I was talking to someone close to me recently about a decision she had to make and after we had talked for a while I suggested, “Ask God to help you decide.”

There was a weighty pause. She's not a practitioner of any religion nor an overtly spiritual person. I made my suggestion sincerely but it ended up uncomfortable, so I moved on with a slightly artificial tone. “Well, anyway…”

Last year my husband and I hosted an interfaith dinner and the thing I enjoyed the most was simply being in a room full of people who believed in God and talked about God and acknowledged God's role in our lives. Granted, we each approached God differently, being Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mormons and Bahais. But we shared in common the concept of God as the creator and sustainer of the world, who is divine and worthy of worship. The three hours those guests were in my home were special; I was with people who believed in God and were all about sharing their beliefs.

Since moving to Texas, I've found that people here take religion very seriously, which is a good thing and in contrast to the stereotype of people in the “Bible Belt” being intolerant and obnoxious about their faith (which, I'll be honest, coming from the northeast was something I worried about). As a religious person myself I appreciate it when people are straightforward about believing that the only way to salvation is through belief in Jesus as savior – not because I agree with them, but because their expressing their faith openly reinforces my right to express my faith. I also feel that it's better to have faith – even exclusive faith – than to dispute the value of faith. And I've come across very few believing, practicing Christians who denigrated my faith or felt obliged to point out what's wrong with it.

Nevertheless, I find that it's not always easy to “speak religion.” People of faith, Muslims or not, have different levels of faith-oriented language. Interestingly, sometimes when I'm with other American Muslim converts we don't mention God or use Arabic phrases as much as when we're at the masjid or with “born” Muslims. It's like we speak a different language, often a uniquely American language, with reference points of its own.

Feeling confident about expressing belief among non-Muslims is a learned skill, especially in that we're a minority religion. Sometimes the line at the edge of inappropriate is a bit fine. (I nearly got kicked out of my Toastmasters club for giving too many speeches about Islam! But that's a post for another day.) But while you're testing the boundaries, there are a couple issues to consider. Am I obligated to share with others the faith I believe is the best way to live? Is it hypocritical of me to “tone it down”?

The bottom line is that I have to ask myself, when I make reference to God or prayer, is it worthwhile – and do I know where the line is where sharing it will alienate me – and Islam – from others? It's important because as much as what we say, how we say it reflects what we believe.

15 Responses

  1. AbdulRahman

    Something I’ve always noticed that there people in the room who tend to go silent when religion is mentioned. It creates some tension with them. And I usually attribute that to negative perceptions of religion among the quiet ones.

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  2. ibnabeeomar

    one good question for discussion is how to approach religion in the workplace? do we accept that its the wrong time/place and just leave it alone? or should you initiate conversations about it?

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  3. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    Interesting topic.

    As a convert myself, I do not at all notice the phenomenon you’re talking about where you speak differently around other converts. Of course, there is some difference on how I talk around non-Muslims but I’m still pretty free with my God references.

    The one difference is obviously at work where I talk basically a different language. (I have the big beard and kufi thing going, though, so it’s not as if people at work don’t think about religion when I’m around anyway).

    One interesting experience I had was on a political website. I have the habit of ending my comments with “God knows best.”

    Now, a high proportion of the commenters at that site seem to be atheist/agnostic or very secular and they were really taken aback by that comment. I tried to explain to them that its actually meant as a sign of humility, a sign that one knows that one’s opinion is only one’s opinion and it could certainly be wrong.

    But for a secular person or a disbeliever, any mention of religion is often seen in the context of some type of proselytizing or attempt to convert others. One thing people in America hate more than anything (I don’t know about other places, my experience is with America) is when people try to convert them to their religion. This is just a fact and it should be kept in mind in all of our da’wah efforts.

    Finally, I agree completely that there is nothing better, at least in my mind, then being able to talk openly with people who take God and religion seriously even if they have different beliefs. That type of interfaith dialog I love. The best is when you actually find other people who take revelation and relgious law seriously, but this is very rare in today’s world amongst non-Muslims.

