Recently I made my first Muslim friend.
Aakifah and I met during a writing workshop. Amid conversations on character development and plotting, we discussed her culture including Ramadan and prayer rituals. We also talked about lone wolves and terrorist groups who massacre in the name of Islam. I didn't mention the American president. I was too embarrassed.
Instead, I asked a question that had plagued me about the Muslim community. “Where is the Muslim leader that speaks to the non-Muslim masses and explains that the horrendous actions of a few do not represent the Muslim population of almost two billion?”
Aakifah’s initial response was that there are leaders. She directed me to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which I had never heard of and suspect many non-Muslims are unaware of too. On their website, I watched a video that discussed “Islamophobia”, and perused press releases that denounced hate crimes against mosque worshipers and condemned discriminatory anti-Muslim gun control legislation.
I found all of this informative but my question was still unanswered.
There have been many leaders in the spotlight who have enlightened and guided. Some have become trailblazers by choice, others by circumstance. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the face and voice of the Civil Rights Movement. President Franklin Roosevelt led the preservation of our National Parks. Harvey Milk guided a gay rights movement. Jackie Robinson steered the integration of baseball. Harriet Tubman was at the forefront of the abolitionist movement and woman’s suffrage.
These American leaders, with non-violence, raised their voices louder than those of the haters and the racists, and they were heard and trusted.
We could use a Muslim news “celebrity” now who could guide us during this especially difficult time, as Walter Cronkite did when he announced JFK’s assassination, and like Anderson Cooper when he reported on Hurricane Katrina.
A recognizable Muslim leader could be interviewed on CNN and Fox News, could be quoted in the New York Times, could share his opinions in the Huffington Post, and could have presence on social media. Someone we trust could take the attention away from the insane and embarrasing path America is treading upon, and help re-focus on what is really important: honoring victims, preventing violence, and keeping our Muslim friends safe.
Non-Muslims should not need handholding, yet many do as evidenced by the rise in hate crimes and derogatory sentiments against the Muslim community, and by the election of the current United States president who ran on a platform of banning Muslims.
Aakifah said, “Salaam means peace. The Muslim community is very disappointed in what is happening. Violence is contrary to our true teaching but you have to understand, we are humble people. Allah teaches us not to draw attention to ourselves and not to brag.”
“Maybe an exception can be made.” I hoped not to sound like an ignorant American. “Terrorists murder because they are mentally ill, are misguided as to what the Quran teaches, and know they will get attention after the act. Would-be killers get tips each time the media recreates the latest attack for the world to see. Wouldn’t it be best if among all the media coverage the strongest voice came from the Muslim world? Non-Muslims need to know that a few crazies do not make a nation.”
“Oh yes,” she responded. “We’re doctors and teachers and are like everybody else. Perhaps the Muslim community needs to be more progressive. People are more expressive in the United States and in other parts of the world. Maybe the Muslim community needs to be the same.”
I hugged my friend and we touched cheeks, three times, in the Muslim tradition.
A “celebrity” Muslim that could be looked to and trusted by Non-Muslims is a step to bringing America back where she belongs: a country built by immigrants and with freedom for all. And then, maybe, more Muslims and non-Muslims will become friends and we will understand each other better. I, for one, would enjoy having more Muslim friends.
With the current ban on Muslim's entering America, we need voices espousing peace, freedom and equal rights for all more than ever: from the Muslim and Non-Muslim communities.
I write against the Muslim ban.