Sunday, February 11, 2018

Recent Changes in the Muslim World


   I have been trying to make sense of the new geopolitical condition of Muslims in the world today.  A lot has happened over the last ten years that will keep scholars busy writing books for decades to come.  In this article I will highlight some random thoughts I have about our new condition.  There is no particular order as I am just sitting here letting my mind dictate to my fingers in a freestyle sort of way.  

   However the unifying message is something like this: "Muslims are scattered in their thinking and too eager to worship culture over haqq.  If we don't regroup and reform our own understandings and practices, we will continue to flounder, and our children will remain confused and even ashamed to be called Muslims."  We all have thought like this in recent years.  I believe there needs to be more open discussion about who we are, what we want, how we will get there, and how do we keep Islam relevant in our youth in an age of social media and unimaginable pressures to conform to unIslamic values.

Arabia, Iran and the West
   Women's rights are in flux in the Muslim world in many places.  With the rise of the new Saudi potentate, Muhammad bin Salman, even Arabia has been undergoing many changes.  Recently women were granted the right to drive automobiles and some reforms have been made to certain religious edicts.  Today I read an article in which a Saudi cleric named Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq ruled that women do not need to wear the abaya, which is an all-encompassing outer robe similar to the now attacked burka, (which is worn in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan and in other places where those cultures take up residence).   In another development, in Iran women are no longer forbidden to attend sporting events.

   Such changes are momentous in many of these societies, even though many voices differ with some dissenting and others saying they do not go far enough.  Recent protests in Iran against the hijab itself have garnered international attention.  This is funny in a way given how non-Muslim women in the West are defending or even promoting hijab.  Clearly the world has been turning upside down now for several years and what you thought was one way is now completely another.  In recent 'feminist' marches, non-Muslim women have even joined in salah and begun chanting Muslim phrases.  In the past I would say, "Cool, look at the power of our da'wah!"  However, now I just think, "What is really going on?"  Oftentimes I am at a loss for words.

The End of ISIS and Other Political Movements

    The recent crushing of ISIS by Trump, Putin and every leader of the Muslim world also got me thinking.  ISIS wanted to create a new Islamic State, and their sudden rise was phenomenal.  However, their brutality and bizarre behavior caused them to lose a lot of goodwill and potential support in the Muslim world very early on.   I remember one man who was interviewed about them after he defected away from them.  He said he went there with high hopes for establishing Islam, but that he saw them doing so many incorrect things.  He had hoped they would reform themselves, but they didn't.

   Personally, I also was shocked early on by what they were doing.  It seemed from the get-go that they reveled in doing every unIslamic thing imaginable.  If the Prophet was merciful to captured enemies, they would shoot them or burn them alive.  If the Prophet forbade mutilating the bodies of the dead, they would publicly dismember and carve words in the bodies of the prisoners they killed.  If the Prophet forbade children from going to war, they would teach five-year-olds to shoot prisoners in the head and become suicide bombers.  I could go on, but you get the point.

    I think one of the biggest geo-religious things that ISIS has done is to make it impossible to establish a real caliphate in the next several centuries.  Everyone is going to remember the 'Islamic State' as a brutal nightmare of wickedness and evil.  Unlike other times in history where reports remain in dusty books, all their actions were caught on video and widely distributed by they themselves!  I think they were going for shock value, but all it did was make people all around the world hate them.  If they were merciful and wise, they would have had the entire Muslim world behind them.  

   In addition, when they initially came to power, their only enemy was the Iraqi and Syrian governments.  The U.S. under Obama was prepared to leave them alone and only took action later to prevent the unnecessary massacre of the Yazidis.   A prudent strategy for ISIS to follow would have been to stop being so cruel and genocidal against all non-Arabs and non-Muslims, and to halt expanding southward in Iraq after they captured all the traditionally Sunni areas.  Then they should have made a ceasefire with the Shia government in Baghdad.  Doesn't the Qur'an counsel making peace agreements whenever possible, especially if your position is uncertain?  ISIS built its brand on endless expansion, but this was a position not supported by the Sunnah, in which the Prophet did halt political expansion at times in favor of da'wah efforts in far flung places.

   Why would it have been smarter to make a cease-fire with the Iraqi government?  Because the Shia's had a desire to make their own breakawy state and the U.S. was propping up that government from the get-go.  The U.S. would not have let their pet politicians fall.  ISIS then could have expanded indefinitely in Syria until they could force a peace agreement giving the Alawites a strip of land on the coast and then stopping there to breath.  They should also have made peace with the Kurds and used them to counterbalance Turkey, which at first was unsure what to do about ISIS. (ISIS should not have antagonized Turkey so much!  There was no reason.)  Finally, they should not have promised fire and brimstone on Israel so harshly because they were unprepared to do anything about it.  Israel moves the forces of the world with its influence, and telling them you will annihilate them will get them to react with overwhelming force (using the armies of larger nations they influence).

   Such a strategy of 'territorial pause' would have allowed the cementing of their caliphate and the moderating of their extreme positions over time.  However, this is not what happened.  They were monumentally over-confident in their abilities and failed to take into account basic principles of war and political strategies.  Perhaps it was because the core of their leadership was actually remnants of the Iraqi Republican Guard (secular men).  During both Gulf Wars these men boasted of their strength even while the U.S. was throwing them around like a rag doll.  They learned nothing from the experiences.  Instead they decided to make the whole world their enemies - all at once!  

   The Prophet did not follow such strategies, and sought peace agreements at every turn.  Why?  He understood his movement needing as much normalcy in peoples' lives as possible.  Breathing room allows your people to grow stronger and allows you to solidify your position in the arena of nations.  

   While the United States was still a young country in the first decade of the 1800s, the British and French were fighting yet another global war.  Some Americans wanted to join that war on the French side, but many other leaders knew it was folly.  They had just achieved independence and had less than 20 years of freedom as a new nation.  If they declared war on England, they could lose everything.  By 1812 the overconfident Americans did declare war on England, and just barely survived it, ending in a stalemate by 1815.  There was the real possibility that England could conquer them again and even Washington D.C. was occupied for a time!  

   From our own religious history, when the Prophet made the humiliating treaty of Hudaybiyyah with the Meccans - a treaty that totally advantaged his enemies, - the Sahaba were livid and angry.  The Prophet had to work overtime to keep them calm and accepting.  Why did he agree to terms that were unfavorable?  He knew the community needed time to heal and regroup from the constant Meccan attacks.  

   This is strategy that works.  This is what following the Sunnah is all about.  Even the Taliban before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan were over-confident and short-sighted.  They would still be in power today if they had better leadership, not that I think they were very Islamic either.  Their racism against non-Pashtuns was unfortunate, and their treatment of women was unnecessarily unIslamic too.  When Muslims are more governed by their culture than their religion, they lose every time. 

Islam in the West

   For some time now, Muslims have been drifting into the orbit of the Leftist movement, which is often called the social justice movement.  This is natural considering that conservative movements tend to be made up of the natives of the country, who are increasingly alarmed at the rise of non-white populations and their religions and cultures.  

   Of course we need to recognize and respect the fears of the native populations in Western lands, as the changes their societies are undergoing are tremendous.  Look at how Muslims treat each other when one or another ethnic group vies for power.  Human nature makes us tribal, and tribalism, as the Prophet warned, is a bad thing.  I feel bad when I see Muslim immigrants taunting native Westerners and boasting about replacing them.  It seems unnecessarily arrogant and impedes true da'wah.  

   As I have seen Muslims marching in various social justice protests and joining with various political parties made up largely of liberals and Leftists, I have often wondered what the result will be.  These Leftists promote every unIslamic thing.  Homosexuality, bestiality, communism, pedophilia, 'casual' relations between the sexes and moral relativism.  (The #Metoo movement is something of a counter protest against the sexual revolution, though Leftists fail to make the connection that traditional values are actually better and more respectful of women!)

   I know a lot of people like to get involved in politics, Muslims included - power is intoxicating - but are we rushing in blindly towards things that will harm us more than help us?  It's cool that being Muslim is the new 'hip' thing on the Left, but they also only accept us as long as we accept and adopt their values.  So many young Muslims I know now, who often don't live by Islamic principles anymore, defend homosexuality, transgender-ism, moral relativism and even mundane things like not eating halal food and all the rest.

   Christianity has largely caved in to liberal values in recent years and rarely opposes what was considered sinful just ten years ago.  Consequently, they have no 'brand' anymore.  Many churches are now just social clubs.  Are we fated for that in the West?  I would like to think that we can still call to goodness, morality and the path to heaven.  In this regard, I think our community needs to have more discussions about what it means to be a Muslim in the modern age.  

   Some topics I would love to see addressed in our conventions, masajid and magazines are:  

(1)  How does the rise in 'Smart' phones and the decline in reading affect us?  Islam is a text heavy religion, and few young people read anymore beyond texts, tweets and small articles on line.

(2)  How can we recover our 'brand' and become more positive in public opinion as a religious community, especially after the Age of Terrorism has tarnished us so much?  Our youth feel ashamed to say they're Muslims.  This is a tragedy.  

(3)  How can we update our learning systems to better enable us to transmit Islam to the coming generations who are stepped in modernism and moral relativism?  We don't have enough media for our youth!  How is it that after so many decades we have NO movie industry, no animation industry, no game or app developers making things for Muslim consumption?  How is it we have so few books for youth after so long?

(4)  How can we reform our culturally-based masjids into dynamic centers of da'wah?  Too many masjids are dead places where mean and angry men gather to pray, shout and leave with no room for life, creativity and no place for youth or women.  What do the better masjids do that other masjids can learn from?

(5) What happened to all our dynamic speakers?  We used to have so many great speakers who could take on non-Muslims and show the true logic and beauty of Islam.  We have a few still, but they seem much less larger-than-life than we need now.  Our youth need heroes too beyond sports stars and rappers.

(6)  How can we tap into the wisdom of our forbears?  There have been so many great books written by previous generation of Muslims that are largely forgotten now.  Al ghazali, Ibn Arabi, Attar, Nizami and all the rest.  We need to make literature circles in our masjids and book clubs and add intellectual fortitude into our lives.  Previous generations of Muslims experienced hardships too.  They wrote about how to cope iwith life and survived.  We need to tap into that wisdom as well!

    Inshallah, we can reform ourselves and move our community forward from strength to strength.  I think each of us has to rededicate ourselves to our life's mission and realize we are only here a short time.  We had better make our lives count!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Ways of Our Fathers

           What are we?  We see the world around us, its people, its landscape and then we see our lives within it.  Isn’t it true that for most of our lives we don’t even imagine that we’re just temporary guests here?  Has the thought ever crossed your mind that one day the world will go on without you, and that that day will come sooner than you might think.  Could you imagine your family living without you, during a time when you’re nothing more than a memory of someone who once was? 
          When they, themselves, die, even your memory will be lost.  So what were you?  Did you ever let life fool you into thinking you were somehow important, or essential, to this world?  By Allah, we’re nothing more than waves of locusts rushing over this world, consuming and then dying, giving way to a new swarm, a new generation who eat with abandon and then pass away themselves in a never ending cycle until the Day of Judgment.  Who remembers the individual locust from five hundred years ago?  Would it even matter if anyone did?

            The big questions.  The really big questions.  Who has time to think about them when there’s work and school and family and fun to take care.  “Eat and enjoy now,” says the Qur’an, “but soon you’ll know the reality.”  Is it wrong to say that most people are so oblivious that it would be comical, if it wasn’t so sad?  Why is the Qur’an so harsh with ignorant and unconcerned people?  “They refuse to feed the poor,” the Qur’an says, while a fellow human being is suffering.  Don’t they realize how easy it would be for them to be in that position – starving and in desperate need?  “People should have a choice,” is the common refrain about just about everything these days, but what if people chose to ignore suffering, or chose to overindulge at the expense of the less fortunate, or worse yet, make choices that result in others being harmed?

            Does it matter, though, on a larger scale, if people harm each other?  Five hundred years from now will anyone know or care if you hit someone, stole something or did worse?  Even the current American president will get less than a paragraph in some future history textbook, assuming there will still be people who know how to read, which isn’t a very bright prospect given how video/music and visual entertainment is turning our young peoples’ brains into jelly.  The Western view of humanity, which used to be on a more noble footing, has descended into a raw, and unashamed survival of the fittest and might makes right philosophy.  Why else would one nation have its armed forces in over one hundred other countries on the globe?  And the list could grow from there.

            Events in the world today seem so real.  Our senses are assaulted, numbed and assaulted again by images, stories, reports and protests.  Were you alive when the barbarians sacked Rome?  Were you there when the Mongols burnt Baghdad to the ground.  So many heady events.  Who remembers them?  No one will remember how you felt.  I’m reminded of that ayah in which Allah describes a person as only looking down at their feet, and never looking above them.  Too many people take the short view, and so few look ahead to the horizon.  When we go to the movies we see previews of future movies first and decide what we want to go and see in the coming months.  When we walk outside our front door, we often don’t even know what we’ll be doing in the evening.  What do we expect from this world?  What do we think we’ll accomplish?  All we’re doing is building sandcastles by the shore.  The next wave will destroy whatever we built.

            When the Umayyad Governor of Egypt, ‘Abdul-Aziz ibn Marwan, was near death, he said to his assistants, “Bring the burial shroud that I will be covered in to me so I can inspect it.”  When it was brought before him, he looked at it and said, “Is this all that I’m going to have from this life?”  He then turned his back and cried while saying, “Damn you, life!  Your abundance is meager, your meagerness is short lived, and you tricked us.”

            As I passed by a graveyard the other day, I found myself looking at the headstones as I whizzed by at sixty miles an hour.  Ironic, really.  But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the irony of the world and how so few people ever ‘get it’.  I’ve taught in Muslim schools nearly fifteen years and I see the parents.  They’re just like any non-Muslim parents.  Some think ahead and in broad terms for their children’s futures, while others are like a bunch of bumblers who can barely conceive of the notion of packing their kid a decent lunch.   Most are somewhere in between.  I’m probably right in the middle, myself.

            What are you supposed to teach your children?  What will live on after you when nothing you build or acquire will remain?  We already read frequently in the Qur’an that only taqwa and morally upright deeds live on to our credit in the Afterlife, and we’ve heard from the Prophet that three things can continue in the world after our deaths (useful knowledge we uncovered, a charity that keeps on giving, and the prayers of a righteous child,) but how do we conduct ourselves, knowing these things?  How are most of us structuring our lives, given that nothing we establish will outlast us or preserve us?  You know the answer.  Just look at your own life.  Until you can accuse yourself honestly, and find yourself guilty, you’ll never make any progress.

