Reflections of an American Muslim
|THE FUTURE OF ISLAM IN AMERICA|
|Written by Dr. Shahid Athar|
The basic question is, "What is the future of Islam in North America?" While living in the present, we do not see the future, but we are concerned about the future as whatever we do now will affect our future. We are not the first wave of Muslims who have come to this country. There have been at least two or three different waves of Muslims who have come before us and they were not able to establish Islam for whatever reason.
The first wave of Muslims came or were brought in as slaves from Africa two hundred years ago. They could not establish themselves as Muslims as they were oppressed. They were brought in chains and left on plantations in total slavery. Their religion was changed. Their names were changed. Their social structure was broken. They were not allowed to practice their religion. We do not blame them for not being able to establish Islam.
The second wave came after WW I from the Balkan States and Lebanon to what used to be the Ottoman Empire. These Muslims were settled in the midwest and northeast, including areas like Dearborn, Toledo, Chicago and Detroit. They were again more concerned at that time in establishing themselves economically and socially. Religion was not on their minds at that time. They melted away in the melting pot.
It is heartening to note that many of the descendants of the first two waves are now coming back to the fold of Islam and helping establish Islam in cooperation with the third wave which includes the immigrant Muslims coming to this country since the 1950s and constitution sixty percent (60%) of the six million, present-day American Muslims. Many of the Afro-Americans are now finding their roots in Islam, reverting to Islam, and asserting themselves as Muslims.
We also must learn some lessons from the past, of a glorious Muslim empire in Andalusia (Spain). For seven hundred years, Muslims ruled that country, but the were wiped out after the Inquisition. If we analyze what happened in this situations, including other areas of the world where Muslims are in the minority, after being there for many years, we will understand that there were several reasons for them not to be able to establish Islam in the land forever, as we will see in the Muslim countries like Turkey or Egypt. The main reason was the lack of unity among Muslims .
In Spain, they created a class structure of Muslims of Arab descent, the Berbers and the native Spaniards, and these classes did not live on an equal basis. This was against Islam. Second, they were not able to practice Islam collectively, but more individually. Islam is a religion that has to be practiced collectively, and only then is the social fabric established: a thread by itself is not a nation. Third, Islamic education on an individual level was not there, but there was more emphasis on secular and technical education. Fourth, too much emphasis was given to culture, whether in the form of art, music, dress or food, but not enough on defense. Although culture is necessary for the survival of the soul, defense is necessary for the survival of the body. One cannot live without the other. Finally, the most important reason that these civilizations were destroyed was that they failed to invite others to Islam. Invitation to Islam is not a luxury, but a necessity and a tool for survival.
While discussing the future of Islam in North America, we must examine the parameters of a good future. If we judge the future by numbers, yes, it is true that the number of Muslims has tremendously increased in this country. When I came here nearly a quarter of a century ago, there were not more than fifty thousand (50,000) Muslims, and now there are over six million. Nevertheless, if we look at the world map, the number of Muslims is over a billion; however, they hardly have any strength in that number.
It is the quality of Muslims that is important, rather than the number itself. The quality of Muslims who were in the minority and out numbered in the Battle of Badr by three to one, but they were able to succeed with the conviction "that they are the best nation created for mankind."
In 1914, when the Russian Army moved into the Muslim part of the USSR from Tajikistan to Tashkent, there were twenty-four thousand mosques (24,000) in those lands. The Red Army destroyed most of them. In seventy (70) years of Communist rule, there were only four hundred (400) left and most of them were lost except for prescribed prayers.
We see among the Christian churches that when the community moves out or has financial problems, they have to sell their churches and move to a different location. Hopefully, we will not come to a state that our Muslim community around a mosque will disappear, leaving only the beautiful minaret which will be purchased by another religion to be converted to their temple.
Although our number is very similar to those of Jewish people in this country, we have no comparison in strength in terms of economic, political and educational strength. We do not have any Congressmen or Senators. We do not control university boards or faculties. We do not have a single factory or financial institution which is able to employ Muslims in large numbers. Therefore, we cannot judge the future of Islam by looking at the number of Muslims praying on earth or attending the conventions and bazaars of ISNA. There have to be deeper indicators of our strength.
Many of the Muslims, especially of inu-nigrant origin, are embroiled in preserving the ethnic culture, but this ethnic culture, whether in the form of social parties, music shows, dress shows, is nothing but a passing show. After this generation of Muslims has passed away, our children and youth of immigrant parents will not be able to sustain that ethnic culture. There will be only two cultures left for Muslims: an Islamic culture and the American culture.
What about our health and physical strength? Muslims, in my opinion, are not keeping themselves in physical shape, either. Most of our parties involve nothing but sitting down, making chit-chat, eating very rich foods and then going to bed. The incidence of coronary artery disease, diabetes and many chronic conditions is increasing. We are not doing exercise nor are we watching our nutrition.
I am saying all this that if our neighbors decide to do the ethnic cleansing, as it is happening in Bosnia, twenty years from now, will we be prepared to defend our women and children? Or, if the United Nations and Bosnian government request the Muslims of North America to come and help them, are we in physical shape to go there and help them in their war? A healthy Muslim is the backbone of a healthy community.
It is true that our family and our youth are our future. Muslim elders, scholars, writers and leaders of the present generation are now in their fifties. In the next twenty to twenty-five years, this generation, which is bearing the task of trying to establish Islam, will pass away. Unless we have created a new grassroots leadership which will replace us, there will be a vacuum.
