Unity Night of Kwanzaa 2016: Some Friendly Muslim Thought Leaders, by J.D. Meyer

Welcome to Unity Night of Kwanzaa, Tyler Texas—the first night of our seven-night festival. Furthermore, it’s the 50th Anniversary of Kwanzaa! How does Kwanzaa’s founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga describe Unity? Unity invites an “alternative sense of solidarity…the world’s health and wholeness require education to know about others.” In this year’s Unity address, Dr. Karenga asserts, “For we come into being and best express and develop our humanity in relationship.” This reminds me of benevolence, the first of the five virtues of Confucianism (Ruism) Benevolence is a simple four-stroke character, a person standing next to the number “two,” symbolizing society.

Perhaps never before in Kwanzaa’s history have Unity Night presentations got the opportunity to repair an upset, divided country following the last election. In other words, our talks could go beyond the Afrocentric Black Elite. First of all, I resolve to stay positive and not bash ideological opposites. Who remembers that great soul song by the O’Jays, “Unity”? The chorus asserts, “Unity, we must have unity. For united we stand, divided we fall.” I’m going to focus on some great work of fine Muslims in this country and elsewhere.

Fareed Zakaria
Let’s start with my hero and favorite journalist, Fareed Zakaria https://twitter.com/FareedZakaria —the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN on Sunday morning at 9 am and re-run at noon. The GPS stands for Global Public Square, and he has interviewed many of the top leaders in the world.

Fareed is a Muslim immigrant from India, and he has a Ph.D. in Political Science from an Ivy League university. He also writes for the Washington Post and published a book, The Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education. However, Fareed isn’t a practicing Muslim but somewhere between deist and agnostic; plus his wife is Christian. Perhaps you could call him a cultural Muslim, but my point is that there is a continuum of beliefs within any religion from nominal to fundamentalist to fanatic.

Ulil Abshar-Abdallah & Indonesia
Our next standout is Ulil Abshar-Abdallah, and we’re friends on Twitter. https://twitter.com/ulil What is the most populated Muslim country? What Muslim country enjoys complete religious freedom in their constitution? The answer to both questions is Indonesia, and Ulil is the founder and leader of the Liberal Islam of Indonesia, also known as the Jaringans. The President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, is known for his love of Heavy Metal music–notably Metallica and Megadeth. Indonesia has plenty of popular native heavy metal bands too, such as Burgerkill. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jul/11/joko-jokowi-widodos-metal-manifesto

I just checked Ulil’s Twitter site, and his pinned tweet states, “Don’t let politics ruin friendship.” A pinned tweet is always first on your list. A few days ago, he retweeted an article from the British journal, Independent, that warned about Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar financing extremist Islamic missionary groups in Germany. A few weeks ago, I shared some news with Ulil and everybody else from the Saudi hashtag #EndMaleGuardianship. It was a cluster of articles about Saudi women battling for equal rights. On Christmas, Ulil tweeted a New York Times article about being okay to wish Muslims a Merry Christmas. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/23/opinion/why-its-not-wrong-to-wish-muslims-merry-christmas.html Christians and Muslims share some of the same miracles.

“What is Liberal Islam? (a) open to all forms of intellectual exploration, all dimensions of Islam; (b) prioritizing religious ethics, not literal textual reading; (c) believing that truth is relative, open for interpretations and plural; (d) siding with oppressed minorities; (e) believing in the freedom to practice religious beliefs; (f) separation of world and heavenly authorities, religious and political authorities. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaringan_Islam_Liberal Islam is a “living organism that makes us feel enthusiasm.” When Mohammad said, “There’s no compulsion in religion,” it was in response to a follower asking Mohammad if he should go get his son, who had moved to practice Christianity–an older religion. Ulil cited a Moroccan feminist, who felt the veil was no longer valid, but it simply serves the political interests of men. Originally, the head coverings were to protect Muslim women from being harassed just to bother Mohammad.But lets keep the burka. I’ve seen some beautiful models wearing them. Furthermore, who could object to an American flag motif?

Unfortunately, Indonesia has radical Islamic terrorist groups, but the government works with the USA in developing counter-terrorism strategies in USINDO. Indonesian police have successfully raided terrorist training camps. Furthermore, the founder of a leading Islamist group, Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) was imprisoned. http://www.usindo.org/resources/counter-terrorism-strategy-in-indonesia-adapting-to-a-changed-threat-2/ Ulil asserts that the roots of Muslim fundamentalism are a feeling of being left behind in science and economics and becoming spectators of Western injustice. Some Muslims protest the mayor of Jakarta–“Ahok” Basuki, a Chinese Christian.

Edarabia
Edarabia is the Middle East’s #1 Education Guide; helping students, parents and educators to interact and select the best institutions. Edarabia is based in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—all on the Arabian Peninsula. https://twitter.com/Edarabia “Visitors can find the latest industry news, upcoming events, job listings, research updates, compare ratings, add reviews and engage with others in the community forum. Edarabia.com covers all areas of education including but not limited to universities, colleges, schools, nurseries, language institutes, training academies, music schools, online degrees and much more.”

Edarabia’s pinned tweet is a roundup of books recommended by teachers and their reasons why. They have a Paper.li account called The Edarabia Times. Paper.li accounts are a daily newsletter gathered from those you follow in cyberspace. Edarabia and I are Twitter friends too; plus, they added me to an influential educators list. My Paper.li account, The BohemioTX, is my pinned tweet.

On Christmas, I found an awesome article by Edarabia entitled, “Five Tips in Building a Community of Learners.” http://www.edarabia.com/110008/3-tips-in-building-a-community-of-learners/ It was largely a reaction to the possibilities that technology bring to the classroom. Here are the five points: (1) Use an innovative approach. (2) Embrace new learning opportunities. (3) Encourage a ‘community’ between your students. (4) Make learning relevant. (5) Let students know you care about them.

This article reminded me of including edited student essays in my Developmental English textbook. Two of the standouts are about a veteran driving tanks in Bosnia and an account of the “chopped” technique in Houston’s Rap music.
I sent this article promptly to an American education leader, Angela Maiers, the founder of the #YouMatter paradigm. Many of us love to be scholarly with our cyberspace friends and include links to articles and hashtags in our tweets and posts.

MENA-ICT
Let’s close with an account of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) Information and Communication (ICF) Forum. https://twitter.com/MENAICT It’s the premier ICT industry event in this region. The forum is held once every two years in Jordan through the direction of King Abdullah II since 2002. King Abdullah II is one of our best friends in the Muslim world. A former front-line soldier, King Abdullah II supports our military actions in the Mid-East, avoiding front-line conflict, which would look like a Christian-Islam apocalypse.

“The MENA ICT Forum showcases the entire region’s ICT success stories, and discusses latest trends, opportunities, and future outlooks.” The MENA-ICT Forum launched a 1000 Entrepreneurs National Initiative this year. Israel is a member of MENA, as is all of the Mid-East and North Africa. The first Arab Spring country, Tunisia, is still doing rather well as a democracy

CONCLUSION
I hope my Kwanzaa Unity talk has shown that we have strong allies in the Islam world, and not just an odd mix of “frenemies” and enemies. We started in the USA with Fareed Zakaria before examining Ulil Abshar-Abdallah and his country, Indonesia; Edarabia, a leading education site, based in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and the UAE, and the MENA-ICT conference and its sponsoring group. Many Muslims are battling for progress in education, religion, technology, and economics.

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