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A Convert’s Dilemma: Reflections of My Three Years as a Muslim

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Guest Submission: By Br. Ryan.

As my third year as a Muslim has come and gone I wanted to take some time to reflect on a couple of issues I have seen throughout my new community.

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In my community I’m constantly reminded that it is a “new” Muslim community that has its share of growing problems. That I should not expect too much and that it will take many years for it to flourish. But there seems to be a few constants that I have heard that not only represents my community but also communities abroad.

The first major issue is the cultural epidemic that seems to stagnate growth. By this I mean the cultural baggage that is brought from abroad and planted in the new soil of this country. I’m constantly bombarded by various groups telling me I can’t do this and that, that I shouldn’t wear this or that and even worse that people are discounted because they come from this place or that.

I look around my Muslim community and often stand in awe at the different races and culture that our people represent. The fact that we have some of the best minds in academia and medicine within our masses. Yet we choose to divide ourselves into sub-groups and bicker between ourselves because we come from different places.

From my limited knowledge there is no place in Islam for this, yet we continue to do it. Constantly people come to our community asking for help and donations for one cause or another. How can we help others if we can’t help ourselves? Why can’t we take the best from these groups and unite ourselves for a greater good?

This leads me to the second issue, our youth. I have had the great pleasure to straddle the line between the older folks and the younger generations. I have seen such a division from what the elders in the community vision as the way to move forward and what the younger generation thinks. Instead of voicing their concerns the youth are guilty of commenting that they will “wait until the older generation dies off” before they will make change, but this will just lead to the same cycle over again.

As we have seen with the election of President Obama, the youth has a voice and has the means to act, but why to we fail to act in our own community. Often the answer is this, they do not want to anger their parents. My opinion is this, if you don’t like what you see and you fail to act than change will never come. Change has to come from within especially as people are born and raised in this country.

My third and last point has to do with the leadership in our communities. Too often we search from outside our community and outside our country for leadership positions within our community such as Imams. What I suggest is this, why not grow our own Imams from within our own community? Why not set up a college fund to send our own children abroad to study Islam and come back to be leaders in our community? An example could be that we place guidelines that they have their education paid for and they come back and serve a certain amount of years serving their local community. As the years go by we send more students so that we always have a fresh batch of ideas and opinions. This could easily solve the problem of having leadership that truly represents the people they serve.

These are just a few ideas and I welcome more opinions. It is my hope that this can put a spark into any community that change can be a good thing when done for the right reasons.

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57 Comments

57 Comments

  1. Katherine

    December 1, 2009 at 7:11 AM

    Well said, brother! I embraced Islam 4+ years ago Alhamdulillah but feel marginalised in my masjid due to cultural cliques and old-country prejudices. Insha Allah if we name these issues and seek solutions as you have done we can overcome these and be one Ummah as Allah SWT intended.

  2. Hamza Isa Jennings

    December 1, 2009 at 8:25 AM

    Salams

    Nice post. There are BIG problems in our mosques at the moment and it seems the British born Muslims and especially the converts are suffering as a result.

    Committee’s have too much influence over religious activities in the mosque and when they look abroad for imams they are not helping the communities at all. In a mosque i frequent we have reached such a state that the young imported Imam will not start the salat until one particular committee member begins waving head from side to side in typical Indian fashion. Important Islamic speeches are given in Urdu in many mosques but announcements for someone to move their car are in English…. for Allah’s sake, which is more important!

    I conclude that we do have to wait until that 1st generation dies away before any change can happen, because i cannot see how change happen in these mosques? We can set up new mosques ourselves under the guide of the ullema and then we may begin to see the energy return to our mosques.

  3. Siraaj Muhammad

    December 1, 2009 at 9:43 AM

    I think the youth ought to take a page out of the old folks book and build a masjid of their own – this is the young people’s masjid, that’s the old folks masjid ;)

    Siraaj

    • Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

      December 1, 2009 at 1:32 PM

      Wow, Siraaj, I couldn’t agree with you more. I am all for acknowledging the issues within our community in an effort to develop solutions, but I know that our generation could not have accomplished what the older generation with all their faults and shortcomings accomplished. (Building masajid, schools, businesses, communities, etc.) Anyone who has spent significant amounts of time in areas where the Muslim community was able to lay that groundwork versus places where it did not knows the difference is nothing to minimize.

      Of course I relate to a lot of the concerns mentioned here and mentioned by others in our generation and to be honest I’ve spent a small percentage of my time in more established communities (maybe I have too rosy a picture because I haven’s spent enough time or maybe it’s a grass is always greener type phenomenon) but until the Muslims of our own generation establish their own organizations and we see them last and be successful I’m only half listening to our complaints. Really, I don’t understand the attitude our generation that grew up here sometimes seems to have that we have a right to have a masjid, school and zabiha meat store and restaurant already set up for us and funded by some other people just waiting for us to come in and tell them how to run it. Do we ever stop to think what it took to establish those things in the first place and how hard it is to maintain them? I’ve been around efforts to establish masajid and community organizations and Muslim businesses and IT IS HARD. So let’s just keep that in mind.

