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How the Progressive Left Wants to Change Islam in America

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By Ismail Royer

Last year, Christian conservatives were outraged when Wikileaks released documents revealing that a foundation linked to billionaire George Soros had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in what the foundation described as a “long-term project of shifting the priorities of the US Catholic church” toward progressive causes and away from socially conservative positions. “It’s exciting to see this long-term process is now underway,” gushed a report on the effort by the group, the Open Society Foundation (OSF).

No one seems to have noticed that the same documents released by Wikileaks describing OSF’s plan to socially engineer Catholicism also reveal that the group has invested heavily in minimizing the religious nature of American Muslim identity and molding it into a progressive ethnic identity. In the same document in which the OSF discusses supporting the “media, framing, and public opinion activities” of liberal Catholic groups in order to “shift national paradigms and priorities,” it also describes its “creation” of organizations with the aim of “creating” Muslim, Arab, and South Asian (“MASA”) leadership. OSF says its

post 9/11 strategy of investing to create the first ever set of organizations designed to create MASA leadership and institutions has borne some fruit. These groups are growing in effectiveness, but lack deep relationships on the ground and are still newcomers to the national civil rights community. This effort, therefore, is a foundation-led initiative to further their institutional strength and expand their influence and capacity.

In “creating” Muslim organizations and leaders and “expanding their influence,” the key goals of the Soros-linked foundations are: reframing the community as primarily a racial or ethnic identity group rather than as a religious group; emphasizing the community’s support for Democrat-friendly political issues; and weakening the community’s traditional religious teachings such as defined gender roles and the prohibition on same-sex sexual relations.

To be clear, fair treatment for all regardless of race is a goal squarely within the concern of mainstream Islam, and it is one of the qualities of this religion that has attracted millions of Western converts. Likewise, although Islam forbids sexual relations between individuals of the same sex, it does not condemn individuals because of their inner desires and temptations, and the orthodox Sunni community in America has much work to do in ministering to Muslims who may be attracted to those of the same sex and helping them to cope with those temptations. Nor is it appropriate for Muslims to treat openly homosexual individuals harshly in our interpersonal relations, or discriminate against them in matters that would not require us to compromise our faith.

In contrast, the agenda of the progressive left foundations and nonprofit groups described herein is to refashion Islam as a secular identity group centered on ethnic “brownness,” and whose moral compass is the progressive wing of the Democratic party rather than Islamic religious sources. The ideological hook for the changes they wish to effect in the American Muslim community is “solidarity.” The narrative is that since 9/11, and particularly in the Trump era, American Muslims have been increasingly under attack. Progressives want to pigeonhole Muslims as “people of color” — as if being Muslim had something intrinsically to do with race. As the story goes, since non-Muslim people of color and “the LGBTQ community” are also under attack, Muslims should unite in solidarity under the far-left umbrella to fight against the racist, Islamophobic, homophobic system. As explained by the Emergent Fund, a progressive grant-making organization that funds American Muslim groups (as well as something called the “Transgender Gender-Variant Intersex Justice Project”):

The 2016 election results present immediate threats to a wide range of communities who were belittled, criminalized and attacked during the presidential campaign – immigrants, women, Muslim and Arab-American communities, Black people, LGBTQ communities, and all people of color…We will provide resources to defend against what’s coming and to develop innovative strategies to transform our country.

Similarly, the Proteus Fund, a grant-making organization funded by Soros and referenced in the Wikileaks documents as a key player in the effort to “create” Muslim leadership, states that it

…has moved towards an intersectional, racial justice lens to our work with Muslim, Arab, and South Asian (MASA) communities. Our grantmaking, programming, and technical assistance are focused increasingly on how MASA and allied communities, including communities of color, Latinx communities, immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, and others, have been systematically targeted by biased and discriminatory portrayals and/or policies instituted through legislation, the criminal justice system, or media.

Also in this vein, Solidarity is This, one of the groups created by the OSF as part of its Muslim initiative, asserts that “the laws, practices, and institutions in the United States” have led to “patriarchal and heteronormative policies that endanger the lives of women, queer people, and transgendered individuals; and to laws and attitudes that target immigrants, refugees, and Muslim, South Asian, and Arab communities.” Precisely why Muslims should oppose “heteronormative policies” is not explained.

Progressive foundations do not merely want to build solidarity between American Muslims and other victim-identity groups; they also want to nudge Muslim attitudes towards the view that same-sex relations are as inherently moral and natural as traditional marriage between a man and woman. The Arcus Foundation and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation have begun pouring money into the Muslim community to sway attitudes towards approval of same-sex marriage. These groups fund Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), whose slogan is: “Our Gender is Human, Our Orientation is Love.” This funding allows MPV to, for example, advocate at UN conferences for “overcoming authoritarian readings of holy books.” MPV is a project of the Human Rights Campaign, which describes itself as “the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans.”  “Quietly and diligently,” says MPV, “we have been building our progressive community, one city at a time, and now one country at a time.” Quietly, that is, until recently: MPV and HRC were at the center of controversy at the most recent Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention when ISNA officials asked them to vacate the booth they had rented in the convention bazaar for promoting values contrary to Islam. MPV issued a press release “calling out” ISNA for its “intolerance.”

Arcus also funds the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, which in turn sponsors the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, or MASGD (“pronounced like ‘masjid,’” the group advises). MASGD says it serves “a community whose members exist at the intersections of multiple oppressed identities,” and that it “aim[s] to increase the acceptance of gender and sexual diversity within Muslim communities.” Arcus has also given funding to Dr. Amina Wadud, recently embroiled in controversy for calling the Prophet Ibrahim a “deadbeat dad,” for “an ambitious three-year effort to develop commentary on what the most influential Islamic texts say about homosexuality, with the aim of disrupting the connections between more conservative interpretations and discriminatory practices.”

“Who’s Sticking Up for Muslim Americans At a Very Scary Moment?” asked the online journal Inside Philanthropy in 2015. Its answer: Proteus, the Soros-funded group. American Muslims too have noticed the support from progressive foundations. They’ve noticed the very real help from liberal groups like the ACLU, and they’ve also noticed the millions of dollars poured into anti-Muslim initiatives from segments of the political right. Thus it is perhaps understandable that mainstream American Muslim organizations would work with progressives and accept funding from them; in many cases, it may even make sense to do so. I myself was represented by the ACLU in a religious freedom lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

But American Muslims need to understand that funding from Proteus, Arcus, and so on is given pursuant to the left’s broader vision of refashioning Islam into an ethnic identity and social justice ideology and absorbing it into the progressive movement. At present, the progressive left does not view its alliance with Muslims as a marriage of equals, as a coalition that works together on issues of common concern but whose members respect their disagreement in other areas. Rather, as MVP proved by trying to spread teachings contrary to mainstream Sunni Islam at an ISNA convention and then aggressively “calling out” ISNA when it objected, the progressive left’s tolerance of Muslims’ social conservatism is temporary and strategic, and they will demand compliance with their moral code if and when they deem appropriate.

