Recent events throughout California indicate that Muslim youth activists are being targeted for their “radical” behavior. On Friday night, the MCA Youth group and MSA West held a talk show called “Pushing the Envelope: Muslim Youth Activism” at Santa Clara’s masjid, MCA. The program discussed current events involving specific instances of so-called “radical” Muslim youth activism. The event that was frequently emphasized at the talk show was the Irvine 11 incident in which 11 students were arrested and are now facing possible academic disciplinary action for heckling Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.
The speakers intended audience appeared to be the skeptics in our community; that is, those who condemn Muslim activists for their uncivil behavior and parents who are reluctant in supporting their youth in activism. As the Muslim community in the United States is held accountable for practically all the actions of people claiming to be Muslims, we see more and more members of the Muslim community becoming embarrassed, ashamed, and even fed up with the negative media attention activists have been attracting. I have personally encountered parents and adults who were upset and troubled over the “hasty” actions of the students at the Irvine 11 incident.
Regardless, these students are in dire need of support from their community. They are being threatened with harsh disciplinary actions, suspension or even expulsion, for interrupting Michael Oren during his speech. They are being threatened for an act of civil disobedience that is not only observed in the history of the United States, but continues to resound across our nation in present times. Reem Salahi emphasized to the audience that this incident is not a matter of the law or crime, it is a matter of politics. Indeed, having the University punish these students will serve as a reminder to future activists that oppose the higher power: don’t mess with the big guys running this town; we can, have, and will punish you for pushing the envelope.
Such a punishment will set an unfortunate precedent for American Muslim youth. It will constrict how we go about bringing justice to our discriminating and imperfect society and approach social improvement. Injustices continue to exist – racial, political, religious, economic. This is no time for any of us, Muslims or non-Muslims, youth or adults, to sit back and watch such injustices occur. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.” (Hadith al-Bukhari)
So what does activism mean?
To Reem Salahi, activism means thinking about others in this world, being concerned for not only yourself but for others who are deprived of basic rights and privileges. To Imam Malik, activism is an act of worship as we are “enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong” (Qur’an, 3: 104).
Activism entails more than just protesting controversial speakers and war criminals. It also means becoming an active member of the community through service and involvement. Moina Shaiq gave implementable advice to the youth: volunteer at the library, go to local meetings, give back to the community. “Leave this world in a better place than you found it,” Sister Moina advocates.
Sadly, the Muslim presence in the community is lacking. Where are we at community events or PTSA meetings? Society needs to be exposed to Muslims in order to put a face to this group that is on the hot seat. That was the core theme of the event: that we need to start defining who we are instead of letting the media or the public define us. We claim to be compassionate and considerate of our neighbors, and generous with the needy, but we need to show it through our actions. Community involvement is essentially a form of activism as we interact within our larger society while striving to bring about a change to the image of Islam and Muslims.