“There is no America. There is only Islam” | MANA’s Muslim American Agenda
Orange County, California – A crowd of a hundred Muslims shuffle into Orange Crescent Mosque to listen to the evening’s lecture on “Forging an American Muslim Agenda”, hosted by MANA (Muslim Alliance in North America).
A video projection on a nearby wall casts the image and rhetoric of Malcolm X. With this introduction, and with two speakers missing in action for the evening, Imam Qasim Khan attempts to salvage the small fundraiser. According to the video, MANA, which stands for the Muslim Alliance in North America, is a “Muslim group dedicated to bringing American Muslims together to address the needs of inner city Muslims.”
Guests learn of MANA’s chief goals, which include community activism, the rehabilitation of formerly incarcerated Muslims, and masjid (mosque)/leadership development. Imams Muhammad Abdul Malik, Ismail A. Alam, Abdullah Madyoun, Musa Azam, and Siraj Wahhaj are all shown giving endearing testimonies of MANAs efforts.
Post video, Director of Events and Fundraising and former Christian preacher, Imam Khan extends the message by announcing the dangers humanity is suffering. As many agree, there is a crisis in the Muslim community, and per Imam Khan, it’s “not that we don’t care, but that we don’t get it. We’re only human, so we can’t see everything that’s going on.”
With a few wayward words about deen (loosely translated to religion or way of life), prayer and a duty to charity, Imam Khan shares his experience during Hajj (holy pilgrimage).
He describes handing out money to the orphans, where within seconds both the children and the money are gone. He recalls solemnly that when he looked down, he saw a small one armed one legged girl clutching to his ankles, crying “What about me? Are you going to ignore me just because you can’t see me?”
With the parallels of that story, he relays the importance of helping those we can’t see. Giving credit to other Muslim and non Muslim charities or activist groups, Imam Khan points out that despite their efforts there are still those who are forgotten – Muslim in the inner cities, the “unseen in America”. It becomes clear who these ‘unseen’ are as Imam Khan tells us that there are 300,000 Muslims in prisons in America, and that 3,000 are released daily. He asks, “Who’s going to take care of them?”
With red collection bags beginning to make their rounds, the message of the evening unravels in a mix of poignant statements and religious rhetoric. For those who believe they’ve paid their proverbial dues, Imam Khan reminds the audience “Who told us how much the dues are”. And so begins the plucking of the ‘hell and eternal damnation’ strings, as the speech takes a turn to remind us of the importance of charity.
“Allah is keeping watch and whatever wealth you’re left with when you pass away will be melted in fire and stuck to your forehead, sides, and back”. The idea of death in mind, words vibrate our ears – “We’re praying on a nice soft carpet. We’re ok, but what if the Angel Gabrielle (angel of death) was to pay us a visit?” At this point one person donates $1000. MANA’s goal is $100,000, and we’re reminded, “What would we like our last act to be?”
With all this talk of sudden death, I half expected to be struck by lightening at any moment. Fortunately the tone of Imam Khan’s speech takes a turn for the better, reminding the audience that Allah (God) says we can’t attain righteousness until we give that which we love. He discusses Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved child, Moses’ willingness to sacrifice his staff, and Muhammad’s willingness to leave Mecca for Medina.
Imam Khan beckons for a few more minutes of our time. Alas, I thought, here we go – the point. But no, we are only told more of how Allah is preserving us.
“We all got some crap. We all got some dirt. We all got some bruises on our souls. But Allah is preserving us.” With all this preservation, I was beginning to feel like a pickled plum. Wouldn’t it be better suited the thesis of the evening to talk instead of action? Wouldn’t it be more righteous to talk to the importance of helping fellow man and the importance of giving in that context, rather than luring money out of pockets with the played out Pipe Piper tune of death, hell and an irrational fear of Allah?
Give, but give because you want to – and not because you feel it’ll earn you brownie points in heaven and get you in God’s good books.
But no, none of that. There is a slight moment of hope, a light at the end of the evening when Imam Khan poetically expresses, “if you have a conscience and you haven’t murdered it by ignoring it…then give”. A call to conscience. This is what we need. Finally. But regrettably, this slight sign of hope for leaders who get it is butchered to reality when Imam Khan immediately after state he’s made a dawah (prayer) for Allah to give 700,000 blessings for every penny that we give or wish we could give.
What we who call ourselves Muslims need is conscience. Conscience derived from a will and passionate desire for the betterment of mankind, and NOT from a desire for heavenly reward. If any act of charity is done with the hope of reward, it fails to be charity.
And with the evening dwindling to a close, it’s ever apparent that a few good words here and there did not make up for the lack of focus of the evening’s presentation. We are still missing the American Muslim agenda, at least from MANAs perspective.
Amidst these last reclusive thoughts in a room still segregated with women in the back and men in the front, Imam Khan gives his final words – final words that are the only insight into what MANA (or at least he) thinks is the Muslim American agenda.
Enraged, his voice hitting the heights of the ceiling and echoing through the cold room, Imam Khan pronounces that “This is not America. This is Islam.”
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