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Who Do Muslims Speak For?

In my last article, I discussed the idea of solidarity, and how minorities will only achieve equity if every minority learns to speak up in support of the others.

Historically, all immigrant communities that have come to America have had to overcome discrimination, prejudice, and xenophobia before they were accepted as an integral part of the fabric of the country. Muslims, along with other immigrant communities that came to America in the later part of the 19th century, benefited from the struggles of those who came before them. Older immigrant communities had made it much easier for newer immigrants to find a solid foothold in America. One would think, then, that the constant influx of immigrants would have caused the xenophobia born out of ignorance to have disappeared by now. But sadly, that is not the case.

Take, for instance, the Sikh community. Sikhs have been coming to the United States since the early 19th century. It is not by accident, but rather by design, then, that Sikh men stand out in a crowd with their distinct turbans and beards. The turbans they wear are articles of faith— a clear signal to all that they have made a public commitment to uphold the values of truth, justice, service, and to stand up against oppression.

When my Sikh friend Arjun's grandfather, Mr. Singh, immigrated to America in the 50s, he was commonly mistaken for a magician. Children would follow him around, asking him to show them magic tricks. The less innocent forms of ignorance were on display when, as an engineering student, Mr. Singh wasn’t able to find anyone to rent him a room— doors slammed in his face every day, and people incessantly shouted at him to leave the country. Shamefully, the hate and ignorance has only gotten worse more than half a century later. The first victim of the backlash against Muslims and Arabs was actually neither a Muslim nor an Arab. It was a Sikh man in Arizona who was pumping gas. The Islamophobia that the Trump campaign promoted and still promotes now lead to a Sikh man being shot in his own driveway. Despite this, the Sikhs have faced every act of hate and racism with grace and dignity. They have condemned the hate crimes, micro-aggressions, and prejudice, but never sought to distance themselves from Muslims or Arabs. Instead, Sikhs pride themselves in their identity, and continue to stand up for the rights of others. Muslims need to start doing the same.

Muslims under the Donald Trump presidency are involved in a struggle against religious discrimination and racism. However, our fight should not be limited to protecting the rights and civil liberties of just Muslims. We need to raise our voices in protest very time we see an act of aggression— be it against a Sikh, an African American, a Latino/a, or any other minority.

Whenever these events happen, Muslims as a collective have to stand up and be the change that we seek ourselves. We have to attend the #BlackLivesMatter protests, we have to de-stigmatize being LGBT in America, we have to teach people to appreciate others for their differences and not in spite of them, we have to speak out against the wall and the unjust deportations accompanying it— we have to assist in bringing about the justice that we so desire. America accepted the Japanese, the German, the Irish, and to a certain extent, the Jewish community. We are beginning to accept the Latino/a community, the LGBT, and the black community, through movements and music and art and pop culture. We need to use these methods of inclusion as a springboard for incorporating others into our communities. Liberty is a two way street, and we must give what we also wish to receive.

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