APART FROM DAWAH, HOW CAN ORDINARY MUSLIMS HELP BUILD A GLOBAL BRAND FOR ISLAM AND ORDINARY MUSLIMS?
From regularly volunteering at a local nursing home, helping to deliver food to homeless families or teaching a young person to read to helping out at local charities such as soup kitchens, food bank, homeless shelter and contributing towards clothes and food distribution or something as simple as shoveling neighbours’ driveways or giving blood at least once in your lifetime, if not more, there are many ways to illustrate what it truly means to be a Muslim. The point is, we Muslims have to make it difficult for others to stereotype or distrust people they actually know. At present, most of us are regrettably little more than sitting ducks.
In an incredible speech that did not receive as much coverage as it rightfully deserved, the Canadian Imam who delivered a powerful eulogy for the six Muslim victims of a deluded white supremacist killing outside a Quebec (Canada) mosque in late January 2017 said:
Our Prophet was persecuted, thrown out of his town. He was alone. Eight years after that he came back to this town with 10,000 people. Less than two years after that, when he did the last pilgrimage in life, he was accompanied with 120,000 people. From where did these 120,000 people come from in a period of 10 years? It was the same people who were his enemies. The people who wanted to kill him. The people who were persecuting him and his companions and his sympathizers . . . He transformed his enemies into friends and followers. We don’t have enemies. I repeat we do not have enemies. We have some people who don’t know us. It should be easier to explain to these people who do not know us, it is easier to let them know who we are. (Source: Translated and adapted version of the eulogy, which Imam Hassan Guillet delivered for the Québec mosque shooting victims)
Given such, it may be worthwhile exploring some out-of-the-box approach to being a visible Muslim today: Hundreds of American Muslims around the country joined forces to put their faith into action . . . At least 23 teams from mosques, Muslim student clubs, and faith-based non-profits signed up to serve in soup kitchens across the country for the first National Muslim Soup Kitchen Day. In total, the volunteers cooked and distributed more than 3,000 meals throughout the day in New York, Florida, Alabama, and seven other states, according to the Muslim Soup Kitchen Project (MSKP), the New York-based organization that coordinated the national event . . . 200 volunteers signed up as cooks, drivers, and soup kitchen servers. They helped out at 8 local shelters and at the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York’s Farm. (Source: American Muslims Join Forces For National Muslim Soup Kitchen Day by Carol Kuruvilla, 4 May 2016, Huffington Post)
Another example is one of how Muslims bandied together in December 2015 when American Muslims responded to the attack in San Bernardino with philanthropy. The fundraising campaign, Muslims United for San Bernardino Families, cited a Qur’anic verse and Hadith. It collected more than US$200,000 within seven days – the equivalent of US$1,000 an hour . . . In July 2015, after an American Muslim with a history of mental illness murdered five victims in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the local Muslim community raised US$20,000 for their families . . . On July 4th, as Americans celebrated their country’s birthday at barbeques, parks and beaches, American Muslims led by the Islamic Society of Central Jersey – observing a Ramadan fast from sunrise to sunset – will gather at one of the state’s largest mosques to prepare 600 meals for the poor and homeless. (Source: American Muslims Show Humanitarian Islam, Engy Abdelkader, 28 June 2016, Huffington Post)
As yet another example: when several African American churches burned to the ground last summer [in 2015] in the wake of the tragic shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, news outlets noted that a Muslim organization raised more than US$100,070 to help the congregations rebuild – a higher sum than several Christian organizations accumulated in the same time period. The lead organizer for the effort? Faatimah Knight, a Zaytuna graduate, America’s First Accredited Muslim College. (Source: What It’s Like To Attend America’s First Accredited Muslim College by Jack Jenkins, 18 April 2016, Think Progress)
Or contemplate local efforts in Michigan, with perhaps the largest Muslim community, led by the Michigan Muslim Community Council. When the water supply in Flint, Michigan, was found to be toxic, the state’s Muslims worked with members of other religions to aid distressed citizens while state and local officials failed. The American Muslim response to the water crises in Flint – including more than US$300,000 and 1,000,000 bottles of water in donations – made local, national and international news (Source: American Muslims Show Humanitarian Islam, Engy Abdelkader, 28 June 2016, Huffington Post) although the mainstream news media rarely captures the civil engagement of Muslims.