Therefore, to establish our future, we must establish the Muslim youth. Our fear is that it is possible that many of our Muslim youth will be lost to the community by one way or another. I hope that this does not happen. The reasons for my fear are as such:
The USA is a melting pot. The heat is enough of the social peer pressure that people do get melted down in their values. They get lost. They may not be able to preserve their Islamic identity and outlook the way it should be in a pure form. It is possible that a new revised, modem and reformed version of Islam and Muslims will emerge which will be based more on secular lines with "modern" thinking than basic Islamic teachings. We see this in many civilizations who have pursued the line of modernization without deep thinking, whether it is in Turkey or Iran during the days of the Shah.
The second fear is that of their being lost with intermarriages. Unless we encourage Muslim youth to marry only Muslims when they reach that age and make that decision, it is possible that the future generation may be lost. Although it is permitted for a Muslim man to marry a woman of the People of the Book, there are several problems related to this.
Unless his wife becomes a practicing Muslim, the future of the children and their children to remain Muslim is not guaranteed. If there is a divorce in the family, which does happen frequently, then the custody of the child goes to the mother, who will remains a Jew or a Christian.
More important, the question is what will happen to Muslim girls if all the Muslim boys choose to marry People of the Book? Muslim women ate not allowed to marry non-Muslim men, and if they do, they would not be able to maintain Islam in their children, whose fathers are non-Muslims. Therefore, development and maintenance of intact Muslim families is the key to the survival of Islam in the USA.
My third concern about youth is regarding their education. I am not talking only of secular education, rather Islamic education. Parents have this attitude to drop their kids off at Sunday school and for it to provide a full Islamic education. In two hours a week, one cannot counteract the forty hours of secular education and secular ideas. Therefore, Sunday schools with a lack of funds and resources are not able to do the right job, either.
The result is that most of the education which the Muslim youth receive is superficial and "hearsay" rather than basic didactic Islamic education, unless some of them study on their own. With the lack of true education, our outlook about issues may change, and we may develop an attitude that "there is nothing wrong in this" as there is no mention in the Quran of such issues. This acceptance of certain practices and values of the society, unless it is confirmed by the Quran and sunnah, will become part of Islam, or at least of the practicing habit of the people. This is how cultural Islam develops .
Thus, we must emphasize in-depth, basic education for all Muslim youth, irrespective of their family background, whether their parents have been practicing or not practicing, or which school of thought they belong to, or what their socioeconomic structure is, in order to develop a nation of Muslims who have knowledge of Islam and are practicing Islam in order to preserve it.
With regard to secular education, the parents have a role to play in directing their youth's educational future. The desire of most parents that children become doctors or engineers is not always necessary. There are other fields that Muslims should go into, including journalism, law, politics, accounting, banking, agriculture and teaching. In order for us to have a significant impart on the decision-making process in this country, we need to have a lobby in each organization with grassroots support.
We must keep youth together, whether in the form of Islamic Boy Scouts, Islamic Girl Scouts, or Muslim Youth of North America. When we create such organizations, we should not just give them an umbrella to do their own thing in their own way without parental supervision. If Muslim youth organizations will do similar things as non-Muslim organizations will do, under the umbrella disguise of Islam, there will be no difference in them and non-Muslim organizations. There has to be adult supervision. The rules of the Shariah should still apply to them, and they must follow their daily routines of Islam.
Parents should support these organizations with their involvement and with their money. More important, Muslims, youth and adult men and women should have a sense of self-esteem which tells them that no matter how they are humiliated, defamed and ridiculed by the media, they are on the right path, a path which has been chosen for them, and neither do they eat pork, nor drink alcohol, nor listen to sexually suggestive rock music, nor be involved in an intimate mixing of sexes, because of their conviction of "being the best of mankind that have been raised to enjoin what is good and forbid what is wrong-and they believe in God."
There is a fear that an American version of Islam may emerge among American Muslims, especially the youth. Our hope is that this will not happen, and Muslims in America will raise themselves from nationalism of all kinds and pride themselves on being just Muslims, caring for and loving all other Muslims around the world.
Our love for our family should not reflect in providing for them all the worldly amenities like clothing, food, house, car, TV,VCR, etc., but more importantly safeguarding their future in both worlds. "O you who believe, save yourself and your family from a fire. " In this regard, Islam and the education of Muslim women is a matter of prime importance! The first school for a Muslim child is going to be his or her home. What kind of "teacher" has he?
Yes, our hope is in our family, and hope is in our youth. We hope that our families will remain intact as Muslim families and will be able to preserve Islam in their homes and propagate it outside the home. We hope the youth of today are better Muslims than their parents were when they were young. It is this hope that gives me the satisfaction that the adults of tomorrow will also be better adults than they are today, in terms of practicing Islam and love and unity among themselves.
We also hope that they will be better prepared to deal with situations and American issues. The present-day Muslim adults are living in isolation, not being part of the mainstream American society. We hope that the Muslim youths who are born and raised in this society will be able to mix with non-Muslims with conviction, maintaining their own identity in order to offer solutions for the country in which they are born.Society as such is on a decline because of its moral decay and breakup of the social fabric. We hope that Islam in its pure form, when practiced by a large number of Americans, will be able to save America from such decay by offering a viable social alternative. The future of Islam is not at stake, but that of those who profess to be its followers is.
the mankind is at loss
except as those who have
true belief and pure actions
and join together in the
mutual teaching of truth