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Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Carrying the Legacy, Advancing with Confidence (Speech at CAIR-LA Banquet)

Hussam Ayloush's speech delivered at the 14th Annual Banquet of CAIR, Anaheim, Oct 30, 2010.

Click to watch video of speech


Carrying the Legacy, Advancing with Confidence

Our country and our community are facing a major challenge; a challenge with two levels.

The first is to America and what it stands for – it is the challenge of those who are trying to take America in a direction that involves xenophobia, division, hatred, incivility, and intolerance.

The second level is to American Muslims – it is a challenge to our rights, identity, or even co-existence.

This challenge is not the result of a random happening. There is a multimillion dollar anti-Muslim industry, an industry of hate and fear that is determined to stir up mistrust and fear of Muslims.

I am pleased to share with you the good news that our National CAIR office has just launched, a few weeks ago, an Islamophobia Department, which will focus on tracking, exposing and challenging this destructive industry. We expect the first major report from this department in a couple of months, God willing.

Even as this industry is becoming exposed, it is important for us to realize that we American Muslims are not the only victims of this anti-Muslim industry.

The American public is its main victim – our fellow Americans are being misled, manipulated, and pushed to hate other people. And this is one of the worst forms of victimhood that a people can be subjected to. It’s important to keep in mind that in most cases, these are people we need to reach out to, not to fight with.

Although this anti-Muslim hysteria seems to possibly be the most serious challenge in the history of American Muslims, it is how we respond that will determine our place in history. Will we seize the opportunity to not only educate our fellow Americans about Islam, but to rise to the occasion and give back to our country by playing a role in protecting our nation and driving America to be true to its values?

Our best response and the only course we can proudly take as Americans and as Muslims is reflected in CAIR-LA’s banquet theme: “Carrying the Legacy, Advancing with Confidence.”

A legacy is “something handed down from the past, from a predecessor...”

It is something to be held, and revered, and built on - something that guides the work of future generations, who have the choice of whether or not to honor it.

And we are blessed with two legacies to celebrate. One is an American Muslim legacy. These Muslim pioneers sacrificed much of their time and the better part of their lives for a vision – a vision of an active, united, involved, integrated, and respected American Muslim community.

Without such people as Imam W. D. Mohammad, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), Sr. Betty Shabazz, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Dr. Hassan Hathout, Dr. Maher Hathout, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui, Dr. Fathi Osman, Imam Haroon Abdallah, Imam Abdel Karim Hassan, Imam Saadiq Safir, Dr. Ahmad Sakr, Dr. Mustafa Kuko, and many, many others, we wouldn’t have a Muslim community. We wouldn’t have mosques, schools, organizations, or even a shared identity, had it not been for their vision and sacrifice.

The second legacy we are blessed with is the American civil rights legacy, which was built by individuals who sacrificed their own livelihood, time, and even lives to ensure that America remains true to its values of freedom and liberty and justice for all.

For instance, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, and many others unwaveringly challenged the status quo of injustice and discrimination. If it wasn’t for the change they catalyzed, none of us would enjoy today’s freedoms or be able to take part equally in American life. Granted, the road to a true democracy is a long one, and our country has taken many pit stops, but we’ve come a long way as a nation because of the legacy of those heroes.

But a legacy is only as good as it is carried. This means we learn about it, we respect it, we value it, we appreciate it, we build on it – but we don’t remain stagnant. If all we do is hand down to our children what our parents and grandparent struggled to achieve, then we’ve failed the next generation and ourselves.

The earlier generations built their legacy for us not just to enjoy and sustain, but rather to build on and achieve more. A community that just benefits from the work of others before it is not a community worthy of the sacrifices made on its behalf. Like those communities that sacrificed, we want to be a community that builds, that contributes to the rejuvenation of America’s founding principles. Others have left the footprints and continue to do so. We should now continue in their path until the next generation begins from where we stopped. And the progress continues.

That takes us to the second half of the theme: advancing with confidence.

A nation or a community that does not advance is indeed retreating. Darkness takes over in the absence of light, and evil flourishes in the absence of good. The Irish statesman Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Advancing with confidence requires courage, knowledge, pride, and self-respect. If we don’t respect ourselves and recognize that we’re equal human beings, equal citizens, with equal rights and responsibilities, how can we expect others to recognize that for us? How can we expect others to respect us? Let’s look, for example, at the Park51 community center in New York. If, when an ignorant or bigoted person says, “The location of your mosque offends me” – if the first thing we do in response is move it, then how can we expect others to stand by our right to worship anywhere in America like everyone else; to freely worship? If a government agency chooses to violate the rights of American Muslims and we, as a community, accept being treated as second class citizens, what are we teaching our children or even those same abusers about how we perceive ourselves? Advancing with confidence means we know who we are, what our rights are, and what our responsibilities are.

As American Muslims, we have the right to be treated with fairness and respect, to worship freely, to be judged by our character not by stereotypes, for our children to feel safe - to be free from harassment, and for our mosques not to be vandalized by haters or spied on by Big Brother as if we were criminals. We have the responsibility to be good citizens, to participate in the civic process, to contribute our talent and hard work, to uphold the law and protect the Constitution of the United States, to be good neighbors and help those in our society who need our help.

We have to leave our good work, our footprints, for the next generation, rising to the occasion like other communities rose to the occasion: African American, Latino, Jewish, and Japanese Americans and others.

It is so important that we as American Muslims defend our rights and speak against injustice – on all sides – because this is what Islam demands from us and this is what our country needs from us the most now. We have to make a commitment that we are here to defend every person in America, especially now that we know how it feels to be subjected to this growing anti-Muslim bigotry and unfair government abuses.

The other responsibility that we have – and it’s a very unique position for American Muslims – is protecting against those who are pushing our country into a manufactured clash with what is described as “the Muslim world.” We can play a role in steering America toward dialogue, peace, and just policies. Being citizens of the only superpower of the world today requires from us to be bridge-builders, to help fellow Muslims around the world and fellow Americans listen and talk to one another, rather than be driven by self-serving extremists on all sides.

To take this role, we must engage politically and socially in our country, to promote policies that bring peace, economic justice, political freedoms and human rights in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, and even here in America, toward immigrants, low wage workers, the poor, the uninsured, and every suffering person and community.

The challenges are big, the burden is equally big, but the vision is clear, and the legacy is here for us to carry it and advance it with confidence.

(Speech delivered at the 14th Annual Banquet of CAIR, Anaheim, Oct 30, 2010)

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