In the news, we Muslims litter the landscape. It seems we want it all.
We want to keep our daughters hidden at home, at all costs, to guard the family honour. We want to be able to wear the niqab anytime, anywhere. We want democracy in the Muslim world even if it leads to Shariah law and the violation of basic human rights. We want Shariah law here at home to govern personal matters like family law. We want Muslim prayers in schools, where we want to segregate our children by gender, and further segregate our daughters if they are menstruating.
If you watch the news, us Muslims are angry folk with odd, backward customs.
Where are all the moderate Muslims? Why don't those of us who have integrated fully into secular North American society ever speak out?
Maybe some of us do. Maybe not everyone wants to hear us. Maybe not everyone wants to know that we are out there. Maybe some believe our visibility will hurt the war on terror and promote the Islamist agenda by softening the image of Islamists in North America. Do we, integrated, moderate Muslims by our progressive or moderate stance unwittingly soften the Islamist image and promote the Islamist agenda?
As chair of a Muslim community organization, Muslims for Progressive Values Canada, I can unequivocally state that our progressive Muslim principles do not match the agenda of Islamists. And we are not afraid to wave them in front of Islamists or anyone else.
We support our daughters in their quest for freedom to venture into the world and choose their own path. To maintain our honour, we must guard foremost not their modesty, but our compassion.
We do not support a state ban prohibiting women from choosing what they can or cannot wear, except where security makes identity an issue or in cases of public nudity. Most manner of dress is determined by culture, not faith.
But the laws of a state can promote a particular ideology in various ways. When the laws of a country force us to cover, with the niqab or burka, those garments symbolize gender apartheid. When the laws of a country ban us from covering further than the acceptable cultural norm, prohibiting the niqab or the burka, wearing it becomes an act of political defiance in the struggle for religious freedom.
Do we want the niqab and burka -- garments that remove the identity of countless women -- to prevent them from engaging in full public life and imprison them in a manner that is actually prohibited in Islam, to become a symbol of religious freedom? No.
We support quiet prayer in schools, as long as all students of all faiths and beliefs are permitted use of a quiet meditation space together and students of any gender may sit where they wish.
We support democracy in the Muslim world, but will not stop fighting for the freedoms true democracy allows -- human rights, fair trials, freedom from censorship, the self-determination of women, and the acceptance of sexual, racial, and religious minorities as full citizens. Any laws -- including Shariah -- that do not extend these human rights are not only undemocratic but un-Islamic.
We do not support religious laws in favour of secular laws, in personal matters or otherwise, particularly when they promote misogyny under the guise of religion.
These are only a few of our principles.
Are my progressive Muslim friends and I alone? Are all the other Muslims in North America angry at secular society and eager to take us back to the dark ages -- or to a way of life more compatible with Saudi Arabia than North America?
The question becomes how are most Muslims in North America living their everyday lives?
It's one that remains unanswered on the news. But you can glimpse into the daily lives of one group of Muslim Americans now on the new reality tv show, All-American Muslim -- The Learning Channel's (TLC) new series.
The show, set in Dearborn, Michigan, provides a real-life portrayal of Muslim Americans. Some have criticized it, saying it is not diverse enough. It is true that there are no black Muslims or gay Muslims, as in my community.
But the diversity on All-American Muslim remains broader than the narrow image commonly presented on the news, and it is here that we meet several Muslim families.
The cast includes the coach of a local high school football team, who is also a married father of four. At home and on the field, one of his major priorities seems to be to ensure everyone prays and fasts as Islamically prescribed. His well-adjusted nine-year-old has started to wear the hijab. His response? Relief. He also says he doesn't "mind" the children having non-Muslim friends. What will the teen years bring? One can only wonder. He seems like a peaceful fellow, but he is on the conservative side of the spectrum.
On other side of the spectrum stands his fellow Muslim antithesis -- a business woman, interested in opening a nightclub in Dearborn, torn by the disapproval that may arise from a family of non-drinkers. But SHE is capable, independent and brave enough to say, "I am Muslim, even if I don't look 'it.'" And with her streaked blonde hair, high heels and skinny jeans -- she doesn't look "it." But then again, I don't know a lot of Muslim women who look "it" either.
