Thursday, September 29, 2011

Roller Coaster Hijab Clash

What happened in Rye, NY, is an issue that should be reviewed by Muslims and their organizations. Thirteen people were arrested, two rangers were injured and several people were beaten or received bruises in a police action. There were so many police units involved in the incident that no one knew exactly who did what. The event took place at the Playland Amusement Park. The visitors were mainly Muslims who were celebrating the end of Ramadan festival of Eid ul Fitr. The visit to the park was arranged by the Muslim American Society (MAS) of New York.

Most of the Muslims at the park were from community groups in Westchester and New York City as part of a daylong event arranged by the Muslim American Society of New York. The trouble began after women wearing traditional hijabs, or head scarves, were told they could not wear them on certain rides. In response to the Muslims protesting the policy the police were called. Police in at least 60 vehicles from at least nine agencies converged on the park. It is reported that some of the officials uttered racial remarks, others resorted to using their batons against individuals.

According to the Park officials, the MAS leaders were told about the head scarves ban. Visitors say that MAS did not inform them of this rule. They learned about the rule only when they arrived at the park.

Muslims need to hold themselves to the highest level of behavior and responsibility.
The Park officials see it as a safety and policy matter and some community members see it as discrimination against their religious practice and use of excessive force by the police.

MAS, Police and Park officials, all have a lot of questions to answer.

MAS: Did they inform the park visitors of the head scarf policies of the Park? Were they aware of these policies? Where were the MAS organizers when the scuffle began? Why were people allowed to take matters in their hands without any involvement of the MAS leadership?

Police: Did they use excessive force to control the situation? Did any of their officials make any racial remarks? Did the police try to speak with the leaders of the Muslim organizing group to resolve the issue amiably?

Park officials: Did they clarify their policies about the headscarf and if the organizers had agreed to that policy and understood it clearly? Did the park employees try to talk to any of the MAS organizers to explain the policy to the park visitors?

Regardless of the responses, even if there was discrimination on behalf of the park, if any of the Muslim visitors contributed to the disorder, it is a shame. Muslims need to hold themselves to the highest level of behavior and responsibility. The Quran says "YOU ARE indeed the best community that has ever been brought forth for [the good of] humankind: you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and you believe in God..." (3:110)

On the other hand if it is shown that the police used indiscriminate force then civil liberty organizations should demand corrective action. If police or park officials used any racial remarks they should be held accountable.

This event gives us an opportunity to question the relevance of such programs by Muslim organizations in these trying times for Muslims all over the world as well as for Muslims in the US. Do these functions really bring people of different ethnic groups together? Do these events really create Islamic spirit among people? Should Islamic organizations cater to the recreational and entertainment of the Muslim community?

For the last 10 years, it has become a trend among Muslim organizations to organize picnics, social functions or trips to fun places. In these programs, millions of dollars are spent and human resources equivalent to several hundred hours are put to organize events. However painful it may sound, Muslim organizations have realized that in their serious programs, not many Muslims participate. However, whenever they organize picnics or fun events, large number of people show up. They have also realized that whenever they organize events where food is being served freely, large number of people turn up and where the event is ticketed, the number of people is not that large. It is that harsh reality that has driven many organizations to arrange picnics and fun trips on a regular basis.

Muslims in this country and all over the world are going through one of the most challenging times in their recent history. There are skeletons of starving children in Somalia. There are bones and blood scattered in the streets of Pakistan. There is death and destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Palestine. There are millions of laborers deprived of their basic human rights in places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Gulf countries and there are sectarian and ethnic violence rampant in several places all over the world. In the US, there is an organized and systematic movement against Islam that is funded and supported by those who want to see Islam removed from the land.

It is at these times that our organizations are spending their resources on planning "fun" events. Can this be justified? Many people might argue that fun is also part of life and why should we let the sufferings around the world impact our sense of joy. If this is the case, then let us remove from our Islamic literature all the references to Prophetic statements that we are like the teeth of a comb or we are like one body, if one part is hurt, the entire body suffers, etc ... etc.

Can our organizations develop and plan events that will make our people conscious of the pains and suffering of humanity and ask them to work to help the voiceless and the powerless achieve self dignity? Can we demonstrate tolerance and perseverance in situations where we feel that wrong has been done to us? Must we always remain in a state of protest? Can we turn the indifference or hostility of others into kindness through our behavior and actions? Can we restraint our anger in unfavorable conditions? The answer of the Quran is simple: Yes we can. But we have to do change our attitude and behavior to live the Quranic answer.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor in chief of the weekly Muslim Observer and director of the Islamic Society of Nevada.


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