by Altaf Husain, guest contributor
As Americans pause today, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, it is worthwhile to reflect on the culture of service and social justice that were part of his teachings.
While the values King espoused could be internalised by anyone who is passionate about improving the human condition, his teachings resonate especially with faith-inspired people. Muslim Americans, for example, have a profound appreciation for King because he dedicated his life to addressing societal injustices — a central tenet of the Islamic tradition.
Of particular relevance from King’s teachings is the concept of a “world house,” comprised of peoples of different faith traditions. He wrote, “We have inherited a large house, a great world house in which we have to live together — black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu — a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”
The concept of a world house is especially relevant when applied to interfaith collaboration on social justice initiatives today. Such interfaith collaboration is an American tradition, and Muslim Americans are integral to it. In fact, social activism among Muslim Americans is at an all-time high.
Inspired by their own faith tradition and responding to invitations from other traditions, Muslim Americans have been noticeably advancing the concept of a world house, especially by focusing people’s attention on hunger in America.
Consider the Interfaith Hunger Initiative (IHI) in Indianapolis, of which the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a partner. The IHI reports that 16,000 children die from hunger each day throughout the world. In Indianapolis alone, a total of 18,000 children are frequently hungry. With the active involvement of Muslim Americans, IHI aims to end child and family hunger both at the domestic level in Indianapolis, and internationally in Kenya.
While hunger is an issue nationwide, in inner-city neighbourhoods, a related issue is the disproportionately large number of unhealthy food options being sold in stores. This issue, conceptualised as food justice, is being addressed head on by a Chicago-based organisation, Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN). IMAN is located in Chicago’s south side and was founded by young Muslim Americans. IMAN is unabashedly targeting “food and liquor” stores (including ones owned by Muslims) in inner-city black neighbourhoods, challenging them to take responsibility for the food options they offer. IMAN recently sponsored a forum entitled “Food For Life, A Human Right: Food Justice, Corner Stores & Race Relations in the ‘Hood.”
Muslim Americans are also represented both by ISNA and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), an American membership organisation of 300 religious communities. NRCAT asserts that “torture is a moral issue” and aims to end torture in our own backyard. A declaration regarding prisoner treatment, torture, and cruelty states that NRCAT members “agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American.” As active and vocal partners in NRCAT, Muslim Americans are exerting tremendous energy in organising campaigns to educate community members about the adverse psychological and physical impact of current practices on prisoners, such as 23-hour solitary confinement; they advocate prohibiting torture outright for mentally ill prisoners, as well as certain interrogation techniques.
As these examples indicate, there are sufficient members of the world house, among them Muslim Americans, who are not only putting into practice the teachings of their own faith and cultural traditions but also exemplifying the continuing relevance of King’s teachings to contemporary social issues. King’s life was cut short nearly 45 years ago; however, his teachings remain relevant today, inspiring Muslim Americans and others to uphold social justice through interfaith collaborations.
Altaf Husain is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Society of North America. He is a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and Assistant Professor of Social Work at Howard University in Washington, DC.
A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on April 3, 2012. Copyright permission is granted for publication.Comments
by Chris Miller, guest contributor
"Action" (photo: Alessandro Pautasso/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
Most people listen to songs like “Eye of the Tiger” or the theme from Chariots of Fire when running. I am not most people. I prefer a good old-fashion podcast.
A few days ago I was listening to the interfaith forum "Pursuing Happiness" while out on a five-miler. Around mile three, something amazing happened. Maybe it was the noise of the traffic or the use of a translator, but I lost track of who was speaking. Instead of rewinding, I went along with it and, before long, I was amen-ing each answer without knowing who gave it.
There was a time in my past when this type of thing would have been unheard of. I grew up Southern Baptist. My amens were reserved for fellow brethren. If one was not a hymn-singing, Bible-thumping, submerging-baptizer, then one was not worthy of my praise. I was taught truth had to come from the “correct” source. Otherwise, it was heresy. Yet there I was, hearing truth from a Muslim scholar, an Orthodox rabbi, an Episcopalian bishop, and the Dalai Lama himself.
