International

American Muslims and their inadequate institutions

Muslims started arriving in US in late 1960s.  We completed our education, built our careers and then our young families.  Most American Muslims' children are about 30 year old today or younger.  In late 1960s the number of mosques in US (a country that is 3000 miles from coast to coast) was less than a dozen.  Today that number is 3000. Until about ten years ago hardly any of us were businessmen, other than vendors; most being employees of companies/govt etc.   Remember that we started our careers at the bottom of the salary  ladder. With limited money it was our duty to first build houses for our families and mosques and educate our children. There was nowhere for Muslims to assemble and pray and teach Islam to our children.  If we did not treat that as our first priority most of us would not have remained Muslims.

In early 1900s many Arab Muslim arrived in Detroit to work in  automobile factories.  Within two generations they stopped being Muslim. It was only around late 1990s that our incomes reached levels where we could give donations for causes other than mosques/Islamic Sunday schools.  In 1990s Muslims did add financial strength to civic Muslim groups like Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Public affairs Council (MPAC),  Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) etc.  All of the funding of these groups was from American Muslims, nothing from Muslim countries.  Wealthy Arab Muslim countries and their citizens hobnob with influential/wealthy Americans but have no time for average American Muslims like us.  Remember how wealthy Saudis hobnobbed with the two Bush Presidents and their families.

Then in late 1990s as American Muslim advocacy in public forums started raising its head,  entertaining US senators & congressmen and the two political parties, there was optimism and in general Americans were treating Muslims with respect.  Then came the terrible 9/11/2001 terrorist attack on US.  And overnight the American Muslim picture changed from brightening colors to pitch dark color. The last ten years were simply terrible for American Muslims and their public institutions.  Mosques and other Islamic institutions faced hostility and threats of closure from powerful American institutions.  

With all of the money at their disposal, wealthy Arab Muslims did not start a single Muslim media outlet, either print or electronic.  Today most American Muslim media outlets are manned by unprofessional writers with low quality of journalism.  The only exception is Pakistan Link published from Los Angeles which is a balanced newspaper. Over the years it is mostly Southeast Asia origin American Muslims who have made donations from their humble earnings to ISNA, MPAC, CAIR and other advocacy groups to do advocacy for Muslims.  Larger mosques have built healthy interfaith programs with churches and synagogues. To build think tanks, lobbying groups, media outlets significant sums of money is needed.  American Muslims simply do not have that kind of resources.  Offsetting the terrible impact of 9/11 event will require big funds and much lobbying.  Educational levels in the Black Muslim (25%) and Arab Muslim (25%)  sub-communities in US are very low.  It is only the Southasian Muslims (33%) who have educational talent to take up the cause of Muslim advocacy in US.  The first advocacy American-Muslims have to do is for the domestic causes and affairs of their own community.  How can they do advocacy for Muslim countries when they have made very little contribution towards nation building in US?  But unfortunately the Muslim world at large wants American Muslims to do advocacy mostly for the Muslim countries, organize protests and inflouence US foreign poloicy.

Comparison of American Muslims  with Jews and their lobbies is not relevant.  There is a huge gap in the  financial resources and intellectual caabilities of the two communities.  Jews have been in America in significant numbers for atleast 50 more years.  A very large number of big US corporations are owned by Jews.  The accademic background of American Jews is right at the top of the US society.  Unlike Muslims, Jews belong to the White (Caucasian) race.   American Jews have to contend with only the country of Israel. American Muslims have to contend with the problems of 53 Muslim countries. The quality of American Muslim public institutions needs much boost; at least the financial part of which can be furnished by wealthy Muslim countries. These countries should try to build up the American Muslim community, just as Israel did or as China and India are doing now.  A recent report indicated that the Chinese government and companies donate money to ordinary Chinese in US to start Chinese-American organizations, who later do advocacy for China's interests.  Indian government is similarly leveraging the organizations of Indians in many cities in US.  I was once tallking to a US State Department official as to why US foreign policy has a double standard.  He asked me:  Do not the policies of Muslim countries apply double standards? Remember that all of us act in a manner that best serves our own interest first.  The rest is rhetoric and public relations.

Muslims all over the world and their leaders should realize that looking at most things always from a religious perspective, and mere emotional cursing and castigating Israel and America and wishing that the picture change, is like blowing into a windstorm.  It has no chance to produce any result.  We have 60 years of experience to prove that.  Muslims and their countries have to be aware of what others are doing, plan an intelligent strategy and start implementing it post-haste.
 
The writer is a community activist in Washington  DC.
He may be reached  at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2011 on page no. 24

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