      I don’t want to be seen as downplaying our generation. Many people in our generation are making major contributions to those masajid, those schools, those businesses and other orgs…but my impression (perhaps wrong) is that those who are doing so mainly have more respect for what the older generation accomplished and contributes and are not so negative towards them as many others. And believe me I know the frustrations of working with entrenched leaderships that don’t seem open to advice or to utilizing the strengths that others might have. Also we alhamdulillah have seen some inspiring examples of projects established by the younger generation such as AlMaghrib, Bayyinah, IMAN and others.

      So as I started off with I couldn’t agree with you more. For all of us with critiques of leadership…there is absolutely nothing holding us back from doing it right. I just warn against the attitude in myself before anyone else that we are owed by someone else to do it for us.

      Allaah knows best.

      • darthvaider

        December 1, 2009 at 3:44 PM

        Ditto Siraaj and Abu Noor. I think it has become fashionable to critique the older generation thinking that we’d have done a better job. Playing armchair quarterback is always easier than the real thing.

        I dont think any of our leadership is beyond reproach and also feel that there is a lot to be desired when looking at the direction of some of our orgs, but we have to be fair when assessing the status of our muslim organizations and work to influence them positively when there are policies that we’d like to see instituted. Allahu A’alem.

    • Jeremiah

      December 1, 2009 at 1:38 PM

      Brother Siraaj, I gather (at least I hope) that you are joking.

      The lack of effective leadership in our communities is a huge problem. Building separate masajid for different constituencies will only make the problem worse. I could see that working if we had a central body of authority here in America, but without that central authority we will only look like the Christians with 5 empty churches per block.

      Our masajid need to institute procedures that will ensure good governance (i.e. transparent selection of executive boards, etc.). More than that we need to develop the courage to speak up (respectfully) and in an organized way to those uncles that are running the youth away by the dozens .

      • Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

        December 1, 2009 at 4:05 PM

        Jeremiah,

        You are right to say that dividing the community is not the solution and in that sense I do think Siraaj was joking.

        And I don’t disagree that the older generation should institute effective procedures for good governance. (Of course I think it would be false to assume as some so that good governance means necessarily that all masajid or Islamic orgs should be run as corporations with a board of directors and ‘democratic’ elections. There are other models of effective governance. Of course all Islamic orgs should include mechanisms for shura as commanded by Allah and modeled by the Prophet (saw).)

        But do you see the other point I was making? People should as you suggested try in the best way to contribute in their local masjid or school or whatever. If you really find it impossible then you have no choice but to try to start your own and do it better. Maybe you can find another project or just unite with other brothers and sisters. The community is expanding all the time, you are right that we should not divide for the sake of division but it is completely unacceptable to be, as you said, chased away from the masjid and then sit around complaining about how the mosque leadership is all messed up and you and/or your family are not even involved with the community. Unite all those who have been chased away and do something. If the people are not going to the masjid now, creating a new masjid that they will actually go to is not creating division, its just growing the community.

        And I think in most cases especially as time goes on, you’ll find the community is in need of your help. So offer your help first…then they will eventually ask for your advice as well. Just don’t do it the reverse way and come in offering advice before you offer help. That turns anybody off, may Allaah forgive all of us.

        • Jeremiah

          December 1, 2009 at 9:26 PM

          As salamu alaikum Abu Noor,

          JazakAllahu khairan for your comments. I agree with most of what you are saying. However, I would have to take issue with your contention that establishing separate communities is simply ‘growing the community’. There are too many examples across the US of masajid within miles of each other that have absolutely no interaction and the people do not even know each other. I often visit an area in California. This specific city has two masjids literally around the corner (meaning within eyesight) . This is a huge problem that can lead to partisanship and a dilution of the muslim’s impact on the surrounding communities. Of course, if the separate facilities are established via a coordinated effort due to some necessity, then alhumdulillah, that is a good thing.

          When I said the youth were being chased away from the masajid, I was not speaking in literal terms. I think a better approach is one that you alluded to, basically establish programs outside of the uncles supervision. In the extreme cases where the masjid doesn’t allow new programs, establish the youth halaqa or the sisters halaqa or the English halaqa at someone’s apartment or house. However, when it is time to pray or the day of jumuah I personally push for the largest congregation possible.

          I think we should be very careful about breaking away unless a masjid is outright deviant.

    • MR

      December 1, 2009 at 3:19 PM

      We’d fail miserably if we had to build any type of Islamic building.

      MashaAllah. Props and respect to all our parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents for doing such a baller job of building masaajid and Islamic Schools.

      I’m afraid we will fail to take it over when it’s our turn.

      • Hamza21

        December 1, 2009 at 8:47 PM

        Your attitude and lack of self -confidence is why the younger generation hasn’t taken over yet. It’s like Suhabb Webb once said about second generation muslims “They’re Spoiled” (Mecca One interview2006). Most has had everything done for them by their parents they can’t stand on their own two feet. That and the way second generation muslims are taught since birth to worship their parents. Thank God I’m an American where we respect our parents we don’t worship them.

        • Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

          December 2, 2009 at 9:49 AM

          Hamza,

          While I agree with your comment that there are ways in which those Muslims who grew up here are “spoiled” as I have commented elsewhere in this thread, I find much of this comment utterly ridiculous.

          I have known hundreds of second generation Muslims here in America and never met ONE that “worshiped” their parents. Alhamdulillaah some are respectful of their parents in an appropriate Islamic way, a few may be taught to be respectful in ways that are inappropriate (honoring cultural understandings over Islamic understandings) but the vast vast majority (and I include myself although I am not an immigrant and my parents are not Muslim) need to respect their parents much much more than we do.

    • siraaj

      December 1, 2009 at 9:23 PM

      Our generation has amazing potential to accomplish achievements unimagined by our elders. Before we can even talk about outside barriers, however, we have many inner barriers starting with the lack of independence our overseas cultures have brought us.

      We also have to address our poor work ethic – few are willing to dog it day in and day out to bring something of significance to fruition, and fewer still who wish to have the leadership capability to make that something significant and to take the hits that come with the effort.

      If nothing else, if my masjid community was that bad, I would at least start a separation project not to actually separate, but to have our voices heard and our agendas taken seriously. Otherwise the best thing to do is pay your dues and contribute day in and day out til you build trust within the masjid leadership and show them that you are capable of of being the future.

      Siraaj

      • Jeremiah

        December 1, 2009 at 9:35 PM

        Siraaj,

        I think your last statement is very important. “Otherwise the best thing to do is pay your dues and contribute day in and day out til you build trust within the masjid leadership and show them that you are capable of of being the future”

        Whether justified or not, the older generation’s major fear seems to be the loss of the masjid. Once we (meaning the youth) establish trust, our voices will be heard, inshaAllah, and more responsibility can be assumed.

        • Abu Rumaisa

          December 2, 2009 at 3:19 PM

          Loosing the masjid/being abandoned or turned into a social club is what many fear… majority of the youth in the community I belong to are into smoking hookahs, catching the latest flicks & just lazing around. And let’s not forget absolutely no regards to Islamic guidelines when it comes to interaction with the opposite gender.

          As Siraaj said “Otherwise the best thing to do is pay your dues and contribute day in and day out til you build trust within the masjid leadership and show them that you are capable of of being the future” This has be done in order to win hearts & minds.

          • Abd- Allah

            December 3, 2009 at 4:38 AM

            Even though the above statement about the youth is true, it can also be applied to the elderly from what I have seen.

  4. Holly Garza

    December 1, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    SubhanaAllah it was truly getting me down but I focused on the good-Not that it made the bad disappear. There are so many negatives, not only in the Shahadah Muslim community but in us as a whole.

    We hold people responsible for leaving our beautiful Deen, but don’t teach them it’s beauty. We want them to fast but don’t fast with them, we want them to go to Jennah but don’t tell them what HUGE blessing, beauty, and gorgeous gift from Allah it is!

    We are, more often than not; not Haram police, always looking for the bad instead of making others feel bad instead of great, hopeful and more knowledgeable with our presence. We need to stop telling people shelwar camize and abaya is the only way, we need to stop telling people you are praying wrong and not teaching them how to pray. Let be a Umah of helpers and blessings unto one another, I know I have been blessed with many awesome Muslimahs AlhamduliAllah but others have not, Let’s be the awesome sister or brother for others.

    • Regular Baba

      December 3, 2009 at 8:56 AM

      Salam

      I think Holly’s words, coming from someone who has obviously been through it all, should hit a chord with anyone who’s ever tried to give dawah. Dawah does NOT mean going through a list of all the haram things you see someone doing, but it means doing your utmost to try and help the person get into a position where he/she WILLINGLY does not do haram things.

      • Holly Garza

        December 3, 2009 at 10:36 AM

        Walaikum Salaam That is exactly what I meant, Thank you!

        I had a few typos as I typed in a hurry but yes, you do get to a point when you don’t even Want to do haram and it all comes with knowledge. Knowledge is a great tool.

  5. Arif

    December 1, 2009 at 12:08 PM

    It is rather sad to see that the first generation is still leading all the Masaajid even after much of the second generation has graduated from universities and have settled down…A paradigm shift has become necessary. Even in my area in the Washington Metro area, all the Masaajid that are importing in ‘Imam candidates’ have youth in their community that have the capability and have proven that they can lead but are pushed aside only because they want somebody highly religiously qualified, without taking into consideration the different aspects of leadership that are pertinent in an American Masjid.

    • Abu Rumaisa

      December 1, 2009 at 4:45 PM

      Imam of a Masjid does need to have some religious qualifications as the whole community does approach him for advice in religious matters. Leadership skills alone are not enough. But as Br. Ryan mentioned, more youth need to enroll in Islamic studies programs abroad (due to lack of such institutions here) and then come back to serve the community in their homelands.

