By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, Editor-in-Chief of The Muslim Observer
Each day in America, over 100,000 Muslim American physicians, surgeons, and therapists devotedly report to their clinics and hospitals, providing the best health care they can to their patients.
Every day, several thousand Muslim engineers manage and run infrastructure facilities throughout the width and breadth of the country to ensure that water, electricity and critical services are supplied in an efficient manner.
Several thousand software engineers use their skills to ensure that the businesses that provide the lifelines of this country are run smoothly.
Even in building the actual security of our country and US embassies abroad, about 5,000 Muslim military personal provide valuable services to the nation.
Over 2 million Muslims work hard to contribute more than $30 billion annually in the form of taxes.
The Muslim dependence on welfare is minimal. The number of alcoholics, child abusers, drug users and pushers and criminals involved in big or small crimes is marginal. Muslims in America have worked hard to serve their country efficiently and effectively.
Yet, when a political candidateâ€™s middle name is announced as â€œHussein,â€ all kinds of doubts are raised about his links with Muslims and Islam. People are urged to reject him because his presence might contaminate the sanctity of the seat of power in Washington. Many may argue that this could be just another excuse for a latent racism.
Letâ€™s not beat around the bush! The debate is not about a middle name, the debate is about Islam and Muslims. Those who are questioning Obamaâ€™s middle name are using the phobia that has been created against Islam and Muslims and using that for their political whims. They might as well start creating fear against everyone named Adam (From Prophet Adam (as), the first man created by God) and Susan (Derived from Soozan which connotes purity) which are also common names used by Arabs and Muslims.
Obama has clearly stated that he is a Christian, belonging to Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and his loyalties are to his country. Yet the tirade and fear tactics from the so-called guardians of the nation against him does not stop.
Despite a history in America as old as the history of first European settlers, Islam is still an unwelcome faith in America, something that was imported when the first settlers arrived in the land of the native Americans. America until then had no hatred of Islam.
The prejudices learned in Europe were repeated, and the rejection and hatred practiced in Europe by earlier Christian leaders towards Islam still lingers. Forgotten in this frenzy are the facts that Muslim slaves in America were an essential part of the construction of this nationâ€™s infrastructure and economy.
Europe has never been objective in its relations and understanding of Islam. Its religious institutions viewed Islam as anti-Christian and its religious ideas as dangerous.
The fear of losing their grip over the masses who might flock to Islam was behind most of the anti-Islam rhetoric that emerged from either the Catholic or Protestant churches. These biases were formed before Europe took the path of enlightenment and renaissance, as Islam was always seen as a faith of sword-holding nomadic people bent on destroying the kingdom of the Lord that was yet to be experienced on earth. The pre-renaissance Europe was concerned primarily about its religious identity as promoted by its powerful religious hierarchy.
With enlightenment and renaissance that gradually rendered the religious institutions irrelevant in Europeâ€™s growth, one should have expected a shift in the attitude of the emerging power elites, especially when many of the new ideas were rooted in sciences that Muslims had developed based on their readings of their scriptures and Greek and Hindu sciences and philosophies. Only the language changed.
Islam was no longer considered the anti-Christian focus because the new secular scholars challenged basic religious precepts of Christianity. Now Islam is characterized as a faith inimical to reason and science. These false characterizations of Islam were not accidents; rather they were deliberately fostered to steer people away from Islam.
This was a pattern that came to America with the arrival of European settlers.
As quoted by Aslam Munjee in his two volume book, Crusades: Then and Now, Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Dr. Stiles in 1815 wrote, â€œIt is really a pity so charming a country (Turkey) should remain in the hands of a people whose religion forbids the admission of science and the arts among them.â€
Many among the religious and secular elites of Europe and America have somehow concluded on the basis of their own prejudices and contaminated reading that Islam cannot be trusted in any aspect of life because of its supposed irrational nature.
Despite the presence of large Muslim communities in Europe and America, this view has not changed, as there is hardly any serious dialogue and interaction among various sections of modern religious and secular European and American elites with Muslim scholars.
Muslims, by and large, have not made any serious efforts to address the concerns and issues raised by the power elites in their new homes in a language that can easily be understood. And the power elites are so comfortable with their position that they do not want to make any serious efforts to comprehend Islam.
Those who have extensively written about Islam and Muslims from either a religious or secular perspective in Europe and America have tried to interpret events and the faith of Islam from their selective and highly biased sources often used to reinforce their viewpoints. Amongst Muslims, the shadow of colonialism has continued to lengthen to such an extent that in every white face they see the European generals commanding armies bent on destroying life, limb, and decent society.
How can this challenge of developing a better understanding of these two viewpoints about Islam be met in our times?
Perhaps the best response would come from Muslims if they engage with people at all levels of society and make their presence felt through services for improving the conditions of life wherever they are.
The fact is that Muslims have remained confined to their mosques and secluded shells despite their presence in America and Europe for centuries speaks of their indifference to their own faith. In art, literature, science, technology, social services, welfare activities, they have abdicated their responsibilities for those who care little about human soul. Ironically, they somehow, believe that by confining them to their mosques and chanting some holy words Europe and America will one day discover the beauty and rationality of their religion.
Things do not happen that way.
Our Prophet (s) and the righteous caliphs who followed him roamed the streets of their domains to personally see and help in the circumstances of the citizens whom they ruled. They identified with people in the situations they lived in, and directly helped the people they met, many times anonymously.
In order to do that, a new agenda has to emerge and a new style of leadership has to take roots within the Muslim community–leadership that understands its responsibilities towards all people, regardless of religious or ethnic background; a leadership that is confident to lead rather than follow the dictates of its own desires and fears.
To do this, Muslims have to have a paradigm shift in their thinking. They have to rise above their sectarian identities and issues. They have to look at the future rather than dwell on the past. They have to focus on those universal aspects of faith that are meaningful for everyone.
Without Muslims preparing them for this new role, things will not easily be changed. Those who argue that violence would force people to change their perspectives are adding fuel to the already burning fire.
Violence and anger have never solved any problem. They only complicate things. Those who believe that through terrorizing people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, they would be able to force a change in the thinking of people about Islam, must realize that history is not on their side and above all the Creator is not on their side.
Change in the attitude and behavior of people comes when they see a clear contradiction in their biases and the actions of those they were biased against. Once their own paradoxes become clear to them, they begin to realize the myopic vision they had held and begin to appreciate the viewpoint of others. So far, Muslims in America and Europe and elsewhere have not acted in a manner that reconciles them with the spirit of their faith–a spirit that views all of humanity as a big family, and a view that feels the pain of others as oneâ€™s own.