The situation of Muslims in America is indeed scary: an openly hostile man occupies the White House, well-funded anti-Muslim propagandists are working overtime, terrorists target the West in an effort to turn public opinion against us, and hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. Our flattering friends on the left stand with us, while some of them work to mold Islam into something more to their liking. Our challenge in the face of all this is to keep our nerve: for knowledge of right and wrong, American Muslims must look not to expediency or the latest political trends but to the book of Allah, the Sunnah of his Prophet, and the insight of our qualified scholars. We must cooperate with anyone–left, right, or center–for Allah’s sake and in the pursuit of the common good, for ourselves and for our non-Muslim neighbors. But we must have the confidence to resist the temptation to betray eternal truths for temporary and illusory gains. With this moral clarity, we will enter alliances from a position of moral strength and leadership. Without it, we risk losing what makes us Muslims in the first place.

Ismail Royer is Research and Program Associate at the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom (CIRF). The views expressed here are his own and not those of CIRF. Read his blog, agoodtree.net, and follow him on Twitter @_ismailroyer

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    HardTruth

    September 20, 2017 at 1:26 PM

    According to Pew’s 2017 study, 60% of young American-born Muslims believe homosexuality should be accepted by society. 55% believe that traditional interpretations of Islam need to change.

    Most American Muslims, especially those born here (like me) are liberal, because those values make sense to us, not because of some shadowy funding by Soros.

    Homosexuality is obviously a sin, but we have no issues with people choosing to engage in those activities. That’s there business, I have no interest in legislating against their freedom.

    If conservative Muslims (most of whom are old and/or not born in America) have a problem with this live and let live attitude (to you your way, and to me mine), they are free to back to Pakistan, or Iran, or Saudi, places where you will be beaten, jailed, or killed, for not conforming to a cleric’s conservative views on Islam.

    For most American Muslims, we prefer the freedom in America. Where we are free to practice Islam as conservatively or liberally as we want, as long as that doesn’t infringe on the rights of other communities to live their lives as they see fit.

    The liberalization of Islam in America has happened, and not from some shadow organization, but from Muslims like me who look at how Islam is practiced in the Middle-East, and look at it here, and know which we prefer.

    • Avatar

      Ismail Royer

      September 20, 2017 at 5:08 PM

      Thank you for your well thought out comment. You might be surprised to learn that, as someone who has lived and travelled extensively in Muslim and non-Muslim countries, I strongly agree with what you wrote in nearly every aspect–but not in all aspects. One important way in which I agree with you is in my belief that I am blessed to have been born in a land with the religious freedom that I believe Islam intends to preserve, but which has been lost in the Muslim world, for various reasons. I also agree with you that homosexuality is a sin. But for the far-left groups who seek to mold Muslim opinion, our belief that homosexuality is a sin is absolutely intolerable. In fact, what the far left doesn’t understand, and what I am trying to warn about in this article, is that religious freedom includes the freedom to believe that certain behavior is immoral in God’s eyes and harmful to families and society. On the contrary, it is part of their agenda that every individual will abandon “outdated” religious morality for the morality of the sexual revolution. If the progressive left cannot convince you of that, then they will try to convince your children. This issue is important enough that we should at least be having this conversation, so again I appreciate your respectful and thoughtful comments. –Ismail Royer

      • Avatar

        khalid

        November 9, 2017 at 3:00 PM

        Of course muslims are free to believe homosexuality is a sin, but they seem to demand that this belief be respected. You’re free from violence and state prosecution not from criticism. But we will call you out on your homophobia, we will demonstrate against you and we will protest your religion for being intolerant. We also have rights to our beliefs. My belief is your religion is silly superstition that is used way too often to discriminate against other people. We do wish muslims would make room for our LGBT members but if not then we will be intolerant to your intolerance. I’m glad people like you keep speaking up on these topics because of a lot of muslims are quiet so they can escape the criticism. Speak louder so your religion is revealed for what it is – a regressive ideology that belongs in seventh century Arabia not the 21st century West.

        Also it’s ridiculous that muslims move to the West and then complain that their beliefs aren’t being accepted and that they’re being conditioned by the West and then simultaneously try and convince us that they are well integrated. Islamophobia is a direct product of how muslims act and behave. That’s why there is no hinduphobia. I just feel sorry for those nominal and liberal muslims who are trying to get on with everybody but are being dragged into this mess by people who can’t seem to adapt to changing times. Go live on an island with other people like you, stop pestering the developed world with this nonsense.

  2. Avatar

    HardTruth

    September 20, 2017 at 9:10 PM

    ISMAIL ROYER,

    You are ascribing positions to liberals that they do not hold.

    Liberals don’t care if Muslims like homosexuality or not. If we think its moral or not. They only care that we won’t use our personal beliefs as a means to restrict the freedom of those who don’t share our views (like fundamentalist Christians attempt to do).

    That’s why most Muslims in America support gay-marriage. Not because we love gay stuff, but because we recognize the rights of people shouldn’t be restricted just because we don’t approve of their personal lifestyle.

    And standing up for these groups pays dividends. When we support their right to gay-marriage, they (and their numerous allies) support our right to build mosques and wear hijab.

    That’s why Muslims, the left, and various minority groups, are natural allies in America. We recognize that together, we can resist the persecution and curtailing of our freedom that the Right-Wing wants to impose.

    • Avatar

      Ismail Royer

      September 20, 2017 at 11:05 PM

      Mr. “Hard Truth”:

      Thank you for your reply, and thank you for your willingness to have this conversation.

      Now, you say that the progressive left movement is not bothered that mainstream Sunni Islam holds same-sex sexual activity to be a sin. In fact, they are deeply bothered by this, and, as I described in my article, they are working hard to change it. So for example, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which bills itself as the largest advocate for the acceptance of homosexuality in the United States, criticized ISNA for not including “queer” and “transgender” programming” at its 2015 convention. Then, when ISNA balked at HRC spreading material advocating the acceptance of homosexual sexual activity in Islam at its 2017 convention, HRC went straight to an extreme right-wing website, the American Spectator, to smear convention attendees who objected as “salafis.” (The right-wing piece HRC helped to create is here: https://spectator.org/pro-lgbt-muslim-group-says-it-was-kicked-out-of-muslim-conference-where-linda-sarsour-spoke/.)

      So why is this liberal group trying to dictate what Muslims teach at their conventions? Why is HRC’s first instinct to punish Sunni Muslims by placing a hit piece with an anti-Muslim far right website the moment Muslims don’t conform to their extreme left version of morality?

      Furthermore, you say that “standing up for these groups pays dividends. When we support their right to gay-marriage, they (and their numerous allies) support our right to build mosques and wear hijab.”

      But this is precisely the amoral, Machiavellian calculus that I’m warning about in my article. We must be clear, first and foremost, that there is no such thing as a right to gay marriage, nor is there such a thing as gay marriage: in this case, there is only illicit sexual relations between two individuals of the same sex. If that’s not clear to you, then see: https://muslimmatters.org/2015/07/20/debating-homosexuality/

      So for Muslims to betray the timeless, noble morality our Prophet (SWS) taught us by trading it for political acceptance would be like those whom the Quran describes threw their revealed book behind their backs: “they bartered it for a small price: what a bad bargain they made!” Aali Imraan 187.