      A typical youth who has leadership skills & has good knowledge of deen can surely help in the running of such organisations, one doesn’t have to be the Imam to do so.

      As some others had mentioned, the youth want everything set up for them and handed key positions of the masjids or islamic organisations. They lack respect & appreciation for the elders who despite all their shortcomings have established & run thousands of masjids in the west.

      I came to this country 10 yrs back when i was 18 and have lived in 4 different communities. In every one of them, the uncles were running the place. The youth only complained that the uncles were out of sync but they themselves contributed nothing meaningful ever. I have personally witnessed in all these communities, uncles asking the youth to help with running the masjid by cleaning the masjid, landscaping, managing parking, updating the websites, publishing the newsletter, fundraising for expansions, making announcements or recording the welcome message for the answering machines (as they have the right accent). The youth never stepped up, uncles emailed them, sat with them & explained that they need to be more active as they are the ones who will have to run this masjid as they are the future of the community. We were even asked to attend the monthly shuras even though none were board members. After many attempts only a couple would volunteer, most were too busy doing nothing to help out.

      Go to any salaah & it’s uncles who fill up the rows, whr are the youth? Probably watching on Facebook or watching a game or sleeping if it’s fajr. If we can’t make it to salaah when we r at home, then how will we run these masjids & organisations and why should we be allowed to?

      • barista

        December 9, 2009 at 9:22 AM

        Br Abu Rumaisa – this is precisely true and most communities throughout the country are indeed led by the “uncles” while the youth sit back. However in my experience – the youth have attempted to get involved but were merely used as physical support. Do as we tell you to do, please don’t provide your opinion, was the resounding sentiment. And addressing 21st century Americans with this attitude is a recipe for disaster.

        I think BOTH parties here – the youth and the elders – need to each mutually learn effective compromise and mediation. The youth will not get 100% of what they want out of masjids, at least not right away (impatience is also prevalent among this generation). Furthermore, the elder generation needs to learn how best to indeed turn over parts of the realm to others. They need to learn delegation, which is not turning over the tasks you don’t like to do, but turning over those that may empower others.

        It’s not easy – but there certainly is a solution out there.

  6. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    December 1, 2009 at 4:09 PM

    I don’t want to forget to say Jazzak Allaahu Khayr May Allah reward you for this post Ryan. It is good to hear from you brother and get your observations and input.

  7. Anonymous

    December 1, 2009 at 6:28 PM

    The issue of culture is definitely a problem.

  8. Hamza21

    December 1, 2009 at 8:40 PM

    I agree with everything Ryan wrote except the last part:

    Why not set up a college fund to send our own children abroad to study Islam and come back to be leaders in our community? An example could be that we place guidelines that they have their education paid for and they come back and serve a certain amount of years serving their local community. As the years go by we send more students so that we always have a fresh batch of ideas and opinions. This could easily solve the problem of having leadership that truly represents the people they serve.

    I don’t about the UK but here in the US we don’t need to send anybody overseas. There are plenty shuyukh who can teach people to be imams. Sending people overseas is part of problem as well. Many who are not grounded mentally and culturally , who have strong sense of self, come back as pseudo Arabs. There’s definitely an indoctrination process that goes on when people are learning overseas. If one doesn’t have a strong foundation they can easily be twisted to thinking everything should be the way it is overseas.

    • Ibrahim

      December 2, 2009 at 7:20 PM

      You’re an idiot. Traveling to Muslim areas is an essential part of learning the sciences of Islam. Islamic knowledge is just not about texts. It’s about language, adab, mannerism, and much more. Islam is learned at the feet of authentic scholars. And, we have literally one or two in the US. I can only think of one: Shaykh Salah as-Sawi.

      Don’t try to advocate an “American” Islam. There is a difference between fulfilling the legitimate needs of Muslims in America and trying to develop “our own identity”. This is a bogus concept that will only lead to heresy.

      • Holly Garza

        December 2, 2009 at 7:31 PM

        *shocked* wow Asalaamu alaikum which Adab would that be, calling others idiots?

        • Ibrahim

          December 2, 2009 at 7:55 PM

          walaykum assalaam…well, I live here…so that explains my adaab. But seriously, he is an idiot to have such a condescending view of Muslim lands and using phrases like ‘Pseudo Arab’…very typical American Muslim behavior, I must say. And, what’s worse? Calling him an idiot or his condescending views like his?

          • Qas

            December 2, 2009 at 8:11 PM

            Calm down bro. Read the whole sentence “Many who are not grounded mentally and culturally , who have strong sense of self, come back as pseudo Arabs. ” A cursory look at the American dawah scene will reveal that this observation is not an exaggeration. Besides he is insulting Americans who act like Arabs (ie. pseudo arabs) rather than arabs themselves.

          • Holly Garza

            December 2, 2009 at 9:01 PM

            Asalaamu alaikum Actually both and neither-depending on both sides experiences. Some people adopt others (Arabs in this instance) culture because they COMPLETELY left a certain way of being and have to “be someone” or don’t because they have a strong sense of who they are even if they are now who they are plus Muslim. In either case we shouldn’t hold on so much to “our” culture over Islam nor should we assume being or “acting” Arab means more Islamic. Islam is Islam and culture is culture and Allah knows best. I hope I said what I meant to say correctly, sometimes things come across differently online.

  9. Uthman

    December 2, 2009 at 1:51 AM

    For some reason, I feel I have read the entire article somewhere else before.

  10. ali

    December 2, 2009 at 7:37 AM

    as-salaam alaikum,

    mashaAllah a concise post about very pertinent issues. A few suggestions:

    1. Cultural Baggage: It appears when you tell ppl to stop bringing their cultural baggage, they become more protective of it and that establishes a communication divide between you and them (e.g among younger and older ppl) both sides feel the other side is wrong. In this case, it might take casual non-vengeful conversation with such people and to bring it up in a polite but generic way over some tea. That way such people can come to their own conclusion instead being told to leave their cultural baggage (after all, we love our baggage yo we from abroad we get worried when our bags don’t show up at the airport :P)

    2. Youth: Look, youth need inspiration from elders and elders need to feel that they can inspire AND trust the youth. Both sides need to understand this concept!
    The elders need to feel the need to be inspiring, otherwise, they simply won’t care about the means. When you feel you need to inspire people, then you look for wisdom in your approach. This also applies to youth btw, if you want to raise righteous kids one day, you might aswell get your act together ASAP so you have more time to reflect on the struggles you face and how you can be an inspiration to your own kids and what you can facilitate for them before their arrival (e.g choosing a good spouse, finding a good community or even establishing one by that time!!) inshaAllah.

    Youth can totally look toward the rich history for inspiration: The lil sahaba at the time of the Prophet pbuh were inspired by the leadership, athletic prowess, wisdom of the Prophet pbuh and his sahaba(may Allah be pleased with them all) and some of the young sahaba even excelled compared to others their age (such as Abdullah ibn Umar, Abdullah ibn Zubair, and the young sahabi who led the army after the Prophet pbuh passed ) The problem is,alot of youth are caught up in peer pressure, music and TV shows (and arguably sports) to the level that it retards their spiritual growth (that means too much might make you desensitized to your aakhira planning). What are entertainment alternatives for muslims youth? we need a separate post on that pleaaaaase.

    Leadership: When you have inspiring elders and youth, you are producing 2 generations of leaders who love each other for the sake of Allah swt and they can choose from among themselves a suitable leader. As for reality (ehem), it would be nice to take advantage of local scholars who are familiar with the issues that American Muslims face and benefit from their wisdom.

    Allah knows best, i’m a young bro tryna get it right myself, and these are just my observations so far.

  11. shirtman

    December 2, 2009 at 8:01 AM

    Assalamualaikum,

    You have some great points bro. I personally feel after having seen many of the inner workings on a full time basis, the best thing for Muslims to do is to build Imams here. That means instead of sending them off to other countries, have the best of those countries come and live here and build the schools here, hence building the scholars here. The masajid are run by immigrants and probably will continue to be that way. Their culture and our culture are very different. I believe that we should focus on universities and become university chaplains and Imams. This way we can serve without having to worry about the horrible politics involved in the system. The mosque has become a place for problems, backbiting, and arrogance. I am sorry to say this, but it is the truth. We have to go to the Masajid, so either we build a “Youth Mosque” – Siraaj , or we focus on positive change within the mainstream educational system.

    Thanks.

    • Abu Rumaisa

      December 2, 2009 at 3:10 PM

      What happens to those who are going to build these “Youth Mosques” when they become uncles? Will they be kicked out or a new “Youth Mosque” built to combat these new uncles? There will be generation gap between them & the 2nd generation American Muslims. That’s the cycle of life… every country has this gap when they share the same culture.

    • Abd- Allah

      December 3, 2009 at 4:27 AM

      “…have the best of those countries come and live here and build the schools here, hence building the scholars here.”

      The best don’t want to come here… this is why we don’t have any scholars here to begin with…

  12. UmmAmeerah

    December 2, 2009 at 10:10 AM

    Assalamualaikum,

    From a convert’s dilemma to issue with the mosque. Its all about assimilation isn’t it?

    Sometimes we try too hard, to be accepted, to uphold what we believe is right, at times to the point of desperation. In our attempt to bring forth what we strongly believe is good, we trip onto the issue which we at first pointed out as the cause of the dilemma. The answer to this issue is to learn from our history, how the Muslims retain the distinct identity of every country and people they “open” (we were not conquerers), like Spain, Africa, China and Asia. Look at how the sahabah did it and we apply that knowledge, first within ourselves, our family and then community. we talk about assimilation and yet we have reservation towards those from cultures we perceived to be different from us.

    The youth and the mosque cannot be separated. Its in the category of the seven which Allah favours most.

    Its a worldwide phenomena actually, be it here in Asia, or elsewhere in this duniyya, even in Haram itself.

