An Open Letter from Imam Zaid Shakir
New Haven, Connecticut
In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful, As-Salaam 'Alaikum wa Rahmatullah Beloved Brothers and Sisters,

We pray that this letter finds all of you in the very best of health and states. These are indeed difficult days for our community. By Allah's Decree, we were not in the country at the time of the horrendous tragedy which afflicted our nation on September 11th. We do share the shock, agony, and grief which has descended upon you. No matter what political context we may try to fit that gristly act into, right is right, and wrong is wrong. What happened on Tuesday, September 11th, was wrong. That being the case, we wish to extend our deepest condolences to everyone affected, Muslim and non Muslim.

Many people have contacted us requesting advise and insight to help them deal with this awful tragedy. We feel it is best to refrain from any lengthy discourse concerning this issue until returning to the country. However, the following points might be of benefit to the believers. Allah knows best.

Stand Tall

As a community, we should stand tall and manifest the same dignity which we exemplified before this trial afflicted us. We haven't done anything wrong. Our community, by the grace of Allah, is a well educated, hardworking, law abiding community. I am sure that if statistics were known, there would be fewer if any identity groups with a lower rate of criminal activity. The perpetrators of the ghastly crimes which occurred this past Tuesday, if they are found to be Muslims, are not from our ranks. We have nothing to do with them. If the media or other forces won't emphasize that fact to the American public, we certainly must emphasize it to ourselves.

Perhaps there are diabolical forces that wish to use these tragic events to break the spirit of our increasingly dynamic community. We must not allow them to triumph. If we withdraw and cease our lawful, well-intended efforts to make this world a better place to live, they have won. Certainly there is an unprecedented level of tension in the country.  Similarly, there is an unprecedented threat to our lives and property. However, as a popular song goes, we were never promised a rose garden.; Trials are an inevitable part of life, and people are tested commensurate to their faith. The important thing for us is to patiently persevere. If we work together through this crisis, we will emerge as a great people.

We as a community we should take our lead from the Majestic Qur'an. Allah, the Exalted, says: Good and evil are not equal, repulse [evil] with that which is better. You will find the one bearing enmity towards you appear as an intimate friend. [Qur'an: 41:34] We should continue to extend to our relatives, neighbors, our companions at work, and our classmates, the same kindness and courtesies which we were extending to them a week ago. Despite the tremendous difficulty involved, we should try to find the strength to smile. In these little things there are divine secrets. Again, why should we feel shame or guilt for a crime we have absolutely nothing to do with?

Further, we must let our neighbors and all concerned parties know that this tragedy affects us just as deeply as it affects them. We've been told that on any given Friday upwards to 1,500 Muslims pray Jumu'ah at the World Trade Center. This indicates that a significant number of Muslims lost their lives in this tragedy. On the other hand, a significant percentage of the doctors who immediately responded to the tragedy, along with other emergency staff and volunteers were Muslim.
 

Reach Out

One of the reasons we have been placed in such a defensive position, a position where we can easily and readily be exploited by people of ill-will, is that we have not made adequate efforts to reach out to potential allies. There are members of other religious communities who share many of our concerns. Similarly, other ethnic groups, especially the Japanese, are extremely sympathetic to our plight. We should use this crisis to build bridges of understanding between ourselves, and such communities. Many cities have already had very successful interfaith prayer meetings and similar gatherings since the onset of this crisis. From my past experiences if we initiate such contacts others are extremely responsive to our lead. We should initiate such gatherings in every locale where there are significant Muslim populations. Similar initiatives, including teach-ins, can be undertaken on college campuses in conjunction with sympathetic student groups, and they are many.

As we mentioned at the outset, we don't want to be lengthy. Hence, we'll conclude now with a few specific suggestions for actions, which you may consider in the very near future.
 

Possible Actions

Du'a This isn't a possible action, this is indispensable. In these difficult days, when we have a heightened awareness of our reliance on Allah, our prayers will surely have more sincerity. We should not hesitate to call on Allah asking Him for relief from this affliction. One of the most powerful Du'as for helping us in the situation we find ourselves in is: Allahumma, ya Lateef, ultuf binaa feemaa jarat bihi al-Maqadir (O Allah! The knower of all Subtleties, treat us gently while manifesting your Decree [in our lives]). Similarly, we should remember Allah much, Dhikr. We should all take a wird of the following: Hasbunallahu wa Ni'amal Wakeel (Allah suffices us, and He is the most excellent one to entrust with our affair). As many times as is easy for us. This should be followed by reciting the two verses, 173 and 174 of Ali Imran (Chapter 3) Alladhina Qaala lahum al-Naasu, Innanaasa Qad Jama'u likum, fakhshawhum, fazaadahum Imaanan; (Those to whom the people said, surely the forces are rallying against you, therefore, fear them; it only increased their faith) In general, we should also increase our recitation of the Qur'an. We should also remember that we a entering into one of the sacred months of Allah - Rajab.

A coordinated public advertisement campaign. We should choose a designated Sunday and take out a full page ad in at least one nationally circulated newspaper, i.e. New York Times, Chicago Herald Tribune, etc., and simultaneously at least 100 regional papers. The ad should express our sympathy, condolences, and simultaneously define; ourselves to the American public as a peaceful, law-abiding community with deep roots in this country. We should also let them know that Muslims are directly affected by this tragedy, that we have our own dead and missing. The national ad can be easily financed by a nationwide fundraising campaign, conducted online through a central office, while the regional ads can be financed on a regional basis.

