Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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God says in the Holy Quran, "When comes the help of God and victory and you see the people enter God's religion in crowds, celebrate the praise of your Lord, and pray for his forgiveness, for He is oft returning in grace and mercy" (Nasr: I IO).

It is true that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the USA. There are presently about six million Muslims here. As a result, the number of Muslim organizations is growing at the same rapid rate. Every large American city presently has several Muslim organizations and mosques.

Building a mosque is a prophetic tradition. The first thing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) built when he migrated from Makkah to Madinah in 622 CE was to build a mosque. However developing a community around the same area and attached to that mosque is more difficult. In 1915 before the Communists occupied Muslim Russia, there were 24,000 mosques. When their form of government collapsed in 1992, there were only 423 mosques, most of which were locked during week days.

In my opinion, it is easier to built a mosque than it is to build a community to support it. All you need to build a mosque is a donor, or a group of donors, the purchase of a piece of land and bricks, and the hiring of an architect to put them together. However, the unit of a community, human beings, differ from the bricks. You cannot buy them. You have to win their heart with respect and service. You join them with love and not cement.

While Muslims in America have been successful in building mosques and organizations-for example in New York state alone there are 150 mosques-we have failed in bringing Muslims together. The first problem I see with American Muslims today is the development of a self- interested ego. We are living in a "me first" society whose motto is "I will get me a hamburger." Therefore, Muslims have developed this ideology, "Not only will I not cooperate with you, but I will ignore you because I don't like you, but when I want to do the same thing that you are trying to do, I want you to support me."

A faith should be able to bring people together, rather than to chase them out and this is what Islam promotes, but once American Muslims adopt the western ego of self-interest, they lose Islamic values. An extension of this problem is an attitude which is selective of the Traditions (ahadith) of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Traditions are referred to when they want to stop someone from doing something, but they do not apply the same criterion to themselves. They say, for instance, "Whatever you are doing is un-Islamic because there is such and such a Tradition (hadith) which says so and so." When they want to do the same thing, they say, "I see nothing wrong with doing such and such because there is nothing in the Quran or Traditions which oppose it."

The second problem can be stated by in terms of three types of situations: There are those who are making things happen, those who watch things happen and those who don't know what happened. We Muslims not only belong to this third class of the pathetic group, but we have added a fourth group, as well: Those who criticize every thing that happens. When rice is being cooked, we want to stay away from the heat, but when it is being served, we want to complain of the shortage of salt, sugar, raisins and almonds. This can be illustrated by a story told to me by my close friend in Panama City, Florida. After he led the prescribed prayer, someone came from behind and told him that the prescribed prayer was invalid, because "your nose did not touch the ground during prostration." He said to the gentleman, "I am an old man who has had a heart operation. Perhaps my nose was not touching the ground during prostration, but may I know what was your nose doing then?" We should not accept criticism unless it is accompanied by a desire and commitment to improve the situation by the critics themselves.

Participation: When an organization invites a community to participate, does it mean it? Or does it say, "Say nothing. Do nothing. Just send your check in the mail." We should not accept donations without active participation. When we Muslims do missionary work and by the mercy of God, non-Muslims accept Islam, we should not leave him/ her alone. We should make him/her a part of the family, a brother or sister by Quranic ties, and help the new Muslim to become a self supporting citizen.

All these problems have a common root. I asked a 14 year old what the number one problem affecting Muslims today is? I was expecting her to say, "Lack of unity," but she loves to disagree with her dad, and she is usually right. She said, "We Muslims don't love each other." She is right. Even if we do, for some reason, we cannot express it. We don't speak well of each other. To the contrary, our Prophet used to greet each Companion so warmly and showed such affection that each of them thought he loved him the most. He has said in an authentic Tradition, "None of you will enter Paradise until you have faith, and you will not complete your faith until you love each other" (Muslim). And, "On the Day of Judgment when there will be no shade other than the shade of God. One of the six categories of Muslims who will receive shade under the Throne will be those who love one another just for the pleasure of God" (Muslim).

Remember what God Almighty has said in Quran: "And He has put love between their hearts. Even if you had spent all that is in the earth, you could not have produced that love, but God has done it, for He is Powerful, Wise" (8.63). "And holdfast by the rope of God all together and be no disunited. Remember the favor of God on you when you were enemies, then He joined your hearts so by His favor you became brothers. You were on the brink of a pit offire, then He saved you from it,- thus God makes clear to you His Signs so that you may follow the right way" (3:103).

It is not unnatural for Muslims to develop an organization based on geographical locations within a city, or even on the basis of language or ethnic origin, as if God created humanity of the same color, appearance, and speaking the same language! He says in the Quran, "Oh you mankind, we created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily in the sight of God, the most honored of you is the most righteous of you, and God is full of knowledge, and is well acquainted' (49:13).

In one authentic Tradition, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said, "A Muslim is a mirror to another Muslim" (Abu Daud). What he meant was that we have an obligation to point to fellow Muslim his shortcoming and to tell the truth about his good aspects. He did not say, "A Muslim is a sword (in correcting the mistakes) of another Muslim. A mirror has the following qualities, that we also should have when reflecting upon other fellow Muslims. A mirror has a one-to-one relationship with an object. It does not announce a defect in public; a mirror does not backbite, but we do; a mirror does not distort the image, but gives an honest, unbiased picture. Neither does it exaggerates nor does it belittle the object; and, an object goes to the mirror. The mirror does not travel looking for the short- comings of the object.

Therefore, in order to bring Muslims together I suggest the following: Accept each other as we are. Be gentle in criticism and generous in appreciation.Love each other and speak good of each other as much as possible to each other's face and behind their backs. Before we expect an organization to do anything for us we should ask what we have or what we can do for the organization; while criticizing, we should ask ourselves: Am I doing this to prove that I am right? Or for the sake of the community? Is my action going to bring the pleasure of God or of Satan? Am I a part of the solution? Or part of the problem in my mosque or organization?

Finally, we must ask ourselves, how far we are willing to go to bring Muslims together, sacrificing the glory of self, race, ethnic background, language, nationality, etc. for the glory of God Almighty.

I end this with the short surah which is the essence of Quran, and which the worthy companions used to sav to each other when departing.

"By the token of time
the mankind is in the loss
except for those who have
true belief and pure actions,
and join together in the mutual teaching of
truth and perseverance."