A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|American Muslims Should Be Self-Critical,proactive|
|04/25/02 at 08:49:17|
|American Muslims Should Be Self-Critical, Proactive: Scholars |
Muslim academic scholars in U.S. stressed the need for strong voices for Islam in the U.S.
By Ayesha Ahmad, IOL Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON, April 25 (IslamOnline) - The Muslim community in America has a great responsibility on its shoulders in the post-September 11 world to be more self-critical and become more politically active, according to Muslim leaders and scholars who spoke at a conference here Tuesday, April 23.
"The call of Islam… is essentially a moral and spiritual call to order," said Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a leading Islamic scholar who gave the keynote address at the conference organized by the Muslims in American Public Square (MAPS) project.
"If Islam ceases to speak of this, it is no longer Islam," he said, stressing the need for Muslims to speak out on all domestic and international social, political and environmental issues, not just foreign policy issues. Since September 11, "many Muslim voices have become silent on these crucial matters."
Nasr said Muslims should "hold up to what is the Islamic ideal of moral life" and not "be cowed into always being on the defensive just to prove we are human."
He also expressed the concern that the American Muslim community is not ready to engage in intellectual debate with non-Muslims.
"We are not at all prepared in any way to have a major presence in the intellectual centers," he said, not because Muslims are not intelligent, but because "much of the financial and political power of Muslims has presented a version of Islam that is anti-intellectual."
"The greatest tragedy is that we cannot participate in the national agendas of the United States… at best we can participate in Muslim-Christian dialogues and take the Muslim side."
He also criticized Muslims' ineffectiveness in the use of media as a powerful tool to change their own circumstances. "We must have people who are able to sit by Larry King… and not be toppled in five minutes," he said.
Part of the problem, Nasr said, was that Muslim parents - no matter how deeply pious they are - often do not allow their children to go into fields such as Islamic studies or journalism, preferring instead for them to become "successful doctors."
"Muslims cannot remain an exclusivist little sect in the United States," he said, stressing that American Muslims are in a historically and geo-politically unique situation that obligates them to take the lead in "the effort of bringing out religious understanding."
This is part of the goal of Project MAPS, which aims to fill "an important gap in the available literature on Islam, Muslims and their contributions to American civic life," according to the conference program.
Project MAPS is based by the Center for Muslim Christian Understanding (CMCU) at Georgetown University, where the day-long conference was held, and was established with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The conference title, "American Muslims: Community at a Crossroads," was chosen because it best explains the current situation and future possibilities of this community, according to Altaf Husain, one of the panel speakers.
"The goal is to bridge the gap between the scholars and the activists," said Husain, who is the president of the national Muslim Student Association, "[and] to address the Muslim community's direction and some of the intentional changes we will have to make."
Husain spoke about the need for "engagement" particularly on the part of young Muslims, many of whom were born or raised in America, are not intimidated by cultural or language barriers and are therefore in a better position to become involved in the American public square.
Mumtaz Ahmad, a political science professor from Hampton University in Virginia, reiterated the same point.
"The young generation… [are] ready to assert their rights as Americans," he said, giving the example of the massive numbers of youth who made an appearance at Saturday's rally for Palestinians, which drew about 75,000 into the streets of Washington.
Part of the older generation's inability to participate in the same way lies in what another speaker called "the myth of return" - that immigrants who came to America always imagined they would one day return to their home countries.
But "the myth of return was exploded by 9/11," said Sulayman Nyang, an African studies professor at Howard University in Washington and director and co-principal investigator of Project MAPS.
Nyang spoke about the history of Muslims in the American political scene, saying that in the 1950s, the community first became politically visible but kept itself to expressing opinions rather than lobbying.
He compared its history to that of the Jewish community in America, specifically that of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is one of the most powerful lobby groups in the country.
"The AIPAC success story is the mirror image of what the Muslims are now trying to do," Nyang said, emphasizing the importance of alliance building in order to have votes that count. "Muslim immigrants in America no longer have a choice."
Another panelist, Georgetown professor and CMCU founding director John Esposito, also stressed the dire necessity of Muslims becoming more involved.
"You're in a race and you have no time," he said. "If you want to be visible… it's the mobilization, it's the organization and the clout."
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board