Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Somebody's Always "It" in America, and Currently the Muslims are "It"

As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu, and Greetings of Peace:

As things heat up with Muslims and Islaam in America, I find my thoughts swirling like crazy.  Disjointed.  Angry.  Fearful.  Naive.  Denial.  Humor.  Just a few words that come to mind.  What follows is probably a trip down Memory Lane and a long post that doesn't make much sense, even to me, but I feel a need to get it out.  Perhaps brainstorming my thoughts will help to write a cohesive piece somewhere down the line :)

Besides, I had a nightmare last night which I still remember in vivid detail, and when that happens, it always leaves me emotionally vulnerable the following day.

So, if you care to join me and read on, here goes ...

When you were a kid, did you ever play that tag game, "It?"  You know, one kid would tag another, saying "you're it," and then everyone would chase around "it" until he/she was caught.  When kids play the game, it's usually harmless and a lot of fun.  But when we play the game in America, it is anything but fun.

Somebody's always "it" in America (Japanese, Jews, Catholics, Blacks, etc.,) and currently the Muslims are "it."  Just last month, the undocumented were "it," but now, since the NYC mosque controversy, the Muslims are "it."

My mind has been drifting to the past lately, and also to a conversation I had awhile back with a Bosnian sister.  Also, someone commented on one of my other  posts about wondering how the Jews in Europe must have felt prior to Hitler getting a strong foot into Europe.  That also got me thinking.

I was born in New York City a few short years after the end of World War II.  My mother was a Polish Catholic, and my father was a Polish/Russian Jew.  Shortly before I entered kindergarten, our family moved to Chicago.  The city had a large Polish immigrant population and my mother had relatives there.  So we and practically my entire family on my father's Jewish side moved to Chicago.  Why?  Well, mainly the face of Harlem and the Bronx at that time was starting to change to Blacks and Latinos and many Jews fled for the suburbs of New York or other places.  Not that America had a love affairs with the Jews in those days like she does now!  Believe me, we were part of "it" in America in the 1940s and 1950s.  Most Americans could give a rat's behind about the "creation" (theft) of Israel.  Things didn't really start to change for us Jews until after the rise of Evangelical Christianity and the role of the Jews in their agenda which is another post for another time.

Anyhow, my parents bought a small house in a Chicago suburb called Norridge, and my aunt rented a place in Skokie, which had a large population of Jewish people.  My grandparents rented a place smack in the urban part of Chicago.  I remember as a child when my dad would take us around on errands on the weekend, and we would go to Skokie to visit my aunt and so that my brother and I could play with our cousins.  The non Jews used to roam around the Jewish commercial district of Skokie and put their "dawah" materials under the windshield wipers of Jewish cars.  I remember my dad and I returning to our car and him seeing the papers under our windshield, and him getting real mad and tearing up the papers.  As a 6 year old or so little girl, I knew that we were different and people didn't like us because we were Jewish.  I was afraid of non Jews. 

In Norridge, we lived next to a German family.  I think the husband was a German, I can't remember, but for sure, the wife was.  I think she was a German immigrant or a "war bride," or something like that, because she didn't understand English very well as I remember, and she had a thick German accent.  I don't remember the husband having a thick German accent.

(Post for another time: war brides.  Many American soldiers married German women and brought them back to America.  Also, many African-American soldiers married German white women, too.)

The family's name was George and Mary Farr.  To the Farrs: if you are reading this by some chance, maybe you are "Googling" yourselves and come across this post, PLEASE FORGIVE ME AND MY FAMILY for the way we treated you when we lived next door to you whether you were aware of our meanness or not.

As the saying goes, "shit rolls down hill," or "hurt people hurt people," and this is exactly what my Jewish family fell into.  Even though my mom was not Jewish, we were living as a Jewish family at that time, exclusively going to synagogue and identifying as Jewish.  Even though few people liked us or wanted anything to do with us on our block because we were Jewish, my family, and me by extension being a child and copying my parents, contributed to the psychological and social torture of the Farr family.  In those days, Americans didn't like Germans either.  The Germans were "it."  After all, many of our "boys" fought the Germans in the war.  And many of our "boys" lost their lives at the hands of Nazi soldiers.  Just like nowadays, we use words like the "n" word and other offensive words to describe different groups of people and individuals, in those days, many American referred to the German people as "krauts" to refer to a popular German food, sauerkraut.  (By the way, the Jews were mainly called "kikes."  It always makes my skin crawl when I hear some Muslims refer to us Jews as Yehudi ...)

