioning by serving as a gateway to Afghanistan, then Central Asia, using the CPEC corridor (the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor), which has parts of that corridor that go through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
This is upsetting India. India’s ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, made a comment in an interview about CPEC saying it “violates our territorial integrity. India believes the CPEC project undermines Indian sovereignty because it passes through a Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir that is still claimed by India.” India also fears the chances of a People’s Liberation Army presence or even a Chinese naval base in Pakistan’s Gwadar seaport, as part of the CPEC corridor.
India has been working on its own project, International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), it is intended to link trade routes between India and Central Asia, Russia, and Europe. Unlike its competition (Pakistan and China), India is unable to directly trade through the land to those regions using INSTC. To make this corridor successful, India will need to collaborate with Iran and use their ports.
India needs Kashmir, and Modi is using hateful nationalism to get the people to support his actions. The part of Kashmir that is needed is not under India’s control, and must be occupied in order for India to have direct access to Central Asia, Russia, and Europe.
Birds of a feather flock together.
Israel’s Minister for Construction and Housing Yifat Shasha-Biton, while addressing a conference of Indian realtors’ body Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI), called India an “economic power” with whom Israel shares common values. India using colonization tactics has made allies with the Israeli government, a master on occupation and oppression.
“Kashmir is under siege…do not let the enforced silence drown our voices.”:
Please keep the people of Kashmir in your prayers. We cannot sit idly while this occupation continues. SoundVision has shared 5 things anyone in America and Canada can do.
A message from a Kashmiri
“Around 10 pm, a message flashed across our phones announcing that, as per the request of the central government, all domestic networks were to be shut down indefinitely. All mosques, any place equipped with a loudspeaker, began announcing total curfew from 5 am tomorrow……..
You have stripped us of our rights and incited unrest yet again into a peaceful and beautiful place. This time, I pray, you will not escape the international consequences your actions deserve. Rest assured Kashmiris will not break and Kashmir is not gone. Our stories, our language, our heart and our people are stronger than any country can dream. Even under these circumstances, I am sure inshaAllah one day we will be free. One day, Kashmir will be free.” Sanna Wani via Twitter
Muslims for Migrants | A Joint Letter By Imam Zaid Shakir & Imam Omar Suleiman
Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) said, “He who gives respite to someone who is in straitened circumstances, or grants him remission, Allah will shelter him in the shade of His Throne, on the Day of Resurrection, when there will be no shade except its shade.” (Tirmidhi, 1306)
He also said, “There is no leader who closes the door to someone in need, one suffering in poverty, except that Allah closes the gates of the heavens for him when he is suffering in poverty.” (Tirmidhi, 1332)
The message is clear, the way we treat the most vulnerable of Allah’s creation has consequences to us both individually and collectively, and both in this life and the next.
As the humanitarian crisis at the southern border deepens, there is a deafening silence from most corners of the American Muslim community. One might ask, “Why should that silence be concerning?” Shouldn’t the nation of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) who was himself an orphan and a migrant sent as a mercy to the worlds be the first to be moved with the images of children in cages? Migration and asylum are God-given rights that individuals and nations would do well to respect. These rights are affirmed in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah upon him).
Concerning migration, the Qur’an states unequivocally:
As for those whose souls the angels take while they are oppressing themselves, the angels will say to them, “What was your former state?” They will respond, “We were oppressed in the land.” The angels will counter, “Was not Allah’s earth spacious enough for you to migrate therein.” (4:97)
The oppression referred to in this verse specifically focuses on persecution because of faith, but the general meaning of the wording can accommodate any form of oppression which involves the denial of a person’s Divinely conferred rights.
Migration lies at the very heart of the prophetic tradition in the Abrahamic religions. Abraham himself was a migrant. His son Ismail was a migrant. The Children of Israel along with Moses were migrants, as was Jesus. Not only was our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) a migrant, he twice sent many of his Companions (May Allah be pleased with them) to Ethiopia to seek the protection of the Negus. The fact that the Muslim calendar is dated from the migration of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) from Makkah to Madinah indicates the lofty place migration has in the life of the Muslim community and in the consciousness of its members.
