By Tahir Khan, Class of 2016
I am not a writer – I have never been one and this is not my new year’s resolution. But the current surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S. (especially during presidential debates) made me realize that I might have something to contribute. So, I’ve finally decided to put pen to paper (or, fingers to keyboard).
My goal is not to defend Islam and claim the community is misunderstood. I believe it is time Muslims in America (and the world over) wake up and smell the coffee. Every time a terrorist attack happens anywhere, we see similar statements from the Muslim community – “these terrorists do not represent Islam” or “you cannot hold 1.2 billion people responsible for actions of a few.” Our community needs to introspect about what inspires parents of a 6 month old child to go on a killing spree, or what made close to a 1,000 Muslims from the UK leave their life behind to join the terrorist group ISIL. Until there is acceptance that these people were Muslim, however flawed their philosophy, there will be no course correction. At the same time, it is important to take control of the conversation, both inside the religious institutions and outside in the real world. If we believe Muslims are being misrepresented, we need to be more active and engage with people from local communities. You will be happy to learn, things are changing within these communities.
The dialogue has shifted from being quietly remorseful about the status quo to taking on this hardline ideology and stomping it out. Within the mosques, most of the sermons I have attended in the US and India have focused on how violence should be abhorred and how we can be better citizens. Regarding community engagement, the local mosque in downtown Chicago actively supported an initiative of high school Muslim kids who decided to stand outside the Trump Tower in Chicago to offer passersby a chance to ask questions about Muslims and Islam. Another development was the launch of a Muslim reform movement where 13 community leaders from the U.S., Canada and Europe started an initiative at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. to reject any interpretation of the religion that calls for violence. The initiative calls instead for human rights, justice and secular governance. This is a step to engage actively members of the Muslim community in rigorous debate on charting the future of Muslims in secular democratic nations.
Millions of migrants every year come to this country chasing the American dream. Apprehensions about Muslim migration and incompatibility with the secular democratic values is understandable, but let’s look at the top five Muslim populations in the world where half the Muslims in the world reside: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Egypt. Four out of these five nations have a democratically elected government and have had female heads of state (Bangladesh currently has a woman Prime Minister). This should help debunk the myth about incompatibility between Muslims and Democracy.
All the Muslim-American community asks for is patience and support. The only way we move forward is by removing barriers and we can start this by understanding each other. I would like to do my part – if you have any questions about the religion or community, please reach out to me. No question is off limits and no question is offensive. I hope this is the beginning of a conversation rather than the end of this opinion piece.
Tahir is a practicing Muslim (one of few in the class of 2016), an Arizona Cardinals fan (maybe the only one in the class of 2016) and was born and raised in India.