New Year’s Resolutions are hard to make and even harder to keep. As we reflect on past successes (or failures) and prepare for the new year, I think it is very important to go beyond developing resolutions that we have for ourselves individually and define what our expectations are for the American Muslim community in 2015 and in the future more generally. As we enter the new year, Muslims around the world find themselves in a precarious position. Events in Sydney (Australia), Peshawar, Syria, Nigeria, Gaza, Sudan, Iraq, even Saudi Arabia and Germany in 2014 have provided a rocky and uncertain platform upon which Muslims must strive to move forward in 2015.
While these issues are among the most pressing for the Muslim Umma globally, American Muslims have no shortage of concerns that are specific to them in the United States. In 2014, it was revealed (unsurprisingly) that American Muslim leaders were being spied on by the FBI and NSA. American Muslims received a slap-in-the-face from President Obama as he hosted the annual Iftar Dinner at the White House assuming attendees would be accepting of his comments regarding Israel’s right to defend itself. The actions of ISIS in the Middle East have brought undue pressure on the Muslim community in the United States from fellow Americans and various popular icons (e.g. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson). Protests across the country in response to the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice have also brought new consciousness to race related struggles.
These events have created a somewhat gloomy outlook for the future. Indeed, they have strengthened many stereotypes that misrepresent American Muslims. However, these stereotypes have prevailed because, as a community, we have failed at taking ownership of our religion. It is our responsibility and duty to represent Islam in a proactive manner; if we are successful in proactively presenting Islam in the proper manner, we would not have to do the work of reactively defending Islam on the back-end.
So, as we enter 2015, it is imperative that American Muslims pay close attention to these issues and understand how they impact relations with our non-Muslim compatriots. It is my hope that the following three suggestions can help mitigate the gloominess and improve the prospects for a successful year. While these goals cannot be achieved in one year, the New Year tradition offers us an opportunity for a fresh start in these areas.
1. Be socially conscious and act on that social consciousness. I may be preaching to the choir here, assuming that my audience is reading this because they are already socially conscious. However, I think it is necessary for Muslims to increase engagement in social justice activism in our communities, as this is an important part of our religion. For those of us that claim to be conscious, it is time for us to act on that consciousness. This has begun to manifest itself in the form of socially conscious sermons that can be heard in mosques across America. I think this must continue and increase; we must encourage our populations to identify and stand with Black Americans who have been victims of the system for centuries. It is time for us to boycott events that run counter to American Muslim interests, including the Iftar Dinner hosted by President Obama who spoke of Israel’s right to defend itself and not about the same right for Palestinians. It is time for us to shed our patriarchal practices that have long confused the truth about the difference between religion and cultural tradition. It is time for us to become politically engaged and make our voices heard with our elected leaders.
2. Raise your kids to be leaders. American Muslims – like many others – have long stressed the importance of education to their children. I grew up around this attitude and am thankful that it is such an important piece of my life. However, the end-goal has repeatedly been one of pride; parents can say “my daughter is a doctor” or “my son is engineer.” It is time for Muslims to encourage their children to become leaders. Many young Muslims have already taken it upon themselves to do so, but it is necessary that many of us still learn to lead. Political and social consciousness within our communities could only improve if some of the leadership is Muslim. We need leaders that will shine as examples of patriotic Americans to represent American Muslims and leaders that will become an example for our future generations.
3. Educate. Educate. Educate. It seems that American Muslims are always reacting to events around the world such as the rise of ISIS, the massacres in Peshawar, or the arrest of two Saudi women who defied driving laws. It is necessary for all of us to be proactive. All of us. While interfaith activities and educational programs are helpful, it is necessary that each and every American Muslim embody what it means to be Muslim in their day-to-day lives. Repeated positive interactions of non-Muslims with American Muslims will help reinforce in our compatriots the truth about what Islam teaches: peace, love, harmony, piety, justice, and faith. When the day comes that Americans are appalled by the fact that an ISIS-like group is acting in some way and condemn it as un-Islamic will be the day that we have succeeded; if others can see Islam in its true beauty, many of these stereotypes will likely disappear.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.