Discussing our expansive freedom of religion as Muslims in the west is like discussing the world’s current climate of global peace; at best it’s a hopeful illusion but more arguably, simply nonexistent.
Often our justification for shovelling out loads of tax dollars to a hostile and homicidal governments is the alleged freedom we are afforded to practice our religion unencumbered. This right to practice Islam, many would argue, forms the crux of why our continued presence as minorities does not necessitate migration to friendlier territories.
Mistakenly, many have reduced our religion to the practice of five pillars, and indeed still many have not. Truly, it is an uplifting sight to behold that the condition of most of our communities is not so limited. The inspiration to revive the remembrance of Quran and authentic practices fill the diverse Islamic spaces around us, and the pursuit of knowledge by a new generation yearning to complete themselves and contribute positively to their communities is no small sign.
In this pursuit of knowledge we discover that our religion is not a compartmentalized administration of ritual overtures- but a sacred frame of mind that challenges us to elevate the humanity in and around all of us.
Thus we understand being successful Muslims is dependent on matters usually easily discounted: seeking knowledge, feeding the poor, supporting the orphans, protecting the rights of women, educating everyone about this beautiful religion, being kind to the elderly and to children, speaking the truth, and so on. And, of course, this can be feasibly done in our current environment.
Except, these noble deeds are a dying tradition. Beloved brothers and sisters, once the shining leaders of our communities, are now branded as ‘terrorists’ and locked away for endeavouring towards precisely this; the practice of Islam.
The noble Dr. Rafil Dharfir bravely defied the US-led sanctions on Iraq because he understood what all humane societies should, that no government had the right to deny food and medicine to children. He is currently serving a 22 year prison sentence for actively opposing the genocide in Iraq.
Our honourable brothers Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mohammad el-Mezain, Mufid Abdulqader, and Abdulrahman Odeh, from the Holy Land Foundation were an example to all of us who should be taking from our relatively prosperous coffers and offering hope to the destitute, devastated, and displaced people of Palestine, Bosnia, and even America after natural disasters and the bombing of the Oklahoma City. Abu Baker and Elashi were sentenced to 65 years each, el-Mezain and Odeh to 15 years, and Abdulqader to 20 years; a cumulative punishment of 180 years for collecting zakat in America.
A virtuous brother and activist, Adham Amin Hassoun was rewarded 15 years of confinement for consoling the traumatized victims of the Bosnian war. Recently, our generous sisters, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, were found guilty of sending sadaqah to impoverished communities in Somalia, while Nima Ali Yusuf awaits trial for similar charges. And the list goes on.
Our minds needn’t wander too far into the past when it was legal and politically acceptable to support various resistance movements including those of Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Palestine. Since the past decade, every humanitarian gesture, verbal, fiscal, physical, and quite surprisingly, spiritual, is criminalized as “material support”. The young Fahad Hashimi is currently underground, serving a 15 year sentence in supermax prison for buying a traveller a poncho and boots.
What sealed their fates was effortlessly convincing us, the Muslim community, that they are in fact the monsters their indictments and media reports claimed them to be– causing us to collectively abandon our own on a national scale without fulfilling our obligation to verify news from Islamically legitimate sources.
We would have been in a better position then, had we simply stood by them for the virtue of brotherhood, instead of swiftly condemning imagined terrorist conspiracies and eagerly swallowing predetermined verdicts of guilt without credible evidence, thoughtlessly riding a post 9/11 bandwagon in a poor attempt to compensate for a crime we never took part in.
Our communities should be commended in banding together to send aid to Pakistani flood victims and Syrian refugee camps. But what will happen when these countries are sanctioned by the US or the charities administering humanitarian aid are labelled ‘terrorists’? Will our Islamic obligation to support our brothers and sisters then end? Are our religious imperatives then dependent on the whims of an unjust and cruel government?
And maybe some will be content with the limited listing of government approved charities as a means of fulfilling their charitable obligation. But alternatives do not justify unjust prohibitions. Additionally, geographic, idealogical and ethnic limitations on sadaqah are hypocritical, racist, elitist, and contrary to the spirit of ummah. Giving charity to any human being is a matter of faith.
Recently, the 60 year old Dr. Shakir Hamoodi was sentenced to three years of prison for sending money to his blind mother and 10 siblings in Iraq. The sanctions on Iraq were wrong, genocidal, morally repugnant, everyone agrees. But, what we as Muslims fail to connect is that ultimately, it was haraam. Dr. Hamoodi should not have to apologize for doing something heroic, much less serve time as a criminal. He and others in fact did what we, as the “1%” of the ummah, all should have been doing; giving charity.
Having failed in our initial obligations, now we are compelled to do something greater: speak the truth. We can hardly pat ourselves on our backs with signing a petition or condolences to broken families, especially when this fundamental issue implicates so many other aspects of our spiritual lives. The time to mobilize our communities in defense of our religion was decades ago, yet we ask ourselves why are so many of our masaajid unwelcoming to those willing speak about the condition of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui or Muslims languishing in Guantanamo Bay?
If we truly value our so-called freedoms, we must exercise them. Let’s not incur the sin of being silent in the face of injustice and use the freedom of expression to speak out against the racist persecution of our brethren in pre-emptive prosecutions and selective applications of law; the formation of appalling legislation designed to circumvent due process and humane treatment; and the perpetuation of murderous policies of endless war. Defend our values so we can defend ourselves.