Sajed Bhandari

America, Books, Cooking, Muslims and some other things

Second Letter to a Young Muslim

Second Letter to a Young Muslim

Sajed Bhandari

Dear Young Man,

I write to you again after not having written to you in months.   I had a chance encounter with you in Queens as I walked out of the kebab house on 74th by the train station there.  You and a few of your friends preached behind a police officer who protected you and your rights to speak in public and in assembly.   One of your friends held up a sign saying, “TO HELL WITH YOUR FREEDOM” in, if you will allow me to be frank, terribly shaky handwriting.  The red ink did express the severity with which your friend intended his words, however.  I watched you for a while.  You went on speaking passionately, like a young Reverend Martin Luther King about the incompatible identities of “Muslim” and “American”.  Had I not known better and had it not been for your flowing white dishdasha that you wore so proudly, I would have thought I accidentally walked into Gainesville, Florida on “International Burn a Koran Day”.    You made some points that, if you allow me again, I would like to address with you.

You so sincerely expressed the anger you felt when you saw a Muslim waving the American flag.  I could almost empathize with the sense of ambiguity that you felt seeing such an image.  The internet is not short on sites that carry videotapes of Muslims being killed and murdered throughout the world.  A quick search offers countless sites on the raping of Muslim women, the torturing of Muslim men, and the confiscation and occupation of Muslim lands from Palestine, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Kashmir, to Checnya and the Phillipines.  I understand that you have a sense of solidarity with those being persecuted as should any compassionate and understanding human being.  I also understand that the suffering that is played so powerfully throughout the internet implies that the persecution of these Muslims is underwritten with an American hand.  As is normal, any human being confronted with such an image will have a strong emotional reaction.  That emotional reaction needs someone to blame, someone to direct one’s anger towards.  After all, how does one go about becoming an activist for justice if there is no tyrant to rise up against?

You, as you have told me before, were born and raised in America but do not consider it your home.  I asked you why it is not your home if you were born here, lived her and most likely raise your family and die here.  You said because it was America who sold the Israeli tanks which wrought destruction through the Palestinian territories, it was America who trained the Philippine armies, and it was America who supported the Russian war against the Chechen insurgents.  Most particularly, it was America who fought in and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan.  You said, how can I be a Muslim and American?  How can the two identities ever combine?  How can I be Muslim and American when America is at war with the Muslims?  Your line of questioning initially bewildered me.  The media, and my own struggle, often claims that the dissonance between Muslim and American identities is caused by the reconciliation, or lack thereof between Constitutional principles and the all-encompassing nature of Islamic belief and practice.  Yet, here, in front of me you argued that the issue was not of principle but rather of current events and a recent history of warfare.   America had become your tyrant.

I left you with your thoughts, although disagreeing with you immensely.  I went about my work until I saw you again at a gathering in support of the Park 51 project.  I saw you standing and yelling through a group of Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis.  A group of international socialists stood alongside you.   A small group of homosexuals and hijabis stood behind you (they did not arrive at the gathering together).  You all, with one collective voice, defended the rights of these Muslims to build the Park 51 project.  But this letter to you is not about that project.  Rather, this letter to you my friend is about your patriotism, indeed it is about your very American and very Muslim attitude towards the whole thing.  I wanted to approach you and talk to you during the protest, but I lost you in the crowd so I walked home instead and wrote this to you.

What was American about your actions that day?  You stood with a group of homosexuals who in your worldview should be executed; Catholics who you believed were destined to hell because of their deification of Jesus, godless socialists who you would have otherwise written off as angry atheists who refuse to do anything productive in society, and Jews.   If I went and wrote to you a letter about your issues with the Jews then I would have to dedicate a whole book to you my friend so I’ll just leave it at that.  Yet the most striking, and yes American, aspect of the whole thing was that you, a self-proclaimed Qutbi and follower of Ibn Taymiyah and Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, you, the staunch Salafi-Jihadi stood at a protest with all these “kaffirs” to protect the rights of a group of Muslims you wrote off as deviants and innovators.  I did not ask you how you felt about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf but his teachings on Sufism and his belief in the Abrahamic ethic I am sure are more than enough for you to think of him as a heretical innovator.  Yet, you stood there, your beard portraying your piety, your jeans folded above your ankles yelling for their right to establish that community center.  You took time out of your day, indeed you made a sacrifice, to go out and protest with people you would normally never associate yourself with to protect a mosque you would never go to and pray in because you most likely believed your prayers would be invalid there.  Well either you worried about the validity of your prayer or you just did not want to be associated with those damn sufis.

What was Muslim about your action that day?  Because your actions exemplified the principles for which Rasulillah (SAW) labeled Hamza (RA) the Master of the Martyrs.  Because you stood up and spoke out in the face of a tyrant.

So I ask you.  For someone who considers himself anti-American and finds it impossible to reconcile being Muslim with being American, why then did you find it so easy to be both on that day?  I concede that there are flaws within our foreign policy, flaws that have led to much suffering around the world (not just in the Muslim world).  However, you should take something away from your day at the Park 51 protest.  What is indeed very American is to see that when there exists a flaw in your nation, you do not seek violence to remedy the situation; rather, you seek democratic means for a just end.  You organize and protest injustice to raise awareness of a situation.  You get out the vote.  You speak out and you write.  You spread discussion and most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough, build coalitions.  Coalition building, finding alliances, requires you to understand that there are people in this society who live very differently from you, i.e. Catholics, Jews, liberals and etc.  But beyond just understanding there are differences, one must accept the differences and fight for the rights of an individual and social group to live as they see fit.

If you are going to affect any change into the world, then it starts with understanding how a pluralistic and democratic society works.  It works through civic reason being the ultimate arbiter of debates, not through race-based provocations, special interest politics, hatred and fear.  Change has come through consensus building and grass roots efforts to build those coalitions.  And if history can teach you anything, particularly the history of our Nation, then it should teach you that we are a flawed nation like any other nation.  Yet what makes us exceptional, and in my opinion is the basis for our strength as Americans, is the ability to be introspective.  The American path is the inevitable triumph of justice and reason over tyranny and emotion.


Sajed Bhandari


Written by sajedbhandari

August 28, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Posted in Engaging Extremism

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