What Muslims in the West can learn from Jews

Published: January 25, 2011
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Americans who know just one Muslim personally have a less negative view of Islam. PHOTO COURTESY: RIDZDESIGN

Muslims in America have to start taking the route of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and they need the help of the latter to make it happen.”

This suggestion comes from acclaimed American Muslim author, academic and Harvard Divinity School graduate Reza Aslan. He was speaking at Columbia University.

Last November, two of Columbia’s largest student organisations, Hillel and the Muslim Students Association, came together to jointly host the event “Re-evaluating Park 51: Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism”. The event was held in recognition of the negative and oft-times bordering malicious (read Fox News) coverage of the Muslim YMCA-like community center ‘Park-51’, a few blocks from (but not at) Ground Zero. Professor Aslan was called in to link the persecution of Jewish immigrants to the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and its resonance with the defamation of Islam and Muslims in America today.

Discrimination: what Jews and Muslims have in common

The Jews who immigrated to the US were faced with persecution and discrimination from all sections of America. From politicians to business tycoons like Henry Ford – many people, like the family of my friend Raphael Pope-Sossman, had their last name changed and Christianised (hence the aptly named “Pope”) to escape.

Catholic immigrants were another minority that faced similar discrimination. When Kennedy was running for President, he was slandered on two accounts, for not wearing the hat and for having more loyalty to the Pope than the constitution of the United States.  While both Catholics and America’s Jewry had to work very hard to achieve it, with time both these minorities were able to embed themselves well in the American state and society. In the early 20th century for instance, Harvard University President Lawrence Lowell tried to impose quotas on Jewish admissions to the University, and by 2001 Harvard had appointed Larry Summers as its first Jewish President.

What should Muslims in the US  do?

How should Americans bring to an efficacious end the discrimination against them?

There are the usual suspects of working hard, attaining very high degrees of education and setting exemplary personal standards in their lives. After all, Pew surveys show that Americans who know just one Muslim personally have a dramatically less negative view of Islam.

But it is the arts that are an all-important prong of changing this discourse. When Harvard Professor Joe Nye coined the phrase “soft power” he meant it in the context of states. However, the concept can easily be used as one for communities, ethnicity or religion based. The arts provide an excellent platform to achieve wide acceptance due to their ability to lift people or entertain them.

The creators of Batman and Superman were Jewish, and today there is no 15-year-old (and many 50-year-olds) that has not been at some point obsessed with these superheroes. Similarly when you wear a Ralph Lauren gargantuan Polo shirt, or a pair of Calvin Klein slacks you experience genius designer wear from two designers who happen to be Jewish. It is, therefore, imperative for Muslims to increase their presence in the various fields of the arts. There is much we can learn from our Jewish peers.

Anti-Semitism is as bad as Islamophobia

The label of “anti-Semitism” has become one of the worst kinds of xenophobia one can ever be accused of. The linking of Islamophobia with anti-Semitism is essential to make sure that Machiavelli concoctions of all on-partisan vendetta based elements against Islam can be effectively brought to an end. There is good movement in this direction, and the greatest defender of Park-51 has turned out to be New York’s Jewish mayor Michael Bloomberg, tear-fully pleading for it to be allowed to be built. It is now up to both sides to in the words of Nixon “cease the moment”!

Taimur Malik

Taimur Malik

A student at Columbia University and the President of the Columbia Muslim Students Association.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Zubair

    Brilliant article.Not just from jewish lot,Muslims and especially ‘Pakistanis’ can learn a lot from Indians in America as well.It all comes down to how you represent yourself,your culture,your religion to the world. Point is : it is time,Muslims start integrating in western culture,learn as much as they can and shape their own future.Out there,no one stops anyone from practising their religion and most states protect their minority,so much so actions have been taken in countries like US and UK as far as hate speech’s concerned. The best way to avoid confrontation is to ignore ‘it’ – It can be very hurtful when some morons spew hate on the basis of religion,and in return most muslims come out on streets and tear everything apart in their own country and when that is the case,Muslims like me who love our religion Islam are ashamed. We have come to a point where world is witnessing major changes ,positive changes w.r.t science,education etc and In no way we must ignore it,we need this ‘change’…we need to be part of it,no matter what.Recommend

