By Nasim Hassan
The straws in the wind indicate the upcoming storm. There is a rising tide of hate crimes and discrimination in North America. This started after sad September 11 episode and continues unabated till today. Sometimes it manifests itself as anti Sharia laws in various states and at other times it shows as Hate Rallies.
The recent “Draw Muhammad” Contest in Garland Texas indicates the well planned anti Islam campaign spreading across the USA. Pamela Geller who organized this contest is the same person who initiated the protest against Park51 Islamic center in New York
Muslim immigrants living in the USA are proud of their Eastern values, strong family ties and long-term relationships. They believe that living in America will not impact them or their next generation.
However, the reality has started to dawn and now I see no difference between the life challenges, hopes and dreams of Muslims and common
In this write up I like to highlight the upcoming challenges for Muslims with strong belief in common sense of American people and judicial system. Although the system works the Muslims in North America must make efforts to create a positive image by their practical example. In fact the USA provides more basic human freedoms as compared to many Muslim countries. Recognizing the upcoming challenges listed below is the first step in a long journey.
Muslims should recognize the rising tide of Islamophobia in the radio talk shows, negative portrayal of Muslims in the Hollywood films and some award winning television shows such as Homeland. The image of American Muslims continues to decline in the news media. Let us accept the fact that the general public does not receive the counter narrative from Muslims. There is hardly a radio, television or newspaper articles showing the positive side of Muslims as law abiding citizens.
It is a very difficult task indeed to create quality radio or television programs without proper training or experience. Even then I believe that Islamic centers all across the USA can create a positive image by opening their doors to American people. This communication must continue in the work place without any hesitation.
Contrary to common perceptions there is no specific dress for Muslim women or men. In fact it would be difficult for anyone to recognize working Muslims from ordinary Americans walking in the shopping malls or amusement parks. Some conservative Muslims certainly wear Arab dress and become focus of attention.
Discrimination and Hate Crimes
There has been a gradual increase in hate crimes against Muslims after 9/11. The murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, NC is a recent example of hate crime. I foresee a major problem of discrimination against Muslims in a shrinking economy and growing budget deficits. People with Muslim sounding names are routinely separated at the airport and checked. This trend will extend gradually to education, business, jobs and social interaction.
Who is to blame for this growing problem? The Muslim community leaders, common people and indeed all of us need to think deeply about the long-term impact of this discrimination. The religious leaders here have a special responsibility. They have to project an image of Islam to focus on peace, tolerance, charity and equality.
At present, this issue is not being properly addressed in Islamic centers. There is a lot of emphasis on prayer rituals and very little is being said about universal message of Islam that recognizes all biblical prophets and their teachings.
Muslim communities all across North America have to take a proactive approach and condemn all acts that do not conform to the spirit of Islam. If nothing is done at this stage then gradually Muslims will suffer the consequences. At low income there is no safety net in the USA. Below poverty level people of all religions and ethnic background suffer crime, drug abuse, malnutrition and diseases.
Divorce and separation
This issue is related to marriage. Our young people do not interact in any forum. In fact the Islamic centers actively discourage all kinds of social interaction. Even supervision of adult mentors is not acceptable. In the schools, universities and work place there is no segregation. This creates a lot of confusion. In the older generation, the father rules the house and the mom follows. Young people start behaving like their parents and fail due to current era of women’s right, equality and freedom. The divorce rate for Muslims is equal or more than that of common Americans.
I have seen a number of mature South Asians getting divorce after years of married life. Ordinarily, such separation or divorce would not happen if they were living back home. Here they are living away from their parents, relatives and friends. There is no social intervention mechanism. Back home the parents and friends listen to both sides. Then the parents advise and reconcile the differences.
In the USA, the ladies talk to their friends and tell them their side of the story. Their friends listen to only one side of the story and give advice accordingly. The husband tells his grievances to his friends and the same thing happens. Ultimately the courts decide and lawyers make money. I have seen people in their fifties getting divorce with grown-up children.
Children simply cannot advise their parents and let them go their own ways.
There is a pressing need for counseling services in the Muslim community. Muslims do not like to spend money on counseling or getting help from psychologists or psychiatrists. They believe this activity is sheer waste of money. So once the process starts there is only one direction it can lead to.
Level of Education
The first generation of immigrants that landed in the USA in the seventies has done very well. They saved money, educated their kids and built Islamic centers. These people were highly educated and understood the dynamics of success in a foreign country.
In the next wave, a large number of people who came were not professionals. These people worked very hard and made a better life. However, their long working hours and pursuit of monetary benefits resulted in the neglect of education for their children.
The off-springs of the second wave immigrants are not getting the quality education.
If the Muslim community has its eyes on progress then it should work hard on the education of their children. In the global village, the less educated people living in the USA have to compete with highly educated people from developing countries.
Growing Old in America
This is a very complex issue indeed. Muslims aging in America have only Islamic centers and nothing else. In the majority of Islamic centers, people come for prayers and then quickly leave to take care of daily business. So there are hardly any people during the day time. In Friday prayers the people come from work and then quickly leave. Since the majority of Muslims are young this issue does not receive the attention it deserves.
There is no social or cultural forum or place where the seniors can meet and spend time together. Frankly, the first generation immigrants have not thought seriously about this issue. They are capable of facilitating interaction, communication and other activities to keep themselves busy at this time. This problem will emerge when a large segment of less educated immigrants starts to retire in this country. It is my hope that immigrants form and develop organizations to tackle this issue.
The first step in addressing any challenge is to recognize the problem. The problem has already emerged in various forms of prejudice and discrimination. Negative image of Islam and Muslims has been steadily growing after the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.
The national organizations of Muslims like ISNA, ICNA and CAIR have a vital role to play. They should devise a policy and communicate to all Islamic centers across North America.
There are so many ways for Muslims in America to improve this image. The best option and initiative in my opinion is increased communication with fellow Americans on individual and organizational level. People in the USA do not carry any historical prejudice against Muslims. Let us all take a step forward to create peace and harmony among people of all religions, races, creed and color.
By Tal Kopan, CNN
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