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Congress just passed a bill declaring the consumption of alcohol a felony, punishable by up to 120 days in jail. Although critics said the new law wouldn’t work anymore than Prohibition did in the 1920’s, supporters of the measure felt confident that it would hold, given the large support from the Muslim America community. Even now, many Islamic organizations are setting up alcohol treatment centers and prevention programs designed to help people kick the dangerous habit. The president, a staunch supporter of moral values, is expected to sign the new bill into law when reaches his desk.
Sound like fiction? It may be fiction now, but the future is like a book of blank, white pages; anything can happen. When I accepted Islam and surrendered my heart to Allah’s will, I didn’t do it for economic or social reasons. In fact, I suffered in those two areas because of my conversion. Rather, it was a choice on my part to reform my soul, my mind and my understanding of why I was alive and why I would die one day.
I didn’t think about living in some town for a few years and making my fortune so my kids could go to Ivy league schools. I wasn’t thinking about how to get all my relative a green card nor was I planning to leave and go back home to some far land after my bank account was full enough.
I was born and raised here. This is my land. I’ll raise my children here, Insha’allah and probably be buried here as well. I knew that by accepting Islam I was declaring that America needed to do so too. America, my home, would naturally become an Islamic country one day. There is no other way to think if you are a truly conscientious believer in Allah.
In past columns, I have raised complaints or alarm bells at the state of some segment of the Muslim community. Now I’m going to offer three suggestions for how we can turn the situation around and become the dominant social and cultural force in a country that needs Islam more than another pop-star, beer-brand or psychic network.
First, we must be reminded of a simple truth: if you believe in Allah, then you must be more than just a praying Muslim; more than just a fasting Muslim. A Christian can go to the masjid and pray side-by-side with us all he wants; a Jew can fast in Ramadan for forty years, but if such a person doesn’t surrender their will to Allah, then all those activities won’t mean much. Belief in Allah is what makes those actions have merit on Judgment Day.
In the same way, why should we see a praying and fasting Muslim and automatically assume he or she is a true believer? The blessed Prophet once observed that many are the people who fast but who get nothing from it but hunger and thirst. In a similar vein, Allah said that people who pray for show are those who deny the deen. The intention, the belief, that’s what makes our Islam real. That’s what builds a foundation for the future of our community here.
Secondly, what’s more important than what people see us doing in the masjid, is what they see us doing outside in the society. If people view us as foreigners, it’s not because everybody is an evil racist. It’s because sometimes we’re presenting ourselves that way. We have to look at ourselves with a critical eye!
As a quick note, lest multitudes write and complain: The vast majority of Muslims here have chosen to live in non-Muslim neighborhoods; have chosen to live far from the masjid, have chosen to turn their children into neo-kuffar by letting them be indoctrinated by the public school system and have chosen to have non-Muslims as the primary people they come into contact with. If you choose not to actively practice Islam in your daily life, if you choose not to build and Islamic community, then don’t display yourself as an ethnic model and say this is what a Muslim should be.
This leads me to the third factor which will help our faith prosper and grow here. The essential, unifying force we must have is a solid, homogenous community. We must live together. All those people who cry about ghettoizing ourselves need to wake up. Why do the Orthodox Jews live together? Why do the Amish live together? Why do the Mormons, the Sikhs, the survivalists and the Koreans live together? Quite simply, to preserve the unique way of life from the scrourge of assimilation. Are they ghettoized? No. Are they poor? No. Their communities tend to be healthier, safer and more prosperous than the general melting pot.
How many Muslims have been lost to Islam in the last fifty years here? Tens of thousands have been lost. The only reason Islam is still growing here, by large, is because of a steady stream of immigration. But when that dries up, the assimilation will dwindle our community down to nothing. It’s like we have a bucket with a hole in the bottom. We keep pouring new immigrants in, but so many are leaking out are lost forever. (And we’re hardly making concerted or intelligent efforts at bringing others to the faith.) I used to have contact with a unique community in the heart of Detroit, Michigan. It was originally settled by Yemeni immigrants about ten years ago. Those Muslims could have gone the way of others and lost their Iman. But as you’ll see, something quite different occurred.
I still remember my first visit to the area fondly. I was attending a meeting of the newly-formed local ICNA group and had never been exposed to the place before. What I saw amazed me. I was elated, in fact! Children were saying salaams to me on the street and women (in hijab) were walking around and going places leisurely and confidently. I saw Muslims who were Arab, Black and Bengali. But what took the cake for me was when out of nowhere I heard the adhan outdoors over a loudspeaker. They fought the city council and won the right to do adhan five times a day in the community!
Something clicked in the minds of these people. The Yemenis formed a master plan and determined to stay together. They set up a fund and slowly bought one house after another, moving Muslim families in and drug-infested kafirs out, until they literally had thousands of Muslims businesses and stores in the heart of the community and bought a huge Catholic church and made it into a beautiful masjid. They even made a small community health care center!
When we were leaving our meeting and walking to the masjid for salat, it was the most beautiful sight: from all directions, men, women and children, of all races, were going to their masjid as a community. I’ve never been to Muslim country before, but I’ll tell you this much, I felt as if I were in an Islamic country. And this wasn’t Egypt or India or Turkey. It was right here — in America.
(Posted on January 25, 2007)