Beyond #WhiteHouseIftar: 6 points towards a principled action of solidarity

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President Obama hosting Ramadan iftar

From White House.

President Obama hosting Ramadan iftar

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Here are six concrete points and strategies to help us continue a principled and constructive conversation about #whitehouseiftars. In the last thirty years, we as Muslims have had intense conversations about our multiple and overlapping identities as Americans and as Muslims. What kind of America we want to belong to? An America that is an Empire, or a land of liberty and rights? If it is the latter, words will not suffice. We need to be participants in making that a reality.

  • I hope this column includes Sufis too. 🙂 What the hell. Putting on my tuki. I can see progressive Muslims and friendly allies being a powerful force in bringing the U.S. back to a nation of constitutional law (something I thought that President Obama was an expert on when I voted for him.)

    The U.S. needs to be educated on the blowback drones create. The technology is beguiling to be sure, but all it does in the long run is create more world hatred for the United States.

    We need to keep reminding President Obama of his promise to close Gitmo. Keep the heat on.

    Thank you for your blog.

  • I hope this column includes Sufis too. 🙂 What the hell. Putting on my kufi. I can see progressive Muslims and friendly allies being a powerful force in bringing the U.S. back to a nation of constitutional law (something I thought that President Obama was an expert on when I voted for him.)

    The U.S. needs to be educated on the blowback drones create. The technology is beguiling to be sure, but all it does in the long run is create more world hatred for the United States.

    We need to keep reminding President Obama of his promise to close Gitmo. Keep the heat on.

    Thank you for your blog.

  • I second that. We do need to practice Islam in the main stream among our fellow Americans. No more words like “Islam means peace” even by Muslims, show with your actions so the word could come to that realization own their own. If you are a Muslim living outside Muslim countries, then you are an Ambassador of Islam.Please stop looking at the leadership. Each one of us has a responsibility towards Islam and if we live Islam then there would be no need to say “Islam means peace.” Get to know your neighbors, colleagues, class fellows, teachers, staff members and anyone you come in contact with. Every Muslim ca make a big difference. We will be able to build a non violent and peaceful movement. First we must realize our collective responsibilities.

  • Michael Gatto

    Salam Dr Safi,

    In calling for an end to drone strikes and detention of enemy combatants, do you also believe we as a community should suggest alternative policies to our government? Or, do you believe our only responsibility is to demand and end to drones and detentions?

    I say this, because in the absence of drones, the few alternatives include manned air strikes, insertions of special force teams, or a full-scale ground invasion. If the USG is unwilling to commit to any of these three alternative policies and abandon the above tools because of our demands, then we will have abetted the safety of enemy combatants. This would take the pressure off these combatants and free them up to cause harm not only to us, but also to continue to attack civilians in bazars in Peshawar or bombing Shiites on Eid.

    In the absence of detaining capture enemy soldiers (despite being Non-state actors), then what do we do with them? It is unprecedented to give each foot soldier a trial; no country I am aware of does this nor has done this. What, then, shall we recommend our government to do?

    I can sign on against surveillance and profiling, but until we can suggest an alternative policy against jihadist militant groups, I am unwilling to assist the jihadists by acting as their proxies in the US to muzzle the few tools our government and military can use today.

  • salam Michael, it is Ramadan, so I will be kind.
    I find it vile, and frankly beneath a serious engagement, that no where in your response do you pause to consider that there are people, real life human beings, in the countries that the United States is droning. You fail to even acknowledge that there are real life civilians who continue to die under our drones. Children in the hundreds. Look up the numbers if you have not. Start with this: Not one or two, a dozen or a hundred. Hundreds of children are dying. There is very partial list of some of their names here: We have droned more civilians than died in 9/11. And you have relegated them to the status of enemy combatants. Shame, shame on your characterization.
    You say that “in the absence of drones, the few alternatives” remain. No, sir. There are alternatives better and holier than having a drone bomb you from the sky or having a soldier shot you up close. That alternative is to pursue a life of dignity and justice. That alternative is peace, rooted in justice. I am not dismissing the dangers of the Taliban or similar groups. But you are simply kidding yourself if you do not confront the fact, the reality, that uncontrolled American aggression in forms like drones and others is precisely what is leading many to sign up for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. For one example, see here:
    You have already decided that the people in Guantanamo are “enemy soldiers.” How did you reach this conclusion? Did you try them in a court of law? If they are “enemy soldiers”, then why did the study of our own government decide that half of them should be released?

    You have already deemed civilians and children “enemy combatants” and all those indefinitely held “foot soldiers.” Shame, shame on those who fail to see the humanity of the weakest and most disenfranchised on Earth.

