Published August 07, 2008

 Jummah Prayer at Capitol Hill

By: Sameen Farooq

 As the room quieted down for the Khateeb, it was an amazing site. Sitting under the dome of the U.S. Capitol, Muslims were praying Jummah. With so much going awry in terms of Muslim perception in the popular media, for something of this nature to occur spoke volumes about the American society. It is important to understand that this country, which recently celebrated its 232nd birthday, offers its residents the ability to be themselves. Despite the mass number of problems facing the nation whether it be the treatment of individuals or issues in the realm of socio-politics, the American creed is something which still lives on and is magnified when Muslim staff, interns, and others working in the U.S. Capitol, the House of Representatives, the Senate and various other D.C. organizations come together to pray Jummah every Friday.

             In a recent Jummah service, there was a French-Arab delegation present during the service, and they said that Americans should value their freedoms. They raise an important issue mainly that do we value our freedoms. With countless problems present that negatively impact the Muslim community, do we realize that we are still free to practice our religion?

 In understanding this fact, we can realize something very integral to aiding the cause of all Muslims in America but also the world. Being a Muslim in America is different in terms of how we have to interact with Islam and similarly, how Islam interplays in our respective lives. Not to paint too broad a brushstroke, we, the Muslims in America, share a common experience and this should inform our stance in society. In a previous piece, I mentioned more prominence of the Pakistani community, however, within that stance, I should have fully explored the role of Islam.

             American Muslims have a great responsibility on their hands. They need to advocate for their communities, but also represent their distinctive backgrounds. Being a Muslim is not one thing; it is an amalgamation of cultures, languages, ethnicities, races and societies. Thus aside from individual representation, there lies a need for Muslim representation.

 Getting back to Jummah on the Hill, the prayer service began around 10 years ago with only a handful of attendees, now roughly about 60-70 individuals come together on Friday to pray together. In addition, Muslim organizations in conjunction with Muslim staffers working in Congress in various capacities organize forums to bring attention to issues facing Muslims in America but all around the world. This is the real nature of actualizing our religion in a very clear-cut manner where Muslims work towards eliminating social biases and religious miscommunications in their quest to fight Islamophobia and negative perceptions of Islam.

            Living in America, there is an ongoing crisis of socio-politics where there is a level of distrust and animosity among Muslims and their counterparts as seen through the Obama Campaign. In this situation, painting Obama as a Muslim, the conservatives are in fact trying to alienate him from millions of voters who fear Islam and think that a Muslim President would ruin this nation. In order to better the situation, it is important to understand the truth which clearly manifests itself every time we turn on the news or read a newspaper story about Muslims being painted as backward, terrorist supporting, ruthless killers. In recent news, the New Yorker magazine's cover in a very desperate attempt tries to explore the brandishing of Obama as a Muslim. Although it completely fails in its intended purpose, it does speak for the notion that there is a great fear of Islam and Muslims especially in the realm of politics and civil society. Having accepted the issue, it is vital to strategize how to tackle this problem.

          Undoubtedly fearing the other, in this case America's fear of the Muslim communities can only be challenged through advocacy and action. We need not prove our faith to anyone, but we must use our respective capacities to prove how Muslims ought to be envisioned within the Quran and in our Prophet's (peace be upon him) life.

           The Khateeb at one of the Jummah services stated something which I feel needs to be fully advocated if we are to make any headway in the realm of changing the social, political and religious perception of Islam. He stated, that we need to first implement the basic tenets of Islam. In doing so, we need to develop what Islam is and how it can fluidly complement but also infuse our lives as Americans. Secondly, we need to advocate this through our actions where Islam is not just what the media portrays, it is a mark of identity of individuals who are part of all realms of socio-political existence and engaged in a wide array of careers. Finally, he stated we need to recognize that change will take time, but this should not be a hindrance instead a continuing reminder for more action and more determination. 

             To initiate this process we need to work on a few fronts - ranging from education, advocacy, community involvement to diversified career choices for our youth. Furthermore, collectively we need to break the bonds of complacency which will allow us to be mobilized around a cause and make sure that our voices are heard whether it be in the upcoming election, or at a community board meeting.