A Long History of Injustice Ignored - Introduction

Sheila Musaji

Posted Nov 1, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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A Long History of Injustice Ignored - Introduction

Sheila Musaji

Our society is whirling down a spiral of violence of which terrorism is the face, that is currently at the front of our minds.  There is a growing exploitation by religious extremists, political extremists, nationalist extremists, etc.  All of these share a “religious” element in that they are all convinced that they are God’s agents to bring about and enforce their “right” belief on everyone else, and that they, and they alone - know the “right” way.  This “religious” element is particularly dangerous because it is devoid of spirituality.

More innocent lives are in danger today than in any previous period of history.  The entire world is in danger.  We are at the beginning of a new century and a new millenium, and it is possible that we will not complete either without destroying ourselves.

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what Ive tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

We are violent,  not only with each other but with the environment, and even with our spiritual selves.  We are one human race but isolate ourselves from each other through fear, suspicion and selfishness.  We have broken our ties with the natural order and with each other.

ғI very much like the term Tikkun te-kunӔ to mend, heal and transformӔ. This is also the basic theme of Islam. The very name Islam comes from Salaam which means to be intact, unbroken, sound and complete.Ӕ The purpose of Islam is to heal the brokenness in our relationship with God as well as with fellow human beings and other creatures of God. ... The purpose of religion is to provide identity, to bring integration, mending, healing and transformation. We must transform ourselves from mere self-existence to pro-existence, from merely living for ourselves to living for others. We must treat others as we want to be treated by others. ... Today we have broken relations, broken hearts, broken trusts and broken homes, broken buildings and towns. We must see how to change this situation. How to bring real Tikkun and real Salaam.” Healing Our Brokenness, Muzammil Siddiqui

Our beliefs may be different but our suffering and sorrow are shared.

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place. (Rumi)

Too often, we excuse “our” violence and condemn “their” violence (whether individual or state) in the name of ethnicity, culture, politics, self-defense, religion,— but, no matter the “reason” or excuse, the end result is the same, more death and destruction. 

Terrorism is only one aspect of this widespread violence.  Currently it is most commonly associated with “Islamic terrorism” although this is an oxymoron just as much as “Christian terrorism” or “Jewish terrorism”.  There are lots of reasons given for why terrorism has become so common in our times, and why in the last few years the perpetrators so often seem to be Muslims.  Most commonly this is attributed to either a response to policies or an inherent flaw in Islam.  This “either/or” critique is an over-simplification of a complex issue.  Is there something wrong with religion,  something wrong with our political policies, or is there more to the issue?

It is of course true - as Shabbir Akhtar has noted - that powerlessness can corrupt as insistently as does power. But to comprehend is not to sanction or even to empathize. To take innocent life to achieve a goal is the hallmark of the most extreme secular utilitarian ethic, and stands at the opposite pole of the absolute moral constraints required by religion.  There was a time, not long ago, when the ‘ultras’ were few, forming only a tiny wart on the face of the worldwide attempt to revivify Islam. Sadly, we can no longer enjoy the luxury of ignoring them. The extreme has broadened, and the middle ground, giving way, is everywhere dislocated and confused. And this enfeeblement of the middle ground, was what was enjoined by the Prophetic example, is in turn accelerated by the opprobrium which the extremists bring not simply upon themselves, but upon committed Muslims everywhere. For here, as elsewhere, the preferences of the media work firmly against us. David Koresh could broadcast his fringe Biblical message from Ranch Apocalypse without the image of Christianity, or even its Adventist wing, being in any way besmirched. But when a fringe Islamic group bombs Swedish tourists in Cairo, the muck is instantly spread over ‘militant Muslims’ everywhere. ... At this critical moment in our history, the umma has only one realistic hope for survival, and that is to restore the ‘middle way’, defined by that sophisticated classical consensus which was worked out over painful centuries of debate and scholarship. That consensus alone has the demonstrable ability to provide a basis for unity. But it can only be retrieved when we improve the state of our hearts, and fill hem with the Islamic virtues of affection, respect, tolerance and reconciliation. This inner reform, which is the traditional competence of Sufism, is a precondition for the restoration of unity in the Islamic movement. The alternative is likely to be continued, and agonising, failure.Ԕ Islamic Spirituality: the Forgotten Revolution, Abdal Hakim Murad

As an American-Muslim I feel moral repugnance towards terrorism and violence, and at the same time I feel concern and frustration for what is happening to Muslims (and others in the third world) daily. Because the legitimate grievances of some have been hijacked by criminals as a pretext for terrorism does not de-legitimize the concerns.  The issues still need to be addressed..  Much of the world suffers from oppression, occupation, tyranny and injustice.  We cannot stop terrorism without first working to end the injustice.