    Lets focus on what binds us, as a Muslim, regardless whether you are born into this faith or were brought up astray and put back on the right track, whether we feel alienated for our differing ways, from the way we dress, or the manner we speak, whether we retain our birth identity or we adopt the culture of others….bottomline, WE ARE MUSLIMS. We are one big Family. We are united in diversity.

    Wallahualam…

  13. Abd- Allah

    December 2, 2009 at 12:38 PM

    Assalam Alaikum

    JazakAllah khayr for bringing these issues up… now we just need to find solutions for them!

    First off, let me say that it is not just the new Muslims that feel marginalized. It is anyone who enters a new community/masjid, and it will take time for that community to identify that new individual as one of them and not as an intruder. Yes, things should not be like this in a Muslim community, but it is a natural human feeling to consider strangers as intruders, so if you are new to a community, then get to know the people, and spend some time among them and actually interact with them (not just pray and leave, hand around after prayer and talk to the people) and with time you will become one of them, and it is then that you will be able to actually be active in your community and do things because people would actually trust you because they know you. Things take time, so be patient.

    As for the youth, they do need to get more involved at the masjid, and a good first step would be to actually pray there! The elders won’t like it if a young brother who doesn’t show up for prayers regularly but tries to get involved in the other activities of the community or voice in their ideas. The youth should get involved in the masjid, and the first way to be involved is to actually go pray at the masjid regularly, and talk to the people, and with time the elders will become your friends. Yes, I know it sounds scary!

  14. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    December 2, 2009 at 1:46 PM

    Abd Allah and Abu Rumaisa hit on a vital point.

    However old you are and whatever your background, if you did the following: (starting from not knowing anyone at the masjid)

    show up consistently for three months for fajr and isha

    donate a substantial amount to the masjid (what is substantial will depend on your own means)

    volunteer to do tasks that need being done but which have no glory

    don’t criticize anyone during that time period.

    I can say based on personal experience that in most masajid if you even come close to doing the above, people will start asking you for your advice and unless it is a masjid controlled by some set group or something, you will very likely be invited to be part of the leadership.

    Anyone who doesn’t believe me, I invite them to try it. It will be very rewarding with Allah even if you turn out to be right and the older generation still doesn’t accept you!

  15. Solomon2

    December 2, 2009 at 3:14 PM

    “The fact that we have some of the best minds in academia and medicine within our masses. Yet we choose to divide ourselves into sub-groups and bicker between ourselves because we come from different places. From my limited knowledge there is no place in Islam for this, yet we continue to do it. ”

    Reminds me of one Palestinian I knew who finished his theological argument about Islam by asserting, “I’m an Arab, this is OUR religion, and we’ll do with it what we like!”

  16. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    December 2, 2009 at 5:21 PM

    This discussion, touching as much as it has on generational dynamics in the Muslim community would be incomplete without referencing Amer Haleem’s important cover piece from AlJumu’ah Magazine, which was previously available online but is not currently as far as I can tell.

    I blogged about that article previously here.

    • Stinger

      December 3, 2009 at 7:03 PM

      Salaam,

      In our college-town we have a separate Jumuah on campus (for those who can’t make it at the mosque) where we focus on issues faced by the youth. Our university allows us to use a cleared out room where men and women have equal access to the Imam while he gives his Khutbah. I can understand why many mosques use partitions but they need to be reasonable, the partition shouldn’t restrict womens’ ability to hear the khutbah or participate in Salah. There is equal access to knowledge in Islam, anything preventing that needs to be reformed. I apologize on behalf of the often clueless or worse, uncaring men who haven’t made mosques as suitable for women. This shouldn’t prevent women and youth from participating in decision making at the mosque, it may be challenging at first, but eventually you should see positive change.

  17. Osman

    December 2, 2009 at 10:06 PM

    I said it before and I will say it again.

    Fob cultures need to be wiped out like the plague (except for the Biryani of course ;-) ).

    • Holly Garza

      December 2, 2009 at 10:11 PM

      What in the world does FOB culture mean? What Nationality is that or is it a description of something? i don’t know this word or term

      • Osman

        December 2, 2009 at 10:25 PM

        Salaam Holly,

        FOB is slang for “fresh of the boat.” When I was referring to “FOB cultures” I was referring to cultural aspects that immigrants often bring with them that have nothing to do with Islam.

        Of course there is nothing really wrong with culture itself, I was just referring to the parts that conflict with Islam and give Muslims a bad name. Littering, fraud, lying, cheating, nepotism, extreme egos etc. plague the american Muslim community when all of these this are against Islam.

        • Holly Garza

          December 2, 2009 at 10:31 PM

          walaikum Salam-oh thanks for telling me-I didn’t know what it meant. I was confused and thought I missed something-Thanks for clarifying

          • Osman

            December 2, 2009 at 10:38 PM

            Sorry, my fault.

