The Jumm’ah (Friday prayer) gathering on November 11th was unusually quiet and everyone seemed to be deeply reflective. Unusually so. Even those who are usually chatty seemed quieter than normal. Given that we don’t have a mosque in the area where I live, we meet in a hotel room to pray, every Friday. The Imam there pointed out, like others throughout the country have, that there is need to have faith in God. While seemingly a terrible situation is before us, in that an openly anti-Muslim candidate has won the elections, there is need to have faith- both in God and in the democratic norms and structures of the U.S. The Imam pointed out that within the Muslim community, with its long history, there are several instances where we have gone through a lot of persecution. The Prophet Muhammad himself faced life and death situations in his early days of mission.
Half-way across the country, on a Live Stream broadcast, Imam Zaid Shakir, who is an Imam in Austin, TX pointed out various instances from the Prophet’s life, in an effort to illustrate the great challenges that he faced. “We are in the battle of ideas – not a physical battle – but one of fighting racism and discrimination. This is our battle, just as the Prophet rallied his forces to meet the forces that were against them, we must rally to go meet the forces of hatred and bigotry, head on; as a community.” He suggested the Muslims must do this through openness and dialogue. He argued that American Muslims should be agents of peace and justice and work with others, irrespective of their backgrounds. “We have to be the people of community, and to commit to brotherhood and sisterhood, where all come together. We must work not just for the betterment of not just our community, but the whole world.” His call, which seems simplistic and almost banal at first glance was to deeply reflect on the role that the American Muslims play in day-to-day affairs and be more engaged, politically.
A recent survey by Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a D.C. based think tank bears out this fact (PDF). The following interesting findings validate what Imam Shakir was calling for. Three key findings from the report are important, to the discussion here:
a. Muslims are the least (among Jews, Christians and themselves) politically engaged group, though they are quite engaged in their local communities
b. Muslims who say their faith is important to their identity are more likely to say being American is important to how they think of themselves (91 percent) than those who expressed a weak religious identity (68 percent)
c. The top reasons that American Muslims mention for not voting are because they don’t like the people who are running or that their issues are not represented.
The level of political engagement is likely to change after this election, knowing how much votes matter, in a swing state.
As I am reading all the reports of harassment and racism that are pouring in, and also seeing that the reactions from people of all walks of life are ranging from despair to jubilation. While I am upset at the way things are going and hope (and pray) that these acts of racism and name-calling stop, there is reason to believe that this is a temporary bump in the road. White supremacists are having a field day, those on the left are reacting in various ways: some are organizing, some are in despair while others are in an in-between stage.
American Muslims are fearful given that some of the advisors on Mr. Trump’s team are of dubious background; it behooves him to clarify that his policies will not further racism and Islamophobia. As a leader, he must step up and ‘define’ what his administration will look like and act. This must also mean that there must be rhetoric and action to be inclusive, nondiscriminatory and fair.
Governance is tough business and Mr. Trump will learn that soon enough. This will mean learning to get along with everyone – not just his own followers. While this may be an opportunity for him to gain some valuable education in civic affairs, I hope it is also an opportunity for those who feel threatened to come together and give one another hope.
Another organization, WISE, which is based in New York sent out an email with the message of the post-election scenario being “A powerful opportunity to model tolerance and acceptance.” This sentiment is being reflected by many. While one can hope that this leads to more civic and political activism, there is also the danger that this is a knee-jerk reaction, and there will be complacency and indifference, if people don’t see results soon.
It is reassuring to know that while Mr. Trump may have won, he represents the past and not the future. As this article in CNN points out, Millennials did not elect Trump. The future looks bright, even if the past is bleak. The only mistake that the American people made was in harkening back to a vision of the past that has long proved to be racist, divisive and self-alienating.
Finally, as Imam Zaid Shakir suggested, it was a Black Muslim – Muhammad Ali – who was a champion of the anti-war movement. “It is not ironic that an American Muslim could do what no one could do – because of the circumstances that Allah created for him. The same circumstances that were created for him are being created for us.” The situation back then was far worse, than it was for us, he said. This is to say that despite the hardships and psychological pressure – of being seen as the perennial ‘outsider,’ American Muslims are coming together and shaping their discourses as Americans, as fellow-citizens who care about this country as much as anyone else. Despite the challenges of diversity within the community and internal struggles of community cohesion, one can see that these grassroot efforts are shaping up, to address this extraordinary situation. Imam Shakir argued that there is too much at stake and there is no turning around. “We must proceed with faith,” he said before concluding.