Lyndon B. Johnson, our 37th President, sought to establish the Great Society. It was his vision for the future of America, a place filled with equality not only racially, but economically and socially. It entailed the passing of one of the most ambitious and comprehensive programs the country had ever seen, comparable only to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. LBJ had good intentions, and he fought tirelessly for this grand vision. All was going well, except for one thing. The war in Vietnam under Johnson was going horribly. Although he ran on an agenda of peace, he escalated the war tremendously. Ultimately and really regrettably, his foreign policy blunders overshadowed his great successes and good intentions on the domestic front. And, what we now remember of Johnson is his failure in Vietnam, not his remarkable vision for the Great Society. His entire presidency and all the good he sought to do took a backseat to the one area of his presidency in which he failed.
Now why is all this significant? Terrifyingly, LBJ is all too similar to many people in the Muslim community who are working towards a better future and vision. Many of us mean incredibly well, but unfortunately our actions and intentions are forever tainted with certain mistakes that we made along the way. The most common example includes many of our elders who work tirelessly to inculcate the love of Islam in our hearts but in doing so, focus on the outer technicalities– the clothes we wear or the beard length we sport–rather than the inner-morality. Also, often in the process of trying to teach we use abuse, whether physical or verbal, as a tool to shape the individual. However, this process backfires totally, and the individual is left with a feeling of rejection and contempt. This feeling of rejection leads, much like it did with LBJ, to a backlash, where the individual and society do not remember the good that we did, but rather the evil that we inflicted. This twisted image is what we as a whole are defined and remembered by, much like it was with LBJ. The worst part is when this attitude of negativity and aversion is associated not only with us, but with Islam itself.
Unfortunately, the Muslim community today is filled with stories like the ones above. These stories collectively have produced a generation of Muslims feeling contempt for their religion and community, rather than love and affection. This has led to devastating consequences. Not surprisingly, under his presidency LBJ experienced the emergence of the “counterculture,” a time ripe with revolt and protest over the way things were. It was a time defined by drug use, open sexuality, and rebellion by the youth. The Muslim community is facing a similar counterculture which has emerged as a result of our own practices in raising and “bettering” our youth. This is why Muhammad is in the club Friday night, instead of in the masjid. This is why Fatima could care less about her parents, because she sees them as backwards and controlling. This is why we have a huge segment of our youth ashamed of their Muslim identity, who in their college classes won’t even stand up to the wrongs that are said about their own religion. It’s because they themselves are ashamed of that identity and see it as something negative. And it all starts with the way in which we deal with our youngsters. Are we providing a safe outlet for them to ask why, or are we hitting them every time they do? Are we judging every single person that looks or acts differently, or are we providing a welcoming atmosphere to each individual regardless of how they look, dress, or behave? Are we listening to the advice of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) when he said to treat each person as you would like to be treated, or are we instead treating others as inferior to us?
If we as a community do not address the causes of the emerging counterculture, we will continue to experience backlash, and we will continue to decline. We need to remove our Vietnams, so they do not overshadow the good we seek to do. We have to learn from our great president, and ensure that the Great Society we envision for our youth is achieved without interference from the mistakes we make along the way.