Proud to be an American Muslim

By Tanweer Janjua, Engage Minnesota

As a long time admirer of Barack Obama’s leadership, I was moved by his speech on Tuesday night. There is no doubt that Barack has shown his leadership again and demonstrated that he deserved to be in the highest office of the land. This is truly an historic and remarkable event and we should all cherish this.  It is truly a time of joy for those who believed that our country needed different direction and leadership. It is indeed a proud day to be an American.


Who could ever imagine this 45 years ago? It is less than half century ago, when Civil Rights Act passed and now we see an African-American heading for the White House. Barack’s success should not be perceived as anything incidental and easily achieved. Many people gave their lives, spent their lifetime in struggle, suffered humiliation, torture and discrimination but, they did it and a dream was fulfilled on Tuesday night.  


It is also an opportunity for American Muslims in general and Twin Cities Muslims in specific, to reflect upon our current situation we are in. In spite of the large numbers Muslims have been just good spectators of the political show from sidelined for too long. They didn’t realize, while they were enjoying the show, somebody was compiling their definitions and preparing different name labels for them.


Since last February’s caucus, when flocks of people came out to vote, I have been working at a local political grass root level. Through a series of local conventions and our political filtration process, I was elected as a National Delegate to DNC in Denver.

I remember that evening of late August, when Barack Obama walked up to the podium in Invesco Field and accepted the party nomination. A new chapter was introduced in history books. Like many Americans, I was moved to see an African American presenting himself to the entire world and running for the highest office. Many were convinced and yet still many around the world could not comprehend just the idea of ‘a black American president in USA?’ 


That evening, I promised to myself that on my return to MN, I will work hard with my Muslim Community, and try to motivate everyone to be politically involved. This is the only way I found where Muslims can assimilate and be part of the mainstream America, without jeopardizing the religious identity. 


In last few months, while putting lots of hours in Obama’s campaign, I was encouraged with the support of local community and many party leaders in Twin Cities. Last September, during my absence from the country, I was nominated and elected on Asian Pacific American (APA) Board. I am thankful to my APA board colleagues who trusted me. Since then, I worked on many political rallies, literature drops, door knocking and canvassing around Twin Cities.  


I have also been working with American Muslim Taskforce (AMT), to mobilize and motivate Muslim voters in Twin Cities so they can be more involved in this election. The goal is to show a main stream American John Doe, that Muslims are as American as anyone else. Muslims are as civic as anyone else could be and they are as responsible as any other American could be.


A few brothers and I were committed in these efforts and we went from mosques to community centers to educate Muslim voters. We had open discussions on our involvement in the political arena. We were welcomed at many places with open hearts and support. On the other hand, we were denied access to some places. These denials didn’t stop us and we kept working on getting Muslims out to vote. I was very encouraged to see that our Somali Muslims brothers and sisters were actively involved in different political activities this election. Many took time off from work so they could volunteer their time at polling locations. This is great and I salute to those who volunteered. Obviously, they realized the value of their time and the money they were investing, and it will pay off in the long run, inshallah.


In our latest Muslim GOTV efforts, we invited some distinguished Muslim guests from other states, who spoke to local Muslims and emphasized on the importance of political involvement. We arranged gatherings for our Somali brothers and sisters where more than 500 people attended these gatherings. They asked questions, expressed their concerns on different issues and appreciated these kinds of gatherings.  


With little reservations, I may say that our combined efforts may have had an impact on the large Muslim turnout this election. I am very encouraged in working with Somali Muslim Community and believe that our better days are still ahead. By no means, are we claiming that our work is done but merely started. We need to be rational and clearly understand the challenges we are facing. Like other successful ethnic communities of the past, we can tackle these challenges too, if we are united, focused and committed.   


Along many other challenges we are facing today, I like to point out couple major challenge the Twin Cities Muslim Community is facing today. First challenge relates to the Somali Muslim youth, who are being killed in street violence. This is alarming and Twin Cities Muslims should not turn away from these issues. This is not only a Somali Community problem but it is a Twin Cities Muslims problem and we all have to come together in an attempt to find a solution. Many Somali Leaders have expressed their outcry for help on this issue and now it is our obligation to step up and offer whatever we can. This is a very complicate and sensitive issue and it will take a lot of efforts from all of us.  


One other challenge I like to point out is that there is big disconnect between local Muslim leaders and the portion of Muslim community. There is a large number of Muslims who are just turned off and disgusted by different Imams and their power grabs techniques and just don’t want to be affiliated with any mosque. These are good Muslims and we don’t have right to suspect their good intentions. They just want to practice their faith in private without being grabbed into community disagreements. We have an obligation to be bridge these gaps and bring all the Muslims together. 


At these historical moments, let’s promise that we all will do our part, in all sincerity, and try to do whatever we can, to relieve our brothers and sisters who are in pain. It is time to put our social, cultural, and ethnic differences aside and strive to rise as an exemplary Muslim Community in America. I truly believe this is the land where we can not only practice our faith in freedom but we can also offer the best of our faith to our fellow Americans.


We should also offer the same sincerity and commitment to our neighbors, community and citizens; regardless of their faith. These actions will speak much louder than any other loud speaker in our community centers or in mosques.


Next time you are at a dinner party at someone’s house, you will notice we have lot of talent in discussing all aspects of the life. Weather it s a social, religious or political issue at local, regional or international level, we have experts who can present viable solutions to these challenges right at the dinner table. It is time to bring these discussions from dining room to the community room so our fellow Americans can benefit from our discussion and realize how a Muslim can be a viable thread of the American fabric.


This will make all of us Proud American Muslim.