With the name of Allah, the Merciful Benefactor, the Merciful Reedeemer
The praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, and may the most excellent prayer and the most perfect peace be upon our leader, our prophet, and our beloved Muhammad the trustworthy one, and upon his purified household and his pious companions and what follows.
One of the characteristics that America is most known for in the world is religious pluralism. As America being the only modern nation state, which has residents from every country on earth, it also contains virtually every religious group known to man.
The Founding Fathers of America wrote in the preamble of the United States Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
This is a statement of recognition that America was and would continue to be a work in progress in ensuring the rights of all people including religious rights.
As the earlier colonists and their children came to America to escape tyranny of European monarchies and domination of the Anglican and Catholic churches, many engaged in systematic, forced conversion of African slaves who were animists and Muslims.
In American history, the Puritans, a sect of Christianity comparable to modern Salafis, were called witches and burned alive, Catholics suffered housing and employment discrimination causing some to hide their religious affiliations, and Mormons were forced to move from their homes to various states because of persecution.
Through the many growing pains of this unique society in the history of humanity, America has evolved to be one of the world’s most tolerant societies regarding religious expression and practice. This does not mean, however, that Americans can neglect striving towards realizing “a more perfect Union” in terms of religious accommodation.
Muslims being slightly less than 2% of the American population enjoy many liberties yet face serious challenges.
American Muslims enjoy freedom to express diversity of religious interpretation and the richness of all of the schools of thought without interference from the government unlike what Muslims face in several Muslim majority countries.
Unlike the rising trend in Western Europe, American Muslim females are not overtly subjected to populist xenophobic discourse that seeks to make niqab and hijab illegal. Moreover, the wearing of the beard has not become a marker of an “Islamist” that would bar Muslims from working in the government or public sector as in some Muslim majority countries.
Since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, American Muslims have been subjected to increased discrimination from racial and religious profiling by law enforcement, a rise in hate crimes, work place discrimination, to the recent trend of some citizens and elected officials protesting the construction of new mosques. Late last year, an Imam named Luqman Ameen Abdullah was shot 21 times including twice in the back during a raid by law enforcement agencies based upon an investigation of his mosque, which ended up proving no links to terrorism or treason. And in recent months, mosques in the states of Tennessee and Florida have been firebombed by anti-Muslim bigots.
Fortunately in America, there are many people of faith who share the collective spirit of tolerance and justice. There is a tradition within America for religious groups to side with others to ensure the freedom of religious expression and justice for all.
The Qur’an says of believers in Islam in Surah Aali Imran, ayah 110:
You are the best community evolved for people because you enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.
Likewise, the Qur’an says about those with like spirits who are Jews and Christians in Surah Aali Imran, ayaat 113 – 115:
They are not all alike among the People of the Book; there is an upright group who recites the signs of Allah in the watches of the night and prostrate in worship.
They believe in Allah and the last day, and they enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, hasten to excel in good deeds. These are among the righteous.
And from what they do, it will never go unappreciated, and Allah fully knows the conscious, pious people.
America is continuing its evolution in becoming a more tolerant nation because there are people among different religions and interfaith communities who advocate for the rights of all. America is not perfect. But as along as there are people of good will, Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, who follow the spirit of the Divine precepts of advocating for human dignity and discouraging compulsion and oppression in religion, America will be continue to move closer to realizing “a more perfect Union.”
In the speech that I just said, May Allah forgive me and forgive you, and the praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.
Last Updated: July 26. 2010 1:00AM
Small talk: Dawud Walid on trip to Mali
Oralandar brand-Williams / The Detroit News
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — Michigan, wrapped up his second visit to the African nation of Mali on Friday. He also serves as assistant imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit and board trustee for the Metropolitan Detroit Interfaith Workers’ Rights Committee.
This is your second trip to Mali? What program are you participating in there?
This is my second time participating in a delegation organized by Michigan State University, which aims to build religious and cultural ties between American religious and civic leaders with Malian counterparts. The program is underwritten by the U.S. State Department.
On Saturday (July 17), Islamic studies professor Achmat Salie from Oakland University and I spoke at the third annual Malian Association for Peace and Tolerance Conference in the capital of Bamako. There were representatives from a number of North and West African countries … from the Islamic, Catholic and Evangelical faith groups. Speakers and attendees came from countries such as Nigeria, Mauritania and Senegal.
What is the purpose of the program?
At the conference, I spoke about the state of interfaith cooperation in America. I stated that Muslims in America have many challenges from Islamophobia to unjust government policies that profile us. However, we have interfaith partners that stand in solidarity for fairness and justice with Muslims and that this is an American tradition. I also mentioned the shooting of Imam Luqman and discussed the case with some leaders.
What do the people of Mali know about Detroit?
