Community News

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By Cyril Josh Barker,

Special to the NNPA from the

New York Amsterdam News New York Amsterdam News

NEW YORK CITY, N. Y. – When you enter Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s office at theSchomburgCenterfor Research in Black Culture, it’s easy to see that he’s been there only a short time.  There are empty shelves, very little art on the walls and a desk that has yet to be overwhelmed by the usual office clutter associated with a person of such distinction.

The Black history scholar, who came fromIndianaUniversity, has been on the job as director of the Schomburg for a little over a month and half and already has his work cut out for him.

He follows in the illustrious footsteps of Dr. Howard Dodson, who announced his retirement in 2009 after spending over 25 years at the Schomburg.  

Muhammad has already hit the ground running: In the short time that he has been at what he calls the “Library of Congress for the Black community,” his plan to build on the Schomburg’s stellar legacy includes putting the center in better reach of young people and broadening horizons for everyone in the Black community.

In a recent interview with the New York Amsterdam News, Muhammad said that so far, his new position is everything he thought it would be.

The committee that recommended him for the job included Dr. Calvin O. Butts, Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Aysha Schomburg, great-granddaughter of center founder Arturo Schomburg.

"It is what I expected," he said.  "The transition was long enough for me to get a sense of the scale of work involved and the scope of responsibility the position involved.  The Center is just an amazing place in terms of the number of lives it touches, the number of themes that it engages."

Muhammad also has used this time to get better acquainted with the 50 employees that work under him, including librarians, writers, archivists, historians and an administrative staff.  

One of his first hires was his former colleague Alicia Young, who is in the Schomburg’s public affairs division.  Young, a former civil rights attorney, attended the Vera Institute of Justice with Muhammad.

His visibility in the community and around the nation is starting to pick up as well.  Coming in on the tail end ofHarlem's busy summer season, he made appearances at the Harlem Book Fair as well as at a Sept. 11 program for the New York Public Library.  

He is scheduled to speak in Washington, D.C., at the Congressional Black Caucus, has been in Jet magazine and will be in an upcoming episode of "Our World with Black Enterprise."

As the fifth director in the Schomburg’s 85-year history, Muhammad said he wants to put his focus on the youth.  He already has plans outlined to engage young people between the ages of 5 and 15, which include building a space at the Schomburg for kids, connecting with youth organizations and getting into schools.

He said, “I want to get to as many Black children in the city as I can.  They have to be exposed to that history so they can make use of it in a way that makes the most sense to them.  

“I want to give them a sense of pride but also access to this rich history, which means to inspire them but also empower them to come to the center and begin a lifelong journey of exploration.  Oftentimes, it happens to people as adults.”

While trying to attract a new generation to the center, Muhammad said he knows that the already dedicated connoisseurs of the Center’s work are also important.  In order to do his job effectively and maintain the Schomburg’s current crowd, he said, he’s all ears.

“In my position, my recipe for success is to have very big ears and spend time listening to people,” he said.  “The more time I spend now listening to people's prior experience with the center, whether as employees, supporters or as visitors of the institution, the more trust I am able to build with those various stakeholders.”

As theSchomburgCentergrows, Muhammad said he wants to give the community a new experience with Black history that they've never had before.  He added that under his leadership, amateur and educated historians will expand their knowledge as soon as they walk in the door.

“People need to walk through those doors and feel the weight of the past in terms of reverence for it, in terms of the ongoing engagement with it and the need for the Schomburg to be part of creating new pasts.  I want people to say, ‘Wow, this is different,’” he said.  

“That’s the message that I want to send: That you are in a place that has been at the forefront of engaging the history of Black people in this country and in the world.

“And that we demand your attention, we welcome your presence and we want you to be a part of the future.”

 
¾ col. PHOTO CAPTION:

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad is the great-grandson of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad and Sis. Clara Muhammad

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An Interview with Imam Mansoor Sabree, Resident Imam of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam

 

By Sabir Kasib Muhammad

            ATLANTA – Imam W. Deen Mohammed’s 36 years of leadership have been indelibly imprinted into the hearts and minds of his students, supporters and followers. The Atlanta Masjid community counts scores of these followers, who are 50+ years old its ranks.

            When Imam Plemon El-Amin announced his retirement as the Masjid's Resident Imam, this championed a new day of leadership of the youthful. Quite naturally, each move made by the new leader would be closely scrutinized by the Masjid community, although Imam Mansoor Sabree came into the leadership of the Atlanta Muslim community with impeccable credentials befitting an Imam.

            Not only is Imam Mansoor from a dedicated, well-known Muslim family who had established themselves as hard workers in our community for many years, he also carries with him the distinction of being a graduate of Atlanta’s renown W.D. Mohammed High School. Also, he was one of the young people selected by Imam Mohammed to study in Syria under the great Sheik Ahmad Kuftaro.

            As the young people take their places in positions of leadership, they are bringing with them many changes, some of which are new and actually unrecognizable to the older believers who have been in the Masjid for many, many years.

            Imam Plemon made the statement prior to his retirement as Imam of the Atlanta Masjid two years ago that, “No brother over 50 years of age in this community (other than Imam Ibrahim Pasha and himself) will be allowed to give a Jumuah khutbah at the Atlanta Masjid.”

            While some felt this a bit of a slight to the older core group of believers whose sacrificed and supported and made the Atlanta Masjid what it is today, the majority of the "over 50" group never thought of giving a khutbah.

            There is the usual and natural attrition through old age and death that has moved the older generation out, making way for the younger people to come into positions of leadership. Yet, Imam Plemon foresaw losing the younger generation too soon, unless there was some drastic action taken at this time.

            Imam Plemon was buoyed in this belief due to his many travels throughout the country to many, many masajid in our association, where he saw very few youth in leadership positions within those congregations.

            Imam W. Deen Mohammed once said, “… The human being, if you degrade their worth as humans and put them in circumstances or situations that prevent them from having a sense of being human and a sense of well being, it will trouble them inside. It will make them rebel against the situation you put them in. They will not accept it.”

            With these concerns in mind, the following interview with Imam Mansoor Sabree was conducted in his office at the Atlanta Masjid during the blessed month of Ramadan 2011, to bring clarity among the members of the community regarding his leadership and some of the directives he has installed in just 20 months of being in the office of the Imam, at one of the most well-known and progressive masajid in the Nation.

