Category Archives: Letters to Non-Muslim Allies

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

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

Dear Fellow Americans (4)…

“…rhetorically, Cruz has moved us one step closer to a fractured democracy. While his words are certainly scary for Muslims, they pose a serious threat to all Americans. The Republicans’ inflammatory rhetoric this election cycle has done something remarkable to this country in a very short period of time: It has turned this country into a tinderbox.”  Read the full letter here.

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(3) Dear American Muslims and Non-Muslim Allies….

It is hard to believe that three months ago I thought Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric was a threat, but not his actual candidacy. That has changed. I want to tell you a bit about what led me to write that first letter in December. That evening, appalled by the media’s willingness to cover, and the Republican establishment’s willingness to enable Trump’s racist policy proposals, I did some research. I wanted to understand more about the unique position of Muslims in America. I learned that American Muslims make up nearly 1% of the adult population in this country. I also learned that this was the approximate proportion of Jews in Germany in 1933. I don’t now if that is sociologically significant. But I do know that it scared me.

I also learned that American Muslims are mostly concentrated in a handful of large urban areas and in ten of the fifty states. It occurred to me that at a heavily concentrated 1% of the adult American population, we are, in fact, quite vulnerable. There is no way that we could, alone, fight off an earnest attempt to persecute, marginalize, intern, or eliminate us. I realized that to fight fascism, some much larger proportion of the population has to recognize the early stages of scapegoating (identification, isolation) and resist them in order to ensure freedom from the endgame (concentration, elimination). And that is why I wrote to my non-Muslim friends. I don’t see this as a one-way street, by the way. Muslims must be (and many have been) civically engaged, both willing to ask others to stand with us and to commit ourselves to stand against injustice wherever it appears.

As an activist committed to social justice for my entire adult life, I accept that the project of democratic politics is an imperfectly negotiated system of self-governance. But Trump’s candidacy is a threat to the fabric of that process, not another position on the spectrum. He has effectively and explicitly gathered white nationalism, vigilante violence, torture, and the suppression of a free media and religious freedom into the platform of the Republican Party. And for some reason, it has taken this long for any significant voice of dissent to rise within the Republican establishment. (What the hell is wrong with you, Republican Party?)

What I mean to say here is that Trump represents a change, not in degree of conservatism, but in kind of politics.  And neither Trump’s fellow candidates nor the Republican establishment appear to have a problem with that.  It is not yet clear whether there is enough anxiety and hatred in some segments of the American public to put Trump at the top of the ruins of the Republican Party. My hope is that the Republican Party will do the honorable thing: recognize that what once was a viable conservative platform has degenerated into thin cover for greed, misogyny and racism. And then create something better.

The alternative, regardless of what happens in this election cycle, is frightening. What we have learned is that America is not immune to authoritarianism and that white nationalism is far from dead. Left unchecked, these factors may define the future of the Republican Party.

Because this remains a real possibility, my family and I are still having conversations about how to make sure we don’t sit still while the water boils around us. And again, I found myself wondering what this conversation must have looked like in 1933 or 1935, or even 1938, when the logical conclusion of Nazi fascism was still unimaginable. Because when Hitler came to power, 37,000 people fled, but another nearly 500,000 stayed. And more than half were still in Germany by the time all legal exits were sealed in 1941. People stayed for a great many reasons. Among the early reasons were mixed messages from the Nazi regime (including, for example, suggesting that segregation was the goal), patriotism, instances of solidarity or support from non-Jewish people, and unwillingness to leave behind property or livelihood. Later barriers to escape included increasing inability to pay to get out (as more and more property was confiscated by the Nazis and exit ‘taxes’ were dramatically increased) and inability to find a country that would allow them to enter.

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When does one assess the ridiculous level of gun violence and police brutality in this country, paired with the deep racism and xenophobia espoused by almost all of the Republican Presidential candidates, and get out? Our answer is: Continue reading

Dear Non-Muslim Allies (2)….

Dear Non-Muslim Allies (2),

I am writing to say thank you. A lot of amazing things have happened since I wrote to you last. You probably know by now that the first letter I wrote to a couple of hundred of you while sitting at my dining room table went viral. Many of you have started saying asalam ‘alaykum and making the hearts of the Muslims in your path soar. Some of you have written to tell me the stories that emerged from those first simple greetings of peace. Those of you who own or manage shops have begun to put signs of welcome in your windows, and many of you have participated in activism to end hate speech and discrimination.

There are a couple of stories in particular I want to share. One is the story of a woman who said asalam ‘alaykum to her cashier, who then asked where she was from. She replied, “right here!” to the great surprise and pleasure of the cashier. The other is the story of one of my dearest friends on the planet, who hesitated to share the letter until many days after it had gone viral, out of concern that it would raise the ire of her rural, Southern community. And then when she did, she found that the voices that responded were ones of support.

Words of wisdom from my mentors have come tumbling back to me in this past week, and as I learned of both of these stories, I thought of this: Suzanne Pharr, a lifelong civil rights and LGBTQ activist from the South, once told me that the most important thing a straight person could do for LGBTQ rights is to not be afraid to be mistaken for gay or lesbian. That is, no LGBTQ person could feel safe in this country until a good many of their allies were willing to be seen with them, to be ridiculed, to be, sometimes, unsafe. She suggested that by standing with a target of hatred, we might be mistaken for the target ourselves, but that if we do it in large numbers and often enough, the original target becomes hard, and then impossible to recognize and separate. By saying asalam ‘alaykum and by sharing the letter, you have made yourselves lightning rods, and are slowing the momentum of hatred in this country. Continue reading