Speaking Up: Expectations for Contemporary Muslim Religious Leaders
By: Aamir Hussain
February 24, 2012
This blog post was first published by the Interfaith Youth Core as part of a collaborative effort with State of Formation, an online journal on religious life. This post addressed the question, "What do you expect from leaders of your religious and ethical traditions?"
Since there are a wide variety of Muslim communities across the United States and across the world, a single leader could not possibly speak for the interests of all Muslims. As an American Muslim, I believe that our leaders can best counter “Islamophobia” in America by continually emphasizing the important contributions of Muslims to American life. Many Americans still consider Muslims a “fringe” group that has yet to fully assimilate into mainstream American culture; unfortunately, this causes many Muslims (especially recent immigrants) to remain within their own communities, thus perpetuating this cycle of misinformation.
Therefore, I believe that Muslims who have excelled in any area (arts, science, politics, journalism, etc.) have a responsibility to tell their personal stories and explain how their faith has motivated them to be dedicated, patriotic Americans. In this way, any Muslim can be a leader; by bringing conversation about his or her personal faith into the public discourse, any Muslim can break down religious stereotypes while inspiring other Muslims (especially the youth) to do the same. Leading by example is a central tenet of Islam, and I believe that young American Muslims need more role models whom they can aspire to emulate.
In addition, I feel that Muslim leaders should more actively showcase the diversity within Islam. This means including a diversity of gender, ethnic background, age, race, and/or national origin. Just as America was strengthened by accepting diverse people from all over the world, Islam was also enriched by many unique cultures such as Persia, China, and the Byzantine Empire. Highlighting this diversity would break down the stereotyping of Muslims, and also draw similarities between the American spirit and Islam.
Finally, I think that established Muslim leaders should be more vocal in expressing their appreciation for the American dream. While it is true that Muslim Americans are often victims of bigotry and discrimination, the United States has come a long way since the forced Japanese internment during World War II. Muslims are still guaranteed the First Amendment freedom to practice their religion, and institutions like the Council on American-Islamic Relations exist to advocate for Muslim civil liberties. There are also many organizations in the United States that promote interfaith cooperation between Muslims and other religions. If Muslim leaders more frequently talked about how they are “proud to be American,” it would help Muslims become a greater part of America’s national narrative.
Improving the status of Muslims in America requires a combined effort. Everyday Muslim Americans can inspire others by expressing their faith more openly and emphasizing the diversity within the Muslim world, while highlighting the intersection of the American and Muslim experiences. It will not be easy, but as the Holy Quran states, “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves”(13:11).