The religious landscape in the U.S. is changing. Our country is getting more religiously diverse. This change calls for a fundamental change in the way we approach interreligious understanding and outreach. In my very first blog entry, I had outlined the tremendous efforts that are happening in Minnesota. Since then, these efforts have definitely increased by many orders of magnitude.
On January 3, 2014, I got an opportunity to attend a meeting that was called by the leadership of the Dar Al Hijrah mosque that was impacted by the fire in Minneapolis that has so far claimed three lives. It was heartening to see about two dozen representatives from various religious congregations in attendance, and that included representation from the Minnesota Council of Churches, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the United Theological Seminary, the Islamic Resource Group (IRG), the Islamic Center of Minnesota among many others.
The outpouring of genuine and heartfelt support toward the members of the mosque and toward those who were impacted by the fire was simply heartwarming. The Dar Al Hijrah mosque is a major partner in interfaith relations in the Twin Cities. It was obvious from the tremendous show of support from various faith-based groups that these efforts do produce strong and long-lasting relationships.
So, how is the religious landscape changing in the United States?
In its December 12, 2013 edition, the Washington Post published maps that were based on the report “2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study” produced by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.
One of the maps reproduced below illustrates some interesting stats:
(2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study)
Minnesotans can be proud of their track record of being at the forefront of interreligious initiatives. These positive interactions strengthen our country’s social fabric and help to enrich one another in profound ways.
Recently I read an article in the Star Tribune titled, “Christmas is more a cultural than religious event for one-third of Americans, new survey finds.” This article brought to the fore, the wide ranging attitudes toward Christmas. Come the Christmas season, irrespective of the religious tradition that one follows, one’s attention is invariably drawn toward the central figure in this debate – Jesus (peace be upon him). Often missing from this discourse is what do other religious traditions say about Jesus (peace be upon him). I can say with certainty that Islam has the largest body of texts relating to Jesus (peace be upon him) in any non-Christian literature. Also, Islam is the only non-Christian religion that considers Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah.
My previous blog, “Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus,” essentially provided a Qur’anic view of Jesus (peace be upon him). In this blog post, I would like to present to the readers a glimpse into the writings on Jesus from traditional Arabic sources.
The wisdom in these sayings is universal and very much the need of the hour to heed the wise words of Jesus (peace be upon him).
Jesus was known to have said, "Virtuous action does not consist in doing good to someone who has done good to you - that is merely returning a favor. Virtuous action consists in doing good to those who have wronged you." (Narrated by Ahmad)
Jesus, the son of Mary, said, "Do not speak much without remembering God, for by doing so, you harden your hearts. Surely a hard heart is distant from God though you are unaware. Do not, like lords, look at the faults of others. Rather, like servants, look at your own faults. In truth, humanity is comprised of only two types, the afflicted and the sound. So show mercy to the afflicted, and praise God for well-being." (Narrated by Malik in his Muwatta)
Jesus said to his disciples, “Many a lamp has been extinguished by the wind, and many a devout man has been destroyed by vanity.” (Narrated by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali)
Jesus used to say,” Too much food kills the soul, just as too much water kills a plant.” (Narrated by Abu Sa’d al-Abi)
Jesus said, “ He who lies much loses his beauty; he who constantly quarrels with men loses his sense of honor; he who worries much grows sick in body; and he whose character is nasty tortures himself.” (Narrated by Abu Bakr ibn Abi al-Dunya)
“At the end of time, there will be religious scholars who preach abstinence but do not themselves abstain, who encourage yearning for the afterlife but do not themselves yearn, who forbid visits to rulers but do not themselves desist, who draw near to the rich and distance themselves from the poor, who recoil from the lowly and fawn upon the mighty. They are the tyrants and the enemies of the Merciful God.” (Narrated by Abdallah Ibn Qutayba)
Christ said, “If you desire to devote yourselves entirely to God and to be the light of the children of Adam, forgive those who have done you evil, visit the sick who do not visit you, be kind to those who are unkind to you, and lend to those who do not repay you.” (Narrated by Ahmad ibn Hanbal)
It is related that Jesus, the son of Mary, peace be upon them, said, “It is of no use to know something if one does not act upon it. In truth, an abundance of knowledge only increases one in pride if one does not act accordingly.” (Narrated by Ahmad)
I would like to wish Christian readers a joyous Christmas holiday season.
The United States of America, as the world's most powerful democracy, shares a fraternal bond with other democracies. This is especially true when it comes to the world's largest democracy - India. India can be proud that, since gaining independence from the British in 1947, the nation has had an uninterrupted democratic tradition. It may be mind-boggling, but it's true that with such an incredible diversity of religions, cultures, languages, traditions, and attitudes, Indian democracy asserts itself over these seemingly insurmountable factors. The key to this success has been India's commitment to secularism and its powerful constitution that guarantees equality to all its citizens in every aspect of life.