  18. um

    December 3, 2009 at 12:10 PM

    assalamu alaykum,
    there are many of us who have gone abroad to study Islam from its sources with the intention of returning to our ppl in the West…….but not all who return are accepted…………some are looked down on , some ate looked upon by suspicion and warned against, etc……….many are used only to give lectures and take from their knowledge then cast aside as that knowledge is reviewed and judged according to the “western perspective”………..
    due to this some decide not to return and find the ppl abroad more welcoming and accepting of them and feel a stronger sense of belonging to a “muslim community” especially if they happen to marry into it although they do have to put up with alot of “fob” culture, its still more gentle than the arrogant and scoffish attitude they sometimes face when they return to west…..
    of course this is not always the case,
    just wondering what exactly do muslims in the west want from those who go abroad to bring back the deen to them and will they accept it from them and respect their efforts in bringing it or will they judge them according to their own standards and take only what suits them?

    • Hamza21

      December 3, 2009 at 8:09 PM

      The attitude you consider “arrogrant” Americans consider inquisitive. Muslims have right to knowledge and scholars don’t have a right hold on to it like dog with bone. Setting up artificial barriers to who can receive it and who can’t.

      From my experience many people who go overseas come back with subjective ideal of how people should act taught to them by shuyukh. Many older cultures are filled with concepts of obeying authority ,unquestionably. We don’t do that here in America because many of those in authority used their power to abuse people historically. So as Americans we will question anybody about anything at anytime.

      ……..What’s evidence for your position? Is this the majority position? What’s the principles beyond this action? If I choose a different action how is this violating this principle?…….If people are offending by these questions and more than I think maybe they should take time to understand that there are no priests in islam . A scholar is like professor their job is only to convey information correctly not set themselves up as some feudal king. That must be obeyed and unquestioned about anything.

      In mine and many others opinion the “adab” taught to many overseas is pretty subjective and one is not some immoral if one prefers not to follow it. Morality doesn’t come from imitation of a foreign culture. As American saying goes “Imitation is suicide.” Many people ave studied overseas don’t seem to understand the difference between the concepts of imitation and emulation. Which is confusing considering the Quran (2:138) tells us we should emulate not imitate. They should know that if they’re a scholar.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LJWVTbICLU

      Moreover , if people are offended by Americans actions they should read the sirah and learn what The Prophet had to deal with. It’s no comparison between the level of ignorance the jalili arabs and the simple questions asked by Americans. If the prophet had to deal with that why are is one complaining with what one has to deal with in America?

  19. Stinger

    December 3, 2009 at 7:06 PM

    Salaam,

    In our college-town we have a separate Jumuah on campus (for those who can’t make it at the mosque) where we focus on issues faced by the youth. Our university allows us to use a cleared out room where men and women have equal access to the Imam while he gives his Khutbah. I can understand why many mosques use partitions but they need to be reasonable, the partition shouldn’t restrict womens’ ability to hear the khutbah or participate in Salah. There is equal access to knowledge in Islam, anything preventing that needs to be reformed. I apologize on behalf of the often clueless or worse, uncaring men who haven’t made mosques as suitable for women. This shouldn’t prevent women and youth from participating in decision making at the mosque, it may be challenging at first, but eventually you should see positive change.

    To Osman ditto on your removing the unIslamic part of FOB culture comment.

  20. Megan Wyatt

    December 4, 2009 at 2:35 AM

    Bismillah

    I think this post is to the point, and again, as a convert as well, I can relate to what is being said.

    Aside from stating the problems, and searching for solutions, what is also being said here is the disappointment one finds inside a community of people where the Deen can feel second to cultural tradition.

    Over the years being Muslim, I have learned to accept that we are all human, and that everyone is in a struggle to understand Islam, practice Islam, and implement it. Some may be struggling more than others, and we may not all agree with each other, none the less, many people mean well.

    That is not to say we should sit on the sidelines. I have never done that since I became Muslim, and I continue to be a proactive voice in my community for change, for things to be done better, or differently.

    But I realize that we all come with culture, converts too. We bring our own set of cultural beliefs to the table, about how things should be done, organized, communicated, etc. We all come with limitations, struggles, biases, the belief we know better, and the struggle to stay away from ‘ujub, or self admiration, and the inability more often than not to wish in a disagreement that the other person is right, and we are wrong, praying for Allah to reward them as well.

    I have dealt with some things in my life which have been down right painful due to cultural beliefs/practices taking priority over Islam, and I have also realized that the moment I judge someone else, I can just as easily become like them.

    So, while it is good to voice our concerns, and strive for change, it is just as crucial to keep one’s heart focused on the pleasure of Allah in that pursuit, and for myself, I think that no matter how many things I can’t stand what goes on at times in some communities, I am far more in need of Allah’s guidance and mercy than anyone else.

    Change begins with ourselves. Ikhlas moves the hearts of people, because it is Allah who turns the hearts.

    • Abu Yunus

      December 6, 2009 at 7:58 PM

      “But I realize that we all come with culture, converts too. “

      This is what I was waiting for, the cultural baggage comes from both sides. Americans also have their own “cultural baggage”, let’s not forget that. Many converts unfortunately, also bring baggage which is alien to Islam, which they don’t recognize simply because they are so used to it or were brought up upon it.

      On the same note, we have to keep in mind where to separate mores/norms/customs that do not contradict the deen from mores/norms/customs that do contradict it.