Mary Farr was a housewife.  She took care of her children and home and didn't bother with the neighbors.  Maybe she was anti-social, maybe she was intimidated by her language skills or by our culture, or maybe she was just plain busy.  But the fact remains, that the Farr family was a mystery to our community.  Sometimes we kids would see her in the backyard hanging out her laundry.  We would watch her from behind the bushes, laughing and knocking each other over, calling out, "Mary Farr, Mary from far far away."  She never said or did anything, but she had to have heard us.  We never trick-or-treated at their house on Halloween, and none of the neighborhood gossip ladies hung out at her house for the afternoon coffee clutch.  

(The American housewife coffee clutch: also a post for another time, lol)

Her children didn't come out and play with us or get dirty.  I don't think she allowed them to get dirty.  It was said that she had a spotless house.  Don't know who went in there to see and be able to report back to everyone else, but that was what was said.

But the fact remains that our community was not friendly or welcoming to the Farr family because they were "krauts."

Many years later, when my parents got divorced, my mom and step-dad bought a house next to another German family, lol, the Hess's.  They had a daughter named Janet.  They were a similar family to the Farrs - didn't bother with anyone, kids never played in the neighborhood, etc., and us kids also used to torture Janet and her brother.  I remember that I, myself, beat up Janet real good at the bus stop one morning while waiting to go to school.

These are some of my memories as a Jewish child dealing with the legacy of World War II in America and dealing with the German-Americans.  As we now know, German-Americans aren't treated like that in America anymore, but like I said, someone is always "it" in America.

Recently, I participated in an interfaith seminar with some German Christian chaplains who are first-generation Americans.  They shared that in Germany, the people have a sort of collective guilt and shame about what happened in their country during the war, and for the role that some of their people played in the crimes against millions of people.  They also told us that Germans make it a priority to do interfaith work in that country, and they do not shy away from talking about what happened in their history in the schools so it doesn't happen again.

---

How did most of the Jews feel in Europe when Hitler and his buddies were starting to make noises?

Well, the rich and those with the means saw the writing on the wall and left the various countries of Europe, especially Eastern Europe.  Then there were those in denial.  Jews who believed that no harm would come to them.  How could anyone believe that their government or their neighbors would intentionally engage in genocide?  It was unimaginable to many Jews.  Besides, many Jews believed that being the Chosen People, G-D would protect them.  Even after the Nazis were seizing their property and possessions and driving them from their homes, many left in a passive manner, telling themselves that the situation was only temporary.  Did the message sink in when they were made to wear arm bands with the Star of David identifying them as Jews (think identity cards in America - which many politicians and Americans are in favor of).  Initially, there was a collective denial among the Jewish people that anything bad would happen (kind of like now for the Muslims: we have Constitutional rights, yes?)  Only after they were taken to concentration camps, stripped naked, lead to gas chambers and used in medical experiments did some of them think that perhaps there was no G-d after all.  Then again, some Jews endured it all, seeing it as a test (sound familiar Muslims?), believe that G-d had a plan which they did not even start to try to figure out what it was.  By the end of the war, many Jews were convinced that there was no G-d.  "If there is a G-d, He wouldn't have let this happen to us." 

This is true for some Jews.  I heard these things from my family when I was a child.

---

Something similar happened in Bosnia.  A Muslim sister described to me how the Bosnians initially were in denial about the possibility of the Serbs harming them.  Many Bosnians and Serbs were intermarried.  Bosnians and Serbs lived side by side in the same neighborhoods.  Bosnians and Serbs were friends.  Although the Serbs were the majority and also the ones mainly in powerful positions (police, mayors, etc), the Bosnians never feared them.

Until Bosnian families were awakened in the middle of the night by mobs of Serbians who had the intention of driving the Bosnians from their homes.  Initially, they were asked to leave or driven from their homes.  Those who resisted were beaten and even killed.  It wasn't long before the Serbians lost their manners and stopped asking.  The brutal rape of Bosnian women and girls was commonplace.  My friend knew of Muslim women who, after being raped by scores of men, had rifles put up their vaginas and the triggers were pulled.  My friend and her family saw the writing on the wall and didn't wait to be driven out by the nighttime raids.  They fled their home with only what they could barely carry and ended up in a refugee camp.  They were transferred to several camps in Europe before they were finally sent to America as part of the refugee resettlement program.  They had no choice really as to where they would go.

You may be reading this and thinking that my friend and her family were fortunate.  Sure, they suffered a bad situation, but they were blessed.  They got out, didn't they?

