Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Chariots Final: Immigrants at the Marathon

The Chariots Part II: Immigrants and African-Americans
The Chariots Part I: At the Marathon...

This conclusion has indeed been an arduous task. To bring together the immigrants, especially the Muslims to the Marathon, only on paper, was complicated and difficult. To discuss a touchy matter all around in a useful format is always a challenge. Most of my writings here are in terms of generalizations, and I recognize that exceptions of course exist in every case. So, please do not consider your own example or the example of a few to discount the bigger picture, if that is the case of course. Comments were closed so far, but they will be open after this last chapter. I invite all the readers to feel empowered to correct me, to suggest different outlooks, and to offer ways and means to achieve what is being put forward.

Immigrants at the Marathon

The news was out, and it echoed around the world: the great race was on... and it was happening in the distant land of America. The prize was said to be unparalleled, and opportunities were rife, even at this stage of the race. It was a long marathon, longer than any other, why else would it be called the mother of all marathons? All around the globe, many young souls, some burdened by the inequalities in their own lands, some disillusioned by the lack of political and social empowerment, and some just seeking better life and education, were more so allured to what was billed as a 'life-changing' event. So, these souls prepared, trained and practiced. The cream of the crop from the 'developing' world got in line for the chance of their lifetime. They could run with the best, and both the organizers and these souls knew it.

As the internationals began their journey to the Marathon, the organizers were delighted by the global attention to their event. They were enthused by the international runners. These international runners piled in from around the world, and they marveled at the crowd and at the race. They felt the energy, and they tasted opportunity, and more and more, they felt they had made the right decision. A sense of elation propagated through this international crowd. They weren't disappointed initially, as they were plugged in with the crowd that was farthest ahead in the race. Not all, of course, received this welcome. Some who simple managed to cross the border because of their geographical location, who were not the most gifted of runners, had to sneak their way into the race. Most of these unfortunate souls found themselves with the crowd of the 'left-behinders'.

Among the racers, especially the internationals, there were many who believed in One God and His Messengers. These believers were slightly different than others. For reasons that would form an entire story of its own, they found themselves at the receiving end of inequities. For instance, they always found themselves on the outer curve of the track. While they started their race not too behind the front-runners, they could not help noticing that it was taking significantly greater effort to catch up after each of the track curves. When they shouted out about their indignities, the same patronizing voice that had shouted condescendingly to the 'left-behinders', spoke again, "You should thank us that we even let you join this race, if you don't like it, go back to where you came from. Remember that you brought this on yourself because a few of your 'brethren' cheated, hence, the rest of you have to suffer!" The international believers looked at each other with bewilderment. Some of them wondered why they escaped injustice for another form of it. Others wondered how the rules could be changed when they were set in stone by the founders of the Marathon; why someone would risk impairing and debasing the greatest race on earth? And yet others wondered whether the opportunities were now worth the indignities? Even more bewildered were the 'local' believers. They wondered out loud, "Which land do you want us to go to? We were born and bred here, many of us have ancestors who were on the original boats that arrived to the 'new world'" But their voices were drowned in the din, as the obnoxious voice continued to mock and insult the believers.

As a result of the numerous obstacles and the longer course, some of the believers started waning, but others kept strong, keeping up with the front-runners. The superior training and exceptional talent allowed them to force their own case. Then, out of the blue, the believers heard voices; this time of the courageous voices, calling out for help. Yes, some chariots were coming, and a few of the 'left-behinders' were being helped to get them 'in the race'. But, more help was needed as the chariots had just begun to arrive. The believers looked forward and then looked back. It would only take a bit of their energy to support the courageous voices. The believers were reminded by others amongst them that they were believers only until they were just; justice formed the crux of their beliefs. From being just to the Creator (by worshiping Him alone) to being just to the creation (by supporting the elimination of injustice). The courageous voices had let them know what had transpired with the barrier that caused a whole group of people to become the 'left-behinders'. A great injustice had transpired, and the believers now knew about it. It was up to them now, will they join the courageous voices in retrieving the chariots around them, to turn back the clock on injustice or will they just keep racing, unbothered? How many believers did, and how many believers will? That is for us to ask and for us to answer.

For many Muslims, affirmative action is an afterthought, usually in the negative form. As I discussed in Part II, most immigrants, Muslims included, remember their own usually partly struggles in order to dismiss the case for affirmation action.

I also recognize that many African-Americans have started to distance themselves from affirmative action, finding it humiliating or demeaning. However, you will find that many of these African-Americans 'have it made'; symbolizing those who darted off in the Marathon, and 'caught up' with the 'front-runners' due to extraordinary talent, phenomenal hard-work, good fortune, or some combination of the three.

However, with the Marathon analogy in the backdrop, I hope that the readers who felt or still feel differently, have at least achieved some sense of context on this issue. There are some undeniable facts in America's black history (pun intended). If you don't know it, read up on it here. Many of the blacks bought and brought to America were free men in Africa and many of them indeed were Muslims (similar to the international 'believers').