    You speak of surveillance and profiling and then jump again to “jihadist militant groups”. When the NYPD followed MSA groups in NY beyond state laws, where those kids “Jihadist militant groups”? When the US now illegally has access to records of hundreds of millions of Americans, are those “jihadist militant groups”?

    It is Ramadan, and I must be kind. I suggest you take some time to educate yourself on the real victims, and real policies, of what is being discussed here. Otherwise, you’re simply parroting right-wing propaganda.
    Ramadan Mubarak.
    Omid Safi

  • Todd G


    Thanks for the excellent piece and for being one of those driving this discussion, which, like you say, is about far more than just these iftars.

    I can see that it would be an honor to be invited, and I know many have and will promote that they went to these (or similar events), but we also need to remember that this means the administration sees them as “safe”. Not safe in a “national security” way, or even politically safe (but both of these are definitely a factor), but safe in that they pose no threat to the administration’s agenda.

    That’s fine if the guests a foreign dignitary, an imam, or from an aid organization. But if they are supposed to be an advocacy organization fighting against the decay of civil liberties, then the fact that they were invited, to some degree, says that the government thinks of them as either disingenuous (not sincerely committed to their stated mission) or ineffective.

    What I find even more troubling is when a group then promotes that they were at such an event, often claiming that this is demonstration of their “access”. And as is pointed out, these aren’t dialogues where actual issues could be raised and addressed, but rather monologues from the government.

    If anyone claims to have access, I want to know what they’ve done with it. The seemingly continual increase in the administration’s attacks on civil liberties, privacy, and illegal war tells me that actual accomplishments of any “access” are minimal.

  • Tahir U. Abdullah

    As Salaamu Alaikum,

    Prof. Sufi your article was insightful and it steers the conversation around Muslims engagement with the President, and by extension, other political officials in the right direction. Quick question: You mention that John Kerry made reference to how “how striving for justice is analogous to jihad (using those very words).” Then you provided a hyper link to the written transcript of the Ramadan Iftaar speech he gave at the State Dept. I’ve read the transcript twice and fail to see any analogy wherein “jihad” is made analogous to “justice”. Please clarify.

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  • sleepless

    It is sad that you cannot imagine an option that does not inflict suffering on innocent people. This reminds me a passage from “Genealogies of Religion”: “in a tradition that connects pain with achievement, the inflicting of suffering on others is not in itself reprehensible.” Take a look at the book, it is a classic.

  • Meriam

    Salaam Micheal,

    I find your questions to be completely valid and I do not think you should be attacked for asking them even from those who disagree. We can not only be “against” something which is very easy, we must be “for” alternate solutions. As a Pakistani American, I am aware of the kind of indiscriminate death, destruction, and havoc the Taliban and other Terrorists groups reap onto the Muslim population daily : the killing of Shias, blowing up people in Masjids, markets, schools, even funerals, and specifically shooting girls like Malala in the head are not because any of these people were drone operators. Terrorists have got a very twisted and evil agenda to kill and are at war not only with “the West” but primarily with Pakistan itself. Any Muslim who does not abide by their twisted agenda are deemed worthy to kill. Over 48,000 innocent Pakistanis have been killed by Terrorists and more die daily in heart wrenching attacks in which terrorists aim to kill as many innocent people as possible.

    Of course we must review our policy as we do not want to kill or harm any innocent person, most especially any child. At the same time, we need solutions as Terrorists can not be allowed to roam freely to kill the masses. It can not be ignored that terrorists kill far more Muslims than they do anyone else. No one is a greater enemy to us. Our own Hadith refer to these khawarij/terrorist groups as the “dogs of hell” and very “worst of all creation.” “The Khawaarij are wicked people, and I don’t know of any people on earth more evil than they.”]

    It is also time for Pakistan to be honest about its involvement (along with other Muslim countries.) Since it has been established that Pakistan has got an agreement with the USA on drones, and even requested them on occasion in their on going fight against terrorists, it is a much more complicated matter. (See here: )

    About Guantanamo, President Obama has publicly stated he wants to release the prisoners. So boycotting his invitation on that particular premise makes little sense. Perhaps more productive would be to work to support him in his stance, and work towards gaining the support of Congress (who would care little whether Muslims attend an iftar or boycott Congress.)

    Islam teaches us to engage with those with whom we disagree and to accept invitations. Shutting down doors will not do much good, it will just allow room for others to fill. Prophet Muhammad(saw) would not close doors on people who wished to sit down with him. Also causing disunity amongst the Ummah or name calling those who believe in working together(as many have done) is not beneficial to us in anyway. Those who would first wait for America to become “perfect” before attending an iftar (whom many would never be invited anyway!) would be waiting a very long time….!

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