Well, maybe.  But she doesn't see it that way.   My friend's mother, who was ill to start with, died while in the camp.  Her father was practically catatonic with grief, and eventually had a stroke which left him paralyzed and bed ridden.  Once in America, my friend was his sole caregiver.  The well-intentioned brothers at her masjid hooked her up with an Afghan brother for marriage who treated her like crap and forced her to live like a prisoner in her own home.  He took her to the masjid one day during Ramadan, gave her talaq in front of the imam, and left her at the masjid without any of her things or her father.  The brothers had to return to the house to figure out what to do with her and her father. 

And man o man was this sister ever bitter at the United States government and the irony of being resettled to a country for whom she only had hate.  Why?

Because when the Serbs aggressed toward the Macedonians and Croatians, the arms for defending themselves poured in from the UN.  But when it came time for the Muslims in Bosnia to defend themselves, according to her, President Clinton ordered that no arms be given to the Bosnians. 

My friend ended up with PTSD and emotional scars that will never go away.  The only thing that keeps her from going completely crazy is the love for Allaah t'ala in spite of everything.  Subhan'Allaah!

---

One of my commenters said something about making "provisions" NOW in case the Tea Party or their likes end up in power in America. 

What will happen to the Muslims in America in that case?

I can relate.  My passport is in order.  And I have one credit card that could get me and my family out of here.

---

"Ah Safiyyah, why you got to be talking like such a paranoid downer during Ramadan?" you may be saying if you have made it reading to this point.

Do you think it can't happen here in America?

Well, my friends, I think I will enjoy an extended vacation in Istanbul!

Because, at the end of the day, rational voices will prevail in America.  Unlike some other Muslims, I believe America is a wonderful country.  Allaah t'ala tells us in the Qur'aan that He sent the Prophet, peace be upon him, as a mercy to ALL of mankind.  That means everywhere.  I believe that we ARE different than some other countries in the world.  And those of us who believe that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is suppose to work for ALL Americans, have to stand up against the current injustice. Because if we don't, who is going to stand up for whoever else ends up being "it" next in America?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

MOOZ-lum Official Trailer


Watch the trailer and spread the word!

I'm An American, Too!

Over and over on conservative TV and radio, we hear the commentators saying that the United States military men and women are "fighting" for our rights.  That they are fighting to keep us free.

Whose rights?  Whose freedom? 

Just a select few, or only a select few groups of Americans?

I am an American.  Born and raised in the USA.  I am also a Muslim.  American Muslims, like any other group of citizens, deserve the protection of our Constitutional rights. 

I am from a military family.  Even my mother served and was honorably discharged from the military.  I am the ONLY person in my immediate family who did not serve in the US Military.

My mother's people were Catholic, and my father's people were Jewish.  Both groups went through hell in America.  Just like the Muslims are going through hell now.  I think my family has paid our dues!  My family fought for the rights of ALL Americans.

My Mother: 


My Father:



My Step-Father:



My Brother:



There was a time in American history when Catholics, Jews, and Mormons could not or had difficulty building houses of worship.  Haven't we learned anything from the lessons of history?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Where Are All The "Moderate" Christians? An Appeal!

As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Baraktu and Greetings of Peace:

As I take in all of this controversy over the building of a mosque, Islaamic center, whatever you want to call it, near Ground Zero in New York City, one thing keeps getting hung up in my mind: Where are all of the "moderate" Christians?  Where are your voices?

Why are you not speaking out?  Why do we not see your leaders and clergy on CNN and Fox News?  Do the extremists among you speak for the rest of you?  Shall we hold all of you accountable for the minority among you?  Isn't that what some of you did with Islaam and Muslims after 9/11?

Or is there really a minority?  A CNN poll shown this morning reveals that 68 per cent of all Americans polled, or two-thirds of those polled, do not favor the construction of the mosque near Ground Zero.  Who are these Americans?  Two-thirds of all Americans are against the First Amendment according to this poll?  Don't say that "we are for the first amendment and religious freedom, but just not "there," meaning near Ground Zero.  It is not a matter of apples and oranges.  It is the same thing.  You are either for freedom or against it!

We cry loudly about how America's sons and daughters are dying so "we" can be free. 

Who are "we?"

We cry out in agony, mourning the passing of "our" way of life in America?

What does "our" way of life mean in a diverse, pluralistic America?

After September 11th, you asked, "Where are the moderate Muslims?  Why are they not speaking out?"

Now, I ask you the same question. 

What are you doing to quell the rising tide of Islamophobia in America?

The Ground Zero controversy is a symptom.  It's not about "sacred ground," or the area being a cemetery, or possible body parts in/on the building.  If that were the case, we wouldn't see the push back at the building and renovation of mosques all around America like we are seeing (California, Tennessee, Staten Island, etc.).  Something bigger is going on.  Consider the demonstration held a few weeks ago against the Temecula, CA, mosque proposal:

According to the Valley News in its report "Temecula mosque proposal targeted in pending protest"



-- "a loose-knit coalition of area residents is planning a demonstration at the Islamic Center's existing facility along Rio Nedo west of Murrieta Creek."


