Navigating the Paradox

The 2024 ISNA Convention to Focus on Faith, Action, and the American Identity

By Rasheed Rabbi

May/Jun 2024

Paradox grips our world! Ideals once revered now crumble beneath the weight of individual interests and the convenience of leaders. The norm has shifted away from adhering to principles, plunging us into the abyss of injustice, immorality and inhumanity — contrary to the very essence of being American and Muslim. This erosion of values permeates society, starkly evident in the ongoing genocide in Palestine, the Ukraine-Russia war, the Republican-Democrat ballot battle and heated debates on nationality, religion, financial freedom and enlightening education.

It ostensibly appears that Israel has occupied only Gaza, but in reality it has occupied every single country and territory except Gaza, which is still actively resisting the oppressor. All other nations, including Muslim-majority ones, have succumbed to Israel’s will for political expediency. 

A staggering 8.1 billion people are witnessing how Israel boldly deny the Palestinians’ humanity and engage in a cold-blooded genocide. The invisible shackles of political and self-interest of nations and countries have constrained our freedom of thought, and the motif of individual political success has tied our tongues and stifled our voices. How often do we reflect on the breadth of this insidious influence lurking beneath the visible reality?

Recognizing this contradictory situation at the outset of Israel’s transgressions marks the inaugural step toward liberating our “land of the free,” both as Americans and as Muslims. On Feb. 24, Aaron Bushnell, a U.S. Air Force serviceman, confronted this contradictory reality and sought freedom by rejecting complicity in the genocide. He didn’t hesitate to self-immolate in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. to awaken Americans to the truth. If your heart doesn’t ache for those lives in Palestine, at least recognize the sacrifice of these heroes on American soil. Each of us may have been active for different causes, but we must not overlook the genocide faced by our fellow brothers and sisters. Each of us has a role to play in acknowledging and addressing this dire incongruity.

The anomaly between political principle and actual practices rules in politics. We are fast heading toward the next presidential election, mostly marked with the consequences of the Covid-19 calamity and complacency over two wars under Biden. Political parties no longer search for a middle ground to foster national unity, but brazenly capitalize on polarized bases, thereby deepening political divides. Citizens find themselves trapped and disillusioned by extremes and rigid ideologies.

While certain Republican agendas superficially align with some moral values, like opposition to abortion and non-binary gender issues, their practice, including the repeated threat of racial profiling, blatantly disrespects the basic dignity of immigrants, specifically Muslims. On the flip side, people feel betrayed by the Biden administration’s flawed gun and ammunition regulations, which fail miserably to control mass shootings locally and fatally fuel wars and conflicts internationally. Both conservative and liberal leaders seem to be competing in terms of deliberate falsehoods and egregious misrepresentations to promote individual biases. Elections have become a means of polarizing the electorate and prioritizing personal biases over the public interest.

Discerning the divergently polarized agendas of Republicans and Democrats is the oxygen for the survival of democracy, and accepting that voting is not limited to a binary choice is crucial for fostering a genuinely free and informed electorate. These sentiments don’t emanate from lofty idealism, but are a shared countrywide yearning best resonated in Tom McDonald’s rhymes:

I am not Republican, I am not a liberal

Why the hell can’t I just be an American without getting political?

Honestly, this is a psychological holocaust,

Pumpin’ propaganda through the screen and straight into your brain


The contrast between fundamental ideals and widespread malpractice also exacerbates the growing divide between the affluent and the underprivileged. Congress stipulates rules and regulations that defy basic economic principles aimed at balancing income and wealth inequality. Shockingly, the top 1% now possesses more wealth than the bottom 92%, marking a significant shift since 1978, when the top 0.1% owned about 7% of the nation’s wealth (Sen. Bernie Sanders, “The rich-poor gap in America is obscene. So let’s fix it – here’s how”, March 29, 2021).

The Biden administration and federal regulations seem to care less about closing this surging chasm, leaving the labor of working-class citizens being exploited. Iconic companies like Airbnb, valued at $108 billion (, own no physical property. Uber, with a valuation of $167 billion (, boasts no vehicle ownership. 