            When we look at our children, how are we preparing them for the future?  Shouldn’t we first recognize that they have no future – at least in this life?  Shouldn’t we realize that they, too, will be in our predicament?  They’re only alive for a while, just as we, and then they’ll have to confront the reality.  No one ever, ever, ever wants to contemplate losing a child.  Some people do lose their children and they are filled with sorrow.  Could you imagine your child ever passing away.  The thought horrifies you, repels you, and you don’t even want to think about it.  But your child will die, just most likely after you have.  Have you wept over the death of your child, who will die one day?  Is the fact that you won’t be around to see it somehow making it less painful for you to think about.  The truly loving parent weeps for their child’s death whether they die before or after them.

            After you’ve learned to weep over what could be and what will be, so then what are you left with?  What are you doing with your life?  Are you trying real hard to make sure your child will get rich when they’re an adult?  Is this dominating your every thought?  Have you taught your five year old to say, “ophthalmologist” or “Surgeon”?  Do you set the example of how to live by buying not just a good car, but the “best” car?  Do you do what the “successful” people do, so you can pat yourselves on the back and say, “I’ve made it”?  Have you really made it?  Has your success been assured?  Are you now in a secure place, from which you will never come down, or be kicked out?

            My God how life has fooled us!  My God how foolish we are!  We’re nothing more than waves of locusts – waves of consumers, eating our way over the globe and then dying off.  The Master of the World has sent signposts all throughout the world.  He says we can be more than just a ravager of resources, that He will extract our essence after death and give us permanent success someplace else.  All we have to do is follow the rules He sets for us and be better than the common masses who eat and eat and give no thought to the harm that they’re doing.  Those poor souls will not be successful, but we don’t need to be among them.

            So many are called yet so few answer!  And the greatest negligence of all is from those who have been exposed to this call, like all the Muslims you meet around you in the masjid or the school or in the family, and yet they say, “Let us eat more.  Let us burn resources faster.  Let us be foremost among the locusts in our generation and teach our children to be so.” 

            The Nightmare.  Oh my Allah the Nightmare.  You may be in the line to heaven, yet you see your child in the line to Hell, and you feel the greatest remorse.  You may in the line to Hell, and you see your parents in the line to Heaven, and you become that scared little child again, wanting to run to your parents to save you, but you can’t come out of line, and you look at them and ask, “Why didn’t you save me?”  I cannot keep myself from weeping when I consider this.  When I sit down and really look ahead and see this as a distinct possibility.  Have you thought about it?  My God, what have you done?  What sunnah are you passing on to your children?  What fate are you arranging for yourself?  Are Muslims so blind that we’ve come to rely upon God’s forgiveness so much so that we feel no Muslim will ever be in Hellfire, even as the Bani Isra’il came to rely on being God’s “Chosen” ones?

            I see people racing with each other into destruction, laughing all the way.  They sacrifice their children and they all jump together into the Fire.  They’re like the man who was given the choice to live like a king for a year and be hanged, or live as a simple man and die after a natural lifespan, though most of them choose luxury with a known penalty, over simplicity and more time.

            So what would I want to leave behind me?  Given that no material accomplishment will survive, what can I do to make my mark on life and also be successful in the Afterlife promised by the One Who created life to begin with?  Since I can’t rule the world, and even if I tried death would put an end to my reign, and since materialism is the great deceiver, and anything I grabbed and put in my pile of stuff will decay away, anyway, what other options are there?

            Look at yourself and your children.  Strip away the titles, the clothes, the fame, the money, the fortune and the goodies and treasures.  You are you, alone and no other.  You have the power to be good or evil.  You have the power to share and be kind or to be mean and greedy.  Whatever you do, others around you will copy. You can be noble, and they will be inspired to be noble.  You can be long-suffering and expectant of God, and others will be so, as well.  You can slow down the eating of the locusts around you so there is more food and resources to go around, or you can become ravenous and greedy and others will do so, as well, resulting in a legacy of hunger and injustice.  Then look at your children and realize how you raise them will have impact on what choices they make in their lives in this regard.

            The Prophet cursed the slave of the dollar and the coin.  Look at your life.  What are you living for?  Have you really thought about it?  You do what you do in life, but what is its purpose?  What do you expect at the end of the day?  Some baubles and trinkets made in a factory in China, or the good pleasure of God, a tranquil outlook on life, and the ultimate reward of Paradise?  If you continued on your present course and lived your life as you’re doing now, and then passed on those values to your children, what would be the end result at the end of the day?  Would you die a rich person, but be destined for Hellfire?  What kind of intelligent investment was that!  Would you die a poor person, and also be destined for Hell, because you lived as a hustler and a user?  Where are the brains of such a person?  Or would you die, either rich or poor, but having lived righteously and not showing off.  Would you have passed on this legacy to your children, so by your actions you influence the world for the better, through the generations?  Remember, no one will remember your name, no matter what you do, but how will your anonymous contribution change the world, for the good or the better?  Regardless, God is keeping score and will pay back people according to what they did.  Don’t be the victim of the Double nightmare: both you and your children in the line to Hellfire.  If that isn’t enough to scare you and make you reassess what you’re doing and where it will ultimately get you, then what will?

Islamic Schools: A Continuing Discussion

         A number of years ago I wrote an article entitled, "Islamic Schools: A View from the Inside."  What has surprised me is how widely circulated that piece has become on the net.  It seems hardly a week goes by before it appears on yet another website.  Given that the article was written almost a decade ago, and because times have changed, I felt compelled to write something of an update, or a part two, so to speak. 

          To begin, by way of summary, my previous article focused on both the shortcomings and strengths to be found in the American Islamic Educational "system".  At the time of that writing, I was a bit frustrated with the oddball ways in which several of the Islamic schools I've been exposed to were being operated.  Specifically the way in which school administrators often treated their colleagues in disrespectful and unprofessional ways, the way in which schools were often set up and operated by medical and engineering professionals who had no idea how a school should be structured and operated, and the problems of a student body in which many of the children (and their families) had next to no clue about even many basic Islamic beliefs and practices, who were patronizing the Muslim schools for little other reason than the fact that it was a safer and more wholesome environment than their local public schools.

          My conclusion was not colored by any rosy forecast or sense of negativism or pessimism, however, but rather by a profound realization that we need Islamic schools, however imperfect they are, or we run the risk of extinction as an identifiable American religious sect.  Assimilation is hacking away at the edges of our community like loggers are destroying the Amazon- it’s relentless.  

        It is my firm belief that, by and large, (recognizing that there are always a few exceptions,) the only children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of today's Muslim Americans who have any chance of remaining in Islam are those who have had at least some exposure to Islamic schools.  (I feel that Sunday schools just aren't enough and are sometimes counterproductive in themselves.)  The full time schools are, quite simply, the only place where kids have the chance to "feel" Muslim for five days of the week.  It is an "immersion" experience- a poor one, considering an Islamic society is the best way to "pass on" core values uninterrupted, yet the only one that Muslim kids in this country can find.  It is the only way for our youth to ever develop a sense of group consciousness.