  • kanishka

    Please dont compare yourself to the Jews…. Jews never waged a Jihad on anyone.. they were truly persecuted and you are rightly excluded (not persecuted).. Islamic society needs to be excluded or segregated from the rest so that you folks kill each other and let others live in peace… no one wants to be with you guys… thats the fact…Recommend

  • gautam

    For that to happen, Muslims must remove Anti-Semitism from their own souls first! Anti-Semitism has become the Sunnah Ibrahmi for modern Muslims. Hearts & mouths must learn to speak the same language.

    For Jews, there is NO doubt that Israel is their Holy Land, that Jerusalem is their ONE HOLY site exclusive to their needs, and that the Temple Mount is equally exclusively & DIVINELY vouchsafed to them & ONLY THEM.

    These are the absolute irreconcilable issues that will arise when Muslims begin to approach closer to Jews. These questions will lead to a lot of turmoil within America. For the Jews, these issues were not an obstacle. The problem is NOT the soft power, but certain fundamental claims to legitimacy, supercession and rights, Divine or otherwise. Such problems cannot be easily resolved.

    Are Muslims agreed to the right of Israel to exist?

    Peter King,Congressman from Long Island, was shocked by comments by Dr. Safdar Chadda, a Pakistani dentist, that the Twin Towers mght be a Zionist conspiracy by Israel. From a sympathetic friend of the US Islamic community, writes Washington Post, these types of attitudes, freely and thoughtlessly expressed [see also Asra Nomani], have made people who WANT to befriend Muslims suspicious. Trust has been lost.Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    Well done. The problems with the Muslims is that they are not willing to assimilate with the people of other religion and they are not ready to adopt foreign culture. Flexibility in the attitude is the key to emerge as a prominent community in any society. Plus our Mullahs and the like hatred speeches for the people of other sect giving manipulative references based on Quran and Hadith has done a lot of damage. Muslim World as a whole need Kemal Atakurk. No more, No less.Recommend

  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson

    According to 10 Commandments Of God, one says “Thou Shall Not Take My Name In Vain”. His name is extensively used even while killing human beings and also using His name before starting any conversation in TV talk shows by all participants “Bismillah Al Rehaman Al Rahim” this means “In the name of Most Gracious and Merciful” but what we hear and see in this talks we witness so much untrue that has nothing to do with His Most Holy Name. This is very serious matter which my Muslim brothers and sisters must take care. Just imagine, Jews don’t use his original name while entering into any conversation due to sinful behaviors of human beings. It has become habit to use His name while even fights between different Muslim Sects, “Allah Ho Akber”. This is something which they can learn from Jews.Recommend

  • http://www.bonfriends.org/ask-super-sis/ Aisha Khan – Relationship

    Why do you want to compare Jews and Muslims! We are different people with different identity. Do not create identity crisesRecommend

  • kailash sethy

    As somebody earlier said, it is flexibility and adaptability. Learn how to celebrate and enjoy other’s festivals. Sometimes it is difficult because when somebody is taught since childhood that “they r the best person on earth and their religion is the purest in world”, then it is quite difficult to get rid of all those hate feelings for other believers. Anyway it is never too late tho in Pakistan case, its seems a quite difficult job if not impossibleRecommend

  • Umair

    What is Islamophobia anyway? Prominent scholars/ulema support extremisms and persecution in the name of Islam so how is trying to flee from such acts Islamophobia? People have a right to defend themselves.

    Should America not be scared of this guy?

