Today’s lecture was given at Oakland University.
Sep 24, 2013, 5:05 am
Iran, release detained Michiganian
By Dawud Walid
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has come to the United Nations to present a new, less boorish face for his country to the world. I hope that he will listen to renewed calls for Iran to release Michiganian Amir Hekmati, who has been denied due process in Iran on an espionage charge for two years.
Rouhani is attempting to present himself as a moderate, which is not difficult considering the tone of former Iranian President Ahmadinejad. He recently released 80 political prisoners, extended Rosh Hashanah greetings to Jewish people, and brought Iran’s only Jewish member of parliament with him to New York. He also exchanged letters with President Obama, which some analysts view as a positive step in potentially thawing relations between our two countries. Perhaps, Rouhani can also show that he’s serious about improving relations by releasing Hekmati.
A bipartisan coalition of 64 congressmen are calling for the release of Hekmati, an ex-U.S. Marine, while Rouhani is at the U.N. I join them in reiterating my two-year call for Hekmati to be given due process or be immediately released.
The Obama and Rouhani administrations have deep philosophical differences on a number of issues. The tension and mistrust between America and Iran cannot be solved with some nice gestures and a few flowery speeches. It is my hope, however, that our nations can improve relations based on respecting international law, eschewing support for extremists, and promoting cooperation among nations.
Releasing Hekmati would be a nice olive branch, though a tiny one, that the Iranians could extend to us.
Fellow humans are not “abeed”
By Dawud Walid
Thursday, 09.19.2013, 07:49pm
I was prompted to write this after a recent Facebook discussion, which I weighed in on, when the term “abeed” (slaves) was used in a thread, in reference to a news story about an African American woman, who flashed an Arab American businessman in Detroit, during a verbal dispute. What was disturbing about the initial thread, before further discussion, was not simply the racist comments that were used about the unruly woman, but that some showed a profound lack of empathy when I mentioned that the term “abeed” is a hurtful word.
Calling a black person a “abed” (abeed in plural) is offensive. The term has been used for so long in certain segments of the Arab World that many people have become desensitized to its meaning. I know that all people do not use the term with overtly malicious intent; however, the word is disturbing, nonetheless.
“Abed” is a term that, at one time, had a general meaning of slave, then became a specific term, referring to blacks, who were viewed as subservient. For instance, “mamluk,” another term that is used for an enslaved person, came to specifically refer to a non-black slave, such as a Turk. Hence, “abeed” became nomenclature, which strictly referred to people with darker skin, as it is continued to be used today.
It is disingenuous to say that it is a good word, because excellent worshippers of God are “abeed.” When people use that term, it is not because they are saying that black people are the best worshippers, nor do they call lighter skin persons, or their own pious family members, “abeed.” The term has ugly roots and is derogatory; therefore, its usage should cease, instead of explaining it off to the offended and telling them not to be so sensitive, because it’s a compliment.
What was positive about the Facebook discussion though was that many young Arab Americans pushed back against those who used the term, pointing out that it should not be dismissed as non-offensive. I know Arab American activists throughout the country that promote solidarity between African Americans and Arab Americans. Moreover, some of them have directly challenged the usage of the term “abeed.” Likewise, I know of numerous African American leaders, who have spoken out against anti-Arab bigotry among other black people and confronted bigots, like Terry Jones.
So, the next time you hear someone using the terms “abed,” or “abeed,” politely recap the points made above. If we want people to be sensitive to us, we must be sensitive to others. Fellow humans are not “abeed.”
— Dawud Walid is the Executive Director of CAIR-MI
Navy Yard shooting: We need better mental health care for veterans
By Dawud Walid
We are faced with yet another national tragedy with the Washington Navy Yard shooting which has left 12 innocent people dead. As elected officials and pundits discuss the reasons why shooter Aaron Alexis initiated his killing spree, I hope, as a veteran of the U.S. Navy, that much of the discussion is based on how our nation can better serve the mental health issues of our citizens, especially veterans.
Alexis served in the Navy and held a security clearance as a defense contractor at the time of his killing spree. He also had two prior brushes with the law for inappropriate use of firearms. The last incident led to his discharge from the military. His father purports that he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result from assisting in recovery efforts of 9/11.
Alexis should have been given long term and thorough mental health care prior to and after his discharge. Moreover, this should have been a criterion for his receiving a security clearance to come back on a military installation as a defense contractor. It’s astounding that a man, who stated to the Veterans Administration that he heard voices, was allowed to maintain a security clearance, much less own firearms.
The Department of Defense with the aid of Congress needs more resources to assist Americans leaving the military. Suicide, substance abuse and homeless rates of those who wore the uniform are far higher than those who never did.
As we look for answers to how our nation can take measures to prevent another such tragedy, the conversation should not about Alexis being black or Buddhist. Our discourse should be centered on how we can end one of our national shames: How poorly we serve the mental health needs of those who sacrifice themselves by serving in the armed forces.
Alexis appears to be one such veteran who was underserved.
Sep 10, 2013, 9:33 am
Intra-party disagreement on Syria is good for politics
- By Dawud Walid
Syria’s 100,000-plus deaths, a small percentage caused by chemical weapons, are a tragedy for the entire human family.
Due to recent fatalities caused by chemical armaments, our national discourse has been dominated by President Obama’s proposal to intervene militarily in Syria. The horrible circumstances there, however, have been of benefit to our nation in the sense that it has broken (if only temporarily) obtuse partisanship among Democrats and Republicans.
