By Tariq Ramadan
This does not mean that all activities expressing solidarity should come to an end. On the contrary. Our thought is that they are insufficient, not that they are useless. Over the past two decades, acts of solidarity have multiplied in Western Muslim communities. After being at first expressions of solidarity only with Muslims, they have little by little extended to all groups in society. The “couscous de l’amitie´” in France and the food provided on university campuses during Ramadan (in the United States and some European countries) and to vulnerable people (e.g., the unemployed, the homeless) are examples of this. These actions have not always been welcomed as they should be by local political authorities and the media, who are often suspicious that there may be hidden motives (proselytism, fundamentalism), but they have nevertheless developed in the Muslim consciousness a sense of being at home in the West and of serving society. They have also given an opportunity for some citizens to come into contact with Muslims in a different way and to become aware of some of the social values of their religion.
From a more long-term perspective, we must point out the work carried out by some Muslim groups in deprived areas and in prisons. Although generally directed toward the Muslim community, these activities have sometimes touched non-Muslim citizens, too. It is a matter of improving the quality of life, fighting against drugs, violence, marginalization, and illiteracy. The work carried out by Afro-Americans in this area is exemplary: the struggle against violence, drugs, and illiteracy has been effective in many parts of the country, and the commitment of the imam Siraj Wahhaj in the area around his Al-Taqwa Mosque in Brooklyn has been well known for years. This initiative from within has become more visible as more and more Muslim citizens have chosen to become social helpers and to get involved in working alongside young people in deprived areas. But separation between the affluent and the poor is, nevertheless, the rule, and the social commitment of the former is starkly inadequate compared with the needs of the latter. On a broader front, a commitment to solidarity toward the whole of society, with non-Muslim partners, remains an exception in the United States and Europe, for two reasons: such activities are often, as we have said, misinterpreted, and the possibility of working openly with non-Muslims remains something of which only a minority are aware.