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Muslims fight Islamophobia by ‘showing up’ for others


02 2 16

 

 

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
February 02, 2016
 
They recently sent 3,000 bottles of water to Flint, Michigan, a struggling city rocked when it was discovered that state officials allowed residents to drink toxic water from the Flint River for two years.

After the San Bernardino terror attacks in California, they began a campaign to raise $50,000 for victims and collected more than $180,000.

Dalia Fahmy, an assistant professor of political science at Long Island University and Linda Sarsour, a civil rights activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, listen to speakers during a panel on the future of Islam in America.

Dalia Fahmy, an assistant professor of political science at Long Island University and Linda Sarsour, a civil rights activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, listen to speakers during a panel on the future of Islam in America.


And when five black Southern churches were set on fire last year, Muslim-Americans – as they did in Michigan and California – stepped in and helped as their faith compels them to. They raised more than $100,000 to assist in rebuilding.

This is a story of Muslim-Americans and Islam that doesn’t often get told, a story that Muslim leaders say best exemplifies their religion, one that is couched in social justice and requires them to condemn violence and be involved.

“That’s a better manifestation of what Islam is, than for me to sit down and tell you what I believe and how I pray,” said Linda Sarsour, an outspoken civil rights Muslim-American activist from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Imam Asif Hirani of ICNA NJ speaks during a panel discussion on the future of Islam in America.

Imam Asif Hirani of ICNA NJ speaks during a panel discussion on the future of Islam in America.


“What I’m asking Muslims to do is to live Islam out publicly, live compassionately. … live love, live justice and the way that you do that is by showing up for other people and showing up for other humans, and that’s what our faith tells us.”

During a panel discussion – “Faith over Fear: The Future of Islam in America” – Muslim leaders from New Jersey and New York this past weekend sought to do this and challenge the irrational fear of its people, which is greater now than after the 9/11 attacks.

The conference, sponsored by the New Jersey chapters of the Islamic Circle of North America and Why Islam, was held Saturday at the Al-Wali Community Center in Edison.

US Attorney Paul Fishman and Rev. James Thomas of the Interfaith Clergy Council of Woodbridge were speakers during a forum about the future of Islam.

US Attorney Paul Fishman and Rev. James Thomas of the Interfaith Clergy Council of Woodbridge were speakers during a forum about the future of Islam.


More than 300 people filled the center to hear speakers address the future of Islam and how to combat stereotypes and myths about the religion. They included Sarsour; Dalia Fahmy, an assistant professor of political science at Long Island University; Imam Asif Hirani, of ICNA NJ; U.S Attorney Paul Fishman; U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.); and the Rev. James Thomas, of the Interfaith Clergy Council Clergy of Woodbridge.

The panelists addressed the unfortunate narrative – more like the anti-Islamic, vitriolic rhetoric that goes unchecked – from some Republican presidential candidates, including frontrunner Donald Trump.

“The negativity today is being perpetuated by a completely different establishment,” Fahmy said.

She said candidates in the GOP primary are not making the distinction between acts of violence and the Islamic faith, as President George W. Bush did following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“You’re not seeing that level of responsibility that did take place after 9/11,” she said. “Fear of Islam has become more and more prominent today and in everyday political discourse.”

As a result, you get Islamophobia– prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims. That turns into increased attacks on Muslims and symbols of Islam. Mosques are desecrated, Muslim women are afraid to wear the hijab, a head scarf. And because uninformed people are just that, they also attack Sikhs, mistaking them for Muslims because of turbans they wear.

When the reaction to lslam is not violent, panelists said discrimination plays out in other ways, including attempts to block Muslims from building mosques in places such as Mufreesboro, Tennessee. Five years ago, there was a similar situation in Bridgewater. And most recently, Bayonne residents expressed mixed emotions about plans for a Mosque in their town.

Fishman, who is Jewish, said he is in solidarity with the Muslim community on a personal level and that his office has an obligation to stand with people of all faiths who have a right to use their property for places of worship.

“We have seen and heard profound, loud, prejudiced opposition to the building of mosques that will be the place of peaceful prayer,” Fishman said.

He said his office opened an investigation in the Bridgewater case because the local government violated federal law when it refused to permit the Al Falah Center to convert a building into a mosque, although zoning laws allowed such use. His office closed the investigation after a settlement was reached last year that allowed the construction.

Islamophobia, however, continues to inaccurately define many Muslims as terrorists, nonprogressive, anti-justice, anti-women, anti-everything.

Until you meet Fahmy and Sarsour, and other Muslim men and women. They’re educated and factual in explaining that Islam didn’t just arrive in America after 9/11 or that it is some exotic foreign entity, without roots.

Sarsour said Islam is intertwined in the history of African-Americans, many of whom are Muslim, and Fahmy points out that Muslims have always been a part of this country’s fabric, including service during its wars.

“Muslim veterans of American wars have been in and fought in every single war since the Revolutionary War.” Fahmy said.

Hirani, a Program Coordinator of ICNA NJ, encourages others to share conversation with Muslims and he called on his community to lead by example in the discourse.

But it must be done “unapologetically,” said Sarsour, with Muslims standing tall, squaring their shoulders with pride.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.

Not when you have faith, backed by action, to take down fear every time.

Article Courtesy: NJ.com