          It must be said that most immigrant Muslim families (that I have been exposed to) are very work and career-oriented, more so than any other community in this large and diverse country.  Consequently, I have found that fathers, and sometimes mothers, are mostly absent from the home.  In cases where the mother is at home, I have noticed that the challenges of raising kids alone, without an active husband or an extended family to rely upon, are quite daunting and many an overwhelmed parent just leaves their children to languish in front of the television, the video game console, the internet or worse- on the local street corner!  I have taught Muslim kids of every major Muslim ethnic and racial group and can assert without hesitation that the cream of our youth are being consigned to an electronic and social wasteland where they learn nothing good and are even damaged from too much video stimulation and unIslamic influences from the “neighborhood” kids.

          I am not alone in these alarmist opinions.  Nearly every teacher in a Muslim school that I have ever talked to complains about the same thing: there is just not that much active, informed and morally imperative parenting going on in the Muslim community!  The running joke among many teachers is that every other student admitted to an Islamic School comes to them with a note taped to their back which reads: "Save my child!" 

          Think about it: the parents put their children in public school (oh, how trusting we Muslims are, and hey, it's free!) and what do they think the children will learn?  They'll be spending around forty hours a week surrounded by non-Muslim peers and adults and their culture of dating, drinking, cursing and worse!  And you think they even have a chance of inculcating Islam?  Wait.  Scratch that.  Most adults with Muslim sounding names have never really learned Islam themselves, instead, they immigrated here as economic refugees from cultures that had already misused or misplaced Islam, looking for the American Dream (wealth and ease) and then they expect their children to be as industrious as they are. 

Look at current statistics; education in the United States is eroding yearly.  Families are breaking up at a record pace.  Youth culture has gone bananas!  Do you think your child will be learning to be a hard-working, goals-oriented person?  Do you think those friends of his or her will be reinforcing punctuality, patience and long term strategic planning in them?  I don't need to enumerate too much about what they will really be learning from their “friends”, suffice it to say: drugs, alcohol, hyper-sexuality, defiance of authority, a kind of atheism with a "me first" twist, accepting cheating, and an inner image patterned after the latest rap star, pop diva, or sports star. 

And you wanted your kid to be a thoughtful, hard working doctor one day!  A few may manage that feat, but the immigrant Muslim community is now awash in "dirty little secrets", of so-and-so's son or daughter who “shamed” the family, of so-and-so's child who flunked, or can't spell in ninth grade or who needs "tutoring", or was sent "back home" to be "straightened up".  And I'm only talking about the immigrant Muslims who still feel some connection to their home culture and community.  There is a huge number of people, whom our pollsters count as "Muslims" who have no connection to Islam at all! 

Where I live you see them sometimes.  The bank teller named "Tasneem", with the miniskirt, tight shirt and tons of makeup; the stock boy in the local appliance store named "Hassan", who you see flirting shamelessly and making sex jokes with the "very willing" air-headed sales girls; the mechanic named "Hamid", who you see drinking from a beer can as he changes your tire; the guy named "Mike" selling lotto, wine and porno magazines in his gas station shack, who you know is an Arab, and most likely from a Muslim background.   Is this what you want for your children, grandchildren?  There is a 90% chance that it will be a reality for your descendants.  Won't you show some bit of concern?  When did we forget that all life is a test and that to Allah we will return?

Just another small example: I recently became acquainted with a “nice” Muslim family.  The mother was boasting to me how multicultural her teenage son is because he has so many friends of various ethnic backgrounds.  As I heard her speaking I was thinking, “Ah, here is a conscientious mother who is trying to raise a very bright and amicable kid.”  But then she began boasting about how she forces her son’s friends to conform to her rules when they visit her house.  She said that she makes them “pull up their pants” to hide their underwear, remove their earrings, forbids them from cursing and doesn’t let them wear their shoes in the house.   I was hearing this and thinking: “Do you not see it?  These are your son’s “friends”.  They dress and act how?  Do you know among themselves all they talk about is girls and sports stars and wild parties?  Where is the medical school in his future?  Where is the ticket to heaven?  Another family from a Muslim country that only enriched the strength of the kuffar lifestyle and culture.

          So how do Islamic Schools help a family keep their children on the road to faith and the road to academic success?  For starters, Islamic Schools don't "hurt".  If you send your child to the typical Islamic School, they will learn to read, write and do 'rithmatic.  I'm always stunned by those parents who go into an Islamic School and say that they are afraid to send their child to it because they believe the education is "substandard."  As ifAs if the public schools are providing such a stellar education!  Every year we admit at least thirty new students straight out of public school, and let me tell you, as a professional, licensed teacher, 95% of these public school products in grades 5 and above have serious spelling and writing problems- many have no conception that homework must be completed, let alone understanding the concept of taking notes! 

          Are there some "good" public schools?  Well, that depends on how you are defining "good".  Sure, there are still many public schools with good academic programs.  I am not saying they are all poor at instruction, but the youth culture of today's kids is so awful, so horrendously awful, that in spite of the best public school program, your son could come home emulating rap language and calling himself a gangsta'- or worse!   Your daughter could be pursuing boys or being pursued- or worse!  Not to mention the values they will automatically pick up despite your best efforts.  Are you so naive to believe they are all harmless?   Don't you know how different the values of this society are from what you grew up with?  I just shake my head when I see the parents who have so little forethought.  Do you know how many Arab and Indo-Pak girls take drugs or have boyfriends, for example?  If anecdotes are any indication it may be a very high percentage.  The parents see all the hip TV shows showing the worst anti-religious values and they never stop to think that their child, watching too, may actually come to accept and participate in those values.

          Getting back to the schools, although Islam is getting a lot of bad public relations today, mostly from people who are consciously distorting the reality of Islam to support their own agendas, you and I know that Islam is a good thing- it's a positive factor in an individual's life.  And I'm not talking about the Bin Laden style of Islam: a tiny minority rebel movement teaching things that are so out of Islamic norms that even the old Taliban government (before it fell) publicly stated that fatwas by Bin Laden are invalid.  No, I'm talking about original Islam, the simple, easy to follow Islam of the Prophet (p).  The kind of Islam that teaches us to be introspective, thoughtful, kind, charitable, tolerant and open-minded.

          I mentioned once in a gathering recently that the only redeeming after-effect of the September 11th tragedy was that it finally forced Arab and Indo-Pak Muslims to finally feel and understand the kinds of discrimination and irrational racism that African Americans have been feeling for the last several centuries in this land.  Before that dastardly attack, immigrant Muslims were used to being ignored by their neighbors and lived in the blissful shadows of an unknowing American public.  Incidents of discrimination were relatively rare and some of our neighbors even took us into their hearts thinking we were "cute," in a way, with our colorful clothes and yummy foods.

          Now the rest of the Ummah feels the whip on their backs and is so bewildered that the way some Muslims run for cover is comical, if it wasn’t so disenheartening.  Crisis brings out the best and worst in people, and this one caused a lot of otherwise dormant Muslims to stand up and fight for their rights.  This has made us a stronger community, even as our numbers have shrunk some from the apostasy of people who couldn’t wait to assimilate, because that was their one dream since watching American shows in the 1970s and thinking this country was paved with gold.

          You cannot believe how 9-11 was a boon for Islamic school enrollments.  So many Muslim kids have been targeted and picked on by their “civilized” and “culturally advanced” public school peers, that parents have literally been lining up outside the door of Islamic schools.  It feels good, in a bizarre sort of way, to tell parents we have no more room and that they have to join the long waiting list.  Although I really, in hindsight, wish we could be a place of refuge for all Muslim kids, especially the younger ones, who are our precious future.

