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Middle Name Phobia!
By: Dr. Aslam Abdullah

Each day in America over 100,000 Muslim physicians, surgeons, and therapists devotedly report to their clinics and hospitals providing the best health care they can to their patients. Each day in America, several thousand Muslim engineers are part of the nations engineering staff, managing and running infrastructure facilities to ensure that water, electricity and critical services are supplied in an efficient manner. Several thousand software engineers use their skills on a daily basis ensuring that the businesses that provide the lifelines of this country are managed smoothly. Even in securing the security of our country and US embassies abroad, about 5000 Muslim military personal provide valuable services to the nation.

Over 2 million Muslims work hard to contribute more than $30 billion annually to various taxes and revenue agencies.

The Muslim dependence on welfare is minimal. The number of alcoholics, child abusers, drug users and pushers and criminals involved in big or small crimes is unnoticeable.

Yet, when a political candidate's middle name is announced as "Hussein", all kinds of doubt are raised about his links with Muslims and Islam. People are urged to reject him because his presence might contaminate the sanctity of the seat of power in Washington.

Lets not beat around the bush! The issue is not about a middle name, the issue is about Islam and Muslims. Those who are questioning Obama's middle name are using the phobia that has been created against Islam and Muslims and using that for their political whims. They might as well start creating fear against everyone named Adam (From Prophet Aadam, the first man created by God) and Susan (Derived from Soozan which connotates pure like a Lily flower) which are also common names used by Arabs and Muslims.

Obama has clearly stated that he is a Christian belonging to Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and his loyalties are to his country. Yet the tirade and fear tactics from the right-wingers against him does not stop.

Despite a history in America as old as the history of first European settlers, Islam is still viewed with fear and suspicion in America and more so after the tragedy of 9/11. The rejection and hatred shown in Europe by earlier Christian leaders towards Islam still lingers. Forgotten in this frenzy are the facts that Muslim slaves were an essential part of the construction of the roadways, railroads and development of agriculture and industries in their resent forms in this country.

Europe has never been objective in its relations and understanding of Islam. Its religious institutions viewed Islam as anti-Christ and its ideas pertaining to individual autonomy in relation to the divine as dangerous for its religious hierarchy. These biases were formed even before Europe took the path of enlightenment and renaissance. Islam was always seen as a faith of sword-holding nomadic people bent on destroying the kingdom of the Lord that was yet to be experienced on earth.

Even with enlightenment and renaissance that gradually rendered the religious institutions irrelevant in Europe's growth, Islam was seen as an anti-rational and anti-science faith. This was a pattern that came to America's with the arrival of European settlers. Even though the founding fathers of our nation were enlightened leaders, but the centuries of bias are even reflected in Thomas Jefferson's letter to Dr. Stiles in 1815 where he wrote, "It is really a pity so charming a country (Turkey) should remain in the hands of a people whose religion forbids the admission of science and the arts among them." (Aslam Munjee's book, "Crusades: Then and Now")

The religious and secular elites of Europe and America have somehow concluded on the basis of their own prejudice and contaminated reading that Islam cannot be trusted in any aspect of life as it is based on false ideas. Despite the presence of large Muslim communities in Europe and America, this view has not changed as there is very limited and serious dialogue and interaction among various sections of modern religious and secular European and American elites and Muslims.

Muslims by and large, have not made any serious efforts to address the concerns and issues raised by the power elites in a language that can be understood. And the power elites are so comfortable with their position that they do not want to make any serious efforts to comprehend Islam.

Those who have extensively written about Islam and Muslims from either a religious or secular perspective in Europe and America have tried to interpret events and the faith of Islam from their selective and highly biased sources often used to reinforce their viewpoint. Amongst Muslims, the shadow of colonialism has always been present in their writings.

How can this challenge of developing a better understanding of these two view points about Islam be met in our times? Perhaps the best response would come from Muslims if they engage with people at levels of society and make their presence felt through service and improving the conditions of life wherever they are. The fact is that Muslims have remained confined to their mosques and secluded shells despite their presence in America and Europe for centuries. In art, science, technology, social services, welfare activities, they have abdicated their responsibilities. They somehow, believe that by confining them to their mosques, Europe and America will one day discover the beauty and rationality of their religion. Things do not happen that way. Even the Prophet had to roam in the streets of Makkah and Taif identifying people in the situation they lived and engaging them in efforts that had direct consequences for their lives.

In order to do that a new agenda has to emerge and a new style of leadership has to take roots within the Muslim community. A leadership that understands its responsibilities towards people in general regardless of their religious or ethnic background. To do this, Muslims have to have a paradigm shift in their thinking. They have to rise above their sectarian identities and issues. They have to look at the future rather than dwell on the past to redirect their energies.

Without Muslims preparing them for this new role, things will not easily be changed. Violence and anger have never solved any problem. They only complicate things. Those who believe that through terrorizing people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, they would be able to force change in the thinking of people about Islam, must realize that history is not on their side and above all the creator is not on their side.

Change in the attitude and behavior of people comes when they see a clear contradiction in the their biases and the actions of those they were biased against. Once their own paradoxes become clear to them, they begin to realize the myopic vision they had held and begin to appreciate the viewpoint of others. So far, Muslims in America and Europe and elsewhere have not acted in a manner that reconciles them with the spirit of their faith. A spirit that views all of humanity as a big family and a view that feels the pain of others as ones own.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah is director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, editor in chief of weekly Muslim Observer and in charge research and publication of International Iqbal Leadership Institute, Lahore. 

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