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Back Insights News Opinion The Responsibility of the American Shia: Part III

The Responsibility of the American Shia: Part III

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DC rally in support of BahrainThis is the final article in a three-part series which will explore the responsibilities that come with the identity of being an American Shia Muslim. Read Part I here and Part II here.

Advocacy Works

Over the last few months, the American Council for Freedom in Bahrain, a joint group of Shia organizations all over the country, organized the National Rally Against Human Rights Abuses in Bahrain, which attracted a few thousand participants, mostly American Shias and human rights activists. Sixteen buses from Shia communities all over the country came to Washington, DC from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, and Illinois. The energy at the rally was electric, starting at the Saudi Embassy and marching to the White House, where religious leaders, activists, and the former US Ambassador to Bahrain made riveting speeches urging the Obama Administration to stop the silence on Bahrain. And it worked. The next day, an image from the rally appeared on the front page of the Washington Post, one of the most read newspapers in the country. [1] Continued advocacy efforts in the form of letter-writing campaigns to Congressmen, radio and TV interviews, and building awareness on social media, much of which was organized by American Shias, all lead to President Obama's stating in his Middle East speech on May 19 that "Shias must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain." [2]

Much discussion has occurred on the lack of sincerity of these words, but that is beside the point. It is apparent to anyone who observes global politics that the positions of the American government are based on political pressure, which come from a combination of corporate money, special interest lobbying, and grassroots advocacy. The last one, especially, is where we can and have already had influence as a community. It is true that empty rhetoric is useless. But it is also true that rhetoric is a prelude to action, especially in the world of politics. Simply condemning the leader of a democracy for not taking action is a way of shirking responsibility as a citizen, an excuse to ignore our own power and do nothing to bring about change, and thereby free ourselves of any guilt. Democracy is not a spectator sport – rather, it asks us for full participation, to be citizens extraordinaire that hold their elected representatives to their promises.

Unfortunately, we are really behind in understanding the power of citizenship here. So, the next great step in fulfilling our collective responsibility as American Shias is to learn about advocacy in the US, how it works, and how we can use it to create considerable change around the world and for those things we care about as a community. American Council on Freedom in Bahrain is one group working on producing training sessions on this, which can be presented in our mosques and community centers around the country. Simply put, advocacy is the attempt by an organized collection of people to influence political decisions and policy, without seeking election to public office, but rather through public speaking, media campaigns, organizing rallies, writing to elected officials, polling, commissioning and publishing research, or the filing of amicus brief. [7, 8]

For this writer, the other two avenues for political change, i.e. special interest lobbying and corporate money, come with problematic moral issues that are too lengthy to discuss here. Advocacy, on the other hand, is a straight-forward approach that puts the power in the hands of the people, has the lowest chance of fostering corruption, and it works.

Social Movements

Social movements that aim to correct the inequities in our society cannot be based on the political ideology of any foreign government. On the contrary, they must be fully organic, growing from creative ideas and novel solutions to long-standing domestic and international problems that are agreed upon by a consensus of diverse Americans – Muslims and non-Muslims alike who share similar civic concerns. Collaboration is imperative to help build the intellectual and moral climate for change mentioned in Part II of this article, and necessary to achieve any significant results.

Some in our community say that we should not be concerned with achieving results, but with just doing the right thing. It is certainly true that our success lies in the hands of God. This was also true during the time of our Imams (peace be upon them), but can anyone say that they were not concerned with achieving results? This is a great fallacy because as our history overwhelmingly narrates, they took steps to maximize their influence in their particular situations. We must do the same. Our level of influence as a community will depend on our belief that we can affect change, our education on advocacy, and our commitment to the compelling goals we decide to pursue.

"Verily, God will never change the condition of a people until they change themselves." (Qur'an 13:11)

Defining the American Shia Community

The state of the Muslim and Arab world will largely depend upon the actions of Muslims on the ground in their respective nations, and the future of America will be defined by the collective conscience of Americans. However, a distant second influence for both will be played by American Muslims. Within that, the American Shia community has a chance to define itself as the group that maximized its influence to help correct the injustices that have plagued our country and the world for far too long. We are members of a religious group that is defined by a history of change-makers, intellectual, and passionate souls who understood the needs of their times and took action with persistent perseverance and endless faith. Our success depends on the understanding that what we do, as the first generation of Shias who feel fully American, will pave the way for the future American Shia community forever. We must do the right thing in our circumstances, with a commitment to achieving results, without regard to the consequences, and with the solid belief that what God will bless us with in return for our faith is beyond even our imaginations. These are the responsibilities of the American Shia.

Mohammad Ali Naquvi is a lawyer and community activist based in New York, NY. He is Secretary to the Board of Trustees of Mohsena Memorial Foundation and founder of Independent Viewpoints, an organization that endeavors to bring American Muslims and non-Muslims together on common civic concerns. He can be reached at alinaquvi@yahoo.com.

Editor's Note: As with all opinion pieces, views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Islamic Insights or its staff and writers.

References

[1] Front page image. The Washington Post. April 16, 2011. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/todays_paper?dt=2011-04-16&bk=A&pg=1

[2] Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa. State Department, Washington, DC. May 19, 2011. Available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/19/remarks-president-middle-east-and-north-africa

[3] Literally, friend of the court. A person with strong interest in or views on the subject matter of an action, but not a party to the action, may petition the court for permission to file a brief, ostensibly on behalf of a party but actually to suggest a rationale consistent with its own views. Such amicus curiae briefs are commonly filed in appeals concerning matters of a broad public interest; e.g., civil rights cases. They may be filed by private persons or the government.

Legal Dictionary. TheFreeDictionary.com. Available at http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Amicus+brief. Accessed on July 18, 2011.

[4] For a quick overview on advocacy, please visit http://www.afj.org/for-nonprofits-foundations/immigrant-advocacy-toolkit/what-is-advocacy.pdf

Author of this article: Mohammad Ali Naquvi
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