Nuggets From Amir Hussain's Call
Posted by Aryae Coopersmith on Mar 29, 2020
Dr. Amir Hussain is Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He teaches on world religions, focusing on Islam and contemporary Muslim societies in North America. He has twice been chosen by students as Professor of the Year. He previously was the only male to serve as Dean of Women at University College, University of Toronto. Dr. Hussain is an advisor for the television series The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. Author of Muslims and the Making of America, he tries to highlight how Muslims have shaped what it means to be an American, as well as to amplify the nonviolent tradition of Islam. He notes that most Americans don’t know that Muslims have been here since “before this country was this country,” going back to the transatlantic slave trade. He was the editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the premier scholarly journal for the study of religion.
Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
- There are two kinds of jobs in the world -- the kind of job you take where you take a shower before you go to work, and the kind of job where you take a shower after you come from work. Factory work is the latter. My parents were immigrants from Pakistan, and my father, a factory worker, took his showers after he got home from work.
- One of the great discoveries for me as a young person at the university is that you can have a life as an intellectual -- being paid to read and write. Wow! It was a great moment to be welcomed into that conversation.
- Toronto in 1970 wasn't only a white city, it was a British city (85%) as well. So there were many groups that were treated as “minorities.” Not only brown-skinned South Asians, but Southern European Catholics as well. Are you discriminated against because you're brown? Because you don't speak the language? I grew up with a feeling of isolation in the midst of a lot of different kinds of prejudice.”
- My sister and I were the only two Muslins in the elementary school. We all had to say the Lord's Prayer, and sing Christmas carols. It was strange and confusing for us, And we couldn't go to the mosque on Fridays.
- In the 1970s, most of the people you saw who were not white mainstream Christian were African American. So I loved Mohamed Ali, who was brown and Muslim.
- I also loved him for his refusal to be inducted into the Vietnam war. And as a kid I admired him for his athletic prowess. And then later, it was also for his moral courage.
- We were in ordinary public schools in Canada that happened to be very good. Good schools were one of the great strengths of both Canada and the US.
- I was a good student, a smart kid, in school. So I kind of secretly envied and admired athletes.
- My dad worked with his hands in an auto factory. So I was a working class kid. My father encouraged me to go to university, so I wouldn't have to spend my life like him.
- At university, I discovered that oh, being a smart kid is good!
- I was a psychology major and English minor at U of Toronto. And the English curriculum is what got me into the study of religion. Because in order to understand Western culture, you have to know the Bible.
- Then I realized, I didn't even know my own religion. So I thought, maybe I should also learn about Islam.
- For graduate school, you have to specialize, so I chose religion. My dissertation was the history of how Muslims came to Toronto.
- Studying your faith in university can result in either deepening your faith, or in losing your faith.
- I had previously thought of Islam as a South Asian tradition. Then I learned about Islam as an Arab tradition, an African tradition, and about Islam in countries all around the world.
- The teachings of the Quran are very relevant to the challenges we're facing today during the coronavirus. In Islam, a spiritual person is a really good person who doesn't get angry with people, and deals with things in a positive way. It’s all about taking care of people, taking care of each other.
- The fast of Ramadan is a good example of Muslim spiritual practice. Do you surrender yourself to God? Do you give up food and water, which is so much part of your life, and give yourself up in faith and trust to God?
- This coronavirus situation points out the inequalities among people. I can just turn on my tap and get water. How many people in the world don't know where their next safe, clean water will come from? The Quran points to: how can I work toward a world where everyone has enough food and water?
- For many Americans, 911 was the first time they had to think about Muslims.
- The Saturday after 911 a Sikh gas station attendant in Arizona was shot to death by a white guy who was angry at Muslims. So there was suddenly a real threat in the U.S., not only to Muslims, but also to anyone who “looked Muslim.”
- But the truth is, Muslims were also among the victims who died in 911. Muslims were also among the first responders who saved people’s lives.
- I grew up with the Russians as the bad guys. You (Janessa) grew up with the drug dealers as the bad guys. Younger people grew up with the terrorists as the bad guys. Each age identifies it's bad guys. Now it's corona virus. It seems we always need someone or something else that we can blame.
- We externalize the evil. But actually the biggest danger is inside us. That's where we need to be looking.
- (Janessa responding:) The true jihad is the struggle with ourselves. How do we get there?
Lots of gratitude to Dr. Amir Hussain, to Janessa Gans Wilder, and to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!