Accepted as Muslim or Rejected as American?

26 June, 2016
Q I am interested in converting to Islam, and studying Islamic theology abroad. However, I fear I will be unfairly judged by others because of my U.S. citizenship and blind contempt for Americans of any belief by those who say they are Muslim, like Iran's leaders. Or will many Muslims embrace me due to my interest in Islam? Any help will be appreciated.

Answer

Salam (Peace) Dear Michael,

Thank you for your question, which opens a few very important points.

First, your belief is a matter of personal convincement, regardless of what others think. So, study Islam as it is expressed in its book, the Quran, and the life story of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. Based on this knowledge, decide for yourself, regardless of the challenges that might or might not appear.

Second, the very nature of this life is a nature of a mixture of good and bad, excellence and evil, ease and hardship. This is simply the nature of life. I assure you that you will have fantastic days ahead of you, but I could also assure you that you will be tested. God said in the Quran:

{Do people think that on their [mere] saying, “We have attained to faith”, they will be left to themselves, and will not be put to a test? Yea, indeed, We did test those who lived before them; and so, [too, shall be tested the people now living: and] most certainly will God mark out those who prove themselves true, and most certainly will He mark out those who are lying [to themselves or others]} (Al-Ankabout 29:2-3)

So, if you happen to face a test or more because of your Islam, know that this is the nature of life and that this is all rewardable in heaven. And that {God will bring ease after hardship} (65:7), as He also mentioned in the Quran.

Third, Islam is not just a ‘theology.’ In fact, its theology is very simple: To believe in one God and His messengers, including Jesus, Muhammad, and all others, and to believe in the hereafter, in God’s angels and books.

However, a millennium ago, a range of philosophical debates became vibrant in the Islamic world and this created what we now call `ilm al-kalaam (Islamic philosophy or theology). But as a Muslim, you really do not need all this jargon, unless you would like to make an academic specialization or research out of this kind of knowledge.

Otherwise, you only need to learn about the pillars of Islam and then go ahead and learn about the practical issues, i.e., Islam as a moral system and a comprehensive way of life.

Fourth, “Muslims” are not one homogeneous entity. “America” is also not one homogeneous entity, and so is the “West” or “the Middle East”. So, yes you might have to deal with a (minority) of ignorant Muslims who would put you right away in a certain stereotype, and would not differentiate between you and, for example, some American politicians who created a mess out of their policies in the Middle East.

Your role then would be to educate these Muslims and inform them that there are millions of American Muslims from all races and all backgrounds and that they consider themselves brothers and sisters to every good Muslim, and that there are also millions of American citizens who are just family-oriented people with good hearts, etc.

But I think that the vast majority of Muslims do make a clear differentiation between different individuals and you will experience (God willing) that they will treat you in a most welcoming and most brotherly way.

From my view as a person with an Arab background, I would say that Arabs, in general, respect what the American people had achieved on their own land as a nation, and do wish for them to see the light of Islam in order to complete the material glory that they built with spiritual and moral awareness.

However, of course, bad politics is moving everybody towards hatred, polarization and irrational generalizations, but hopefully, these conflicts will end soon and we will witness a peaceful period where people really see the good in others and try to learn from them the good they have and teach them what they are missing. Let this be something we all dream about. Accepted as Muslim or Rejected as American? - About Islam

Finally, as an American Muslim, you will find a special way for yourself to practice Islam and have your own unique Islamic personality. Islam does have a core of faith matters, acts of worship, and morals. But beyond that, people from every culture interpret Islam in their own special way based on their background.

When you travel across Muslim lands and cultures, I am sure that you will find the experience fulfilling and you will start to really differentiate between what is subject to culture and tradition, and what is the religion that God asks of people. God willing, you will be an example for other people in finding their own expression of this great way of life, Islam.

May God guide us all to the straight path.

Thank you and keep in touch.

Salam.

About Dr. Jasser Auda
Jasser Auda is a Professor and Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies at the International Peace College South Africa, the Executive Director of the Maqasid Institute, a global think tank based in London, and a Visiting Professor of Islamic Law at Carleton University in Canada. He is a Founding and Board Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, Fellow of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India, and General Secretary of Yaqazat Feker, a popular youth organization in Egypt. He has a PhD in the philosophy of Islamic law from University of Wales in the UK, and a PhD in systems analysis from University of Waterloo in Canada. Early in his life, he memorized the Quran and studied Fiqh, Usul and Hadith in the halaqas of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. He previously worked as: Founding Director of the Maqasid Center in the Philosophy of Islamic Law in London; Founding Deputy Director of the Center for Islamic Ethics in Doha; professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Alexandria University in Egypt, Islamic University of Novi Pazar in Sanjaq, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, and the American University of Sharjah. He lectured and trained on Islam, its law, spirituality and ethics in dozens of other universities and organizations around the world. He wrote 25 books in Arabic and English, some of which were translated to 25 languages.