Rediscovering Muslim Identity in America

In a Q&A session with the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) following a talk in 2010 titled “Islam In Deed: Rediscovering the Muslim Identity,” Prof. Tariq Ramadan answers questions on how Muslims in a western society could proactively give back to their societies without sacrificing their Muslim faith and identity.

Question 1:

Having experienced the consequences of asserting Islamic identity by being banned to the US, how would you encourage American Muslims to assert their Muslim identity despite the challenges they may face?

I would say that there’re many levels, and I really think that we have to be really cautious not to be assertive because we are resisting. We should be assertive because we want to be who we are and we know what Islam means for us.

So the starting point is not because having been banned or because I’m facing many different attacks coming from westerners or from different circles in western societies.

I think that our strength is mainly to come back to the fundamentals of the Islamic faith, and the tradition and ‘Aqida (creed), which is really this connection with God.

I have one fear with Muslims living in the West and living in the States, for example. What I’m saying is two things; some are going very far into spirituality, and “This is Islam”, and “This is the only way to be good Muslims”. On the other side, we have people very much against the system, struggling for rights and politics. And it is as if there’s a gap between the two.

But to be a Muslim and to assert your identity is to be both at the same time, is to really know the very essence of Islam, which is to purify yourself and to come back to this closeness to Allah, to God, and to try to understand that at the end of the day all our life is a struggle for peace, and the most important peace is the inner peace.

By saying this we come with values and understanding the oneness of God: At-Tawheed; is a reconciliation between you and Him (God) which means between you and yourself because the knowledge of God is between you and your heart:

{… and know that Allah comes in between a man and his heart} (Quran 8:24)

This is one thing.

For a Better World

On the other side, we are doing all this to change the world for the better. And to change the world for the better means to change the United States of America for the better, is to be a contributing force to the best of values and justice, equality and empowerment, for Muslims.

So, because I know the meaning of being at peace with God and to try to promote justice, that I’ve been struggling for my rights in this country by saying ‘what you are doing is wrong’, because at the end of the day nothing is wrong in me supporting Palestinians, for example, because I will keep on supporting them whatever is going to happen, because this is justice; because these are oppressed people, and this is what we have to do.

So this mindset is important because you are not assertive against, (instead), you are assertive for: for your values, for some objectives: it’s more justice in the United States of America, it’s a democracy, but still not a perfect democracy. When you are an African American in this country you are still facing injustices. When you are poor, you are facing injustices. So the civil rights are an ongoing struggle in this country. It’s not because your president now is an African American president that everything is solved. That’s not true. It may be a symbol, but a symbol could hide the reality and not express it.

So I would say this is where the Muslims should be, and that’s why they have to be assertive.

Thus, by doing these two things that are very important to me; never to nurture a victim mentality. We are not victims. Life is a test:

{He Who created Death and Life that He may try which of you is best in deed} (Quran 67:2)

So, life is a test. Your life and death are tests, so you have to face up to the challenges of these tests. You have to be the subject of your own history. So by being American; by being citizens in these countries it’s not to say ‘Oh, we are victims. You don’t like us, so we are going to withdraw, or to show you a nice face of spiritual things, for example. That’s not right. The nice face is there, but it should be visible through your acts and behavior within the society. Because in Islam, faith is visible through your actions and behavior, on the civil ground, on the social ground at both the individual level and the collective level. So this is one dimension; so no victim mentality.

Stick to Your Values

Another thing, which is quite important as it is also what I’m seeing in many western societies as exactly the same in the United States of America, is this mindset of being minority; ‘Oh we are minority in the society’.

No, our values are majority values. So, as citizens we have to come and speak about justice, we will be understood by anyone as we do speak for justice for all, justice for every one; man and woman, black and white. Anything which has to do with justice we are for it, against torture, extraordinary rendition, wrong laws against immigrants …all these are our struggles.

So, I would say here that we have to come with something which is a majority mindset, which is we are talking to the whole of the United States of America as a majority with our majority values, and this is where we have to be constructive.

Watch full video: