Who represents American Muslims? No one

By Farhana Qazi The Ground Zero madness is not an either-or proposition, or at least it should not be viewed … Continued

By Farhana Qazi

The Ground Zero madness is not an either-or proposition, or at least it should not be viewed as a for-or-against-the-mosque project. The larger issue, politics aside, is one of faith. Who represents the Muslim majority (or minority) in America? Therein lies the real challenge, or rather, confusion and chaos. In truth, with nearly 3 million Muslims in America, and thousands of mosques and schools being built (fundraising events are common during the month of Ramadan), the Muslim community in the United States is bound to multiply and therefore, magnify the role that Islam will (though perhaps should not) play in the American political scene.

The question of representation is rhetorical but relevant, as it is too often asked by Muslim and non-Muslims alike in this country. I make an attempt to answer the question by discussing it with my students and audiences that I am asked to speak to on the topic of Islam and Islamists (yes there is a difference; the latter represents a growing minority of Muslims who wish to govern by Islamic law in the United States and abroad). The answer is simple: no one represents Islam in America. After all, this is not Saudi Arabia where a particular view of religion dominates. Rather, there is a multitude of Islamic practices and preachers in almost every corner of America now. A new reality Americans are learning to live with (or not).

The Muslim voice in America has never been unified nor uniform. Just as people of other faiths are not monolithic, neither is Islam. While the historic battle among Muslims has been one of leadership (who should rule the Muslim masses?), there are now a wide range of issues that divide Muslims along the political, social and economic spectrum. When asked why Muslims fight, I tell U.S. military commanders, “We have always been fighting. But we also get along. The trouble is that we focus more on what separates us than what unites us as a faith-based community.”

And while debate often thrives in diverse communities and should be expected (though not always encouraged) by all religions, Muslims in America continue to be in the spotlight. More stories are now focused on how to cope with a growing community. TIME magazine’s lead story, “Is America Islamophobic?” is an attempt to take a deeper look at our feelings as a nation about a religion many Americans still don’t understand. I can’t even begin to answer how many times I’ve had to explain the concept of jihad in Islam, a term my editor says needs to be explained in my forthcoming book on Muslim women in conflict. A term that is common vernacular but not common knowledge.

Promoting understanding requires greater involvement. Too often, I hear Muslims advocate “We need to do something to change American foreign policy” but when not in the White House or in the halls of the Pentagon, the reality is that Muslims eager to contribute to shaping U.S. domestic and foreign policies will not be heard–unless they build a mosque at Ground Zero, which has become contentious, controversial and cause of conflict among Muslims and our political leaders on the rights of minorities in this country.

In truth, Muslims can shape the political debate by being a part of the political scene. I know I am not the only Muslim affiliated with the US Government. Currently I teach for the military and previously served in the intelligence community. Muslims need to take bolder and bigger steps for change in America. Standing on the sidelines in silent protest or gathering at Islamic conferences to discuss “community engagement”–the all too-familiar buzzword–is only one part of the solution. While Muslims participate in all sectors of American society, from philanthropists to peaceful activists, there are too few Muslims in the institutes of power, including the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. I realize that some Muslims might view the latter two organizations as symbols of the far-right or consider working as “spies” spiritually unethical. However, Muslim empowerment cannot come from constructing more mosques, alone. If, as many Muslims believe, understanding and tolerance are the key ingredients for mutual cooperation and a display of American citizenship, then it is time for Muslims to take charge and thus, shape Islam in America by joining hands with those who oppose the mosque project.

After all, it is possible to be Muslim and American. The purpose of Rauf’s mosque is to propagate that message, and yet, the opponents of the project increasingly view him as a staunch Islamist whose goal is to spread Islam. If Rauf intended the Park51 mosque to increase civic engagement among Muslim Americans and bridge religious divides, then the politically active debate (and disturbing discourse) about the mosque has had the opposite effect. More Americans are now aware of Muslims in their own backyard, and are perhaps being forced to take sides on the Park54 mosque issue.

I don’t know what Imam Rauf was thinking. Author of “What’s Right with Islam IS What’s Right with America,” he is not the only credible voice in the American Muslim spectrum. Before his book, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, the Dean of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., published Islam Under Siege (2003)–Rauf mimics Akbar’s approach and offers solutions to peace-building and inter-faith engagement between religious groups (though says little about Buddhists, Hindus and aethists).

Perhaps the imam should take the higher moral and political ground and move the mosque elsewhere. Relocating the mosque ten blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks will silence the political (and religious) discourse about a mosque that may not have intended to be politicized at all. Perhaps then we might also stop thinking that Rauf represents the vast majority of Muslims in America. After all, no one really represents Muslims in America.

Farhana Qazi is an American Muslim woman who lectures widely on Islam and conflicts in the Muslim world to the U.S. government and international audiences. She is currently a Senior Instructor for Pakistan on the AFPAK Team.

Written by

  • hcooper1

    A very well written and thought provoking article. America needs more voices like Ms. Oazi.

  • sinboy

    I’m sorry, Ms. Qazi, but the people who hate the community center already prevented an actual Mosque from being built on Staten Island. Moving Park 51 won’t prevent Mosques in Tennessee from being attacked by arsonists either. You might as well ask what any Muslim who wants to build a Mosque in America is thinking, because so many Americans hate them that they have good reason to be afraid no matter where they are. For that, I am deeply sorry. I wish it were otherwise.

