Category Archives: Islam

Dear Beloved Resistance

Dear Beloved Resistance,

We now have a President and Cabinet who almost certainly have no interest in the safety or well-being of their people. Many of us marched in the streets last weekend in an awesome show of solidarity against Trump and all that he promises and stands for. It was, by several accounts, the largest global protest in history.

But in the hours and days following the march, we began to size each other up, tear each other down, and occasionally thoughtfully critique each other’s politics and intentions. Donald Trump poses an unprecedented threat to all of us. It is true that some of us are more used to being targeted by the government than others of us. Some of us come from a history several generations long of being targeted by the government. But as far as I can tell, whoever we are and whatever our level of privilege, things are about to get a whole lot worse for every last one of us. Here are some uncomfortable truths, and some thoughts on what we need to do about them to succeed in the fight against Trump.

We all have limited resources. We can’t use them battling each other. However hurt your feelings are, however offended you might feel that your fellow resisters are not ideologically in line with you or woke enough or culturally sensitive enough, that’s nothing compared to what is on the horizon from your own government. That goes for everybody. Brown bodies, Black bodies, white bodies, female bodies, trans bodies, differently-abled bodies. A wise activist told me once to practice not being offended. Let’s practice not being offended so we can preserve our resources for the big battles.

On the other hand, we all need to practice being offended by things that do not directly affect us or our families. We can all find a few moments to think about what it is to walk in someone else’s shoes. When you read the news, look for the attacks that won’t affect you directly, and try to imagine what they might mean for your neighbour or for the folks you marched with last weekend.

The more narrowly we define ourselves, the worse off we are. If we can act collectively as a broad coalition of people who do not want to live in an authoritarian state, that’s a LOT of people. A lot of people are harder to control than a few people. Let’s open up the tent. Hell, let’s ditch the tent and build the coalition we need right now.

Coalitions, by definition, contain people who are not alike. We are not going to build intimacy and radical love and acceptance among us overnight. We might not even learn to accept each other’s versions of history and reality. But we marched because we could agree on one thing: we see Donald Trump as an imminent threat to our bodies, to our country, to our families and our futures. Coalitions are strong because they aggregate the broadest divergent groups aimed at a narrow political goal. Coalitions have been used to effectively demand civil rights, suffrage, and justice throughout our history. Sometimes, the most vulnerable groups are overshadowed within a coalition. We should be conscious of this and correct for it. Sometimes, the most vulnerable groups have the most to gain from working in coalition. We are, indeed, stronger together.

Working in coalition means that we do not demand that the coalition represent our every interest, or act upon our every critique. When we choose to work together, there is a great potential benefit. There is also sometimes a cost. Whenever we work in coalition, our individual interests have to be negotiated with the group. We may not always feel heard or seen or understood. Individual members of the coalition may have good will, and may make space to learn more about others, but not everyone will. Sometimes we will have to accept not being fully met in order to reap the benefits of coalition, and to free the coalition up to achieve its objective.

“Consciousness raising” and “intersectional dialogue” in big public forums are easily manipulated by people who want to divide us. Right now, most of us feel targeted by the Trump administration and the Republican Congress. We feel targeted for any number of reasons: because we are women, we are Muslim, we are Black, we are Mexican, we are disabled, we are in need of reliable health care, we are immigrants, we are LGBTQ or gender nonconforming, we are human and would like clean drinking water, or any number of other situations. We do not come from the same places or experiences. We have a lot to learn about each other. Some of that needs to be worked out right this minute in order to have any coalition at all. And some of it can and should wait because those conversations are big and important, but also use up limited time and energy resources that we need to stop Trump. All of it needs to be done respectfully, and with integrity. The more successful we are, the more powerful the efforts to divide us will be. The more willing to trash each other we are, the less likely we are to succeed.

We can only stop the rapid decline of our democracy, as imperfect as it may be, if we act strategically, as a coalition. Identity politics get in the way of our mission. There are many important things that will not be accomplished by this mission. But none of those things will be accomplished without it.

Trump’s presidency promises a level of destruction and uncertainty that may make progress for any of us a distant dream. Stopping Trump may only be one step, but it is the most critical step and it is before us, all of us together, today.

Time for Discernment: A Muslim Women Calls on Her Buddhist Cousins in Faith

To read at Tricycle: https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/a-time-for-discernment/
The last time I had worn a hijab, a headscarf, on the street was 11 years ago, when I was a practicing public interest attorney in Philadelphia. I’ve worn it for prayers since then, but this time I wore it to go to the grocery store near the small town on the Delaware River where I am raising my two young children. It was several days after our country elected Donald Trump, and I wanted to reassure myself that my world was still full of goodness and light. I wanted to watch others see past what I was wearing on my head. And because my local Trader Joe’s is in true-blue New Jersey, I got what I came for. It’s been important to remember that people are still mostly good and kind.

As with practices in every faith tradition, wearing hijab is meant to clear the excess away, to allow for some surrender of the stuff of this world, and to re-center the essential being-ness that abides in each of us. I have to admit, practice has been difficult for me of late. It’s been hard to find my way to the prayer mat. Everything feels a little off-kilter, and my priorities are not an exception. So while I am far more balanced when I am observing the ritual of prayer for a few minutes five times each day, it’s not been easy to rid myself of the mind chatter or to pull my focus away from the news cycle that always seems more pressing.

But practice is more important than ever. It’s in practice that we, from each of our faith traditions, learn to recognize ourselves in the other and to nourish our own capacities for discernment. And in this era of fake news and a president-elect who contradicts himself with alarming regularity, discernment is critical.

