By and large, the Muslims were at ease with America. Except for the African Muslims who were brought to America as slaves and persecuted as slaves.
by Abdur Razzaq
In 1777 the first country to recognize the United States was the Sultanate of Morocco. Its ruler Mohammed Ben Abdullah maintained several correspondences with George Washington, the first President. In 1805 Thomas Jefferson, the third President, hosted the first ever Iftar dinner at the White House in honour of his Muslim envoy from Tunis. In 2007, two centuries later, the first American Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison took his oath of office on President Jefferson's copy of the Quran.
The number of Muslims in America - and some evidence suggests that there were even Muslims in Christopher Columbus's ships in 1492 - is believed to be close to 5 million. And they have their presence in almost all walks of life.
But the election of Donald Trump as President has generated fear among the Muslims. The recent travel ban on the Muslims, not unexpected though, from seven countries has confirmed that fear. But this episode has brought to light a brighter side of America: Rule of law and constitutionalism as manifested in the judgment of the US Court of Appeal for the ninth circuit in staying the Presidential Order. Heartening to watch also how the entire liberal America stood by the side of the hundreds of Muslims stranded in the airports across America. The free press supported their cause. The dust has not yet settled. No doubt the Muslims are worried about their future. But worries apart, they have to build rapport and understanding and partnership with American institutions and American civil society. The only option open to the Muslims is to live in America as Americans, and try to change it for the better.
In 2004 in Bangladesh - my country of origin- I mildly complained to then American Ambassador - Harry K. Thomas - about the unfavorable American foreign policy towards the Muslim world. He admitted but frankly made an important remark: the situation is not likely to improve until the American Muslims are active in American politics. The vast majority of the Muslims living in the West shy away from politics. They are happy in the comfort zone of their own community. The brightest ones prefer to prosper in their profession .But the common belief is: difficult days are awaiting Muslims both in Europe and America. Post-Brexit Britain, home of three million Muslims who came in contact with the Elizabethan England as early as the sixteenth century, is no longer a very comfortable country for them. A similar situation is perhaps waiting in two of the most important European countries: France and Germany. Many keen observers of Europe are waiting breathlessly to watch this year’s elections in these two countries. But whatever the changes may be in the political landscape of Europe and America the Muslims have to face those changes with courage and patience.
The West began its march towards modernity between 11th to 13th century in the field of science, astronomy, mathematics +and medicine through translation of Arabic texts. Today's young Muslims - male and female - should be encouraged to dedicate themselves for the betterment of their country of residence whether it is America or Australia, Britain or Belgium, France or Germany, Latvia or Lithuania. It is a duty enjoined upon them by their religion. And by so doing they will be able to help themselves.
In this regard the Muslims have a lot to learn from two communities: the Jews and the African-Americans. The Jews wield both economic and political powers. They have considerable influence in the Hill, the White House and the State Department. A good number of Britain's renowned politicians, including the 19th century Prime Minister Benjamim Disraeli, are from the Jewish community. They have influence all over Europe.
The African-Americans have made a long and difficult journey forward: From Kunta Kinte to Rosa Park to Martin Luther King to President Obama. And this journey is by no means over as is evident from the present day “black lives matter" movement. It was predicted that by mid-21st century an African-American could become the President of the United States. Barack Obama - by sheer strength of his character, his determination, and his 'audacity of hope' - came several decades earlier. I had the opportunity to hear Michelle Obama live in last year's Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. The First Lady spoke passionately of her experience of living in the White House built by slaves. The American young Muslims - male and female - can have a close look at the Obamas and then look up at the sky and say: “We can go as far as we can see". America is a land of opportunities unlimited.
A major problem of the Muslims in the West is that a large number of them live in ghettos. And even those who do not, keep themselves insulated from the wider society. Once an elegant looking female taxi driver drove me to the London Muslim Centre at White Chapel at the east end of London, where live the largest community of Muslims in Europe. Upon being asked about Muslims she said: “The Muslims are good but they don't mix with us. So we know very little about them".
This speaks volumes. Westminster, the seat of the British Government, is only 25 minute drive from White Chapel but the actual distance is about a thousand mile. The vast majority of the Muslims living in and around White Chapel are largely unconcerned with the legislations passed by the British Parliament or the executive decisions taken at the White Hall. They have their own world to live in. I have seen similar situation in New York.
This must change.
To bring about this change, umbrella organizations like the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) can play a historic role. Similar organizations need to be established throughout Europe, Australia and Canada. And cooperation among them is an urgent necessity. The future of Muslims on both sides of the Atlantic depends on themselves.
God does not change a nation's fate unless they strive to change it themselves.
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|Allen L. Jasson|