            SKM: Imam Mansoor, what were your initial thoughts when you realized that you would be the Imam of the Atlanta Masjid?

            Imam Mansoor Sabree: Bismillah arRahman arRahim. My first thoughts as I came in as the Imam of the Atlanta Masjid were to strengthen the family. Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, our teacher, our leader, stressed the importance of us achieving the goal of community life.

            We have to have strong family life. Being a member of this family, the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, I know that we have some areas where we’re lacking in that are hindering us from achieving the full life that we’re aiming for.

            So coming in, every aspect of what we do in the Masjid and in the community is centered on that principle: “How will it strengthen the family?"

            SKM: What do you see as the positives and challenges thus far into your leadership? I’m sure the physical changes made to the Atlanta Masjid are the most tangible and easily recognized.

            Imam Mansoor Sabree: I’ve been the Resident Imam of the Atlanta Masjid for 20 months now. What I’ve seen is the spirit of the people brightened in a way that really says "happiness" with the way of life of Al-Islam, "satisfaction" with the Promise of G-d that when we do what is right and what is good for my life in this religion, we will have happiness and success.

            I see that the teaching of Al-Islam is permeating the life of the individuals who are committed to this effort of the Atlanta Masjid, and they are being transformed. That beginning transformation is a spiritual transformation that has designs.

            We know that Allah tells us in the Qur’an that everything is created in duality, in two parts. And in order for us to have a strong outward presence of success, we have to have an inward presence of success.

            And our prayer (salat) tells us that there are prerequisites to even enter into the spiritual realm of salat. Those prerequisites are cleanliness (wudu) and to make sure that the environment is clean.

            So I think that we have this strong success as we grow and this vibe and energy of consciousness in our spiritual life because of the improvements of our environment, the effect it is having on our comfort.

            Being at the Masjid having adequate restroom areas is an important aspect of anyone’s home. When you go into someone’s home you can tell a lot about a family based on the condition of their bathroom. Improving the bathrooms has had an effect. But also just in terms of the Masjid being more family friendly and having more space for children and making sure that parents and mothers and fathers have a special space and responsibility to the Masjid.

            The renovation to the courtyard is really to be able to have family outings and to be able to sit in the courtyard and reflect. The project to renovate the sister’s nursing room is to make sure that the mothers and expectant mothers have a comfortable space away from the musallah.

            The renovation of the front lobby is to make sure that when we come into the House of Allah   we have a sense of presence through subliminal reminders. We have the calligraphy written on the windows of the Names of Allah. We have the entrance with the Name of G-d right in front of you, so all these things weigh on our mental and spiritual state. And we see it manifested in our actions and interactions together.

            We’re more pleased and we’re happier about who we are, and we see that growing. I think we’re going to see it even more when we come together to build a state-of-the-art Masjid and School that reflects our inner desire to have what is most excellent.

            I do see some challenges that we have, and those challenges revolve around some social challenges that we have in our society. Those things are “vices” in our community around materialism.

            There is a growing passion to move away from materialism and more into being socially responsible and socially active, to improve the conditions and situations for the collective. In our community, we are leading in doing collective efforts versus very individualistic, selfish acts of individual projects of success.

            Although we are striving to lead in that area, there is still a pull on us as Muslims in our environment. So you see this in our effort to establish Islamic education, to build our own institutions that require a collective material resource and an intellectual bank that is growing slowly, although it should be growing much faster than it is - this bringing together resources to build something that helps the entire family, the collective body.

            So instead of coming with hands out, we’re striving to come with hands putting in. Our social environment in America causes us to keep our hands in our pockets and causes us to benefit perhaps only yourself or someone closest to you. But to extend your resources to help someone who lives next door or someone who lives in your community is a growing interest.

            But it is late blooming, and in our community we’re trying to make that more in the forefront of our actions – thinking about the collective in a stronger way than in the individual.

            SKM: Having been chosen by Imam Mohammed to study in Syria under the great Sheik Ahmad Kuftaro, do you feel free or have license to incorporate some of the things such as the mysticism that Syria is known for into your teachings here?

            Imam Mansoor Sabree: No! The license only comes from what Imam Mohammed has clearly given us guidelines for in religion. Although Syria may be known for mysticism, his friend, his companion in Al-Islam, the Grand Mufti of Syria, Imam Mohammed said at one occasion, “This is my Imam.”

            And at that same occasion, the Grand Mufti said, “And this is my Imam,” he referring to Imam Mohammed. So it’s very different in terms of the expression of the dual life. The Grand Mufti was very well known for his activism, being engaged in the social growth of his country as well as for the Muslim throughout the world.

            His source of fuel in doing that and uniting people was through paying attention to the spiritual connectedness of his students and those who were interested in mobilizing and being active in doing good on the face of the earth. So I think that was a balance there for the Grand Mufti who emphasized being complete by Al-Islam.

            When we have things like dikr and Remembrance of G-d in the formal sense, we know that these are prescriptions from Mohammed the Prophet (SAW). And we get the instructions on how to implement them from our teacher and its hierarchy and Imam W. D. Mohammed expressed to us the need to do more dikr.

            We can reference the 2001 Convention where he came, and he gave us instruction on what the use of the dikr bead is and what the use of our hands are in Remembrance of G-d. And he said we could  benefit greatly from using this practice daily and know that it is from the model of Muhammed the Prophet (PBUH).

            Our guidance and our form comes from Allah and the Prophet, and our practical application that we have to stay focused on comes from the teachings of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed as a clear sober mind, as to how to implement these practical ways of transforming the human life into its excellent mode that G-d wants of us.

            So practicing the remembrance of G-d I feel is a direct instruction to me as a student and as a leader now, I feel as though we should be doing it collectively and embracing that but staying balanced with activism, involvement with community life and community development and in working on our spiritual selves in Remembrance of G-d through worship.

            SKM: Since Imam Mohammed didn’t really put great emphasis on the dikr beads as part of our worship, but still I remember when Imam Mohammed instructed us to organize a circle in the Masjid and perform dikr using hands. What is excellent, the use of the dikr bead or the human hand in performing dikr?

