Muslims in America are more united and have more cultural and political influence than ever. What will they do with it?
It's been a long time since we were friends and colleagues back in NY.
I am grateful that you are leading American Muslims in your position - your voice and leadership are critical to promote the Muslim tradition you embody, which always impressed me with its dignity, pride, tolerance, love of peace and open-mindedness.
But I am honestly just sitting here and grieving, after reading your piece. After all your work in the area of Jewish-Muslim dialogue, this piece feels like a slap in the face. I want to try to explain why.
I have heard you speak in the past and read your work about how the post 9/11 moment was a defining moment for American Muslim communities. I have appreciated how your leadership was defined by that moment. I further appreciate the ways in which you are speaking to your community right now, in the piece, to remind them to tap into the resilience and strength of the American Muslim community at this difficult moment.
I understand that in your piece, you are speaking to a Muslim audience, but as I read your piece, I also see a huge wedge being placed between American Muslim and American Jewish communities. Placed by someone in whom I had great hope of being able to share in the work that I dream of, of bringing our communities closer together.
What defied comprehension, for me, especially after knowing you and being in conversation with you for so many years, was what you said and also what you didn’t say, as it relates to Israel and American Jews.
Islamophobia was a concern after 9/11 and it is a concern now. Your focus on it with your students and community is important. I was disheartened, though, that you do not teach your students as well about rising antisemitism (and how much of it is coming, right now, from Pro-Palestinian corners).
You very well know that most liberal Jewish leaders across the US- many of them you’ve worked with- continue to tirelessly advocate against islamophobia even as we face rising antisemitism. Is there no place in your education of your students for empathy for Jews grieving and afraid, even as your support them in their own grief and fear? Where do you teach your students to think about others? Where is the ability to hold complexity with compassion and wisdom that I saw in you when we were colleagues?
Speaking of complexity, the way you describe the current conflict in Israel/Palestine, and the history of it, how is this education? How is this leadership? How will this ever lead to more Muslim leaders who will work with Jewish leaders for co-existence and for a 2 state solution or whatever we can come up with that’s better than what currently exists?
Especially after all the time you have spent in the region, I am surprised that this is what you were left with, and that this is what you teach your students:
“Israel, I explained, was founded on Palestinian land, and realized by expelling Palestinians from their land.” And then writing “the indigenous were replaced to make way for people from elsewhere.” Don’t Jews have ancestral ties to Israel? Hasn’t there always been a Jewish community in Palestine? Were all Palestinians expelled from their land, really? And what about my people, Jews from the Middle East who had to flee because all the Muslim-majority countries across MENA became inhospitable/oppressive? and so much more..
You know the history. You know how messy it is. How can you flatten it so? It’s not only inaccurate, it’s destructive for any hopes for progress in the region..
And in terms of the current moment, you write "Israel began bombing Gaza" as if this is happening in a vacuum, as if there’s no terror organization ruling Gaza and terrorizing its own Muslim civilians, sworn to repeat its attacks of Oct 7 time and again. As if Hamas hasn’t continued to bomb Israel, as if Hamas isn’t holding 240 hostages. You name Hamas killing civilians. You call this killing repulsive, and I appreciate that (my new low bar for dialogue). But I wish you had written who these civilians are - Israeli civilians. This, of course, preceded Israel's attack on Gaza and explains it.
Reading this simplistic account of the past and present moment, reading that this is what the most promising American Muslim leaders are teaching their children, leaves me feeling little hope for the future. Especially knowing how much access you have had to a more complicated story. What hope can we have for everyone else?
Lastly, to see an insistence that all the fundamentalists acting violently in the name of Islam are just not authentic Muslims leads to the inability or unwillingness to call out fundamentalist violence on one’s own side. This is dangerous. . It’s as if I would say that I don’t need to take responsibility or deal with the radical Jews on my side because they are all just misinterpreting Jewish tradition and scripture.