I am an American Muslim, born to Pakistani immigrants. During my childhood, my parents practiced Islam the way that fish swim in water. It was as unstudied as the air they breathed. But I grew up in conflict with the mix of religion and culture that they offered. In time, though, I found the element I had been missing in Sufi Muslim spirituality. I would only later learn that Sufism figured deeply in the original Islamic tradition of my family for generations, as it has for many millions of Muslims around the world. While Sufism is popularly understood to be a mystic branch of Islam, in truth it is not a branch but the very heart of Islam. It is that kernel of light at the heart of faith; the breath of wisdom and understanding without which practice feels empty. It looks like the spinning of the whirling dervish or the sound of zikr (chanting the names of the Divine), but for a devotee, it is ultimately the polishing of the inner self, the spirit.

And so, it is through practice that I am finding a way to both see and survive the ongoing drama of this presidential election. Sometimes, that practice is with the zikr circle to which my family belongs; sometimes it is in the constant test of patience that is parenting my two young children; sometimes it is in the act of prostrating in prayer. And I can see that this spiritual maintenance will be essential in the coming months and years. Before even taking office, Donald Trump has shaped public discourse in America so that it is now acceptable to publicly assert the malevolence of Muslims and the illegitimacy of Islam as a faith.

I once comforted myself that anti-Muslim bigotry was on the margins of our society, along with anti-Semitism and overt racism and misogyny. Both President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush were careful to draw a distinction between the tiny minority of violent extremists who claim Islam as their own and Islam’s 1.6 billion peaceful adherents around the world. I, along with the vast majority of American Muslims, found shelter in the space they created to acknowledge us and our faith.

But that space has narrowed painfully, Continue reading

A Muslim and a Jehovah’s Witness Walk into a School…

This year, as the 2016 election season heats up, I was increasingly worried about sending my young children off to their preschool and elementary schools. I could not imagine sending my children into the care of people I didn’t know in schools that were new to us in a broader national climate of anti-Muslim bigotry. So I did what many Jehovah’s Witness moms do before school starts each year. I emailed my children’s teachers and administrators and asked for fifteen minutes of their time…

Read the full article here:

http://www.altmuslimah.com/2016/09/muslim-jehovahs-witness-walk-school/

Radio Spot on the Experiences of Muslim American Women

Guests: Fariha Khan, Sofia Ali-Khan, Kameelah Mumin Rashad, and Bina Shah

How do Muslim women feel about the way their religion is portrayed in the media, its place in American culture, and the ongoing presidential race? To get some answers, Radio Times producer Elizabeth Fiedler spoke with three Muslim women who live in the Philadelphia area about their lives, the surprising comments they receives about their appearance and religion, and about the term ‘forever foreigner.’ She spoke with FARIHA KHAN, associate director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Muslim American public interest lawyer and writer SOFIA ALI-KHAN and KAMEELAH MU’MIN RASHAD, the Muslim chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the nonprofit Muslim Wellness Foundation. Then Marty speaks with Pakistan-based journalist BINA SHAH about what the West gets wrong about Afghan women.

LISTEN HERE:

http://whyy.org/cms/radiotimes/2016/05/09/exhausting-experiences-of-frustration-surprise-for-muslim-women/

Is Your Passport in Order?

“…I have always known that I would need to prepare my children, as racial and religious minorities, to handle the kind of covert racism and ignorance I experienced with my teachers, and the hypocrisy I experienced with my childhood friend. Those experiences were not easy, but they were not crises. Through them, I developed the ability to speak loudly and clearly, to carry myself with dignity, to listen carefully, and to learn. They were the inevitable challenges of taking part in the great project of pluralism. In that project we are offered the divine opportunity to reach across gender and color, across nation, language and tribe “that we might come to know one another,” as the Qur’an describes.

But today’s Republican rhetoric-turned-platform would deny me, and would deny my children, a place at the table altogether. It drives a fundamental shift in what I have understood to be the ideals of my country. It says that America is not, and should not be, all of ours, together. It subverts the blessed opportunity of pluralism and replaces it with fear, contempt and violence. And so this election is, for me, not simply about choosing a President, but about surveying my countrymen’s vision for the future of America.”

Read more of my latest at altmuslimah.com:  http://www.altmuslimah.com/2016/05/is-your-passport-in-order/

 

 

 

An American Muslim Mom on Faith, Parenting and the 2016 Election

My latest piece on Huffington Post:

“…This is my Islam, this is my surrender. This is what it means to me to be a person of faith: to strive to understand the nature of myself as a human, and to strive to understand the nature of the world around me. To be in humble service wherever I can. And to steward what is my part firmly, gently when possible, as best as I can. Is there a place for my faith in America today?”

Read More Here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sofia-alikhan/an-american-muslim-mom-on_b_9786870.html

In My Prayers

You are in my prayers

such as they are,

which is to say imperfect,

bound together with a bit of biodegradable twine

and sprouted in a shovel full of compost

yearning like the veins

on a translucent yellow leaf

earnest but

not ever quite what the scholars imagined.

 

Neither the ecstatic precision of

a mystic on cosmic time

counting each sujood as an essential detail in the

unfurling of some great global lotus of prayer,

nor the hafizah who corrects the

timing of my salaam

seem to motivate the kind of

principled obedience I might

expect from myself.

 

It seems my heart has always some

stray hair

or unintentional caress

to dole out in exactly the wrong circumstance.

It seems I am always falling backwards

out of the parable, and onto the floor

unkempt and smiling.