In the Name of the Most High
March 16, 2019
The idea of community building for Muslims is the most important topic today and there are many steps which must be taken to make unity a successful reality.
Obviously, this letter is not aimed at every single immigrant Muslim but the significant number of those who share this mentality and who think like this needs to be addressed. Those folks know who they are.
The point is to create a straightforward dialogue addressing particular issues which affect the Muslim Ummah and by drawing awareness and realization to them it may result in all of us becoming better as a community. Inshallah.
Dear American Immigrant Muslim Brother/Sister,
Every so often a tragic event occurs and you are reminded that the Western society you sought out as your sanctuary, source of opportunity, and means for success does not accept you.
Consequently your home in suburbia and your aspiration of the white American dream does not avail you. But why? You did everything by the book, right? You came here to the 'Land of the Free' and you got educated in medicine, I/T, engineering, or pharmacy. You assimilated and whitewashed your identity just enough to make navigating the road to “success” easier for yourself. Yeah, I'm Muhammad but you can call me “Mo”…wink wink. Ali? No thank you friend, just call me “Al”. Jamal, Jafar, Jalil too hard to pronounce? Just call me “J”. You may have hung out with Bob after work or high-fived Linda in accounting to show your good faith and down to earth "humanity".
You struggled trying to figure out your identity and in turn your children inherited your identity crisis. You found yourself conflicted. I am a proud American. But I can't ignore my parents and ancestors and tribe. My food and language and 'back-home' culture is also very much a part of me. At the same time it would be unethical and just downright blashphemous for me to ignore my religious identity. So you put on this code-switching juggling act and somehow to some degree you mastered assuming multiple identities depending on the environment. Between a meeting at work, phone call from back home, and trying to find a fish sandwich on a menu you try to find a way to get by. Some are more successful than others - this goes without saying.
Although you got your honorary badge of citizenship or green card you never truly felt 100% part of the society, like a majority shareholder of a company. That disconnect and ‘lack of ownership’ became most evident when a tragic event struck like 9/11, or Christchurch, or many of the other countless acts of terror, violence, and aggression against Muslims. Now you become the spokesperson for world peace. You go above and beyond to prove your worthiness to society by reminding them that Islam means peace and that Muslims believe in a book that includes Jesus, Mary and Moses and they are very revered.
And your patriotism… whoa-ho-ho.... no American is a patriot in comparison to you. You bleed red, white, and blue because you believe America has been so good to you. You bought into the bootstrap mentality and you worked hard, you taught this to your kids. They followed in your footsteps, took every AP class, went to a good college, and now you are so proud of them. They can even speak English without any ‘back-home accent’. They managed to fit in and rub elbows with white america in a way that assures you that they will take their success and the family name to even greater heights. So you put flags outside your home and partake in all the ''democracy'' that you've been blessed to experience and be a part of.
You invite senators to your place of worship and glorify them as though they are the representative of the Mahdi. You believe in this system which you feel you gained and benefited from. You are eager to show your support and servitude.
When you feel unsafe, you rush to call local law enforcement. You commonly work closely with them and believe that they only infallibly 'protect and serve'. Naturally you are not adverse to showing how deep your patriotism is rooted as you advocate for working in areas of intelligence/counter-intelligence, and anti-terrorism as they relate to extremists and to Muslims. You desperately want to prove that while you are Muslim, you are one of the “good-guys”. You always make a point to apologize about alleged terrorism - said to be done in the name of Islam. You worry that God-forbid you might get mistaken for a bad guy - and Lord knows you are a law abiding, tax paying, model citizen!
Although I am the one with lots of Christian relatives you celebrate holidays like Christmas more than any of them. I mean even some Christians don’t actually celebrate Christmas yet it’s so ironic that you go way out of your way to “fit-in”. You never understood what is wrong with that damn Kaepernick and why would someone be so rude to protest during the Star Spangled Banner.
So when politicians do wrong or lie or even go against your interests, you are okay with that. It’s just ‘politics as usual’ and your low self-esteem doesn’t allow you to call western leaders dictators or oppressors - that would be against this great democracy. When police shoot and kill Black and brown people, you aim to align yourself with the rhetoric of the colorblind white-privileged who will assume that the boys in blue can do no wrong and a person of color is less-than and probably deserving of that outcome. You reap what you sow, right?
You spend so much of your time trying to find a place in this society and be accepted by the upper class, in particular white-america, that over time you found yourself to have nothing in common with the marginalized of society. The ‘back-home’ colorism, racism, casteism, and classism that became a part of your cultural identity rooted in past eras of ignorance and colonialism are refueled and validated by a society that was built on and is still very much impacted by these flawed concepts.
As a result your typical condemnation of attacks against Muslims sounds very ‘politically correct’, like you are running for office. You shy away from denouncing the officials, leaders, and system which is the root cause of this inequity, racism and injustice and in reality facilitates the existence and thriving of America's #1 terrorist: white men. White supremacy. You hesitate to expose this direct link because it involves critiquing the government which you admire so intensely.
But when matters of immigration are on the table like the ‘Muslim Ban’ or the likes you are vocal because it affects you or your near ones or your travel abroad etc. but as for general injustices especially to ‘lower class’ society you almost never involve yourself. When the police that you invite to your mosque whom you seek their security even more than God's protection go out and kill Black and Brown folks, you don't bat an eye because that would shake the entire foundation and premise which you have accepted as a means to get ahead in this society.
