Thursday, February 22, 2018

Contented Soul

I have been writing poetry on and off since my mid-teens, but tend not to share it publicly because most of it is so personal. However, I felt like this new one is worth sharing here as an expression of how the Quran has shaped my understanding of and relationship with God, and my understanding of own humble place in existence. Each stanza contains allusions to verses of the Quran (see how many you can find). The title comes from sura 89, "The Dawn" (al-Fajr), verses 27-28.

Contented Soul

You chose me for existence
     And breathed me into being,
You fashioned my very essence,
     my hearing, and my seeing.

Upon this earth you placed me
     For this momentous test
Of faithfulness and virtue,
     And for truth, a sacred quest.

So in this pain and struggle
     I toil through each day,
But Your love sustains me
     As I continue on my way.

And through my each endeavor
     And through everything I learn,
On this alone I set my hopes
     And for this alone I yearn:

To return to You in mercy
     With a heart peaceful and whole,
To meet Your loving countenance
     As a contented soul,

To enter Your blessed garden
     Where Your servants roam,
And in Your love and mercy dwell
As my final, lasting home.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

God’s Promises: The Miraculous Fulfillment of Prophecy in the Quran (Part II)

In this post we will look at two more examples of prophecies in the Quran that are implicit in its stories.  I put these examples together since they highlight similar themes.

2. The Defeat of Idolatry in Mecca

Sura 21, The Prophets (al- Anbiyā’), is another sura revealed towards the later years of the Meccan period, when the Prophet Muhammad and his followers were a small minority persecuted for their faith and preaching against idolatry and other vices in the society of Mecca.  This sura foreshadows the demise of idolatry in Mecca:

بَلْ نَقْذِفُ بِالْحَقِّ عَلَى الْبَاطِلِ فَيَدْمَغُهُ 
فَإِذَا هُوَ زَاهِقٌ ۚ 
وَلَكُمُ الْوَيْلُ مِمَّا تَصِفُونَ

Nay, We dash the truth against falsehood and it shatters it—
and behold, it perishes!
Yours is blame for what you ascribe (to God). 

The context of this passage is the setting up of idols as partners in the worship of God.  The language of "dashing" the truth against falsehood and "smashing" it anticipates Abraham's destruction of his people's idols later in the sura.

A later passage in the sura states:

أَمْ لَهُمْ آلِهَةٌ تَمْنَعُهُم مِّن دُونِنَا ۚ 
لَا يَسْتَطِيعُونَ نَصْرَ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَا هُم مِّنَّا يُصْحَبُونَ
بَلْ مَتَّعْنَا هَٰؤُلَاءِ وَآبَاءَهُمْ حَتَّىٰ طَالَ عَلَيْهِمُ الْعُمُرُ ۗ 
أَفَلَا يَرَوْنَ أَنَّا نَأْتِي الْأَرْضَ نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا ۚ أَفَهُمُ الْغَالِبُونَ
أَفَلَا يَرَوْنَ أَنَّا نَأْتِي الْأَرْضَ نَنقُصُهَا مِنْ أَطْرَافِهَا ۚ 
أَفَهُمُ الْغَالِبُونَ

Do they have gods who can defend them against Us? 
They have no power to help themselves, nor can they be protected from Us.
We have allowed these sinners and their forefathers to enjoy life for a long time. But do they not see how We are shrinking their borders? 
Is it they who will prevail?[1]

This was a remarkable claim during the Meccan period, when the Quraysh were still fully in power in Mecca, and the Muslims were only a small and powerless minority group within their dominion.  Further still, the concluding section of the sura states:

وَلَقَدْ كَتَبْنَا فِي الزَّبُورِ مِن بَعْدِ الذِّكْرِ 
أَنَّ الْأَرْضَ يَرِثُهَا عِبَادِيَ الصَّالِحُونَ
إِنَّ فِي هَٰذَا لَبَلَاغًا لِّقَوْمٍ عَابِدِينَ

We wrote in the Psalms, as We did in earlier Scripture: 
"My righteous servants will inherit the earth."
Truly in this there is a message for people of worship.

The middle of the sura (vv. 51-67) narrates a famous story from Jewish tradition in which a young Abraham demolishes the idols of his city temple.  He exclaims:

وَتَاللَّهِ لَأَكِيدَنَّ أَصْنَامَكُم 
بَعْدَ أَن تُوَلُّوا مُدْبِرِينَ
فَجَعَلَهُمْ جُذَاذًا

"By God, I shall certainly plot against your idols 
as soon as you have turned your backs!"
So he broke them all into pieces.

