Ramadan wrap up: what can we do?

In the first 6 months of 2016, Chicago saw 312 homicides and 1,949 total shootings. In the same period, U.S. Police killed 536 people,  49 of them in Texas, and there were 163 mass shootings, some by ‘Muslim extremists’, most just random acts of violence by unstable people. A Muslim was shot and stabbed yesterday morning on his way to Fajr, right outside the mosque. The media calls it an attempted robbery. Muslims were beaten outside mosques in Queens, NY and Orlando, FL, one a possible hate crime, the other possibly a concerned citizen.

Happy Independence Day.

In Chicago, according to the article linked above, gang violence is the cause of most of the homicides, but then what causes people to join gangs? (Hint: it’s not just race.) And what drives people to commit mass shootings, to go and stab or shoot or assault people on their way to worship services?

Clearly, there are problems here. And where there are problems, there are solutions.

But what can we do?

From where I sit, there are three major problems and three things we can do help alleviate them: Inequality and Ignorance drive most of the crimes, I think; Dua, Dawah, and Direct Action can help us overcome, InshaAllah.

Inequality

Why do people join gangs? Why do people join ISIS and similar groups? I hate to lump these two together, but look at the data.

I could cherry pick and find some studies that match my ideology, but let’s look at some biased sources instead…

For gangs, the LAPD claims that people join gangs for:

  • Identity or Recognition
  • Protection
  • Fellowship and Brotherhood
  • Intimidation
  • Criminal Activity

And for ISIS (and from this, we can probably extrapolate to other groups), from the Atlantic:

  • Status
  • Identity
  • Revenge
  • Redemption
  • Responsibility
  • Thrill
  • Ideology
  • Justice
  • Death

See any patterns? It looks to me like socioeconomic factors drive both groups. Sure, with some foreign ISIS recruits, motivation is tied to repression of Sunni populations in Syria (though ISIS is as happy to kill Sunnis as anyone else) and taking revenge on the West for our decades of intervention there. And sure, some people join gangs because their whole neighborhood is part of the gang. But pull those bits out, and you have Status, Identity, a sense of belonging, and economic opportunity. And I would guess the same is true for most Mass Shooters.

From my limited view, the Elephants in the room are, simply, advanced capitalism and white supremacy. If we want to stop gang violence, if we want to keep people from joining gangs, we need to give families more room to breathe, some sense of economic security and social belonging, without regard for race or gender.

But what does this have to do with Inequality? Well, the U.S. was built on the backs of slaves, and we’ve never been a particularly open, equitable society. These days, income and wealth has consolidated at levels not seen in 100 years, and these two factors drive most most of the problems around.

As capitalism and white supremacy are tightly woven into this economy and society, they’re going to be very difficult to change. If we want to change it, we have to do it. There’s no magic bullet (well… see below).

But if you go and ask people, I expect most (around here anyway) would give you a very different answer on both counts…

Ignorance

Americans, by and large, are wholly ignorant of Islam and have never met a Muslim. The only thing they know about us is what they see on television and in movies. Sadly, of those who have met Muslims, some percentage have an unfavorable view, and here’s where Muslims need to work on our ignorance: ignorance of social customs and mores in the U.S., broadly speaking, and of regional attitudes and behaviors.

I hear horror stories all the time, but one in particular sticks in my mind. There are two Latina cleaning ladies that work at the local mosque, and if you ask them, they’ll tell you: look at how the Muslims treat Allah’s house? Have you ever visited a church? We should go visit their churches and see how believers treat the houses of God.

Astaghfirullah. If the cleaning crew at the masjid aren’t begging to become Muslims, we’re all doing it wrong.

So the non Muslims are ignorant of their Muslim neighbors, and the Muslims are ignorant of their non Muslim neighbors. We need to get together: segregating ourselves is not going to work.

So what can we do?

Dua

And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.

وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ ۖ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ ۖ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ

Al Baqarah, 186

So first off, we need to ask Allah for His help, His protection, His guidance, to remove the obstacles, and open all of our hearts to Him.  All strength and all power belong to Allah alone, and He is the most forgiving, the entirely merciful.

We can put our faces on the ground in Salat or at any time, and ask Allah azza wa jall to grant healing, ease and comfort to the victims of violent acts, and guidance and forgiveness to those who commit violent acts.

We can pray for our leaders, that their hearts soften. We can pray that those that horde wealth open up some and spread around just a little bit.

