Islamophobia is very real in this post 9/11 world—no one with objective ears and eyes can deny that there is a massive campaign to distort or vilify mainstream Islam and Muslims. Unfortunately, a segment of the population doesn’t see it as bias propaganda; rather they take it as exposing information regarding the inherent evil of Islam! It is our responsibility to respond to that by properly portraying ourselves by word, deed and activist movement.
In the following series of articles, I invite you to take a deep look at the other side of the coin, which actually goes back further than the rise of Islamophobia in the last decade. There is undoubtedly a Western-ophobia common among devoted Muslims, which is sometimes just as misplaced and unfair toward Western people and values as Islamophobia is to us.
The presence of Muslims in the West was quite insignificant until the last few decades in which we have seen exponential growth. At the same time, through mass media, globalization has brought Western values and culture to the heart of the Muslim world. The imprudent emotional reaction we’ve seen from the Muslim world is quite polarizing. Many Muslims have developed somewhat of an inferiority complex in the face of the achievements, progress and ultimate power of the Western world. Some express this by wanting to do everything Western and copy the model, thus hoping to achieve success or nobility by assimilating into the “modern” world. The other extreme is using religious identity to protest everything Western—pessimistically looking for a way to condemn it as immoral.
Obviously there are aspects of American culture that are in conflict with Islam, but still there are too many issues that are misunderstood, unfairly presented or based on false assumptions. This is particularly true regarding the basis of many imported fatwas (religious rulings) from overseas. Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah (may God have mercy on him) said in his authoritative book “Informing the Signers on Behalf of the Lord of the Universe,” advising those who would issue or pass on a religious ruling:
ولا يتمكن المفتي ،والحاكم من الفتوى ،والحكم بالحق إلا بنوعين من الفهم: أحدهما: فهم الواقع ،والفقه فيه ،واستنباط علم حقيقة ما وقع بالقرائن ،والأمارات ،والعلامات ،فالعالم يتوصل بمعرفة الواقع ،والتفقه فيه إلى معرفة حكم الله ورسوله في المسألة” (إعلام الموقعين 1/ 17
“A scholar (mufti) or judge is not to give a religious ruling (fatwa) unless they fully understand two issues. The first of the two is a thorough understanding of the details of the reality in which the ruling will be applied. Through understanding the reality, the scholar can know the ruling of God and His messenger on the matter.”
فصل في تغير الفتوى ،واختلافها بحسب تغير الأزمنة ،والأمكنة ،والأحوال ،والنيات والعوائد. هذا فصل عظيم النفع جداً، وقع بسبب الجهل به غلط عظيم على الشريعة، أوجب من الحرج والمشقة، وتكليف ما لا سبيل إليه ( إعلام الموقعين 3/13
“The applications of rulings in Islamic Law will be different according to the different eras, places, circumstances, intentions and customs. This is a hugely beneficial point of reference. Major mistakes have been made against Islamic Law as a result of ignorance in this point. Much hardship, difficulty and near impossible legislations have been caused by ignorance of this point.”
We will only be proper witnesses for our religion to ourselves, our families and to the rest of the world if we have the superior path of balance and moderation in practicing our religion.
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُواْ شُهَدَاء عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا
“With this scripture, We made you a superior moderate nation so that you may be witnesses upon mankind and the messenger a witness for you.”(Qur’an 2:143)
Before moving forward, let’s agree on something in full honesty and neutrality. There are many corrupt immoral common practices in the Muslim world and there are also many noble moral virtues in American culture that need to be revived in the Muslim world. This series is an application of two very famous verses commonly quoted because of their foundational vastness:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاء ذِي الْقُرْبَى وَيَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاء وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
“Certainly God commands to justice, moral excellence and preserving family ties. He forbids immorality, sin and hostility. He reminds you so that you will keep this in mind.” (Qur’an 16:90)
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
“Dear Mankind, We have created you from a male and female and made you into races and families so that you may get to know each other. Truly the best among you to God are the most pious. Indeed God is Omniscient and Fully-Aware.” (Qur’an 49:13)
Issue #1: Referring to Non-Muslims as “Americans” or “the Americans”
Time and time again, I have been hanging out with young Muslims and we start talking about school or hobbies and they will say, “My American friends…” Now these kids are born and raised in America and have maybe visited their parents’ birthplace for some months in the summer. I’m sure when their parents take these children to their birthplace, all of the people there will know after any sort of interaction that these Muslim kids are indeed American. Many of these parents talk about “back home” as if they haven’t chose America as their new homeland, pledged allegiance by adopting citizenship, and will most likely die and be buried here! What’s crazy is that there are close to 5 million American Muslims which is more than Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar combined!
The root of this problem is the crux of the series we are starting; the idea that there is something un-Islamic in being American. Let’s call a spade a spade; many Muslim parents and religious folk often refer to America and American people with a negative connotation. This is the land that gave them the freedom to practice and promote Islam, it gave them other freedoms they probably didn’t have in their birthplace and it gave them equal financial opportunity regardless of race or religion. Sure there is a corrupt foreign policy which doesn’t value innocent Muslim lives as much as Americans or Israelis, but at the same time there are many great things about this country, which is why out of all countries they choose to live here.
If we are going to build future thriving generations of American Muslims, then we must stop this identity confusion and encourage Muslims to love their country with reverence for the good and dedication to fixing the bad by working with our fellow countrymen toward a morally better society. Obviously our love for God is the most defining part of our identity and that’s what should drive us to work with like-minded people to make our country a better place.
وَتَعَاوَنُواْ عَلَى الْبَرِّ وَالتَّقْوَى وَلاَ تَعَاوَنُواْ عَلَى الإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ
“You must cooperate with each other in righteousness and piety and you are prohibited from cooperating in sin and aggression.” (Qur’an 5:3)
The reason many immigrants love their birthplace is because that’s where they were born and grew up. Their childhood and family memories are there, which is why it’s natural to love your birthplace. American Muslims are no different. Each Muslim country has its own cultural and institutional governmental corruption, as does any other country, but that doesn’t make it wrong to love your country and all the good it represents to you.