Recently, a member of the Muslim community expressed to me that there is no point to Muslim Day at the Capitol, because “nothing will change.”
I must concede, there is merit to her statement. I for one certainly do not believe that as a direct and immediate result of the meetings with elected officials that will take place on Tuesday April 30, that any of the civil rights, economic, education, health, environmental or other policy areas will change. This is a naive notion and one that misses the point of Muslim Day at the Capitol in the first place.
Public policy changes don't happen overnight and they are not the result of a single meeting between a constituent and their elected official – but rather, from a concerted and consistent dialogue over the course of many months or even years. Our community will be in Albany on Tuesday April 30th because we are a faith community that emphasizes both patience and full engagement in public life. There is no aspect of Islam that emphasizes passivity in calling for fairness, or that suggests that a person's condition in life would improve without hard work.
There are many sub-sections of the American citizenry that wield immense political power. Muslim Americans are not one of those groups – but we should be. Just like every other group who has struggled to make their voices heard, we will do the same. After all, what right do we have to complain to each other about bad policies when in many cases we have not collectively made even the most elementary attempts to curb them. Even more important than our own self interest, America needs our full engagement because policies can improve for all Americans when our community is sharing our ideas, values and unique perspectives.
For the sake of my argument, I'm going to put American Muslims into three basic categories: those who were born here, those who chose to come here and those whose ancestors were forcibly taken here. No matter which of these groups an American Muslim may identify with the most, each one leads to the same conclusion: you are here. America belongs to you as much as it belongs to your neighbors who pay taxes. Owning up to your citizenship means learning how American civic institutions work, how policies are formed and changed, how to become an elected official, and how to exert positive influence over American political structures. Bad policies will continue to thrive when we are apathetic, disengaged or only engaged in the politics of the country we no longer reside in.
I implore you: join us for Muslim Day at the Capitol. Bring your family, your friends – learn more about this process and share your story with the elected officials who depend on your votes.
Ryan Mahoney is an activist, technologist, and educator. He has played a key role in campaigns that combat Islamophobia and promote unity. In 2012 he founded Virtue Center for Art & Technology--a company whose mission is to technologically enable non-profits and organizations that are positioned to make the most positive impact on the world.