      I also wonder, if the progressive left is so concerned with principles and doing the right thing, why would they only support building mosques and wearing hijab if Muslims support same-sex marriage? Shouldn’t they support those things even if our conscience prohibits us from throwing our endorsement behind same-sex sexual relations?

      Two other important points: (1) there are liberal groups like the ACLU and Public Citizen (Ralph Nader’s group) who help Muslims–and anyone–without regard to what our views are, unlike HRC, Soros-aligned groups, and so on; (2) conservatives who you deride as “Christian fundamentalists” like the Becket Fund, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Catholic Church, the Witherspoon Institute, and the Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) have also been very strong in supporting Muslim religious rights because they recognize our shared family values–and they support us despite Muslim organizations’ leaning toward the progressive left under the influences I discuss in the article.

      Finally, be aware that the very same foundation that funds the HRC front group Muslims for Progressive Values, the Arcus foundation, poured millions of dollars into a successful effort to get the United Methodist Church to change its official position on homosexual activity. How did they do it? By funding pro-gay front groups, just as Arcus, Soros, and others are doing with the Muslims. See: https://goodnewsmag.org/2012/01/outsider-influence-over-homosexuality-at-general-conference

      And these same foundations won’t stop until they achieve the same results with American Muslims that they’ve achieved with Methodists and Catholics in the United States–and they’re not even done with those denominations yet.

      I believe that these sorts of shenanigans are exceedingly manipulative and immoral, and that Muslims deserve to know about it. Don’t you?

      –Ismail Royer

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      September 21, 2017 at 12:06 AM

      Funny! You support a cause knowing its a sin because you don’t want to “restrict” people who don’t share “our views”. May I ask who’s going to be your Judge in the Aakhirah? The LGBT community probably? And they gonna send you to Jannah for supporting them? Lol!

      “And standing up for these groups pays dividends. When we support their right to gay-marriage, they (and their numerous allies) support our right to build mosques and wear hijab.”
      Shame on what the people have been reduced to in the name of “tolerance” and “liberation”. You support evil because it pays you? And you think that “preserves” Islam? May Allah mend those who try to “adjust” Islam/muslims to the evil the world has been sprinting towards.

  3. Avatar

    HardTruth

    September 21, 2017 at 1:01 AM

    You sound like one of those radicals who wants to force people to follow your brand of Islam, whether they are liberal or conservative, Muslim or non-Muslim.

    The Muslim World has plenty of countries and groups just like that. Sure, they are oppressive, backward, miserable hell-holes that Muslims are desperately fleeing to try and get to the secular West, but by all means.

    If you feel the need to police peoples lives, who they sleep with, what they drink, how they dress, what they say/think, and want to punish people who offend your sensibilities, you are free to move to Pakistan, Saudi, Iran etc.

    The majority of Muslims in America are liberal, and enjoy being able to practice Islam as we see fit, whether its in a Burkha or Bikini.

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      September 21, 2017 at 3:40 AM

      This is my first time talking to the new “brand” of muslims emerging these days – make-islam-look-good-to-people-by-hook-or-crook.
      Sorry but that isn’t needed at all. Allah is the protector of Deen. Islam is Already great and there is no need WHATSOEVER to stoop it down to suit the needs(evils) of ever-changing world. Today, its LGBT rights, tomorrow it’ll be drugs and then slavery and then some other crap. Are you saying you’ll keep providing your valuable “support” to each of these causes so as to be called the moderate-and-liberal-muslim?

      “Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islam), enjoining GOOD and forbidding EVIL. And it is they who are the successful” [Aal ‘Imraan 3:104]

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      September 21, 2017 at 3:51 AM

      If you feel the need to police peoples lives, who they sleep with, what they drink, how they dress, what they say/think, and want to punish people who offend your sensibilities, you are free to move to Pakistan, Saudi, Iran etc.

      No brother, certainly not!
      There is no need whatsoever to “police” anyone. Nor should you interfere with one’s wishes BUT that doesNOT mean I agree to my neighbor sleeping with someone else, or my friend taking drugs or my halaqa friend leaving her hijab. It doesNOT mean I find a twisted reason of letting them sin and call it liberation. It doesNOT also mean I shut up and let the world commit atrocities and agree to everything they do.
      I DONOT have a right to enforce but I DO have a right to call the right Right and wrong Wrong. I DO have a right to not agree with every fancy evil the world invents.
      Bro, that is where lies the difference :) Let’s be who we are even when the current flows against us.

  4. Avatar

    Unimpressed

    September 21, 2017 at 2:40 AM

    “Hard truth,” you ought to be named “soft lies.” Your gross overreaction to simple FACTS brought up by Ismail Royer shows that you are deluded and triggered far left extremist. You have no counter arguments, just whining. Your arrogance and ignorance are laughable. You sound like a nutter with your nonsense about “old men who are conservative and need to go back to Pakistan etc.” The nonsense about homosexuality and the bikini clearly demonstrate you have no knowledge of Islam. The majority of Muslim Americans are NOT liberal despite the loud noise made by well financed opportunists who claim to speak for Muslims. You speak for no one but yourself. This is not the first time Islam has been targeted for “change” to conform it with kufr. It failed in the past and inshallah it will fail again. Your failed generation will be rightly looked at as munafiqs who sold out the Deen for political expediency. The only “dividends” you’ll get is kufr.
    Muslims will never compromise our Deen.

  5. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    September 21, 2017 at 10:05 AM

    Wow, Hard Truth. Scary. Your discourse, conceptual framework, categories, etc. bear no trace of Islamic ideas and values. Have you ever studied the religion beyond the basics? It’s disheartening to see someone so bought into current discourse, with no critical distance whatsoever. You don’t see the emptiness of cliches like “not policing what people want to do privately,” etc.? All law is coercive, the law always “polices” somethings and not others. The question about *what* can rightfully be policed and not has a lot to do with one’s overall ethical system, morals, etc.

    Allah in the Qur’an not only forbids zina, to take one example, as a sin, but actually criminalizes it by instituting a penalty to be carried out by the public authorities (see Surat al-Nur, 24:2). Clearly Allah does not consider sexual conduct to be a purely “private” affair with no measurable public consequences. How do you square that with your facile notion of “not telling people how to live their lives” or “policing what people want to do”?

    Do you hold this attitude for the West only, because it is not Muslim and officially secular, or do you hold these Western, liberal, secular values to be universal? In other words, do you believe governments in the Muslim world are under a moral obligation to endorse same-sex marriage in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Malaysia, etc. in the name of “non-discrimination,” “freedom,” and “equality,” or do you hold that they have the moral duty to protect through the law Allah’s norms and laws regarding things He has legislated for the Muslim community?

