Open letter from the Harvard Islamic Law Forum


Dear fellow HLS students, As-Salaam Alaikum,

As Americans and as Muslims, we offer our condolences and deepest sympathies to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Many of us have been personally touched by the attacks.

We are as pained as all other Americans by the tragedy — we have lost loved ones and our lives have been forever changed. Yet, as Muslims, we are concerned that some Americans will use the September 11 attacks as another excuse to hurl abuses at Islam.

While most Americans are good-hearted, American ignorance of Islam, America’s newest and fastest growing religion, is almost complete.

Ironically, our mission as American Muslims is no different than it was on September 10: to educate fellow students about Islam and to undo the “religious profiling” that causes some to associate Islam with terrorism, with barbarism, with backwardness and xenophobia. Only now the stakes are higher.

Our mission of providing information is part of a larger and very American project of new religious and ethnic minorities who often face covert or open hostility, ugly stereotypes — that project of entering the American mainstream.

Out of crisis and catastrophe, there is opportunity. Here the opportunity is for unprecedented understanding between Americans and their once invisible Muslim brethren. One sign: When discussing the tragedy, many Americans (Mayor Guilani, President Bush, media personalities) have made the necessary distinction between Islam and terrorism, which knows no religion. They have denounced hate crimes against Muslims and Muslim-identified people. This represents the best of America. One wonders if, even 10 years ago so many American leaders would have demonstrated such honesty and sophistication about Islam. The Harvard Law School administration has set a similar institutional tone. While much work must still be done, Dean Clark, Dean Richardson, Dean Rakoff, Prof. Vogel and Gail Hupper, to name a few, have been responsive and (to use an overused but necessary word) proactive in addressing the challenges facing Muslim and Muslim-identified students. Also, many students have approached members of HILF with good natured questions about Islam, knowing that Islam does not sanction terrorism, but not knowing why.

This why raises a paradox. There is an unprecedented need for what has been called “the most misunderstood religion in the world” to be better understood. There have already been 542 hate crimes against Muslims or Muslim-identified people reported to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (something like a Muslim NAACP). Some Muslims have asked why the burden of educating Americans about Islam falls on us. Islam speaks for itself in condemning terrorism. Certainly, the Ku Klux Klan lynched, bombed and terrorized black folk. Baruch Goldstein shot to death 29 Muslims in Hebron. No one associates terrorism with Christianity or Judaism. Of course, the association between Islam and terrorism itself signifies ignorance and bigotry. Yet, the burden of overcoming misunderstanding in America inevitably falls upon the misunderstood (and the enlightened). American Muslims must now leave our invisibility behind.

In the very near future, the Harvard Islamic Law Forum will inshAllah (the Arabic phrase meaning God-willing) invite speakers and provide panels and information sessions to offer accurate information about Islam. We ask only that anyone with any question, however simple, present it.

Harvard Islamic Law ForumSept. 19, 2001

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