We will never ever move forward unless all of us call out hate in our backyard and strive to counter their voices.. Hamas’s barbaric attacks on Israel were horrendous. And the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is itself awful and with plenty of blame to go everywhere. Nothing will ever ever ever be solved without acknowledging the narratives from the other side.
I am so, so sad. I so want peace for our peoples. I so want partners to work together to combat all kinds of hatred. I loved our work fighting for co-existence and communal bonds in the US. I dream of Israeli and Palestinian children growing up with hope and dignity. I used to think of you as such a partner.
I'm hard pressed to take seriously articles and opinion pieces that mention the Nakba, without mentioning that the Arab states that started that war expelled hundreds of thousands of Jews at the same time.
I am new to Wisdom of Crowds so please forgive my naiveté in advance. I only know of Shadi from podcasts with Coleman and Sam Harris so I may be missing a lot here but Im hoping to learn. A few things in the piece caught my notice and perhaps someone could explain things to me further regarding these points:
-"Our years of building our own institutions—because nobody else would (welcome to secular and plural democracy) compelled us to become resourceful, resilient, and engaged." -- Who else should have built institutions for Muslims? The building led to positive outcomes so why the disdain for having to build them yourself? This is a pillar of American understanding; if you want something done, you have to do it yourself and this process is likely to be rewarding. Maybe I am misinterpreting the point.
-"Our model for our actions is certainly not how other people treat us. Not even how some Muslims act. Even many Muslims. It begins with our Prophet, peace be upon him, who embodies the scripture he passed on to us." -- I am not Islamic so I may be totally and completely wrong but didn't The Prophet take sex slaves, underage brides, and murder people himself? Isn't that why fundamentalists are often able to point to the text itself and claim they are actually practicing in the same way he did? We don't see large swaths of the Muslim world wanting to criticize the ideas that come from within. There seems to be an "us vs them" attitude and a desire to fight against that, and less fight against the bad ideas the exist within the doctrines of the religion- that exist in ALL monotheistic religions.
-"Solidarity with Palestine, shared by so many Muslims, had become dangerous to express. Powerful Americans declared that debating why October 7 had happened (or, say, how to prevent it from happening again) was all but treasonous." -- 100,000 people marched in London. 300,000 in DC. 15,000 in Sydney were the crowd chanted "gas the Jews". The idea that speaking out is dangerous for pro-Palestinians is bordering on delusion. The rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes has always been orders of magnitude higher than anti-Islamic crimes; even after 9/11 (not that ANY crimes are a good thing). Given the second point in this post, The Muslim community at large seemingly does not want to discuss religious doctrines that make the murder of Jews in horrific, painful, and tortuous ways a justifiable endeavor. As evidenced by the lack of condemnation from the leaders of Muslim world of the actions by Hamas on 10/7. The UN cant agree to condemn the acts. The political talking heads on popular news shows cant do it in any convincing fashion. Thats a real problem. What progress can be made if large numbers of important and visible leaders cant find it within themselves to condemn atrocities that took place under the banner of Islam on 10/7? Israeli's will continue to do whatever they feel is necessary to protect themselves against regimes and people's who would push them into the sea if given the chance. Why is it the Israeli's responsibility to recognize a people's legitimate claim to a land when the other will not return the favor in any convincing fashion?
-Again, Im new here and hoping to learn with great sincerity.
Your entire Essay reminded me basically Muslims are for Muslims. No realization of Islamic terrorism. I will remember your essay.
Interesting read. Not sure how I feel about it. It felt like a one sided victim narrative... and that doesn’t get us anywhere. I am married to a person from a liberal Muslim sect and I understand some of the sentiments... but it’s clear the US social justice narrative and oppressor/ oppressed thing is a part of this. The whole- we had to build our own community and institutions thing really hit me... because all the stories I’m told from ancestors is they did the same with pride and no complaints. They never mentioned despite many times being treated poorly that someone else was responsible for taking care of them. They worked hard and wanted to make a better life and knew it wouldn’t be easy. They wanted to assimilate... I guess it’s just really hard to understand this narrative from so many people these days. How does it unify. Maybe be grateful you could form these institutions and communities because this country allows that for all of us.