            Also comment on the recent statement before salat that the most knowledgeable of the Qur’an should be positioned in the center of the first rank behind the Imam. I recognize this from my own study of Hadith, however, it poses a very important question: “What is the criteria for discerning “who is most knowledgeable of the Qur’an?

            If it is directed solely at the one who is proficient in reading and speaking the Arabic language of the Qur’an, does this alone qualify one as “most knowledgeable?” I think not, since many people not remotely attuned to Islam can read the Qur’an and speak Arabic fluently. However they are not blessed with the “light of understanding” of the Qur’an which comes from Allah (SWT) alone gives as a blessing.

            I think that these things need to be clarified to the believers when they are implemented, so as to dispel any confusion.

            Imam Mansoor Sabree: It’s really centered around the high regard we have for worship as Muslims and really embracing that seriousness around salat is like being in the room doing surgery with a doctor that’s leading that surgical team; not the students; they can look from the peripheral, but he wants his aides up close to assist him.

            It’s a very serious task in that regard as medical surgery, and I think it’s a good comparison of what is happening in salat, of being precise  and accurate with the Words of G-d.

            The Imam makes mistakes often, because it’s a serious operation that he’s doing. And if he doesn’t have those aides nearby, then we don’t have the perfection we are aiming for. This is really a prescription that the Prophet (SAW) has given us to elevate those who are striving in their proficiency of reciting and memorizing the Qur’an and the first step is to seek knowledge.

            There are pure intentions for the end-goal, but you have to seek knowledge and the knowledge comes from in-depth study with a teacher and going through a rigorous process of learning. And to memorize the Qur’an is definitely one of those processes.

            We want to be able to honor those who are on that path in addition to being obedient to Allah and his Messenger. There is a high sensitivity around it, because this is new to our community - to have those who have put in the time of rigorous study of the Qur’an and memorization. But there always has to be the sentiment of regard and respect for the one who is on time for the prayer.

            When we are on time for the salat, we have a precedent that says “you can’t be moved.” We can have a sentiment toward the goal to say, “Even though I’m on time, I want someone who is more knowledgeable of the Qur’an than I may know personally who should have my place for the perfection of the prayer.

            Then I will give up my space, but there is a hierarchy of those who are punctual and who are on time to be on that front line; and the Companions would compete to be on that front line.  And they were honored by that opportunity.

            SKM: It has recently come to my attention that in the Atlanta Masjid, there exists now a short list of  certain people who have been identified who can only lead the prayer.

What is the procedure if none of the Imams are present and Bro. Jessie Ali Ahmad (the Mu’Azzin, who chooses one to lead the prayer in the absence of the Imam), when the time for prayer comes in?

            My understanding of the Sunnah is that any believer capable of leading the prayer should step forward and lead the prayer following the iqama.  Please comment on this.

            Imam Mansoor Sabree: When the Iqama is called and someone has taken the position of Imam, then nobody moves. There is no conversation after the Iqama. Even if you move back out of respect for the Imam, the Imam would move you back up without even saying a word.

            It’s important for us to have clear and established leadership, as we build community life. And we have that through, number 1, giving a vote of confidence to the Imam. And the Imam  chooses those who are suitable of leading the salat in him absence, and it should be comfortable to the believers.

            It’s a trust in the Imam’s selection. Recently, during the month of Ramadan, I selected Bro. Jamil Abdul-Rahman in my absence as one whom we can rely on and as one who has been designated to lead the salat in my absence.

            If Imam Mansoor is not here, if Imam Sulieman is not here, Bro. Jamil is the one who leads the prayer. Those who are most consistent in the community should choose who leads the prayer in Jamil’s absence. What we have acknowledged are Bro. Bruce Rasheed and Bro. Ben. [They are chosen] in terms of their consistency in coming to Fajr and Isha salat, so they have also been chosen to lead the salat.

            This has been articulated to them and this is a great opportunity for us to really understand the process of what the Sunnah is and for us to make quick application of what the Prophet has said.

            SKM: You should publish this information because it could lead to some mis-understanding if a person does not know what the process is.

            Imam Mansoor Sabree: It is something that I am announcing to the people in the prayer line as a better clarifying approach. What is important about this is that there should be a sense of comfort that the person who is leading is suitable in the ranks.

            If you are here, and you are the one who has stepped up and receive a vote of confidence from among those in the ranks, then take that opportunity to lead. Once the Iqama is called and someone is standing in the spot of the Imam, then “let’s pray.”

            SKM: What is the meaning of the changing of the kiblah at the School?

            Imam Mansoor Sabree: The kiblah at the School was changed because it was not an accurate direction that it was previously in. It was changed to align with the direction of Mecca as show on a compass.

            We are striving to make everything aligned and in order, and this is why this was done.

 

 

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By Khalif F. Muhammad

TINLEY PARK, Ill. – As students of Imam W. Deen Mohammed, many doors have been open to us by our Leader and Teacher. He has provided his students with lessons and opportunities that Academia only promises.

Like many of us, we have achieved degrees and titles from some of the finest institutions, but none of these degrees have allowed me the honor and privilege that being a student of Imam W. Deen Mohammed has.

On Sept. 3, 2011, during the 2011 Annual Muslim Convention sponsored by The Mosques Cares (Ministry of W. Deen Mohammed), President Obama sent a representative of the White House to join the Community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed in the theme of the event, “Al-Islam Obligates Us to Build Model Communities.”

During a private close door meeting, which I witnessed, the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Paul Montiero, along with W. Deen Mohammed II, the President of The Mosques Cares, who was chosen by Imam W. Deen Mohammed, along with selected Imams, listened and embraced the special message sent from the White House.

At the end of the conversation, the White House representative stated that he never had the opportunity to meet Imam W. Deen Mohammed but he is aware of his works because they’re consistently discussed at the White House.

                He stated that Imam W. Deen Mohammed is consider by the President of the United State and his staff “as a friend of the White House,” so much so that the White House extended an open invitation to the Office of Imam W. Deen Mohammed represented by his son and the President of the Mosques Cares W. Deen Mohammed II.

The meeting went on for about an hour and a half, as I witnessed – watching and listening to these fellow students of Imam W. Deen Mohammed. Also present were Imam Elam Muhammad (Board Trustee Member of The Mosque Cares of Chicago, Ill.), Imam Yusef Ramadan (Resident Imam and Radio Host of Queens, N.Y.), Imam Talib Shareef (Resident Imam and 30-year Army Officer of Washington, D.C.).