How was that possible? Maybe it was the lack of oxygen or the sweat in my eyes, but I had a realization. Truth is truth. Some thinkers take this even a bit further, saying, “All truth is God’s truth.” I’m beginning to agree.
God is big enough to reveal himself as he chooses. I have heard and seen God in print, in music, and in film — from both Christian and non-Christian sources. I have heard preachers and atheists teach powerful spiritual truths. I have seen God dwelling amongst the dirtiest of slums and the most decorated of sanctuaries. He is heard and seen however and wherever He chooses to make Himself known.
When Moses first encountered God, he demanded a name. But instead of giving him a name, God replied, “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.” He refuses to be labeled. When one labels God, when one claims him as their own, they reduce him to an image of their liking. They limit him. They only let him speak through the voices they have approved.
Of course, God cannot be limited. “Pursuing Happiness” was proof of that. He spoke through each individual on the stage, whether they labeled him Yahweh, Allah, or something else. He made himself known.
As I finished my run, I realized it was not only my legs that got a workout. My mind, my heart, and my soul were also pushed. In the course of those five miles, I was exposed to truth — God’s truth — by individuals very different from me. Who would have thought the Dalai Lama could make such a great running partner?
Chris Miller is a seminary student living in Merriam, Kansas. You can read more of his writing at Caffeinated Ramblings.
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by Susan Leem, associate producer
Krista’s interview with Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, the senior religion editor at the Huffington Post, is in the can. His pedigree reaches back to towering figures of the 20th century: social gospel reformer Walter Rauschenbusch (great-grandfather) and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis (grandfather). He reminds us that religion is a valuable and increasingly essential vehicle for communication in our modern world.
We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Look for our show with him in the coming weeks, and follow us next time at @BeingTweets.
by Habeeb Alli, special contributor
A Charlottestown mosque in Canada invites all. (photo: level 5 vegan/Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)
I’m thrilled again to have been a part of recent history. While someone burned the Qur’an in the United States, another presented us with a Qur’an in an expression of solidarity. I told this to my congregation during a Friday service and they were all moved by the gesture.
For the eighth year, an exercise of interfaith exchange between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Ontario has progressed in good faith — and the gift of the Qur’an was this year’s highlight. The Abraham Festival in Peterborough originated on the premise that all three faiths have a common heritage, which needs to be explored and shared. Walking through the symbolic tent of Abraham — referring to the biblical prophet’s tent, a place of hospitality and engagement with strangers which was open to the four winds — in order to enter the St. Andrew’s United Church gave attendees the sense that history can be relived, even in a modern-day setting.
Dr. Dan Houpt, a Jewish partner, facilitator, and doctor who has been keen in bringing the three faiths together in Peterborough, presented the Qur’an to us Muslims during the festival last month. He first suggested the idea to his Muslim counterpart and co-founder Elizabeth Rahman, who then consulted with the Canadian Council of Imams about the gift. Rahman is a convert from the UK and first became active in the community in the 1970s, with her late Indian husband.
The Muslims Students Association at the nearby Trent University hosted the Friday service, on the first day of the festival this year, so that Christian and Jewish neighbours could observe the presenting of the Qur’an. Houpt offered some thoughts on the gift, stating, “It shows we stand with [Muslims] in solidarity,” and then added that this offering “shows it’s a terrible act to burn a holy book.”
I offered my gratitude and reminded the audience — comprised of people of all three faiths — that it is a tribute well received on behalf of all Muslims and that the desecration of any holy book is an attack on all Holy Scriptures. I also reminded them that this act was in line with a historic tradition when the Muslim Ibn Rushd, Jewish Maimonides, and Christian Thomas Aquinas learnt from one another’s works in 12th-century Spain, which even John Paul II recognised as being of significant historical importance.
