Throughout the past year at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC), our Senior Imam, Shaykh Yasir Fahmy, has been challenging our community to “live Prophetically.” In a new America under the governance of Donald Trump, demands for our mosques to act in the public arena — from both our community members who are legitimately feeling great pressure, and our allies who want to support us — are likely to intensify. In this context, our leadership at the ISBCC has found ourselves asking the question daily: what does a Prophetic imagination of public action look like for mosques in this moment?
This December, our community was blessed by the grace of Allah to take part in a series of public actions that we feel could serve as a Prophetic blueprint for many mosques around the country.
Acting with our Neighbors
On Thursday, December 8th, nearly 50 of our congregants and 30 of our neighbors met with the Boston city Parks Commissioner and officials from the city’s Treasury and Public Works to negotiate improvements in the neighborhood surrounding our mosque, including tangible actions such as repairs to a local park, an upgrade in lighting in area streets, and an increase in trash and recycling bins. This “Neighborhood Action” was the culmination of a nine-month effort within the framework of the ISBCC’s Neighbors for Neighbors (N4N) Initiative. Starting with the sincere intention to emulate the Prophetic ethic of fulfilling the rights of our neighbors upon us, a team of five committed community members from the mosque built relationships with two area neighborhood leaders. Collectively, this team of seven went out into neighborhoods around the mosque, knocked on doors, spoke to neighbors, built relationships, and identified the issues that were discussed on December 8th. Due to the collective presence of both congregants and neighbors on that night, we won on all of our neighborhood’s issues. One neighbor, Bruce, remarked after the event: “You all are getting stuff done here. I need to connect with you all afterwards so we can tackle the bigger issue of affordable housing and development in our community.”
In a Trumpian America, the temptation to fight anti-Muslim forces in the media (or otherwise) to protect our communities will be appealing and even encouraged by many of our allies. But as mosques how can we have real legitimacy in the public arena if those closest to us never experience us acting Prophetically in their lives? We must remember that the Prophet ﷺ was trustworthy among his people first before Allah commissioned him to act publicly for His sake.
Supporting the Most Vulnerable
On Friday, December 9th, as part of our weekly Friday Nights at the Mosque Program, we invited Rodrigo Saavedra, a DACA beneficiary and member of the movimiento Cosecha, to share his story of growing up undocumented in Boston and to help us understand the struggle of the 11 million undocumented individuals living in our country. We learned why so many families flee their home countries to come to America, how undocumented immigrants are critical to our farming economy, how the word “criminal” is meant to stigmatize and de-humanize undocumented people just as the word “terrorist” is meant to do the same to the Muslim community, and how to stand in support of our Latino brothers and sisters. The night helped our community see beyond our own struggle in this moment, begin to step out of any delusion that we were the only victims or even the worst victims in this moment, and imagine how we could be a real support to a community in need.
In the months and years ahead, the temptation for American-Muslims to focus on our own needs and place in the polity will be stronger than ever. But mosques – as Prophetic houses of worship – must look beyond our narrow needs and stand with the most vulnerable in our communities just as the Prophet ﷺ stood with the most vulnerable even when he was under attack in Mecca.
Standing for the Whole
On Sunday, December 11th, through our interfaith partners at the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, we hosted a gathering that brought together 2600 people from parts of Greater Boston, including our Senator Elizabeth Warren and our Mayor Marty Walsh. At the event, we highlighted four stories of community members from area synagogues, churches and mosques: a Somali Muslim refugee, a DACA beneficiary, an African American, and a white working class Trump voter. We invited all those in attendance to hear the struggle in each of their stories, putting aside any prejudices or stereotypes they may have. We then asked Senator Warren and Mayor Walsh to sign a statement that affirmed our own expectation of them to listen to the struggles of all people (Republican, Democrat, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, white, black, documented, undocumented, or refugee) and to act in a way to truly address those struggles. The night was powerful because the mosque became the sanctuary for our whole city, including the Trump voters present, to begin healing from the fallout of the elections and to start moving forward.
The temptation to call upon our allies to support us in this difficult time will only intensify if we come under increasing pressure. But can our mosques expand our gaze beyond provincial self-interests and look to promote the benefit of all in the context of our hurting country? Can we become the kind of sanctuaries that stand for the whole of our society, and that help us take action to heal together?
Moving Beyond our Own Selves
In America, the nature of identity politics lends to marginalized communities — African-American, Jewish, Latino, etc.— seeking their rights with the intention of self-preservation. Even when marginalized communities support one another, it is often with that same desire.
As Muslims, however, we are called to be a Prophetic community. Yes, we must play defense, fighting against the Muslim registry or the Muslim Brotherhood bill. But let us not forgot that our end goal, as Shaykh Yasir articulated at the end of our interfaith event with Senator Warren and Mayor Walsh, cannot be self-preservation alone.
The blueprint above pushes our mosques to move beyond the narrow interests of our selves, our nafs, to an ethic of genuine care and concern for the other. This is what “living Prophetically” calls for us in this moment. May Allah bless us with the determination and courage to act selflessly.
Yusufi Vali is Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center.