Additionally, history records the massive migrations of those Muslims who fled from oppressive, tyrannical, violent rulers or invaders. One of the most famous examples we can relate in this regard is the massive westward migration of those escaping the advancing Mongol hordes. Among those refugees was the great poet, Rumi, who along with thousands of others fled his home in Balkh, located in present-day Afghanistan, eventually settling in Konya, in the heart of Anatolia. Others migrated for economic reasons. The historian, Richard Bulliet, theorizes that the economic collapse of Khurasan, a once-thriving Sunni intellectual hub in eastern Iran, led to the migration of large swaths of its population to Syrian and Egypt. In his view, the many scholars among those refugees led to an intellectual revival in the lands they settled in.
As for asylum, it can be granted by both the state and an individual Muslim to individuals or groups. The foundations of this principle in prophetic practice was established during events which occurred during the conquest of Makkah. The Prophet , as the de facto head of state, issued an oath of protection to the people of Mecca when he declared, “Whosever enters the house of Abu Sufyan is safe. Whosoever casts down his weapons is safe. Whosoever closes his door [and remains inside] is safe.” (Sahih Muslim, 1780) Ibn Ishaq’s version adds, “Whosoever enters the [Sacred] Mosque is safe.” (Narrated in Sirah Ibn Hisham, 4:35)
Those enjoying these protections from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) had not committed a crime and although they had not traveled to another land seeking refuge, the description of their land had changed from one under the authority of the Quraysh to one under the authority of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him). In this “new” land they were being guaranteed safety and subsequently freedom even though they had not yet embraced Islam.
A related event is Imam Ali’s sister, Umm Hani, granting asylum to al-Harith bin Hisham and Zuhayr bin Ummayya that same day. When faced with the prospect of their execution by her brother, Imam Ali, she locked them in her house and went to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) to inform him that she had granted them asylum. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) responded, “We grant asylum to those Umm Hani has granted asylum to and we protect those Umm Hani has extended protection to.” (Sirah ibn Hisham, 4:42) In other words, the entire Muslim community, globally, is bound to respect the oath of protection or asylum granted by even an individual Muslim.
This idea of the entire Muslim community respecting a grant of asylum extended by even a single Muslim is strengthened by the Hadith:
The protection of the Muslims is one and the least of them can grant it. Whosoever violates the asylum extended by a Muslim upon him falls the curse of Allah, His angels and all of humanity. Never will an obligatory or voluntary act be accepted from him. (Bukhari, 3172)
Allah praised the Ansar of Madinah for how they loved those that migrated to them and preferred them even over themselves. (Quran: 59:9) They bore no resentment to those that migrated to them and sought reward only from Allah for sustaining them. They knew that supporting those in need was only a means of goodness in their lives rather than a burden. These powerful Islamic teachings have been codified by our scholars into a sophisticated system of amnesty, asylum, and respect for the status of refugees.
Hence, when we view the sickening conditions those migrating to our southern borders are exposed to, we should be touched and moved to action knowing that our religion grants those fleeing persecution, oppression, or ecological devastation, the right to migrate and to be duly considered for asylum. Our actions, however, must be based on principle and knowledge. We should further vigorously defend the dignity our Lord has afforded to all human beings, and our obligation to assist those who are suffering from recognized forms of oppression.
We must also understand that the rights to migration and asylum have been codified in the most widely accepted Muslim statement on human rights: The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, Article 12; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 14; the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (ADRDM), Article 27; and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), Article 22. The United States is a signatory party to the UDHR, and by way of membership in the Organization of American States (OAS), reluctantly accepts the authority of the ADRDM and the ACHR, although she has never ratified the latter two.
Our view on this issue should also be informed by the knowledge of our own country’s history as a nation of immigrants in the Native’s land. It should further be shaped by understanding the way nativist and white supremacist tendencies have fueled xenophobic and exclusivist policies and how in many instances our sometimes misguided policies have created many of our most vexing human rights challenges. It must also be informed by our obligation as American citizens.
For example, we need to understand that the overwhelming majority of families, children and individual adults arriving at our southern border from the “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are fleeing intolerable levels of violence. That violence is not just that of ruthless street gangs, such as MS-13, it also emanates from government-sponsored death squads, many of which were organized and trained by the CIA or the US military at the former School of the Americas based at Fort Benning, Georgia. The infamous Battalion 316 of Honduras was an American-trained death squad responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial killings in that country during the 1980s and into the 1990s as well as the kidnapping and torture of thousands of Honduran citizens during the same period. These death squads are beginning to reappear in the wake of a wave of right-wing regimes assuming power throughout Latin America.
