In the name of Allah, the Mercy-giving, the Merciful

August 31, 2009

CAIR and its Honorable Elders/Scholars/Advisors:

Salamunalaykum wa rahmatullah

With due respect to your learned and forward-thinking professionals, who work for you on a wide variety of issues affecting the Muslim community across the USA, I am sending you this letter concerning your project: “Share the Qur’an Campaign.”

What is stated herein is my humble view, but I feel it is a studied and educated viewpoint.  Additionally, it is simply “advice”-- nasiha! Hence, you can take it, study it, leave it alone, or even throw it out!

CAIR’s Qur’an Project:

I know you are very enthusiastic about this endeavor, and I certainly wish you well and great success; but, I regret to say that I believe this project is misguided for many reasons. The way I see it, it is a good public relations stunt but a waste of precious resources, and the expected payback may be minimal and not much to report about.

My primary objection to this project is how it was conceived (niyyah). According to your own communication, this idea was born pursuant to President Obama’s speech in Cairo, where the president delivered a powerful and historic message to the world at large, a speech in which the president quoted many passages from our Noble Book. However, this fact by itself is insufficient and incomplete to inaugurate an enterprise of this magnitude. Simply put, there is a better way (noted below). A subsidiary question is: why wait for the US President “to quote the Qur’an” for you to start “distributing the Qur’an”?  Such a reason is weak and artificial.

Another factor that weighs heavily in my mind against this project concerns the publicly disclosed “distribution list” of the precious Qur’an. According to your press conference coupled with what has been reported in the print media: this project is not an attempt to proselytize, but one with a purely educational purpose in mind, as reported:

Background Note:

Any observant person who has been following American public opinion over the past decades will note that public opinion today on Muslims and Islam is worse than after 9/11. This happened despite the decades of interfaith activities by many of the established Muslim organizations, including ISNA, ICNA, CAIR, MAS, MANA, etc. And of course, I have witnessed almost on a daily basis the work CAIR and its affiliates do to respond to many, many issues of discrimination and profiling against Muslims in these United States.

So, here are two pertinent questions:

CAIR and its affiliates have, over the years, produced relevant authoritative materials to combat discrimination and work rules / misunderstandings between Muslim workers and American employers, not to mention court battles. And your resolution efforts have largely been successful. Regrettably, the overall situation has not improved much; in fact, it appears that things have gotten worse based on the latest polling data.

Now back to the Qur’an project:

CAIR’s plan, to send Qur’ans to the “power brokers, influence peddlers, and opinion makers” in America may be a nice public relation gesture, which may satisfy many people -- Muslims and others alike. But I beg to differ!

In this context, I request you to open the very Qur’an (translated by Muhammad Asad, which is now being distributed) and go to: Chapter 80 (Surah `Abasa), and read Verses 1-10, including Asad’s Footnote on Verse 2, where it is shown that the noble Messenger (pbuh) “frowned and turned away” from the “blind man who approached him,” as the Messenger continued his conversation with the “influential chieftains of pagan Mecca.”

This particular historical episode is informative and instructive to your current Qur’an project. It is the perfect metaphor of your current enterprise by “electing” to send the sacred Text to “American power elites and men of substance,” (read “influential chieftains of pagan Mecca”) rather than seeking to directly interact and accommodate the “ordinary American populace,” with a plan more diverse and representative, and one that could yield better results, as suggested below.

Muslim-American Neighbor Project:

Now here is my alternative idea, one which I had sent to CAIR some two years ago but with no response; so this idea is not new nor original. In fact, there were times in the past when CAIR utilized it in a limited way for other purposes. But in this instance, there is a vital need to resurrect it as an instrument to change America’s opinion about its Muslim neighbors. 

I propose that all Muslim organizations in the US (and even Canada) should (and must) come together and jointly formulate a strategic plan, which calls for all local community mosques and Islamic centers across this country to be opened throughout the year to our America neighbors. This is strictly a local, grassroots effort to inviting, meeting, and introducing ourselves to our American counterparts living in our own neighborhoods across this great country. In doing so, we must be patient, for this is not a one month project as in Ramadan; rather, our centers and mosques should be opened all year long to welcome the locals so that they can get to know us personally, to ask questions, to share and break bread, to see our rituals, festivals, weddings, etc., to know our hopes and aspirations, and our disappointments and struggles!

When local and ordinary Americans (even those opposed to us) get to know us better, one on one, on a personal level, in the local community centers, or summer bazaar, picnic and other avenues of communal activities, they, in my view, will be our advocates. This is a simple but powerful proposition, but it must be done at the local level, not at the level of the “politicians, influence peddlers, and power brokers.”

Why? Because they (the men / women of power and influence) do not constitute the ‘American public.’ We need to improve relations and change our image with the local population en masse; the politicians with listen to the locals, and as the latter get to know us better, they will be more sympathetic to us and our issues. By going local, we will eventually influence the ‘big wigs.”

VITAL: It is at this local level where Qur’ans ought to be distributed; that is, local Muslim community leaders can make a gift of the sacred Text to those who want one; no effort will be made for mass distribution; that would suggest an effort to proselytize. This point is absolutely crucial and should be adhered to; that is, the gift of the Qur’an has to be given locally and in private, by request and not by public proclamation!

This approach could help those Muslim communities seeking to establish a local masjid, where traffic and zoning laws might be hindrances. Good relations and better understanding with the local majority can multiply into other benefits for the Muslims. Moreover, it will engender trust and mutual understanding among all peoples.

So I hope this embryonic idea can grow and become fruitful some time in the future. This skeletal proposal can be given flesh and bones and modified to meet local circumstances.

What is surprising to me is that today (in mid 2009), CAIR and others still repeat the age-old mantra that “Islam is Misunderstood” when over 50 years ago, a famous American writer (James Michener) had thrown sympathetic light on Islam in a very popular magazine read by millions at home and abroad (see 'Islam: The Misunderstood Religion,' Reader’s Digest, May 1955, pp. 68-70). Thus, from my observation and reading of history, our image problem cannot be placed solely at the feet of the American public, but by failed and bankrupt Muslim leadership, both here and abroad.

Now, if you want to send something to “American big wigs,” I suggest distribution of Michener’s historic article, free of cost but with valuable insight from a man with a powerful voice. What do you think?

Penning this letter has been a pleasure for me, and I trust that you will give it an ear! If not, I feel that I have done my duty as a Muslim!

My deepest respect and admiration for the noble work carried out by CAIR, its staff and its supporters.


Mohamad K. Yusuff

Washington, DC

Posted October 11, 2009