India is facing a stern test for its much vaunted democratic values as it prepares for general elections to be held in April 2014. Should we as Americans be concerned about the impact of these developments in the world's largest democracy? The answer is an emphatic YES.
India's main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the political wing of the RSS. The RSS is the very same organization that was banned by the Government of India after Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a member of this group.
The BJP has chosen Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections. Modi is best known for his government's failure to prevent the killing of over 2000 members of a minority community in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002. In the International Religious Freedom Report of 2003, the United States Department of State found that, ‘‘In Gujarat, the worst religious violence directed against Muslims by Hindus took place in February and March 2002, leaving an estimated 2,000 dead and 100,000 displaced into refugee camps. It was alleged widely that the police and state government did little to stop the violence promptly, and at times even encouraged or assisted Hindus involved in the riots. Despite substantial evidentiary material, the judicial commission responsible for investigating the riots reported inconclusive findings.’’
Modi is considered a persona non grata by the United States and was denied entry into the country in 2005 on the grounds of a religious freedom violation under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the first and only time such a denial has been issued. The supreme court of India likened him to a "modern day Nero." Various human rights groups have compiled numerous reports of unimaginable human rights abuses under his watch. For instance, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a comprehensive report titled “We Have No Orders to Save You': State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat.”
In a bi-partisan initiative, Congressmen Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa) introduced a resolution in Congress on November 18, 2013, calling on India to protect the rights and freedoms of religious minorities. It also called on the State Department to keep enforcing the denial of an entry visa to the tainted and controversial Indian politician, Narendra Modi. The resolution now has 22 co-sponsors, including Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN).
According to Congressman Ellison's press release:
“This resolution’s strong bipartisan support shows that the rights of religious minorities in India are a priority for the U.S. Congress,” said Ellison. “All Indians should have the right to practice their faith freely, or to change their faith if they so choose. India is big enough for all its citizens. Its best leaders have worked to promote unity among its diverse populations, not division.”
“The victims of events like the riots in Gujarat demand justice,” said Pitts. “The Indian government cannot expect to make greater strides on religious freedom and human rights in the future while countless thousands have not seen justice for their lost loved ones. Right now, millions of Indians face threats like harassment, displacement and outright persecution due to communal and religious violence. India is a land of unrivaled religious diversity, but with such diversity comes great responsibility in ensuring the rights of religious minorities.”
The complete text of the resolution can be read here .
Rep. Ellison and Rep. McCollum do Minnesotans proud by their unwavering and unequivocal support of human rights. By denying human rights abusers like Modi entry into the United States, the message that the U.S. is sending out is clear that Indian democracy is better served by leaders who honor human rights and the rights of all citizens in India.
Somali Imams and Community Leaders Condemn Nairobi Westgate Mall Attack
The Somali Imams and community leaders in Minnesota held an emergency meeting on September 22nd, 2013 at Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis. The leaders have agreed on the following points:
1. We, the Somali community Imams and leaders in Minnesota hereby strongly condemn the heinous act that took place at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday September 21st, 2013 in which many innocent people lost their lives.
2. This outrageous act of violence has no place in Islam. The perpetrators of this barbaric act do not share our Islamic values. In fact, extremist groups such as Al-Qaida and its affiliate Al-Shabab have done more harm to Islam and Muslims.
3. We extend our condolences to the victims and their families who lost loved ones in these indiscriminate killings.
4. We reiterate that this form of extremism is a menace to world peace and requires collective cooperation amongst the world community to counteract it.
5. The safety and security of United States is of utmost importance to Somali-Americans and we are committed to be in the forefront of defeating extremism.
6. We call on Muslim youth to shun and reject the trap of being lured to or recruited by extremist groups like Al-Shabab.
