Yesterday, a series of deadly attacks in Belgium killed at least 34 people, just four days after a car bombing killed 36 in Turkey.
Terrorist attacks on innocent people, be they Belgians, Turks, or Ivorian, reflect criminals' callous commitment to their ideologies at the cost of life around the world.
American politicians advised by Islamophobes have already started building hysteria against Muslims, with Ted Cruz calling on law enforcement to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods" and Donald Trump supporting him.
Trump has appointed Walid Phares as his foreign policy advisor. Phares has been implicated in the 1982 Sabira and Shatila massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon. Cruz has selected Frank Gaffney, a hard-core Islamophobe for the same role in his campaign, and America's top Islamophobe, Daniel Pipes also supports Cruz.
Islamophobes at home and terrorists abroad build on each other's hate and both are a major problem for Muslims.
The cycle of War-Terror-Hate hurts Muslims directly. Because of it, Muslims now have an only 17% approval rating in the eyes of our neighbors here in the United States.
Muslims must do more to liberate America from fear, hate, and anger. We can only defeat terrorism by thinking, planning, and acting carefully and calmly.
Talking PointsThe following are a few talking points that can be used to share our perspective on the ongoing tragedies. Please note:
- Since these attacks did not take place in the United States, the local media may not approach you. However, it would be helpful if you approached them to offer a Muslim perspective on the tragedy. We highly recommend choosing a Muslim woman to be your Masjid or Islamic organization's spokesperson.
- Similar points should be brought up during the Friday Khutba.
- Young Muslims in Islamic full-time and weekend schools also need to hear our perspective in the language they can relate to.
1. Share your deep sympathy with the people of Turkey and Belgium who have lost lives and face trauma. You have nothing to do with these terrorist attacks. Don't feel a need to condemn something you neither approve of, nor are involved with. Your sympathy and solidarity are far more important for the victims.
2. Turkey has faced multiple terrorist attacks in the last few months. It is also the country that has absorbed the most Syrian refugees. We should be vocal in appreciating Turkey's role in taking in millions of refugees even as it grapples with terrorism on its own soil.
3. We should also appreciate responsible European politicians who are seeing the refugee problem from a humanitarian perspective instead of considering it a security threat.
4. If you are given an opportunity to speak about the attacks in the media, make sure you read the most recent news coverage. Trump and Cruz may have made more hateful statements that attack Muslims and require a quick, but well thought out response. If this is the case, make sure to say that:
- By engaging in Islamophobia, politicians are playing right into the hands of ISIS and other terrorists. The marginalization of Muslim citizens in Western countries through bigotry provides fertile ground to recruit into their ranks.
- Mention the Pentagon-funded research of Dr. Robert Pape, which has a complete database on its website, along with books, articles, and graphs documenting how there were no suicide bombings in any Muslim countries until the invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq war.
- One effective way to cut down terrorism is for America and European countries to support the Muslim struggle for freedom, liberty, and democracy instead of dictators, torturers, and military forces. Fifteen years of war have not succeeded in defeating terrorism. We must think smarter about how to defuse terrorism the way we defused it in Latin America in the 1980s by reducing military engagements.
3 Actions For Next 3 Months1. Surveys have proven that those who know Muslims have a better opinion of Islam and Muslims. This is why we recommend three programs in the next three months.
In addition, the Imam should have a separate table under the banner "Talk to our Imam" in one corner, a group of sisters on another table under the banner "Talk to Muslim women", and some youth at another still under the sign "Talk to a young Muslim". You can round it out by having some trained volunteers in the gathering wearing t-shirts that say, "Ask me anything".
- In April, Open House for Neighbors: It works. As compared to last year, we are seeing more neighbors willing to visit Masjids and Muslim homes.
- In May: Open House For Students. Before the school year ends, get your local Muslim Students' Association to have a campus-wide campaign inviting students to Masjids. This is important since most college students are more open-minded than the general population about "The Other", including Islam and Muslims.
- In June, Ramadan Plans. While this is when Muslims heavily focus on personal spiritual development, we recommend making it a time of more community outreach this year than just one interfaith Iftar.