The combination of American political and economic pressure through the mechanisms of neocolonialism used to control and systematically under-develop former and present “banana republics,” the International Monetary Fund (IMF), plutocratic regimes increasingly beholden to Washington DC, integrating the violence of both death squads and drug cartels into their crushing of both popular dissent as well as any attempts at economic diversification and stratification help to create the conditions producing the waves of migrants moving towards our southern border. Long before they sought to cross our borders, our borders crossed them.
Long before they sought to cross our borders, our borders crossed them.
Despite the history, the way that the Trump administration has chosen to deal with the current crisis, largely for cheap race-baited political gain, has challenged the God-given rights to migration and asylum, exacerbated the humanitarian crisis at the border, and diminished the standing of the United States internationally. It is critical to understand, however, that just as the policies producing the floods of migrants from parts of Latin America are not uniquely a product of the Trump administration, Trump is not the first racist to occupy the White House. We could mention Richard Nixon, who famously embraced Kevin Philip’s “southern strategy,” to wrest the south from the control of the Democrats; we could mention the KKK-loving, segregationist, Woodrow Wilson; we could mention the slave-driving, genocidal ethnic cleanser Andrew Jackson, as well as others.
What makes Trump unique, as Greg Grandin emphasizes in his latest book, The End of the Myth, is that Trump is a racist who has appeared at a time America is no longer, via conquest or economic domination, expanding her frontiers. With the ensuing erasure of the myth of American exceptionalism, the “American people” can no longer point to our global economic or political domination as the difference between “them” and “us.”
Unable to deflect our nagging national problems, one of the most vexing being the race issue, by looking outward, large numbers of white Americans are turning inward with xenophobic frenzy. That inward turn creates a focus on outsiders who threaten “our” rapidly disappearing “purity.” Hence, the border, symbolized by the wall, becomes not just an indicator of national sovereignty, it becomes a symbol of white identity. A symbol Trump invokes with seldom matched mastery. Vested with the passion emanating from the defense of an embattled race, innocent brown children taken from their mothers and imprisoned in overcrowded, feces-stained gulags become easily dismissed collateral damage.
Generally speaking, the same playbook that has been employed against the Muslim and other immigrant communities, specifically refugees from the Middle East, has been employed against the immigrant community as a whole. In far too many instances, America’s destructive foreign policy leaves helpless populations running to our shores, increasingly to be dehumanized and disregarded again in order to pander to the worst of our domestic propensities.
So we call upon the Muslim community to not only assist in efforts to support our migrant brothers and sisters but lead the way. Get involved in advocacy work, support immigrant justice organizations, join the sanctuary efforts and lend yourself and your wealth in whatever way you can to be at their aid. By the Grace of Allah, we have launched a campaign to reunite as many families as we can. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) said, “Whoever separates a mother from her child, Allah will separate him from his loved ones on the Day of Resurrection.” (Tirmidhi, 1566) We hope that in reuniting families, Allah will reunite us with our beloved ones on the Day of Resurrection, and specifically with the beloved Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) in the highest gardens of Paradise.
Imam Zaid Shakir, Imam, Lighthouse Mosque
Imam Omar Suleiman, Founder & President, Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research
Were Muslim Groups Duped Into Supporting an LGBTQ Rights Petition at the US Supreme Court?
Recently several Muslim groups sent an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court to support LGBTQ rights in employment. These groups argued“sex” as used in the Civil Rights Act should be defined broadly to include more types of discrimination than Congress wrote into the statue.
A little background. Clayton County, Georgia fired Gerald Lynn Bostock. The County alleged Bostock embezzled money, so he was fired. Bostock argues the real reason is that he is gay. Clayton County denied they would fire someone for that reason. Clayton County successfully had the case dismissed saying that even if Bostock is right about everything, the law Bostock filed the lawsuit under does not vindicate his claim. The case is now at the Supreme Court with other similar cases.
The “Muslim” brief argued the word “sex” should mean lots of things, and under the law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), LGBTQ discrimination is already illegal. American law has developed to provide some support for this argument, but there have been divisions in the appellate courts. So this is the exact sort of thing the US Supreme Court exists to decide.