List of organizations:
- The North American Council of Somali Imams (National)
- Islamic League of Somali Scholars in America (National)
- Abubakar as-Saddique Islamic Center, Mpls
- Islamic Civic Society of America (Dar Al-Hijrah), Mpls
- Al-Ihsan Islamic Center, St. Paul
- Umatul Islam Center, Mpls
- Darul-Qalam Islamic Center, Mpls
- Minnesota Da’awa Institute, St. Paul
- Rawdah Islamic Center, Mpls
- Masjid Omar (24 Mall), Mpls
- Masjid Shafie , Mpls
- Masjid Khalid Ibn Al-Waleed, Mpls
- Eden Prairie Islamic Center, Eden Prairie
- Burnsville Islamic Center, Burnsville
- Abubakar As-Siddique Islamic Center, Faribault
- Muslim Society of Owatonna, Owatonna
- Masjid As-Sunnah, St. Paul
- World Peace Organization, Mpls
- Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, Mpls
- Somali Action Alliance, Mpls
Mohammad Zafar (L) and Sakinah Mujahid (R) after receiving the "25 Veterans' Voices Awards"
Two Minnesota Muslims, Sakinah Mujahid and Mohammad Zafar, were among those who were honored at the 25 Veterans’ Voices Awards ceremony at the Minnesota Humanities Center on 9/11/2013. The 25 Veterans' Voices Award highlights veterans who have made “exceptional contributions to the community, in business, health care, public safety, education, the arts, government or any other endeavor which merits recognition.” It features young veterans who “have not merely returned to civilian life but are thriving and giving back to their Minnesota communities.”
Sakinah Mujahid receiving the award from Governor Mark Dayton
Sakinah Mujahid, a US Army veteran who served for 13 years, uses her own experiences and has become a leader in Minnesota’s Muslim community. She has worked in social services for six years and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and certificates in Financial Literacy Training and Dispute Circle Training. She is the founder and active participant in a Minnesota advocacy organization for Muslim women—Sisters Need a Place—that assists Muslim women and children by finding secure housing and employment opportunities. Mujahid’s work with the Muslim community is not only inspirational, but also dispels stereotypes of Muslim women.
Mohammad Zafar with his family
Mohammad Zafar, a US Marine Corp veteran, exemplifies a veteran who is giving back to his local community by working to promote a better understanding of the Muslim community and building bridges between Muslims and other Minnesota communities. In addition to teaching a Health & Wellness class to Somali youth and adults in Eden Prairie, he created a running event. Through Zafar’s event, Running 30 Miles in Ramadan, he motivated Muslims to run one mile each day during the 30 days of Ramadan. Zafar, who lives in Oakdale, serves and interacts daily with returning veterans, assisting them with the Minnesota GI bill through his job at Metro State.
On the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, Minnesota based Islamic Resource Group (IRG), along with four of its sister organizations, took part in local and national events commemorating the victims of 9/11 through interfaith cooperation, rejecting violence in all its forms, and highlighting constructive responses to tragedy through outreach, volunteerism, and community service. This was a multi-year effort held in coordination with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The CNCS is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans through programs such as AmeriCorps and leads President Obama's national call to service initiative, United We Serve.
This year, as an extension of this multi-year project, the Islamic Resource Group worked on a project titled "Commemorating 9/11: Dignity out of Tragedy" to gauge the public opinion on various topics relating to how people are coping with the impact of the 9/11 tragedy in their lives. The survey was conducted during the “Third Annual Day of Dignity” event that was held on August 25, 2013 at Masjid An Nur in Minneapolis.
The people who took part in the survey included both Muslims and non-Muslims.
The most common response to the question of what people lost because of 9/11 and its aftermath was, apart from the tragic loss of life, a loss of trust. Some lamented losing freedoms and peace of mind. Some others pointed to the continuous erosion of civil liberties in our country.
To the question relating to whether they are hopeful about the future, it was heartening to note that an overwhelming number of responses leaned toward being hopeful about the future. Faith in God, in humanity's resilience to rise from setbacks, and having a positive outlook constituted a major portion of responses. A few of the respondents were cautiously hopeful, citing the unpredictable nature of the course of events taking place in the world. Some of the outstanding responses were:
"Yes, I have hope for my children and their dreams!"
"There are many things that make me hopeful about the future in regards to changing attitudes about race and religion. I feel that with each generation, our tolerance and acceptance is starting to improve. I only hope to see this continue."
"Yes, because I have faith in humanity and I believe all people to have good in them."
Respondents had great practical answers about what we could do locally to promote human dignity. Some of these were as follows:
"Keep education going and work for peace."
"Keep peace, love all."
"Increase volunteer efforts for various causes. Random/small acts of kindness."
"Partner and build trust."
"Allowing persons to maintain their dignity by offering opportunities where they can be their best."
This survey gives us reason to be optimistic about the future. While the pain of those who lost their loved ones cannot be lessened, as a country we are a resilient people. We have dreams for ourselves, our children, our families, our communities, and our nation as a whole. I pray that this dream includes working toward peace, harmony, and friendship.
The following verse from the Qur'an is a great solace in times of distress and gives hope for the future:
"Verily, after every hardship there is relief. Verily, after every hardship there is relief." (Quran 94: 5,6)