A Tale of Two Dinners

Javeed Akhter

Posted Dec 2, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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A Tale of Two Dinners

by Javeed Akhter

وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ
وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ ۚ
(al-Maida 5:2)

Recently I attended two dinners.

One was the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) affair that was attended by over 600.  There were tons of non-Muslims that came to show solidarity with Muslims.  The emcee graciously recognized many of them.  It took him several minutes to recognize all of the non-Muslims who were there.  The large number of non-Muslim guests is a testimonial to the organization, CIOGC, and its recent chair Malik Mujahid’s foresight in forging relations with like-minded people and organizations.

Earlier in the week I went to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) dinner.  HRW is a NGO that has nothing to do with faith or tradition.  Its main objective is to defend human rights all over the world.

Human rights are God given rights.  They are at the same time universal rights and are quintessentially Islamic.

Remember Malcolm X Hajj when he said in his speech; “Human rights are something you were born with. Human rights are your God-given rights. Human rights are the rights that are recognized by all nations of this earth.”  Even the POW’s of wars during the Prophet’s time and of the Crusades were accorded rights and dignity and humane treatment that is still a standard for all to follow and historians to marvel at.  Interestingly much of what HRW has done recently is for the human rights of Muslims.  Sadly this is because Muslims are the largest and most frequent targets of human rights violations. 

Their report after the Gujarat massacres and rapes in India in 2002, their condemnation of Israel for its cluster bombing of southern Lebanon in the last two day of the conflict in 2007 and their habeas corpus campaign in dealing with the Gitmo prisoners are a few examples.  In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 they had a movie about illegal detentions of Muslims in the US.  At this HRW dinner I attended one of their honorees was a woman named Umida who is reporter form Uzbekistan.  She had as stood up to the atrocities of its ruler Islam Karimov.  Uzbekistan has 88% Muslims, practically all Sunni, who are brutally repressed by the dictator with this strangely ironic name; dictator named Islam who suppresses Muslims!

I counted exactly four Muslims at the HRW dinner.

The contrast between the two dinners was telling.  It appears to me that we as Muslims want others to be supportive in fighting injustices against us; that is understandable.  But shouldn’t we be motivated to support and join non-Muslim groups that stand for universal/Islamic principles like human and civil rights?  Of course we would not agree with all the group stands for.  There is much on HRW agenda that does not interest me and some I disagree with.  I may disagree with their analysis of Darfur but the human rights atrocities cannot be denied.  But if we agree with most of what they do we should be volunteering and supporting these groups.  If there were more of us in this organization and other similar groups like ACLU and CCGA we could influence their agenda and priorities.

The Prophet set an example for us in finding common ground with others.  In his letters to rulers and leaders around the Muslim areas his invitation was to accept Islam and if they were not so inclined to cooperate in areas of common interest.  Part of his letter to Heraclius said “O people of the scripture! Come to a word common to you and us”.  These documents are preserved.

We need to seek out and support individuals and groups on the basis of issues and principles.  That includes supporting candidates for public office based on issues.  But we need to do more.  Minorities like us can not accomplish their goals without building coalitions; in particular alliances that are issue based in the areas of human and civil rights and social activism.  We can have our own civil rights group but we should join other mainstream civil rights groups; support CAIR but also join ACLU, support ISPI but join Chicago Global Council.  Some of it is happening.  But we need to do more.  Form more alliances, forge more bonds and create more coalitions.  Something we should ponder upon.  For that is the true meaning of the injunction “Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancor”

Javeed Akhter, Institute of Strategy and Policy International http://ispi-usa.org/