  6. Avatar

    Jibreel

    September 22, 2017 at 11:00 PM

    I’m a white convert to Islam of almost 14 years. I was the most active member in my community for a very long time. Now the liberal media has managed to brainwash my beloved community into shifting their anger away from “the kuffar” or “the yahood” and onto anyone with white skin. Now I am personally to blame for their problem, with 99% of their conversations about how my community is an “oppressor” and that it is impossible to be racist to white people. One of my white convert friends posted on an MSA facebook site that Islamophobia was really bad, and one of the kids commented “what the f— do you know about Islamophobia, you’re white no one will do anything to you.” This was a guy who family shut him out and abused him when he converted. It’s almost as if today’s Muslims see their Islam as some sort of birthright, as if they are the chosen people and white people are the kuffar. These SJW Muslims are generally non-practicing, full of anger, and are ready to yell and scream at any white person who enters a masjid. Myself, I can handle my life Al Hamdulillah, I will be ok, I have several friends who will support me but now when one someone converts I think to myself “I give him two weeks.”

  7. Avatar

    AJF

    September 23, 2017 at 5:46 PM

    Muslims are traditionally from honor-shame cultures, with a focus on outward conformity to behavioral norms for the sake of communal integrity.

    The Christian West is traditionally a guilt society, with emphasis on inward beliefs manifested in outward behavior for the sake of individual personal integrity.

    Muslims are now entering guilt societies in the West. They are having children who are more influenced by guilt culture than by shame culture.

    One byproduct of guilt culture is that the accusation of hypocrisy looms large.

    It is a serious matter to claim that you want to demand tolerance for your(Muslim)self, and then turn around and deny tolerance to someone else, like gay people.

    If there is one thing Soros knows how to do, it is how to use guilt and accusations of hypocrisy to manipulate people to do things.

    Muslim young people are easy pickings. Rejected by their natural allies on the conservative right, they have been thrown into the arms of the “tolerant” progressive Left.

    Leftists only ask that Muslims not be hypocritical about their desire for tolerance and extend that tolerance to all oppressed groups, like any good member of a guilt culture would do.

    We all know the consequences if Muslims refuse the entreaties of the Leftists. They will be spat out with contempt and join the ranks of the deplorables, most of whom deplore Muslims. That will constitute another (final) rejection for young Muslims that they would find nearly unbearable.

  8. Avatar

    tib

    September 24, 2017 at 12:31 PM

    I honestly tuned out the second Soros was mentioned.

    I get so tired of prattling on and on about homosexuality. If it doesn’t effect you: let it be.

    But be cognizant off reality: the gay community is not with muslims. Everyone got egg on their face when it turned out that Mateen guy was a heavily closeted self-loathing homosexual lashing out on those pretenses. Even Her Majesty herself was immediately calling for super increased surveilance and opinion molding endeavors.

  9. Avatar

    Inqiyaad

    September 24, 2017 at 11:41 PM

    Very pertinent and insightful! It is uplifting to see the growing efforts at warning about the impact of leftist ideologies on the trajectory of Western Muslim’s state of affairs, and more importantly the impact on their state of Iman.

    I couldn’t agree more with you that attempts are being made to fashion Muslim identity centered on ethnic “brownness” and secular ideals. However, what has been missing is discussion about the prologue to the current state of affairs. Specifically, the attempts at molding the “American (Western) Muslim” mindset to see themselves as an entity separate from the broader Ummah; based on nationality and domicile in “Western” lands. The egocentric nature and sense of superiority displayed in this discourse is definitely problematic; but that is a discussion for another day!

    More relevant to our current discussion are the exemptions attributed by “Western Muslims” to themselves based on residence in “modern” societies, in contrast to the eastern (Muslim) societies which are still attached to anachronistic ideals and defunct culture. Then, it’s only a matter of time (in more than one way) before people start seeing demands for “progress” from the “progressive” left as reasonable. After all, “maqasid” (combined with whimsical and ever transforming standards of justice and well-being) or just plain “different time and place” arguments were mainstreamed and rendered as cornerstones of Shariah (at the expense of primary textual sources) to build “American (Western) Muslim” identity; never mind the mutilation of our Islam that ensued. Will someone display even a semblance of responsibility for opening the floodgates? Rather, even as we see these floodgates opening, the cats (yes, cats!) are still nibbling away at the base of the dam itself!

    “Brown culture is holding us down” vs “White injustice is holding us down”, is there any degree of difference between centering community identity on any one these two battle cries? For the most part, no! To me these both are two ugly sides of the same coin, but the severing of ties (with parents and their generation) makes the first cry just a tad bit worse. Please don’t get me wrong; I too was repulsed by the recent ad hominem directed against you by a certain “not in peace-always hating” person who is incapable of even concealing hypocrisy. But, overall, the preponderant theme has been to drive identity based on antagonism to brown culture rather than one based on celebration of “brownness”. Regardless, I agree that the need of the hour is to reset the fulcrum of our discourse based on the Pleasure of Allah; nothing less than that will suffice!

    May Allah bless you to continue the good work and nurture the good tree!

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#Current Affairs

Questions About My Political Activism | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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Imam Omar Suleiman activism

Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem,

I thank Allah for the blessing of in person interactions. The simple joy of meeting your brother and sister in the Masjid with a smile and salaam that removes the shaytan from our hearts. The ability to ask questions clearly and immediately bury hatchets (which some forgo for destructive emails and WhatsApp threads even with their neighbors). I’m blessed to live in the incredible Valley Ranch Islamic Center community where I serve as Resident Scholar in a voluntary capacity. Members of my Masjid and the Dallas community can approach me and ask me anything about something I’ve said or something being said about me, and we walk away as brothers and sisters. I had the same blessing in New Orleans where I served as full-time Imam for 6 years. And I am blessed to meet people around the country and around the world that I love for Allah. Those are lifelong bonds that I pray continue in the hereafter under Allah’s shade. 

I also thank Allah for the online world that allows people to connect in good when otherwise they would not have been able to benefit. Without social media and expanding ways of technology, good content and avenues for charity would be far more limited. I’m grateful for all of you that have connected with me and prayed for me over the years. I don’t want to take away from any of that. With that being said, the online world does of course have its pitfalls. There can be a lack of mercy and husn al dhann (good assumptions) with one another, and widespread gossip and slander. It’s also uniquely destructive to those who garner large followings even due to good reasons. It’s very easy to praise someone you only know through videos and pictures, as it is to tear them down. Allah has tested some of us with fame through this machine, and it is a mighty test. I pray that Allah allows all of the people that I’ve been blessed to benefit in this world to be witnesses for me on the day of judgment, and that He not shame me or raise me amongst the hypocrites who didn’t practice what they preached. 

As the great sage Imam Ibn Al Jawzee (ra) said, “Know that if people are impressed with you, in reality they are impressed with the beauty of Allah’s covering of your sins.” It is very easy to deceive and be deceived through a screen. I pray that Allah allow any unjust critiques that I receive to be an expiation for all the undue praise I receive. People are usually imbalanced in their love and hate. The test is whether that love stops you from correcting your brother when he is wrong, or that hate that causes you to swerve from justice.

With that introduction, I’d like to address questions about my political positions and affiliations. Why? Because I do believe in accountability and transparency. Deceptive voices should be ignored, concerned ones shouldn’t. Certainly, there are falsehoods and hit pieces that often are disguised as legitimate critiques. But there are also legitimate critiques and/or requests for clarification. Over the past several years, I have had both types forwarded to me. I am not concerned with those who use deception to falsely portray me or my work. I am concerned about those who genuinely have questions, and don’t have them answered. I have sought to clarify my own political positions through my work on numerous occasions such as here, here, and here. I will quote some of that content here. But I hope this will be a thorough article that can be referenced any time in the future when questions about who I am and what I represent are brought up. Moreover, I hope it can be a conversation starter about what types of political frameworks are actually beneficial to the community.

