|The Audacity of Hopeful Muslims by: Dr. Benjamin Chavis Muhammad|
ON NOVEMBER 4, 2008, the aspirations and ideals of millions throughout the world were lifted to new heights as a consequence of Barack Hussein Obama’s victory as the 44th President of the United States of America. And among those rejoicing and celebrating this historic achievement were countless Muslims across all 50 states and throughout the world.
President Obama’s transcendent character, multicultural background, compelling life and progressive leadership were all welcomed changes from the archaic and polarizing politics of the last eight years of the Bush Administration. Citizens cast their votes not only for a change in politics, but also for a shift in American attitude toward the rest of the world. By moving towards this much-needed transformation, the majority of Americans - including Muslim Americans - declared that they were indeed ready to alter the nation’s standing with the international community. And with some 1.25 billion Muslims across the globe, the Islamic world couldn’t be more excited and anticipatory about the possibility of increased dialogue, understanding and unity that Obama’s Presidency will undoubtedly bring.
“We hope [Obama]...would continue U.S. engagement in the peace process without delay,” stated Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “We hope the two-state vision would be transferred from a vision to a realistic track immediately.”
Peace is a process that has an increased chance of being realized when all parties involved in the progression have much less fear, and more trust and understanding of the mutual benefits that a lasting serenity will ultimately bring. The Obama administration has a fresh chance to facilitate a move towards finally establishing true sustainable peace and stability in the Middle East.
On October 19, 2008, former Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press to officially endorse Obama. In that setting he felt it was necessary to say American politics should be inclusive for everyone - and that meant inclusive for the millions of Muslims in America.
“Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” asked Powell. “The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be President?”
“AS AN AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSLIM, I CAN SAY MY PRAYERS WERE ANSWERED WHEN OBAMA WAS ELECTED ... I RECOGNIZE AND BELIEVE THAT OBAMA’S EVOLUTION AS A WORLD LEADER AT THIS MOMENT IN HISTORY IS BEING BLESSED BY ALLAH.”
I personally know President Obama. I have had the pleasure of seeing him in action years ago as a Senator on the floor of the Illinois State Legislature in Springfield. He has always been an astute statesman, and an obvious gifted political leader. But I also knew Obama when he was heavily championing the cause of the poor and disenfranchised on the South Side of Chicago. In particular, I recall doing some environmental justice work in a community known as Atgeld Gardens Public Housing that became infamous for its vast concentration of toxic and hazardous waste. This was a tough place to do justice work. Yet this was one of the many communities that Obama served effectively to fight for equal justice for all people. When Obama speaks, he speaks for and on behalf of the people. His eloquence, fortitude and insight are informed by his many years of experience as a grass roots organizer, peoples’ lawyer and eventual elected representative.
As an African American Muslim, I can say my prayers were answered when Obama was elected. I worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960’s with Dr. Charles Earl Cobb Sr., and with the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Most of my life has been in the fight for civil rights for Blacks in America and throughout the world, as well as the fight for freedom, justice and equality for everyone. From leading the NAACP, I went on to work with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Still fighting for freedom of people in Africa, as well as in America, I converted to Islam in 1997. My personal history however is not what is important here. But as an old school freedom fighter, I recognize and believe that Obama’s evolution as an international leader at this moment in history is being blessed by Allah. And judging by global reaction, so too does the world.
“Barack Hussein Obama’s election really personally brought me a sense of hope and compassion,” explained Ayann Ahmed, a successful entrepreneur of Somali descent who works with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. “He is very level headed. I believe he will help bring about a better understanding that Islam is a religion of peace and compassion. Obama is a man of understanding of the world.”
Leaders like Imam El-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in New York, who is regarded as one of the pillars in the African American Muslim community, didn’t hesitate to release an instantaneous statement of praise for the new President.
“I live in Harlem, where people are shouting and dancing in the streets with celebration on their lips and a renewed resolve to live and not just survive in their hearts ... to say the least, Obama has a job ahead of him of immense proportions,” he stated. “But so do we as Muslims in America.”
Whenever there is an advance in the consciousness of people to do away with unjustified prejudices against Islam or the Muslim community, then that is cause for hope and goodwill. No one is expecting Obama to single-handedly change the entire world during his term as President. That is not the issue, nor the expectation. But with President Obama, rhetoric will translate into sustainable actions for the greater good of society.
“Beyond his name that signifies his connection to both the African and Muslim worlds, Barack Obama has demonstrated an openness and familiarity with Islam that gives Muslims hope that we will move beyond the ‘clash of civilizations model’ that has guided America’s policy toward the Muslim world in the past,” said Zaheer Ali, a PhD student in history at Columbia University and an advisor for the upcoming documentary, New Muslim Cool.
We are indeed witnessing the political and cultural transformation of the United States amidst Obama’s Presidency. For those of us who are Muslims, it’s refreshing to observe a trend emerging in American and global media that represents a departure from some of the stereotypes of the past. The diversity of Obama’s parents turned out to be an asset, not a liability; the fact that Obama’s father had a Muslim background was viewed as a positive and not as a negative. But whether we are Muslim or not, the international community should, as a collective, strive to make our existence more harmonious for everyone. President Obama is striving to do what he perceives to be right for America and for the world. Let us all pray for his safety and success.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin Chavis Muhammad is a civil rights leader, author, former executive director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), former National Director of the Million Man March and current President and CEO of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN). Dr. Chavis Muhammad is the acclaimed author of Psalms from Prison.