This discussion covered political, business, community, and social-economic remedies on the high-level that impressed, engaged and captivated the White House representative. How blessed I am to be a student of Imam W. Deen Mohammed and how well prepared and educated Imam W. Deen Mohammed left his students.

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By Aadil Muhammad

TINLEY PARK, Ill. – Over this past Labor Day weekend for 2011, The Mosque Cares (Ministry of W. Deen Mohammed) Annual Muslim Convention, aptly titled Al-Islam Obligates Us To Build Model Communities, we were honored to have as our guest the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Mr. Paul Monteiro.

Mr. Monteiro participated in activities throughout the Convention weekend and was a speaker at the Awards Banquet, as well as at the believers in uniform reception. W.D. Mohammed II, the President of The Mosque Cares, had a private meeting with Mr. Monteiro.

Associate Director Monteiro serves as the liaison to Arab Americans, faith-based and secular belief communities and also assists in coordinating the White House Mentorship Program.  He worked for then-Senator Obama in his Senate office in 2006 before joining the Obama for America campaign in Chicago, Ill., as the national Deputy Director of Religious Affairs.

A graduate of the University of Maryland and the Howard University School of Law, Mr. Monteiro previously worked at the United States Supreme Court and two Washington, D.C. law firms, and spent a year teaching at a local public charter school.

When W.D. Mohammed II and Associate Director Monteiro met, they both showed signs of humility and respect with warm greetings and kind words. Mr. Monteiro first expressed the regards of the President of United States, Barack Obama, by not only telling but confirming to W.D. Mohammed II, that the President respected his father Imam W. Deen Mohammed very much.

The sincerity in which Associate Director Monteiro made those comments was as if President Barack Obama was standing there himself. It was clear from the very beginning that the President who was not able to attend wanted to send the best and closest representation of himself as possible.

This became more and more evident throughout the meeting, as Mr. Monteiro displayed the calm confidence, patience and sincerity so often seen in our President. He expressed the interest of President Barack Obama in the community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed.

To paraphrase Monteiro’s words, the President sees and wants to use the community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed as the silver bullet to combat Islamaphobia, misconceptions about Islam, and the ills of society.

Mr. Monteiro stated that this community of Imam Mohammed is the answer to all of the negative stereotypes not only about Islam but about Blacks or African American people. In so many words, he said the Community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed is the model community on which to pattern community life not only in America, but the world.

It was as if President Barack Obama was letting this Community know and was reminding us that he expects the best from us and that the world and “Al-Islam Obligates Us to Build Model Communities.”

Several statements were made by Mr. Monteiro illustrated the fact that the President is either a student of or a reminder to the world of  Imam W. Deen Mohammed’s leadership.

An affirmation of this is a reference but not limited to the comment about the “silver bullet.” Imam W. Deen Mohammed speaks about a silver bullet and what it is used for in his book, As The Light Shineth From The East. 

If you do not have a copy of this book, you will not truly be able to understand the power and magnitude of what the President is saying about the community of Imam W. Deen Mohammed. (You are truly depriving yourself of a light that shineth so bright!)

However, as was President Barack Obama represented by Paul Monteiro, Imam W.Deen Mohammed was represented by his son, W. Deen Mohammed II, the President of The Mosque Cares and the best exemplification of a student of Imam W.D. Mohammed.

W. D. Mohammed II pledged his support and admiration for President Barack Obama’s leadership and told Mr. Monteiro that he believes strongly in a quote that he often shares with the supporters of his community, the quote of President Obama that asys: “If we work together, there isn't anything that we can’t accomplish.”

For all who attended The Mosque Cares (Ministry of W. Deen Mohammed) Annual Muslim Convention and were privileged to hear Mr. Monteiro speak, they were blessed and fortunate to hear and see President Barack Obama.

For Associate Director Monteiro and all whom he tells of his experience at the Annual Muslim Convention and meeting with W. Deen Mohammed II, they too would have seen and heard Imam W. Deen Mohammed.

This meeting between our great leaders Imam W. Deen Mohammed and President Barack Obama was not by chance, but by manifest destiny. To better understand this meeting and our role in the society, please pick up your copy of the book, As The Light Shineth From The East, and the “30 Year Hajj Reunion” disc where Imam Mohammed speaks about Barack Obama before he became President. Both are available courtesy of WDM publications.

The whole world sees the importance of Imam W. Deen Mohammed’s leadership and work; it is time for those of us who were blessed by Allah to experience his light and call ourselves his students to do the same and work together to Build Model Communities.

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The President is a Muslim?

Of all of the novels I have read this year, “The President is a Muslim?,” is by the far the best.  Weaving a theme that represents an orphan of Muslim heritage who would somehow rise to the top of the political ladder to become President of the United States is unbelievable!

Although fiction, the parallels are real and with one man’s matriculation and political ascent, in this novel, all of this happens.

As most of you too probably are thinking right now, I too at first thought the novel was a parody of the presidency of President Barack H. Obama. With that reservation, I wasn’t sure if I would read it.  But after skimming through the book, I found that it was not what the average person is expecting.

I actually became excited to read it and was pleasantly delighted having done so.

The author,  Dr.  Hakim Rashid, teaches at Howard University in Washington, D.C. A former Visiting Professor at Khartoum University in Sudan, he also was a Fulbright Scholar at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Rashid has lectured in the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Bermuda, Canada and the United States.  He was a Fulbright-Hays Summer Fellow in China and also has traveled to England, France, and the Caribbean .

The following is a recent interview I conducted with Dr. Rashid:

AS: Dr. Hakim, your novel, “The President is a Muslim?,” is a work of fiction, but do you think something like this could actually happen?

Dr. Rashid: By “something like this,” are you talking about the election of a Muslim President or – what I think is much more significant in the book – the formation of the United States of Islam? Both of these are highly unlikely in the near future, but Allah knows best what will happen over time.

Muslims around the world are recognizing the importance of unity under the banner of Islam. How that unity is manifested 10 years, 20 years, or 100 years down the line is in Allah’s hands. It is important, however, that we begin to think and talk in those terms.

