Imam Muhammad Interview On Political Awareness: Part 1
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
(Editor's note: The following interview with Imam W. Deen Muhammad was conducted by Nathaniel Omar, journalism teacher at the Sister Clara Muhammad School in Chicago. Ill.)
QUESTION: In recent issues of the A.M. Journal. Brother Imam, I've noticed what seems to be a national concentration on political awareness. Can you comment or elaborate on what political awareness should mean for us as a people, especially members of the American Muslim Mission?
WDM: Political awareness — that expression should say to Muslims of the American Muslim Mission that we have been out of the political process, and we are saying now -with this activity that we have — to get into the political process, catch up and excel. The Quran tells us to excel in all that is good.
QUESTION: Has our relationship to politics been too superficial, would you say — would you elaborate on that?
WDM: Certainly. From the very first indication by the community (AMM) leadership that we wanted to participate in the good life and take advantage of all the good opportunities that are available for American citizens, certain individuals from our community got involved or increased their involvement. I heard soon afterwards that some of them qualified for political offices.
As you know, we do have some Muslims who hold positions in government. On the whole, however. I think our interest is superficial. I think that we're accepting the idea of supporting the healthy political processes. But are we actually accepting responsibility to carry our share of the American burden? I think most of us have not really accepted that as we should.
It's not enough just to say. "Well, I registered to vote," or "I'm going to vote in this election." That's not enough. We should be trying to study the reports in the media. If we're going to vote for a man to go into office locally, or nationally, we should be interested in knowing something about him. They have campaign material that is advertised on television or in the newspapers. Some of the candidates mail their campaign material out to us.
If we receive such materials, we should take those materials very seriously, and we should read them with interest in order to make a wise choice at the polls. We shouldn't forfeit our own opinion, our own judgment, but we should see what other creditable persons (persons of good image) are saying about these candidates — creditable people from the political life, or from political quarters, from the business quarters and religious quarters.
If we have reputable people in our community and they are also speaking out on the qualifications of certain candidates, if we know these individuals to be respectable, intelligent individuals, then we also should consider what they are saying about the person that we might have to vote for, because they are in a position to make a better judgment — if they have principle or integrity.
QUESTION: As we watch what oftentimes seems to be just a struggle for political power, do you think that our governmental leaders have drifted away from their responsibility to the high principles on which the country was founded, and if so, what should be our role in trying to influence it back in the right direction?
WDM: Our role should be that of a community of Muslims who understand and value American democracy and who understand that Muslims are to seek progress wherever they live.
We are to support all that is good and useful to humanity. No matter where it is coming from — from Muslims or from Christians, we should support it. That is if it is coming from people who are not known to be outright criminals or outright wicked people. If a criminal gang comes out and gets involved in a political campaign (sometimes this happens), they may call upon us to listen also, but we won't listen.
The role of the Muslim community should be to strengthen, to lend support so that the morally courageous people in the American society are strengthened, so that their works are increased by the input or the involvement of the Muslim community.
I think we should be aware that we all are Americans and should identify with good, moral efforts in our neighborhoods or in our cities. We also want to support the citizens of Chicago — or the citizens of this nation — who are behind improving the moral life of the American citizens; we are aware too of important roles carried by responsible persons in the media and by their sponsors.
Many of the people who are campaigning are making promises to us, but we don't hear the ring of moral sincerity in much of what they are saying. The ring of moral sincerity would be a statement or a comment addressing the need for moral strength in the country, or a need for a continuous effort to recover the moral life, and the need for social responsibility on the part of Bilalian people (black people).
Most of the candidates are not addressing these things. Some of the candidates will speak in a moral manner or spirit, but they are not addressing the serious moral problems that we have in the American society today. They talk about making job opportunities, but they don't mention family life, the home life; they don't address the hurt, the suffering and sadness, the neglect in the home which has been, in the greater measure, the result of moral deterioration. There is a lack of consideration for the man (adult male) in his household.
Too much patchwork is done instead of real sincere efforts to make things right.
What do I mean by patchwork?
If a candidate says, "I am for stimulating the economy so that we will have jobs," or "I am for getting some of the millions and billions of dollars that are used by the Pentagon and the Armed Forces into the community so that we would have employment and be able to create jobs, or so we can get assistance," that is good — that is needed.
But if he does not address the disservice, the cruelty that is being done to the psychology, to the sense of self-worth, self-value, the self-esteem, then he is not addressing the full need.
Such disregard for the spiritual health of society is patchwork. "Well if you don't have employment, then you can get welfare," or "It you don't have employment you can go trouble the Muslims."
They know that the Muslims are poor too, and are just struggling trying to stimulate a spirit or a desire in the people to become productive. We are not the people who hold or own wealth. We have needy people who come to us after somebody has given them the idea that if there are no jobs in the city and no welfare (or you don't qualify), then go to the Muslims. This is done as though the Muslims represent an economic power base or a business establishment that is just looking for somebody to employ or somebody to give some assistance to.
This is an outrageous lie on the part of people who want to avoid their responsibility! Their responsibility the responsibility of people in the city government, local government, and the national government — is to do something about improving conditions in the lives of their citizens.
We have better than 50 per cent of our teen-age girls having children before they get married and bringing an additional burden into a family that is already below what I call, the serious level of poverty. Most of these families don't have one good pay check in the whole family of five or eight people. To ignore this and not recognize this for the serious problem that it is, to me is nothing but patchwork which plays down the seriousness of our problems. It is done to try to woo voters or citizens to support them or their candidates upon that patchwork or emotional promises.
They are going to have to really address the seriousness of the destroyed state of America's poor man's family. His family is destroyed. It is because he (Bilalians) does not have jobs, no income, no sense of dignity as a man in his house, and he makes no decisions. He cannot handle a position of dignity in his house because he knows that he is not the maintainer of his family.
(Note: Next week, Imam Muhammad will discuss what our lack of awareness or political sophistication has cost us as citizens. He also will point out the problems and limitations of the "two-party system, " pins other important concerns.)