November 2010

In recent weeks there has been a series of attacks on Iraq’s historic Christian community. Almost 60 people died when militants attacked Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad. In addition there was string of isolated attacks in various Christian neighbourhoods around the country. These attacks have been attributed to Al-Qaeda militants. Discrimination and violence against Christians has grown significantly since the Iraqi Invasion in 2003. It is estimated that this has forced nearly half the population to flee the country.

Local Iraqi Imams have condemned these attacks and have offered moral and physical support to fellow Christians. Muslims who have lost friends in these attacks visited the church to pay their respects. It is clear that these attacks are orchestrated in order to incite tensions between the Muslim and Christian communities in Iraq. It is therefore of utmost importance that these attacks not be allowed to become a source of resentment and animosity between the two religious groups around the globe.

It is easy to quickly label this as an example of Muslim subjugation of Christians. Just like some Muslims hold anti-Semitic views due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, some Christians would be inclined to hold anti-Muslim views due to these attacks. However, when subscribing to such views, people fail to recognize that Muslims are at a greater threat of being attacked by these Islamic militants than non-Muslims.

With bombings taking place almost daily in the Muslim world, in places like Karachi, Peshawar and Kabul, it is evident that terrorists don’t care much for the faith of their victims. These attacks are often made on heavily populated mosques as well. It must be recognized that these so-called Islamic militants aren’t Islamic, rather they are anarchists who simply use Islam as a means to justify their desire for power, to gain validity for those that sympathize with them and to seek young, new recruits.

It is also interesting to notice that ethnic and religious tensions are directly related to socio-economic conditions of a nation. During times of prosperity and economic stability we notice that religious tensions are almost non-existent. However, during troubled times with resources scarce, people have to fight for their needs and this involves overpowering and denying rights to the other. People naturally seek moral justification for such actions and this is where they cleverly use religion as grounds for committing such acts, even though the religion itself might not allow it. Also to notice is that when there is socio-economic uproar in a society, the collective conscience of people is troubled with insecurity and fear. This causes them to naturally lash out on specific groups and this is something evident in the recent wave of anti-Islamic rhetoric in the United States.

I, as a Muslim, offer my deepest sympathies to the families of those who lost their lives, and hope that people are able to look past these woeful attempts of creating divisions amongst religious people. Religion is not the source of our division but it is underlying human problems that divide us. Forming the two most practiced religions in the world, it is essential that Muslims and Christians work hand in hand to solve the issues facing our community. They have lived peacefully together in Iraq for over a millennium and there is no reason this can’t continue.

Originally written for The Silhouette


The is a two part series. See here for Part I

I proceeded to the main prayer hall which was upstairs. It was a simple large room with a dark green carpet. There wasn’t a partition or a separate prayer hall for women like I’ve seen in most other mosques (some consider the lack of a partition to be closer to the Prophetic tradition). I saw a couple of older sisters setting up chairs for themselves and decided to help them. I started asking them questions about Malcolm X and as it turned out they had actually met him! They told me how they used to go to his talks and that they became Muslim during his time. I inquired further about how it was for them to move from the teachings of the Nation of Islam to orthodox Islam. They explained that for them it was just another step in the learning process; the transition was relatively smooth. However, they did mention that some of their friends had difficulty and even went back to the old ways.

I visited them in during Ramadan and it was time to break fast. Dates were passed around and the men and women gathered around in the hallway and broke their fast. We then proceeded to the prayer hall where sunset prayers were offered. The individual leading the prayer recited the Arabic in a unique African-American accent; it was interesting to listen to it, sometimes I felt he might have jumbled up the words.

I met some of the brothers after the prayer. One of them might have been around eighteen; he was the youngest one present. He too was a convert and become Muslim after studying Islam on his own. He explained he’d been coming to the mosque even since and has learned how to practice from the Imam who teaches on Sundays. He told me that about 95% of the people at that mosque used to be Christian at one point. I met another gentleman who too had met Malcolm X. He however did not become Muslim until the late 90’s, some forty years after Malcolm Shabazz’s death. His story reminded me never to lose hope in people you do dawah to; you never know when their hearts will be guided. I was a little disappointed by the numbers at the mosque though. During sunset prayers in Ramadan a total of maybe 30 people came out, most of them were quite old too.

I was then invited for Iftar by the people at the mosque. The dinner was prepared in a separate dining room on the main level; it was to be served on a table as opposed to on the floor. I was informed that the room actually used to be a coffee shop and Malcolm X would often hangout here; he liked his coffee black I was told. There was a strong sense order and discipline amongst these people. Everything was to be done in a specific fashion and you couldn’t do it otherwise. For example, the sisters were responsible for serving the food and the brothers were to wait for it to be delivered. I tried to get up to help myself but it was frowned up and I decided to stay seated.

The food was all homemade and very delicious. It wasn’t the usual birayni though; they served meat loaf and vegetables instead. The conversation was quite enjoyable; they told me stories about Malcolm X and things that go on their community. I felt quite welcomed even though I was an outsider in many ways. They had a strong sense of community and it was quite apparent that their bonds went years back. A guy came in late and one of the older sisters scolded him like a typical grandma; it was funny moment.

As I walked out of the masjid and into the dark Harlem streets to head home, I reflected on the incredible achievements of Malcolm Shabazz. He single handedly transformed a community and left an unshakable legacy. His determination, open-mindedness and uncompromising pursuit for the truth inspires people to this day. Malcolm’s story is to be studied for it is a testament to not only the transformative powers of religion but also of us as human beings.

Also posted on The Mirror