          An Islamic school often does not have the bells and whistles of your local public school, but it has a more serious and rigorous environment.  What I mean is that in a typical public school, all the time your child is not in class, and that is cumulatively about two to three hours worth of breaks, lunch, gym, recess, waiting for the bus, etc… they are necessarily privy to the cultural lifestyle of the student body.  They hear about boyfriends, girlfriends, so and so’s stash of liquor, cursing, raw and brutal gossip, fighting, etc…  They may also be the victim of some kind of bullying, though they would never tell you.  All of these, and other factors, disrupts the learning environment and makes it hard for kids to concentrate, even if they have mostly good teachers.  How can you study when the girl in the third row is pregnant, the boy behind you is cussing under his breath, the girl near the right side of class in the mini-skirt is cute to look at and the boy in the next grade wants to beat you up after school?

          Muslim schools, for the most part, are devoid of these problems.  No gangs, no rap clothes, no racial slurs, no curse words, no dating, no violence.  When one of these problems does seem to creep up, and its always brought into the school from an outsider, newly admitted from public school, the Islamic school can eject the offending parasite from the otherwise healthy body.  You may think parasite is a harsh word, but after you’ve worked hard to create an atmosphere where the only problem you face is an occasional kid chewing gum or forgetting to raise their hand, an environment where smiling, happy Muslim kids say 'salam' to you, counsel each other not to cheat or backbite, and play sports together without resorting to fist fighting or cussing, any introduction of a maladjusted, socially deviant, “lost” kid who cries about wanting a boyfriend or wants to lord it over the boys as a bully, will send shivers up your spine.  The Muslim school cannot “save” such a kid. 

          For all the sincere “do-gooders” who want us to take teens who use drugs and girls with boyfriends and “fix” them with our caring Islamic atmosphere, you need to wake up and smell the coffee.  Such kids rarely turn around and they raise such a ruckus in the school that the “good” parents begin to remove their kids from the school to look for a wholesome environment.  There are enough bad school cultures.  Let there be some place where a normal, well-adjusted family can send their child to learn without distraction, and without being turned into a statistic.

          Islamic schools are not perfect, but they do have something that is priceless: the key to being joined by your child in Jennah.  He or she will still learn to be a doctor, even if they go to an under funded and struggling Islamic school.  They will be a better doctor because only in an Islamic school will they learn that medicine is not just about big bucks, but about the people you help, for the sake of Allah.

Some Advice for Muslims in the Modern Era

I remember when I first entered into Islam back in 1988 that the main topic for discussion among Muslims was the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  It was in all the fledgling magazines, there were lots of speeches here and there and I recall Muslims being filled with a sense of righteous indignation towards this one, important issue.  At the time, there was little discussion about such things as “losing the youth”, “making Masjids more gender friendly,” anti-Muslim propaganda, and such. 

Wow, what a difference a decade and a half make!  Think about what we talk about now in print, on the internet, in forums and at dinner parties!  The issues have sort of rearranged themselves.  While the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is still there, it is more on the fringes.  Now we add Iraq (we sort of forgot about Afghanistan), Al Qaeda and its cronies, intolerance among some groups, and the U.S. bullying of dozens of countries.  Issues on the domestic front here in the West have also taken a new prominence.  The situation of youth, women and the newly rising Islamophobia phenomenon take center stage.

Ten years ago seeing books by lesbian “Muslim” turncoats, or adulterous women who take their Masjid to court or “Muslim” men who call for Islam to accept homosexuality and dating would have been unheard of.  Just five years ago we, as a community, were content in our anonymity, ignored by our neighbors and feeling that truth and justice were on our side.  After 2001, suddenly we were under a microscope and pointed out and harassed everywhere: at the airport, in the grocery store, at school and during town hall meetings where plans for new Masjids were suddenly being objected to by alarmed and frightened neighbors, who just five years before wouldn’t have even cared.

 I once thought to myself that I would love to live until 100 years old, just to see how the world changed over the course of a century (the historian streak in me!), but in just a decade, the change has been quite dizzying and events seem to be running on a very fast train to mayhem.  I’m sure I’m not the only Muslim who has been thinking this way.  I’ve held many discussions with others who are downright bewildered that the “War on Terrorism” is affecting them when they’re just housewives or mechanics or teenagers in school. 
I know our community is undergoing a lot of strain and pressure.  For some it is unbearable and they have actually felt compelled to move to Canada or overseas.  Others have sought to go incognito and have abandoned hijab, kufi or thobe, thinking they could go on as before in their blessed anonymity.  It’s worked for some, not for others, but I’m sure all of them feel a bit of shame inside at their weakness.  I wonder what the ones think who have actually changed their names and the names of their children to non-Muslim ones to hide that much deeper.

Another phenomenon has also surfaced: that of the unwitting apostate.  We’ve all known for years that a large chunk of those whom we have assumed were Muslims have actually been Muslims in name only, even less.  It runs across all ethnic groups and even affects convert families as well.  Think about the average Pakistani or Arab or Turkish man who immigrated in his twenties to the West to find a good job, with little to no knowledge of Islam from his youth.  He gets off the plane or boat and is instantly bombarded with scantily-clad (and seductive) females on billboards, magazines, on TV, in the street, at college and at his job. 

Really now, do any of these young men have a chance?  They usually come from societies were there are still some kinds of boundaries between the genders, but in the West, oh my gosh, all the walls disappeared long ago!  Many immigrant Muslim men have dated women here, who, because of their cultural upbringing, are more willing to give themselves up than women anywhere else in the world.  Some men wind up marrying their girlfriends and thus you see all the light-skinned kids with light hair, or Muslim kids speaking Spanish words, at many of our dinner parties and functions. 

Yes, some women do convert first, and then find husbands; I’m not trying to insult anyone here I just wonder what the ratio is because, really now, Muslim men should be on their best behavior and court a woman in the old-fashioned American way, which is closer to an ideal Islamic way.  Because so many don't practice Islamic ethics for daily living, they wind up going through women like non-Muslim men do, and it's really a nightmare for da'wah.  I've been acquainted with a number of women who said they might have considered Islam once, but because of all the love 'em and leave 'em "Muslim" men they've had relationships with, they are blaming Islam and steering clear of faith commitments (even as they continue to date "Muslim" men).

Let's face it, most immigrant men (who came from lax religious families 'back home') never try to “adopt” a Muslim identity after they discover the carnal delights of the West.  (Some do come into Islam after they have a family and they decide they don’t want their kids to be as lost as they were!)  Believe you me, there is a whole population of millions of men (and women) in the West whose roots go back to a Muslim country or Muslim convert, but for whom Islam is not a part of their lives at all.  When our pollsters say we have 6 or 8 or 12 million Muslims in the United States, they’re counting an awful lot of people who have no Muslim identity at all!

This is our dirty little secret.  We publicly lament that our Masjid-goers are basically older men in their 30s to 60s and that the younger people are absent.  But we don't spend enough time thinking about the reasons and formulating strategies to turn the situation around.   As an aside, some Christian Evangelical organizations have taken quotes from many Muslim leaders and authors about our worry for the shrinking size of our community here, and tried to postulate that Islam was shrinking in the West because Muslims were somehow joining Christianity.  The implication is that Muslims, on their own, are abandoning Islam for "freedom" or whatever.  Well, that's a pretty laughable proposition given that Christians have been abandoning Christianity and Jews have been abandoning Judaism for the same reasons we are losing lukewarm Muslims: people are running after the delights of this world and becoming blinded to faith- of any sort!

