Reflections of an American Muslim
|THE AGONIES OF A MUSLIM IN A NON-MUSLIM SOCIETY|
|Written by Dr. Shahid Athar|
I have been living in the United States for the last twenty-five years. When I left my homeland as a young man, the important thing on my mind was to leave a land of "lesser opportunity" to go to a land of "greater opportunity" and "to be something." Now that I have achieved that in the sense that I am a well-established physician, known and respected in my community, have a wife and four children, I have a moment to pause and ask, "Where I am? Who I am? Where I am going?" As it has been said, "If you don't know where you are going, you are sure to end up in a place where you never wanted to be." I am going to share with the readers some of my observations and experiences of my stay in the United States to show that the situation has improved in the last quarter of a century.
THE PRACTICE OF RELIGION
The truth is very few missionary delegations from overseas, whose sole purpose is the preaching of Islam, become residents of this country, Rather, they come for a week or so and then leave. They do not live here, On the other hand, for many Muslims who do choose to live here, the practice of Islam is merely a habit that they have acquired from their family back home rather than a way of life for the sole purpose of pleasure of God Almighty.; Although, there is no restriction on the practice of religion in this country, the environment is not always as favorable to new faiths as it may seem. For example, offering the noon prescribed prayers at work is difficult for most Muslim employees. Several cases have been recorded in which a Muslim was fired from his job for practicing Islam during lunch hour. It was called "doing Yoga." Another pious Muslim used to lock himself in a rest room and perform his prescribed prayer for fear of being seen. Not every American city has a community center or a mosque. Even those with such facilities are not active five times a day, seven days a week. Most of the activities are confined to Friday prescribed congregational prayer and Sunday school. What about Ramadan, the month of the prescribed fast? Even it one is performing the prescribed fast, one may not sense that this is the month of Ramadan in the same way that one would will sense in a Muslim country. Some Muslims who do perform the prescribed fast, do so alone. They eat the post-sunset meal of the prescribed fast alone and perform the Special Night prayer (tarawih) of Ramadan alone. The day of the Festival marking the end of the month of prescribed fasting feels a little better, but there are only 24 hours in a day. For an immigrant Muslim, the joy of the end of Ramadan is over- shadowed by the sadness of being away from ones home and family. Therefore, a Muslim living in a non-Muslim society can practice his or her religion, and may do it with hardship, but the joy of being a Muslim is often not there. The prevailing feeling is more one of a lonely rose of faith, surviving, in a spiritual desert.
AGONIES ABOUT FOOD CONSUMPTION
For those Muslims who do want to preserve their faith and follow its dietary laws, life is sometimes difficult. Again it is not due to the non- availability of permissible (halal) food. In big cities permissible meat is available and in smaller towns, if a Muslim wants, the believer can and sometimes does drive to a bigger city to obtain permissible meat. The problem is acute when one has to eat out. Nearly everything is contaminated with lard. This includes vegetable soup, salad, fried chicken, hamburger, cheese, etc. Even if they say they use vegetable shortening, still they might have used the same frying pan and utensils for frying both kinds of food. Similarly, alcohol is used in many punches, sauces, and other delicacies and liquid based medicines. It took me one year to discover Pepperidge Fanu bread which uses vegetable shortening.
CHILDREN's EDUCATION AND THE INFLUENCE OF THEIR PEERS ON THEIR MORALS
In this highly technological society, is not difficult to gain a professional education while, at the same time, it is difficult to obtain an Islamic education. Muslim children spend forty hours a week under care of non- Muslim teachers, surrounded by non-Muslim friends and yet parents expect them to practice Islam. One hour a week of Sunday school's Islamic education or making them recite a few words or verses is not enough to withstand the influence of their peers. Children are greatly influenced by their friend's behavior. In this society, where use of drugs, alcohol, pot, rock music, and illegitimate mixing of sex is so common in high school children, how can we save our children from such influences? Should we stop them from going to school? Should we stop them from mixing with their American neighbor, or should we send them back to their Muslim country of origin-a serious question for Muslim parents. One answer is to practice our faith ourselves in the best way we know how, constantly learning about things we had not known about Islam. We can then become models for our children if we teach them how to reason and not force religion upon them. By teaching them how to reason, they can reason with themselves that they do not want the results of what they see going on around them. They want a better life for themselves.
