Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reviving Student Activism

A speaker we invited to our tiny college in suburban Chicago 15 years ago--radical human rights activist Lynne Stewart--is now a political prisoner in a U.S. penitentiary, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I consider activities put on by most of today's Muslim students organizations child's play.

Looking for Islamically-oriented things to do with my kids, I was disappointed, to say the least, when I read about the events planned by our local university’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) as well others (with a few exceptions) around the country.

Here's a sample: food fest, cake-a-thon, Iron Chef, ice skating, t-shirt designing.

Whatever happened to student activism?

MSA celebrates its fiftieth anniversary on college campuses this month but not only has it not matured to mirror the overwhelming problems, challenges and conspiracies facing Muslims (and others) on and off campus, it has seriously regressed in the quality of its activities post-9/11.

Muslim students (as well as their older counterparts, for that matter) need to reacquaint themselves with the job they have been assigned by God to do as members of the Islamic Ummah: establish social justice on earth. That means while MSAs should continue to help students build brotherhood/sisterhood through wholesome activities, provide religious teachings, and serve as a home away from home, it should all be done while keeping in mind that the group's ultimate responsibility is to struggle for peace and justice for all.

Quran: “We sent Our Messengers with clear evidence, and sent with them the Book and the Balance so that people would maintain justice….” (Quran 57:25)

Unfortunately, those responsible for planning, executing and profiting from global oppression realize this mandate on the Muslims better than most Muslims do themselves. That's why as the ruling elite continues to spread imperialism, globalism and capitalism around the world, it tries to keep the Muslim population in check through ravaging wars and incitement of sectarianism overseas and scare tactics at home.

Those in power are paying particular attention to Muslim youth between the ages of 15 and 24, who make up an estimated 20% of the world's Muslim population. That's because as recent history shows (1960s Anti-War and Civil Rights movements, Islamic Awakening, Occupy movements), youth are powerful agents of change.

Imam Ali: “Surely the heart of the youth is like the uncultivated ground – it will accept whatever you throw upon it [and that is what will grow from it].”

Hence, Western governments, their intelligence agencies and police departments have been monitoring, infiltrating, censoring and sabotaging Muslim students groups throughout North America (as well as Britain and other countries with oppressive foreign policies) under the guise of preventing homegrown terrorism.

The goal is not to ferret out potential Muslim terrorist. As Thomas Galati, New York Police Department's chief of the Intelligence Division revealed under oath in August 2012, not one criminal lead was obtained through its surveillance program of Muslim mosques, student groups and businesses during his six-year tenure, according to news reports.

The point then is to terrorize the Muslims into becoming apolitical and silent.

And it's worked like a charm.

"Muslim students are by and large taking this lying down," according to Roshan Muhammad Salih, documentary filmmaker of British State Spies on Muslims.

“We’re now getting reports from families who are saying, you can’t go to school at this campus, or if you do go to school at this campus, you cannot get involved in the MSA or the SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine],” Zahra Billoo of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ was reported as saying in the media. “[Parents are saying] ‘don’t rock the boat, just graduate.’

The silence continues because Muslim leaders and organizations in general have failed to guide people on how to peacefully, legally and successfully persevere in their duties of speaking out against oppression and striving towards establishing social justice while navigating this environment. Instead, by spreading news about the spying operations without offering counter strategies, they are adding to the fear and deafening silence.

Students in the MSA at Hunter College in New York, for example, reportedly put up a sign in 2011 asking their members to, "Please Refrain from Political Convos in the MSA," with an arrow pointing to a newspaper article revealing the NYPD's secret surveillance program.

Students currently attending undergraduate programs grew up for the most part in a post 9/11 Islamophobic world, and before we can expect more political and social activism out of them they need to be intellectually awakened. This can be accomplished by involving them in discussions of substantial social, economic, political and environmental issues and allowing them to come up with just solutions based on the Quran and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (S).

The Prophet's (S) own grandsons (sons of Fatima, one of the four perfect women of all times) Imams Hasan and Hussain, whom he called the Chiefs of the Youth of Paradise, should serve as role models and their methods of problem-solving studied in detail.

In one anecdote, for example, while still young the two came across an elderly man who was performing his ablutions incorrectly. To come up with a solution on how to correct their elder while still abiding by Islamic law, ethics and manners, the two huddled and came up with a plan.

Their solution: to pretend to engage in a contest as to who performs his ablution better and asking the man to be judge. He immediately realized his mistake and came away impressed by their gentle method of correction.

One Islamic organization, the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, is working on creating an online platform that will allow Muslims and non-Muslims around the world to come together virtually to solve global problems through this Islamic concept of shura, or consultation.

Members will be encouraged to engage their minds in learning about important issues and discussing and debating possible strategies and solutions before voting on courses of action they think best reflect the teachings of the Quran and Prophet Muhammad (S). Indeed, this will be a good fit for MSAs who are already involved in online voting projects, such as last month's "Design Your Donation" t-shirt competition, albeit more in par with their social and political responsibilities.

In sum, as Sayyid Hasan Islami wrote in Imam Khomeini, Ethics and Politics: "The universe is a university while the prophets, awliyā’ and those trained by them are the teachers and the rest of mankind are students, and they ought to be students."