This sura states that God is soon going to cause the land in control of the idolatrous Quraysh of Mecca to shrink, cause God's righteous servants to inherit the land, and abolish idolatry in the Abrahamic sanctuary of Mecca. In this context, the story of the young Abraham smashing his people's idols is not merely a polemical refutation of the idolatry of the Quraysh. It is foreshadowing the destruction of the idols of the Ka'ba—an event that happened many years later, in the Conquest of Mecca.[2]

3. The Liberation of the Ka'ba Under Muhammad's Leadership

A comparable prophecy occurs a little later, within the first two years after the Prophet Muhammad and his followers emigrated to Medina.  It occurs in the final section of Sura 2, "The Cow" (al-Baqara), which prepared the Muslims for their upcoming first battle against the Quraysh, which would be the Battle of Badr.  This would be a battle in which the Muslims of Medina would be outnumbered two or threefold (see 3:13), and be severely disadvantaged in terms of manpower, arms, and resources.  This passage retells the Biblical story of Saul, albeit in a very new way that served as a parable for the new situation in Medina, in which the Prophet had been appointed the political and judicial head of the city.

وَقَالَ لَهُمْ نَبِيُّهُمْ 
إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ بَعَثَ لَكُمْ طَالُوتَ مَلِكًا ۚ 
قَالُوا أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لَهُ الْمُلْكُ عَلَيْنَا 
وَنَحْنُ أَحَقُّ بِالْمُلْكِ مِنْهُ 
وَلَمْ يُؤْتَ سَعَةً مِّنَ الْمَالِ ۚ 
قَالَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاهُ عَلَيْكُمْ 
وَزَادَهُ بَسْطَةً فِي الْعِلْمِ وَالْجِسْمِ ۖ 
وَاللَّهُ يُؤْتِي مُلْكَهُ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ 
وَاللَّهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

Their prophet (Samuel) said to them:  
"God has appointed Saul as a king for you."
They said,  "How can he be the king over us, 
while we are more entitled to sovereignty
and he does not have an abundance of wealth?"
He replied, "God has chosen him over you, 
and increased him in stature, knowledge, and bodily strength.
God gives sovereignty to whomever He pleases.
God is expansive and knowing."

This story reflects the fact that there were elements in the Prophet's community who had long held political ambitions in Medina, and thus harbored feelings of resentment that the Prophet—an outsider distinguished neither by wealth, prestige, or political reputation—was instead made a leader over them.  Through the story of Saul's divine selection as king, this passage implicitly responds by saying that the Prophet was chosen by God to lead and given more worthy qualities of leadership. The prophet in the story, named in the Bible as Samuel, then provides a prophecy whose fulfillment will confirm this:

وَقَالَ لَهُمْ نَبِيُّهُمْ 
إِنَّ آيَةَ مُلْكِهِ أَن يَأْتِيَكُمُ التَّابُوتُ 
فِيهِ سَكِينَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُم 
وَبَقِيَّةٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ آلُ مُوسَىٰ وَآلُ هَارُونَ
 تَحْمِلُهُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ ۚ
إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَةً لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

Their prophet said to them:
"A sign of his sovereignty is that that the Ark will return to you
containing tranquility from your Lord 
and relics from what was left by the families of Moses and Aaron, 
carried by angels.
Truly in that will be a sign for you if you are to have faith."

The Ark of the Covenant was for the Israelites the portable equivalent of the Ka'ba for the Muslims, before the Ark was later installed by David in Jerusalem and eventually replaced by the Temple of Solomon.  This story implies that just as a sign that God appointed Saul as king will be the return of the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites under his military leadership, a sign that God truly chose Muhammad is that under his leadership, the Ka'ba will be liberated and restored as a symbol of Abrahamic monotheism.  The parallel is reinforced by further details of the story:

فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَهُ هُوَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ 
قَالُوا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا الْيَوْمَ بِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ ۚ 

When [Saul] crossed [the river] with those who had kept faith,
[Those who had little faith] said, "We have no strength today against Goliath and his warriors."

This again reflects a very real situation. Those in Medina who had little faith, but only claimed to be believers in order to save face, believed that the Quraysh were far too great in manpower and resources for God to enable the Muslims to defeat them.  On the other hand:

قَالَ الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو اللَّهِ 
كَم مِّن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۗ 
وَاللَّهُ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
وَلَمَّا بَرَزُوا لِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ 
قَالُوا رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا وَثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَنَا 
وَانصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ

Those who knew that they were going to meet their Lord said, 
"How often a small force has defeated a large army with God’s permission! 
God is with those who are steadfast."
And when they met Goliath and his warriors, 
they said, "Our Lord, pour patience on us, make us stand firm, 
and help us against the disbelievers."