The Foundation and Legitimate Differences

I believe that the Quran and Sunnah should be the foundation for everything that we do, public and private. That means never exceeding their boundaries, and also manifesting their calls. Many people forget the latter, and only focus on the former. If the only time the Quran and Sunnah are invoked in discussions of activism and justice is to shut down something deemed illegitimate or impermissible, we suggest that our divine sources have stagnated and are unable to converse with the world around us today. I believe in amplifying the beautiful solutions from our religion to confront the ugly realities of the climate around us. The Deen is rich and beautiful. The Seerah is an incredible guide to everything in life. Through Yaqeen Institute, I had the blessing of doing the 40 on justice series that spanned for over a year and a half where I hoped to articulate a Sunnah-lens to the issues around us. My goal is to now develop that into a book. I believe the person and message of the Prophet (saw) speaks to us as clearly now as it did in the year 620, and that everything we do should be in accordance with it.

There can be reasonable debate about the Sunnah and how it’s lived in certain aspects around us. Some use Hudaybiya to justify every form of engagement and say things like, “if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) were alive, he would do this.” I don’t want to project anything on the Prophet (saw). My attempt is to draw from his Sunnah, not legitimize my shahawat. There are areas where the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) showed compromise, but he never lost clarity. While the treaty of Hudaybiya had to omit “Al Rahman Al Raheem” from the name of Allah, and “RasulAllah” from the name of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), none of the companions were confused about their realities.

The legitimate debates around how to truly implement the Sunnah today largely emanate from what aspects of the Prophetic call are it’s defining features, and what our priorities and timelines, political or otherwise, should be. Tawheed is the foundation and primary basis for it all. As for what aspects of the call are defining features, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sent us a mercy to the worlds, defined his mission as perfection of character, said that Allah loves gentleness in all of His affairs, and was revolutionary in his compassion to everything around him. That doesn’t mean he didn’t at times get angry or use power to eliminate evil. He was not limited by his mercy, but always enhanced by it.

As for priorities and timelines, even the companions frequently differed. There are examples from the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and after. During Hudaybiya, Ali (ra) did not want to erase from the treaty what the Quraysh wanted him to. Omar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) wanted to proceed forth to Makkah that very moment. The companions found themselves unwilling to accept that they would have to turn back. Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) saw things the way the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw them. Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) advised the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in those difficult times how to get everyone on the same page despite those strong feelings.

The debates about this were deep in many aspects of Fiqh (jurisprudence) after the death of the Prophet (saw), none so more than regarding political issues. We know the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to seek both justice and stability. But at what point and at what cost is it permissible to challenge the power structure? No one was ambiguous about tyranny, but they differed greatly as to how to challenge it. In the first massive fitna to engulf the community, the painful debate over the assassination of Uthman  put Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) on the defensive about whether or not he was interested in pursuing his killers in the first place. He was of course, but believed in stabilizing the Khilafa before pursuing the assassins to not cause more bloodshed. When Omar Ibn AbdulAzeez (ra) who pushed legendary reforms in his 2 year Khilafa was questioned by his son about some of the things he wasn’t pursuing, he responded, “Oh my son, do you want me to try to compel them upon the religion all at once, so that they abandon it all at once?”

My work politically revolves around eliminating suffering, domestically and abroad. This shapes how I view militarism, poverty, policing, mass incarceration, environmental issues, healthcare, immigration, and torture. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “find me amongst the oppressed. Are you given aid and support by Allah except by how you treat your most vulnerable?” I believe that we as Muslims, especially those who claim orthodoxy, should assert ourselves in these areas. This doesn’t mean that I think this is the only area in which Muslims should be active. Different people should work in different areas of good, and not undermine one another. Good efforts should be complementary to each other. My background suits this particular role. I grew up with deeply humanitarian parents, worked as a field coordinator in disaster relief, and feel strongly moved towards these causes. While most came to know me through Islamic lectures, I have never not been involved in these things. Fighting exploitation and oppression are part and parcel of our religious identity. Not only should Muslims be present in these areas, they should be leading the way. And that’s not because it’s good political strategy or public relations, but because it’s scriptural imperative.

I’m also concerned with Religious Freedom and think we should assert our right as a Muslim community, as should other communities, to live out our faith unhindered, and our institutions un-harassed. Conservatives tend to leave Muslims out in their calls and lace them with other forms of bigotry we can’t stomach, and liberals often alienate religious communities like Orthodox Jews, Black Churches, Muslims, etc. while claiming to be for pluralism and inclusivity.

I cannot in good conscience support anything that is opposed to the Sunnah, even as a matter of political expediency. I believe in working together with communities on things we agree upon, and learning to respectfully coexist with things we don’t agree upon. On such affairs, I maintain political neutrality with religious clarity and relationship building that allows us to have these hard discussions as human beings seeking to reduce societal tension and promote the common good. I use multi-faith work as a blueprint for this. If people can harmoniously coexist despite strong beliefs about God, purpose, salvation, and scripture, surely they can learn to coexist on political issues that are of far lesser consequence to them in their worldviews. 

All of this warrants discussion on priorities, pragmatism, gradualism, and political programs. As Muslims, we should have vibrant disagreements that start off with: 1. What Allah and the Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) deem as good is good, and what they deem as bad is bad. 2. People can disagree on how to apply those realities to the world around us without obscuring the lawful and the prohibited. 3. People should maintain good assumptions about one another and not accuse their intentions when they disagree. 

At the end of the day, these are largely areas of Ijtihad and we’re all on the same team.

Pictures and Associations

I rarely request anyone to take pictures with me, but I never turn them down. I have my reasons for that. It is primarily a personal decision I formed after going to the funeral of Muhammad Ali (may Allah have mercy on him) in Louisville. I was deeply moved by how everyone from the shuttle driver, to the hotel clerk, to the gas station employees, etc. had a story about meeting him. He never turned down a request, and that meant something to people. My colleagues and I differ on this issue. On one hand, we don’t want to feed celebrity culture. On the other hand, we don’t want to disappoint, hurt, or leave people feeling slighted. This is where I’m at on this, and I don’t think I have it in me to say no to someone who asks for a picture. 

My “associations” are widespread because I engage numerous spaces. I get invited to conferences and campuses, mosques and festivals. Anywhere I go, I try to be courteous to people and that should not mean an endorsement of all that they do or stand for. I do not believe appearing in a picture with someone or in a common space is me promoting them, or even them promoting me. 

Guilt by association is the most deceitful way of targeting someone. It’s what the Khawarij do. It’s also what Islamophobes have been doing to take down every Muslim leader in the community since 9/11. They draw the association as wide as possible, then associate you with every position through that association making it impossible to defend yourself.

My positions are only the ones I actually espouse.