Getting back to the issue at hand- A lot of time these days is being spent on the women’s rights movement in the Masjid, where their legitimate grievances are finally getting some fresh air.  From my first days as a Muslim I knew the second-class treatment women were getting was wrong and against the spirit of Islam.  I just hoped that as “the next generation” matured, those problems would sort themselves out.  Instead, what happened was that the masses of our community members sent their precious children to non-Muslim public schools where they would be indoctrinated for approximately 40 hours a week in non-Muslim values, both cultural and religious.

Can I be any more harsh here?  Would any Indo-Pak parent ever send their child to a Hindu private school?  “Of course not,” they would say, “Are you nuts?  Their values are completely foreign to ours and they hate us besides!”  Well, did you honestly think that your local “public” school wouldn’t teach values that were against yours?  They are “public” schools and the majority of the “public” in the West is Christian of one flavor or another, and the values taught in the school would reflect a mixture of American Christianity and decadent pop culture.  What in high holy heaven have you done?  You sent your precious little child into a world that would convert them into their way of thinking.  Your baby couldn’t resist.  He or she was surrounded by non-Muslim kids, even the authority figures, the teachers, were non-Muslims. 

Your child’s peers were weaving a world of dating, dancing, Christmas, Halloween, sports star worship, movie star worship, suggestive music, drugs and alcohol, dance parties and a devil-may-care-attitude around your child’s impressionable little mind.  All the holidays became your child’s holidays, so much so that they even began to pressure you to let them go out trick-or-treating (dressed as a demon or monster), or let them go on an Easter Egg hunt.  Even if you resisted the holidays and tried to stress Islamic themes and holidays, in their hearts they longed for the world that was constructed around them and imprinted on their psyche during their most productive and alert hours: the time spent in “public” school.

Have you taken a good look at our “youth” lately?  Have you?  Our ignorant parents, who knew little Islam in their home countries, couldn’t bring themselves to sacrifice a bit harder to keep their American born children on the path to Jannah.  My gosh!  Even the Salafis and Wahhabis in America can’t seem to keep their children as committed Muslims.  The truth, the sad underbelly of the beast comes out in the hidden dark corners, away from the public eye.  So many Muslim parents are ashamed of what their children have become that they either choose to ignore the problem or take such drastic steps as carting their children off “back home” thinking that that will “fix” them.

We who work in Islamic Schools know the truth.  In any given school, only a minority of the children are from good, Allah-centered Islamic homes.  Fully a third are from homes that are half-Islamic, half-cultural, while a remaining third are so thoroughly “Americanized” (whatever that means) that they become a great burden on the school in its efforts to foment and maintain an Islamic culture.  You see it right away: when strange parents come to the school office and begin asking questions about whether smoking or dating is allowed in the school.  When parents conveniently “forget” to bring their children’s records from their previous school when they register them for the new school year at your school.  (Later, when you finally obtain the records, you find that the kid was in special ed, or suspended for fighting multiple times or even worse).

My gosh, Muslim schools have had to deal with so many problem kids from families who ask, “Please save my child.”  It was the families who lost them to begin with, how can a school “save” them.  In reality, most parents of problem kids are just looking for a quick (and cheap) solution.  Alhumdulillah, Islamic schools can, to some extent, bring some reform in kids, but the good Islamic kids who come from conscientious families always feel under pressure and even put upon with the introduction of such mal-adjusted kids thrust into their midst.

Those who go to Muslim schools are in a minority.  Most Muslims choose not to send their kids to Islamic schools under the odd impression that their children will suffer academically, and thus not make it to medical school.  Besides the fact that that is a false notion, the Faustian bargain comes in: sacrifice your child to hell fire so he can be a rich doctor in this life.  Why not let them be a good Muslim and be a rich doctor so they can have the best of both worlds!

This digression is just an explanation of the seriousness of the problem.  The children of most “Muslim” families get little to no Islamic training and thus add to the ranks of the false notion that our community is growing.  The immigrant young man who drowns in a sea of pleasure, with next to no chance of rediscovering real Islam, the children of converts and immigrants who get sucked into the quagmire of a non-Muslim lifestyle and frame of mind and thus disappear from our community, the disillusioned women who see more freedom and respect among non-Muslims than in the Masjid- all of these add to the ranks of the unwitting apostates who spill out of the cup of Islam like a torrent everyday.

I use the term unwitting because for many of them, they never had that deep of a commitment to Islam from the get go.  They were never taught Islam the way it should be taught; they had no chance to build an identity as a Muslim; they were thrust among non-Muslims and took their world-view as their own, so much so, that, even though a nostalgia for Islam might exist in some of them, they don’t identify it as a viable or practical lifestyle for them in their personal life.
You have to read between the lines.  Azra Nomani, Irshad Manji,

Progressive Muslim Union, Omar Safi, Asma Gul Hasan, Stephen Shwartz, Amina Wadud: what are they all representing?  What is all of this really about?  You see, Islam, at its core, is a really noble religion.  The Qur’an is quite a majestic book, and even though we have a lot of difficult translations, the message is quite inspiring and direct.  The hadiths contain so many wonderful nuggets of wisdom that anyone would feel inclined to them.  Then, when you look at all the great poetry and art that has come out of Islamic civilization, combined with the great story of the Prophet and the Sahaba, you get a very appealing way of life and ideology.

So all the people, whose personal lifestyles are not exactly traditionally Islamic, who are out there leading mixed gender prayers with female imams, crying for acceptance of gay rights in Islam or calling for an end to discrimination in the Masjid, are really people who want to follow Islam deep down in their hearts, but they’ve been so messed up by bad parents, immersion in public schools, straddling many worlds at once and left with little guidance or community support as they meandered through a variety of nafs-related escapades, that they strike out at traditional Islamic values, not realizing that those are not the problem.  The problem is that the Muslim world, as a whole, has largely forgotten how to be an inclusive, God-oriented entity.

Muslims have lost touch, generally, with the noble qualities of Islam, qualities such as compassion, understanding, tolerance and progressiveness (from within an Islamic framework, of course).  We have become like the Bani Isra’il: steeped in legalism, harshness and intolerance.  In the same way that Prophet Jesus was sent to breath new life into them, we must learn to reinvigorate ourselves.

Look, if I had learned Islam through one of those “angry” Muslims, I doubt I would have become a Muslim.  Instead, it was just me and the Qur’an, and then after that, it was me and Sahih Bukhari.  We had a great time together and I wrestled with issues, thought about the meaning of what I read and came away with the impression that Islam is really the best way of life a human being can experience.  But then I met the Muslims.

There were the good, the bad and the ugly.  Most, however, were just fine.  The Arabs and Indo-Paks I met were generally nice people, much more well mannered than the typical non-Muslim.  But around the edges are a lot of ignorant Muslims whose habits and understandings were so off the Qur’anic standard that you were left asking, “What the heck are these people in Islam for?” 

