Kenosha, Wisconsin, my beloved former city. I lived in Kenosha for almost two years in the early 90s. I was a manager of a convenience store/gas station on 75th Street, just a few blocks west of Lake Michigan. I moved there because a close friend of mine had bought a property and asked me to manage it.
I have fond memories of my time there, and I am grateful to Allah for the precious blessings I received. My first child was born in Kenosha, and I started one of the best halaqas I’ve ever been in that lasted for a decade in Milwaukee. I built a great relationship with the community and the Islamic Center of Milwaukee that I am still blessed to enjoy today. I got my permanent resident status there too. I also met and got to know in Kenosha, two great Imams, Ilyas and Rajab Morena, in the small Muslim community of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
I remember, prior to the McDonald’s shooting incident on August 11, 1993, Kenosha (as I read in newspapers) was one of the top ten cities in the US to raise a child. Unfortunately, it lost that rank right after that incident.
Now, 27 years later and in the same month, August of 2020, I am reflecting on what is happening in Kenosha right now, and it is alarming. I will not talk about the incident and its specific details since everyone has already followed the news coverage. Instead I want to focus on what Islam teaches us about diversity and knowledge.
I was moved by the message of Jacob Blake’s mother as she expressed her pain for what happened to her son but also the wisdom and rationale of taking a clear and firm stand against any acts of violence, saying it does not represent what her son is. I was even more touched by the message of Jacob’s father when he said that their family is diverse, and he sent a prayer of hope and healing, reciting the opening chapter of the Holy Quran, Al-Fatiha.
This is really what can and must keep our country strong, its diversity. “And of His wondrous signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the variety of your tongues and your colors. Indeed, in all of this there are sure signs for a people of knowledge.” (30:22)
Our differences are not accidental. They are among the wondrous signs of creation, planned and created by the Master Planner and Creator. Diversity can be a true road for unity if family values are taught at home to respect our neighbors and care for each other. I hope people, especially people of faith, can look deep into their core values, regardless of their different backgrounds or cultures, and promote such values of unity and respect. “Have you not seen, O Prophet, that it is God Alone who sends down, from the sky, water, whereby We bring forth fruits of varying colors? And also, in the land mass of some mountains there are streaks – white and red – varying in their colors, as well as others intensely black. And so too among humankind, and all birds and wild beasts, and all cattle, there are varying colors, as well. Yet none is awakened to the wonders of creation and truly fears God among His servants but those filled with knowledge of the word and the way of God. Indeed, God is overpowering, all-forgiving.” (35:28-29)
Knowledge is the key. My hope is that law enforcement agencies will spread this knowledge through more specialized training of how to diffuse situations without extreme force and avoid double standards based on race or stereotypes. And by the same token, we cannot support violence against the entire police force based on the wrong actions of a few. That is falling into the same trap of stereotyping we are trying to break free from.
I hope community leaders, social activists, and religious leaders will spread this knowledge through promoting unity instead of separation, equality instead of supremacy. And we all must take a clear stand against violence and vandalism and causing harm to neighborhoods and businesses, as it only further blurs the lines between right and wrong. Too many innocent people have been devastated watching their livelihoods completely destroyed, and among the rubble is the destruction of support for just causes.
As we enter the last quarter of this year 2020, a year that will go down in history for many, many negative reasons, I pray that the essence of humanity’s resilience will prevail and come out stronger, wiser and kinder.
By Sh Kifah Mustapha