In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord
This was published in the Middle East Online.
I was blessed to attend this year’s Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Conference in Chicago without having to be on call. It was an uplifting experience. In the past I have attended the conference while I was on call. And racing back and forth from conference to hospital does not provide the full experience and delight. This year’s conference was also a great chance to see friends with whom my only correspondence has been on Facebook. It was also a great chance to say hello to the “stars” of the American Muslim community, such as Dr. Tariq Ramadan (to whom I gave a copy of my book, Noble Brother), Michael Wolfe, Alex Kronemer, Native Deen, Kareem Salama, among many others. It was a great time.
Interestingly, at the exact same time of our ISNA conference, there was the “Socialism 2011” conference at an adjacent hotel. As I thought about a conference on socialism, and then beheld the many numerous attendees, all the preconceptions I had about “socialists” came to my mind. It caused me to remember that many socialists always show up at pro-Muslim rallies, and for this I would be grateful to them. But, thoughts about their belief systems crept into my head: Do they believe in God? Would they see me — a devout believer — as “naive”? Are they — by virtue of their socialist beliefs — misguided? Do we have anything in common?
Indeed, our respective conferences could not have been more different: The theme of ISNA was “Loving God, Loving Neighbor, Living in Harmony,” and the theme of Socialism 2011 was “Revolution in the Air.” I thought it a curious juxtaposition, given my preconceptions about them. But when I began noticing the many talks they were having during their conference, I was astounded by the number that dealt with current events in the Muslim world. They were concerned about justice all over the world, and the paths of intersection with the Muslim world were many.
While all these thoughts swirled in my mind, I was reminded — in a very personal way — about the American Muslim experience. I am certain that fellow Americans of other faiths see Muslims — such as my wife and me — and that they probably have their own preconceptions about Muslims swirling around in their heads. I am sure they wonder about similar things as I did about Socialists, when it comes to me, my wife and my fellow American Muslims.
And so herein was the challenge: Could I see past people’s overt particulars and focus in on their humanity? They were people just like me. They had families, and friends, and lives that were — very probably — very similar to my own. Yes, they were at a “Socialism” conference, which is very much not religious, and I was attending an overtly religious gathering. Yes, on Saturday night, many of them were drinking in the hotel bar, which is something, by virtue of my Islamic faith, I will never do. Yes, perhaps some of them are indeed atheists, and I am very much an enthusiastic believer in God.
But regardless of all these differences, we can still — just like our conferences — live and exist side by side in peace and harmony. Moreover, we can work together on issues that interest us both. Some of the attendees of the Socialism 2011 conference actually came to ISNA, and a few of the speakers at Socialism 2011 were Muslims (or, at least, had Muslim names). So what if they are socialists and I am Muslim, when it comes to justice for all people? So what if they are socialists and I am Muslim, when it comes to fairness for workers and their families? So what if they are socialists and I am Muslim, when it comes to freedom for the people of Egypt, or Libya, or Syria, or Palestine? So what if they are socialists and I am Muslim? So what?
I am very glad to have had this experience. It taught me — in real time — how to look past differences and see our common humanity. Our country needs more of this. It needs more Americans to see past the particulars and focus in on the common humanity of our fellow Americans — and the common good of our society.