The Involvement Of Muslim Groups
In Supreme Court litigation, parties on both sides marshal amicus briefs (written arguments) and coordinate their efforts to improve the effectiveness of their advocacy, there are over 40 such briefs in the Bostock case. Groups represent constituencies with no direct stake in the immediate dispute but care about the precedent the case would set.
The Muslim groups came in purportedly because they know what it’s like to be victims of discrimination (more on that below). The brief answered an objection to the consequences that could come with an expansive definition of the term “sex” to include gay, lesbian, and transgender persons (in lieu of its conventional use as synonymous with gender, i.e., male/female). In particular, the brief responded to the concern that “sex” being defined as any subjective experience may open up more litigation than was intended by making the argument that religion is a personal experience that courts have no trouble sorting out and that, like faith, courts can define “sex” the same way.
While this may be interesting to some, boring to others, it begs the question: why are Muslim groups involved with this stuff? Muslims are a faith community. If we speak *as Muslims* is it not pertinent to consult with the traditions of the faith tradition known as Islam, like Quran, Hadith and the deep well of scholarly tradition? Is our mere presence in a pluralistic society enough reason to ignore all this and focus on building allies in our mutual desire to create a world free of discrimination?
In July of 2017, the main party to the “Muslim” brief, Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), was expelled from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention bazaar. I was on the Executive Council of the organization at the time but had no role in the decision. The reason: MPV was dedicated to promoting ignorance of Islam among Muslims at the event. The booth had literature claiming haram was good and virtuous. Propaganda distributed at the table either implied haram was not haram or alternately celebrated haram.
For any Muslim organization dedicated to Islam, it is not a difficult decision to expel an organization explicitly dedicated to spreading haram. No Muslim organization, composed of Muslims who fear Allah and dedicate their time to Islam can give space to organizations opposed the faith community’s values and advocates against them in their conferences and events. Allah, in the Quran, tells us:
Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows, and you do not know.
It would be charitable to the point of fraud to characterize MPV as a Muslim organization. That MPV has dedicated itself to promoting ignorance of the religion within the Muslim community is not in serious dispute. The organization’s leader has been all over the anti-Sharia movement.
Discrimination against Muslims is bad, except when it’s good
The brief framed the various organizations’ participation by claiming as Muslims, we know what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. This implies the parties that signed on to the Amicus petition believe discrimination against Muslims is a bad thing. For at least two of the organizations, this is not entirely true.
MPV is an ally of another co-signer of the Amicus petition, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Both have records that show an eagerness to discriminate against Muslims in the national security space. They both applied for CVE grants. Both have supported the claim that Muslims are a national security threat they are somehow equipped to deal with. I have written more extensively about MPAC in the past; mainly, it’s work in Countering Violent Extremism and questionable Zakat practices.
MPAC’s CVE program, called “Safe Spaces,” singled out Muslims as terrorist threats. It purported to address this Muslim threat. In June of 2019, MPAC’s academic partner released an evaluation Safe Spaces and judged it as “not successful” citing the singling out of Muslims, as well as a lack of trust within the Muslim community because of a lack of transparency as reasons why the program was a failure. Despite its legacy of embarrassment and failure, MPAC continues to promote Safe Spaces on its website.
MPV was a vigorous defender of MPAC’s CVE program, Safe Spaces. MPV’s leader has claimed the problem of “radicalism” is because of CAIR, ISNA, and ICNA’s “brand of Islam.”
Law Enforcement Approved Islam
In 2011, former LAPD head of Counter-Terrorism, Michael P. Downing testified during a congressional hearing on “Islamist Radicalization” Downing testified in favor of MPV, stating:
I would just offer that, on the other side of the coin, we should create opportunities for the pure, good part of this, to be in the religion, such as the NGOs. There is an NGO by the name of Ani Zonneveld who does the Muslims for Progressive Values. This is what they say, “Values are guided by 10 principles of Islam, rooted in Islam, including social equality, separation of religion and state, freedom of speech, women’s rights, gay rights, and critical analysis and interpretation.” She and her organization have been trying to get into the prison system to give this literature as written by Islamic academic scholars. So I think there can be more efforts on this front as well.