  • fortitude

    I FIND IT INTERESTING THAT THE PEOPLE WANTING TO PUT THIS MOSQUE THERE CONTINUE TO OFFEND, OFFEND, OFFEND, IRRITATE, IRRITATE, IRRITATE, ANNOY, ANNOY, ANNOY. THIS GOES AGAINST GOD’S WORD. THEY CLEARLY ARE NOT GODLY PEOPLE, BUT WARRIORS WHO SEEK TO DELIBERATELY DISTURB THE AMERICAN PEOPLE — JUST LIKE THE HIJACKERS OF 9-11!ISLAM SEPARATES PEOPLE FROM GOD AND LEADS THEM DOWN AN INEVITABLE PATH TO DESTRUCTION AND VIOLENCE.TO LEARN WHAT ISLAM TEACHES, GOOGLE: AMERICAN THINKER SHARIA LAW

  • fortitude

    ONE QUESTION FOR MUSLIMS: ARE YOU A FOLLOWER OF MUHAMMAD?GOOGLE: AMERICAN THINKER SHARIA LAWIS THIS WHAT YOU BELIEVE? DO YOU BELIEVE THERE SHOULD BE NO FREEDOM OF SPEECH WHEN CRITICIZING THE VIOLENT TEACHINGS OF MUHAMMAD?DO YOU BELIEVE WOMEN SHOULD BE BEATEN BY THEIR HUSBANDS?DO YOU BELIEVE THAT HOMOSEXUALS SHOULD BE KILLED?DO YOU BELIEVE PEDOPHILIA IS “ACCEPTABLE” BECAUSE MUHAMMAD DID IT?!DO YOU BELIEVE THAT ANYONE WHO DENIESIF YOU BELIEVE THESE THINGS, THEN YOU ARE A FOLLOWER OF MUHAMMAD AND YOU WILL BE ON AN INEVITABLE PATH TO VIOLENCE AND WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SUBSCRIBE THE PRINCIPLES OF FREEDOM – EVER.IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE TEACHINGS OF MUHAMMAD, THEN YOU MUST DENY ISLAM AND BECOME A SECULAR PERSON OR CONVERT TO A PEACEFUL RELIGION.LISTEN TO WHAT EX-MUSLIMS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT ISLAM…THEY ARE TELLING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE NOT TO BE AFRAID TO BE CALLED AN ISLAMAPHOBE…THEY ARE TELLING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE NOT BE AFRAID TO BE CALLED POLITICALLY INCORRECT. ISLAM IS SEPARATING YOU FROM GOD. PERIOD. IT IS A BARBARIC AND CHILDISH POLITICAL SYSTEM THAT SEEKS TO CONTROL EVER ASPECT OF ONE’S LIFE….LOOK AT IRAN, WHERE THEY EVEN WANT TO CONTROL MEN’S HAIRCUTS! SO BIZARRE!

  • thomasmc1957

    How is it than when any Christian preacher is caught with his pants down, or called to the carpet for spewing hate against others, Christians always say, “Oh, he doesn’t represent ME! He isn’t really a Christian.”Yet these very same people have no qualms whatsoever claiming that Muslim Extremists represent ALL Muslims!

  • tlwinslow

    Sorry, but Muslim disinfo. articles like this one are a waste of time since more and more Americans are studying Islam and its ideology and history outside the realm of Muslim-friendly liberal media and academia and figuring out that Allah is an enemy of the U.S. Constitution and that horrible Sharia is the inescapable result of mass Muslim immigration to any country, it’s just a matter of numbers. Are Muslims split into “moderate” and “extremist” camps? Is “real” Islam moderate? Is jihad only a personal inner struggle, an internal war to serve Allah better, and the Quran doesn’t condone violence against those who don’t see the light that Islam is the ultimate truth and fail to follow Sharia and accept Muslim superiority over the land? Ask founder Muhammad, in Quran 5:33:”The punishment of those who war against Allah and his messenger Muhammad and Take the Historyscoper’s free online Islam history course and master all the key facts to understand the threat of Islam to the U.S., its Constitution, and our way of life:

  • catiem86

    This article made me consider an aspect of this issue that I never had before, while at the same time, reenforcing my belief that just because someone is Muslim, that does not mean he/ she is not American. We all come from different backgrounds, different cultures, and different faiths. That’s what makes America so wonderful. I also found this article, which offers another interesting view on the proposed mosque:

  • thecat7

    The rules in Islam that are archaic and not considered acceptable in the modern world are symbols of the times, not the religion. Additionally, the concept of “sharia” has been warped over the centuries by power hungry clergy and politicians wishing to manipulate the populace and crush opposition. The truth of what IS and what IS NOT sharia is, like many topics, heavily debated in the Islamic world, as Ms. Oazi pointed out. There’s no one leader, or group of leaders to interpret it all, to sort things out. Muslims are too focused on fighting each other to figure out the future of the religion. Islam is experiencing a great upheaval, not unlike what was occurring in Christianity 1400 years after its creation. Muslims are looking at sharia rules, and realizing that they don’t apply to today’s society. These are the same Muslims who, like Ms. Oazi, are calling for more dialogue, reaching out, actually joining the societies they live in and becoming full-fledged members of those societies instead of hewing to the old ways without realizing how much it damages them as a people. It is those voices who must prevail, not the voices of the extremists.

  • Qudsia00

    Thank you for the well written article. It’s unfortunate to see the same divide though, in the comments section. There are some who get the point that Muslims are just as diverse a group as the those of other faiths, while there are others that continue to spread propaganda. To the poster who quoted from verse 5:33, I want to ask why he skipped the previous verse which makes it clear that taking of life is no ordinary matter…that killing one person unjustly is like killing the whole of humanity. The rationale behind taking human life is only to make the society peaceful for the law abiding people, especially the defenseless. When someone wages a WAR against you, what do YOU do? Islam also preaches forgiveness, and in the very next verse it says, if they repent (not convert, but repent of their violent actions) then leave them alone.