Platforms and Panels

As for platforms and panels, I typically will not turn them down unless I feel like the platform itself is so biased that I won’t be able to speak my mind, or there is no value in my opinion even if I’m allowed to speak it. Most recently I sat on a panel at the Texas Tribune Festival on religious freedom with Sr. Asma Uddin from the Freedom Forum Institute, and staunch republicans like Rep. Matt Krause and Kevin Roberts, the Executive Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I’m in dialogue at an event early next year with the most prominent evangelical preacher in the country. I often share the stage with staunch liberals who agree with me on issues of militarism, torture, policing, and immigration, but are quite hostile to religion. I try to do right by my part on panels regardless of who else is serving on it. The only time I would participate in a public boycott of a panel or platform is if it’s a collective push to purge someone who has just taken a position or done something that would inherently tarnish the panel or platform. I did this, for example, in the wake of the Rabaa’ massacre with scholars who legitimized it. When I’m invited to a highly partisan place like the Texas Democratic Convention, I try to be very specific with my subject matter (where I spoke about children victimized by policy here and abroad, and brought up Gitmo and Abu Ghraib).

How Do I Choose Whether or Not to Accept an Invitation

Istikhara (prayer) and Istishara (consultation). I have turned down many high profile events because I thought my presence would be tokenizing and unsubstantial. With my invocation in Congress, I literally forwarded the invite to my teacher and asked him whether or not I should do it. He advised me to go forward and give an invocation that would leave people thinking. I hope that was achieved even though I must admit I wasn’t expecting the flurry of attacks afterwards. Imam Siraj traces the beginning of the avalanche of hate against him to his invocation in congress, but ihad hoped that all the relationships I had built would ward off some of that.

Most of my invites are not so confusing, but some of them are. Have I regretted accepting certain invites? Yes. But I don’t lament too much over them so long as I did proper Istikhara and Istishara.

Demonstrations, Coalitions, and Alliances

In our tribal politics in America, platforms are wide and coalitions are narrow. I believe in the exact opposite. I believe we should have specific issues that we determine important and meaningful, and form broad coalitions around those specific issues. This way the work is focused, the ally-ship is clear, and the advocacy is unproblematic. When it’s a bunch of people working on a small set of issues, the issues dominate the conversation as opposed to who is at the table. It’s about what we’re at the table for. 

So if we’re going to organize a march on the border, against ICE deportations, or against police brutality, I don’t care who else is coming to march or where they stand on other issues. This to me was the essence of Hilf Al Fudul. The tribes came together for one purpose of supporting those who were exploited because they didn’t have the protection of belonging to powerful classes, and the Prophet (saw) said he would take that pledge in jahiliya or Islam.

Partisan Politics

I don’t believe in uncritically adopting a platform, or letting a party take advantage of our vulnerability. We need to challenge Democrats just as strongly as we do Republicans, while remaining independent and principled. We have a right to an agenda like any other community. Politicians should have to work for our vote, and we shouldn’t shy away from where we differ with candidates even when we vote for them.

You can read my article on voting here in which I lay out those principles.

As a side note on endorsements, I’ve only endorsed 2 candidates in my life, one a Muslim candidate for city council and another a candidate for county chair. With the Beto campaign against Ted Cruz last year, who I believe is the most dangerous man in the Senate for various reasons, I particularly reached out to the campaign to clarify some concerns about the criminalizing of BDS. I applauded him for taking the time to meet me and clarify those concerns. With the recent news on his  comments on revoking the tax-exempt status of religious institutions, I once again reached out to those who I know from the campaign to register the community’s disapproval and was able to have a fruitful conversation about it. And no, I’m not endorsing him or any candidate for president right now.

Left vs Right

I wrote an article in the Dallas Morning News about transcending the left/right divide. In it, I said, “Most of the religious presence in our political discourse seems to be superficial with the religious left and the religious right often simply representing nothing more than the political left and the political right with collars.”

I believe Muslims should be engaging well-meaning people on different issues from different backgrounds. While the political right may have taken on an overtly Islamophobic posture, there are conservative religious groups that may be willing to work with us and dialogue on issues of mutual concern. I welcome that 

We need to be a part of constructing the moral center in America instead of waiting for it to happen without our input whether its on domestic or foreign policy. We don’t have to adopt anyone else’s blind spots. We can talk about the child from Guatemala and the child from Gaza. We can talk about the sanctity of the child in the womb, and the sanctity of the child in the cage. We can talk about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib abroad, and our own mass incarceration systems at home. If some Republicans are the only ones willing to speak about the Muslim Uighurs in the name of religious freedom, we can work with them on that.

Not everyone has to work in all of these spaces simultaneously, but we should appreciate those who do so long as they don’t forsake their principles in the process.

On Engaging Government

This is a hard one so I’ll break it down into a few things:

  1. Local, State, Federal

I strongly believe in the idea of most politics being local, and that Muslims need to have a strong presence in city and state government. My invitation to Congress was due to my local work with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson who has been an incredible ally to our community. I think it gets trickier at the federal level. I’ve personally never been inside the White House under any administration for an Iftar or otherwise, but I don’t fault all who have. I know some who have tried very hard to do right in those tricky spaces. I was invited to the last Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department and declined. I think this is the trickiest space of them all, and wish those who engage it well. My hope is that anyone who does engage it raise our issues and make it clear to the community that they are doing so. I have never participated in CVE work, nor has Yaqeen ever taken CVE money, and I am opposed to it as a framework due to how it’s used exclusively against the Muslim community.

I differentiate between patriotism and nationalism and believe that our government should be held accountable for its violation of human rights like any other government. And war crimes have spanned administrations of both parties for a very long time.

  1. Foreign Governments

I am particularly skeptical of many Muslim governments considering the role that installed dictators and despots have played in suppressing the Muslim community worldwide. They have been the greatest violators of our rights, and the most shameful purveyors of Islamophobia as evidenced by the support given to China’s genocide of the Uyghurs. I don’t think it’s impossible to work with foreign leaders on specific issues, but that it requires crystal clear clarity from those who do on the issues those governments are criminally implicated. Granting religious legitimacy to tyrants who have themselves harmed or enabled harm towards the global community is incredibly dangerous. And it is important to not become co-opted by the lesser aggressors from the Muslim world. While some foreign leaders do better than others on certain issues, they will consistently disappoint on others. None of them should be able to buy the silence of the American Muslim community.

On Muslim Politicians

No politician, Muslim or otherwise, deserves our uncritical support for their political positions. Every Muslim, politician or otherwise, deserves our dua for their guidance and wellbeing. 

This is a tricky reality to navigate. When they take bold political positions, they should be qualifiedly praised specifically for those actions. When they do things that are problematic, they should be measuredly criticized specifically for those actions. We should want them to do well, and want well for them. As politicians, they naturally make decisions that they have to be accountable to the public for. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for them to make the right decisions and be enabled with and for the truth. As a community, we can’t put it on them to save the Deen. There will be more politicians that will come up in coming years, and our Dawah needs to continue independent of them while reminding them with good manners, supporting them with Dua and Naseeha, and politically engaging them like any other politician.