-- "An e-mail alert sent to area newspapers last week announced that a one-hour 'singing – praying – patriotic rally" will begin at 12:30 p.m. July 30 at the Islamic Center’s existing facility. The advisory -- sent by a leader of a conservative coalition that has been active with Republican and Tea Party functions – recommended participants 'bring your Bibles, flags, signs, dogs and singing voices.'"


-- "'We will not be submissive,' the notice proclaimed. 'Our voices are going to be heard!' The alert went on to question what its authors described as Islamic beliefs. It suggested that participants sing during the rally because Muslim 'women are forbidden to sing.' It suggested that rally participants bring dogs because Muslims 'hate dogs.'"God help us!

When the church in Florida has its Qur'an burning on September 11th, will America's Christians be there protesting against it?  Or will they be tossing Qur'ans into the fire?  Or, will some let these hate-filled people do the dirty work?  If we're not part of the solution, we're part of the problem.

It is with great sadness that I read about mosques all over America asking for police protection for Eid celebrations.  Eid is the celebration of the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting and spiritual renewal.  It is just coincidence that the Eid date falls around September 11th this year.

Some people are asking Muslims not to have Eid ul-Fitr celebrations on September 11th.  Let's see:  no Eid on September 11th.  No Islaamic center near Ground Zero.  What CAN we do Christian America? 

It's been nine years since the horrible events of September 11th.  You've had nine years the learn the truth about Islaam - not the old tired talking points of the Islamophobes given a voice in the media.  Not the cherry-picking of verses from the Qur'an.

Numerous Muslims died in the attacks of September 11th.  The 9/11 families include Muslim families. 

As a Muslim chaplain and as someone committed to interfaith relations, I do a lot of speaking engagements to non Muslim audiences who are primarily Christians.  You know, it's the same questions they ask each and every time.  The people in the audience are confused.  My friends are confused.  What the media and some of their hate-filled Christian chain emails tell them doesn't jive with what they know about Muslims from being friends and neighbors with me and other Muslims they know.

Truth.  We MUST have the conversation in the land of the free and home of the brave.  Truth.  It requires courage.

I heard a 9/11 firefighter say on television, "That mosque will NEVER be built there."  What will you and your supporters do, sir?  Physically prevent the construction?  Blow it up like the church in Atlanta was blown up resulting in the deaths of Black children during the Civil Rights era only to show displeasure because Blacks wanted equal rights in America?  Is that where this is heading?

Americans tell the Iraqi government that Sunnis and Shias must get along, work side by side in tolerance to build the future of Iraq.  We like to hold up our American values as a model for them.  We like to tell people in the Muslim-populated world that America is not at war with Islam, but only with the terrorists.  Every American president since the creation of the state of Israel has tried to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together, asking them to work toward the creation of two separate states where everyone can live in tolerance and peace.  Does America have the moral authority to do this work considering that it appears that we are heading down the road where American Muslims require police protection and lawyers to defend their Constitutional rights?

My mother was a Catholic.  One half of my family is Christian.  I practiced Christianity for years.  No one ever taught me to hate or oppress people of other faiths.  I am from am immigrant family.  We came to America from Eastern Europe to get away from the kind of stuff going on in America today.

If we want to "win hearts and minds" overseas, we better start here in America.

The Muslim world is watching.  Christians: find your voice!  Speak out against the hate, fear, and oppression.  To the Christians who are fighting against the insanity: thank you!

Ask yourself: WWJD? (What would Jesus do?)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

LGBT (LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDERED) MUSLIMS: DO THEY HAVE A PLACE AT THE TABLE IN OUR COMMUNITIES?

                                                         (Image by Antonio Martins here)


As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu and Greetings of Peace:

Insha Allah this finds you all and your families well, and preparing for the start of Ramadan next week, Insha Allaah.

We are very busy at the prison, getting it together for about 175 Muslim women to participate in the month's activities: fasting, iftar, community dinner, Eid prayer, and finally Eid feast! 

In the meantime, I am fascinated at how the world seems to be going crazy, especially here in the USA.  The illegal immigration battle heats up, and as well, the ongoing opinions of everyone in the media about the New York City mosque controversy near Ground Zero. 

Then yesterday, Proposition 8 in California, which restricts marriage to one man and one woman, was overturned by a US District Court Judge who ruled that the voter-approved law violates federal equal protections and due process laws.

