The American Muslim community is a relatively young one. Its process of coming-of-age has, and continues to be, an understandably tumultuous one. The ground upon which we stand is an ever shifting one and thus, naturally there are going to be some mistakes, missteps and snafus. And while I’m not here to begrudge any of that, I would like to comment on a damaging tendency that is currently wreaking havoc on our community and that is namely the emotional hostage taking that we currently see. It is detrimental enough that this takes place between rank-and-file Muslims (particularly online through social media) but it becomes even more nocuous when it’s perpetrated by leaders. So I make these few comments, not in the spirit of fanning flames, but in hopes we can reconsider alternative methods—more productive ones—that will allow us to have our differences but also allow us to maintain unity (which is not the same as uniformity!).
To put it bluntly, American foreign-policy cannot be the litmus test or yardstick by which American Muslim leadership is judged to be efficacious. Not all institutions are equipped or even necessarily concerned, with such subjects. In the case of Dr. Tariq Ramadan and ISNA, myself, along with others, would question whether or not such political jockeying is (A) something ISNA is equipped to do, and (B) if ISNA would be effective at achieving that goal. Additionally, Dr. Ramadan’s critique include no roadmap as to how ISNA, or any other Muslims organization, might achieve those goals. I personally find those clamoring for changes in foreign policy (as detestable as it is) whilst silent on domestic injustices indicative of a broader malady, one which highlights why the Muslim community still struggles to find a niche in the American narrative: by and large, we’re not concerned with what America does at home, only what it does abroad. Nor can foreign-policy be the preferred or prestiged conduit by which American Muslims formulate (or attempt to formulate) communal unity. Case in point: post-sermon du’as (supplications/prayers) are often highly politicized, resulting in complaints because one geographic location was mentioned while another was not. With the current levels of injustice in the world, American Muslims need not feel they must pick which continent to root for. We can have solidarity with our brothers and sisters no matter where they are, though local issues should take priority as they are the ones we are most likely to have the ability to affect change in.
Lastly, to return to the topic of leadership, (American) Muslim leaders must be conscious of the influence and power they wield. From fanboys (and fangirls!) to followers on social media numbering in the thousands, we must know and acknowledge we operate and employ tremendous sway. So when we draw ideological lines in the sand we must know that we’re not only drawing our own personal lines, but also lines for potentially thousands of others. If a leader chooses to boycott or not attend a certain conference it can have damaging effects by dragging out grievances (justified or otherwise) into the public sphere where it quickly devolves down into pitting one person’s followers against an institutions like a grudge match. Instead, we as Muslim leaders must work to forge environments where our disagreements and grievances can be legitimately aired without turning every instance of ikhtilaf into a public drama.