The Daily Texan (opinion) – Sept. 2, 2005
U.S. Muslims need own rhetoric
By Mona Abdel-Halim
As I flew over the Atlantic (returning to Austin after a long Washington, D.C. internship and a short stint in the United Kingdom and France), I began to reflect on my summer. Besides being home - the location of apartment and friends, not to mention the only place in the world you can get a stack of pancakes any hour of the day - I wondered why more so than before I was happy to return to the United States.
Then my thoughts wandered toward the London bombings. Upon first arriving in the U.K. I had expected a heightened sense of alarm, but found (outside of the slightly more strained customs officers at Heathrow Airport) much was the same.
Unlike most Americans, when hearing about the London bombings, I ran for the phone. As a result of my father's job, my parents moved to the U.K. last March. Knowing that my father takes the London underground to work and back, I panicked.
After hours of trying to get through the busy phone lines I was relieved to find they were fine. My father walked to work after news of the attacks hit.
As I closed the phone, a thought that made my stomach ache crept into my head - what about those who found no relief after contacting their loved ones?
Who could do such a thing? And of all the incredulity, these acts are committed in the name of Islam, the same religion that I hold dear to my heart for its heralding and demand of love, peace and above all: justice. These acts reflect none of this, in fact, they display the opposite.
This prompted me to consider the role of Muslims in America, England and France.
Out of most of my summer experiences, most surprising was the vast number of Muslims I encountered in England and France. What scares me is not the fact that most Muslims fail in representing ourselves in our true light, but the fact that people may never have the opportunity or willingness to seek out our true nature.
It is hard for me to hear people criticize Islam when they do not know how it is practiced. Islam is a way of life, not just a religion, and for this very reason it must be judged on the way it is lived.
So, what made these radical fundamentalists commit such horrific crimes against their fellow citizens - taking away what is most precious in this world, a life?
For me, once the fog of anger and near hatred began to clear, I was faced with having to come up with these answers. As a Muslim, as an American, I must know why.
In France I observed an array of North Africans completely integrated into French society. I saw first- and second-generation immigrants working and relaxing side-by-side next to French Caucasians in cafés.
This, I felt, was more like the relationship I am used to observing in the United States. As a result of the high rate of conversion to Islam here, I have Muslim-American college-aged friends who are Swedish, Turkish, Ecuadorian, Indian and African-American.
Back in the U.K., I went to mosques and shopped in the towns surrounding London, which closely resemble American suburbs. Contrary to what I saw in France or what I am used to in America, I witnessed a hyper-pluralistic society, one refusing to integrate immigrants. Upon attending Friday prayer I was able to experience the demographics of several of the mosques in London.
One, closer affiliated with suburban society, was almost impossible for me to follow - almost completely recited in Urdu, the main language of the South Asian attendee majority. While in the main mosque of London, the service was given first in English, but then again in Arabic before the prayer could be commenced.
This came as a surprise to me, knowing the level of diversity in London is parallel if not greater to that in an average U.S. city. Seeing it so segregated in a mosque of all places was different from my experiences in the United States where I see people of all walks of life.
In my eyes, the future political debates for Muslim-Americans no longer has anything to do with Iraq, Afghanistan or the Gaza Strip. Our unity, our integration into American society, is now being called into account. This is a time for Muslim-Americans to take action in defining their identity, in displaying their intellectual prowess - calling out for what is already the majority belief and practice of religious moderation, as these things relate to American society.
The fact of the matter still remains that we are facing a new era where we are not only accountable for our actions, but for those who hold false banners in our names.
We have had our rhetoric stolen, words have been placed in our mouths (from various sides), and now is the time that young Muslim-Americans claim a rhetoric for themselves, controlling the spotlight in the direction they want it shown.
We are future leaders, future scientists, journalists and teachers, but right now we are Americans already, and many of us are your fellow Longhorns.
Abdel-Halim is a biochemistry senior. She is also a member of the Muslim Students Association and is founding a UT chapter of the Islamic Alliance of Justice this fall.