A Day of Flowers.; We should choose a day. On that day every Muslim family will buy 14 flowers along with 14 cards with a message explaining that we are their Muslim neighbors and we wish to extend to them a small expression of condolence. We should personally deliver them to 7 neighbors to our right, and seven to our left. If we live in an apartment building building, to the 14 doors closest to our own. If they refuse to accept, we should return later and leave them at their doorsteps. Such an action involves implementing a prophetic tradition concerning the rights of our neighbors, hence, we will find blessing in it, Insha Allah.

Creation of a standardized letter to be sent to the police chief and mayor of every city with a significant Muslim population expressing our security concerns. We can also cordially request a meeting with such officials to outline action plans and emergency response measures. Such meetings have already been undertaken in many cities. Officials have been found to be extremely responsive.

Utilize local access television stations to air panel discussions of the crisis and the related events. Such programs are an excellent way to broadcast our message. If we don't currently air such a program in our area, we can contact the hosts of existing programs requesting to use their program for such a purpose. The panel can exist of the local Imam, Muslim professionals and professors from neighboring universities, and their non Muslim counterparts. The discussion can focus on the many issues related to the tragedy.

Community level town; meetings. We can initiate meetings in our locales to discuss the issue of political violence. We can invite friendly and even potentially hostile groups to participate in such forums. Face to face contact makes it more difficult to villanize the other.; Similar forums can also be arranged on college campuses.

Organized call-ins to radio talk shows. We can organize teams to cover local talk shows. These teams can be given a standard list of points we wish to make when on the air. Lists of such salient sound bites; have already been developed by several major Islamic organizations. Ask about them. We won't mention the names of any such organizations because we haven't taken their permission do to so.

Develop a special handout just for this crisis. This handout could be on the order of the 'What is Islam'; pamphlet. It could be called, for example, 'You Should Know.'; The points inside could then be prefaced by this phrase. For example, 'You should know that ___  Muslims died in the bombing of the WTC.'; 'You should know ____ Muslim doctors were among the first to respond to the disaster';. 'You should know that ____ of them subsequently lost their lives when the towers collapsed';. 'You should know that Islam categorically condemns such action.'; Etc. Such a handout would allow brothers and sisters to give something to people as they walk the streets, especially those people who stare at them as if they just saw OBL himself.

Report all 'hate'; crimes and phone threats, regardless of their magnitude, to  national Islamic organizations which are recording such incidents, as well as to your local police. Such documentation can serve as the basis for future legislation and other measures to help prevent a reoccurrence of such a situation in the future.

Organize city-wide Islamic group discussions of the tragedy. These discussions can be held weekly at the largest Masjid in the city, or the local Masjid. We can discuss the conditions existing in our Muslim homelands which might possibly lead to the creation of warped personalities, and similar topics. Talking is therapeutic, and in our gathering there is support and strength.

These are a few suggestions, we are sure that you can think of many more. The important thing is to do something. Inactivity won't change our public image. In the State of Hawaii, an Island-wide prayer service was held a few days ago. One of the speakers was the president of the local Islamic Association. Only 11 of the island's 1500 Muslims showed up. Such inactivity during a crisis of this magnitude is unacceptable.

These are just a few things we can do. As far as a few security tips, we mention the following:

If you are traveling, make sure that you gas up your car during the day at a gas station where you are well known and are confident that the attendants are friendly towards you. Also, insure that you have enough gas in your tank to prevent you from having to stop in a potentially hostile rural or suburban area. If your car is in poor condition, don't trust it for a long trip where it might breakdown in an isolated area.


If you live in an urban area and frequently walk to work or to shop, avoid walking alone, as much as possible, or through loitering crowds. Also, avoid walking through potentially hostile neighborhoods, even if it means taking a longer route.

Initiate a local emergency phone call-up roster. In an attack on the local Mosque, or at the home of an area Muslims, other believers can be notified immediately and peacefully respond to the situation with some significant numbers.

Married couples should schedule random visits to the homes of single mothers and sisters. Such visits help to boost the morale of our sisters and to discourage attacks by those parties who think that they have no viable support network.

On campuses Muslim brothers should organize escort services for Muslim sisters who find themselves having to traverse great distances on foot, alone after dark. If sisters are driving, they should be escorted to their cars. A central phone number can be dispensed at the weekly MSA meeting. Of course such services should be undertaken with strict observance of Islamic decorum, preferably two brothers should escort a single sister. Believers should generally try to avoid being out at night, especially the sisters.

The Masjids should not be abandoned. Many people are staying away from the Masjids because of threats of violence. However, in many instances the Masjids have been attacked because they are abandoned. If a severe threat exists, local police can be alerted to provide coverage at prayer times. We know of at least one Masjid that has hired a security company to guard the premises, 24/7

All of the community's members should have a list of police and fire department emergency hotlines.

These are a few tips. Insha Allah, they will be of some benefit. Pray for your brothers and sisters here in the Muslim world, you can be assured that their prayers are with you. Insha Allah, we will see you all soon. Please remember us in your prayers. ...and the last of our prayers is, Al-hamdulillah Rabbil 'Alamin.

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