Regardless how anyone personally feels about homosexuality and gay marriage, and religion aside, it makes sense that in a country like America any law prohibiting one group of people to do something that everyone else in America is allowed to do, based on race, gender, religion, etc., is indeed unjust.  And illegal.

Still, the homophobes continue their fight, and are appealing the judge's decision.

I say "religion aside," because I am talking about marriage that is sanctioned by the government.  In America, one can marry in a church, synagogue, masjid, or wherever, but for the marriage to be "legally" recognized by the secular government and the IRS, a secular marriage license is needed. 

To clarify, I do not agree that gays should be allowed to have a nikah in the masjid.  Nor do I think that the religion of Islaam needs to be "updated," to permit gay marriage.  I'm just saying that there's a difference between religious and secular marriage in America, and we must advocate for every one's rights in America, least they come after us next. 

Back to the New York City mosque controversy, I was pleased to see that the rabbis were out demonstrating today in support of the mosque project.  In my opinion, all religious groups should be out there doing the same.

I was also pleased to see a link on my JTA mobile news service describing how a group of Orthodox rabbis, educators, and mental health professionals signed a statement supporting gays in the Jewish community. 

WHAT?!  Rabbis supporting gays?!

"For the last six months, a number of Orthodox rabbis and educators have been preparing a statement of principles on the place of our brothers and sister in our community who have a homosexual orientation," the statement explains. 

Yes!  From the mobile link, "All human beings ... deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot) ... Embarrassing, harassing, or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism."

The statement of principles views the treatment of gay Jews with dignity and respect as an obligation. 

It affirms that "halakhah sees heterosexual marriage as the ideal model and sole legitimate outlet for human sexual expression.  The sensitivity and understanding we properly express for human beings with other sexual orientations does not diminish our commitment to that principle."

Halakhic Judaism still views all same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited.  It does not prohibit orientation or feelings of same-sex attraction as impermissible, just the sexual acts.  Nothing in Torah devalues the human beings who struggle with the feelings. 

The group also affirms "the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous." 

Jews struggling to live their lives in accordance with halakhic values need and deserve the support of the Jewish community, and should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community, the statement says.

When will the Muslim community officially develop such a statement of principles?

Is there a middle road?  When will our communities become all-inclusive?  (Disabled Muslims have been asking this question for a long time.)

Muslims are people, and all of the "problems" and issues of general society are present in our communities.  As much as we like to think these problems don't exist, issues such as homosexuality, teenage pregnancy, HIV, and substance abuse are rampant among us.  May Allaah t'ala protect us from them/Ameen.  Only recently, have the problems associated with domestic violence in the Muslim community received the needed attention they desperately require and deserve.

While some among us spend our time worrying about whether or not our sister wears a hijab or plucks her eyebrows, or why our brother refuses to grow a beard, we run the risk of neglecting some other very serious issues.

Muslim families will live in shame and secrecy if a family member is gay or has HIV. 

This shouldn't be.

In my work as a Muslim chaplain, I routinely interact with Muslim inmates who insist they are a lesbian or bisexual. 

Are they really lesbian or bisexual?  As women, are they merely lonely?  Are they afraid and seeking protection?  Are they trying to fit in?  Are they being a predator and taking advantage of each other (getting money, commissary items, etc.)?  Have they always been curious and feel safe to "experiment" while incarcerated?

If so, how can I help?  And with what attitude do I approach this area of pastoral counseling within an Islaamic framework?

And if they are truly a lesbian or bisexual.  AND a Muslim?  Then what?  Do I shun them?  Shame them?  Enjoin the good and forbid the evil?  Be a warner and then leave it between them and Allaah t'ala?  After all, they know Islaam's position and have probably thought about it more than I have.

In his book, "Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims," Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle bravely puts the gay card on the Muslim table.  You can read the first 42 pages here.  Kugle maintains that Islaam is not so clear about homosexuality as most of us Muslims may think.  "Many Islamic authorities claim that homosexuality is categorically forbidden, but the reality is much less clear-cut.  There are no verses in the Qur'an that unambiguously condemn homosexuals, and there are even some that suggest they can be tolerated in Muslim communities.  In addition, reports from Hadith that denounce homosexual and transgender persons are of dubious authenticity," reads the back cover of the book.

Subhan'Allah!

Notice that the author does not talk about the sexual acts between same-sex Muslim persons as being acceptable to the religion of Islaam, he merely challenges Muslims to think about how we perceive our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) brothers and sisters among us - much like the rabbis have done in their Statement of Principles.

What do you think?  Do you know any gay Muslims?  How are they treated within your communities?  Does Islaam differentiate between the "sin" and the "sinner"?