If you truly want to reach across the aisle:
- Don’t chant “From The River To The Sea”
- When you make the comparison to American Indians, don’t leave out that the “settlers” were there 1,500 years before the “indigenous” population
My background is in the psychology of terrorism and I am curious as to how the author reconciles Hamas which is a bonafide terrorist group to a viable Palestine state or even Islam in general. Much mention is made in the article of the tenents of Islam but little of how to differentiate radical Islamist zealots from inclusive Muslims. Why won't Jordan, Egypt, and other Muslim nations accept Gaza's refugees? What is fueling the isolation and zealotry at the core of radical Islamism? Why do Muslims throughout the world tolerate radical Islamists such as Hamas using peaceful fellow Muslims as human shields both physically and figuratively?
Islam is a religion, a personal intimate connection to God/Allah not a political statement. What will American Muslims do in the future? I sincerely hope they will simply be good Americans and not be defined by their personal choice of religion. There is a reason for separation of church and state and perhaps Israel/Palestine could become modern secular governments rather than remaining enmeshed in ancient holy wars? This is not an American problem and we are not the solution.
The Middle East is littered with failed or failing Muslim states. Palestine can either be part of the solution or continue to be part of the problem. Afghanistan and Iraq have convinced the U.S. of the futility of getting involved in nation-building in Muslim cultures. As we say in psychology, you can't help someone until they are ready to be helped. Let the rest of the world know when you are ready.
Beautiful but I also hope you had the opportunity to explain to your students that Islam is not what hamas, hezbollah or the iranian regime profess. That political islamism (as with political Judaism or political Christianism btw) leads to disaster, suffering, extremism and death. That human rights are universal and no book, whatever prophet or god it follows, can make one violate them. That religion, like any other belief system, is never dogmatic and is only valid until the point it starts disrespecting the others' fundamental rights. That one's religion, whatever it is, will never be more important that one's life, whoever one is. That the religious leaders, the ones listen by millions of faithful people, should take brave stances for all the above and against others so-called leaders that manipulate people's faith for power, death, destruction, oppression. And give those young students and future leaders clear examples of the biggotts that exist now in the world that use their faith to do harm (not just Islam, of course).
Thanks Haroon. Like all other human beings on planet earth, Palestinians want to live without occupation, apartheid and constant oppression and humiliation.
Hope your readers will find this discussion informative. https://chrishedges.substack.com/p/the-chris-hedges-report-with-professor#details
Well, I may be the only one, but I appreciated your reflection, Haroon. Especially how pouring into others helped you move from inaction to action. It's hard to prepare for the future in the midst of grief and despair and I applaud you for working in your community to do just that.
Rehnay dein innkay bk bk ku in the comment section. I really enjoyed this piece and missed reading your articulate thoughts in writing. I think it’s time to get my hands on your book “2 billion caliphs” Thanks once again!
Again, the psychologist in me will note your phrase "true believer" and question whether those who believe otherwise are somehow "infidels" or "kafirs." I suspect "Muslim exceptionalism" may be at the core of the problem.
Oh yes, the West bears some responsibility but the choice to remain a victim is yours alone. You inadvertently answered many of my questions. Salam...
While I applaud the reflection, I'm dismayed by the glaring lack of perspective about one crucial thing; something I've talked about for decades, but apparently no one has listened.
Our continued fear has stopped us from taking a path to truly meaningful change. And, I would argue, has prevented us from truly growing up.
We have to stop falling for the existing, broken, system of party politics. For so long I've been trying to advocate for one simple thing - start our own political party!
There's much more to say about this, but here is not the place. Contact me if you're interested in having a real conversation about lasting change. Allaah knows best.