The outcome was as God had promised them through his prophet:  

فَهَزَمُوهُم بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ

And so with God’s permission they defeated them.

Just as this story implied, the Muslims ended up winning the Battle of Badr.  This was a turning point, and despite certain setbacks, the Prophet and his followers would enter Mecca as peaceful conquerors in less than six years.

The Quran concludes the above narration of the story of Saul as follows:

تِلْكَ آيَاتُ اللَّهِ نَتْلُوهَا عَلَيْكَ بِالْحَقِّ ۚ 
وَإِنَّكَ لَمِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ

These are signs of God, which We recite to you with truth.
No doubt you (Muhammad) are among the messengers.

[1] I have adapted some of these translations from the Quran translation of M.A.S. Abdel Haleem.
[2] I owe these observations to Mustansir Mir, “The Qur’an as Literature,” Religion & Literature 20 no. 1 (1988): 49-64, pp. 59-60.
[3] For a fuller discussion of the story of Saul in the context of Sura 2, see Nouman Ali Khan and Sharif Randhawa, Divine Speech: Exploring the Quran as Literature (Euless, TX: Bayyinah Institute, 2016), Chapter 13, “The Coherence and Structure of Sura 2, The Cow.”

Monday, February 12, 2018

God’s Promises: The Miraculous Fulfillment of Prophecy in the Quran (Part I)

A couple weeks ago I gave a talk on a phenomenon in the Quran that I find to be one of the most stunning signs of its miraculous provenance.  These are the prophecies of the Quran.  These prophecies take two forms:
  1. Some are explicit prophecies, and these tend to be the most well-known.
  2. Others are implicit prophecies, which are embedded for example in the stories the Quran revealed in order to make certain assurances to the Prophet and his followers.
I will argue that the fulfillment of these prophecies is striking in the following ways:
  1. These prophecies were not trivial, but they made claims that were bold and shocking given the historical context of their revelation.  They promised that these events or outcomes would transpire by God’s leave, despite there being every reason for believing the contrary. Some of these prophecies stipulated that they would occur within a specific time frame, such as during the life of the Prophet or his companions.
  2. These prophecies not only came true, but came true in a timeframe, manner, and scale that is without historical parallel, again reinforcing that the Quran’s point that these would only occur as a result of divine planning and intervention.

Over the course of the next few posts, I will be describing some examples of this, God-willing. I will in particular be drawing attention to prophecies or divine promises embedded in the stories of the Quran, since these are the most overlooked.  The first one will be on God's promises in the story of Joseph in the Quran.

1. The story of Joseph

Sura 12, “Joseph” (Yusuf), is the only sura of the Quran dedicated to a full chronological narrative.  The themes, language, and style of the sura place it firmly in the context of the late Meccan period, in which it would have had the most relevance to the Prophet Muhammad and his followers.  During this time, they were being persecuted by their own people—their own fellow tribe and kin—to the point that they were about to be driven out from their home town of Mecca.  It is especially during this period that the Quran narrated stories in order to reassure the hearts of the Muslims.  These were typically stories that already existed in Biblical lore, but were retold with new purposes in the Quran.  For example, these stories would console the believers and ensure them that God would reward their patience and constancy with success and victory.  But how was this possible?  They were a small group, they had no power, they were being persecuted by a much more powerful group, and they were being dispossessed of their homes and assets.  How could they possibly attain victory?

It was in this context that the sura of Joseph was revealed.  Think about what happens in the story.  Joseph experienced one tragic difficulty after another.  He was a young man who was persecuted by his own brothers, exiled from his home to a foreign land, enslaved, accused, and imprisoned, but over these many hard years he held onto his faith.  Then God created unique circumstances that allowed Joseph to rise to a prominent place of respect and authority and to prosper.  Through a dramatic turn of events, he was eventually brought face-to-face with the brothers who persecuted them.  He had the upper hand over them.  Yet he forgave them, they sincerely repented from their crimes against him, and they were reunited as a family.