 

“Donate your reputation to Allah.” by Imam @OmarSuleiman504 Click To Tweet

Callouts

I will not engage mudslinging or callouts personally, even when they’re against me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something that I could easily respond to with one line. But Allah is sufficient for me, and He is the best disposer of all matters. I would hope people can see through unfair attacks. And even when they can’t, I trust that Allah will make the best of the situation and I’d rather not take the community on a ride. Through one of these particular episodes, my teacher and friend told me, “Donate your reputation to Allah.” That stuck with me. If I’m doing what I’m doing for His sake, I shouldn’t be too bothered when other than Him deals with me uncharitably. If I am, I need to work harder on my own intentions.

As for others, I will not use social media to put people on blast. I discuss concepts, not people. Now two fair questions arise from this:

  1.  Can one assume that because I’ve supported people by name in certain contexts, but not criticized them by name, that I support all of their positions? I understand why people could derive that conclusion, and it’s not something I’ve particularly figured out. I don’t think ambiguous cheap shots are the solution either. I personally don’t burn bridges with people in fear of wronging them, and in hopes that I can still advise them. I feel like that’s the best I can do. I hope that people can appreciate that approach not as the only approach, but as an approach.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to employ the language of “what is it with a people that do such and such” (ما بال أقوام يفعلون كذا وكذا ) without actually naming the person in several narrations. This could be seen by some as passive-aggressive, but it’s about clarifying the concept and not focusing on the individual. I typically will try to employ this approach, and will sometimes fall short of it.

  1. Should there not be those who explicitly address wrongdoings, fairly hold leaders accountable, and ask important questions? There absolutely should be, but with good character and fair critique. We can’t adopt the tactics of Islamophobes against our own community. Half-truths, guilt by association, casting aspersions on character, etc. are grievous sins. They also take away from the legitimate critiques. Unfortunately, social media seems so drenched in toxicity that it seems impossible to discuss things with balance. With that being said, we need more forums to have important conversations and I can’t blame people in the meantime for feeling left out of those conversations and confused. As a rule of thumb, try to keep things depersonalized and to the issues. And when you have to say something critical of your brother or sister, try to say something about their good as well. 

What is considered public vs. private

There seems to be this prevailing idea that if it isn’t posted or tweeted, it’s not public. I try to be open in discussion with brothers and sisters when they meet face to face and am much more willing to discuss sensitive issues then. I don’t know of any basis in the Sunnah that would suggest social media is the only way to have a public position. I don’t mind being quoted in what I say in my halaqas or public settings, but simply don’t prefer to engage in certain discussions on social media.

Yaqeen’s direction and funding 

I am not Yaqeen. My political activism is not Yaqeen. I serve as the President of the organization with one vote on the board. I am blessed to work with an incredible team of over 60 people and growing that believe in the mission of the organization to foster a strong viable Islamic identity that preserves the religion in the hearts of our future generations, takes back the narrative from Islamophobes of all sorts, and demonstrates a path forward that doesn’t depart from our divine sources. Some of the writers are my teachers. Others come from entirely different backgrounds. I contribute a tiny fraction of papers myself, but am fulltime in my role as the President of the organization. Yaqeen set out to be as encompassing as possible of Muslim scholars and academics that believe in commitment to the religion, and contributing to the world through it. I believe strongly in institutions that are bigger than personalities, and that is the culture we try to foster from within.

As for our methodology, we have a course and a paper out soon from our scholars which should clarify further what we view as valid means of interpretation, and valid opinions. We try to do extensive peer review and allow opinions to be published within the fold of Islamic acceptability. 

We have extended our hands to Muslim organizations around the country and world to partner in good, and never charge a dime for our content. And for the sake of maintaining independence and integrity, Yaqeen has never taken money from any government entity or foundation that espouses ideas that would delegitimize it. Al hamdulila, all of it is through generous private donors that have found benefit from our content and I’m grateful to each of them for it.

Mistakes

Let me start with the personal. Anyone that serves as an Imam, activist, or representative of the community will be put in awkward situations frequently. Part of growth is learning from those mistakes and being wiser in future situations. I will still inevitably be put in compromising situations and pray that Allah guides me to deal with them with wisdom and rightful guidance. I will continue to listen to people who lovingly point those mistakes out to me in hopes that I do better in the future. May Allah reward them all. And I will take the best of unforgiving critiques and try to still benefit from them. May Allah reward them also if they’re done in sincerity, and forgive them if done for other reasons.

As for the communal, we haven’t figured out a way to host reasonable disagreements that involve various segments of the community. Yaqeen is meant to be a platform to foster some of that within our scopes of research, and some sites like Muslim Matters have also sought to be that when issues of concern arise. Over the past few years, I’ve had the blessing of being a part of an annual retreat that brings together various Islamic scholars of different backgrounds to foster unity amongst ourselves and create space for critical conversation. Sadly there are too many other divisions that exist in the community though to be remedied through that particular space. I think the community has felt locked out of certain discussions, and I can’t blame them for feeling that way. 

Solutions

Clarity. People like myself who are involved in multiple worlds need to not leave the community out of our thinking and articulate our frameworks better. I own that, as I have made many assumptions about what the community did or didn’t think about my positions.

Spaces. I’ve been blessed to be a part of forming some wonderful onsite spaces and forums where we have had some of these difficult conversations. I want to be a part of forming some of these spaces online with the realistic expectation that they will never equal the blessing of sitting with one another. I hope our community invests in more retreats where scholars of different backgrounds, activists, etc. can come together and discuss tough things, and then produce their findings. 

The Rope of Allah

Allah tells us to hold firm to the rope of Allah. The rope isn’t a political idea or opinion, it’s divine revelation. We are bonded by it and should honor that bond. We can disagree with each other and still love each other. We can debate ideas intelligently without descending into tactics unbefitting of the ummah of the Prophet (saw). We should be just with one another and not use the ways of our enemies against each other. I’m sure not everyone agrees with my framework above, and I may also change some of my opinions as time goes on. I pray that none of it ever swerves from what is established through the divine sources, or into anything divisive, hateful, or unjust.

The Quran speaks of justice, unity, and accountability. Those themes are not contradictory in Allah’s book, nor do they have to be in our lives. The Sunnah manifests that in a way that we can all learn how to conduct ourselves. This doesn’t mean we excuse everything in the name of Adab, it means we use Adab even when holding people accountable.

I end with this: Yunus al-Sadafi reported: I have not seen anyone wiser than Al-Shafi’i, may Allah be pleased with him. I debated him one day over an issue, and then we separated. He later met me and took my hand, then he said, “O Abu Musa, can we not continue to be brothers, even if we disagree on an issue?”

May Allah keep us united upon good, faithful to Him always, carriers of His Prophet’s way, and beneficial to the entirety of humanity. May He forgive us for our shortcomings, guide us to the straight path, and remove from us all that displeases Him in our worship and work.

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أَضِلَّ أَوْ أُضَلَّ أَوْ أَزِلَّ أَوْ أُزَلَّ أَوْ أَظْلِمَ أَوْ أُظْلَمَ أَوْ أَجْهَلَ أَوْ يُجْهَلَ عَلَىَّ

O Allah, I seek refuge with You from going astray or stumbling, from wronging others or being wronged, and from behaving or being treated in an ignorant manner.

