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Do Worship and Politics mix?

A decade ago, I was living in a town in VA. There was a time when protests were happening all over the country against Israeli invasion of Gaza. One day, the Imam in our mosque was doing a Quran reading. I asked the Imam if our mosque had a position or a plan of participation in these protests. The Imam looked at me, smiled and carried on his Quran reading. I was a little surprised at his reaction. I wondered that if our faith asked us to stand against oppression then why the mosque wasn't planning anything. So I went ahead and participated in a rally in DC by myself and with my family. There was another local peace rally as well, where I met a Rabbi and we created a great rapport - posing for media and all.

Years forward, after the George Floyd incident, one of our local mosques in TX had invited a local police chief, who is a man of color, to assure congregants about the measures taken by local police department to make sure that something like in MN never happened in TX. The meeting was to be attended by various groups of people with a wide range of thoughts about the police. As the information got out that the police chief was invited to the mosque, one group of people started petitioning that he couldn’t come. The other group petitioned that he could come since this meeting was needed to heal or remove misconceptions. The latter group argued that the attendees consisted of notable people of color of the community and that this meeting was in no way one-sided. The environment turned political fast - where in some social media group exchanges, people were ready to accuse each other’s intentions or to prove each other ignorant. Ultimately, Imam Khalid Shahid, the Imam of Masjid Al-Islam in Dallas, put the matter to rest arguing that Muslims couldn't behave as they were doing i.e. tearing each other down. Here is his speech, where he argued that Muslims could have different opinions but still had to strive for unity.

Quran and Hadiths indicate that Muslim faith takes a very strong stand regarding social justice and fighting oppression. Many Muslims would probably agree on the primary rule, ‘fight oppression’ however when we move on to deriving ‘what counts as oppression?’; people may have different opinions. In the police chief case, one group of congregants counted inviting a police chief, no matter how stellar and clear his career was, as 'oppression'. While for the other group, the obstruction of the mosque's efforts to establish clear lines of communication between the police chief and the population he served, as 'oppression' .

The question that arises is - what to do in such a case? Was the VA's Imam's response to my query the proper way to handling mixing 'politics' and 'worship' ? - That is, they shouldn't mix at all. In the VA case, perhaps the Muslim congregants wouldn't have had any objection if the mosque stood behind the activism against the Israeli occupation of Gaza. In the TX case, the mosque congregants stood divided about the interpretations of the Quranic and Hadith injunctions that ask to strive for justice. So, should the mosque not delve into what might be perceived as politics? I would suggest no - meaning yes, they need to get involved however we need people with views like that of Brother Khalid Shahid. They understand that two people may have a differing political opinion - however both opinions arrive from the same universal value of social justice.


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