The pervasive and malevolent influence of monopoly, capitalism and exploitation lurks beneath seemingly benevolent initiatives such as relief funds, rescue bills, and tax cuts. The rich continue to amass wealth, amplifying this economic rift, and the glaring mismatch between reward and effort renders the American Dream a cruel mockery.

Perhaps education stands as the hidden paramount instrument to obscure and ethically assess questionable and immoral actions that we refuse to acknowledge or even knowingly compromise on for the sake of personal convenience. The American education system deeply falters in resolving issues like rampant bullies and harassment, pervasive technology and social media influence, cultural and socio-economic disparities, along with limited exposure to the diversity necessary for holistic development.

Rather than prioritizing essential skills such as reading comprehension, math proficiency and overall student performance, the system burdens students with superfluous regulations concerning restroom usage for non-binary genders. This misplaced focus raises concerns about the educational system’s integrity and efficacy, as it appears to prioritize social engineering objectives over its fundamental mission of education.

ISNA’s Role

These contradictions and challenges are intricately interdependent. Hence, the grip of paradoxes extends far wider and deeper than we can imagine, thereby casting a shadow on our society that will last for generations. 

ISNA intends neither to enumerate these issues nor to purport a swift resolution for them, but rather to catalyze a collective awakening to the truth and to recognize the flawed systems that surround us beneath the superficial semblance.

Such a pursuit is rooted in divine wisdom. As Muslims, we believe that none of these challenges transpire without the permission of God (9:51), who orchestrates everything to test individuals best in deeds (67:2). And so, the crucial question arises: Are we responding in the best way befitting both our American and Muslim identities?

We yearn for the alleviation of global issues and societal problems, but may be unable to address and amend them all. Instead, let’s focus on our individual roles before succumbing to frustration over worldwide depravities. We must remember that all meaningful changes start from within. Therefore, Rumi wisely said, “Yesterday I was smart, and I wanted to change the world. But today I am wise, and I want to change myself.”

ISNA acknowledges that the war-mongering tactics of major Western powers may not change overnight. Instead, it emphasizes an individual strategy that champions the unity of humanity, ensuring that Bushnell isn’t alone and that his death wasn’t in vain. ISNA therefore urges all citizens to vote to represent the anthem of McDonald’s rhymes as the chorus of a greater citizenry’s soul. While restoring the decades-long distortions in financial and educational systems is ambitious, ISNA underscores the significance of individual actions.

In a world rife with paradoxes and contradictions, ISNA urges us to uphold the divine mandate — “the truth to be true and the false to be false” (8:8) — and advocates us to align our actions with the truth to ensure that neither religious nor national ideals clash with individual interests or leadership convenience. 

The 2024 convention invites us to strive for perfection amid imperfection. Just as individual faith experiences ebbs and flows, our actions — whether civic or religious — also require continuous refinement. Hence, ISNA recognizes that both faith and action require ongoing forging, which is encapsulated in its chosen theme: “The Muslim American: Forging Faith & Action.”

Through its convention themes, ISNA endeavors to address all Americans. There may be skepticism as to whether Muslim Americans can engage with American issues solely through the lens of their faith, and thus offer solutions that resonate only with their own values. This year’s theme provides an immediate response to such doubts. It iterates that individually, we are just as accountable to the Almighty as are all Americans collectively, pledging to unite under One God. Our goal is to foster a shared commitment to truth, justice and compassion.

Rasheed Rabbi, an IT professional who earned an MA in religious studies from Hartford Seminary, is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry from Boston University. He is also the founder of e-Dawah (; secretary of the Association of Muslim Scientists, Engineers & Technology Professionals; serves as a khateeb and Friday prayer leader at the ADAMS Center; and is a certified Muslim chaplain at iNova Fairfax, iNova Loudoun and Virginia’s Alexandria and Loudoun Adult Detention Centers.

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