Islam is the basis of our unity as Muslims, and there is no reason why the Muslim world cannot unite just as the United States of America did in 1776 and the European Union has recently done.

Now back to the question of a Muslim President, to be honest I think that is almost irrelevant, because the President of the United States is just a figurehead anyway. I’ve heard him referred to as the CEO of America, Inc. CEOs are hired and fired by those who control the corporation.

AS:  What was your concept for writing this novel?  I noticed that you had the word “novel” right under the caption. Why?

Dr. Rashid: First of all, when people see the title, they immediately think I’m talking about President Obama. And I must admit that his candidacy and election inspired the title. But I began writing this book in 1994, as the War in Bosnia was raging and little Bosnian babies were being adopted by Americans.

I asked myself what if one of these little Bosnian babies grew up, gravitated to his Muslim roots and later ran for President. Of course, the Bosnian baby in my book had to be born in the U.S. to be able to run for President.

The other major component of the plot, the unification of the Muslim world, is something that we as Muslims cannot help thinking about. We recognize the fragmentation of the Ummah that has taken place both under colonialism and in the post colonial era.

As Muslim African Americans, we certainly want to see ourselves as having a role to play in global Muslim unity. That is what inspired the character of Zayd Abdullah in the book and the role he plays in the establishment of the United States of Islam.

AS:    What has been the reaction from those who have read the book; what were their comments? Have you heard from the intelligence community in reaction to your book?

Dr. Rashid: I have received some very positive comments from those who have read the book and I have been surprised by the positive reaction of many non Muslims. Some have told me they learned a lot about Islam in reading the book.

I haven’t received any direct responses from the intelligence community, and I doubt that I will.

AS: How is it being received in the Muslim Community?

Dr. Rashid: The response within the Muslim community has been extremely positive. I’ve had a couple of 13-year-olds say they really enjoyed the book. That’s one reason I kept profanity out of the book, so our young Muslims could read it. The positive response from Muslims has cut across generational and community lines.

The 20- to 30-year-olds have responded as positively as the 50- to 60-year-olds.  I’d like to think that there are themes in the book that Muslims in general can relate to – the most important being Muslim unity.

AS: One of the things I like best about the novel is the natural ease in which you use Islamic language, as if we are talking to one another.  It is very refreshing to read a book written by a Muslim and understand the language.

And of course you break it down for those who do not know it.  I am so waiting for another novel to enjoy.

Dr. Rashid:  Alhamdulillah. I am working on another one that, Insha’Allah, will be out next year. I think it is important that our Muslim voices be heard in the world of fiction. As an African American growing up in the 1960s, I was certainly inspired by the work of authors like Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison.

The novel, The Spook Who Sat By The Door, was an eye opener. We need the same kinds of work to inspire young Muslims.

AS: For the cover of the book, did you have to get permission to use the images?

Dr. Rashid: All of the images are in the public domain, and my cover designer chose which ones to use.

AS: During the most heinous war and ethnic cleansing that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 1992 and December 1995, by the Serbs and Croats, it is ironic that your character’s heritage is Bosnian.  What a clever plot. How did this come about?

Dr. Rashid:  It was really during this period of time that I conceived of the plot to “The President Is A Muslim?” I went to Sudan in the fall of 1992 as a Visiting Professor at Khartoum University. There I met Muslims from many countries, including Bosnia. I began writing the book in 1994, while I was in Saudi Arabia on a Fulbright Fellowship.

The War in Bosnia was raging during this period, and the demonization of Islam was beginning to intensify. Of course, my Bosnian character, Mark Holloway, had to be born in America in order to run for President, but he ended up back in Bosnia real fast. He ultimately ends up in Sudan with his family, and this is where he connects with the Muslim African American Zayd Abdullah.

AS: You said that one of the reasons you kept profanity out of the book was so that young people could read it.  First of all, I can’t even conceive of you using profane words. Secondly, is that why there is so much profanity in many novels, movies, music, etc. – to boost up sales?  I find it grossly insulting.

It is such a pleasure to read, see, hear and enjoy such literature without profane language.

Dr. Rashid: I wanted young Muslims (eventually my own grandchildren!) to be able to read this book and be inspired by the story. My target audience is Muslims, and I’m a Muslim. So I knew the language would have to be clean.

Of course, none of my non-Muslim readers have complained about the lack of profanity and sex. They have just focused on the story and what they learned about Islam that they didn’t know before.

AS: This is some serious Dawah and is very empowering and inspiring.

The former president of Bosnia Slobadan Milosevic did not live through his trial but died in jail of a heart attack.  However, Radovan Karadzic, the Serb President is awaiting trial for his war crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims and Croats during the siege of Sarajevo, as well as ordering the Srebrenica massacre.

How do you think this trial will play out? Some say that the world court may decide to make an example out of him, to show how fair they can be to Muslims. But it’s important that we don’t fall for the hype.

War crimes are being committed against Muslims on a regular basis in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Muslim world. The world court must address these severe issues at some point.

I remember well that war conflict. Our Muslim community was deeply involved in getting out communication and information on the Muslim community there. We found ways to meet refugees and to assist them.

It was a very tense time, particularly because the U.S., initially, was extremely slow in helping Bosnian Muslims.  By the time they did assist, so many Muslims and Croats were slaughtered, women raped, and over 3 million refugees fled their homes.  If Bosnia was an oil-rich country, they would have helped sooner.

We should never forget the war on Bosnian Muslims.

Dr. Rashid: You are right. I tried to address that in the book with the scene where the Bosnian Sheikh talks to Mark Holloway about what a vibrant Bosnian Muslim community would mean for Europe.

The novel, “The President is Muslim?,” is an easy read and must be in your library. It is now available for purchase; see advertisement in this Muslim Journal on page 7; the book also will be available at the 2011 Annual Muslim Convention, hosted by The Mosque Cares in Tinley Park, Ill.

 

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Imam Makram El-Amin-Muslim Journal

By Zafar Siddiqui

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Continuing from Muslim Journal’s issue dated Aug. 26, 2011, the Minnesota Muslim Experience project was done by the Islamic Resource Group (IRG) through a grant from Minnesota Historical Society.