What was this story supposed to signal to its first Muslim audience?  It is that despite the seemingly hopeless situation you are in, God will create unique circumstances by which He will save you, raise you to a position of success and prominence, cause you to triumph—and maybe even turn the hearts of your families and tribesmen so that they will repent from their wrongs against you and reconcile with you.  As Mustansir Mir, in his essay on irony in the story of Joseph, writes:
Muhammad is identified with Joseph, and the tribe of Quraysh, to which Muhammad belonged and which had turned hostile to him, with Joseph’s brothers. In addition, the story predicts that just as Joseph finally triumphed over the obstacles put in his way by his brothers, so Muhammad will eventually emerge a victor in his struggle against the Quraysh. When, in 630, Muhammad conquered Mecca and the Quraysh anxiously waited for the verdict on their fate, Muhammad addressed them, asking them how they expected him to treat his former enemies. Their plea for mercy was made in the form of praise: “You are a noble brother and the son of a noble brothers.” Muhammad issued a general amnesty, saying: lā tathrība ‘alaykumu ’l- yawm, “No blame rests on you today.” These words were taken from v. 92 of the twelfth sūra of the Qur’ān—Joseph. The story had worked itself out in history. And so had the irony.[1] 

 Think about it:
  • Joseph is hated and persecuted by his own, more powerful older brothers (an ʿuba, or a "strong clan"—12:8, 14), just like the Prophet and his followers were despised and persecuted by their own tribesmen.
  • In the story, Joseph is exiled by his brothers to a foreign land.  Similarly, the Prophet and his companions would be exiled to Medina.
  • In the foreign land, Joseph eventually rises to a place of respect and authority.  Likewise, the Prophet and his followers would rise to a position of respect and authority, and within only a number years become the dominant power in the Arabian Peninsula—and later, the entire Near East.

وَكَذَٰلِكَ مَكَّنَّا لِيُوسُفَ فِي الْأَرْضِ 
يَتَبَوَّأُ مِنْهَا حَيْثُ يَشَاءُ ۚ 
نُصِيبُ بِرَحْمَتِنَا مَن نَّشَاءُ ۖ 
وَلَا نُضِيعُ أَجْرَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

Thus did We establish Joseph with authority in the land, 
free to settle in it wherever he pleased. 
We bestow our Mercy on whomever We wish, 
and We do not allow the reward of those who do good to be lost. 

  • Joseph is eventually brought face-to-face with his own brothers who persecuted him, but he forgave them.  Likewise, the Prophet would return to Mecca and have the upper hand over the Quraysh, yet he forgave them.
  • Finally, the brothers prostrate to Joseph, they repent of their wrongs, and the brothers become reconciled and form a single family again.  In the same way, the Quraysh end up submitting to the Prophet’s authority, and even accept his message, joining the community of believers.  They are reunited, but now not as Arab polytheists, but as faithful devotees of the one God of Abraham.

Who could have predicted such an outcome?  As the Quran stresses, the only people at this time who could credit the idea of such a story playing out in their own lives were those who recognized that God has promised it and that He is fully in control of events and their outcomes:

وَكَذَٰلِكَ مَكَّنَّا لِيُوسُفَ فِي الْأَرْضِ 
وَلِنُعَلِّمَهُ مِن تَأْوِيلِ الْأَحَادِيثِ ۚ 
وَاللَّهُ غَالِبٌ عَلَىٰ أَمْرِهِ 
وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Thus We established Joseph with authority in the land, 
to teach him the true meaning of dreams 
and the fulfillment of prophecies (ta’wīl al-aḥādīth).
God is fully in control of His affair,
but most of the people do not know it.

Hence, as the Quran fittingly says:

لَّقَدْ كَانَ فِي يُوسُفَ وَإِخْوَتِهِ 
آيَاتٌ لِّلسَّائِلِينَ

Certainly in (the story of) Joseph and his brothers 
there are signs for those who inquire.

[1] Mustansir Mir, “Irony in the Qur’ān: A Study of the Story of Joseph,” Literary Structures of Religious Meaning in the Qur’ān (Richmond, Surrey: Routledge, 2000), 126.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Thoughts in the Wake of Trump's Presidency

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, I don’t think I have anything to say that hasn’t already been said. However, I’m too perturbed to do my schoolwork at the moment and just need to get these thoughts off my chest.

