|Nabeeha's assignment for her
High School art class
Anti-Islam propaganda is on the rise in the U.S. Preachers have their pitch
against Islam and many academicians have also joined their chorus. Politicians
have their own ambiguity in tackling the issue.
Despite the claim that the law enforcement agencies are acting on behalf of
the victims of hate crimes and speeches, the recent arrest of two teen age girls
in New York and their subsequent release have raised serious questions about
the credibility of these institutions in handling terrorism related issues.
Moreover, the meetings of high government officials with some Muslim groups
have failed to restore the confidence of the community on those who are supposed
to defend the civil liberties of Americans.
Apparently, there is gloom and despair within the Muslim community. Would America
remain a safe place for Muslims? Many ask. Would the community be able to restore
its injured dignity after the Sept. 11 and subsequent events?
Muslims in America and all over the world are faced with two major crises.
On the one hand, they and their religion are being blamed for the Sept. 11 events
with the assertion that Islam cannot be trusted. While on the other, those Muslims
who use violence to express their political will are hurting Muslims physically.
Not knowing how to respond to the situation, many Muslims seem to have resigned
to their fate, unclear about what is next.
The Muslim leadership in the U.S. and elsewhere is still engaged in rhetoric's
or in organizing programs that have little meaning outside the Muslim
community. Generally Muslims do not have much confidence their leadership.
Organized Muslim work has resulted only in the glorification of a few while
the community at large remains powerless and voiceless.
Above all, there are efforts from outsiders to change Islam to suit their agenda.
Billions of dollars have been spent to change the face of Islam and the Muslim
community. Confusion and chaos are the norms and crisis seems to be increasing
its sphere of influence.
As desperate as the present situation may appear to be, the future is not as
bleak as one would imagine it to be on the basis of certain invisible realities.
Disappointed by multimillion dollar organizations' performance, the community
has begun to take its affairs in its own hand at the grass roots levels. These
sporadic efforts offer a ray of hope in the midst of confusion and chaos that
prevail all around us.
After Sept. 11, Muslim grass roots efforts have mushroomed around the country
to develop a serious and meaningful understanding of Islam and its role in the
society. Those who are leading these efforts are none other than those who often
find themselves strangers in their mosques and institutions. Many of these are the young
All over the country, young boys and girls have taken it upon themselves to
organize local Islamic study circles where they meet every week to reflect on
their plight and infuse new ideas of change.
The barriers of ethnicity and race are being brought down by those who have
developed a race and culture-free understanding of Islam. Young high school
and college students are making determined efforts to disseminate an understanding
of Islam that defies all stereotypes. A real dialogue is taking place in high
schools and college campuses all over the country. Universities have had a
long tradition of activities organized by the MSA's (Muslim Student
Association). But the new kids on the block are MSA's of high schools all across
In Wisconsin, Nevada and in California, as in many other places, high school
Muslim students have assumed the role of the defenders of their faith. Each
week in several high school campuses, Muslim boys and girls host meetings open
to non-Muslims challenging the stereotypes.
Recently, in California, Muslim high school students organized several events
to present understanding of Islam to their fellow non-Muslim students.
In a school in Southern California, they recently organized an interfaith dialogue
on Jesus. In another campus they hosted a forum on justice. Yet, in another
campus, they led the discussion on morality and politics. On another campus
they organized a discussion on what is common between Jews and Muslims. The list
goes on ... These campus groups
are organizing forums with little resources. However, these are the efforts
that are likely to present the Muslim community with the biggest benefit it
can reap in the future.
Fully aware of the dynamics of social change, these young students realize
that unless they communicate to their generation the understanding of their
faith, things will not change. Through their efforts, these young boys and
girls have brought several non-Muslims within the organizational folds of their
groups. In many high school and college campuses, they have won the respect
and admiration of their fellow students.
Islam is being recognized as a positive force in bringing about a meaningful
change in the behavior and attitude of young people.
In a high school campus in Las Vegas, a young high student persuaded her principal
to allow her to bring a speaker to talk about Islam to all the students. With
a marathon session on Islam in various classes, the young girl was instrumental
in breaking the stereotypes and clarifying misunderstandings among many. She
now has a sympathetic student body to pay attention to what she says about Islam.
In a high school campus in California, two Muslim girls mobilized the entire
school to organize a fund raising drive for the Tsunami disaster victims. Their
school became the first one to take a lead on the issue.
Regardless of the civil rights abuses, and the anti-Islamic propaganda, the
young Muslims of America are changing the intellectual landscape of their country.
In less than a decade, their efforts will pave the way for a dynamic and active
Muslim community with its imprints in all walks of American lives. Their moral
values are being taken seriously, their culture is being accepted and above
all their faith is gaining respect among younger America.
These indeed are the efforts that are being organized without any glamour or
fanfare of major fund raisers. While the older Muslim America is engaged in rhetoric
or in apathy, the young Muslim America is working silently to shape
the future for a dignified existence. What they are doing is worth emulating.
They are free from prejudices and racism. They are pure and innocent like their religion
wants them to be, and they seem to be determined to move on.
A few years ago they were invisible. But now they are active and visible. They
may still be small in numbers, yet they have a built-in tenacity to fight
off all the challenges. A crisis is an opportunity for them. They offer the
hope for the future. It is time that we salute these unknown and uncelebrated
leaders of our community who do things because they believe in their values
and in themselves.
The author is the director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, and
editor-in-Chief of the Muslim Observer as well as the director of the Muslim
Electorates' council of America.