Inspirational US #MuslimsforDream: A community empowered by its faith

Inspirational US #MuslimsforDream: A community empowered by its faith
Comment: The DACA protests have shown there is an alternative, if we are willing to pay the price and abandon our desperate bid for official recognition, writes Malia Bouattia.
5 min read
15 Mar, 2018
Recipients of DACA are also known as 'Dreamers' [Anadolu]
It has been six months since Donald Trump's announcement that US Congress would provide an alternative to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme. 

DACA, - now in its phase-out stage - was initially brought in by former US President Obama in 2012 to stop the deportation of those migrants who were brought to the country as children. It also ensured its recipients the right to remain, work, drive and access health insurance and higher education. 

Trump's decision has therefore left hundreds of thousands of people uncertain of their future and in fear of being ripped from their families, jobs and studies if deported or held in detention. 

This month, social justice, migrant solidarity and civil liberties groups including MPower Change, United We Dream, Bend the Arc, Jewish Action, Women's March and Planned Parenthood Action organised a rally at the National Museum of American History in Washington.

The protestors marched to the Capitol Building, hoping to apply pressure on Congress to protect DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers.

This action followed months of protests and direct action taken across the country in solidarity with the precarious nature of the dreamers' status in the US. Indeed, DACA must be renewed every two years under the law, and with a lack of legislative alternative presented in Congress so far, and Republicans continuing to block the vote, many are fearing the worst as its expiration nears.

Following an important show of solidarity, with over 1,000 people attending the demonstration on 5 March, 40 were arrested for effectively occupying the corridor outside the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, in demand of a meeting with him. 

This act of civil disobedience was particularly important because of the involvement of Muslim faith leaders known as #MuslimsforDream.

For many UK Muslims, this was an incredibly inspirational moment

Arrestees included internationally known Imam Zaid Shakir, Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, Imam Omar Suleiman, Imam Dawud Walid, Imam Mujahid Fletcher and Imam Isa Chris Parada. For many UK Muslims, this was an incredibly inspirational moment.  

Indeed, most of us have - more often than not - experienced the very opposite, from scholars and religious leaders in this country, who are more likely to oppose political dissent and direct action, while encouraging Muslims to keep their head down and behave like good citizens. 

Imam Omar Suleiman, who is president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and an adjunct professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University, as well as one of the most recognised faces in handcuffs that day, took to social media to increase the rallying call upon his release:

"Let's stay focused on the issue. Hundreds of thousands of families are being ripped apart and we need to come to a permanent solution for them. Until we do, we must keep the pressure up on this racist regime.

"Paul Ryan's staff didn't have the decency to even open the door yesterday. The dreamers live in fear daily for no wrongdoing of their own while these politicians treat them like a chess piece. So until a clean dream act is passed, stay engaged with regular actions."

Another familiar face was Palestinian-American co-organiser of the Women's March, Linda Sarsour who recognised the importance of the events and stated that she was "proud" of her leaders, "for showing us what faith and worship looks like in action".

The activist also emphasised her love for Islam for being a religion "rooted in social justice and compassion for all people. No borders, no papers - just respect, dignity and humanity."

The collective demonstrated the impact of united efforts and the visibility of Muslim faith leaders serving on the frontlines of the fight for justice.

There were no statements of regret which followed, nor an attempt to undermine the intent of their disobedience after the fact, but rather a feeling of honour in having participated.

Imam Dawud Walid even added that this followed in line with what the religion teaches, and that "Our faith traditions hold a special status for immigrants who've left their lands searching for a better way of life."

The event was celebrated by Muslims around the world, including young activists in the UK who find themselves increasingly frustrated by the censorship and stifling of political opinion carried out by the UK government under the guise of counter-terrorism. 

In a previous article I highlighted the case of Birmingham Central Mosque chairman Muhammad Afzal, who was targeted and beaten down when he spoke out against the Prevent agenda, but this is only one story among many.

Many in the UK fear that scholars or mosque officials airing their political views in opposition to state policies, puts their institutions under threat.

Read more: Linda Sarsour: The Muslim woman fighting for all Americans

This has generated a climate of fear, political quiescence and active demobilisation. In reality, many of our officials and spaces have, through their silence at best, and active silencing of others at worse, become complicit in the in the Islamophobic witch-hunt and undermining of civil liberties. 

The image of internationally recognised imams in handcuffs articulating an activist, engaging and liberating Islam, shows all of us that there is an alternative as long as we are willing to pay the price and abandon our desperate bid for official recognition.

Many of our officials and spaces have become complicit in the in the Islamophobic witch-hunt

After all isn't that what our faith teaches? Aren't our prophets revolutionaries and radicals? And aren't we called upon to walk in their footsteps? 

The triple challenges of growing racism, poverty, and repression are international problems which face us all.

Instead of cowering in the face of power, it is time we stood up and fought back; time we articulated a liberation theology for our current age; and time we took the risk of fighting for a different and better world. 

Seeing religious leaders and scholars in the UK being arrested for fighting against deportation or for taking action in solidarity with the hunger strikers in Yarl's Wood seems unthinkable right now.

Yet such action would go a long way in rebuilding the strength and confidence of a community that needs it so desperately. 

After all, it will take that, and much more, to bring Pharaoh crashing down.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.