On July 5th, 2012, the MPSN fellows of 2012 had a panel of five ambitious leaders coming from various organizations that attempt to advocate for American Muslims. We had Jihad Saleh coming from Islamic Relief, Corey Saylor coming from Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Shireen Zaman coming from Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), Maggie Siddiqi coming from Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Yasmin Hussein coming from Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
As they discussed their backgrounds, a common theme was clear: all of them truly cared for the representation of Muslims everywhere, especially in America. American Muslims are struggling to hold on to their identity as both Americans and as Muslims while trying to tolerate the hatred felt by those who highly misunderstand the practices of Muslims. These five panelists want to defend Muslims through donations, spread awareness on Islam through facts, build the community through civil engagement and promote understanding through interfaith dialogues regarding various issues like homosexuality, poverty in third world countries, and abortion.
All of the five panelists new each other, were aware of each other’s work and were good friends. Just like differences that exist among Muslims, there were differences among the five panelists and their organizations. Each organization had a unique way of dealing with Muslim issues. CAIR, for example, has a very strong PR and thus they are more on the front line when it comes to issues that impact Muslims. ISPU, on the other hand, like to advocate with a small “a”. ISPU believes in research and presenting facts to support and stand up for Muslims.
As diverse as these organizations are, their dedication is prominent, but so are their worries as they speak about struggles they face as they attempt to represent the Muslim communities. It was unanimous when the panelists ruled Muslims as their biggest non-supporters. They shared their concern when they said many American Muslims question the work of these organizations. Sometimes, Muslims feel that there is only one type of Muslim just like there is one Islam. That belief couldn’t be further from the truth. If we as Muslims can be from different countries, mother tongues, political views, health, intellect, socio-economic status, why can’t we have different views on Islam and be Muslim in our own way? I feel that Muslims sometimes fail to recognize the diversity of Muslims as part of the beauty of Islam.
As Muslims, it is our duty to stand up for not just Muslims, but also human kind. This is the feeling presented by the panelists, especially Jihad Saleh who works for Islamic Relief. It is crucial for Muslims to not just focus on what’s going on in their native land, if they are part of one, but also be concerned on what’s going on right in their backyard. As local issues begin to impact Muslims more and more, American Muslims must get involved in the political sphere in defending their rights as law-abiding citizens. As class was ending, the panelists strongly advised us to follow get involved in the public sphere as Americans and as Muslims regardless of what people say because there will always be people who want nothing but to bring you down.