It took me a while to learn some valuable lessons, but I am a better person for it.  I learned that you cannot, ever, judge a religion or culture by the standard of the worst among its members.  Second, I learned that people are people, no matter what religion they are, and there are a lot of human foibles and shortcomings that you just cannot escape.  There are mean nosey old church ladies, just as there are mean nosey old Masjid ladies (no offense to the elderly!)  There are big,overbearing Buddhist men, just as there are big, overbearing, Muslim men.  There are lying, hypocritical Jewish women, just as there are lying, hypocritical Muslim women.  The list goes on.  You have to realize that a religion must be judged on the merit of its teachings, not on what some people do or how poor an example some are.  And you can’t overlook the good gems among the people of any religion.  Doesn’t the Qur’an tell us there are Jews and Christians who will return, gladly, money entrusted to them? 

If we are involved in the life of the Muslim community, we can’t take every bad experience and make it the standard for how we view Muslims.  What about the good things?  It’s hard to do, but you have to realize not every Muslim you meet will be friendship material for you.  Personalities are different, and the best you can do is hang around like-minded people who understand you and whom you understand.  Then, when you go to a Masjid, the antics of the ignorant won’t bother you, just as the antics of the racist in the grocery store also will not bother you.

The “progressive” Muslims are crying out for help and understanding, and all we offer is condemnation.  This is where we fail.  Look at the Sirah and the Sahaba.  All the time the Prophet (p) was reaching out to people, even to hypocrites!  Some of the more aggressive Sahaba wanted to deal sternly with Abdullah ibn Ubayy, but the Prophet stayed their hand.  People came to the Prophet (p) with odd habits, odd ideas, whatever, and he was generally very patient and wise in his actions.  A Jew went to him and demanded to be repaid a loan, and the Prophet rebuked Umar for getting mad at the Jew.  The list goes on and on.

I’ve thought about it for years now.  My God how I’ve thought about the problem!  With a family of my own now, I’ve always tried to conceptualize what kind of chance there would be for my grandchildren after I am gone, to be good Muslims in a vibrant movement.  Did I convert so that my grandchildren could be sucked back into the pleasure-driven chaos of modern society?  Do I want to spend my whole life trying to get in the line to Jannah, only to have the distinct possibility arise that my children and grandchildren and so on will be in the line to Hell!  What a waste of a life then!

Even Jeffrey Lang, the well-known author, has wrestled with this in a number of books (which I recommend reading).  His latest is even provocatively entitled, “Losing My Religion,” in which he laments the Islamic future of his own children.  Most of the book, it seems, is taken up with a discussion about those people who are distressed by some of the more odd or strange seeming hadiths. (You know, the ones where we read that trees will talk and say kill the Jew behind me, or that say women are the majority of hellfire, or that say Suleiman slept with 300 wives in one night, etc...) 

Just as an aside, I have a great formula for dealing with the hadith literature that is much simpler than learning to become a scholar of hadith.  Whenever you read the hadiths, keep this point in mind:  You can mentally separate the hadiths into three categories:

1.  The inspirational and guiding lights. 
2.  The mundane affairs of the world, including reports of everyday life in the seerah. 
3.  The odd or strange ones that sound out of character with the Qur'an's message. 

So the rule is:  Live by the first, learn from the second and take the third with a grain of salt!

Now returning again to the subject at hand.  We know we have a problem.  The youth are being unwittingly kept out of Islam by parents who let non-Muslims teach them their culture and values.  Muslim immigrants, by and large, come to America seeking money and have little Islamic knowledge, thus many assimilate, though a few rediscover Islam later in life.  Masjids are generally places where women are discriminated against by cultural traditions from backward lands. 

Now what do you do when people from those three categories want to enter into a meaningful Islamic lifestyle?  They find roadblocks at every turn and thus go on the offensive, often more aggressively than they need to, thinking that they must revolutionize and transform Islam so they will have a welcome place in it and their values.  This is what’s been going on.  Do you see it now?  The Masjids keep the women out, and Western-oriented women have been raised not to take such discrimination lying down.  The Muslim community is trying to preserve Arab/Indo-Pak customs that are not really Islamic, and the Western raised youth are rebelling.  The immigrants who are rediscovering Islam want a professional, caring and mature congregation of fellow believers, but all they’re finding is the bickering and in-fighting of their long ago homelands.

What to do?  What to do?  What to do?  I’ve tried to conceptualize things from many angles.  What is needed?  A new organization?  More money?  Activists?  More books?  More Islamic Schools?  New Masjid rules?  What?  What will improve things?  How do we meet the needs of our dedicated Muslim Masjid-goers, our American-raised youth, our disaffected women, our Muslims-in-name-onlys who want desperately to get back into Islam with respect and dignity because they know it is the best game in town for the satisfaction of the soul?

Here are some thoughts.  You don’t have to agree with them, and I certainly am not a person who would impose myself on others.  If they get you thinking- heck, if they get you mad enough to come up with your own proposal- then I’ll feel I’ve done my part.  I did not become a Muslim so that my child would be a kafir after me.  Drill that in your head for your own child.  Drill it in over and over and then read on.  Below I’ve identified a number of areas where we need to get our act together.

  1.     We don’t have learning materials that are relevant to this environment.  We need a good, solid American English edition of the Qur’an that our young people, converts, and da’wah contacts will adopt as a standardized text.  This Wild West of translations that we have is so unnerving that none of the translations get read.  You can’t have a Qur’anic study circle when one person has Yusuf Ali, another has Malik and yet a third has Pickthal.  As much as the KJV and the RSV of the Bible provide a unified book among large blocks of Christians, we need an appropriate edition of the Qur’an in English.  I'm involved in this kind of project right now and could use a helping hand. 

    (By the way, if you think the solution is to teach everyone Arabic to read the Qur’an in the original language, keep dreaming.  American Christians don't even try to learn Latin, Aramaic, or Greek.  The most we can hope for is what many Jewish congregations do: offer rudimentary language classes to their rank and file to give them at least a slight connection to the original language.  I have worked in Muslim schools for years and in that time I haven't met more than two students who ever learned Arabic competently.)

  1.     The same above goes true for the hadith books.  There needs to be one, single hadith book with one thousand or so hadith that are the most relevant to Muslim life today.  Forget all this sahih sitta stuff.  Your average Muslim is lost in the wilderness with so many editions, repetitions, text-heavy books and such.  Perhaps one day I will have the ability to do this, but there are so many brothers and sisters who can do this kind of work.  Won't anyone take up the challenge?

  1.     The national organizations that exist need to transform themselves and their way of thinking.  I would suggest for them to avoid reinventing the wheel and duplicating the work that is done better by others.  ICNA should concentrate more on da’wah.  ISNA should concentrate more on Masjid unifying.  MAS should concentrate more on youth programs.  Leave civil rights things to CAIR.  Leave relief work to the established relief organizations.  Then, after each group finds its niche, then they can all come together as integral parts of a wheel into some sort of super-national body.

  1.     Muslims need to redefine who they are.  We mostly define ourselves in terms of opposition.  We are opposed to (fill-in-the-blank) foreign policy.  We are opposed to (fill-in-the-blank) Muslim sect.  We are opposed to (fill-in-the-blank) activity.  With all this opposition, is it any wonder that most people, many Muslims included, have no idea what Islam is for?  We need to reconnect with the core message of salvation that is at the heart of our faith: Accept God into your heart (eman), surrender to His will (Islam), and lead a life of goodness and morality (ihsan), though if you stumble and sin, you can ask for His forgiveness (tawba), and if you keep God ever in mind (taqwa), then He will grant you heaven after your physical body perishes (fawzul kabir, or ultimate success).  This is the exact line of thinking that our religion calls for.  All this talk of jihad, hudood punishments, legal fiqhi theories, and what not does us no good, either among ourselves or our neighbors.  When did we forget what our purpose in life was? 

