Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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Islam does not need redefinition. But for sure, the application of its concepts in a changing world need to be re-explained in the language of time for better understanding. The problem is as someone put it- how to recover Islam from the debris of its past. By past, it is meant 1,300 years and by the debris, it is meant all the personal, cultural, tribal, and other influences which have covered and mixed with the beautiful and pure religion of al-Islam, the way of life, of peace within and without (with surroundings) by submitting and surrendering our will to the Will of our Creator. Do all Muslims know the will of God and if told, accept it?

The religion has become like the story of four blind men which I read in my childhood who set out to find what the elephant was like. They all retumed after touching one organ of the elephant to share their information. The one who touched the leg of the elephant said it was like a big tree. "No," said the other one who touched the side, "it is like a flat wall." The one who touched the tail defined the elephant as a rope. The fourth one who dared to climb up and touch the big ear, compared it to a big leaf of a tree. Then they all started fighting over their version. Non-Muslim becomes Muslim by the grace of God. What kind of Muslim should he become? Sunni or Shia and take one of the twenty sub groups of the former or twelve sub groups of the later? Should he wear the dress of the country he was bom in (meeting all the requirements) or adopt the Islamic dress of another Muslim country? If it is not necessary for a new Muslim to go into such details, and just remain a Muslim, why cannot this also be applied to the existing Muslims.
Among the present day Muslims, two types worry me and are equally dangerous examples in showing Islam .


The majority of Muslims are becoming like this. They have a Muslim name and are usually born to a Muslim family, middle class but aspiring to join the western upper class. They don't pray on a daily basis, but usually on Fridays and always on the Festival days to the prescribed prayer. They do not fast for the fear of becoming weak (or have another excuse). They usually do not calculate the poor-due, but do give charity to ward off evil. They sometimes go for umrah but hardly go for the hajj. They are careful not to eat pork or take alcoholic beverages, but don't worry about the modest dress and the free intermixing of the sexes. They fail to identify themselves when among non-Muslims and fail to sympathize with the sufferings of the Muslim community (ummah). They are apologetic to non-Muslims about the behavior of fellow Muslims. They themselves do not come to a Sunday school or Islamic Study Circle but want their children to have a religious scholar train them or attend a Sunday school. In my opinion, these are not reformed Muslims, but deformed or confused Muslims; confused about their knowledge of Islam and correct application of it. They have weak faith. To me they deserve the most attention from practicing Muslims.


Here we see a group of Muslims who do practice acts of worship and I pray may Allah accept them and reward them. Their problem is that they have not come out of the first one hundred years of Islam. To that knowledge (without its essence), they have added all the cultural, personal, and regional biases and practices of the following 1,300 years and call it the Islamic Way of Life. So their main obsession is whether to eat with their hand (as the Messenger did) or with a fork, how long their beard should be or the clothing worn, for which ailment honey should be used, and so on. Many of them, while still practicing rituals, do not consider lying, backbiting, gossiping, ill temper, etc. as an un-Islamic Way of Life. They are careful about the permissible and prohibited foods, but in doing so, are not careful about injuring the feelings of other Muslims. Many such Muslims are so proud of their knowledge and piety that they do not even consider other non-practicing Muslims worthy of their attention and friendship, but they are always available to give missionary work to non-Muslims.

In between the two major groups is the third group which is trying to understand Islam and translate it into a simple common language for the understanding of both groups and non-Muslims. To this group, the philosophy of Islam and its modern application is as important as the rituals of Islam. Unfortunately, the third group is not well-accepted by the first two groups. Now, do we need a new organization? Not really.

The existing organizations should clearly define their aims and modus operandi. They are a mixture of ultra conservatives and ultra liberals. They also change their stand according to need. They fail to address the problems of the Muslim community. Therefore, the majority of American Muslims do not see these organizations truly representing them, thus they do not join them. The elders of such organizations in America are usually immigrant Muslims and their children born in this country. They see things differently. Similarly, 60 percent of the immigrant Muslims do not take into account the 40 percent of native Muslims.
Thus, they live in two different worlds. Many of such organizations are more preoccupied with being accepted as moderate and harmless Muslims by the media and non-Muslims than standing up for an Islamic cause with Truth, therefore disassociating themselves with the voice or voices of the rest of the Islamic world.


They must, first of all, have a "think tank" consisting of about fifty scholars representing all sects, all regions, all ethnic backgrounds, businesses, professions, men, women, youth, from Muslims in prison to the highest official. There should be an Amir (Imam or whatever) with the line of succession and an executive body and a council of Muslim elders to work toward reviving the caliphate.

Sources of financing and ongoing income must be clearly defined. To begin with, such an organization may need $500,000 but to run it would require a minimum of one million dollars a year.

There should be a central office (National Headquarters) with regional offices in each state.

There should be no reduplication of work or rediscovering the wheel. Many organizations for the last twenty-five years have laid some groundwork and their experience is available. This data should be fully utilized. In fact, if some of them want to merge with this new organization, they should be welcomed but not at the expense of changing the agenda.

The main agenda is to prepare Muslims to be knowledgeable about Islam, to be strong, to be able to show it by example and practice, to be able to defend and propagate Islam and to be able to raise Muslims among the children after the present day concerned leaders leave the scene in the next twenty to thirty years. The specific roles are:
1) education of children at schools, mosque, and home,
2) evaluation of practices of Islam by their adults in rituals and morals,
3) financial, social, medical needs of the community to make them strong, healthy and socially happy,
4) representing Islam in the media, government policies and in the text books,
5) missionary work to non-Muslims sharing the gift, 6) bring closer cooperation with Muslims outside the U.S.A. to be able to understand their issues, and to be able to keep them, irrespective whether we love or hate their rules, and
7) be part of the American mainstream, to be able to vote in elections and speak on their issues of concern, as a united Muslim voice.