- Have a planning meeting as soon as possible for the Masjid and the family. With your family, discuss how to share Islam in the neighborhood, at school, and in the workplace. Different institutions have diversity programs, and sharing information about Ramadan fits right in there.
- At Masjids, along with the usual interfaith Iftar held annually in many mosques, we recommend organizing a neighborhood Iftar. Considering Ramadan will be in the summer, it could be held outdoors and local neighbors and families could be invited as well. Keep the programming light but the one-on-one interaction heavy. You can also offer free health checkups for blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
Part of the planning should also focus on inviting local media to the Iftar, and sharing with them what photo and interview opportunities are available. If you have established contacts with specific reporters, discuss what angles they can cover focused on Ramadan and Eid.
You can hold a similar event for elected and non-elected officials of your community, along with firefighters and law enforcement officers.
2. Consider hiring a small, local public relations (PR) firm for $5,000 to $10,000 to see what kind of media opportunities and connections they can provide at the local level.
3. Plan for Eid now and make young people in charge of the celebration. No one is under more pressure than Muslim youth. They need as much of a celebratory environment as possible. Make sure to allocate a good budget for them.
4. At whatever event you plan, or even in your personal interactions, skip the usual brochures. People are no longer interested in the five pillars of Islam. As crass as this may sound, today, thanks to terrorists and the hate and fear spread intentionally by Islamophobes, most of our neighbors want to know if their Muslim neighbors will kill them. So use Sound Vision's brochures that debunk ISIS and what is going on in the Muslim world. You can order as many as you want for free for distribution.
Thinking Points1. Muslims cannot afford to maintain business as usual. Today in America, in any large city, there are millions of dollars worth of mosque projects either completed or ongoing. We have given more than $1.1 billion just for the Syrian refugees. We seem to invest 90 percent of our money in buildings and international disaster relief.
But Muslims in America are facing a clear internal disaster. We need to invest in relationships with our neighbors if we want to strengthen our capacity to continue to build mosques and to donate to humanitarian relief around the world.
2. This is why every Masjid and every Muslim organization must rethink their priorities, plans, and budgets. We must allocate more resources for connecting with neighbors, developing coalitions, and engaging in civil society. To empower ourselves, to liberate America from fear, hate, and anger, and to adopt wiser policies to defeat terrorists and hatemongers.
3. Election season is a great opportunity to connect with neighbors. It is a time to mobilize not only Muslim votes, but all votes, and to have a conversation about issues that matter to your neighborhood, city, America, and the world.
4. There are things each organization cannot do independently to address. For example, developing resources for Masjids and Muslim organizations to respond rapidly to meet crises effectively. This is where Sound Vision comes in. We are expanding our team and hiring top-notch professionals to work with us for exactly this purpose.
If you have never donated to Sound Vision, this is the time to do so. If you would like to know more, we can arrange a webinar to explain our plans. We can also visit and meet your community for that purpose.
Practically speaking, can you designate one Juma or Taraweeh prayer this Ramadan to raise money not just for disasters and buildings, but to manage crises and develop resources to empower the Muslim community and develop allies in society? This is what Sound Vision's strategic plan is all about. 5. There is tremendous pressure on Muslims the world over. Five countries have been destroyed because of the cycle of war and terror; the largest number of refugees today since WWII are Muslims; Islamophobes have launched a campaign of psychological warfare in countries where Muslims live as minorities. This has resulted in a worsening mental health state, with 50 percent of Arab-Americans clinically depressed today.
Giving comfort to the community is important. And giving them a narrative which is positive is critical. This is why we have developed Understanding the Muslim World Today.
6. But along with our efforts, let us never forget to make Dua. Our Duas need to be longer and more thoughtful. They should be in the language most of the community understands and more relevant to our current situation not just in the U.S. but around the world. So while praying for your community, individuals, neighbors, and America, include Duas for those issues your congregations care for, including the Muslim Ummah and its struggle for freedom, justice, and Islam.
Finally, let us never forget the words of our Merciful, Compassionate, and Wise Creator:
"Then, surely with hardship comes ease. Surely, with hardship comes ease" (Quran 94: 5 and 6).
Abdul Malik Mujahid