These slaves were treated as sub-humans, perhaps even worse than animals in terms of indignities. "Historical records indicate that some slaveowners were more cruel to slaves than others. Some slaveowners raped and whipped slaves, and even cut off limbs of slaves who tried to escape, while other slaveowners provided materially for their slaves and were less physically abusive. In many households, treatment of slaves varied with the slave's skin color. Darker-skinned slaves worked in the fields, while lighter-skinned slaves were made to work in the house and had better provisions."[]

For hundreds of years, a whole nation was subjugated, based on the color of its skin. A similar situation transpired for the natives (American Indians), but that is another topic for another day. Blacks were swept under the mat for much of this nation's history. The mat was finally taken off a few decades ago, when the rules were changed to be the 'now' same for everyone. Is it fair and just then for anyone to assume that this whole nation will be able to compete immediately? Do we expect these 'left-behinders' to catch up with the 'front-runners' quickly and without any assistance? (Front-runners who are reaping the fruits of their ancestors who fashioned their fortunes on the backs of the slaves).

Everyone know its easy to make money if you already have it to start with. Donald Trump is free to invest his billions in all sorts of elite money-minting ventures, ventures that the average man cannot even touch. Similarly, the vicious cycle of poverty is unfortunately even more so resilient than the cycle of wealth. Rich and educated parents can and will provide opportunities-galore for their children, imparting to them education or wealth or a combination. Most importantly, these folks value the importance of education and its role in a capitalist society. On the other hand, how do we expect the poorest sector, those who just had the 'barrier' removed, to be real 'players' in this race of life? How do we expect them to recognize the value of education that their parents or grand-parents or preceding generations, were not able to receive? Most importantly, is it really just to expect that? Is it just not to do something to make up for the past sins, or to at least help alleviate some of their struggles as they try to catch up? Don't they deserve the chariots to pick them up and drop them at least where would have been had the barrier not been raised?

For Muslims, justice captures the essence of our faith as believers, and equality of all human beings forms the crux of the matter, as we see from the following:

"We sent aforetime our messengers with clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, that men may stand forth in Justice." [Quran 57:25].
"O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes for you to know one another. Truly, the noblest of you with God is the most pious.2 Truly, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware." [Quran 49:13]
"O people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red (i.e. white tinged with red) person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a red person, except in piety." [Hadith, Musnad Ahmed #22978]
"...And act justly. Truly, God loves those who are just." [Quran, 49:9]
To be just with those who we hate, "...And let not the hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety." [Quran, 5:8]

If we have adopted this country to be our home, then we cannot separate ourselves from the injustice that has occurred in its history, even if we had no role in it. This is because removing someone from the pangs of injustice, is still a part of a Muslim's responsibility, regardless of his role in causing that injustice. There are other lesser (in importance) reasons, some perhaps self-serving, for the involvement of Muslims in pushing affirmative action:

  • Muslims are now facing obstacles as well, small little reminders of what transpired here with African-Americans. We are on the outer curves of the Marathon, and our struggle is becoming harder and harder in achieving the same goals as the 'average' American. If anything, it should help us recognize the struggles of those who are faced a much larger barrier, and have found themselves so far behind.
  • Joining hands with the Black minority will join 'our' cause of injustices occurring with Muslims everyday to African-Americans' cause of injustice that is historically rooted, but continues to occur today (in the cycle of poverty).
  • By understanding the civil-rights movement, and being part of it, Muslims can learn methods and ways to push their own agenda for equal treatment of Muslims in America and around the world.
  • African-Americans, by far, as a 'group', are most receptive to the message of Islam. For one, many of their ancestors were Muslims, so it is a going back to roots of sorts, as in the case of Br. Hakim Ellis. And secondly, the message of truth has historically been most well-received by the less materialistically endowed. Many of the Prophet's (S) first followers were poor and desolate. So, if Muslims show their 'true colors' by being part of this cause, it will be an excellent source of walking dawah.
In closing, I truly believe that affirmative action is not a hand-out, rather it is the right of the African-Americans; to help them break away from the cycle of poverty and material inequality. The chariots after all symbolize hope and justice, and whether we will join the courageous civil rights movements to gather and distribute these chariots, is up to all of us.

Note added 2.19: I would be remiss to add that affirmative action is not the only way we can help. We can start or be part of organizations that help inner-city kids, join mentorship programs in schools located in poor neighborhoods, or assist people like Siraj Wahhaj in what he is doing in his community. I hope we will hear from brothers and sisters who can make more suggestions, beyond affirmative action.

I am sure that there are many more reasons why we should be part of this noble cause, and perhaps why we should not, and I hope to read them here in your comments.


Hassan said...

Salam. Hmm, can you give me some proof from Quran and Sunnah that can suggest somewhat to take a way right of an average ordinary white man and give preference to an average ordinary black man, because hundred years ago, white men (who may are not ancestor of current white man) owned and mistreated black slaves (who may also have nothing to do with current black man)?

