I am very disappointed at the behavior of many of the Muslims that I meet in the course of my teachings, and travels in the US. I am going to pick out one specific incident that happened to me recently but please be aware that what I am speaking about points out a general tendency among many of us. And this is only one example, there are other examples I could tell you, covering different topics but they all point toward one thing. Back to that after I tell you some of what happened.
I had been invited to speak to a group of young Muslims recently. The group was very mixed demographically. There were young people in their 20’s or 30’s, students, working people and a few older people. Some of the young people had brought their parents. Ethnically, the group was mixed as well. There were African Americans, whites and Asians. From many geographic areas as well – North America, Europe, Middle East, Indian Subcontinent and others.
The talk went well and after I spoke on the topic of “The Inner Meanings of the Five Pillars” we had a brisk sohbet. The topics there were wide ranging but many of the questions dealt with how Muslims are perceived in American society, and some on how Sufis are perceived by other “mainstream” Muslims. All in all I think the presentation went well and I must say I enjoyed the people there very much.
But what happened afterward is what is bothering me now. A few days after I got a call from one of the attendees who had taken my business card. He wanted to know if I would help him find a wife. This is something I have felt it is important for me to do. In my travels and communications I have had several people come to me to ask if I can help them find a spouse. All I can usually do is pray for them and promise that I will keep them in mind if I hear of anyone who is also looking and might be compatible.
I also treat this as a trust, that I am in a position to act as a trustee (Wakeel) for such individuals and it is a great responsibility. So I ask questions before I can agree to help them. The questions include the obvious subjects like jobs, education, age, interests, sect, etc. But I also ask immigrants about their immigration status. There are several reasons for this, the most important being that in my position of trustee I feel it is my duty to protect people from those who would just use a marriage as a way of staying in the US. My advice to people who are not here legally is to clear up that status because it is a big red flag and I cannot recommend them until they are legally here. Please understand that this is not a judgment on them, they may have a perfectly legitimate reason for being here and they may be wonderful people with lots to offer a prospective spouse, but this is so important that I feel I cannot recommend them if this is the case.
In the case of the person who called me the answer was that this person was in the US on a student Visa but was not in school and was working in a grocery store. The visa was about to expire. I asked him why he was not in school and the answer was vague. I said that this was not acceptable for me to find a spouse. That the immigration status needed to be cleared up before I could find someone. The person said “But how can I stay in the US if I am not married to someone in the US?” End of story for me. It became obvious through some further conversation that this person was not looking for marriage except to stay in the US.
So here is my disappointment. We as Muslims are now under a microscope. Our behavior is being examined constantly from all sides. One one hand there are those who want to discredit us entirely. Some even go so far as to say that Islam is not even a religion deserving of the protections under the US Constitution. On the other hand our great religion is being reduced, in the most heinous ways, to a collection of stark, rigid rules and regulations applied in unjust and inhumane ways against those that are perceived as threats to the political aspirations of a few misguided individuals. Yet a third group, for reasons of their own, (and, in my opinion, misguided in all ways), present a distorted, violent and self serving Islam that has 1- nothing to do with the fundamentals of this great religion and 2 – discredits Islam and Muslims in the eyes of most of the world. The result of all this is that the true meaning of Islam and the message that Rasul Allah (saw) brought is lost. (I could go on and on about this but that is not the purpose of this post – maybe another time)
In a time like this, when both Islam and immigration are under attack it is most important for those of us who have knowledge and care about Islam to be aware of our behavior and how it is perceived by others. If we expect respect then we must act in a way that is deserving of respect. The type of behavior exhibited by the person in the incident I described is just no longer acceptable and should not be tolerated by the rest of us at all. By acting in the way he acted he contributes to the general image of Muslims who are not to be trusted. But the rest of us contribute to this as well if we enable the behavior. If we do nothing then we are part of the problem as well. At the very least people should make themselves aware of situations like this around them and be willing to speak strongly to people who are acting in this way. We should be willing to discourage this type of thing strongly and with moral and ethical fortitude. Not doing so is weakening our image and making us complicit.
There are positive things we can do to bolster the example of what it truly means to be a Muslim. In addition to all our religious obligations it is up to each and every one of us to behave in a way that honors our great deen and exemplar, Rasul Allah (saw). There is no better dawa than our own individual behavior in the public eye. It is wonderful when people come to us and ask “Why did you do that? It was so kind of you (substitute your own compliment here).” and we can answer “Because I am a Muslim.” Or when people see us working hard at our jobs, making a contribution to society, raising children who are bright and have good manners, helping the needy or the sick or elderly, participating in community affairs and on and on – when they see us in that light and know we are Muslims then their fear begins to diminish and their interest begins to grow. There are as many doors into Islam as there are people.
This is an opinion piece and as such you may feel differently or want to comment further. I invite you please to do so by replying to the post.
Wa allahu alim!