As the anti-Muslim rhetoric persists and as we enter what some are calling a "post-religious America," will Muslim Americans feel there is a place for them to practice Islam without deliberate compromise? With the holidays behind us, I saw several articles about how Muslims celebrate Christmas and Muslims wishing others a "Merry Christmas." A friend of mine, after reading an article about Muslims celebrating, asked if this will be the new litmus test for the "moderate" Muslim.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "There will come a time when holding on to your religion will be like holding on to hot coals."
That time may not be now, but it is scary times as we Muslims struggle to hold on to our beliefs and subsequent practice with pressures of what is known as "liberal" culture and the desperation to change misperceptions.
I have observed and want to briefly explore some reasons for these challenges Muslims are facing to withstand changing social and political climates.
1) The increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric puts Muslims further under the microscope. Terms like "extremist Muslims" or "radical Islam" has Muslims scurrying to dispel false notions about who we are and what we believe. This has some Muslims wanting to be seen as or called a "moderate" or "liberal" Muslim. However, this lends itself to shedding parts of our beliefs to fit into the mainstream culture and not be seen as "extreme." For example, this is the case for those who struggle to stand firm in the belief that Islam does not condone homosexuality. Unfortunately, it is counterproductive to abandon some of our beliefs as this does nothing to cement Muslims and our practice as a part of the American fabric.
2) The Muslim population is largely made up of people of color. We know the history of people of color in America so I don't need to explain that. But, as a result, there is still a need for some of us to be accepted by the white majority. Such as the case of Muslims celebrating Christmas under the guise that they are celebrating Jesus' birth as our Prophet and not the begotten son of Jesus as in Christianity. This is the tendency of some to readily adopt dominant culture and misappropriate a practice under the name of Islam. Imam Dawud Walid summarized this issue on social media when he said: "Internalized oppression [is what] drives people to seek acceptance [while] being masked in religious language..." It is the forever lingering belief that we (people of color) and our way is in inferior and others are superior, and the inclination to seek their validation. The more we attempt to assimilate, the more difficult it will become for Muslims, as a whole, to practice our religion.
3) Thirdly, some of us have yet "to be comfortable with the uncomfortable." We have to get comfortable with standing out as "different" when not going along with the masses. We have to become comfortable challenging the notion that the status quo is the only way.
I took part in an interfaith panel discussion where the question was posed how my faith can remain relevant today considering the decline in religious affiliation. This was a great question with an answer that could help reconcile the struggle some of us may have with being uncompromisingly Muslim.
Islam is relevant today and does have a place in America without alteration of its core practice.
Islam is a religion that was revealed by God for all times and societies. It was not just revelation that was meant for the people of 1400 years ago. It is a complete way of life as described in the Qur'an and Hadith (teachings) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It addresses current societal ills and social issues such as poverty, racism, bigotry, family values, financial oppression, physical and emotional decay, disease/illness, etc. The list goes on.
It defines human rights, freedoms, and social and moral justice. In this way, Islam is progressive as it provides solutions to the very things many of us are battling today. We shouldn't feel shy in contributing what we know and our values to society. We also have to be comfortable explaining our beliefs outside of the pre-defined terms that have been given to us.
We do not have to speak of our religion as conservative Islam, liberal Islam, or moderate Islam. Islam is already a religion of moderation that strikes a balance in all matters. There are no other forms of the religion itself, only in the way people choose to express it. Following Islam properly is the middle path. There is no real way to discern Islam in these terms, nor is it necessary to accept these confines given to us.
The understanding that Islam does have a place today in America is an understanding that can't be forgotten among Muslims. If it is forgotten, we will find ourselves transformed by other than what we belief. There is a saying by one of the wisest Muslim caliphs in history, Umar ibn Al-Khattab, which says, "He who does not live in the way of his beliefs, starts to believe in the way that he lives."
There is a place in America for Muslims and Islam, but that doesn't mean it will be without struggle. It is our test filled with winding roads, but we can't forget our belief system that we hold dear and true.
Dr. Sherman Jackson made a compelling point in this regard in his article on Muslim Americans and liberalism:
"... Muslims will have to find the fortitude to stand up for their values, in the same way that liberals stand up for theirs. This will be difficult, if for no other reason than the fact that liberalism tends to break down communities into individual, autonomous parts, leaving Muslims with the thought and feeling that they are isolated individuals who have little choice but to conform to what are presented as "societal norms"...Muslims have to get comfortable with the fact that dissenting from all this makes Islam no more a threat to America than Judaism, Christianity or atheism."