People in Mali know little about Detroit, or that there are so many Muslims in America in general. People were pleasantly surprised at the amount of Muslims in Detroit and how the community is so diverse.
What other countries have you traveled to?
I’ve traveled to 15 different countries, including United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Malians by far are the most hospitable nation of people that I’ve ever encountered even though they are (one) of the poorest on Earth. Average household income is about $275 per year.
Yesterday, I returned from a 9 day trip to the West Africa nation of Mali, an 85% Muslim country.
As last year, I gave a presentation at the Malian Association of Peace and Tolerance conference, whose presenters and attenders included the top Muslim, Catholic and Protestant leaders in the nation, U.S. Ambassador to Mali and persons from other West African nations. The conference was covered on Malian national t.v.
Despite Mali being one of the poorest countries in the world (average household income at $275 per year) and having a high rate of illiteracy, Mali is an impressive place with impressive people, whom Americans could learn a lot from.
Mali has numerous ethnic groups with 14 languages spoken in the country, French being the language of the government due to colonial remnants. Yet, Mali is virtually free of tribal and ethnic tension and violence. Moreover, people of different religious are extremely tolerant. As I met with leaders who were Muslim, Catholic and Evangelical and answered their questions regarding racism and Islamphobia in America, they all articulated that there are no such local, state or national discussions on these issues. Having hate crime stats are a non-issue for the government.
Mali also has an extreme low crime rate and murder rate in particular.
For instance, Mali’s capital, Bamako, has approximately 600,000 more residents than Detroit with only a handful of murders per year while Detroit averages 300+ (closer to 400) per year. And though alcohol is legal in this secular society, alcohol abuse is extremely low and the usage of illicit drugs is almost non-existant, especially in the rural areas.
Being in Mali again reminded me about the flaws of arguments made by many on the Left that poverty is perhaps the foremost reason for crime in America or that economic development in developing countries is the best way to protect young males from being enticed by extremists. If that were the case, Mali should have perhaps one of the highest crime rates in the world and should be the most fertile ground for Al-Qaeda.
What Mali has that we are loosing in America in urban, suburban and rural areas is a strong sense of community and mores based in strong moral principles that guard our communities from crime.
When making your international travel plans, I strongly suggest that you visit Mali and see what I’m saying for yourself. I am sure that you’ll be impressed as I was.
BY DAWUD WALID
The prospective renaissance of Detroit will not be found in new City Council members or restructuring the school system but with a major paradigm shift in what is deemed culturally acceptable related to family and community life.
I recently returned from a 10-day trip to Mali, which naturally caused me to compare its capital, Bamako, with Detroit. What I saw provided further instruction as to why I disagree with the commonly held notion that poverty and our miserably performing school system are the primary factors behind Detroit’s social ills.
Bamako, a city whose population size is similar to Detroit, resides in a post-colonial nation whose average household income is $275 per year with an 80% illiteracy rate in the national language of instruction, French. Remarkably, however, Bamako’s crime rate is extremely low, drug abuse is almost nonexistent and the HIV/AIDS rate is slightly less than 2%. Based on conventional wisdom, Bamako should be like the Wild West due to its abject poverty and illiteracy. In fact, I felt significantly safer walking the streets of Bamako as a non-French speaking American.
What Bamako has that Detroit currently lacks is a culture that has no acceptance for overt antisocial behaviors that compromise the family and community life. Crime is low in Bamako because it is interwoven into the cultural fabric that an offense toward one’s neighbor is literally a threat to the entire society. Out-of-wedlock births are not punishable by law yet viewed as antithetical to mores that bind the community together. Detroiters have to admit that we have come to accept the unacceptable, and that a vigorous cultural critique has to be in constant motion before there is any real paradigm shift within the city.
Robert Bobb can weed out corruption in DPS, but we cannot intelligently expect that the climate of schools will significantly change while approximately 7 out of 10 children in the city are born out of wedlock. Young men have taken to the gang and thug life as normative because most of them grew up without fathers and have accepted what Pope John Paul II dubbed “the culture of death,” which the entertainment industry has promoted as an acceptable lifestyle.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Detroit. And Mali, whose citizens’ life expectancy averages only 43 years due to malaria and infant mortality, is no utopia. However, Detroit can learn a lot from this “developing” nation.
Obviously, there are also deep historical factors and bad government policies reaching back to the era of President Lyndon Johnson that account for Detroit’s decline. There are many layers as to why many compare Detroit to a Third World city. However, until what is commonly accepted as the norm is vigorously challenged, though it may seem harsh and painful to many, Detroit will continue to sink further into depravity and mayhem even with a new city charter commission, new city council members and a housecleaning of DPS.
Dawud Walid is assistant imam of Masjid Wali Muhammad — Detroit.