I recently had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the Indian scholar, Shaykh Yusuf Islahi, after his lecture at the Islamic Center of Maryland over a cup of very sweet tea. In a gray sherwani, with a Jinnah cap on his head, he spoke to me with a grace that only comes with age and knowledge.
Maulana Islahi is a prominent writer and orator. He is one of the leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the Markazi Majlis-e-Shura (Central Advisory Council). He is also the chief patron of Project WhyIslam of the Islamic Circle of North America and founder of a girls' orphanage, “Jamea-tus-Salihaat” in Rampur, India.
Shaykh Islahi was on his annual tour of the United States. I have tried my best to remain as faithful to his Urdu in my translation as possible. Here is his message of optimism and hope for the Muslims in America.
What are your views on Islam in America and where it is headed?
The connection to Islam is spreading very quickly in the United States, as well as the rest of the world.
The work that Muslims have done in this country notwithstanding, Allāh's blessings and mercy is more at play here. Allāh is creating the pathways to facilitate the growth of Islam. Some issues apparently appear as if they will be detrimental in the path of Islam, but even these setbacks become new conduits. They increase the yearning and curiosity of the people, with the grace of Allāh. There are a lot of instances of this. My observation has been that the people of this land are of virtuous dispositions and seekers of goodness. Putting aside the government's actions, the regular folks of the land are good people and easily accept the Truth.
Note that I didn't say that Muslims are not doing the work in Allāh's way, but that the results are not based on their work and are the blessings of Allāh . In the past 60 years, the best thing Muslims have done is make conscientious efforts to keep their progeny connected with the religion. They have made this effort for their eternal lives and for the betterment of the country they call home. These efforts are there but more effort is needed. The people of this land, because they are essentially good people, are willing to give the freedom to Muslims to work for the benefit of this land and are happy with the results. Muslims should make use of these freedoms.
What advice would you give to the Muslim living in the USA, especially on how to aid the invitation to Islam?
Da‘wah is not just a speech or a discussion, but an effort in the society for justice and truth, exemplifying Islam in all affairs and striving for goodness. Inshā'Allāh, that work will be blessed. Make yourselves ambassadors for the religion, an example of Islam, and get educated. Make sure that the religion of peace and justice is left as a legacy for the next generation. My advice is to inculcate the longing in the next generation to protect that legacy and do justice to their deen.
Another thing is that Muslims have to let go of the culture from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or wherever they came from and be good to women and give them the opportunities to learn the faith. If women learn the deen, every house will be a school of faith and every home will be a beacon of the light of Islam. Then, in my opinion, it will be impossible for anyone to extinguish or dim that light. To quote an Urdu idiom: Ghouls don't enter populated homes.
What role do American-Muslims play towards the rest of the Muslim world?
There are so many opportunities in this country. There is a lot of abundance here: of money, of goods, of a cordial environment, of competence. Make use of these opportunities for the sake of your religion. An essence of the religion is to give with abundance.
Send money overseas where it is needed on humanitarian grounds. Wherever and whenever you can, do good; don't wait for a catastrophe. If you see a lack of education or health, use your connections and wealth for the benefit of mankind.
What role do American-Muslims play in American society?
Get involved in local politics and make efforts to stand for justice when you see any injustice in the world. Work for moral excellence and virtue and do whatever you can in your capacity in whichever segment of society or profession you are in.
As you travel around the country, what are the biggest challenges that you see the American-Muslims face?
There is no country in the world that does not have challenges. There are huge challenges, even in Muslim countries. The challenges are, firstly, due to the system of living, daily routine there is no barakah in life, especially in time. Everyone is constantly busy. Make a conscious effort and seriously think about the fact that we cannot just live our lives without any purpose. Live your life with purpose, so your voice remains in this land and that American–Muslim names are written down in the history of this land as forces of goodness.
We hear that the people are leaving the masājid in the USA, or only fill up during Ramadan, what is your opinion?
I do not agree with this opinion, that masājid are not connected or are not full. The state of the masjid is better here, than for example in India or Pakistan. Even if the masājid are filled during Ramadan and not during the rest of the year it is not particular to the US; that is a disease everywhere. Another way to look at it is to be happy that they are filled during Ramadan, as it is a month of barakah. Allāh's program is set and Ramadan and other special occasions show us that we are a live ummah.
You can see this in the large numbers of youth, who stay up all night worshipping Allāh. Then this notion that the youth or next generation is not attached to the masjid, this is not true. You will see this if you take a tour of the nation. Everywhere I went, I saw the youth sitting for itikaf. In every place 75 percent of the participants were youth. There were not just boys but young girls doing Qiyam and participating in activities in the masjid.
Don't be pessimistic, have good expectations of the new generation; don't lose hope in them.
What are your views on the upheavals in the ummah?
We have awakened. We want to live according to the faith. As we awaken, so does Shaytan. Secondly, as the Ummah matures and comes closer to Islam, the enemies of Islam plot to make the ummah weaker. And thirdly remember that, the Prophet said that this Ummah of mine is especially blessed by Allāh . This ummah will not be given a collective punishment in the aakhirah (we will be judged individually); we will suffer through them here on this Earth. Allāh will send new trials, catastrophes, and murder will be common. As we suffer through all of this, we can rejoice in the fact that, as an ummah, collectively we will not be punished in the eternal life.
I can honestly say hearing his wise words soothed the negativity about our communities that we are constantly exposed to.