SOCIAL LIFE FOR MUSLIM MEN
It is said: "The human being is a social animal," and "No human being is an island." Therefore, social encounter is essential for the psychological well being of a person. What opportunities does the non- Muslim society provide? When American men get together, they usually talk about baseball, football, women and interest rates, while drinking beer and wine. These things may not generate interest in a Muslim man who has not grown up in this society. He may feel isolated and alone among them. Thus, it is necessary to form communities or join in with other communities of people who share other interests.
SOCIAL LIFE FOR MUSLIM WOMEN
She is much different from her non-Muslim counterpart whether or not she is a professional or someone who works. An American woman married or single has many friends of both sexes, at work and in her neighborhood, to whom she can talk about the latest fashions, super market sales, men in their life and other items of mutual interest. They go together for swimming, racket ball, tennis and exercise spas. This is again not necessarily a life pattern that an immigrant Muslim woman might choose. The immigrant Muslim women often do not speak English well, so they are unable to communicate with the neighbor's wife over what's cooking in each other's house, children, marriage, etc. They also become isolated from the society in which they live.
THE HOSTILITY OF THE MEDIA TOWARD THE MUSLIM WORLD AND ISLAM
This is a painful issue for a sensitive Muslim. It is not so much so for someone who is only interested in the sports column of newspapers or in on-going sales. However, those Muslims looking for news items in American newspapers are disappointed since the media is often anti- Islam, anti-Muslim and frequently publishes fabricated and distorted news about Islam and the Muslim world such as given head lines, "Young Lovers Hanged in Pakistan," "Princess Shot Dead in Saudi Arabia for Adultery," "Pakistan Making Atomic Bomb for PLO," "Kaddafi Sends Hit Team to the U.S.A. (they still have not arrived)!" Those who read the columns of Joseph Kraft, Jack Anderson and Paul Harvey know what I am talking about. Even in social gatherings, it is difficult for a sensitive Muslim to listen to all this. I will give you an example of a high society social event which I had to attend to in my official capacity in 1982. The discussion is true and went like this:
Mrs. X: Dr. A, what do you think of Khomeini? Don't you agree that this old man is crazy and a murderer?
Dr. A: Well, Mrs. X., he might have committed some excesses, but I do not think that he murdered people like the ex-shah did.
Mrs. X: But the Shah was our friend., Don't you realize how much he did for his country? Those idiots (Iranians) should not have resisted his development and modernization efforts Those people deserve what they got (bullets).
Dr. A: (Remains silent after realizing that a tyrant murderer, if he is a "friend" of the U.S.A. is supposed to be acceptable "to us" (Americans). The topic changes.)
Mrs. X: And what about that mad man Kaddafi? Don't you expect that this man will be a disaster for the entire world if that insane fanatic gets a hand on an atomic bomb?
Dr. A: Look Madam X, I do not like Kaddafi and I am not defending him, but the historical point is that the first atom bomb actually used to destroy millions of human beings were used not be a fanatic mad man but a sane American President named Truman!
Mrs. X: But we used atom bomb in Japan to stop war, to restore peace in the world, to prevent more killing afterwards.
Dr. A: I agree, but why did you not use the same atom bomb on the German front for the same reasons? Just because that would have killed people of your own color and race instead of the yellow race of Asia.
This made Mrs. X very upset and she quietly moved onto another table. Dr. A could not talk on the subject of beauty, sex, wine, interest rates, and baseball, so he left the party.
In conclusion, the agony of Muslims living in a hostile non-Muslim world is great. They are living in a spiritual desert, in a social vacuum, trying to think all by themselves. Someone may ask, "So why do they stay?" The fact is that as Muslims, they believe in the same values for which this country was founded. In other words, they feel closer to the founding fathers than what America has become. Time will tell how important it was that those Muslims who have the strength of character to withstand the agonies remain in America to re-instill the American values of which the Americans themselves have lost.