If you live in a major U.S. city chances are that you’ve heard of Ramadan, the sacred Islamic month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Ramadan used to be a strange and unknown religious celebration in the United States a few decades ago. Now, thanks to the negative and positive publicity American Muslims have received in recent years, everybody knows when and why we are fasting. Everyone from the White House to the local church and synagogue is holding interfaith iftar events (breaking of the fast) for their Muslim friends and neighbors. I should be proud and happy that my esoteric religious ritual is no longer looked upon as an undue hardship forced upon me by my religion. That finally the American public is ready and willing to accept me, with my five daily prayers and my fasting and my hijab, as one of them. I should be attending those interfaith iftar events with happiness and fervor. But I’m not.
July 4, 2014. My dear adopted country, I am so happy to be a part of yet another celebration of independence, another anniversary of your birth! For the last fifteen years I have celebrated with you, and with each passing year I have realized how special you are to me. Many people, especially the talking heads on certain cable news networks, think that the scarf on my head diminishes in me the ability to feel loyalty and pride, but they are wrong. I can wear whatever I want, pray however I wish, and still wave the American flag high on the fourth of July. Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that I am American Muslim I have a deep appreciation of what those two things mean in that combination.
It is indeed a joyous time: the last American POW is finally home. Who can deny that the U.S. military has indeed fulfilled its promise that it will leave no man (or woman) behind? Sargent Bowe Bergdahl has hardly been released, however, when the magnificent, wonderful story of courage and patriotism was transformed into, in Jon Stewart’s words, a complicated, clouded, controversial story. He has been called a deserter, a traitor and a coward. It seems as if even our soldiers are not guaranteed our respect after risking their lives for our freedoms.
As a Muslim, should I care? As an American, I certainly should, because my hope is that every soldier comes home safely to his or her family. The problem is, of course, that controversy inevitably follows anything even remotely connected to Muslims today. In the case of Bergdahl, who remained for five years in Afghanistan in the custody of the Taliban, there are indeed a myriad of connections that make me uneasy, but perhaps for not all the same reasons as Republicans.
True, there is the issue of the five Taliban released from Guantanamo Bay in a prisoner exchange. Who knows what they will be up to after their release? For many, that’s a serious concern. It should be, because unconstitutional imprisonment and torture is bound to make people even angrier with the U.S. government. Who knows when or where we’ll meet those five again.
Last week, the famed 9/11 memorial museum opened with a host of items salvaged from that fateful day in American history. About the same time, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative burst onto our collective consciousness by once again using the image of the burning twin towers on Washington, D.C. buses to malign an entire religion. It seems that almost thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we still have an antagonistic, feral response to this defining moment in modern history.
As Passover ends for my Jewish friends, I join them to mourn the attack on the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas. Yes I am a Muslim, and the world doesn’t expect me to sympathize with Jews. But the world is wrong. We have increasingly become divided along religious lines, and Jewish-Muslim relationships have become strained because they have incorrectly become synonymous with the Israel-Palestine issue. This is neither true Islam nor true Judaism.
Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?
Last week the U.S. District Court dismissed a long-standing case against the NYPD for their secret surveillance of Muslims in New York and New Jersey in the years after 9/11. Yet few Americans outside of the American Muslim community spoke out against the judgment, and not all newspapers carried the news. For the average American of a different faith, this wasn’t really too newsworthy. Here’s why they are wrong.
A brand new year, another February drawing to a close. We all know this month is Black History Month, and the overall impression I’ve got from people who are not black is that nobody truly cares about black history except for African Americans. Granted, PBS airs some specials, and our kids learn about important African American figures in school, mostly the high-profile ones such as Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and a few other prominent black activists. for the average American, that’s the extent of our understanding of or participation in Black History Month. Other than that, we defer to the African American community and allow them to claim this “celebration” as their own.
Courtesy World Hijab Day
Stereotypes are hurtful, no doubt about it. They assume things about an entire group of people by those who have less than an iota of knowledge about the group. It shrinks each individual in the group to the lowest common denominator, or even to something unrelated entirely to the group. And it’s doubly sad when stereotypes are perpetuated not just externally but internally as well.
Today, perhaps no other group faces more stereotypes than the Muslim woman. The adjectives – I call them labels – used to define her range from the inaccurate to the offensive and even sometimes laughable. Submissive. Oppressed. Quiet. Homemaker. Religious. Devout. Covered.
What is a hero? In our violence-ready culture, a hero can mean many things. Fire fighters, soldiers, teachers, even volunteers – all have been called heroes many a time, and with full confidence. Wherever there’s tragedy, there are always heroes. We applaud them, pray for them, give them the best of wishes and accolades. When a hero loses his or her life saving someone, we feel their family’s pain, shed tears for them, wish there had been another way. But last week in Pakistan, a young hero – a child himself – gave up his life in a manner that made his family and his nation proud.