I Am — Part 3
Opening the Facebook app or looking at the news no longer seems safe; there is a continuous barrage of dishertening news from our current White House. Even today, we are starting “Round 2” of the immigration ban, with Hawaii and Washington State leading with a lawsuit. This type of state sponsored discrimination has pulled communities together in some places.
At one of these events in Pullman,WA, during the volatile 2016 election, unity filled the air while people packed the local mosque. The keynote speaker of the night was spiritual director and motivational speaker Imam Azhar Subedar, who noted that oftentimes fear will lead us to demonizing and discrediting a populace. We will look at Muslims as an “other,” and as people too different from us to connect with and know. We strip their humanity so it is easier to hate. After we do so, we discredit their accomplishments and contributions to society.
“We got here not because of what we did wrong, but what we failed to do right. We took everything for granted… our inaction has led to adverse reaction.”
Azhar talks about our community’s unity being like a beautiful landscape. Painstaking and laberous love was what was needed and it requires daily attention. The quickest way to let it go to waste is to do nothing to nurture it.
He asked us, how much longer will we have to rally and protest, or spread hashtags? “How much longer do we have to wait for politicians to act, laws to be passed, wars to end?”
The room was silent before he delivered his answer.
“The answer is simple,” he stated in a matter of fact manner. “Until you decide to take the first step towards change.”
Azhar says that we must own the responsibility for the changes we want. The empahasis, then, is on action.
“Who’s going to stand up for others? Today, begin saying the words, “I am.”
Who is going to make my country a better place?
Who is going to make my community a better place?
Who is going to spread love and unity?
By this point, the entire audience joined the call and answered, “I am.”
I have stopped taking notes, not on purpose, but because I became so enveloped with his speaking I forgot about taking them. He was engaging, and passionate, and you could see people near the edges of their seat.
We must be there for each other, he charges. He says that when Christians protect Muslims, we will see an end to Islamophobia. When Muslims protect Jews, we will end anti-Semitism. When whites protect blacks, racism will “be just a word in the dictionary”.
We must unite. When Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ community, our religious communities, No DAPL, etc, stand together, we are more powerful, Azhar proclaims. Unity needs us all to work together for the common values that we share.
We cannot turn a blind eye to hate or we empower the perpetrators. Who is going to stand up to them? “I am.”
We must all help bring forth solutions, and finally, we must act, he said. There is little sense in talking endlessly if we are not prepared to do something about it.
The speech earned him a standing ovation, and with how people were feeling, it was certainly the rally cry many needed. Hope can sometimes run into short supply, and the entire event was a way of morphing those feelings of dismay into positivity.
The event closed out with a traditional prayer at the end, for which we were invited to observe. Following that, we were encouraged to mingle, and I chose to talk to as many of the people there as I could.
There were many words of hope from community leaders. In fact, the resilience is amazing. The Muslims of this mosque are eager and excited to show others who they are. They welcome the opportunity to get to know others and show them Islam and prove it isn’t what the media has portrayed it to be. Azhar joked that there were 1.7 billion Muslims, so you’re going to run into one, and you may as well get to know them. The overall discussion amongst them centered on the common theme, “speak to us!”
There seems to be a general consensus that the media does a great job about portraying negativity. Mohamed El-sehmawy said, “We ask the media: you give us 10 pages on terrorists. Give us one page on this interfaith gathering.”
Mohamed Salem echoed the sentiment saying that even though there is negativity on television, there is so much more positivity that no one hears about.
The experience was hopeful, and contrasts my dismal feelings about U.S. politics and American and Arab relations before I went. I am glad to have had great Muslim friends who have shown me such love and kindness, and I am glad to be among others who I get to stand alongside as we fight for a country that can begin to show them the same. I am happy with how welcoming everyone was at the mosque, and it almost felt like a family gathering during the holidays.
At the end of the day, it seemed that people were empowered with an answer to the questions they have been asking for some time now.
Who is going to do something about all the problems I see in the world?
It is time to take the first step and say, “I am.” You are. We are. Together, in unity.
“For us to remain strong, in spite of our differences, we have to cherish them instead of using them to separate ourselves. Our [country’s] greatness depends on unity.” –Dr. Asif Chaudhry