Being Muslim Is Not a Crime
My speech for Protest the Ban in Omaha, NE
Peace be upon you
Bismillah ar rahman ar rahim
I would like to begin by paying my respects to the indigenous people whose land we are on right now. In particular, I pay my respects to the Umoⁿhoⁿ people for whom this city is named.
Unless you belong to the indigenous tribes of this land, you are an immigrant, as well. Chances are, some of your ancestors were refugees too.
My name is Ferial Pearson and I am a Muslim immigrant from Kenya. I came to this country nineteen years ago on a student visa to fulfill my dream of becoming a teacher, and I have dedicated my career to educating children in Nebraska. Most of my students have been immigrants, children of immigrants, refugees, and asylees. They have been the hardest and smartest workers I have ever met. They have gone on to do great things and are creating positive change in communities around the world, including here in these United States of America.
I am here to tell you that being Muslim is not a crime. Being a refugee is not a crime.
I would like to lift up the voice of Warsan Shire, a British-Somali poet, who wrote this poem entitled Home. I hope you listen with an open heart as she is not here to speak these words herself today.
Home, by Warsan Shire
no one leaves home
unless home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.
your neighbours running faster than you,
the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home when home won’t let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home chased you,
fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought about doing,
and so when you did — you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that you would not be going back.
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days and nights in the stomach of a truck unless the miles travelled meant something more than journey.
no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
forced to the bottom of the boat because you are darker,
be sold, starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family, make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched,
find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side with
go home blacks, refugees dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk, dark,
with their hands out smell strange, savage — look what they’ve done to their own countries, what will they do to ours?
the dirty looks in the street softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who look like your father, between your legs,
insults easier to swallow than rubble,
than your child’s body in pieces — for now, forget about pride your survival is more important.
i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore unless home tells you to leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.
no one leaves home
until home is a damp voice in your ear saying leave,
i don’t know what i’ve become.
Muslims, asylees, refugees, and immigrants are teachers, we are lawyers, we are activists, we are doctors, we are business owners, we are students, we are poets, we are musicians, we are artists, we are inventors, we are parents, we are siblings, we are friends, and we are your co-workers and we are your neighbors. We contribute to this community just as much as anyone. We have intersectional identities and we ask that you understand that we are a part of every single facet of this society and have been for hundreds of years.
So when you march for women’s rights, know that we are women too.
When you march at Pride, know that we are LGBTQIA too.
When you march for education, know that we are teachers and students too.
When you march for science, know that we are scientists too.
When you march for disability rights, now that we are of mixed ability too.
I could go on; we are everyone too.
We are you.
The irony is that people come here to escape tyranny and religious, political, and ideological persecution. But what we have seen in the past few days is that America is becoming a place where it is no longer safe to come for freedom.
Mandy Faripour, a refugee from Iran who, like me, has spent her entire career educating and advocating for children in this state, said:
“What this administration did not count on is the prior experience of the many immigrants who have made the United States their home. We’ve witnessed, first hand, the embers of totalitarianism in our countries of origin and easily see it now. The canary in the coal mine is dead and we will not be silenced.”
I seek guidance from my faith as a Muslim. In my faith, I am required to stand witness to justice, fairness, equality, not just in words, but in practice. In the Qur’an it says “be just, that is closest to Godliness.”
Social justice in Islam extends to everyone in my community, whether or not they are related to me or share my faith. I must pay Zakat where a portion of my income must be given to those who need it. The Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, once said, “he is not a Muslim who sleeps with his stomach full while his neighbor stays hungry.”
My faith stands firmly against inequality and encourages me to be involved with initiatives that would eradicate the root causes of inequality.
My Imam, the Aga Khan, says “Diversity itself can be seen as a gift. Diversity is not a reason to put up walls, but rather to open windows. It is not a burden; it is a blessing.
I end with a quote from Lilla Watson, an indigenous Australian woman, who echoes my feelings about how we advocate for the people most affected by this recent Executive Order: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Peace be upon you.