(Posted by: The IqraSense.com Blogger) Last month in July 2009, Rick Warren, a popular evangelical Christian pastor was the keynote speaker at the ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) conference. Pastor Warren’s speech was welcomed by many American Muslim organizations, leaders and community members. This is because the expression of friendship by such a leader in a conference attended by 45,000 Muslims was first of its kind in America. His speech was perceived by American Muslims as a positive step in helping to bridge any misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians of America.
However it can be easily argued that to many American Muslims, his coming to the conference signified a symbol of their acceptance in the American society. While Pastor Warren’s friendly presence may have sent that message, the contents of his speech underscored how American Muslims’ efforts to position themselves in the American society may have been falling short. This was clear from many of his comments. For example, during the past few years American Muslim leaders’ mantra has been to demand tolerance in response to the intimidation that Muslims have suffered on various fronts. However, Pastor Warren reminded Muslims that “Tolerance is not enough. People do not want to be tolerated, they want to be respected. They want to be treated with dignity. They want to be listened to.” This therefore was a clear wakeup call that American Muslims should not have merely stopped at demanding tolerance, whereas respect and dignity should have been a right that American Muslims should never have compromised on.
American Muslims have also complained about the media’s bias toward them in recent years. While American Muslims have been trying to fix that image, their efforts surely have fallen short. Pastor Warren further validated this by stating “And since today much of the press is actually clueless of what you believe, and as to what I believe, and then there are frequent mischaracterizations in the media, frequent ignorant generalizations, generalizations are generally wrong, and frequent stereotyping, of all of us”. This told American Muslims and their leaders about how far they are from “clueing in” the media and others to prevent, or at a minimum curb such mischaracterizations and ignorant generalizations.
Among other things, American Muslim leaders have also been focusing on “Interfaith Dialog” as one of the avenues to bridge gaps with other faiths in America. However, Pastor Warren’s suggestion that in such matters action goes further than dialog was more appealing. He commented: “And I will tell you that I am not interested in interfaith dialogue, I am interested in interfaith projects. There is a big difference. Talk is very cheap. And you can talk and talk and talk and not get anything done.”
Finally, for those few American Muslims who have wrongly believed that assimilation within the American society can only be achieved by compromising ones Islamic values and principles, the statement by Pastor Warren “maintaining our separate traditions, maintaining our convictions without compromise” echoed what mainstream Muslims believe in but is doubted by a certain segment of American Muslims
The above clearly highlights the need to fill the voids and gaps in the vision for American Muslims. Although American Muslim organizations have been undertaking a number of focused and proactive steps to better American Muslims’ positioning for the future, there are a number of questions that must be asked to gauge their efforts. Some of the key questions are as follows:
1) Are American Muslims any closer to Islam and their mosques today than before?
2) Are the outreach efforts and tactics of Muslims making a difference in clarifying the message of Islam?
3) Does the Muslim leadership have a strategic vision to improve the relationship with the US government that is constantly being viewed by many American Muslims as challenging or are the efforts of American Muslims merely reactive and stop-gap in nature?
4) Are the Islamic centers, mosques, masajids, etc. organized well enough to attract Muslims and non-Muslims alike for transparent dissemination of the message of Islam?
5) Who are the Imams and leaders who American Muslims have put on the podiums and how effective have they been in uniting their local communities?
6) And finally, what specifically is being done to get Muslims involved in the democratic process of America to be able for them to make their voices heard?
These questions must be debated and discussed strategically to be able to craft a vision for the American Muslims for this century. The next article “Formulating a Vision for Muslim America” expands on the above questions that American Muslim leaders must focus on to better Muslims’ positioning in America.
What are your views? Please share them below with everyone….
Sincerely, —- The IqraSense.com Blogger (August 2009)