There are seven million Muslims in America. Islam is either the second or the third largest religion in America. It will soon be the second largest religion. American Muslims are the most diverse population of all world Muslims. The American mosque is arguably the most racially integrated of all American places of worship, according to one recent study. Thirty to 40 percent of American Muslims are African-American. (Of this percentage, only about 25,000 are members of the Nation of Islam.) Roughly 30 percent of American Muslims are South Asian Americans; 25 percent are Arab Americans. There are also Asian, Latino, and European-American Muslims. Twenty-seven percent of American Muslim converts are white.
Jihad as you probably understand it is a Western construction. Jihad, like the term “Mecca,” has been bastardized. (The popularity of those Mecca t-shirts merits another editorial altogether.) This letter, for instance is, jihad. We are defending our religion, and hopefully by providing information defending our American Muslim community from ignorance. Learning part of the Qur’an is jihad. Helping a woman across the street is jihad. Raising your child properly is jihad. Holding your tongue is jihad.
In its attempts to find answers, American popular discourse emphasizes “jihad” as the reason for terrorism. Jihad is not a holy war waged against “infidels.” Jihad is literally a “struggle” that has various forms prescribed by Islamic law; the dominant form, ‘jihad al-nafs,’ is that struggle which every individual undertakes against his/her baser instincts. There is also a minor form of jihad that involves armed struggle, the permissibility of which is strictly regulated by Islamic law. Within the Islamic context, even during times of war, there is no difference between killing a Muslim or a non-Muslim; human life is sacrosanct. In Islamic law, combatants are prohibited from killing non-combatants or destroying property.
America cannot begin to heal itself while hate crimes targeting Muslims, Arabs and those suspected of belonging to either category are taking place across the country. It is not commonly known that among those killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center were approximately 500 Muslims. This information, as well as footage showing people across the Middle East holding vigils and offering their support for the victims of the terrorist attack, has not been shared with the American public. This should not be a surprise considering the gross misrepresentations being made by a media that is historically biased against Islam and Muslims. Arabs, people of Middle Eastern descent, South Asians, as the victims of hate crimes, pay the cost of this irresponsible representation.
Reports estimate that the number of hate crime incidents has reached 500 in one week and continue. This includes the possible murder of two individuals, bombings and arson attacks on several religious centers, and vandalization of several businesses. Impeding the civil rights of fellow American citizens is now a reality: 300 people, mostly teenagers, attempted to march to a Chicago-area mosque and had to be stopped by 125 police officers. In this aftermath of a hateful terrorist attack, why are so many Americans responding with hate?
President Bush’s unprecedented visit to a mosque in Washington, D.C. is an indication of how serious this problem has become. Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd Jr. issued a statement regarding the treatment of Arab, Muslim Americans or Americans of South Asian descent. The Commission on Civil Rights has established a hotline and posted a statement reminding Americans of the civil rights of all citizens — regardless of religion, race or ethnic origin. The question is: why is all of this necessary? Why do Americans question the loyalty of their fellow citizens who happen to be Muslim?
The true irony is in the other side of our government’s response to these horrific events. Both houses of Congress are contemplating legislation that would brutally damage the civil liberties we enjoy as Americans on a daily basis; among the recommendations: faster deportation, expanding the use of secret evidence, permitting roving wire taps, and implementing policies on racial profiling of Muslim-identified people in America. If the domestic travesties are not enough, then certainly the potential ‘warfare’ against innocent civilians not only violates international law, but perpetuates the very hatred that began this ordeal by extending America’s neo-imperialistic arm into yet another part of the world. We are fooling ourselves deeply if we believe that killing the terrorists and those who harbor them will simply solve the problem, like some magic potion. Terrorism is a complex, diverse phenomenon, neither limited to Islam nor to the Middle East. To end terrorism, we must distinguish between terrorism and Islam, the perpetrators and innocent civilians.
Here, in this community of legal advocates and scholars, we should examine the evidence before us and promote rational, legal measures of protecting our citizens and the world from further terrorism.