In the past week, at least two African American individuals were killed by police officers for basic traffic violations and four Confederate flags were placed on the grounds of a historical African American church. While a number of spokesmen from the African-American community have openly condemned these acts, including some Muslims within that community, other non-African American minority groups have remained painfully silent. It seems that we have all become desensitized by these constant acts of state and vigilante violence against other minority groups. While the American Muslim community has done some philanthropic work, such as raising money to rebuild burned African American churches, we cannot allow these acts to be isolated occurrences. The American Muslim community must not ignore the plights of others as that only serves to embolden the institutional discriminatory forces which oppress us all.
American Muslims must stand for justice, and in doing so, can more effectively combat racist norms by supporting and cooperating with other like-minded groups. First, we must recognize that all forms of discrimination stem from a broader base of bigoted beliefs. Bigots seek to keep minority groups divided and limit each group’s influence, as that allows broader society to ignore each group’s individual plight. However, by standing alongside other groups, we create a larger presence that becomes harder for both government officials and the public at large to ignore.
Further, a victory for one minority group is a victory for all other groups, as it creates a more accepting society that may then grant similar concessions to others. For instance, a successful push to weaken the police force’s racially coded policies against African Americans may then set a precedent for similar revisions by agencies, such as the TSA and FBI, that discriminate against Muslims, Sikhs and others. Protections of certain civil rights and civil liberties granted to one group eventually are distributed to other groups; thus, there is a clear and direct benefit for American Muslims to become involved in the fight for other groups’ rights.
Second, the American Muslim community will be seen as a more legitimate and genuine group when we stand alongside other groups and demonstrate that we are consistently committed to the achievement of justice and equality, rather than caring only when we are discriminated against. Other minority groups will recognize that we have proven to be strong, reliable allies and thus will likely offer their support to help advocate for our causes.
Further, by supporting and interacting with a large base of allies, American Muslims can challenge much of the existing Islamophobic rhetoric. Other minority groups and their allies will find the rhetoric less persuasive, as they will now see more common ground between American Muslims and themselves. With time, these groups may even work with American Muslims to dismantle these prejudices.
We have a duty as both Americans and Muslims to stand with other vulnerable, underrepresented or oppressed groups. America has allowed us to practice our faith with a degree of freedom that few other nations offer. Thus, we have an obligation to improve this country in the best way we can. We should work to advance the founding values of this country – namely, freedom of religion and equality of all under the law – by advocating for those who unfortunately are unable to access these freedoms. By doing so, we become both model citizens and Muslims. We have been instructed by our faith to stand firm for justice, regardless of who we are protecting. Let us not turn our back on this obligation.