    Ground Zero imam: ‘Apostates against Islam must be jailed’

    This is from someone who is trying to apostate whole of America, taking advantage of the liberal US laws only to bring down those laws once in power. And he is a moderate apparently.Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    Bro, you have written well, but you have not gotten into the details of the matter here. Before I would like to add my two bits here
    @Kanishka, shame on you for making such ridiculous hate inducing remarks, it is due to people like you in all communities around the world, that we are unable to all co-exist peacefully.
    Now for my two bits, you needed to go beyond the innovative and creative world of film and television, changes need to come into mindsets as well.
    Having lived in Britain, what I have seen is that South Asian Muslims Pakistani,Indian and Bangladeshi, a vast majority of them do not even remotely want to make the effort to socialise or integrate with mainstream British society and step out of their Ghetto mentality. Apart from that, religious clerics in Great Britain are very pro actively promoting Fascist Islamic radicalisation. It is a reality that the Muslim youth in the United Kingdom is being radicalised and brainwashed with hatred by giving them this illusion that their only purpose in life is to literally follow the path God has chosen for them, and they have to blindly reject everything else that comes their way, which includes the law of the land where they live.
    Muslim diaspora communities, what they need to do is…

    Get rid of all the hatred preaching Imams who are promoting Xenophobia and segregation

    Educate their children and teach them about culture, history, heritage, value and the law of the land they live in. Teach their children to respect Local values and law.

    Step out of their Ghetto’s and Ghetto mentality. A Vast majority of South Asian Muslims in the UK they live in Asian Muslim neighbourhoods and ghettos, instead of living in mixed or multicultural neighbourhoods.

    Muslim leaders should Preach tolerance, humanity and compassion to the community, and end Xenophobia, especially Anti-Semitism. For a lot of people who think Muslims have always been Jew haters, that is not correct, Anti-Semitism in the Muslim world only re surfaced on a scale that it is today courtesy of the Zionist movement and its planned creation of Israel in 1948. It has further increased as a result of Israel’s illegal occupation of Arab lands in the 6 day war, further feuled by America’s double standards in their policy towards Israel. When European Jewry was being persecuted, it was the Ottomans that welcomed the Jews to come and settle into various parts of the empire, including Palestine. Evidence of that, is the Pre-20th Century Jewish heritage of former Ottomon Empire territtories.

    And Finally divert attention from the obsession of building paradise in the after-life that most Muslims have, towards being better members of society, being better members of their community, being good role models for others, and focus on progress, development, innovation. Hard work, effort and labour (both physical and talent based) should be incorporated into everyday ethics, similar to how Protestants value HARD work as part of their everyday ethics.Recommend

  • parvez

    Good try at creating a linkage between the two. The overriding factor for both is the great “American Dream” and to want to be part of this. This does not mean Ralph Lauren or Kalvin Kline, it means to enjoy the rights of a free society.
    The Jews have respected this and have merged with society. The fear is that the Muslims
    will abuse this right and this would become a problemRecommend

  • Umair

    @Deen Sheikh:

    Kanishka, was right. I did not read whole dribble but your first sentence told me Kanishka knew what he was talking about.Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    @Umair:
    Just read Kanishkas 2nd sentence before u go about calling what ive written dribble without reading it, he/she is openly suggesting we should fight and kill each other off, implying thats how the world will get peace. I suggest u think before you comment.Recommend

  • Anon.

    At the risk of sounding pedantic, I strongly doubt that Nixon said: “cease the moment.” It is far more likely that he said “seize the moment.”

    At further risk to my own self-dignity I would clarify (in relation to the same sentence) that when inverted commas and punctuation coincide, the latter is to be inserted within the former.Recommend

  • http://deleted Sabeen Masood

    aarg……… quite difficult to understand but yes we must opppse islamophobia and anti-semitism. We must not let so-called Muslims to make a horrible image of Islam as it is a religion of tolerance and peace. but we should also be quite aware of Jews. I mean do not forget Israel and Palestine.Recommend

  • rehan

    Can the JEWS in the Middle East teach the Palestinians anything also please?Or would that not be possible as it would bring the oppressed at par with them?Recommend

  • Noumaan Shamsi

    @kanishka:
    wow, there should be a flag button on this website for ridiculous comments like yours. this article was a beautiful piece about learning from other oppressed groups and you brought in more hateful speech. shame on you.Recommend

  • Tony Singh

    @Aisha Khan – Relationship:
    That is the exact problem the author is addressing to.Recommend

  • Tony Singh

    @Aisha Khan
    and add
    It is not that you are different. Its just that you are following a different religion. Your identity has very little to do with your religion.Recommend