Monday, February 22, 2010

African American History is Muslim History, Too

Black History Month is celebrated in February, and it is a time to honor the numerous contributions that people of African ancestry have made, and continue to make, for the advancement of society.

But Black history is also the history of Islam in North America.

Over the last decade, I have had the privilege of addressing a number of audiences throughout the United States about the significant presence of Muslims in the tapestry of American history. However, that presence did not begin, as many people believe, with the trans-Atlantic slave trade: Muslim navigators piloted two of the three ships than carried the explorer Christopher Columbus to the "New" (for Europeans, at least) world in 1492.

But African Muslims were here before that. In fact, long before that. In his seminal book "They Came Before Columbus", the late historian Dr. Ivan Van Sertima presented conclusive evidence that proved the presence of African Muslims in the Americas more than a century before the Columbus voyage. There is evidence that, in the year 1310 of the Common Era, some 200 trans-oceanic vessels left the Muslim Empire of Mali and landed in what is now Mexico. Archeological evidence, including statues and other artifacts, indicates that these African Muslim visitors came in peace, and established peaceful trading relationships with the indigenous peoples living in the Western Hemisphere.

More recently in the United States ( as well as in the Caribbean and Central and South America), enslaved African Muslims (estimated to be some 20% of those kidnapped from the Continent) landed in the West, where the barbaric conditions of chattel slavery made the practice of Islam extremely difficult. But again, there are historical narratives that chronicle the existence of individual Africans and even small communities that continued to adhere to Islamic practices. Some of them, like the legendary Prince Abdul Rahman who was captured in West Africa and transported to America in 1788, were highly educated and literate people who could read and write the Arabic language (among others), and recite the Holy Qur'an from memory. Through great intelligence and perseverance, some actually won their freedom from captivity.

My dear friend Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, mentioned these facts in his Kutba of February 19th, two days before the commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the martyrdom of perhaps America's most renown Muslim activist and freedom fighter, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz-better known to many throughout the world as Malcolm X.

The depth and richness of Black history could never be captured in a brief essay. But I do hope that many Muslims in America, including those from the Arab and South Asian nations, might take some time to explore the rich confluence of Islam and the presence of Black people in America.

Every day-and not just the month of February-should be a time to realize that the Muslim identity in this part of the world is not only indigenous, but older than the foundation of the nation itself.

Ibrahim Ramey

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Yerrorism, Redefined

Terrorism, Redefined

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) Feb. 20, 2010 - When nearly 200 Internal Revenue Service workers in Austin, Texas reported for work last Thursday, most of them were probably not expecting the experience of being attacked by an airplane that intentionally crashed into their workplace. But that is exactly what happened when Joseph Stack, a mild-mannered and seemingly innocuous engineer, piloted his Cessna aircraft and, in apparent rage, flew it into the downtown office building that housed the IRS office in the city-after setting his own house afire and writing a rambling screed condemning that most American of organizations.

By God's grace, only two persons, including Stack, were killed in the attack, while several others were critically injured. But what is interesting about the media characterizations of the incident is the absence of the word "terrorism" in describing the action.

We are left to wonder: what is Mr. Stack were an Arab Muslim, and not a middle-class Caucasian? What if Islamic literature were found in the remnants of his burned-out house? And what if he attended a local mosque?

Despite the (thankful) absence of massive casualties, the media view of the event should give us all some food for thought. Since "terrorism" is generally defined as violent attacks perpetrated against non-combatants that are motivated by political grievances, it would seem logically that Stack-who had major personal beef with the tax system-might have been, logically, called a terrorist. But he will not be.

And that brings me to my second point. Muslims who merely view pro-Jihadist websites, or who travel to places where violence is part of the social currency of resistance, are routinely surveyed, arrested, and even convicted of "conspiracy" against the State. They don't have to crash planes into buildings ( as the 9-11 criminals did): they are suspect, and convicted in the court of public opinion, not for what they do, but because of the fear of what people assume they might harbor within themselves.

Will the FBI send an investigation team to the late Mr. Stack's church? Or will they monitor his travel and telephone call records or put his widow in an interrogation cell and pump her for information about their associates?

Probably not. Because while murder is an evil no matter who commits it, collective guilt by association seems to be, sadly, something that some groups of people must worry about more than others. Criminality and violence may come in all social identities, but the labeling of acts of violence is an editorial decision.

As a Muslim, I am sorry about the tragedy of Joseph Stack's terrorist attack in Austin, Texas. And equally, for the sake of so many of my coreligionists, I am thankful that he cannot be associated in any way with Islam.

Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

Friday, February 19, 2010

D.C. Workers Demand an End to Wage Theft

DC's Hidden Crime: Washington, DC Workers Demand an End to Wage Theft

MAS Freedom Participates in Local Hearings on Major Economic Justice Issue

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) Feb. 19, 2010 - For many of us, the idea of theft in the workplace might mean that someone steals a pocketbook or a wallet from an unsuspecting co-worker. But the really pervasive crime at work is the ongoing theft of wages from millions of workers' paychecks by unscrupulous bosses.

On Thursday, February 18th, representatives from major faith and community service organizations in the greater Washington, DC area gathered to hear testimonies from working people who continue to suffer the indignity and misfortune of not being paid in full for the work that they perform. The event, coordinated by the Washington, DC Jobs With Justice Organization, featured presentations from both workers and advocates from leading advocacy organizations. The presentations provided information about both the national issue of wage theft and the particular impact of this practice in the local Washington, D.C. community.

Jen Kern, the Minimum Wage Campaign Coordinator of the national Employment Law Project, presented the summary conclusions of a major national survey of 4,000 mostly lower-paid workers in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Some 25% of these workers reported some form of wage violations in the week previous to the 2009 study: some were forced to work "off the clock", others, mainly service workers, did not receive their full "tip" compensation, and others were employed at one hourly rate but were actually paid less. The cumulative effect of these unpaid wages amounted to an average annual loss of some $2,600 for workers who earn, on average, some $17,000 a year.

Many of these aggrieved workers were intimidated by their bosses and threatened with being fired or turned in to immigration officials if they were Spanish-speaking of identified as being possibly undocumented.

Meghana Reddy, who coordinates a project for restaurant workers in the District of Columbia, informed the Workers' Rights Board that wage theft is pervasive in the national restaurant industry, which is the largest private employer in the nation. Indeed, many "tipped" workers in D.C. are forced to work for $2.77 an hour-substantially lower than the prevailing minimum wage.

Some 90% of these workers also have no health coverage, vacation benefits, or pension plans.

Testimony from local workers indicated that wage theft is a major problem in the District of Columbia as well. Two workers formerly employed by a now-defunct Washington security company testified that they have not been paid since November, 2009. Some of these workers have lost their homes because their employer collected money from a D.C. government contract but withheld payments to the security guards employed by the firm.

Other workers from Central America have been contracted to do construction work at a wage rate significantly less than prevailing pay for equivalent work done by union members.

As a a newly designated member of the Washington, D.C. Workers' Rights Board, I commented that wage theft is a major civil and human rights issue that impacts the security of working people and their families. He noted that "Muslims, Christians, and Jews all have scriptural commandments that honor the integrity of work and call for fairness and justice to working people. We must be obligated to defend the right of workers to receive what they earn, while we pressure both private employers and the U.S. Department of Labor to abide by labor laws and wage agreements. The theft of wages from working people, in any form that it takes, is an abomination in the eyes of God and a profound injustice."

Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey