Linda Sarsour

54th Annual ISNA Conference- July 3, 2017

Linda Sarsour
July 03, 2017— Rosemont, Illinois
54th Annual ISNA Convention
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Linda Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington and a Muslim activist, delivered a lecture at the 54th Annual ISNA Conference in Rosemont, Illinois.

Beautiful, thank you; if not include everyone in this room and I want you to know that my very brief lecture this evening is in honor of Hedge Arabia who was a pioneer herself… and she was a native of Pakistan… and was schooled traditionally at home and held a strong belief in the value of formal education; encouraging of her children to pursue college studies. She was a goal-oriented woman, she taught those around her the importance of love, dedication, hard work, and the respect of our beautiful religion. There is a scholarship in her name that will provide any American student with the opportunity to pursue an education in the field of Islamic studies and journalism at a U.S. based institution and ISNA is the one that is coordinating that scholarship; so I am grateful and honored to stand here today to honor a powerful woman who no longer is with us today. Please join me in honoring Hedge Arabia and her beautiful family who's here with us today. I also want to congratulate you doctor Syed, for the decades of work that you have committed to our community. Your name is a household name too – everyone knows who doctor Syed is and I want you to know that us, and the generations that come after you will understand that we stand on your shoulders and the work that you have done in the infrastructure that you have built for all of us to be proud Muslims from these United States of America, so congratulations to you Dr. Syed. And to my favorite person in this room that's mutual, Iman Seorang has been a mentor and motivator and encourager of mine, someone who has taught me to speak truth to power and not worry about the consequences. Someone who has taught me that we are on this earth to please Allah and only Allah that we are not here to please any man or woman on this earth; so I'm grateful to you Iman Seorang, you may think this is weird but every once in a while when I get into that deep, dark, place Iman Seorang comes and talks to me and he helps me emerge out of those spaces so I'm grateful to you now Iman Seorang, may Allah bless you and protect you and keep you for a long time, for our community needs you now more than ever. I just want to say to all of you here today and many of you have come to speak to me during this ISNA conference, I just want to say to everyone that I'm alive and I'm grateful every single day that what I'm doing when I wake up every morning…able to serve our community…to see my beautiful children and my family that I am grateful. So, I don't want you as a community to worry too much about me, Allah is the best of protectors, and as long as I can be in spaces with all of you, as long as I can be here for as long as Allah wills, I'm grateful for every moment that I have and I want to be a living lesson for the Muslim community.

I want the challenges that I face to be a lesson to all of you in the room and beyond this room…what I believe that people can learn from my experiences is that you can be unapologetically Muslim, unapologetically Palestinian-American, hold strong conviction, have strong ideology and politics, and still become a mainstream American who can inspire and resonate with people outside of the Muslim community. I have been able to prove the importance of us as a Muslim community standing up for any and all communities who are oppressed in this country because not only is that the right thing to do, it is the Islamic thing to do. I have been able to teach us and our young people that we do not have to give up any part of our identity, I don't have to choose in the rooms that I go into, or the organizing spaces that I am in, or to meet with elected officials, or to sit in in interfaith spaces. I don't have to choose do I not be too Palestinian this day, do I not bring up the positions that I have on certain issues do I hold back for certain spaces? I have been a living example of what it means to be wholeheartedly all of me in whatever space that I am in. I want people to embrace us all and all the complex identities that we bring to the table and I will not be in a space where any group or any organization or any individual tells me that there's a part of my identity that is not welcomed into any space; that, my sisters and brothers, is not something that's going to fly with us in the Muslim community.

I want to share some advice to us and some observations in the very short time that I have. I want to talk about patriotism, and that is a conversation that we have in many elements of the Muslim community. I want us as Muslims… in particular those of us who are children of immigrants or immigrants ourselves… patriotism in your home country is different than patriotism in these United States of America. In this country, in the land of freedom of speech, in the land of democracy, dissent is the highest form of patriotism. The most patriotic Americans our heroes. The people that we say inspire us, whether it be Hegeman Eve, Shabazz, Malcolm X, or Muhammad Ali; these are people who dissented against our government and against the very policies that press the community that they came from in these United States of America. If you sit back idly in the face of injustice, if you maintain the current status quo, that not only oppresses Muslims, but oppresses black people inside our community and outside our community, undocumented people, other minority groups and oppressed groups you, my dear sisters and brothers, are then Allah aligned with the oppressor if you as a Muslim are standing on the sidelines. If you are neutral in the face of oppression in this country you are not a patriot; you are aiding and bedding the oppressors in these United States of America. I will not be an aide or help any oppressor in this nation oppress any community by my silence. You can count on me every single day to use my voice to stand up not only to people outside our community who are oppressing our communities, but those inside our community who aid and abed the oppressors outside of our community.

There is a man who once asked our beloved Prophet Muhammad Sal Allah Alayah, he said to him, “What is the best form of jihad or struggle?” and our beloved Prophet Muhammad Sal Allah Alayah said to him a word of truth, “In front of a tyrant ruler or leader.” That is the best form of jihad, and I hope that when we stand up to those who oppress our communities that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers. Not only abroad in the Middle East or the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House. Sisters and brothers we talk a lot about this across the Muslim community I hear people have this as themes of their conferences: unity. The best weapon that we have in the Muslim community against our opposition and those who choose to oppress us is unity. Unity sisters and brothers it is not just a word that you use that sounds really nice that you say on a stage. Unity is tangible, it’s practical, it looks like something, and it feels like something. When I think about the Islamophobes, I think that those who oppose us as a Muslim community… they don't actually see differences within us. They don't care if you're Shefa, Sunni, Salafi, or Sufi they don't care if you're from Pakistan or from Bangladesh. They don't care what your political leanings are when it comes to what is happening across the world, all they know is that you are a Muslim and they hate everything that you stand for. So if the Islamophobia industry, if those who choose to vandalize our massagers who attacked our leaders…are not asking you what method have you followed when they attack a Muslim sister, they don't stop her in the street and say excuse me before I attack you I would like to know if you are from Pakistan or Bangladesh or from India, they don't care. So, if the Islamophobes are treating us like we are one community, why are we not acting like we are one community sisters and brothers?

Unity is about survival for the Muslim community. We will not survive as a community in the face of more adversity and a potentially horrific time that could come, if we as a community are not united as one Ouma like we are supposed to be. I also want to say to you that when I think about us and our allies… because you my dear citizen brothers, we are to be united, we are not enough. The best estimate that I have for you is that we may be about five million Muslim-Americans in this country; that's on the high end. There are about 340 million Americans in this country, so you are only 5 million of 340 million. You are not enough on your own, so we can no longer operate from this perspective that we are Muslims and that we work for Muslim issues. We want to protect Muslim communities, and that we think that if there were something that happened to our community that we, just by defending ourselves, are somehow going to win or be able to push back against any of these policies or moments that could come to our community. That's not going to happen. We need to build coalitions, we need allies every single day sisters and brothers. I dedicate my work and my life to aligning myself with communities who are marginalized and oppressed in this country; building power across communities, introducing people to who we are as Muslims by being leaders in social justice movements, by leading in the resistance to fight for all people in these United States of America. Our religion was never religion about protecting and defending Muslims, it is about protecting and defending all of Allah’s creations. Now, if we took all of the opposition and put them together, and we took all of the Muslims and all of our allies and put us together, right, the opposition is not more than we are. They don't have more money than we have, they're not more educated than we are, they don't love their families more than we love our families, they don't love their religious institutions more than we love ours, and they don't love their leaders more than we love ours. So, if we are not, as a community, we are not outnumbered, but we are out organized by the opposition, sisters and brothers… which brings me to investment of resources.

I'm going to keep it real with the Muslim community. Some people like me, some people don't like me and I don't mind, I love everyone. All the ones that like me and all the ones that don't like me. We have enough Masjid in this country, we have enough buildings in the country, we have enough bricks in this country; unlimited infrastructure in these United States of America. So, I am doing a call-out to you sisters and brothers that I understand that people (inaudible) and people want to build Masjids. You will not benefit from Masjids if in 40, 50, 60 years from now there are no human beings and Muslims that are praying and worshipping in those Masjids. If we are not investing in leadership, our next generation…and defending and protecting our Dean of these United States of America… so these multi-million dollar infrastructure projects are for me, in this moment, that we are in in this very critical moment are distracting us from where we really need to put our resources. We need to train our young people, we need to hire youth directors in our Masjids, we need to organize and mobilize, we need to do voter registration and voter engagement; we need to build programs in our community based on all services in our community.

Sisters and brothers, oftentimes when I'm at a fundraiser, and I'm not saying that we need to choose so I don’t want you to come to me and say, “But Sister Linda you're asking me to give something up about something that I care about tickets to give somewhere else?” I'm not asking you to do that. A lot of people care about Kashmir, we care about Pakistan, and we care about Palestine, and we care about Syria, and I care about those communities too. I care about the horrific things that are happening to our Muslim sisters and brothers. When you're at a fundraiser and you're giving $1,000 to Syria, I want you to continue to give to Syria. I want to continue to alleviate the suffering of our people, but I ask you to save yourself. I'm going to give $1,000 to Syria maybe this time I'll even give eight hundred dollars to Syria, and then I'm going to take two hundred dollars, and I'm going to give it to an organization like ICNA relief, I’m going to give it to CARE, I'm going to give it to mass, I'm going to give it to a local organization doing organizing work, I'm going to give it to a woman's organization I'm going to give it to a local clinic. Sisters and brothers, we need to diversify our resources and make sure that we are experts and having infrastructure and services in all aspects, not just building Masjid, building Masjid, building Masjids.

Sisters and brothers, it has been 16 almost 17 years since the horrific attacks of 9/11 and we still as a community find ourselves unprepared in so many moments, why sisters and brothers? Why are we so unprepared why are we so afraid of this administration and the potential chaos that they will ensue in our community? We already saw their potential when they come out every few weeks Muslim ban, one Muslim ban, two Muslim ban, three. They are relentless, they are persistent and consistent and want to see how much we as a community can endure. I want to see who our friends are and how hard we're going to fight back against this administration.

So, I ask of you my dear sisters and brothers to support a whole range of organizations and services within the Muslim community. When I think about building power I think about brothers like Abdul El-Sayed, who is in this room today, who is running to be the first Muslim governor of the state of Michigan. Sisters and brothers, he is an inspiring brother, he is well qualified to be the next governor, but he can't do that without you. You can't just sit on the sidelines and say Masha ‘Allah, look at that brother why are you doing that brother? Not only does he need help from Masha’ Allah and bismillah, he needs your money, he needs your support, and indeed your action.

I hope that you have the tangible opportunity here at ISNA to join him this evening at 6:30 p.m. at Embassy Suites where he's actually holding a fundraiser. We have to put our money where our mouths are. He's taking a risk for our committee and putting himself in public where he is going to be prone to attacks, and he is going to be prone to the opposition… and also not just by the opposition by establishment, Democrats who have never really opened their doors for people like us to succeed within the Democratic Party and now we have potential hope in a young brother like Abdul El-Sayed, I hope that you provide that support to him Sisters and brothers.

