Over 15,000 protesters marched on the Capitol in Madison,Wisconsin today, demanding state legislators to vote down recently proposed legislation termed radical by citizens and leaders of all political leanings. Among thousands of students and public and private employees were Muslim-Americans calling for lawmakers to vote against the bill.
Yesterday, among over 13,000 protesters congregating to protest the same legislation, Rashid Dar, President of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered his own opinion of the situation. “I hesitate to tell people how to pick their politics, but in choosing our sides we would do well to consider who is working to bring the most overall benefit to society at large, and who is working to benefit a select, but influential, elite.”
Dar, a Pakistani-American raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, addressed this statement to Inside Islam:
Islam is completely in support of appropriate protests against oppression in the name of Truth and Justice, and to do so is perhaps one of the finest ways Islam can truly manifest it’s true colors today. A catalyst for social change, Islam began as a movement for social change, with the Prophet Muhammad at the helm of a grassroots movement against the social and economic injustices of pre-Islamic Arabian society, and Muslims everywhere are commanded to look towards his example as a source of inspiration, and to embody that spirit in ways that speak to the times, societies, and circumstances they find themselves in.
Kylie Christianson, a Norwegian-American student of history at the UW-Madison, and a practicing Muslim, spoke of her family’s experiences as factory workers and her Muslim faith as motivations for supporting workers’ rights at the rally. “In Islam, we believe in economic justice and equality and that’s what this rally is all about,” Christianson said.
To garner support for the rallies, Muslim students sent out mass emails to both the Muslim Student Association and Salaam (Peace) Circle, a co-ed Muslim Qur’an study group of young professionals and university students. Over the weekend, Dar spoke to Muslim men about the obligation of Muslims living in America to become more politically active and engaged in their communities.
Lamin Manneh, a political science student from The Gambia, was moved by the peaceful protests in Madison, recalling the 16 deaths of Gambian university students in 2000 in the capital city of Banjul. Manneh, a socially and politically active undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, was motivated by a strong passion for social justice and one of the most famous saying in Islam. “From a religious point of view, the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon Him, said that wherever you see wrong, change it with your actions, and if you can’t do that then use your tongue. If you cannot speak out, then at least have a space for it in your heart.”
From Madison, Wisconsin, to Manama, Bahrain, citizens have taken to the streets in protesting against their own governments’ legislation and policies. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, and now Libya–all majority Muslim populations in the Middle East–have seen significant protests in the past week. To compare the severity of the issues many in the Middle East face to legislation in Wisconsin would not be fair. But there is a buzz of activism around the world, and Muslims in the U.S. are becoming increasingly more engaged in the American political sphere.