The Changing Mood of Islam In America

I recently attended several conferences of Muslim leaders and it was interesting to see the diversity of opinions and how they reflected where we’re at. I say “where we’re at” as a loose term because it’s not a place that we’re going to as a static position – we’re constantly in flux. But, never the less, it was curious to hear some different opinions.

During one such meeting, I heard a brother make the following statement regarding the fatwa (a non-binding religious opinion made by a Muslim judge) on suicide bombing; on condemning it. The brother who brought this up pointed out that many people here in America and in England felt gladdened by the fact that Muslims, especially those here in the West, had put out an official stance saying that they condemned suicide bombing and that that was a good thing. Another brother at the table replied, “We don’t need to put out a fatwa because we don’t have anything to apologize for. We didn’t go anything wrong.”

I will assume for the sake of the argument that the brother felt that we, the other Muslims who didn’t have anything to do with suicide bombing, have nothing to apologize for because we’re innocent. In a manner of speaking this is correct. I, Marqas, did not go and blow anything up and I, Marqas, do condemn suicide bombing. But what I would say in counter to this is that we as Muslims must take responsibility for our religion – or as Dr. Sherman Jackson has been saying, “take ownership of our religion.” I feel that if we are to take ownership of our religion then we must face certain facts, however displeasing they may be. If some nut-cases over in London blow up a bunch of innocent people we cannot just divorce ourselves from this and say, “This is not Islamic and we have nothing to do with these people and they have nothing to do with us.” We must come to terms with the fact that there is a side of our Muslim communities that feel marginalized, brutalized and feel as if they have no other recourse but to lash out violently, killing any and all (in the case of 9/11, Muslim or non-Muslim). We must come to grips that we’ve been taught Islam, and I speak for the American Muslims here, by a group of people (immigrants), who’s teachings are based on their history, their sufferings, their being brutalized by totalitarian regimes, their defeats. Therefore, when they come here, or have come here, they are teaching Islam with this bent, or point of view.

Now, that is not to say that they are wrong in how they feel. It is a fact that many people throughout the Muslim world have suffered tremendously at the hands of the West, just as much as they have oppressed themselves. So, rightly, they are a mad, angry, confused, mis-educated and ignorant lot. Now before some of you run off and say I’m a racist or that all Arabs or Pakistanis are a bunch of uneducated fools, slow up. That’s not what I’m saying. I am stating some social, historical and cultural points. Obviously they are not all ignorant or misguided. But what I am saying is that their “brand of Islam” was meant for a specific place, history and time. And when you try to apply this prescription to an illness for which it was not diagnosed, well, you’ll have “complications and side effects” from such medicine.

So this brings me to the summary of this little statement: You cannot apply Islam universally based on the cultural and historical experiences of one people to another. There are some universal concepts in Islam that do run the gamut: there is no God but God. Muhammad is the Messenger of God. Jesus is the messiah. Don’t eat pork. Don’t drink alcohol. 5-times daily prayer, ect. But saying things like music is haram (forbidden – punishable here and in the Hereafter), that doesn’t work across the board. If some Muslim scholar in Bangladesh says music is haram, okay. It’s haram for his people. That ain’t got nuthin’ to do with me here in America. As Americans, we know our culture. We know our people. And it gets more specific on down the line (blacks know their people, the Chinese here know their community and so on). We, we will determine what is appropriate for our people and what isn’t. We know what is “enjoining the Good and forbidding the Evil.” We have our own Muslims scholars, home-grown, who know the culture, who have studied the social sciences within our own contexts. We know what’s good for us and really, no body else. We are not saying that we will not have an open ear and keep channels of dialog open but what we are saying is this: no foreign, extraneous force is going to come here (America) and tell us how to run the show. This is not a belligerent statement. Just a fact. And it is for the better. This is the only way Islam can carve out a niche for itself in the psyche of the American public (incidentaly, as a side note, most 2nd and 3rd generation Muslims here in America have completely apostated from the religion because they have found no way of being American and Muslim!). And it was recently pointed out to me that virtually every black family has at least one Muslim relative now (a son, daughter, father, mother, nephew, cousin, ect.). So we must find that “alternative modality of being” as Dr. Sherman Jackson point out. Wa Allahu ya’lamu ahsan (and Allah knows best).

2 Replies to “The Changing Mood of Islam In America”

  1. I just read this post and I agree for the most part. I know I find it very confusing sometimes dealing with our issues as African Americans and then getting taught Islam from an immigrant point of view. Of course they have more of a history and experience, so we have to go to them for knowledge. But as you said, Alhumdulilah more and more westerners are learning and coming back here to teach us.

    I just have a problem when we water down Islam so much or politicize it where there is no law. Our community is desperate for the law and disclpine as well as the spiritual aspect. I’ve just been in communities where the politics totally outway the deen and then our kids don’t grow up with a strong Islamic identity. Its not like this is unique to our community, lots of people associate Islam only with their political struggles (palestine, kashimir, etc). But we have much more at stake. We are at risk to lose our dunya and akhira if we don’t get the proper teachings that are culturally relevent as you said in your post.

    You guys in Philly have access to such teachers (Ustadh Anwar Muhaiman, etc) and probably new york and Atlanta. I dont know how it is in other cities but here in Texas its not looking good.

  2. Thanks for the comments. In your comment you said, “Of course they have more of a history and experience, so we have to go to them for knowledge.” Don’t take this as the wrong way, but we really don’t have to do that anymore. And as far as history, it doesn’t matter whether their history goes back further Islamically, so to speak. Our history is just as valid. And we must make our Islam here speak to our history, to address our issues and problems just like the Prophet did and the Arabs in the Arabian penninsula! There are many American scholars now who have studied the traditional sciences. And second, just because someone is from “overseas” doesn’t make them qualified to teach Islam here. This is not meant to be an anti-immigrant bashing forum, so please don’t interpret it that way.

    I’m not clear on what you mean by politicizing. Maybe you can repost some examples. I’d be curious to see what you mean. But to address the problem of kids not growing up with a strong Muslim persona is also in part to do with that fact that many Muslims lead dual lives. They are Ahmad, or Muhammad or Ali in the mosque but they’re Bill, or Chuck or Peter outside of the mosque. And this is even more so for kids. We have not yet been able to establish a true American Muslim identity that’s wholly American and Muslim. That way people can live as Muslims and not act out their Islam in different segments and parts of their lives. And until we do, we’ll continue to see this problems manifest in our communities. Or perhaps even exacerbate.

    Thank you for your comments. It really gets me thinking and the proverbial juices flowing.

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