Downing was central to the LAPD’s “Muslim Mapping” program, defending the “undertaking as a way to help Muslim communities avoid the influence of those who would radicalize Islamic residents and advocate ‘violent, ideologically-based extremism.” MPAC was a supporter of the mapping program, which was later rejected by the city because it was an explicit ethnic profiling program mainstream Muslim and secular civil rights groups opposed. MPAC later claimed it did not support the program, though somehow saw fit to give Downing an award. Downing, since retired, currently serves on MPAC’s Advisory Council.
Ani Zonnevold, the President and Founder of MPV, currently sits on the International Board of Directors for the Raif Badawi Foundation alongside Maajid Nawaz and Zuhdi Jasser.
MPV has also been open about both working for CVE and funding from a non-Muslim source, the Human Rights Campaign, and other groups with agendas to reform the religion of Islam. It’s hard not to see it as an astroturf organization.
Muslim Groups Were Taken for a Ride
Unfortunately, Muslim nonprofit organizations are often unsophisticated when it comes to signing documents other groups write. Some are not even capable of piecing together the fact that an astroturf organization opposed to Islam, the religious tradition, was recruiting them to sign something.
There are many Muslims sympathetic to the LGBTQ community while understanding the limits of halal and haram. Not everyone who signed the brief came to this with the same bad faith as an MPV, which is hostile to the religion of Islam itself. Muslims generally don’t organize out of hostility to Islam. This only appears to be happening because of astroturfing in the Muslim community. Unfortunately, it was way too easy to bamboozle well-meaning Muslim groups.
Muslims are a faith community. MPV told the groups Islam did not matter in their argument when the precise reason they were recruited to weigh in on the case was that they are Muslim. Sadly, it was a successful con. Issues like the definition of sex are not divorced from Islamic concerns. We have Islamic inheritance and rules for family relations where definitions of words are relevant. Indeed, our religious freedoms in ample part rest on our ability to define the meaning of words, like Muslim, fahisha, zakat, daughter, and Sharia. Separate, open-ended definitions with the force of law may have implications for religious freedom for Muslims and others because it goes to defining a word across different statutes, bey0nd the civil rights act. There would be fewer concerns if LGBT rights were simply added as a distinct category under the Civil Rights Act while respecting religious freedom under the constitution.
Do Your Homework
Muslim organizations should do an analysis of religious freedom implications for Muslims and people of other faiths before signing on to statements and briefs. A board member of MPV drafted the “Muslim” Brief, and his law firm recruited Muslim nonprofit organizations to sign on. CAIR Oklahoma, which signed up for this brief, made a mistake (hey, it happens). CAIR Oklahoma’s inclusion is notable. This chapter successfully challenged the anti-Sharia “Save our State” law that would have banned Muslims from drafting Islamic Wills. Ironically, CAIR Oklahoma’s unwitting advocacy at the Supreme Court could work against that critical result. For an anti-Sharia group like MPV, this is fine. It is not fine for a group like CAIR.
CAIR Oklahoma is beefing up their process for signing on to Amicus Briefs in the future. No other CAIR chapter signed on to the brief, which was prudent. CAIR chapters are mostly independent organizations seemingly free to do whatever they want. CAIR, as a national organization needs to make sure all its affiliates are sailing in the same direction. They have been unsuccessful with this in the past several years. CAIR should make sure their local chapters know about astroturf outfits and charlatans trying to get them to sign things. They should protect their “America’s largest Islamic Civil Liberties Group” brand.
Muslim Leaders Should Stand Strong
American Muslims all have friends, business associates and coworkers, and family members who do things that violate Islamic norms all the time. We live in an inclusive society where we respect each other’s differences. Everyone is entitled to dignity and fair treatment. No national Muslim groups are calling for employment discrimination against anyone, nor should they.
However, part of being Muslim is understanding limits that Allah placed on us. That means we cannot promote haram or help anyone do something haram. Muslim groups do not need to support causes that may be detrimental to our interests. Our spaces do not need to be areas where we have our religion mocked and derided. Other people have the freedom to do this in their own spaces in their own time.
Some Muslim leaders are afraid of being called names unless they recite certain words or invite particular speakers. You will never please people who hate Islam unless you believe as they do. Muslims only matter if Islam matters.
If you are a leader of Muslims, you must know the limits Allah has placed on you. Understand the trust people have placed in you. Don’t allow anyone to bully or con you into violating those limits.
Note: Special thanks to Mobeen Vaid.
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