By Imam Zaid Shakir
Like any fledgling organization, the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) faces many challenges. MANA must simultaneously define its base constituency, develop its agenda, articulate its vision, and build the organizational and administrative infrastructure needed to function day to day as a viable organization. These fundamental organizational challenges are compounded by the fact that MANA must function as an Islamic organization in an environment where organized Islam is increasingly identified as a systemically threatening phenomenon.
Are the challenges facing MANA insurmountable? Certainly not! Faith, coupled with determination, and purposeful, focused work, augmented by the divine facilitation of Allah, can overcome any conceivable obstacle. However, there are certain realities, which MANA must come to grips with it is to have any chance of succeeding.
1. Flexibility. MANA must have the organizational flexibility to be a reflection of the strengths of its many constituent organizations. MANA has to have the ability to recognize and emulate the successful programs and policies of those organizations while avoiding their many blatant failures. This makes the human element of prime import, for at the end of the day, we will all have to drop the open or subtle advocacy for the implementation of the particularistic aspects of the agendas of our parent organizations for the advancement of a greater, mutually beneficial good. If MANA opts to attempt to become a larger version of any one of its constituent organizations, it will merely become a poor caricature of that group’s failure.
2. Demographic Change. MANA must recognize and accommodate, in the fullest possible manner, the new demographic realities that face the Sunni Muslim community in North America. The former numerical preponderance of African Americans is gone, and in coming years our percentage in the overall Sunni population will decline even further. Considering many of the functional bases of power; knowledge, wealth, status and authority, in the near future the children of Sunni Muslims who have migrated to this country will be one of the most powerful groups in this country. Culturally and linguistically those children are indigenous Muslims, and therefore, must be acknowledged as a key element of MANA’s power base. The presence of Colin Powell and Condeleesa Rice in the inner sanctums of the White House, even if we may clearly question their role, and the ascent of African Americans to the stewardship of Time Warner/AOL, Merrill Lynch, and American Express, indicates that this country, to a large extent, has become a knowledge-based meritocracy.
Certainly racism, and race-based oppression continue to be nagging issues, however, for our purposes we can confidently say that sociologically speaking, knowledge is power. In that regard, the second-generation immigrant Muslims mentioned above are, as a group, among, if not the most educated segment of this country’s population. This is true in both secular and religious studies. That knowledge will eventually be translated into power. Either MANA will harness that power by accommodating that group at every level of its organization, or it will marginalize it, leaving it to benefit other possibly more perspective agendas.
3. Our Sisters. MANA will have to accommodate and fully utilize the talent and energy of our sisters, the Muslim women. As we have stated previously, it is not a question of our sisters leaving the kitchen or the nursery to serve our organizations. It is a question of them leaving the universities, schools, corporations, and public and private bureaucracies to serve our organizations. This reality reflects the unique American context we are trying to develop an Islamic society in.
Our understanding of Islam will have to be properly contextualized if the religion is to retain its relevance. We have to acknowledge this fact and then view Islam through the widest possible lens provided us by the Shari’ah to put our sisters’ talents, skills and energy to work for us. Here, no amount of tokenism or marginal auxiliary organizations will suffice. At this infantile stage of development, we need to fully harness all of our available resources if we are to move confidently into the future. Again, our failure to act decisively and boldly in this area could well lead to our loss of the valuable wealth of human resources that our sisters represent.
The broad base of indigenous Muslims that MANA is trying to reach mandates that it serves and represents that constituency as effectively as possible. This will require effective action in the three areas mentioned above. Wise, visionary, and indeed bold steps taken by MANA today, will go a long way towards determining where MANA will be tomorrow.