Not My War -- A Black Muslim View

I'm not by any means a "self-hating" Muslim.

Nor am I an unpatriotic "fifth columnist," working secretly to aid America's enemies, just because I will not bear arms against them.

To Osama bin Laden -- who in a recent videotaped message called President George W. Bush "the head of the world's infidels" and said that "every Muslim should rush to defend his religion" -- I say: Your fight is not in my name, sir.

To my president -- who said in his address to a joint session of Congress Sept. 20, "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists..." -- I say: This may very well be my country, but this is most certainly not my war.

No. As a Muslim American, I find myself, rather, conflicted in the same way that Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois described African Americans nearly a century ago in "The Souls of Black Folk." "One ever feels his twoness," Du Bois wrote in 1903, "an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."

As unforgiving as was the Nation of Islam's Elijah Muhammad toward the sins of America's "blue-eyed devils" against my enslaved African American forefathers, the message I learned from him was that Allah (God) and Allah alone would bring about that judgement, that universal peace wherein all people could at last live together.

Mr. Muhammad found his followers in a state of lethargy -- mentally "dead" for all practical purposes. Instead of recruiting young men and women to die for a cause, he raised them to want to live, so they could influence for the better their own downtrodden and neglected black communities.

Black Americans who were converted to Islam walked away from crime and drugs and alcohol and death, into energetic lives with only their wits and the message of Islam -- peace, submission to the will of Allah -- as their weapons.

When civil rights workers and their more militant brethren in movements like the Black Panther Party were being routinely beaten and murdered, "Black Muslims" went forward in a hostile America in safety, with not so much as a penknife in their possession. And black America -- all of America -- is much better off thanks to the presence of Black Muslims in the last half of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, Americans reviled them as "the hate that hate produced," and in the Arab world, orthodox Muslims dismissed them as not being "real" Muslims.

For myself, I learned during my orientation into the faith that the most often used word in the Qur'an -- the Islamic scriptures -- is not "jihad," which is mistakenly construed to mean "holy war," but rather "raheem," which means "mercy." I, for one, am quite content to worship a God more merciful than warlike.

Jihad is better defined as a striving toward self-purification in the path of Allah by the individual, and the collective struggle of a community against all forms of injustice and tyranny. The Arabic word "qitaal" is the word that means fighting.

I'm not surprised at the anti-American protests throughout the Muslim world against the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. But where was their outrage when Muslim killed Muslim during the bloody eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, in which more than 1 million believers in Islam were slaughtered?

As to my opinion about American Muslim participation in the current hostilities, I say again what I stated in a letter proclaiming my status as a conscientious objector on May 20, 1969, and what Elijah Muhammad himself must have said to federal agents when he was arrested in May, 1942:

"I believe, as one who has declared himself to be a righteous Muslim, that I should not participate in any wars which take the lives of humans. I do not believe that this nation should force me to participate in such wars."

Muhammad is a founder of PNS' YO! (Youth Outlook) and participated in the first Million Man March. He is a member of the Nation of Islam.

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