The project aims to capture and convey the Muslim experience in Minnesota through oral interviews and photographic portraits. The project documented 40 Minnesota Muslims chosen carefully to represent a diverse collection of experiences.

CONTINUATION of the DIALOGUE Interview with Imam MAKRAM EL-AMIN: On any given Friday, we’ll have Muslims from West Africa, East Africa, indigenous Muslims, African Americans, European Americans, Malaysians, Turks, Somalis, just wherever. So we’re very much a buffet, so to speak.

We experience very great diversity here, but this is really just a sign of the universality of Islam, to be able to come together. We have very, very different backgrounds, very, very different circumstances, but there’s a commonality, a common tie, thread, that weaves us together in that particular way.

I think that’s really the miracle, the modern-day miracle, that we have a belief system that transcends our own individual circumstances, our own individual “uniquenesses.” We have a belief system that really transcends these things, and we’re able to gather together and really be of service to one another.

One of the major challenges is for us to really put the proper face on Islam, to communicate in very simplistic, but authentic ways of what Islam is and, henceforth, what it is not. With a lot of rhetoric and things about Islam, in media and these kind of things, first of all, the first thing we realize, quite frankly, is that this is not a new phenomenon; the idea that that which is new is seen as maybe a threat.

All I see right now is opportunity for us, and anything that comes in the media, or something that’s presented as a negative with Islam, in terms of that particular way, I think that these are easily dealt with, by the strategy of engagement over the course of time.

So we talked about interfaith dialogue a moment ago, and really that’s a major, major investment. That’s an investment of time, energy and resources, but also forging relationships that allow for if there’s some problem within the Muslim community, if there’s something that takes place and Muslims are being unfairly scrutinized for this, or whatever the case may be..., I’m not alone.

We’re not alone; we have friends. We have the Church of the Ascension, which is up the street, and the Basilica that’s downtown, and the temple which is down south, etc. We will call upon our friends to stand with us, to help to support us in this particular way, and likewise, they can call upon us to help if there’s something that challenges them in that particular way.

I think that what challenges us is the same thing that challenges any person, any citizen, in any city that we live in. Poverty challenges us, crime challenges us, unfair laws challenge us. So they’re more general in that particular way, and it’s something that we can all unite to really face and meet those challenges now.

My experience of Islam here in Minnesota is one that I’ve seen evolve over the course of years. There used to be much less diversity than what it is right now. And I think this is the influx of people really coming to Minneapolis, relocating, and the population has really grown in that particular way.

I think that my experience has been that seemingly Islam was a small matter, when I was young in the 1980s, in Minneapolis specifically, with marginal influence, etc. Over the course of time and up to now, we’ve seen that morph, emerging leaders, men and women in Islam here, that have really allowed for us – “us” meaning the Muslim community – to grow and to change, and to take form in ways that I would say 20 years ago, 25 years ago would have been hard to imagine.

For example, the recognition of the last month of Ramadan, the Mayor called us to his office for the fast-breaking meal and was a very, very gracious host. These things didn’t happen 25 years ago, the idea of a Muslim being a part of the downtown clergy; historically, that didn’t happen.

So I think that this really has shown how Minneapolis has always been a leader, a vanguard, in this way, to really embrace its citizens in this way. I think that we’ve just witnessed this; we’ve seen this come true to form. We’ve seen Minneapolis, in its spirit, and it has stayed true to form in that way.

Also I think that Muslims in general are much more likely to be outspoken now, about varying things, particularly our young Muslims. And when I say “young,” I mean college students and high school students. I think that there is a new wave coming.

This is my view; we would just try to survive and stabilize in the 1980s. Our “anti-conscious” began to get piqued in the 1990s a little bit about, “What could we be?” or “Who could we be?” And the last 10 years, I would say is that we’ve just taken off to a level now of engagement and inclusion. There’re Muslims doing a lot of wonderful things in a lot of different areas.

I think that the influence here is beginning to expand a little bit, and when I say influence, it is not in a coercive kind of a way, but an idea that we’re being included in the discussion about matters, issues that matter, not only to Muslims but also to others. So all these things have been my experience, like from a very marginal one to really the sky’s the limit right now.

I’m an optimist by nature, but I think that our future is great here in Minneapolis. Even the work that IRG, for example, is doing, I mean this historic project that they’re working on right now, these are things that we couldn’t really think about, we couldn’t fathom this. That we would be important enough, big enough 25, 30 years ago, that it would make sense to even embark upon something like this.

Then the Minnesota Historical Society to provide support for something like this are signs that we’re ushering in a new era of time. And we welcome it.

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Imam Makram El-Amin-Muslim Journal

By Zafar Siddiqui

                MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The Minnesota Muslim Experience project was done by the Islamic Resource Group through a grant from Minnesota Historical Society. Free copies of the DVD can be ordered from www.irgmn.org.

The Muslim Experience in Minnesota project aims to capture and convey the Muslim experience in Minnesota through oral interviews and photographic portraits. This Minnesota Historical Society funded project documented 40 Minnesota Muslims chosen carefully to represent a diverse collection of experiences.

Continuing in the series of interviews from the Muslim Experience in Minnesota project, in this entry, I feature Imam Makram El-Amin of Masjid An-Nur. Imam El-Amin leads one of the most dynamic mosques in the Twin Cities.

            The Dialogue Interview with Makram El-Amin:

My name is Makram El-Amin. We are meeting here, at my office in Masjid An-Nur, located in North Minneapolis. Masjid An-Nur has evolved, and went through a series of transitions, here, and, from Masjid Mujaddid, to the establishment of Masjid An-Nur, Masjid Ikhlas, and then kind of came back to Masjid An-Nur, in that particular way.

We came out of a movement, my family and many of the congregation that we joined; we came here out of a movement called the Nation of Islam, which has been characterized as more nationalistic of a movement – and maybe, Islamic prototype, so to speak.

It really came out of the ‘30s, originally in the ‘30s, and it really was an answer, or at least prescribed as an answer to the conditions for African Americans, and the social, economic, political, conditions that we were subject to at that particular time.

So it took a number of evolutions, in that particular way through the ‘30s and the ‘40s and the ‘50s and the ‘60s, where it really took flight, and figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, and others who gave it prominence or more visibility to the movement under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad.