Most of all, we can seek forgiveness. If Muslims were doing our jobs right, there would be no misunderstanding. There aren’t that many of us, but there are enough to make a difference, InshaAllah, and only if we put forth the effort.

Dawah

And the biggest effort is in outreach. We can educate the people about Muslims, show them who we are and tell them what we believe, and we can educate ourselves about the people around us.

I’m the worst at this. As a white american male, I occupy a privileged position. I command a bit of respect, qua my race and gender, and I have access and can get away with loads more than people of other races and genders, yet I hide in my house most of the time, tapping away on this keyboard instead of going out, showing my face and InshaAllah the good character that comes from adherence to Allah’s beautiful religion.

I can do loads, but I can’t do it alone. The born Muslims immigrants and their 2nd and 3rd generation children need to do their part too. I’m not white male enough to pronounce what precisely that is, but good character and a friendly, outgoing demeanor (even faked) go a long way in North Texas.

Good food doesn’t hurt either.

But that’s just hitting the ignorant. To influence inequality, we need completely different tactics.

Direct Action

Online petitions don’t do anything. Letter writing can help, but not in the realm of corporate malfeasance and human greed. We need something more.

Protest marches and peace marches are a good start. BSD is another, and not just against Israel and other State actors, but against corporations too: pick two or three giant global entities and refuse to do business with them in any way. I chose Walmart and Amazon. I’ve set foot in a Walmart maybe 5 times in the last 10 years, and I’ve spent a grand total of maybe $150 dollars there in all that time. With great difficulty, I closed my Amazon account more than a year ago, and other than one unfortunate purchase at the Book Depository (a sneaky Amazon subsidiary in the UK) and one private company that uses Amazon as its warehousing and delivery, I haven’t patronized it either.

There’s so much more that I can do, and that you can do too.

If your mosque has some sort of community outreach program, participate in it, and be the absolute best Muslim you can be. If your institution takes part in rallies or marches or parades, join in and be the absolute best Muslim you can be. If we can change the conditions locally, on the ground, right here, and if you can change the conditions locally, on the ground, where you are, then before long we can make a livable world together.

May Allah help us overcome inequality and make a more equitable world; may He grant wisdom and guidance to the ignorant; may He grant our dua; may He open the peoples hearts to His message; and may He guide our steps and protect us as we get out in the world and put our bodies out in front of His message. Ameen.

Edit: this morning, some guys in a pickup truck sped through the neighborhood shouting random things through a megaphone, or maybe they just had the radio up loud. (A brother in a house nearby, but inaccessible from this part of the neighborhood heard them too, so it probably wasn’t a worker going on lunchbreak or something, and so probably not a radio either.) I had headphones on and was listening to a nice lecture from Mufti Menk, so I missed most of it, but it gave me pause.

On one hand, the brazenness of this drive-by shouting frightens me; on the other hand, the cowardice is laughable. Truth is, the gentlemen in the truck might pose some danger to my darling, adorable wife and to my neighbors, but they’re probably just interested in intimidating us. To be honest, I have no idea what to do. I should call the police,  I guess, but there’s not much I can tell them: I saw a truck of unknown age, probably black, speed by and heard some yahoo talking smack (I think). But I’m not one for running the cops much: “HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT” and #blacklivesmatter and all. But there must be something to do. The climate for Muslims in the U.S. is deteriorating, and we’ve got to do something.

The media and the economy and the society need an enemy, and right now it’s Muslims and undocumented migrants. In the past it’s been welfare queens and communists. They’ve spun the actions of a couple of isolated, misguided people and groups into some grand narrative that we’re out to get them. But the media that’s spewing such hatred about us couldn’t do its job if we weren’t so isolated and reactive. Isolating ourselves and only poking our heads out to denounce some act by some unfortunate soul only helps the narratives spun by those who would like us to go home, or whatever; only getting out in the world working to educate the people will help.

May Allah protect the Muslims here in North Texas and around the United States, and all over the world. May He guide us to be active in our communities, and to be part of the wider society. May He guide us to act with the best possible character in all our affairs. May He soften the hearts of the people who see us as an enemy, may He open their doors (as Mufti Menk says), and may He forgive us all, Muslims and non Muslims alike, for all of our sins, transgressions, and missteps, for the times when we didn’t act at all and the times where didn’t display excellent character, and may He guide us to recognize the true enemies of Islam, the low and middle classes, and all the disadvantaged people, and work together to defeat these foes and create a society that works for everyone, ameen.

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