Reflections of an American Muslim

Written by Dr. Shahid Athar   

It is refreshing to note that Islam is being included in this seminar. In the past, such seminars have taken place in this country for many years without inclusion of Islam or Muslims. This attests to the fact that the Judeo-Christian society is slowly moving toward becoming a Judeo-Christian-Islamic and others society. The concept of "melting pot" is changing to "salad bowl" in which all of the ingredients are encouraged to display their distinct flavor and taste rather than melt down into one flavor. In this country, there are approximately 6 million Muslims and about 50,000 Muslim students enrolled institutions of higher learning though the exact figure is not known. There are close to 120 chapters of Muslim student associations (MSA) tied to the national organization. Islam is being taught, usually by a non-Muslim faculty, either as a separate course or a part of Middle Eastem studies in many universities. Muslim students are organizing seminars and functions directed toward bringing them together and opening dialogues with non-Muslim friends and faculties.

Secularization evolved in response to a dogmatic religion which rejected scientific theories as blasphemy. I agree with the previous speakers that in the institutions of higher learning, the secularization is direct- ed toward trivialization of religious devotion. Religion is given a tertiary place, the primary being science and secondary being social pleasures. The down-sizing of religion is due to elimination of God from daily life.

Some folks would like to confine the God to a house of worship be it a mosque, a synagogue, a temple or a church where they can visit Him when they feel like it one day a week but would not allow Him to leave those places and enter their homes and influence their lives. Thus religion becomes a personal matter second to more important things in life although religion came before the government, before the politics, the science and television. Students realize that studying religion may not give them the financial satisfaction for the material life they aspire for. Thus only whose who are left out from going into better paying professions like Engineering, Science, Medicine, Accounting, Law, etc. end up in places of religious learning such as seminarys and Traditional centers of leaming. Many young people and their young faculty during college years take a vacation from religion because they see religion regulating their life style. The new freedom included freedom from God, because without God, everything becomes possible in their vain desires and behavior.

The religion of Islam is not a way of worship to a God. It is a way of life. The emphasis on education in Islam is described well in First Revelation which says: "Read in the name of thy Lord who created man from a clot and read thy Lord is the most bounteous who taught you by the pen, taught man that he did not know" (96:1-5).

A question is asked in Quran,"Are those equal who have knowledge and those who do not have knowledge?" The knowledge in Islam is basically of two types: a) the knowledge of God and b) the knowledge of His rules. By the former, we must learn Who created us and for what purpose and how do we conduct our affairs and to whom we return. We know God through his attributes described in the Quran. By the latter, we mean all the knowledge which now is called, "secular or scientific knowledge," such as physics, chemistry and biology is all knowledge of God's rules. Once we discover "something,," we call it a scientific discovery although that entity was there to begin with. We have just learned it now. One of the purposes of education is to liberate ourselves from ignorance and prejudice which leads to mistrust of one another. In this regard, only the education of each other will bring us together in respecting each other's beliefs and honoring each other's life and property. The prevailing misconceptions about a religion are not reflective of the original teachings of the religion. Thus it is important that comparative religion be taught to each student in a basic form from a purist source.

What should be done to combat the secularization of higher education? The following are my suggestions.

1. Teaching of Islam in universities and colleges should be done more seriously and not superficially. At the present time, the courses are not sufficient. At a freshman or a junior level, one hardly gets an exposure to the religion of Islam and his or her knowledge of the religion is usually derived from the way it is projected in the media. The teaching of Islam should include the history, the life of prophet Muhammad, the shariah or Islamic law, the philosophy, the moral, the political and economic system of Islam.

2. If Muslims are not qualified to teach Judaism and Christianity, why should others be teaching Islam? By this, I mean every attempt should be made to have a Muslim faculty teaching Islam to non-Muslims.

3. 1 also recommend that Muslim Student Association chapters be established in each college and university which have enrollment of three or more Muslim students. One of their functions should be to engage non-Muslim students and faculty in a dialogue in order to understand each other in a better way. Appropriate behavior of each religion group should be well-defined. Thus I am proposing an Interfaith organization in each institution of higher learning be developed.

4. Stereotyping of Muslims and ridiculing their religion because of whatever happens in the Middle East should end. Mutual tolerance should be encouraged.

The seeds of centuries-old hatred and mistrust between religions in the old country should not be allowed to be sown into the fertile soil of the new land. We Americans should not only be leaders of the world in science and technology, but also in the interfaith understanding through preservation of religion in the higher education. We must not repeat the failed experiment of Communist countries nor should we contribute to further ethnic cleansing.

The purpose of learning Islam by non-Muslims in American universities should also change from helping American missionary, soldiers, businessmen, and foreign service officials understand the religion of Muslims when they go to Muslim countries to understanding the religion of six million fellow citizens who are here to stay in order to bring them into cooperation rather than confrontation.