It is month of Ramadan all over the Muslim world. In accordance with the Quranic injunction, Muslims are refraining from food, drinks, smoking and other pleasures from dawn to twilight… It is a period for soul searching and moving closer to God and Muslims here in America are joining others elsewhere to do just that.
Recently, President George Bush, who continued the bombardment of Afghanistan, an Islamic nation even during the month of Ramadan as part of the “war against terrorism”, played host to representatives of 53 mostly Muslim nations. Nigeria’s Prof. Jubril Aminu attended this special Ramadan feast at the White House.
The White-House Ramadan feast was both unprecedented as well as significant. Such had simply never happened before in the history of America as a nation. Last Friday’s event has thus been, perhaps, accurately interpreted as another move to bolster Muslim support for America’s war on terrorism.
Addressing the 53 representatives present at the event, president Bush declared: “This evening we gather in the spirit of peace and cooperation. We also gather in the spirit of generosity and charity”. Bush’s words ring of the truth for the 53 representatives may have chosen not to attend.
The events of September 11, 2001 completely changed the face of this year’s Ramadan. The holy month is not taking on the usual celebratory tone. Although the fasting and prayers at twilight continues as in previous years, the war in Afghanistan as well as its effects on life and living for the Muslims in America weigh heavily on the minds of everyone.
True, Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States with no fewer than 1,209 mosques across the country. Muslims are tense, although the Bill Of rights to the American constitution guarantees the freedom of religion with a legalistic language that assures that, one, the state does not endorse or favour a particular religion and two, all citizens are free to participate in the religion of their choice.
Since his war on terrorism started, president Bush has used every opportunity, including that of his joint press conference with Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo in the Rose Garden, to reiterate the statement that the US is not against Muslims. The obvious result of this diplomatic position is that, even as the bombardment of Afghanistan, an Islamic nation, continues, against all fears of “anger in the streets” from the backdrop of Osama – Bin Laden’s call for support, there has not been any report of a large scale protest in any Muslim nation as the Taliban and the Al Queada network would have loved.
Does this suggest there are no anti-American sentiments among Muslims in American cities? Of course not. The sentiments, however, seem to be more towards the changing policies of the American Government as well as the attitudes of some Americans towards people belonging to the Islamic faith.
Take the recent special Ramadan feast at the White House for instance. President Bush and his advisers came under heavy criticism right from when the idea was first mooted. Although the feast finally held in spite of these tongue- lashing from Jewish-Americans and their sympathisers, the original list of the representatives of Muslim nations invited was severely and heavily edited.
Even then, the feast was more of a propaganda for the “war on Terrorism” than any other thing. Without doubt the events of September 11 continues to spark debates among Muslims in America as they adjust to the new realities in terms of their original national identity and religious beliefs. These two are sometimes at odds with the realities of living here in America in the light of the way they are now perceived by some Americans.
Since September 11 2001, some still look at people of Islamic faith differently. Those from Arab nations are the specific “victims” of this display of unease. An incident where passengers on an American aircraft bluntly demanded the removal of an Arab passenger before they could feel safe to fly remains vivid in the minds of many Muslims whenever they scurry into the mosques for prayers
Some changes in American policy is also a cause of worry to many Muslims here. Chief among these policies Is the State Department’s introduction of a more rigorous screening of Arabs and Muslims seeking visas from about 25 mostly Muslim nations and the ongoing questioning of about 5000 Muslim men who came into the country as visitors or students since January 2000.
On the surface these measures seem genuine enough for any nation to take to protect its citizens from foreigners who come into the country as visitors and students only to later highjack aircrafts to use as instrument of mass destruction. The flip side of the exercise, according to debates here among Muslims, is that it looks like religious profiling.
The anti-American protest in kano which was brought in vivid colour to American sitting rooms as well as the fact that the Nigerian Ambassador to America is also a Muslim have somewhat combined to place Nigeria right in the middle of the changing face of Islam in America. For many of my Muslim brothers here, caution has now become the watchword as they attempt to balance their religious faith with the kind of freedom and luxury they have become used to in America.
On a larger scale, this seems to be applicable to Muslims from other parts of the world living here in The United States. To be sure, Muqtedar Khan, an Indian national who is a political science teacher at Adrian College in Michigan recently posted a “Memo to American Muslims” on his web site and the message in the memo which has been visited by over 250,000 Muslims in just a month, attests to how Muslims here have chosen to deal with the aftermarth of the September 11 terrorist attack
The memo urged Muslims from all other nations who now live in America to acknowledge the freedom they enjoy here as being more desirable than both the superficial solidarity with the Muslim world as well as the hypocrisy and human right abuses in whichever Muslim country they come from.
For Nigerian Muslims here who have also read the Internet memo, nothing can be truer. As my “fellow country men” read on the Internet news of gross human right abuses being perpetrated in Northern Nigeria in the name of Sharia, they cannot but conclude that even in this period of Ramadan, the new responsibility for all Muslims in America irrespective of the queer looks they now get from some people, is to pray and work against those abusing Islam.
*This piece was first published in The Anchor Newspaper of Nigeria.