Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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Islam is a dynamic religion. It spread like wildfire from Arabia in every direction and changed the shape of the world and the mores of people. It put order in their lives and made each faculty subservient to God. Thus they acquired and utilized knowledge and invented machines and medicine. For six hundred years, Islamic culture and science were the dominant factors in much of the civilized world. Knowing Arabic was a must for all scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Three hundred years before Pasteur's discoveries, Muslim scientists pioneered algebra, chemistry, and medicine. Muslims made the first calculators and the astrolabe. In Europe, which was in the Dark Ages, Muslim Spain was flourishing. Cordova had a population of 500,000 compared to the 38,000 in Paris. It had 700 mosques and 900 public baths. It had sidewalks and street lights while most of Europe was dark. In every field they were the best people during those days. And they are attributed to bringing Europe out of the Dark Ages due to the interaction and exchanges taking place during the Crusades. Most voyagers like Christopher Columbus used Muslim navigators to help find new lands. God Almighty has fulfilled His promise in the Quran: "You are the best community that has been raised among mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid indecency and you believe in God" (3:110).

But what has happened to us now? Individually, while working for IBM, a Muslim may be the most efficient employee, but collectively, our efficiency and excellence has gone down. We hardly work except for a few. Look at the bathroom in a mosque and in a church or a Holiday Inn. Compare the streets of Karachi to those of Paris. We come late to the office, to parties, to appointments, unless it is with a non-Muslim boss. We don't take good care of our health. We are nowhere to be found in modem discoveries and scientific advancements. Everybody makes fun of us as dagger swinging terrorists, riding camels and keeping harems, none of which are true. Even our enemies joke about us: Moshe Dayan, the Israeli Defense Minister once said, "Do you think the Arabs can ever beat you?" He replied, "Not until they first learn how to make a straight line while boarding a bus." After the U.S. F-16 crashed over the Gulf of Sidra during the Libyan Crisis, the Pentagon official said, "They (the Libyans) can't even shoot a banana in the air." The present day lack of efficiency and excellence in Muslims in general is due to:

1. Lack of knowledge and skill.

2. Lack of self-esteem and dignity.

3. Laziness and lack of hard work.

Success is tied to belief and practice. Let us examine them individually.


Much has been said about this issue to this point. To recite" or to read,"iqra" was the first order of God Almighty to mankind. But Muslims hardly read these days except for a few. It is much easier to watch television, movies, and gossip rather than read a newspaper, a serious book, or a scientific article. Writing is an even harder job. Have they not read: "Are those equal, those who know, and those who don't know?" (39:9)."The blind and the seeing are not alike, nor are the depths of darkness and the (genial) heat of the sun" (35:19). Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] placed much emphasis on acquiring knowledge and skills.


After 200 years of colonial rule, we Muslims not only have been robbed of all our treasures like the Kuh-i Nur diamond, but also of our dignity and we have accepted the "superiority" of the Anglo-Saxon race. We are told that we are barbarians, terrorists, illiterate, and fanatics.

Everything related to us, be it our color, our accent, our culture and even our sand is of inferior quality. We have accepted the cultural slavery of our former colonial masters. Sometimes we even feel guilty about being Muslims as we fail to identify ourselves as Muslim in our outlook or behavior. We have forgotten that man was created in the best mold and should not become the lowest of the low (Surah at-Tin). The difference between the best of creation and the worst of creation is faith in God (Surah al-Bayyinah).


We Muslims in general have acquired the reputation of being late and lazy. It is shown in the performance of office workers, factory workers, and students. In the house the man hardly moves to get a glass of water, much less to speak about helping his wife. It seems that we have no motivation to excel. We are even lazy in our duty to God and many of us miss the dawn prescribed prayer. "Whoever strives hard, he in fact strives for himself" (29:6).

We have forgotten the dignity of labor. Our Prophet used to work with his own hands, be it cutting meat, sewing or gathering wood. All prophets were shepherds A companion came to the Prophet, and the latter wanted to shake his hand. The companion hid his hand behind his back, saying, "O Prophet, my hands are dirty. I am just coming back from work, and I don't want your hands to become dirty," The Prophet took his hand and kissed it, saying, "Hellfire will not touch the hand of a worker." We also don't have value of time. We waste time in gossip, backbiting, watching useless programs on TV, listening to unhealthy music, and sleeping more than necessary. Time is the precious gift of God. We don't even have time to spend with our family, to take care of ourselves with exercise or to advance our knowledge. Time is like melting ice, and if we don't use it, it will be gone. Remember, whatever we want in the next world we must accomplish in this world. Thus by wasting time, we are in fact, damaging our future.

The clues to success are tied to self purification and belief: "Successful is the one who purifies himself' (97:14). "He who purifies himself, in fact purifies his soul" (35:18).

Features of believers (al-mu'min) have been described in the Quran at many places. Let us review and find out how many we have in us. In Surah al-Mu'minun, the believers are described as those who are humble in their prayer, avoid vain talk, pay zakat, and guard their modesty. In Surah at-Tawba, they are described as those who protect each other, enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, and strive in the cause of God. In Surah al-Infal, they are mentioned as those who when God's Name is mentioned, feel fear in their hearts. When the Quran is recited it increases their faith. They trust their Lord. They establish worship and spend from what God has given them. In Surah ar-Rad, they are described as those who keep their trust, have patience, avoid suspicion and spying and do as they say. Thus as mentioned in Ale-Imran, verse 110, God's bestowing on us as being the best community which has been raised for mankind is based on three conditions: First, we enjoin what is right conduct (and practice it ourselves too); second, we forbid indecency (and avoid it ourselves, too); and third, we believe in God (and show it with our actions). Finally, if we want to get back our lost glory we must do it ourselves. "God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves" (I 3: 1 1).