This is potentially a new TMO column by a Muslim convert living in Michigan. Opinions expressed are his own.
Challenges Muslims face in America was the topic of a recent talk in Ann Arbor by Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America. In this talk, Imam Al-Qazwini said that assimilationâ€”losing our Muslim distinctiveness and deenâ€”was one main challenge to the American Ummah.
This kind of assimilation is a process in which we accept not only Americaâ€™s non-Muslim cultural trappings (tastes in dress, entertainment, holidays, sports, etc.), but the moral values and mores of its society and government. Assimilation is final when Muslims become indistinguishable from the non-Muslim majority in our interpersonal relationships, families, and business practices, and uncritically accept Americaâ€™s political conduct and foreign policy. We end up losing not only our identity, but our deen.
A second challenge is being exclusionary as Muslims and not participating in the public sphere of American society. When we segregate ourselves, Al-Qazwini observed, when we avoid doing â€œAmerican thingsâ€ like voting and engaging in community affairs, our deen becomes marginalized, powerless, and irrelevant, and this does not serve the interests of Islam either. So, if we interact with American culture, we risk assimilation and the loss of our deen, but if we segregate ourselves and avoid as much interaction as possible, we risk having a deen that is not able to effect change around us in the cause of Allah (SWT).
It seems that American Muslims are on the horns of a dilemma, faced with two equally unpleasant options and having to choose one.
This seeming dilemma affects no group more than our youth. They are most vulnerable to the incessant onslaught of bewitching, misleading, and tempting advertisements to abandon morality and devotion to Allah (SWT) and become unthinking consumerists and uncaring capitalists.
The answer to this dilemma is to develop an approach to Islam that avoids either horn. The Ummah must help young Muslims in particular to become so strong in the deen that they are confident enough to engage the dominant society on existing common ground so that our Islamic values supplant haram values.
A great American, with whom we share much good common ground, and who offers us profound insights in our struggle as Muslims, is Martin Luther King, Jr. In his book, Where Do We Go from Here, he thoroughly analyzes our haram culture as based upon the evils of racism, poverty, and militarism, and then warns:
â€œLet usâ€¦not [seek] to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of American society. Let us be those creative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.â€
That is our calling, too, as American Muslims, and our Islamic schools are crucial as we carry it out. Otherwise, our Ummah will continue to be gored by the horn of assimilation or the horn of powerless irrelevance.