According to a study conducted in by the Pew Research Center in 2007, there are over 2.4 million Muslims living in the United States of America today. A 2006 census indicates another 750,000 living in Canada. According to a study conducted in by the Pew Research Center in 2007, there are over 2.4 million Muslims living in the United States of America today. A 2006 census indicates another 750,000 living in Canada. Each person in this burgeoning population represents a potential agent for political and social change. But as a community, we would be mistaken if we think that we will be able to achieve any of our political goals in North America on our own. Instead, the success of Muslim activism in the West depends not only on our own determination but also on our willingness to work with other groups.
In the socio-political sphere, there are a number of issues relevant to our community that are also of importance to other communities and organizations in North America. These issues include, for instance, ending the United States’ support for the occupation in Palestine, ensuring a healthy and stable Iraq, preventing a war on Iran, and reducing poverty and homelessness.
Those of us who have studied on a college campus in the United States or Canada will notice, for example, that the coalition of groups interested in achieving a more equitable and just United States foreign policy vis-à-vis Palestine includes die-hard liberals, certain Christian groups, and classical conservatives who hold an isolationist view on foreign policy issues. Similarly, many of these same groups oppose current United States foreign policy and rhetoric as it relates to Iraq, and find the idea of a war on Iran abhorrent.
Success in achieving these and other goals of ours will be attained only when we collaborate with such groups on both the grass-roots and institutional levels. This is due to the nature of the American and Canadian political systems, which depend heavily on compromise, collaboration, and coalition building. Furthermore, supporting and working with such groups seems to be grounded in statements of our Imams (peace be upon them); in a sermon addressed to Talha and Zubayr, Imam Ali (peace be upon him) stated: “May Allah have mercy on the person who, when he sees the truth, supports it, when he sees the wrong, rejects it, and who helps the truth against him who is on the wrong.”
Here the Imam is not invoking Allah’s mercy solely on the rightly guided Muslims of his time, but instead on all people who stand up for truth and justice and against oppression. In North America, there are a plethora of individuals and organizations, both Muslim and non-Muslim, whose consciences are attuned to the injustices of our time, and who have enjoined truth and justice on the oppressors of our time.
We have many examples of our leaders working with other groups to achieve their strategic goals. Soon after his migration from Mecca to Medina, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) made a treaty with the Jewish tribes of that area. This treaty established the Jews and Muslims as one political and social entity and called for them to protect each other from hostile polytheist groups, yet entitled each group to its own respective religious views.
Similarly in more modern times, we have the example of Imam Khomeini, who worked with socialists and various Christian and Jewish groups in Iran to depose the Shah’s regime. In the United States, Shaheed Malcolm X, a voice for oppressed African-Americans and a convert to Islam, worked tirelessly in his time towards ending the injustices facing black people in America, boldly proclaiming, “We will work with anyone, with any group, no matter what their color is, as long as they are genuinely interested in taking the type of steps necessary to bring an end to the injustices that black people in this country are inflicted by.”
Yes, there will detractors to this view, those who ask how we, as Shia Muslims, can work with those who deny the divine leadership of our Imams (peace be upon them). In response to this, it is important to remember that as a community, it is possible for us to have social and political unity with other groups in the absence of religious unity, just as our Prophet had in Medina. As a principle, it is also important to keep in mind that we should never work with groups and institutions that are oppressors of our fellow Muslims in various parts of the world. In short, the future of our community in North America will require somewhat of a balancing act, one in which we maintain our Islamic practices and outlook yet work successfully with groups to achieve our social and political goals.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Shaan Abbas Rizvi recently graduated from Cornell University with a degree in political science. He is currently working as a paralegal for a nonprofit in New York and has kindly agreed to become a regular contributor to Islamic Insights.