In between them lies the remaining cast. There is the new mother suffering from postpartum depression. "I can't believe how hard this is," she sobs, talking about her new baby. As a mom myself, I remember the exhaustion experienced when looking after a newborn. Under her hijab, there seem to be few differences between her baby blues and those of anyone else.
Then there is the mom who just gave up the single life to marry her boyfriend, a recent convert to Islam. From what we can see so far, this self-described "hillbilly" has a poor sense of style, but she compensates with her remarkably decent taste in men. Recently, contrary to her Muslim mother's advice, she insisted her new husband give away his dog of 16 years due to her allergies and in doing so, mentioned several times how dogs are "unclean" in Islam. Does she know that over-the-counter allergy medication and pet vacuums are now available and dogs can take baths? Maybe he should have just left her and kept the dog.
Finally, there is Suehaila Amen. Described simply as a court clerk, this is the show's Muslim American activist. Single, beautiful, and unchaperoned, Suehaila wears the hijab and, ignoring stares from fellow passengers at the airport, flies from Dearborn to Washington, D.C. to speak at a conference on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to promote interfaith harmony, ending the evening with dinner in the company of two single male friends. She may cover her head, but her ideals are not kept under wraps.
In fact, what's interesting about this show is that -- good or bad -- everyone expresses what Islam means to them. It's all out in the open and rarely in agreement -- the prejudices, the love, the fears, the courage, the human experience.
Humanity returns to Muslims in the media.
Who would not want this show on the air? Is there anyone out there who would want to silence Muslim voices -- honest ones that are going about their daily lives, not demanding Shariah law?
Last week Lowe's, the American retail chain, announced it was withdrawing its advertisements during the airing of All-American Muslim after a conservative group known as the Florida Family Association complained, saying the program was "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."
Lowe's agreed. It said, "There are certain programs that do not meet Lowe's advertising guidelines" upon announcing it was pulling its ads. Lowe's modified how it does business. Lowe's succumbed to bigotry.
Can you imagine the outcry if this was a reality show about another culture, another faith, another lifestyle?
Fortunately, opposition to Lowe's position was swift and loud.
Senator Ted Lieu of Southern California said Sunday he was considering calling for a boycott. The Lowe's decision is "un-American" and "naked religious bigotry," he said. The Associated Press reported that Lieu "would also consider legislative action if Lowe's doesn't apologize to Muslims and reinstate its ads." Senator Lieu sent a letter outlining his complaints to Lowe's Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Niblock.
Dawud Walid, Michigan director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (also known as CAIR), expressed his "extreme disappointment" at Lowe's "capitulation to bigotry."
And music legend and entrepreneur Russell Simmons tweeted that he purchased all remaining ad space on All-American Muslim. "Just purchased remaining spots for #allamericanmuslim for next week," he wrote. "The show is now sold out! keep your money @lowes and we will keep ours."
And from our MPV family in the U.S., here is what our progressive Muslim American cousins had to say:
Fairness, truth and understanding have been heralded as core American values. Yet, with the recent withdrawal of advertisements by Lowe's during the airing of the TLC series All-American Muslim we become acutely, and painfully, aware that with enough coercion from bigots in our society the demonization of Muslims in America is just too easy. The fact that an American company such as Lowe's pulled its advertisement under the pretext that "there are certain programs that do not meet Lowe's advertising guidelines" is equivalent to insisting that Lowe's employees cannot wish their customers a "Merry Christmas" in deference to "political correctness."
The Learning Channel's series All-American Muslim is the first commercial television program that presents a real look at Muslims in America in all their diversity. While the lives chronicled in the show do not represent ALL Muslims in America, this show has the capability of enriching the understanding of Muslims in America in a way that is accessible to the non-Muslim and to the Muslim alike. It is being done in the most honest way and it couldn't be more American than that!
Discrimination at the corporate level is simply un-American.
We call on Lowe's to reconsider their decision and we call on all to boycott Lowe's unless and until they reverse their decision to withdraw their ads during the airing of TLC's All-American Muslim.
Where are all the moderate Muslims? Does anyone care?
Thankfully, some people do.
And in Canada, we are asking them not to shop at Lowe's either.