Letter 98

DAY 98

Homayra Ziad

Director, Program in Islamic Studies
Johns Hopkins University
April 27, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice-President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

To be alive is to be acutely aware that we are mortal—yet too many of us walk the corridors of power with the arrogance of immortality. Did this virus turn the world upside down? Or do we see more clearly the lies we swallowed for decades? The sins of disaster capitalism are etched onto our bodies, a deadly game of smoke and mirrors meant to leave us fatigued, immobile, and impotent.

Mr. President, do you look around at our country—with its collapsing economic system, pharaonic hoarding of wealth, failing schools, the sham we call healthcare, the daily wanton murder of our Black brothers and sisters, the weapons unleashed against millions here and around the world—and ask: Is this my legacy?

“Be who this shattered world needs you to be…”

There is one sacred word I draw on today, and that word is the Arabic kun,“be.” Be who this shattered world needs you to be, Mr. President. The Divine call of creation and imagination that brought the world into being through one word, “Be” (Qur’an 2:117), is a sacred gift that lies deep within each of us. The legacy of this call is our astounding power to recreate at every moment.

Be revolutionary, Mr. President. Call into being a just world. This is not the time to reach across the aisle and shake hands with plutocrats, racists, and warmongers, to try and breathe life into our nation alongside men and women who know only how to deal death. What we require today are extraordinary acts of imagination and creation. Our institutions failed us because they were never built to offer every human being our God-given right to recreate ourselves. Abolitionist organizer Mariame Kaba tells us that “every vision is also a map.” We must imagine our way out of punitive institutions—the neo-liberal economy, policing, the criminal punishment system—that rely on the systematic oppression of many to grotesquely enrich a few. We must create our way into new collective structures that see each of us as God’s beloved creation.

Listen deeply to the visionaries, Mr. President. They are young in spirit, and they are the future. Empower them, fund them, work alongside them. Let us stop dealing death and embrace the life-giving force of Be.

In solidarity,

Homayra Ziad

Dr. Homayra Ziad
Program Director
Program in Islamic Studies
Johns Hopkins University

the author

Homayra Ziad directs the Program in Islamic Studies at Johns Hopkins University and practices and leads a grant on community-engaged teaching. Dr. Ziad is Board Vice President of the ACLU of Maryland and Associate Editor of The Commons, a site where artists, activists, and scholars explore religion, social justice, and public life. She has twenty years of experience in interreligious education and is co-editor of Words to Live By: Sacred Sources for Interreligious Engagement. An educator, scholar-activist, and mother, Dr. Ziad collaborates frequently on projects at the intersection of art, religion, health, and justice.