My father and my mother joined the movement, back in, I would say, 1957-58. In 1975 when Elijah Muhammad passed away, and his son, Wallace Muhammad (Warith Deen Muhammad) was ratified as leader of the movement at that time, and really began to transition that particular movement to what we would call mainstream, or orthodox Islam for want of a better term – the Islam that adheres to the Qur’an and adheres to the life example of Muhammed the Prophet.

Imam Warith Deen Muhammad selected my father to relocate from Chicago and to come here to the Minneapolis area, to lead the congregation at that time. So that’s kind of how and what brought us here. Again that happened in the mid- to late ‘70s, and my father was a leader here ‘till I think the mid ‘80s or so, maybe ’83-’84.

There are five of us altogether; I have four siblings, two sisters and two brothers. Most of them live here in Minneapolis, except my youngest brother, who is a professional basketball player who plays overseas in Europe; so he’s traveling most of the year. But again we’ve grown up here, I think we are, our family is really a staple in this community.

We went to North Community High School, and one of us went to the college and things all in the area. So we, by-and-large, are viewed as pillars in the community here.

We’re thankful that our mother and our father have really laid a wonderful foundation for us, in terms of us being independent thinkers, as well as not afraid or shy to forge into a new area. We cater to that; there’s an entrepreneurial spirit that my father has cultivated in us.

My mother is a task master; she’s wants things to be done correctly and the right way, and those sorts of things are a wonderful help to me. In my own mind, it kind of goes out in the stars a little bit, she helps to reign me in.

It applies even with the relationship to the mosque and the work we do here, and how I go about my work. She’s always trying to make me a little more efficient than what I am, and I treasure that.

The community grew, and it split, it separated; it was in different parts of the city. In the early ‘90s, there was a split. And then the community came back together, of sorts, and in the mid ‘90s as well, and not long after that we had an opportunity to get this facility, which was a restaurant. We had the opportunity to get this from my Muslim brother, who was maybe from Egypt or overseas, who owned this particular property. And he kind of gifted this property to the Muslim community.

My evolution as the leader of Masjid An-Nur came by way of, as I mentioned my father was the Imam when we transitioned here from Chicago, and then it went through a number of other transitions. There were other Imams. There was Imam Rashid Bilal, Imam Matthew Ramadan, and then myself here.

So it wasn’t direct in that particular way, nor did I have any aspirations to do this kind of work, per se, as I saw my father doing it. It wasn’t something that I longed for in that particular way, at least not consciously.

But so for some reason, it kind of evolved, taking a real interest in religion and Scripture, due to my own personal journey, etc. I have become very captivated as a student of Scripture and religion, and it’s something as a means of helping myself to improve, but also as a means of helping those around us as well.

I mean I had really begun taking a strong interest in that particular way and became a student of Imam W.D. Mohammed and his religious commentary and explanation of the Qur’an, the life of Muhammed, and just really our view of the world, helping us to embrace Islam in a very, very authentic way.

That’s true to us and the experiences of our people, but at the same time being an asset to humanity. So it was a wonderful but yet complex journey, in that particular way. But all of this captivated me.

Masjid An-Nur is definitely a part of this outer community. I think from the very outset when we started, we wanted to be seen as an asset. So for example, in 1996-97, not long after we became Imams, there’s a small, modest project that began as a food shelf, serving 20, 25 families, at best. And that food shelf has grown over the years to where it presently is right now, of 275 to maybe 300 families a month.

This is a complete volunteer effort to pull this kind of thing off on a day-to-day, month-to-month basis, and it’s something that really we have become known for. 95-plus percent of the families that we serve, whether it’s the food shelf or any other thing that we do, are non-Muslims.

We’re trying to get the Muslims to participate a little bit more.

 

I’m a member of the Minneapolis Downtown Clergy, with Father Michael O’Connell and Rabbi Zimmerman, and Tim Hart-Andersen, Jim Gertmenian, a lot of very prominent leaders in Minneapolis in the religious community. And all of them have histories of a hundred years, and they’ve been around for a very long, long time.

Though we have been around for quite a while, it’s growing; we don’t compete with them yet in terms of longevity like them, but also not an establishment, in terms of infrastructure and those sorts of things that allow us this as a life.

We’re still evolving in that particular way, you know, we hope, our hope and our prayer is that, that we be one of the contributions that we will ultimately make to our community, is to help to build this kind of infrastructure, this kind of institutionalization that allows it to perpetuate itself over the course of time, and to bring the resources, garner those resources to support a leader and a staff, an administration, and also all these wonderful aims.

I am a professional life coach, so I work with men, about 22 men right now, who are coming from incarceration and long-term homelessness, as well as underemployment, unemployment and providing assistance to them in terms of helping them to facilitate their own prosperity, in that particular way.

But, again, my interest at this point in my life is to focus more on that institutionalization of the mosque. Just recently, for example, we have incorporated another entity, called Al-Ma’oon, which means in Arabic, The Neighborly Needs, the community outreach services. A lot of the things we’ve been doing kind of intuitively, in small measure.

Yet, we’re bringing together as our social service arm and inviting other Muslims from around the Metropolitan area to join and help lead this effort, so it won’t just be something centered at Masjid An-Nur, per se.

It’s something that would have far-reaching tentacles, so to speak, and we hope to garner support for that idea, so that we can really live and be focused on the life that we feel we’re called to do.

One of the other staples of Masjid An-Nur is in the area of interfaith and interfaith dialogue. Imam Mohammed, whom I see as a teacher, a mentor, a leader who meant so much to my own personal development as a human being, but also religiously.

He began to do interfaith dialogue many, many years ago. So as we watched him evolve and be involved in various things, in terms of interfaith and interfaith dialogue, and these kind of things, he was really teaching us that Islam we shouldn’t view it or present it in such a way that it is seen as contrary to the values of the American public.

G-d is really commanding us to work for peaceful coexistence, in a really authentic way that transcends tolerance. G-d says that “He has made you different that you may come to know one another.”

And, “the best of you is the one who is most conscious of G-d.” Not that I’m looking to be better than you or that, but to also acknowledge you too.Because we can know things, and depending on disposition, we won’t acknowledge them.

But this language Scripture says “to know and to acknowledge….” So this is simply what we’re trying to do. It takes shape as interfaith dialogue or some community project we might do together, a trip to Jerusalem or some other kind of event, Thanksgiving prayer services, things of that nature.

