Day 1: Of fear and silence and a possible way out

The sense of fear, concern, and insecurity is palpable.  Sunday, as we went out to register voters for the first time in predominantly Latino/a neighborhoods and shopping areas, we met with a wide range of reactions: some registered, some didn’t need to, some didn’t care, but many many more couldn’t or wouldn’t (“undocumented,” “felon,”  non-citizen, “makes no difference,” etc.) register.  Some thanked us, some were upset at us, many were just surprised to see us (black and brown Muslims and others) doing this work.

Show me a person or community in fear like this and I can almost always show you some (systemic) injustice at bottom.  Silence often follows fear, and then more fear can follow. And once an individual or community is scared and silent, those with power over them can get away with saying or doing just about anything.  One possible way of breaking this cycle of disempowerment is for other individuals or communities to raise their voices in solidarity with such a marginalized individual or community.

Sunday had started earlier with Josina, Taheesha, Rebecca, Haseeb and Nabeel joining the First Institutional Baptist Church congregational services and Hazel, Mark, Hassan, and I attending a Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-AZ board and staff meeting.  We were provided opportunities to speak at both places and tried to impress on both communities the need to recognize the connections between their struggles and the fight against SB-1070.  While such recognition and its prioritization is always a process, the initial reactions we got from both these communities were enthusiastic and positive. After the CAIR-AZ meeting, our team was also able to have a meeting with Board members from the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix.  Here, while the leadership seemed to recognize the urgency of joining the struggle against anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, the congregation, ironically predominantly immigrant itself, seems to have mixed feeling about the need and benefits of such solidarity.  The reversal of such misgivings can, again, only be a process.  But it is a process that needs to be engaged urgently.  A good place to begin: who all needs to be part of this and how can they find the needed resources.

Later, we all were off to register voters, which brings me back to the fear that I mentioned above.  It also brings me how hard such “pound the pavement,” “rubber meets the road” work is.  Change certainly does not come cheap.

Somewhere during all this we managed to get some (great) soul food at Mrs. White’s on Jefferson Ave.  Big up to Rebecca for ordering, and sharing with me, that Peach Cobbler.  Yummm!  Her and I even talked about sneaking back to that place on Monday just for that.

Stay tuned.

Daring To Act

Despite the intense and suspicious gaze currently focused on American Muslims, we are still struggling to make ourselves relevant to the burning issues of our time and place.  Unless we engage in these issues, as a community of principles and not just one of opportunism, we will continue to make it easy for those who would marginalize us in the public discourse and in the popular image.

Perhaps there are few issues more burning than the broken immigration system of our nation.  The genuine complexity of this longstanding issue is being combined with political and social demagoguery to marginalize, even criminalize large segments of the Latino immigrant community.  Given (i) that a large part of the Muslim American community is immigrant and (ii) the obvious connections between the images and policies used for marginalizing Latinos in immigration- and Muslims in national security-related debates, one would have hoped for a quick and firm recognition of where our interests, not to mention our principles, lie in the immigration debate.  In fact, actions not just words of solidarity would have been expected by now.  Sadly, however, the American Muslim community continues to struggle not only in finding its voice but even is grasping the dangers (of isolation) and the opportunities (of solidarity) that confront it here.

IMAN and its partners in the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) have long been speaking with a clear voice and acting on this issue.  For us, the rights of all immigrants to basic human dignity and of keeping their families together are basic human rights that must be guaranteed.  As such, this “caravan of solidarity’ headed down to Phoenix, Arizona is part of an ongoing commitment to not letting our Latino brothers and sisters be isolated and scapegoated for our impractical and broken economic and immigration systems.

As I look forward to the next few days, of working with our Latino/a brothers and sisters and initiating ties of solidarity, I am both very excited and a little nervous.  Such is the fate, I am reminding myself, of those who dare to act and dream to build bridges to new places.

Stay tuned…

Uniting Our Faiths, Values and Struggles

I feel it is extremely imperative that we as people understand the importance of uniting our faiths, values, and struggles. We become more powerful when we work together as one collective unit. Through this journey, I am constantly reminded of teachings from my faith. “When the people become one…….nothing shall be impossible to them.” And how else do we learn to become one, than sharing our struggles and connecting our experiences, across race, religion, ethnic background, social-economic status, and any other stigma that attempts to separate. We must find a way to rise above just caring about our own issues and join together; not only in the struggle for Immigrant rights but in the ultimate struggle and that is for Human Rights. I am here because I believe that this is one piece in an enormous puzzle. We must do what we can to ensure that all people regardless of who they are or where they come from, receive the rights that are due to us all, as human beings.

My Obligation to Come on This Trip

I felt very obligated to come this trip to Arizona. When you think road-trips, you think fun, jokes and irrelevant time spent… memories that are likely to fade. So when one reflects on their past or memories there is no value in the time that was spent. I love the phrase, “actions speak louder then words”. This trip to Arizona touches on just that, a group of powerful young leaders that want to lead by example. The best thing is that we all come from different immigrant and minority backgrounds, and are able to give a broader perspective on this subject. The 1070 bill doesn’t just effect Mexican Americans, but also all other immigrants that are living in this country. Many immigrants unfortunately don’t see it in this perspective, they would rather brush the subject under the carpet. I felt my presence within these group of leaders was going to speak volumes for the desi community and some of their own tribulations. Another reason I wanted to attend this trip is because of my religious beliefs, and the prophetic mission that my religion tells us to follow. In the Qur’an and prophetic tradition it stresses that prayer and zakat are partnered with each other. Zakat is described as charity, and it can be with money and/or actions. So this act of solidarity is really an act of worship for me. Lastly I think the system is made in such a way that it uses and disposes of individuals. The very grounds of America was built by the blood of immigrants. Japanese were brought over to build a lucrative system called the railroad. Their rewards were American internment camps, go figure. The next was underpaid and undervalued Indians, labeled as an enemy because of outsourcing. Now in recent years the Mexicans and Mexican Americans have done more for our economy than we give credit for. They have taken jobs at and below minimum wage that most in our society wouldn’t even consider to do and are now labeled as these outlandish criminals. Doesn’t America pride itself as the home of the brave and the land of the free?