Kaleem Kawaja


(Ifti Nasim’s poem “HIS MASTER’S VOICE” on the day Barack Hussein Obama was inaugurated as the President of the United States, criticized him as “hiding from his Muslim name Husain”, and “as being a poodle waiting for his master’s order to bomb Muslim countries”. The poem received many comments.  One comment was from Kaleem Kawaja who told the critics to “stop this kind of nonsense  which shows the Muslim community in poor light”. Some people criticized Mr Kawaja’s comment as unsympathetic to Muslims.  Here Mr Kawaja responds to the criticism on his comments on the poem.


I know Ifti Nasim for 20 years and very well.  I often listen to his Urdu poems in “Mushairas” (Urdu poetry reading sessions) where he recites his poems.  Ifti is an above average Urdu poet and a Muslim from Pakistan. He lives in Chicago and is a fairly moderate person with egalitarian views.


The reason I said ” stop this kind of nonsense  which shows the Muslim community in poor light”, in response to the poem is, that since President Obama became prominent in early 2008 when he started winning Democratic party Presidential Primaries, a handful of Muslims (their numbers are small) have started saying some things about Obama that do not make much sense.  Things like:  he is really a Muslim; he should publicly accept that he is a Muslim and embrace the Muslim community as his own; he should visit mosques; when he becomes US President he will be especially favorable to Muslims. etc.


From the beginning Obama has said categorically that he is not a Muslim; that he is a church going/practicing Christian for 20+ years. It were the extremists in America  who started the rumor that Obama was a closet Muslim in order to degrade him in the current Islamophobic environment in US.  So for anyone (especially any Muslims) to allude that Obama is a sort of Muslim and should demonstrate his Muslimnes in visible activities in public, helps his adversaries.


Many names that Muslims use, for example, “Husain” are really pre-Islamic Arabic names. Arab Christians and Arab Jews also used this name in the past and some still do.  The word “Husain” is derived from the Arabic word “Husan”, which means beauty.  Thus it is misleading for anyone to say that “Husain” is a Muslim name.


In his lifetime Obama has rarely used his middle name “Husain”, just like many people who do not use their middle name.  But a small number of Muslims have been insisting for some time that he use his middle name prominently. After he won the office of US President in November, these people started insisting that in the swearing-in ceremony he should use his middle name Husain.  They also went so far as to say that he should use his middle name to emphasize his Muslimness.  Some also said that if he uses his middle name it will boost the image of Muslims worldwide.


After Obama used his middle name in his swearing in, is it rational to still attack him as “hiding away from his middle name”.


I find this line of thinking that is being repeated often in the last few months very tiring and shallow.  From what I know an overwhelming number of Muslims do not contribute to such shallow thinking; they respect the fact that Obama is a practicing Christian and that using or not using the word Husain by Obama does not make any difference for the Muslim community. They do not expect any favors from Obama for the Muslim countries or Muslims in America.  All they expect is that he will treat Muslims with fairness and remove injustice against all, Muslims included.


The recently retired President George W Bush visited mosques often and held Iftar (fast breaking dinner during the holy month of Ramadan) dinners at the White House and then he contributed to the massacre of over 100,000 Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and turned the screws on Muslims in US.  So how were Muslims and mankind served by Bush visiting mosques often?  Muslims like others need justice not symbolic gestures. 


How is the global Muslim community being served by the tyrant Muslim rulers of Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan etc) who are stooges of the imperialists? How is the Muslim community served by Muslim terrorists like Bin Laden and his followers who exploit Islam for their personal agenda of gaining publicity and power? Clearly just calling oneself a Muslim or appearing to visit Islamic shrines per se is of little value to the Muslims.  


For Ifti’s said poem to allude that Obama is like a poodle who will bomb Muslims on the orders of his masters, is again a very pejorative statement on him.  Obama became president only yesterday.  For 8 years President Bush set up a  militaristic and brutal governmental apparatus to suppress those that he thought were the adversaries of US.  He saw the world as polarized between ‘us and them’ saying:  ‘If you are not with us you are against us’.   The victims were people of all religious faiths including Muslims. 


To reverse this behavior President Obama will have to act with much strategy, diplomacy, sensitivity and tact.  For anyone to expect that Obama should fall on his sword to change the environment from 8 years of the right wing Bush regime in a jiffy is to be shallow and irrational. And to make allegations on the day that he assumes the office of US President, that Obama will annihilate Muslims on his Masters’ orders, is to be most unfair to him. Let us give President Obama a fair chance.


Such irrational emotional outbursts serve only one purpose.  They stereotype the Muslim community. They paint the Muslim community as not thoughtful and sensible and as overtly emotional and shallow. They reinforce the Islamophobic comments of others about Muslims as generically narrow minded. I am tired of hearing them.


Muslims do not need being patronized by applauding them with empty and cosmetic gestures. Today Muslims are often under attack by Islamophobes, but they have enough ability and self respect to defend themselves using their own resources and strength using fair means.  They are not looking for anyone to throw the breadcrumbs of cosmetic tears at them.   What Muslims need is to introspect on their situation, to recover from mistakes, to build bridges of understanding with others, and to make better contribution to the wellbeing of mankind at large.

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