Read: Our Brothers Who have Transgressed Against Us | Imam Omar Suleiman

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Prayers Beyond Borders Offers Hope to Separated Families

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border wall in tijuana

On the border of San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico, several families live their lives torn apart—they were born on the wrong side of a wall. Now, faith groups are joining together to give them hope through prayer. Since the Mexican-American War in 1848, the boundary that divided the two countries transformed from an imaginary line, to a monument, to a simple barb-wire fence where people on either side could meet, greet, hold hands, or exchange a warm smile, to a heavily monitored steel wall stretching across almost 15 miles between San Diego and Tijuana. 

In recent years, crime, drug trafficking, an influx of undocumented workers, and increasingly white nationalism created stricter immigration policies in the U.S., directly impacting those who live straddling both sides of the border. Included in these are families whose loved ones have been deported – parents, spouses, children, and other relatives – to Mexico, undocumented workers providing for their families, and relatives who have not made physical contact with each other in years, sometimes decades. They gather along the steel mesh barriers of the border wall at Friendship Park to touch each other’s fingertips and pray.

The documentary, “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” produced by CAIR California, MoveOn, and Beyond Borders Studios captured some of these emotive moments during a Sunday prayer service held by the Border Church in partnership with the Border Mosque. Christians and Muslims came together in solidarity at Friendship Park on September 30, 2019, and held a joint bilingual ceremony, led by Reverend John Fanestil, Pastor Guillermo Navarrete, Imam Taha Hassane, and Imam Wesley Lebrón.

Imam Lebrón, National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for WhyIslam, witnessed the nightmare families separated at the border endure when he was invited to participate in this first meeting of the Border Church and Border Mosque. As a Puerto Rican, U.S. born citizen who never experienced the hardships of immigration, he was moved by what he witnessed. He said, 

“I entered Mexico and reached the border at Friendship Park and immediately noticed families speaking to each other through the tiny spaces of an enormous metal wall. They were not able to touch except for their fingers, which I later learned was the way they kissed each other.”

He described families discussing legal matters and children crying because they could not embrace a parent who traveled for days only to speak to them briefly behind the cold steel mesh partition. 

“Walls are meant to provide refuge and safety from the elements and they are not meant to prevent human beings from having a better life,” he explained, “As I stood behind that wall, I felt hopeless, angry, and had many other mixed emotions for our Mexican brethren who have been completely stripped of the opportunities many of us take for granted.” During the service he addressed the crowd gathered on the Mexican side of Friendship Park and recited the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. It was the first time the call was heard in Friendship Park, but not the last. 

The Border Church and Border Mosque will continue to provide a joint service on the last Sunday of every month and are calling for a binational day of prayer on Sunday, October 27th. They will be joined by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and indigenous spiritual leaders to “Pray Beyond Borders.” The event will be filmed and possibly live-streamed to a global audience with the objective of raising awareness and requesting financial support to address issues related to family separation in the region. 

On October 7th CAIR California with MoveOn, Faith in Action, MPower Change, and a social media team and distribution partners released the film “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” With the digital launch of this film in English and Spanish they wish to reach millions of viewers in telling the story of the Border Church and the Border Mosque and bring more faith leaders and activists on board to protect families’ right to gather. Please join them at Pray Beyond Borders – A Binational Day of Prayer – Sunday, October 27th at Friendship Park. 

when the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles(Psalm 34:17 – NIV).

“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ]” (Qur’an 2:45)

Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash

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Zahra Billoo Responds To The Women’s March Inc. Voting Her Off The New Board

Zahra Billoo

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Women's March Board

Earlier tonight, I was voted off the Women’s March, Inc. national board. This followed an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination.

The past 48 hours have been a spiral of bad news and smear efforts. Part of the smear campaign is motivated by opponents of the Women’s March, because the organization has traditionally challenged the status quo of power and white supremacy in our country. However, much of the campaign is driven by people who oppose me and my work challenging the occupation of Palestine, our country’s perpetuation of unjust and endless wars, and law enforcement operations targeting the American Muslim community.

The Women’s March, Inc. is an organization I once held dear. I spoke at the first march, spoke at regional marches every year after, spoke at the convention, participated in national actions including the original Kavanaugh protests, and worked to mobilize Muslim women for their efforts.

During the past few years right-wingers, from the President’s son to the Anti-Defamation League and troll armies, have targeted the Women’s March, Inc. For so long, I’ve admired their resilience in speaking truth to power, in working together, and in never cowering. Over and over again, the co-founders of Women’s March, Inc. put their lives on the line, winning power for all women in all of our diversity. The Women’s March, Inc. that voted me off its board tonight is one that no longer demonstrates the strength that inspired millions of women across the country.

To see and experience its new leaders caving to right-wing pressure, and casting aside a woman of color, a Muslim woman, a long-time advocate within the organization, without the willingness to make any efforts to learn and grow, breaks my heart. This isn’t about a lost seat, there will be many seats. The Women’s March, Inc. has drawn a line in the sand, one that will exclude many with my lived experiences and critiques. It has effectively said, we will work on some women’s rights at the expense of others.

To be clear, anti-semitism is indeed a growing and dangerous problem in our country, as is anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia, ableism, sexism, and so much more. I condemn any form of bigotry unequivocally, but I also refuse to be silent as allegations of bigotry are weaponized against the most marginalized people, those who find sanctuary and hope in the articulation of truth.

In looking at the tweets in question, I acknowledge that I wrote passionately. While I may have phrased some of my content differently today, I stand by my words. I told the truth as my community and I have lived it, through the FBI’s targeting of my community, as I supported families who have lost loved ones because of US military actions, and as I learned from the horrific experiences of Palestinian life.

In attempting to heal and build in an expedited manner within Women’s March, Inc., I offered to meet with stakeholders to address their concerns and to work with my sisters on the new board to learn, heal, and build together. These efforts were rejected. And in rejecting these efforts, the new Women’s March, Inc. demonstrated that they lack the courage to exhibit allyship in the face of fire.

I came to Women’s March, Inc. to work. My body of work has included leading a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization for over a decade, growing it now more than six-fold. In my tenure, I have led the team that forced Abercrombie to change its discriminatory employment policies, have been arrested advocating for DACA, partnered with Jewish organizations including Bend the Arc and Jewish Voice for Peace to fight to protect our communities, and was one of the first lawyers to sue the President.

It is not my first time being the target of a smear campaign. The Women’s March, Inc., more than any place, is where I would have expected us to be able to have courageous conversations and dive deep into relationship-building work.

I am happy to have as many conversations as it takes to listen and learn and heal, but I will no longer be able to do that through Women’s March, Inc. This action today demonstrates that this organization’s new leadership is unable to be an ally during challenging times.

My beliefs drive my work, and I am not seeking accolades or positions of power. These past few days have been the greatest test of that. My integrity, my truth, and my strength comes from God and a place of deep conviction. I will continue my work as a civil rights lawyer and a faith-based activist, speaking out against the occupation of Palestine and settler-colonialism everywhere, challenging Islamophobia and all forms of racism and bigotry in the United States, and building with my community and our allies in our quest to be our most authentic and liberated selves.

Onward, God willing.

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