I want to also advise, as I'm saying this from a really deep place of knowledge and watching our community organize, we all have different talents. Some of us are religious leaders and scholars and have an element knowledge to help advise them in the type of work that we do. Some of us are mental health professionals, and social workers, some of us are media professionals and communicators, some of us are organized, and some of us are health professionals. There's a whole range of skill sets in the Muslim community, so we all have to leverage those talents; we’ve got to stay in our lanes. If you are not a communication specialist, then you are not to be advising our community on how to communicate with the rest of the public. If you are not a health professional then you are not to be advising people on how they should be eating or how should we maintain our health as a Muslim community. If you're not a social worker or a mental health professional, you are not to be lecturing me about depression and anxiety and fear within the Muslim community. If you're not a person that has done government relations, then don't tell me how to interact with government if you have never been in that realm of work or do not have that experience. Sisters and brothers, the Muslim community Masha ‘Allah, I'm so proud of the type of talent that is in our community; let us leverage one another, that is uplift one another and let us not try to be the jacks of all trades and the masters of no trades. We in the Muslim community need to think about the work that we do for the betterment of our community not because we want to be in certain places or everything. I know what my role is, I don't lecture people about our Deen. I'm not a religious scholar, I don't allow people to ask you my advice about a particular struggle that they're having with their Islam because that's not my area of expertise. I'm not going to be the person to tell you how to run a mental health clinic because I'm not a mental health professional. I'm an organizer, I'm a communication specialist, I know how to do social media in PR, that's what I know how to do. If you know what my talents are, use my talents. When I know the talent of our sisters and brothers, I use those talents, and when we as a Muslim community have leverage the skills across our community guess what happens? We win. We have won major campaigns across this country including incorporating Muslim school holidays within the New York City public school system that was a campaign that leveraged every community member, parents or the deceivers; communicators, scholars, media professionals and that's what we need to do on a whole landscape within the Muslim community.

I'll end by saying to you all, my dear sisters and brothers, we have to stay united, we have to stay organizing, we have to stay outraged… do not criticize me when I say that we as a Muslim community, in these United States of America, have to be perpetually outraged every single… when I wake up in the morning and I remember who's sitting in the White House I am outraged. This is not normal sisters and brothers, those people sitting in the most powerful seats in this country is not normal, so do not ever be those citizens that normalize this administration; because when the day comes that something horrific happens to us or to another community, you will be responsible for normalizing this administration.

Our number one and top priority is to protect and defend our community; it is not to assimilate and please any other people in authority. Our obligation is to our young people, is to our women, and make sure our women are protected in our community. And our top priority… even higher than all those priorities… is to please Allah and only Allah. We are never to cower to the powers-that-be we are never to give up any part of our identity so somebody else can open a door for us. If a door doesn't open, what we do… we build a new door and walk through our own door because we have that right in this country; to also open opportunities for Allah and other communities.

I want to say congratulations to ISNA on 54 years and a certain 54 more years to come. I ask of all of us and recently for those that knew my announcement…my new announcement was that I am now the former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. I was the executive director for eleven years and I could have been the executive director for the next thirty years if I wanted to. It is my organization, I helped build that organization. Eleven years later, sisters and brothers, I said to myself, my work is done here. I built the infrastructure, the financial stability, I took an organization from $40,000 to a 1.2 million dollar budget organization. The time came for me to give that organization to new leadership, to new young people so that they could infuse the enthusiasm and passion that my organization needed and so I can focus on other things. There is nothing wrong, sisters and brothers, for us to move on; we love our organization enough, like Dr. Syed loved ISNA and he moved on. That doesn't mean that he's going to stop doing the work that he does. You will still hear doctor Syed, he will still be on platforms, he will still be doing the work that he did, but he knew that the time came for him to move on and give his space to somebody else; to another woman to another young person. So, I hope that Dr. Syed sends a message to all of us in this room who are on boards of organizations, who lead organizations… that sometimes moving on is the best decision that any of us can make for the institutions that we come from. Let us encourage our young people, let us make them the leaders of now because they are the leaders of now, and let us integrate them in the institutions that we have created because, guess what? We need them now more than ever. We need their talents, we need their energy, and we need their passion. So thank you ISNA for all the work that you do for our community, thank you to all the leaders that are here in this community, congratulations again to Dr. Syed, and again I'm so honored to have given this lecture in honor of a great woman and human being. A woman of the community, and for us to stand on this stage and honor the legacy of Hedge Arabia is really important to me, so thank you and thank you to the family.

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