“They were very helpful,” says Lee Anne Walters, a Flint woman who blew the whistle on the contamination. “It was great seeing everyone come together”. (Source: Albert Hunt: U.S. Muslims are terror victims too, Albert Hunt, 21 June 2016, Bloomberg View)
On the healthcare front and joining at least 25 free clinics nation- wide run primarily by Muslim volunteers, according to the American Muslim Health Professionals’ task force on health a affordability: The American Muslim Community Center in Orlando, Florida, has converted an old doctor’s office into a free clinic for uninsured families and people in need . . . “Our goal is to serve humanity – no strings attached. Everyone is welcome,” Atif Fareed, AMCC chairman, told the Orlando Sentinel. “We have over 40 physicians who come to our mosque, and we have 11 of them signed up to volunteer here. So we are very, very blessed.” . . . The facility, which will only be open on Fridays for the time-being, will offer general health care to anyone who lives in Central Florida who is uninsured and lives below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. This equates to individuals who make $23,760 or families that make $48,600 or less a year . . . Free health care facilities run by Muslim Americans have been sprouting up all over the nation, such as in Jacksonville, Florida; Muscoy, California; Silver Spring, Maryland; and Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, just to name a few. (Source: This Muslim-Run Clinic Offers Free Health Care To Those In Need, Elyse Wanshel, 18 January 2017, Huffington Post)
Over in the UK, London Muslim students regularly run huge home- less drives providing medical checks, food and haircuts, as well as litter picking in the streets of the capital. Islamic Relief Scotland’s Winter Warm campaign distributed over 350 bags containing hats, scarves and gloves this year alone in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh over the Christmas period in 2016. The East London mosque, in conjunction with Muslim Aid meanwhile distributed 10 tonnes of food to London’s homeless over the December holiday season, collectively playing their role in the local society they live in.
Such effort also has other multi-fold benefits. While we as parents allocate a great deal of time encouraging our children to learn about Islam, we can model random acts of kindness for our children by committing acts of goodness in their presence. The idea of getting to know your neighbours, donating to charity, participating in beach cleanups, opening a door for strangers, helping an elderly on the street or public transport remind children of the importance, sense of peace and happiness that lies in doing good. There can be no better way of laying the foundation of fighting helplessness and evil via Islam than through our own positive actions.
SHOULD CHARITY BE GIVEN IN STEALTH OR IN PUBLIC?
While Muslims are taught charity given in stealth has more value in Islam, for as long as the intention is not the shameless display of wealth, it is indeed high time for ordinary Muslims to start looking at the bigger picture. Put crudely, there is a somewhat limited point having a mosque in a Western society when Muslims have zero visibility in the local community.
In terms of media coverage and in reaction to the negative coverage of Muslims, many outlets seem to feel a need to overcompensate. Whenever a Muslim is doing something normal or “good” for society, it is as if journalists are stunned. Hannah Allam, a journalist at McClatchy, summed up this issue in a tweet last year: Anti-Muslim hostility has led to a well-meaning but sad genre of corrective journalism that says “Look at this Muslim doing a normal thing!”, 12:10 AM – 30 Nov 2016 (Source: What Covering Hate As A Muslim Journalist Taught Me About The Media, Rowaida Abdelaziz, 23 January 2017, The Huffington Post)
The key therefore is to strike a balance by avoiding a shameless display of wealth and thus the need to dispense of the so-called “corrective journalism” about ordinary Muslims, charity and Islam.