This year’s theme of the Abraham Festival was forgiveness. Many facilitators were present to share what their faith offered on the subject of forgiving others. In my speech, I told attendees that “forgiveness is an interesting topic because you often need it for people you love the most. The person you love the most can hurt you the most. And forgiveness lightens the burden.”
The presentation of the Qur’an by the local Jewish community was a way to show goodwill and remove any misunderstanding and hurt that Muslims may have experienced in today’s unfortunate atmosphere of Islamophobia — something Jews can relate to given their long years of dealing with anti-Semitism.
I also told festival goers that recently a group of Jewish people had donated money and time to build a mosque in Toronto. Television producer Kenny Hotz will highlight this daring project, the Peace Mosque, in his documentary to be shown on the Showcase Television channel this spring.
Rahman was recognised during the event and I handed her a card of appreciation along with the Qur’an, which she will use during her tours to the area’s schools and prisons. Muslims have been overwhelmed by and thankful for this token of solidarity, for such is the tradition of Abraham.
A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on May 10, 2011. Copyright permission is granted for publication.Comments
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11."
Fear is very real for many Muslims in America today. I don’t think I truly understood how real this elevated level of anxiety is until I read Patel’s quote in Laurie Goodstein’s article in Sunday’s New York Times. He is a man who has spent a good deal of time speaking to all sorts of people and members of religious groups trying to build interfaith dialogue and understanding; I’m sure he’s witnessed some heated arguments and outlandish actions. For him to make this statement is striking, and troubling. We should take heed.
So much is happening right now, and the confluence of popular opinion and current events must be weighing mighty heavily on the minds of many Muslims. There are decreasing favorability ratings of Islam. There are heated protests and debates surrounding Park51, the Islamic cultural center and mosque in lower Manhattan. There are bricks being thrown and a taxi driver being stabbed. And, then, all this crazy media coverage of a Florida pastor pulling a publicity stunt by planning to burn Qur’ans on Saturday.
As to the Dove World church’s plans, there seems to be very little response from other faith leaders and religious communities. Where’s the outcry? But, as The Christian Science Monitor suggests Tuesday in “CNN covered interfaith call to oppose Koran burning. Who didn’t?,” perhaps it was in the lack of live coverage of events like this press conference at the National Press Club in which dozens of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders stood together while calling for a united front against Qur’an burning and other aspects of Islamophobia. The Dove World church’s fiery intentions are brighter than the stars in the night skies. Or are they?
I’ve noticed myriad secular and faith leaders, people who write and blog and tweet, vehemently protesting and uniting behind their Muslim brothers and sisters. They act not by decrying but by reading, reading the Qur’an itself — even at the holiest of times. On the heels of Rosh Hashanah services, the Velveteen Rabbi writes:
"In response to the rising tide of Islamophobia and especially to those who intend to burn the Qur’an on 9/11, my teacher Rabbi Phyllis Berman suggested that as Jews gather to worship on Shabbat Shuvah, we might consider reading from the Qur’an as a gesture of respect toward our sister Abrahamic tradition. At my synagogue, we typically gather for Torah study after services, around 11am. On 9/11, our text for sacred study will come from the Qur’an."
And the Undercover Nun continues:
"On Saturday, September 11, 2010, I’m reading the Quran so that I can be a better American and a better Christian. Won’t you join me?"
Many more noble efforts like this are taking place. Look around. And as we non-Muslims try to pay attention and express our sympathies, we ought to remember that yesterday was the last day of Ramadan. It’s a time of celebration and thankfulness. It’s Eid.
When Sayneb, a young Somali woman and co-worker came through the office the other evening, we got talking about Ramadan, next year’s dog days of July and fasting, and current events, to which I gestured, “Boy, these are crazy times.”
She paused. Then she looked kindly at me, smiled softly, and said with no uncertainty, “These are good times.”Comments