Because you have amalgamated your ‘back-home’ culture with Islam you have an especially hard time differentiating between them. The universal identity of Islam which connects over 1.5 billion people and can serve as a common denominator should be the primary identity forging a solid contingency of unity, but it is broken and fragmented by the giving of preference to culture over religion, or nationality over religion, or in not knowing the differences.
Your “religious establishments” (centers, Masjids etc) are almost always a reflection of the dominance of ‘back-home’ culture over religion. The fact that you see nothing wrong with this segregated effort which often promotes cultural superstition and is uninviting/unwelcoming to anyone outside your small circle is a testament to the lacking level of true religious knowledge, as well as the lack of foresight or insight to plan for the needs of the future generations.
If others’ Islam does not look like your cultural version of it, then you tend to look down upon it.
Despite America’s historic past where Native Americans were influenced by Islam and their encounters with West Africans, or the transatlantic slave trade which brought many a born muslim forcefully and enslaved into this land, or the later advent of Black Muslims in the 60s you are adverse to lower class people who tend to also be people of color and you still aspire and desire to assimilate to white america. You have come to define that with success, which only promotes distance between you and those who you should have deep care for, i.e. the oppressed and the growing number of American Muslims who have lived, worked and been established here for multiple generations.
To further complicate your justification for being distant from this group of people is your failure to understand important political and social ideals. For example in general Black people do not trust the police. The historic Black Panther Party of Self Defense was established with a goal of protection from the police.
Malcolm X shares with us the telling event of KKK clansman burning his home as a child while the fire department and authorities showed up only to snicker and watch the house burn down. Black people teach their kids how to talk to police to avoid being killed and how to keep their hands in plain sight because of the likelihood of them being murdered.
This thought seems beyond foreign and strange to you, like many white people, who have never had tragic encounters with law enforcement. So you have aligned yourself as best you could with this narrative of the police as “good/hero” and others as “bad/criminal”, and the desire to be accepted so you never try to connect with or comprehend these ideals.
Ironically the aversion to truth ultimately causes you to ignore the solution to your identity crisis. For if you seperate your culture from religion (which entails having sound knowledge of tenants of religion) and place that as your primary identity then you will find that there is a deep rooted Muslim identity which already exists in America. In fact in many places the identity is so strong that it permeates society.
While you were clean shaving to fit into the corporate world, many in this working class were rocking beards because it was a prophetic sunnah and influencing non-muslims to do so because Muslims made it cool. Arabic words like "akh" became English words in some places, though these were often poor places, places you didn’t frequent or even despised. These were people who lived the American nightmare and would laugh at the notion of an “American dream”. They barely voted because they had no faith in this system so all your faith in it only made you more distant or made them perceive you to be a possible agent.
See Islam has a principle of "standing with the oppressed and against the oppressor". You can imagine that when you are battling so much to survive and fighting against so much injustice from policy makers to law enforcement to modern day red-lining you do not revere your oppressors or those who turn a blind eye to your situation enabling those unjust systems. But this desire for justice is in fact what causes so many Black people to embrace Islam. It is what has caused Spanish-speaking Muslim populations to become almost the fastest growing demographic of Muslims. It is justice and is the standard which the entire universe is built upon. So in Islam the religious identity is paramount. It is the solution.
It is why converts and reverts find ways if necessary to even leave behind all of their culture and even tribe if it means not having Islam.
It makes sense why islam has considered ta’arub ba’d al-Hijra (losing faith after migration) as a grave sin and has prohibited leaving Muslim lands to live in places where a person or their family/children are at risk of losing their faith and identity due to the influences of that society.
Such a strong concept of religious identity in this culture becomes critical because it becomes the quintessential American Muslim identity.
When right-wingers or even left for that matter or the crazy alt-rights attack Islam it is always under the guise of combatting a foreign entity, foreign religion, outsiders etc. This rhetoric is almost always directed at you, the immigrant Muslim because by keeping Islam foreign and alien and “unamerican” then it creates a byproduct of fear in this country.
Americans generally have poor world geography and poor political awareness making them easily swayed by the media as they are almost always ignorant of anything about Islam or predominantly Muslim countries. The media aims to uphold and sensationalize this narrative of intrusion by foreign Islam and this only causes you to get caught in that crossfire.
If you embrace the oppressed people and those who have been Muslim for some time here and forge your religious identity with theirs, making Islam your priority throwing away any cultural or national values which contradict it, then they can never again tell you that you do not belong or that you are not from here and you will never have to strive to be accepted in spaces that don’t honor you because your Muslim brother will honor you.
I say this as an unapologetic, Black American Muslim whose identity first and foremost can only be Islam and am excited whenever I make the acquaintance of a fellow Muslim and honored to call him brother or her sister.
Islam is the most powerful asset in community building and a means to unify not just the diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures of Muslims but all of humanity.
As a Muslim you will always belong to a family. Whether you’re naturalized or been here for generations, converted in jail or came through immigration. And you can have many identities but the only one that matters is the one that reflects, taqwa/godwariness. That is the spiritual bond that can never be severed and only increases us in strength.
يا أَيُّهَا النّاسُ إِنّا خَلَقناكُم مِن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثىٰ وَجَعَلناكُم شُعوبًا وَقَبائِلَ لِتَعارَفوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكرَمَكُم عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتقاكُم ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَليمٌ خَبيرٌ
O mankind! Indeed We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify yourselves with one another. Indeed the most noble/honorable of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you. Indeed Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.