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ISNA: Justice in Darfur: Filling a Void in American Muslim Activism

September 12, 2007

The title was promising…

The description within the program:

Muslims are killing Muslims in huge numbers.  Yet, Muslim community activism and public discouse on Darfur has been lacking in spite of the continuing crisis.  The purpose of the session is to raise the salience of the humanitarian aspect of the crisis, and to begin discussion of possible solutions.  What can Muslims in America do differently to help ameliorate this conflict and/or to address the relief needs of Muslims in Darfur?  How can we as a community be more effective despite widespread mistrust of mainstream narratives of suffering and oppression?

After having volunteered (unfortunately very little time) at the AMAL (American Muslims for Activism and Learning) Save Darfur booth at the IMAN summer event, I witnessed what I allready knew – the complete fear of approaching this subject by Muslims.  The first fifteen minutes or so I watched people glance at the booth and when they realized it was about Darfur there heads quickly turned away but I realized that it may just have been an “oh no, not another charity .. quick look away” reaction.  After having enough of that I started holding out the literature and making sure to make eye contact with anyone who glanced at the booth.  Some took the literature and moved on.  Some stopped and signed up for the AMAL listserve.  Many bought the bracelets that we were selling to raise funds.  Some just shooed me.  Some even asked questions.

One gentlemen in particular had at first shooed at me.  Later he approached the booth and took the literature from me and walked away only to come back a few moments later to ask me: “So what is the solution, sister?”

I don’t know how I managed to answer as I expected to get a lecture on all of the agendas surrounding this crisis but somehow I heard myself saying “I don’t know what the solution is but I do know that silence is not it.”

He said nothing in return and bought three bracelets.

So here was an ISNA session dedicated to discussing solutions!  Dedicated to discussing what we as Muslims can do to be active in this crisis.

~sigh~ There was nothing more dissapointing than this session.  Although, I must admit that I missed a key speaker and maybe another attendee would like to comment on what I missed…  But – I sat there listening .. wondering if I have been missing something .. wondering if I should go out and get cable so that I could have CNN and MSNBC and all those other newsprograms that I’ve been missing the past several years.  I sat there listening to who I think was an  Ambassador from Darfur but I’m not even sure of his name as what I have written is no where near any name in the program booklet.  I sat there listening to the history of it all, which I won’t even repeat here but more importantly to sum it all up this man would have us believing that there are no more hostilities.

Fortunately, Aisha Al-Adawiyya who is part of Women In Islam, a coalition of professional and social activist Muslim women representing a broad spectrum of human rights and social justice interests, was next to speak. 

“Muslims have been quiet on Darfur as Muslims are killing Muslims.  The community has earned the reputation on being soft on Sudan .. outspoken on political and foreign affairs but not on Darfur.” 

Aisha Al-Adawiyya said she wouldn’t get into the political difficulties on this but that we should all take the time to educate ourselves on the issue.  She continued that eveyone has to acknowledge the human rights violations taking place and that they have to stop.  She spoke a bit about Islamic Relief being in Darfur and Chad and that organization wanting to do more.

Aisha called on the Sudanese government to do more and while she had said earlier that she wouldn’t get into the political spectrum of it all she did ask the Ambassador some key questions:

“You say that there is no more fighting but what about the rapes that happen on a daily basis inside these camps.  What about the Janjaweed.” She as well commented on the people not feeling safe with a government that oversees this.

Aisha Al-Adawiyya suggested that the US could do more financially, advocate accountability, advocate the territorial agreements and protect the people first and then the resources.  As to the Muslims she called on us to make distinctions on organizations to work with to realize that some are agenda driven.  She reminded us all that we can’t overlook the racism aspect in this.  “We as an Ummah belong to the same family.  We need to reflect and even when our people are hurting each other we need to resolve these issues or someone else will do it for us.”

After that, a gentle Abdullah Idriz Ali would speak a bit on his thesis that he wrote “Eclipse of Democracy in Sudan” and how it was picked up by Bhutros Bhutros Ghali who wrote an article on it.  He spoke of Sudanese Christians and how sensitive they are to Islam and how knowledgeable they are in regards to our religion. 

During the question and answer session the head of the Darfurian Association in Illinois got up and spoke.  He didn’t have anything nice to say about the government – accusing it of marginalizing most of the area especially the south.  The only way to get attention he said was to resist .. to get your rights.  He accused the government of using the Janjaweed to fight in the south.

It was when the Ambassador got up and said he would like to address Aisha Al-Adawiyya’s questions that we decided to leave….

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2007 1:53 am

    It is a cultural and racist war to maintain power and although many Muslims are against the US being in Iraq, they choose sides with either the Sunni or Shi’a. In Darfur, the Muslim Arab Janjaweed are killing and raping poor black African Muslims. Which white or brown or yellow Muslim will stand up for them?
    They are African!! They are not my kind of Muslim! is the tribal mindset. We are one ummah, as long as you are the right color and sect and from the right country, sigh. May Allah forgive us all this Ramadan.

    Ya Haqq,
    and Ramadan Mubarak!

  2. February 8, 2008 4:17 pm

    What an interesting blog post! I wonder why there is apprehension? Maybe the other comment is on to something..tragic if so. Your answer to the man who questioned you was great too, and very very true.

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