What I tried to lay out just a moment ago was the aim behind all those things. That’s how they express themselves, but this is what we’re aiming for, so to speak.

To be continued….

 

 

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By Ayesha K. Mustafaa

HARVEY, Ill. – When the whole world is hurting, it is second nature to first attend to the pain and suffering that is impacting one’s own life. Muslims even have the saying, “Charity begins at home and then moves abroad.”

What makes the United States so unique is that we have a composite of nearly every homelife from every corner of the earth representative among us and also calling “this” our home of the United States of America.

When the Muslims from Pakistan see devastation at their homeland, they are in pain. When Tunisians in America see the strife at home, they too suffer. When the Egyptian American sees the uprising of their people, they stand up tense with anticipation and prayers for an outcome without bloodshed.

Then the Syrians were impacted and the Libyans are hurt and the Somalian community members suffer over the suffering of their homeland.

So it is also true that Muslim Americans of African American ethnicity are feeling the pains and dismay that blankets the inner cities when gun violence takes the life right out of the flesh of our young men and women on the streets here that we walk everyday.

And during this Ramadan season, there was a sobering acknowledgement that while our Muslim brothers and sisters rightfully pay attention to their “mother lands,” they must not forget their new homeland and its sufferings require their attention as well.

Imam Ahmed Rufai, of the predominantly Ghanian and Nigerian community of the Light of Islam in Harvey was host to the Unity Iftar that has been held for the second year in a row, and gave a warm welcome with great hospitality for all of the Muslims.

Imam/Dr. Mikal Ramadan of Masjid al Taqwa and Sis. Amina Saeed of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) have worked together to bring about more “intrafaith” exchange among the Muslims of such great ethnic diversity. This year again, they took  the  lead in holding a Unity Iftar.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, President of CIOGC, reminded the gathering that this is still the beginning and encouraged the attending Muslims to get on board to address the issues in our communities here in the U.S. He noted that to address the violence on our streets in the U.S. would require more planning in the coming months.

Dr. Bambade Abdullah, founder and Director of CMECCA School, gave an analogy of the inner city problems and the challenges facing our youth. Bro. Darryl Williams of the Ephraim Bahar Cultural Center iterated their annual walk and Parade on the South Side of Chicago that culminates in Marquette Park, addressing the ills facing society.

Bro. Ahlam Jbara, Associate Director of CIOGC, welcomed those who would like to sign on to work on such mutual concerns in the near future. May Muslims of all ethnic groups were present with their families/children

The mosques represented from outside of the African and African American communities in attendance were: Muslim Community Center, DIC and The Mosque Foundation, and another mosque in Harvey. The Muslim Bar Association had three families representative among the turnout.

In reflection, an important statement from Bro. Sahloul sums it up: “What comes next should be more important, which is a commitment of all of us to pay attention to each others' concerns and work as one. There is no ‘us and them,’ there is only ‘us.’”

Eid Mubarak.

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By Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.

To paraphrase conservative icon Barry Goldwater, “extremism in defense of injustice is no virtue.” The deal that went down in Washington on the debt ceiling proves that. It is a bold step in the wrong direction.

With the President and leaders of both parties pushing rapid passage, with Wall Street breathing a sigh of relief and the media celebrating that they “got it done,” many will think this is a done deal. But this debate has only just begun.

Understand what this deal means. It isn’t really about deficit reduction. It is about who pays the bill for debts the Congress has already racked up, largely from two unfunded wars, an unfunded prescription drug bill and the economic mess caused by Wall Street’s excesses.

Under this deal, Wall Street, the wealthy, the big corporations will not have to share in the burden of cleaning up the mess. There are no, zero, revenues in the mandated cuts in the bill.

Instead, it dictates cuts in discretionary programs — some $900 billion over 10 years. Working families will pay the bill with cuts in support for schools, for public health, for transportation, for clean energy, and for medical care through Medicaid.

Then the bill sets up a rump group in Congress — 12 legislators divided between House and Senate, Republican and Democrat — to determine another $1.5 trillion in cuts over 10 years from Social Security and Medicare and other entitlements and/or increased revenues from closing loopholes or raising taxes.

Republicans have already pledged to oppose any tax hikes even on the wealthiest Americans. So Social Security and Medicare are set up for the hit — or a stalemated committee will trigger deep, across-the-board cuts in both defense and domestic spending, with Medicare particularly at risk.

This is not where most Americans are. Americans sensibly want the budget deficits brought under control. But they want Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid protected. Most Americans think that the big corporations and the wealthy should pay more in taxes. Those who have done well in America should do well by America.

Most Americans are looking for a plan that will get the economy moving and put people back to work. This plan will cut jobs and preclude the federal government from acting on the economy. It will add to children in poverty, does nothing for families losing their homes, will increase the unemployed.

Instead of the values of most Americans, this deal caters to a small faction of legislators irresponsible enough to hold the economy hostage to exact ransom that they would not be able to get in the normal legislative process. House Republican leaders now say that they can repeat this every time the debt ceiling must be lifted.

This injustice cannot stand. The defenders of privilege have had their way. The people must organize and counter the force of organized money with the power of organized citizens. Legislators have been cowed by the heat generated by a small minority of Tea Party zealots. It is time for them to be scorched by the fury of the vast majority, whose values are being trampled.

With the President and the Republican leaders in Congress committed, some say nothing can be done. But when the Civil Rights movement began, African Americans had no right to vote. We were locked out of public facilities, isolated in separate, impoverished schools, excluded from economic opportunities. We felt powerless.

But Dr. Martin Luther King taught us that we had no choice but to act. “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” So, too, today, injustice will not be challenged by those who benefit from it. This injustice must not stand, but only citizens acting independently of both parties can turn this around.

In a conniving way, the ceiling has been raised and is exacting a pound of flesh from the most vulnerable people. We must not allow the floor to be lowered and expand the cracks in it. The most vulnerable must be protected.

We have never lost a battle for social justice that we have fought, and we have never won a battle unless we fought. For this cause, to heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable, it is fighting time.

Politics

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By Nusayba Hammad, Communications Director, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (nusayba@uscpr.org) WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an act unprecedented in recent history, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand...
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