By Dr. Aslam Abdullah
If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail, says a popular proverb. The failure of Muslims in the United States to make any impact on the current US policy in the Middle speaks of the ineffectiveness of Muslim organizations in preparing themselves for catastrophe like the one being witnessed in Lebanon. Clearly Israel is pursuing belligerent policies under the direct patronage of Washington. The White House and the Congress as well as the public opinion seem to be solidly behind Israel. The fact that only 22 members of the House refused to endorse HR 921, a resolution that advocated violence in the name of â€œself defenseâ€ and condoned aggression in pursuit of the national interest is a clear indication that the noise from Muslim organizations reaches only a stiff arm and a face turned away.
This stone-walling may result from the work of the pro-Israel lobby or from right wing evangelical Christians, but still we must wonder why Muslim organizations have utterly failed to create public opinion sympathetic to their perspectives?
The answer is simple. Muslim organizations seem to be more concerned with developing good relations with law enforcement agencies and bureaucracy rather than reaching out to the masses and to the public officials who ultimately shape public opinion.
During the recent crisis in Lebanon, Muslim organizations complained but failed to produce a single piece of serious analysis of the situation educating the community about the nature of crisis and their responsibilities. No organization sought to develop a national Muslim consensus on the issue. No organization planned a day of either prayer or protest, and no organization gave any clear guidelines to its members about the future course of action. The reason of their failure is not their apathy or indifference to the plight of Palestinians or the Lebanese. But the real reason is that none is prepared to handle the crisis and none is capable of mobilizing Muslims as the Jewish community mobilize in support of Israeli policies, however unjust.
Most Muslim organizations are authoritarian. They don’t believe in transparency or accountability. If an underling dares to question authority, he risks becoming an outcast. Our organizations are not â€œgrass-rootsâ€ and they have made few efforts to mobilize Muslims on a consistent basis. They may have chapters and branches, but most of these outfits comprise people who rarely work with or engage with people. Most of the leaders are content with almost any status-quo in which their authority is neither challenged nor questioned.
Few in power make efforts to involve women and young people. Women and children are assigned tasks like arranging chairs, or cooking lambs for the believers. Few have developed any national plan to mobilize Muslims for an outreach program.
Even the ritualistic annual conventions rarely talk of a national consensus and strategy or outreach plan. Most of the time, these conventions begin and end with statements glorifying their leaders, some of whom may have tried to serve Islam and may have sacrificed themselves and their money and time to serve Islam, but some of whom are black-hearted, corrupt, self-serving and empty.
It is this style of work and leadership and organization that gives rise to failure. It is time that we review what we have been doing to ourselves and decide upon an honest course of action that will help us become effective at the grassroots level.
We cannot ask non-Muslims to change their perspectives on the Middle East on the basis of a few statements that our organizations issue ritually. We cannot ask public officials to change the direction of the country, when we ourselves have not found any direction in this country.
In order to win over the hearts and minds of American people, we have to prove that we care for the country by being good people and through our involvement with others. Mosques and centers are good, but sometimes built for the purpose of self-gratification or self-glorification, sometimes to show off. We are absent from city council debates at which issues of helping other people are discussed. We are absent from school boards who discuss their policies. We are absent from library board meetings that determine budgets and determine the books to be bought. We are absent from all national-level discussions on environment, crime, nuclear disarmament.
We are good at claiming, at our frequent and expensive conventions and mosques, that Islam has the answer. But, are we prepared to share that answer with the people and implement it for the wellbeing of all? We want people to accept the call of Islam, yet when someone joins the ranks of Muslims, are we willing to engage with them? We want people to believe that Islam is an egalitarian faith, yet do we find it hard to accommodate African Americans? Or in fact any other people who do not belong to our own ethnic group?
We can choose to improve. No one will prevent us from mobilizing Muslims for the welfare and wellbeing of people. The only ones who might try to stop this are the leaders who feed off of the current American Muslim status quo.
American Muslims often say they want to lead the Muslims of the world in the new renaissance of Islam. But their failures in crises like these suggest that they are far from achieving anything.
Their best service to themselves and others might be to organize their efforts in a unified manner. Many â€œleadersâ€ among us are using the name of â€œIslam and â€œMuslimâ€ to try to fatten their bank accounts, acquire fame and influence, and generally to serve themselves.
Look to yourself, and look to your leader. Try yourself to be the kind of person who gives more to Islam than he tries to take away from Muslims, serve as best you can. If your leader is not the real kind, does not give himself for the sake of Islam, but rather gives the name â€œIslamâ€ to serve himself, then perhaps it is time to search for another leader. We must develop responsibility towards our fellow human beings, and work for the emergence of a Muslim community that can play an effective role in promoting a better life in this country.