Despite the recent tribute to Muhammad Ali, the greatest American Muslim, that reverberated the pride of many Muslims in the early days of Ramadan, the recent Orlando shooting by American-born Muslim Omar Mateen, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, once again clouded the eyes of many that Islam and the West are not compatible, propelling anti-Islamist values back on the Internet.
Despite IS claiming responsibility, the assault was far from the classic IS strike. Initial reports indicated that Mateen was a lone wolf, inspired by the terrorist group’s ideology, but not under its operational control.
President Barack Obama carefully attempted to delineate this as “home-grown” extremism, inspired by external extremist values disseminated over the Internet, but also a result of the faulty internal policy of gun rights in the country.
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, responded that Obama should be fired for not specifically saying “radical Islam” in his speech. He even insinuated that Obama had knowledge of the attack.
Since the Paris terror attacks last year, there have been countless articles and documentaries on Islam and the West, and whether they are at war. Although, many politicians and moderates appease the issue as a battle of values as opposed to one between Muslims and non-Muslims, the debates continue, some more glaringly disturbing than others, supporting Trump’s notion that there is no place for Muslims in the West.
In the United States, where Islam is the third-largest religion, and where, by 2030, almost two of 100 Americans are projected to be Muslims, Islamophobia has infiltrated many national debates, especially palpable with the upcoming presidential election. In fact, many had tried to subdue Obama’s credibility during his presidential campaign by claiming he was Muslim due to his Indonesian Muslim stepfather.
The world recently saw the funeral of Ali, who some claim was “The Greatest” American Muslim. If there is anyone in the West who could put this question — whether one could be American and Muslim — at rest, it would be Ali. As he was claimed by the world, the question of whether one could be Muslim, famous, successful and respected should resonate to many who fear that Islam is a threat to the West.
The boxer, who converted to Islam decades ago, sent countless of sportswriters, followers and curious, ordinary Americans scrambling in search of a Quran.
One American Muslim scholar claimed that “if the only good that he brought was to bring a positive image of Islam, and to spread the name of our beloved Prophet in every household and on every tongue in the world, it is a life that is indeed enviable”.
Ali was not the only famous Western Muslim who had won over the hearts of Islam-hardened Americans and Europeans. The newly elected mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is another. His landslide victory, with over 1.3 million votes — the biggest personal mandate in British political history — was unprecedented.
Born in London in a working-class British-Pakistani family, Khan, a lawyer by profession, joined the Labour Party and was appointed state minister for communities and, later, state minister for transport. His win made him the city’s first ethnic-minority mayor, and the first Muslim to become mayor of a major Western capital.
In France, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem became the first Frenchwoman to be appointed education, higher education and research minister, joining the second (Manuel) Valls government. Born in the Moroccan countryside, she graduated from the Paris Institute of Political Studies in 2002.
In Germany, Aygul Ozkan became the first-ever German politician of Turkish descent and a Muslim serving as minister in 2010. Hadia Tajik is a Pakistani-Norwegian Muslim jurist and politician, who, in 2012, became culture minister at the age of 29, as well as the first Muslim and Asian minister to serve in the Norwegian government.
Muslims have penetrated Western societies in many other aspects, including sports and entertainment. Yusuf Islam, popularly known by his former stage name, Cat Stevens, is a British singer-songwriter who converted to Islam and left his music career to devote himself to education and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community. He has been acknowledged and awarded by various Western institutions, including two honorary doctorates from the University of Gloucestershire and University of Exeter.
Other famous names include Dr Mehmet Oz, vice-chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University; Ellen Burstyn, an Emmy-winning actress; Janet Jackson; Snoop Dogg; and American sports stars, such as Mike Tyson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
We don’t have to look far to seek our own. Yuna is a Malaysian singer-songwriter who has hit the American music scene and established partnerships with names as big as Usher. She has even been nominated for an MTV award. She has performed at high-profile venues, such as Times Square, and on famous late-night shows Conan as well as Last Call with Carson Daly.
As we enter the second part of Ramadan, with the issue of Islam and the West at war on the rise again, Ali’s life and faith symbolise an era in which Islam in America and the West should be represented not by the deeds or misdeeds of terrorists, but the accomplishments, contributions, resolve and courage of many decent Western Muslims themselves.
Dr. Paridah Abd. Samad is a former lecturer of UiTM and the International Islamic University Malaysia