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JIHAD: The Struggle for the Muslim Soul in America, Pt. 1

15 March 2013

By El-Hajj Mauri' Saalakhan 

Assalaamu Alaikum (Greetings of Peace):

Muslims are instructed in The Noble Qur'an to, "Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to ALLAH, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your kin; or whether it is against rich or poor, for ALLAH can best protect both..."

With this in mind, the first part of this introspective self-criticism (on the struggle for the Muslim soul in America) will touch upon one of the regrettable shortcomings (human frailties) of my own tribe – the African American Muslim bloc.

On a recent visit to a large Islamic center in Falls Church, Virginia, Professor Tarek Ramadan, toward the end of his presentation - while making a point on the power of our diversity in America as Muslims (a diversity rich in both experience and perspective which is being under-utilized) - raised the question to a large audience comprised overwhelmingly of Muslims with varied roots in other parts of the world – where are the African Americans?

I immediately saw the irony in that question as I, an African American Muslim and human rights advocate, well known to this community, stood on the side listening to these words, while feeling a profound sense of disappointment (and a touch of anger) because the executive director of this center once again (this wasn't the first time) blocked support from coming to the campaign of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.

This was the night that MLFA and NCPCF were present as "guests" of Dar Al-Hijrah, with Tarek Ramadan serving as the headliner of their fundraising event. I had simply requested permission to have a table in the lobby with the books, CDs, and handout information on the case of Aafia Siddiqui (who I knew would be referenced in the program); but the executive director –who brings shame, in my opinion, to what it means to be Palestinian in America – said NO!

The other "leaders" of this center – i.e., the imam (who at one point declared in his speech that if a church asked for our support, we would give them our support!), the "outreach director" of the center, and even one of the board members – were powerless to do a damn thing about such an insult being committed against a well-known African-American Muslim! (Not to mention the injustice being done to our sister.)

More recently, at one of the two Muslim-sponsored presidential inaugurals in Washington, DC, I crossed paths with the Muslim brother of mine who serves as the African-American face of Dar Al-Hijrah. Over the years he has also become a prominent face in Washington area interfaith politics; the go to man for fundraisers, or when some of our well-to-do immigrant brothers want to show the face of Muslim diversity and have an African American voice to represent their interests. (He's often introduced as the imam of Dar Al-Hijrah; but he isn't the imam.)

Once again at the inaugural (it wasn't the first time) I asked this brother to start raising his prominent DC area voice in support,and defense, of his long suffering sister-in-Islam (Aafia Siddiqui); but once again I received a non-committal response…and this is what brings me to the reason for Part One of this introspective critique.

We are now in that very special place in the American calendar between the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day of [selective]remembrance and "Black History Month." Insha'Allah, I want to use this fertile junction in the collective American psyche to hopefully prick the conscience of my African American Muslim brethren (esp. Muslim "leaders").

Back in the day, when the other Amerikkka was at its ugliest, most of the African Americans who gained celebrity (and the material success that came along with it) were those who served a desired interest. Those who could sing (or play their horns), those who could dance, and those who could make the white establishment laugh – in short, entertainers who knew their place!

There were also a few black faces in a number of government agencies who could be pointed to, when ever needed, as evidence that "Negroes" (and America, by extension) was making "progress" on the race question. Sometimes these "Negroes" would be sent overseas by the State Department, to emerging black African nations, to put a pretty face on, and help to soft-pedal, America's neo-colonial intrigues.

Whenever a prominent African American leader defied that mold – such as Paul Robeson, arguably the most well-known and accomplished African American of his time – they were severely punished, and used as an example of what can happen "if you get out of your place nigger."    

What is little known by the ever growing multitudes who lift up his name each year in blind, reactive tribute, is that at the time of Dr. Martin Luther King's death (martyrdom) on April 4, 1968, he was arguably the most hated man in America! And the scorn that was directed towards him also came from the so-called liberal establishment!

Don't take my word it. Do your own research. Google the archives of the major newspapers around the country from 1967, after Dr. King delivered his historic speech at Riverside Church in New York City, in which he publicly came out against America's war in Vietnam ("A Time to Break the Silence") – and see for yourself.