    Allaah knows best.

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  4. brnaeem

    Ruth, good post…you said that the folks down south take their religion seriously, so does that mean you have found it easier to bring up religion in public conversations? Was your experience with your friend at the beginning of the post the norm or the exception?

    I too have found it very discomforting the slightest reference to God or religion is taken as a personal affront to many non-Muslim Americans. Even when the discussion calls for introducing the topic of religion, its seen as a taboo. Makes no sense.

    I guess this is merely the expected evolution of a secularized society. What started as separation of church and state has become separation of church and all public existence (except the posters citing verses from the Bible at sporting events…go figure). God has truly been relegated to the private corners of the home.

    As Muslims living in the West, I am convinced that our dawah should not only be to bring people to Islam, but to begin by bringing them back to their own belief systems.

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  5. ruth nasrullah

    Asalaamu alaikum, Br. Naeem. Yes, I definitely have a higher comfort level talking about religious topics here versus the NY metropolitan area. I’m much more comfortable here saying something like, “I’ll pray for you” or “God knows best” – back home people would probably look at me sideways if I said something like that. People here are also more inclined to openly mention Jesus, which I don’t think I ever heard anyone do in Jersey.

    I’m thoroughly convinced that the enemy of all religion in this country is secular humanism. I’d take an ignorant bigot over a self-righteous Unitarian any day, the latter being the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, to my mind.

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  6. Amad

    ASA, Br. Naeem, I am curious as to what you mean by this:

    As Muslims living in the West, I am convinced that our dawah should not only be to bring people to Islam, but to begin by bringing them back to their own belief systems.

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  7. AbdulRahman

    I think what happens to me is that I delight so much in the fact that the person is religious and accepts God that I momentarily forget that polytheism is the worst of sins.

    Perhaps we should all keep that in the back of our heads.

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  8. brnaeem

    Salaam Ruth, you said:

    “I’m thoroughly convinced that the enemy of all religion in this country is secular humanism.”

    I prefer the term secular individualism. As I understand humanism, its not too antithetical to Islamic norms. As defined, humanism means “any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate.”

    Part of the problem with many Muslims is our loss of humanity. We’re so busy arguing about the fiqh of taharah or the covering of the hair while neglecting the rights of our hungry neighbors or rejecting the plight of AIDS victims (because they’re all gay and drug addicts, right?). We’ve become cold human beings.

    We’ve become the Jews of Isa’s (AS) time, looking for an exoteric leader to return us to the glory days of David and Solomon (AS), while at the same time rejecting the esoteric message of Isa (AS). Our Muhammad (SAW) was the perfect balance between the two realms. He was the most humane human ever.

    Let’s not forget the humanity of our dear Prophet (saw) when the adulteress came to him, confessing her sin. In this day and age, we would have been chomping at the bits to be the first in line to stone her. Its that humanity that is so needed in the Ummah.

    I see the real enemy as individualism defined as “the doctrine or belief that all actions are determined by, or at least take place for, the benefit of the individual, not of society as a whole.”

    Its the ME-FIRST culture that has really hurt this society, IMO.

    God knows best.

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  9. brnaeem

    Amad, I believe that our message shouldn’t be limited to ‘Islam or the highway’. We should realize that practicing People of the Book are closer to Muslims than atheists, agnostics, polytheists, etc. So lets us build on this common ground.

    Let us call them back to *their* principles, many of which we share. And it is when they are convinced of the beauty of these shared fundamentals that the message of Islam will become more palatable.

    I say this in the spirit of the Quranic verses where the Jews and Xians were counseled to live up to the standards of their scriptures.

    As Ruth (as well as many of us) have experienced, religious people are lot more receptive to talk of religion than those who have abandoned their religious convictions.

    Would you agree?

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  10. ruth nasrullah

    Salaams, Br. Naeem. I’m referring to secular humanism, the philosophy. You can read more at http://www.secularhumanism.org/. They pretty much reject religious belief outright and, most significantly, believe that “reason” and “rational thought” – the meanings of which are debatable except among their ilk – constitute the only source of meaning or understanding.