      • Osman

        December 6, 2009 at 8:30 PM

        I think it is different though. Immigrant populations tend to mix culture with religion. Convert’s don’t carry this baggage with them. Many Indians do not realize that having a “Bismilah” at 4 years old is not a part of our religion, but I am sure most converts know that Christmas is not a part of Islam.

  21. Zuhayr

    December 4, 2009 at 11:37 AM

    Are u sure they are cultural practices? Some cultural practices may be sunnah of Holy Prophet Mohammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. We should check our own ignorance before calling something a cultural practice.

    ISLAM DOESN’T CHANGE FROM ONE COUNTRY TO ANOTHER, THERE IS ONLY ONE ISLAM.

    • Zuhayr

      December 9, 2009 at 4:19 PM

      i apologize for the insult in the above message, somebody please delete it

  22. UmmeAmmaarah

    December 4, 2009 at 3:20 PM

    JazakAllahu khair brother Ryan…. the points you brought up are those that certainly need to be thought upon, especially the cultural-baggage issue.

    there’s this thing that really irks me sometimes…..

    a lot of us ‘Americans’ have had issues with their ‘always’ FOB parents growing up… that happens everywhere, in every country, with almost every kid growing up. The fact that our parents were mentally grounded in a place different from their physical entity made that issue worse for some of us. Some of us have had difficult times with our parents, constant clashes about issues like manners, dressing up, friends, our choice of books, careers, spouses, and maybe that’s made us bitter about the whole generation. True, sometimes our elders practise a slightly/severely ‘culturalized’ version of Islam, but do you ever stop and think that they grew up in a totally different place, in a totally different milieu, in different times? And maybe they realized that, and that’s why most of them made the effort to give us the kind of Islamic education they never had access too. If we are any better than them, they get the thawaab-e-jariyah for that. They didn;t have access to the kind of information we do, most of them didn’t have it as easy as we do. They spend maybe more than half their lives in a different cultural setting, the impressionable half of life that is. Though different, can u truly call their culture ‘worse’ than ours? you could call it different, but I doubt it’s worse.

    Nobody likes to look hard and long enough into the mirror to see their own faults. People of the same generation can’t take criticism from each other well, why should you expect the older generation to be more receptive? They loved us as much as we love/will love our own children and did the best they could. Isn’t it true that ‘Innamal a’maalu bin’niyyaat?’ I am not defending ‘cultural baggage’, but seriously, do we not have any?

    I was born in the US, spent my childhood here and in KSA, but when i spent a few years ‘back home’ I realized how rude and selfish westerners can appear, though for us, it would be perfectly normal behavior. Wanting ‘our space’, ‘our time out’, ‘our opinions’, ‘our way v/s theirs’ is OUR cultural baggage…. and honestly, it does a world of good for people to go out of their familiar confines and comfort zones and spend time in other places, with other people, otherwise we would be guilty of committing the same offence we attribute to western governments – one of ‘i-always-know-what’s-best-for-the-world’. If our kids (InshaAllah and aameen to that) are much better muslims than we ever were, are the best in their Deen and have the best of manners (in which our generation mostly lacks except for a few and growing..), how would you feel if you read a post in this blog 20 years later that discounts all the efforts we are making now?
    .

    I’m sure that when the Sahaba went out to different corners of the world, they never said: ‘Hey, scoot over, we’re here, you have to do EVERYTHING our way now. We’re gonna be the leaders, we know best, your culture stinks.’ As long as your parents aren’t asking you to do something outrightly wrong, it is a COMMAND to obey them. When you differ with them, argue with them do you do it while you ‘lower unto them the wing of humility’? Think about it…

    So i totally agree with Br. Noor Al-Irelandee’s opinion on how to go about this.

  23. Dalya

    December 6, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    I think this pretty much sums up why I have not been to a mosque in about 4 years. My family is Egyptian and I am a Muslim, I just hate how Muslims in the masjid are so prejudice against Pakistanis or Converts.
    …And the masjid is becoming a “popular” place to look for someone to marry. This is a place for worship, it’s not a damn “hookup” spot.
    I am 21 and my mom’s family is always in my business on why I am not married and that I should go to the masjid to look for someone to marry. It is NO ones business about my life.

    As a Muslim woman, I find myself not close to Islam because of cultural practices (such as the virginity phenomenon, double standards, and treating women like garbage). It’s why I HATE going to the masjid and would rather pray in the comfort of my own home.
    AND, I even heard that some imam or sheik said that a woman should pray in her home instead and not come to the masjid. Also, the woman’s section (in segregated mosques) is SO TINY. Would you think that most of the men who go to Friday prayer are married? Yes, but still the section is so tiny. It’s way of telling women to go home.

    • Osman

      December 6, 2009 at 8:26 PM

      Sorry to hear about your situation. I hate backwards cultures.

    • Zuhayr

      December 9, 2009 at 4:23 PM

      i know what you’re going, sometimes a person might end up missing prayers because of not wanting to go to mosque

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