  1.     This one may sound strange, and it may get some people upset, but if I don’t write it down it’s going to continue to eat me up inside.  Our Masjids must be transformed into places of welcome for all Muslims, even the backslidden or weak ones, and also for non-Muslims.  The Masjid is not some mini-Islamic state where we have to enforce “strict codes”.  It is the first and last place of teaching, knowledge and da’wah.  Not everyone who goes in will be a perfect Muslim, and our driving away of the weak in faith and the uncertain among us is doing more harm than good. 

    When a woman who wants to strengthen her Eman, or even learn about Islam for the first time, walks in the Masjid with no hijab on, what is the typical response?  She will most likely be rebuked, frowned upon or made to feel unwelcome.  It reminds me of Surah 'Abasa, in which Allah rebukes the Prophet for giving all his attention to the hotshot noble, while ignoring the weak and oppressed blind man who wanted to learn something more about his religion.

    I say to you: “Let women come to the Masjid.  Make them feel welcome, even if they don’t wear hijab.  Say nothing about it, nor frown, nor be judgmental.  Don’t you realize, with gentle teaching, kind words and patience, they may grow in Eman and adopt the hijab out of conviction, thus strengthening our community ten-fold?  Doesn’t the Qur’an counsel us saying that if we are harsh with the weak in faith and the new believers that they would run away from us.  Instead, the Qur’an advises us to overlook their faults, pray for their forgiveness and teach with wisdom. 

       Don't you realize that religion and culture are not preserved and passed on by the men?  It is the women who safeguard and teach our values to our next generation.  If you keep the women of our Ummah out of the Masjid, you keep Islam from remaining in your family tree.  If you only allow women in the Masjid who are already perfect, then the vast majority of the women with Muslim names will never learn Islam and they won't be able to pass it on to their children.  Instead, they'll pass on whatever mix of culture and taghut that they live by.  Make accommodation in your Masjids for the non-hijabis who happen to be the majority of the females of our community here in the United States.  Make them welcome.  Don't treat them as babies in need of constant lecturing, either.  Let them grow in eman under the broad care of a caring Ummah so they can wrestle with faith in their hearts and come to Allah from sincere devotion at their own pace.

    There, I’ve said it.  Now I feel better.   (We should still insist on the hijab for the performance of the actual Salat ritual, as it is a fard according to the hadith.)  Every day when the girls leave our Islamic school, and the vast majority pop that hijab off their heads, and every day when mothers come to our Islamic school, hastily draping a dupatta over their head, I always imagine, what place is there for them in our Ummah, our Movement?  Surely it would benefit both them and us if we took that chip of righteousness off our shoulders and took a da'wah-centric view of our time here.

    Even beyond this, tear down the walls separating men and women in the Masjid.  My God, if the Prophet didn’t have them, who are we to erect them?  It’s so funny when you hear the people defend the partitions, saying that the men and women should be hidden so that “fitnah” doesn’t occur.  What!  Are they suggesting that the Masjid-goers are suddenly going to pair off and duck into dark corners!  If that were such a dangerous problem in a holy place with fully dressed Muslims, then what of all those Muslim men who work closely, very closely, with scantily-clad secretaries and other women in their places of employment!  Better we should force the men to stay home and remain jobless to protect their chastity!  Really, to be serious, our Masjids are going to have to be run on the Prophetic model if they are going to survive, not on the Pakistani or Arab model.
  2.     Community life: Muslims need to learn to live around each other.  I've heard so many excuses from mostly brothers about why they think it's a bad idea for Muslims to live together in Muslim majority neighborhoods.  Well, besides the fact that the Sahaba would spin in their graves at such a position, how else will your family, your children, ever feel they have a community.  The Jews live together in majority Jewish neighborhoods, and our leaders spare no effort telling us how smart and successful they think Jews are.  They tell us to emulate their example here.  Well, it seems they are only talking about the concentration of wealth and power.  Jews have a vibrant community life.  We don't.  Look, Jews are quite fortunate that their identity is based on race/ethnic factors.  A Jew can be an atheist, Orthodox or consider himself nothing at all, but he will still be proud of his heritage.  Anyone in his family tree can rediscover their "Jewishness" and pick up a Taurah and believe in it.  For we Muslims (and Christians) the situation is completely different: identity is based on knowledge that is passed from one mouth to another.  If there is any break in the chain of transmission- Boom!  Your family tree will take on another religious color.  You know that most Muslims, immigrant, second and third generation and converts are living isolated from other Muslims and that nearly all of them are either one step away from kufr or already there.  If your neighbors were mostly Muslims, however, and you heard the adhan being called five times a day, and most of the workers in the post office were Muslims, and some of your children's teachers in the local public school were Muslims, then, even if you were not such a good teacher for your children, you would be able to feel reasonably confidant that Islam would survive in your family after you.  
        I once read a story in which a scholar, Hassan al Basri, predicted that there would come a time in which a believer would look at his fellow Muslims, and find them so lax and backslidden, that he would say to them, "You have no Islam."  I've thought about the objections that many Muslims have put forward to Muslims living together in the West and I've hit upon the real reason so many are against it: so many Muslims are engaged in haram activities that they wouldn't want the peer pressure to reform themselves being put upon them.  Really now, if you live more than ten minutes drive from a Masjid, which world are you choosing to make your children a part of?

I’m trying to do my part in this process of effecting meaningful Islamically-inspired progress.  I write books and articles.  I teach in an Islamic school.  I give speeches and khutbas.  I know not everyone can contribute in the same way.  So how ‘bout it?  Are you up to doing your share to keep your children and grandchildren on the path to heaven? 

Are you willing to put them in an Islamic school so they are 40 hours a week with other Muslims, rather than 40 hours a week being indoctrinated by the state and pop-culture? 
Are you willing to band with others to get the chauvinists and discriminators off the boards of your local Masjids? 
Are you willing to move into neighborhoods where there are at least a few other Muslim families close by? 
Are you willing to subscribe to Muslim magazines to keep abreast of the community’s life? 
Are you willing to save up and take your whole family to Hajj? 
Are you willing to support CAIR, the only effective organization that works for your civil rights? 
Are you willing to take your sons- and daughters- to the Masjid for Maghrib prayer on a daily basis?
Are you willing to suspend any racist thoughts and realize we are all the children of Adam? 
Will you let your son or daughter marry a Muslim of any race, for the sake of their taqwa and happiness? 
Are you willing to buy Islamically themed literature for your children to read, in addition to the stories they read by non-Muslims. 
Are you willing to reduce the TV time at home, or at least subscribe to Bridges TV? 
Are you willing to sponsor an orphan or widow through one of the many Islamic relief organizations so that your earnings can be continuously purified? 
Will you look at your life and try to simplify it? 
Are you willing to use your money to support your faith? 
Are you willing to be less judgmental of backslidden or weak Muslims? 
Will you be less harsh and make them feel welcome so they come to Allah renewed in Eman and add to our strength? 
Are you willing to finally make an effort to get out of riba debt? 
Are you willing to learn to become a more thoughtful and kind person than you were before? 
Are you willing to be the one who will do his or her utmost to get your children and grandchildren on the line to jannah?

I will spend my life dedicated to these propositions.  Will you?