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  11. Peaches

    I come from a Christian background and though liked and joined a Christian church for that curiousity of the Muslim faith never left me. Maybe you can say that I am in denial asI had these feelings since childhood. I compare my feelings of Islam to a love dilemna. While I may like a person( respecting the Christian faith), you realize that you’re really in love with the other( The Muslim faith). That is how I feel at this moment. The only difference is that I think my inner circle may have impaired the true me as it nobody would help me to be understand it( eg going to the mosque as a family), and if you were fromanother religion including other Christian sects, all of them was all wrong in their eyes.

    As an adult, I got to go to Jummah and let me tell you that I didn’t come out disappointed, as a matter of factly, my experience there was far better than I expected! Since then , I have gone on to study more about the Islam and visited a couple of other mosques. When I was talking with some my mother about this she just kept saying how she didn’t agree with the elements of the faith.

    I must admit , I used to have the same thoughts about the Muslim faith as there were other non-Muslims around me who made the faith seem like a foreign religion . but as I have I’ve learned, while our love and obedience to god is the same . Just as there were some pastors that used to motivate me with their words of inspiration, I received the same from the imams. While I respect a person’s right to religion I would never interntionally try to enforce my beliefs on them .

    Although I’m still learning about Islam , I’m hoping that I will be taking my shahadah in the new future.

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  12. Ruth Nasrullah

    Great to hear it, Peaches! I’m sure I speak for all the MuslimMatters staff when I say if you have any questions please share them and if we can we’ll do our best to answer them.

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  13. AnonyMouse

    Welcome, Peaches! I do hope you’ll learn a lot from MM and from other Muslims, insha’Allah, and that Allah grants you the certainty of faith and the strength to take your shahaada soon (asap, hopefully)! :)

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  14. Amad

    Peaches, welcome to MM. Its great to hear that your struggle for truth continues. At this point, I will only say that once you feel comfortable about Islam, don’t delay your decision. Apparently, Allah has something special in store for you because He keeps bringing you around Muslims, such as on this blog. Take the sign, and go for it!

    If you have questions or need to talk to someone, I am sure we can arrange that. You can email us at info attt muslimmatters dottt org

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  15. Peaches

    Amad, Ruth and AnonyMouse, I must say that I’m grateful for those kind words that you expressed to me on this site. They is so appreciated!

    Far as my quest for the truth, I’m still searching, but in some ways I feel that I could have found it a long time ago as a teen–and even possibly as a 10 year old kid. It’s weird. Possibly, I think that my curiousity about Islam started then with simple things( and to some it may some ridiculously petty). Starting as a young kid, I used to tell my mom I’m going on my magic carpet to Saudi Arabia/India. Ok, that’s a childhood fantasy, but on a more logical tip ,there were other sign that had me wondering about myself, but there were other things like:
    1)Listening to the imam’s message on his mosque’s speaker( Couldn’t help it as the mosque is located next to the store)
    2) Reading AZIZAH magazines and other Muslim related magazines/periodicals
    3) Just looking at some of the brothers praying outside of their mosques.( Maybe I shouldn’t have done that)

    From time to time, I go to Jummah, but presently, I’m going through a Jummah drought . I’m not able to attend as one of my classes are on Fridays, but I’m looking forward to Spring Break. when I will be able to resume it.

    I felt that I was denied MY right to religion. This why I’m struggling in finding it .( with religion).Nobody would help me to find it and if I mentioned that I think that Islam is it, they’ll tell me that I’m not receiving the true words of god.

    That is the thing about the truth people just feel that only their religions are the truth about god(. What I have learned that people can learn the word of god from their perspective religions. While I have learned it from the Christian faith, I’m also learning it from the Muslim faith. I also feel that my religious personality has always been more compatible with it than the Christian faith.That is why I’m interested in learning more about Islam.

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