“Until we can sympathise with the victims of terrorism regardless of their nationality, skin colour or religion—whether they are Egyptian or British, Palestinians or Israelis, Iraqis or Americans—all of us are in store for a great deal more anguish. Our ability to empathise with “the Other”, whoever he or she may be, to see the world from a different perspective, to feel other people’s pain, share their grief and understand their injustice, better enables us to address the misunderstandings, as well as the practical problems, that divide us. By acknowledging the legitimacy of other peoples’ grievances, their disappointments and frustrations, we demonstrate to the world that we care not only about ourselves. We also come to see the world differently and act in it accordingly. Recognising our common humanity is the first step towards creating a better future for all of us: a world with less violence, less suffering and possibly even less terrorism. It might make us collectively safer. It will also make us more human.” Double Standards, Samer Shehata

Mainstream American Muslims are in a unique position to act as a bridge between two cultures.  We are also in a very difficult position in that we are under suspicion and are marginalized in our own country for being Muslims, and also tanted by the extremists for being the “wrong” kind of Muslims.

Most of us say that we believe in one of the great faith traditions Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism ֖ all of whom teach brotherhood, justice, mercy, tolerance, compassion, the highest ideals to which humanity can aspire. But, it would seem that if so many people held such beliefs and followed such teachings we would see the practical results of that belief somewhere. And, when we look around us at the condition of humanity and the planet there is no light shining from anywhere which reflects the results of establishing a real society based on actually following these teachings which we say we believe in.

The Crusades, the Inquisition, blatant Colonialism, outright slavery are in the past, and yet the mentality which brought these about is still prevalent. We still have too many people who are so strongly committed to their own beliefs that they are willing to see others die for those beliefs and too few who are so strongly committed to their beliefs that they are willing to give their own life for those beliefs!

Looking at the state of the world it would not be unreasonable to conclude that all of these belief systems are a failure. Or, we might conclude, as I have, that the failure is with us ֖ because we lack either the courage or the vision or the commitment to act on those beliefs.

Now is a good time to test those beliefs, because at the same time that we are realizing that we have economic, social and environmental problems that are global in scope. At the same time that we face these global problems, the systems we have depended on have failed us. We are witnessing the collapse, or at least the redefinition of established social, political, economic and ideological systems worldwide. Colonialism (political or spiritual), apartheid, communism, materialism, nationalism, capitalism, sexism, racism, any of the systems which saw one group of human beings versus another, or all human beings versus nature are collapsing or being challenged.

They have failed because instead of being based on a belief in God and a commitment to act and order our lives based on that belief they were based on the small dreams of small people who had made themselves small by their own definitions of themselves. There is no justification in any of these belief systems for what we have done or what we are doing. It is we who have defined ourselves as members of a particular race, tribe, ethnic, religious, political or linguistic group to the exclusion of others who do not belong to the same groups. It is we who have defined the essential element of ourselves not as human beings but as members of these categories. It is we who have created systems that were also based on these small definitions, and these systems have failed.

We have tried every violent means as a solution to our differences, too often even in the name of religion and it has gotten us nowhere. We have walked our separate roads and when our paths crossed that meeting has been marked most often by. violence, intolerance and injustice.

We have now come to a point in history where it is obvious that all partial solutions have failed. We have a situation in which it is possible to imagine the total destruction of the world as we know it either through nuclear war or through continuing destruction of the environment. We rea1ly are between a rock and a hard place.

I believe that it is time for all of those who believe in GOD, who believe that there is a purpose to this life, who believe that we are responsible and accountable for our actions to see this crossroads we are at as an opportunity to take the first steps on a new road that we can walk together in peace.

In America we may have the greatest opportunity to see this possibility become a reality. We are just beginning to realize that we have become a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious society. We used to think of ourselves as a melting pot ֖ but that concept implies trying to change people, to make them all the same, to homogenize them. It wont happen, and it canҒt be done without damaging the human spirit. Perhaps if we discarded the idea of being a melting pot in favor of a mosaic we might be able to begin making connections. A mosaic not only accepts the fact of difference, it requires difference, it rejoices in difference, it uses difference. The different colors, textures and shapes together create something more beautiful and powerful than any single element could.

Each generation has had to make choices, but for most of the course of human history those choices were limited to a relatively small area of impact (individual families, clans, tribes or ethnic groups). This generation faces what may be the biggest challenge because the choices we make may have global impact. The choices of our generation may be the choices that will define our future as a species on this planet.

For an Index of articles about Injustice Ignored see http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/2005nov_comments.php?id=1147_0_46_0_C