By affirmative action, are not we doing injustices to now people of white race? Are we punishing them for the sins of there forefathers?

There should be some other way, to bring blacks to same level of education and lifestyles, without taking away the rights of white guy.

Anonymous said...

some info abt malabaris (muslims):

earliest known Indian Muslim community:

Historians suggest that Islam had reached Kerala during the period of Prophet Mohammed itself (see: Malik ibn Dinar - he was not from the Sahabah as stated in the article):

illuminatingfaith said...

As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullaah,

MashaAllah very interesting series. It must've taken a while to write the whole thing, but it is well-written and nice mashaAllah.

I thought the second one, especially with your African-American friend was deep, esp. this part:

"As my thoughts matured, as I took myself out of the bubble of affluence that I had always enjoyed, as I witnessed other perspectives, as I understood (sometimes from direct contact) what had transpired in this country years before I was even born, I started to realize something. I started to recognize that my own ignorance of historical perspective, my own ignorance of human capabilities, my own ignorance of the vicious cycles of poverty and destitution, were indeed the undoing of my very perspective."

Before, I was completely against affirmative action, but I do sort of see your point now. Allahu alam on what is best though.

May Allah guide us and help us all, ameen.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, interesting posts. But I have to disagree with you on a couple of things.

One Affirmative Action doesn't really help alleviate poverty in the African American Community. It is basically is used by upper to middle class Blacks (some indigenous, many not) and really only benefits a small segment of the community. Secondly its a real lazy way to try and help alleviate poverty. It doesn't allow for real critical thinking as to the root causes of the poverty, the majority of folks are not going to be going to college any way.

Secondly African Americans are not the only ones who use Affirmative Action and I don't have the numbers handy but I would assume they are definitely not the majority. White women, non-black Immigrants particularly South Asian and White veterans benefit greatly from Affirmative action in receiving government contracts and for women entering in engineering fields.

Ultimately I think Affirmative Action does more harm than good and has definitely outlived its usefulness.

Umar Lee said...

To make a long story short, I am in support of Affirmative-Action for African-Americans; but not for other races due to historical reasons.

The law should recognize history, historical divisions, and socio-economic factors in its implantation, and part of that is the fact that there is t0oday, and there will e in the future, a dual existence for blacks in America.

What Hassan points out is a typical argument that is made against AA but AA is not about what happened 100 years ago, it is about the realties of today, and what is good for society overall.

AA helped create a black middle-class, which has had a trickle down effect that has helped the entire black community, although obviously not enough.

It is important for Muslims in this country to be historically informed to help them understand these kinds of issues.

Hassan said...

Brother Umar Lee, is new racism (against whites) justified to make up for past? Would 100 years later we would have another AA to help whites to make up what is being done today.

The AA may help african americans as group to become close to what white americans are as group. But to an individual white man, he does not benefit if there are 10 other white rich guys, all he knows is that he went to look for job or college admission, and yet someone less qualified got it because he pr she was of preferred race (african american in this case).

Amad said...

wasalam Hassan, appreciate providing another example of FOB mentality (and I don't say this out of disrespect but a matter of fact), which I shared with you before and many share today.

As for Quran and Sunnah, I provided the general context of the concept of justice in Islam. An Islamic society is the most just, for instance, it provides for the poor and the hungry, it is closer to socialism than all the other 'isms'. There are many issues today where you cannot find a direct Q&S reference, but the general principles can be applied to the matter. For instance, what do you do with someone who commits internet fraud, where does that fit in the Islamic penal system, etc.

As for 'stealing' the white guy's spot in jobs/education, this is a myth. Rather the fact is that affirmative action is compensatory justice, not reverse discrimination. Read this nice summary relating to what I just mentioned and copied from, as well as a more direct answer to your question here.

Hassan said...

Ammad bhai, I am going to read those links, but I do not understand, why you think its FOB mentality, while many americans (white perhaps) think that way as well.

I agree, there does not have to be direct quran and sunnah ruling on it. Infact, for dawah we can be nice to some group. Like after one of battles prophet Muhammad PBUH gave makkans more war booty than Ansar from Madinah. And when ansari felt thats not fair, he told them, would not they be glad if makkans get wealth while you get to have my company.

Anyway, he was prophet (ruler in that instance) who decided that. But they (ansar) got something better than wealth (him PBUH).

I am going to read those links, before I comment any further.

Tariq Nelson said...


Where we Muslims are concerned, the best thing we can do is your last suggestion on getting involved.

If we can all agree that Blackamericans are in less than ideal social conditions, then we can agree that many of those who accept Islam will have the EXACT SAME PROBLEMS.

This means that many Blackamerican Muslim children will need help in tutoring and other things. We have to reach our hands out and try to help.

Even with non-Muslims, there are so many programs for us to get involved in.

Regardless of one's position on affirmative action, we can do these things and do our parts to make society a better place.

Amad said...

I agree Br. Tariq... do you have any suggestions on good organizations that you would recommend?

Anonymous said...