The first emotion I experienced last night while watching the election coverage was anger—outrage—at the Democratic Party establishment. The entire country has become divided between progressive populism, embodied by Bernie Sanders, and far right, racist, totalitarian populism, embodied by Trump. The country has made it loud and clear that it is DONE with establishment politicians. The polls from very early on showed that Hillary Clinton could lose to Trump, while Bernie would have a certain and sweeping victory. But in their irredeemable smugness, the Democratic Party establishment dismissed the polls and the voices of the American people, not least from within their own party. They did everything in their power to sabotage Bernie Sanders and to suppress the voices of his supporters, shoving down voters’ throats a candidate who embodies the corporate, establishment corruption that Americans are sick of, and still expected to win. Now extreme right-wing Republicans have taken over the Presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court. By trying everything to undermine Bernie Sanders and force Hillary Clinton on the voters, the Democratic Party committed political suicide. 

But good riddance. Americans are done with the old, corporate, establishment Democratic Party. Real progressive candidates now have a chance to take over the party by storm. In their humiliating defeat, I hope Hillary and her cronies get the message, and get the hell out. 

The second emotion I experienced was dismay, not simply at the fact of a Trump presidency, but over the fact that over a quarter of Americans voted for him—voted for a man who is endorsed by the KKK, who has riled up hateful rhetoric and violence against minorities, who sexually harasses women and is even accused of rape, who declared that he would use torture and take out the families of terrorists, who stated he would revoke any funds to the United Nations to combat climate change, and who candidly asked why he should not deploy nuclear weapons—in the latter two cases, advancing a real and literal threat to the human race at large. I understand that the votes for Trump are not entirely motivated by racism or warmongering, but it hardly makes things better that so many American voters did not see these problems as significant enough to them not to vote for him. For those of you who voted for Trump, I hope you find yourself happy with the devastating results of your choice over the next four years. 

The third emotion I experienced was fear—not for myself, but for all of the innocent people in my country and throughout the world who will have to suffer the devastating consequences of a Trump presidency. 

In the last twenty-four hours, it seems that all of my fears have been confirmed: 

(1) The global financial market has gone out of control. 

(2) There have already been countless incidents reported today across the country of threatening rhetoric and outright violence against minorities—black Americans, Muslim Americans (particularly Muslim women), Hispanic Americans, LGBT. This is only on the first day. 

(3) All hopes of peace, especially in the Middle East, have been dashed. For anyone who naively thought that Trump might exercise isolationist policies, consider these facts. Trump’s candidates for Secretary of State are people like John Bolton and Newt Gingrich—people at least as right-wing as the masterminds of the Iraq war, such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. Shares in arms stock companies have skyrocketed. And the Education Minister of Israel has ominously declared, “The era of a Palestinian state of over.” 

(4) Thanks to Obama, the executive authority of the presidential office has been expanded to include the ability to commit extrajudicial killings, to detain absolutely any citizen or non-citizen indefinitely without trial, and has unlimited access to private information down to every last citizen. And now a totalitarian, fascist monster who has no moral boundaries has taken up these powers. Another testament to the complete debacle that has been the establishment Democratic Party. 

For more already palpable effects of Trump's presidency, see here: 

All of this is just a small glimpse into how dark the next four years are going to be. 

But I think and hope there is a silver lining. Americans are fed up with establishment Democrats and Republicans. Once the white middle class plummets and realizes that Trump does not even have their best interests in mind, and in four years when a boldly progressive candidate such as Elizabeth Warren runs for president, I am optimistic that Democrats and then Americans at large will resoundingly vote for progressive candidates who have real plans to fix the economy (especially for the plummeting middle class), to end America’s never-ending wars in the Middle East, and to get money out of politics. 

If it wasn’t for the Democratic Party establishment, we would have had that with Bernie Sanders. But now we will have to experience four years of hell before we get there. But, if God wills, we will get there. As the Qur’an says, 
“Pharaoh made himself high and mighty in the land and divided the people into different groups: one group he oppressed, slaughtering their sons and sparing their women––he was one of those who spread corruption––but [God] wished to favor those who were oppressed in that land, to make them leaders, the ones to survive, to establish them in the land, and through them show Pharaoh, Haman, and their armies the very thing they feared.” (28:4-6) 
That is, if God wills, an oppressive ruler may take power only to set himself and his establishment up for a painful downfall, and make way for the marginalized and oppressed to gain the success they hoped for. 

Over the next four years, all of us who are among marginalized minorities or who are inclusive and well-meaning people must stand up strongly together and ensure that Trump does not infringe upon our civil and human rights, which are spelled out clearly in our country's Constitution.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Kalām Cosmological Argument and the Problem of Divine Agency and Purpose

For those interested in philosophical theology, this is a twenty-page essay I wrote nearly five years ago.  It touches on a variety of interrelated topics, such as the Kalām Cosmological argument, God's relationship with time, divine agency, causality, freedom and determinism, and the purpose of creation.

