Our Collective Guilt Re: Sheikh Umar Abdur Rahman

The aforementioned ayah from the surah known as Ali Imran (3:102), affords a simple and straightforward prescription for what ails us on the human rights front, as Muslims – both in America and beyond. The overpowering fear of created things, in derogation to the fear that we should have for The Creator of all, has robbed us of our izza (pride, dignity, self-respect), and rendered us (as a collective ummah) susceptible to one indignity after another. As the Messenger of Allah Ta’ala prophesied:

“It is expected that nations will call other nations to share against you, as the feasters call each other to eat from the food in front of them in a large wooden plate. One of the companions asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, will this be because of our small number on that day?’ And the Prophet said, ‘No. Your number will be great. But you will be without substance, like the foam on the face of a river (or like the rubbish of flood water); and Allah will remove from the breasts of your enemies the fear of you; and Allah will throw wahn into your hearts.’ One of the companions asked, ‘What is wahn, O Allah’s Apostle?’ And the Prophet responded, “Wahn is to love this life, and to hate the death!’ ”

No case symbolizes the consequence of being gripped by such a paralyzing fear then that of the blind hafiz al-Quran, Sheikh Umar Abdur-Rahman – one of the most prominent, yet largely ignored, political prisoners in America! That a blind man, and religious leader, could be charged successfully with leading a “seditious conspiracy” against the United States of America – on the strength of one severly tainted, and well paid, government (COINTELPRO like) witness (Emad Salem) – and given a life sentence, should be a source of shame for all self-respecting Muslims residing anywhere in the West.

About a month ago I was in New York City and had a conversation with Nasser Ahmed about the sheikh. I wanted to know how he was doing, and whether there had been any improvement in the visitation restrictions imposed against him. It was then that I learned about the pending visit of his wife and son. Like Nasser, I was happy for the sheikh; finally he was to receive a long overdue visit from family in Egypt. (Or so we thought.)

After going through an extremely cumbersome and time consuming process, the Sheikh’s son (Abdullah) reportedly went to the US Embassy in Cairo, on the day that he was finally supposed to pick up the visas. However, instead of receiving the promised visa, Abdullah was shocked to be confronted with yet another cold, calculated denial. Another manifestation of “cruel and unusual punishment,” emanating from the “land of liberty and justice for all,” only this time for the Sheikh and his family! And all of this with very little public outcry from Muslim-Americans and our ever expanding cornucopia of Muslim organizations.

A few days ago I had the honor of being the sole speaker for a well organized forum on “Capital Punishment in America,” held at Indiana University. The forum – organized by a number of student-led organizations on campus, but spearheaded by the Muslim Students Union – was very well attended, and focussed on the cases of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. On my way home I thought about the case of Mumia; particularly how he was railroaded onto death row without the benefit of a fair trial – a proceeding made possible because of a 1982 [community wide] atmosphere of apathy and indifference, and how this atmosphere has so dramatically changed in the intervening years.

Today, the appeals process for Mumia is under a global microscope (which bodes well for a just resolution at the end of a long, arduous struggle); while the appeals process for Sheikh Umar (like the original trial itself) grinds away slowly under a cover darkness and conspiratorial silence. And we wonder why we [Muslims] get no respect! We only reap what we sow.