Not only did the establishment (which included most of the "white liberal" establishment) excoriate Dr. King for him forgetting his place ("civil rights" in America), many of his own formerly close compadres in the "civil rights movement" – after advising him on the error of his ways to no avail – distanced themselves from him! They instinctively knew that if he continued on that path he would be a marked man. Out of fear and a corrupting self-interest, many of his former friends in the movement felt the need for a parting of the ways.

The same thing happened to Malcolm (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) earlier! The final year of our brother's life was one filled with bone breaking challenge and tumultuous change! Malcolm was evolving (intellectually and spiritually) at a rapid pace. His perspective had become global, and his VOICE had also become global. Not only was he articulating the hopes, dreams and determination of his own people in America – he had come to symbolize the hopes, dreams, and determination of oppressed peoples overseas (especially on the strategically important and minerally rich African continent). Malcolm also became their voice on the global stage!

As Malcolm grew as an independent thinker and more consciously committed Muslim in that final year of his life, on a frenetic pace to atone for past mistakes he had made, it became clear that he too was a marked man. As would happen with Dr. King a couple of years later, some of Malcolm's supposedly closest brothers in the struggle distanced themselves from him (while others out-rightly betrayed him) once they saw the handwriting on the wall.

These inconvenient truths represent history as it is. And one of the important lessons imparted by history is life is cyclical – names and faces change, but the pattern of human behavior remains the same. (What was is what is – and knowing this helps us project what is yet to come.)

I often feel that I am walking in the same path as Robeson, Malcolm, Martin (and the other men and women throughout history like them). When people who I used to feel close to, no longer return my calls; when leaders of prominence are uncomfortable being in the same space with me; when I am excluded – despite the importance of the work that I have come to represent – frommost the main stages in the public square (even in my own Muslim community), I try not to take it personal, because my teachers have preceded me, and I know what it's about – FEAR and SELF-INTEREST!

The main purpose of this reminder is to appeal to my prominent African American Muslim brethren, who DO have access to some of these major platforms (in and outside of the Muslim-American community), to not allow your voices to be constrained as a result of that same corrupting fear and paralyzing self-interest!

You come from a people who have a very unique history and sociological experience in America, and on top of that you have ISLAM!  The perspective that emanates from this convergence is one that needs to be heard in this challenging time. Don't allowsome of our sick immigrant brethren, many of whom (not all) have a problem with dark skin – except when it can be used to serve their interests – keep you quiet on the major issues of the day!

(And I want to emphasize the point that not all of our immigrant brothers and sisters are like this, but far too many of them are!)

I conclude on this point. In my humble opinion, two of the major issues of the day are: (a) the loss of innocent lives taking place in the Muslim world on a daily basis, as a result of the American-orchestrated so-called "war on terrorism" (and on this note it has come to my attention, and this is truly appalling if true, that on Dr. King's day, while celebrations were taking place in Washington, DC, and around the nation, there was another drone strike in Yemen!); (b) and the mass incarceration of Muslims in America - primarily young Muslim males between the ages of 18-35 - resulting from this detestable war on the home front (the latest political manifestation of "The New Jim Crow")!

While there are MANY CASES that deserve our communal attention and support, the case that most represents the brutal gravity of America's oppressive misadventures in the name of "national security" is the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui – a committed Muslim woman cut off from the outside world on a military base in Fort Worth, Texas! (85 year old Ramsey Clark, a former US attorney general, recently opined that this was the worst case of injustice he has ever seen in all of his years of practice!)

This case represents a direct and major challenge for ALL Muslim leaders of America! To African American leaders, with significant access to the public square, the question becomes – ‘Are we willing to meet the challenges of our time? Or are we content to pay it safe, and satiate ourselves from the (material) crumbs that fall off the master's table?'

Time will tell! 

P.S. For those willing to STAND UP and assume their rightful place at the table, the national three month drive for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui has begun. It will culminate in two demonstrations in March 2013 – the first in New York City, and the second in Fort Worth, Texas. We need your voice in this effort!

And for those who have the ear of our two Muslim congressmen (who also happen to be African-American) we can use their voices also!


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