There are a few things I'd wish to amend or add to this essay, but since I'm not likely to get around to that anytime soon, I thought I'd just go ahead and post a draft of it for now.  Maybe once I do edit and update it, I will publish it somewhere.  Here is the abstract:

Abstract: In this article, I discuss the theological problems raised by the Kalām Cosmological Argument that has resulted in criticisms of its utility by some Muslim philosophers and theologians, most notably Ibn Taymiyya. I briefly describe the responses to these problems by Ibn Sīna and two kalām sects, the Ashʿarites and the Muʿtazilites, and highlight the problems each of them. I then contrast them with the view fervently argued by Ibn Taymiyya, but also defend an alternative theory for those who are not willing to accept the proposition of an infinite temporal regress in God’s actions.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 Thoughts

This will probably make some people unhappy, but I have to say this. There is no doubt that 9/11 was a horrible tragedy, and the victims of this tragedy and their families deserve to be honored. But if you are a person who says “Never forget” when it comes to 9/11, but who forgets or turns a blind eye to far worse tragedies because they did not happen to people of your race, culture, or nationality, or because they were committed by your own country or government, then this is precisely the kind of attitude that is responsible for all of the wide-scale imperialism, racism, and violence that exists today. It is the attitude that certain tragedies or innocent deaths are worth remembering but not others. It is the idea that the lives of our people matter, but others do not. It is exactly this attitude that ends up legitimizing violence and oppression against other peoples, and which has been and continues to be used to fuel this never-ending “war on terror” that is claiming the lives of not thousands, but millions of innocent people, which continues to destabilize a large part of the world, and which has and continues to spread anti-American hostility at an unprecedented rate.

Do you give the tragedy and victims of 9/11 a special importance that you do not give to victims of other races, cultures, or nationalities, especially those who are victims of the policies of your own government? Do you feel outrage or stand up for the honor of these victims the way you do for people of your own skin color? Are you someone who changes your profile picture when a tragedy happens in France or Belgium, but expresses no concern when a tragedy of equal or greater proportions happens in the same week in Turkey, Iraq, or Syria?

If Americans are entitled to say “9/11: never forget,” then should African-Americans too exclaim, “Slavery: never forget”? Or is that a matter of the past, an unfortunate and uncomfortable episode of history, that is better for all of us to forget and move on from? What about Native Americans, who experienced mass genocide, as well as enslavement and rape, by the “discoverer” of America? “Colombus: never forget”? What about the thousands of Vietnamese who died at the hands of the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, or the 50,000 to 150,000 Cambodian civilians who were carpet bombed on the order of Henry Kissinger? What about the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or the tens of thousands of Nicaraguans who died as a result of the policies of the Reagan administration? Should they too “never forget”? What about 500,000 Iraqi children who died as a result of U.S. sanctions, or the more than million who have died as a result of the Iraq War? Imagine if Muslims all said, "Iraq: Never forget." Should all of these groups resolve upon sentiments of indefinite hostility and vengeance towards the United States? Or is this a privilege reserved for (predominantly white) Americans? Do all lives really matter?

If you believe that the lives of Americans who died in Pearl Harbor or 9/11 deserve to be remembered, and only those responsible for their deaths deserved to be brought to justice, but do not believe the same when it comes from Hispanics, Native Americans, eastern Asians, Muslims, etc., then I implore you to reconsider your attitude and the consequences that such an outlook has had for the millions and millions of (overwhelmingly non-white) people in the last five and a half centuries. We should be outraged when any innocent lives are taken, regardless of their race or nationality, and regardless of whether those acts of violence are perpetrated by another government, our own government, or no government at all. But this should be a type of outrage that does not further the cycle of death, but motivates us to try to change our government and society for the better. All innocent life deserves to be honored equally, regardless of race or nationality, and the best way to honor innocent life is by standing up against attitudes and policies that result in its devaluing, and trying to change them. It's our responsibility as Americans, and more importantly, as human beings.

I close with this poem:

A Moment of Silence, Before I Start this Poem
Emmanuel Ortiz, 11 Sep 2002.

Before I start this poem, I'd like to ask you to join me

In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing...
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam - a people,
not a war - for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives' bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war ... ssssshhhhh....
Say nothing ... we don't want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador ...
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos ...
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west...

100 years of silence...
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness ...

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be. Not like it always has

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all...Don't cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing...For our dead.