Many Democratic congressmen are bucking Obama’s call. The rank and file in the party are not covering down on calls from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to support the administration in this endeavor. Even MoveOn.org, which has always strongly advocated for Obama’s agenda, are opposing military action in Syria with e-mail blasts urging people to protest.
Likewise, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, have vigorously supported armed action in Syria, yet are facing strong resistance from fellow party members – one of the most outspoken being Representative Justin Amash, R-Michigan. Moreover, the conservative Heritage Foundation and libertarian-leaning Cato Institute are also voicing opposition, which is being heard by leaders in the GOP establishment.
These are healthy developments in the American political landscape. Especially during the Obama Era, too much of the national discourse among elected officials has been driven purely by the kings and queens of the two parties. So while I’m deeply concerned about events taking place in Syria, I do see a small silver lining in this tragedy. Hopefully, this renewed spirit of debate will extend to other issues from immigration reform to how we can restore our civil liberties that have slowly eroded since the tragedy of 9/11.
“Doing Your Part in Countering anti-Muslim Bigotry”
By CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid
Robert Spencer, who is one of America’s most prolific anti-Muslim bigots, recently appeared at Eastern Michigan University to debate the topic, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” The debate, which was sponsored by the conservative Catholic station, Ave Maria Radio, also had a Muslim participant from another state, who is neither a trained speaker nor a scholar in Islam. This event can serve as a lesson on how we should coordinate and trust our community’s leadership as well as how we should better prepare ourselves to convey Islam to the American society.
It is not a good idea to enter into a debate in which the playing field is not level. The topic, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace,” was framed by a known Islamophobe, and it would likely to put any Muslim who engages in the discussion on the defensive. It’s akin to having a topic of “Is Judaism a religion of fair-dealing?” or “Are Africans a civilized race?” Such framing in itself infers the opposite. Moreover, the moderator of the debate took the position of the negative along with Spencer. The backdrop of it being held at a university only provided the air of academic impartiality.
Hence, local Muslim leaders did not accept to debate Spencer, and I urged community members not to attend. Spencer could have shouted in the wind all that he wanted, but a community leader’s engaging him in the debate would have given the appearance of validity to the event geared towards bigotry. The outside Muslim speaker, who did not confer with local Muslim leaders and organizations, would have better served the community’s interests by consulting with Muslims in Michigan.
Nonetheless, the Qur’an does call us to engage people of other faiths, even debate them, at the appropriate time. Allah (SWT) says [16:125] in an ayah revealed in Makkah relating to the Prophet (SAWS) discussing Islam with polytheists, “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and debate them in a way which is best.” Allah (SWT) also addressed in [29:46] discussing issues with Jews and Christians except those who maliciously work to lie against the Prophet (SAWS) and undermined Muslims, “And do not debate with the People of the Book but in a way which is best except with those committing oppression from them.”
Hence the Qur’an is calling us to use logic when discussing issues with people of other faiths and to debate them, when appropriate, in a non-hostile manner. It also calls us to be judicious in not only how we debate, but by following a criteria as to who should be engaged in debate.
Thus, we all need to prepare ourselves by acquiring more Islamic knowledge for better presenting Islam to the broader public. Moreover, we need to be cognizant of the audience to which we are speaking to. Both involve some training.
In regards to when we are called upon to speak about Islam, we must consider if we are in fact the appropriate persons to convey the message, which means that we need to have self-knowledge and humility. This is what Musa (AS) displayed when he was asked to spread the message of One God to his people. Allah (SWT) said in [20:25 – 20:32]:
He [Musa] prayed: My Lord expand for me my breast, make my matter easy, loosen the knot from my tongue, that they may comprehend my speech, and make for me a minister from my family, Harun my brother, increase through him my strength and let him share my task.
Even a prophet of Allah (SWT) asked for human assistance and felt that he was not the most eloquent to speak in a particular situation. We should also apply this same standard to ourselves.
The Islamophobia network raises vast sums of money to spread their misinformation in comparison to what Muslim organizations are given to counter it. Investing in countering Islamophobia should be a higher monetary priority for our charitable giving. Just as important as raising money for public relations campaigns to counter anti-Muslim hate, there is the need to better cultivate Muslim human capital to better present Islam. Our human capital is our community’s greatest asset.
CAIR-MI has taken the lead in training hundreds of Muslims over the years with our Presenting Islam to Fellow Americans (PITFA) sessions. PITFA teaches best practices for public speaking to how to answer the most frequent and difficult questions asked in America pertaining to Muslims and Islam. Our trained staff as well as outside experts have empowered members of the community to speak about our faith in churches and libraries and on radio and television programs. We also continue to provide guidance and talking points to our imams when bigots like Spencer and Terry Jones, the Qur’an burning pastor from Florida, come into town, to when tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombing take place.
I encourage you to not only financially support CAIR-MI, but also to attend our next PITFA seminar. Our community needs all hands on deck in the important task of conveying the beautiful message of Islam and to counter anti-Islam propaganda, which leads to a number of issues for us including workplace discrimination and bullying of our children in public schools.
To give monetary support to CAIR-MI’s anti-Muslim hate work or to obtain more information about PITFA, please log on our website at www.cairmichigan.org.