Dr. Ruhul Amin

Dr. Ruhul Amin

On Oct. 14, we celebrated a holiday in our nation. According to the Pew Research Center, this day is the most inconsistently observed holiday in the United States. The nation’s capital calls it Indigenous Peoples’ Day, while a number of states celebrate it as Columbus Day.

My column is not to argue about the most appropriate name for this day, but to use it as an impetus to learn our history and take responsibility for it. For many Italian Americans, Columbus Day is a reminder of the vilification and ethnic discrimination they faced as new immigrants. The first national celebration of this day was in 1892, one year after the mass lynching of 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans. The celebration was declared by President Harrison as part of a wider effort to incorporate the Italian American community into mainstream society and ease diplomatic tensions with Italy. This day became a national holiday in 1934 to honor Christopher Columbus as well as recognize the contributions of Italian Americans in our country.

For Native Americans, naming this holiday after someone who never set foot in the United States is a painful reminder of 500 years of colonial repression by European settlers in their land, a history whose wounds still run deeply in their community. Many do not want their children to be forced to hear the celebration of an individual who set in motion a process of systemic elimination of their people, culture and religion. It was not until 1989 that South Dakota became the first state to change the name of Columbus Day to Native American Day, in an effort to recognize their plight.

For many, Columbus represents the values of discovery and attaining the American dream. For others, he represents the calculated destruction of a group of people who lived here for millennia and enjoyed a sophisticated culture and connection to their land. Simply tearing down historic monuments or denying the history does not make it disappear. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We as a nation need to learn from our history of injustice and discriminations. We must learn to move forward without repeating the history that divided us; we must learn to replace hate with love. As God taught us in the Quran, “O you who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly – if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do [Quran 4:135].”

We cannot live under fear or intimidation and still hope to establish a progressive society. The best way to mitigate these feelings is to educate ourselves by seeking out the truth and dispelling myths. We are all responsible for our actions and must remember God is watching whatever we are doing. As people of conscience, a great responsibility is put on our shoulders whether male or female, young or old, rich or poor, white or people of color. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Behold, all of you are responsible; and every one of you will be questioned (by God) about your responsibility.” If we sincerely “consult our conscience”, we will always find the right guidance. However, we must also keep ourselves humble in the process. As Imam Ibn Al Jawzee, a twelve century Islamic Scholar from Baghdad said so eloquently, “Know that if people are impressed with you, in reality they are impressed with the beauty of God’s covering of your sins.”

God said, “Mankind was created weak [Quran 4:28],” alluding to our tendency to falter. The best amongst us is the one who learns from their weaknesses and moves forward. We must learn from our past mistakes. We must replace hate and racism with love and compassion. We must learn to forgive if we expect God to forgive our shortcomings. Last month, we witnessed a supreme example of grace in a Dallas courtroom, when 18-year-old Brandt Jean forgave and hugged Amber Guyger, the police officer who shot and killed his 26-year-old brother Botham Jean in his own home while he was eating ice cream and watching TV. What a lesson for all of us – the world witnessed the grace of a black teenager towards a white authority figure, the latter of whom was the cause of the untimely and cruel death of his beloved brother. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Dr. Amin is a professor of mechanical engineering at Montana State University and is the president of the Islamic Center of Bozeman.