I hesitantly walked up to the stout white and green mosque for the first time; an Arabic sign hung on the door. I timidly pushed it open, silently, carefully and listened. Several voices deep within echoed in indecipherable conversation. I turned around and quickly walked ten+ blocks back to my apartment.
As I began eating only halal meats, I found myself suddenly limited to foul smelling, unsanitary shops who, to make it worse, couldn’t cut me a decent steak and left the head on the chicken, much to my dismay.
I craved to wear proper Islamic attire, but in Muslim stores, I found only abayas that felt more like wearing another country, than a piece of clothing. And I wanted to dress modestly, but in clothes that suited my style and sense of identity.
I felt often alienated. New foods, ethnic clothing, unfamiliar languages, unexpected attitudes and other cultural differences – It was dizzying. At times, it was difficult to discern Islam from culture – did the Prophet eat biryani??
A Move Towards Inclusion
That was more than a decade ago. Thankfully, times have changed and much progress has been made: Muslim organizations, businesses, and institutions have begun to move away from cultural exclusivity and isolation, towards open dialogue and proactive inclusion of the broader society.
Asserting Our Muslim Identity
Islam has taken center stage in the public eye for unfortunate reasons, and with much of the Muslim world still reeling from colonialism, and now mired in war and political strife, our Muslim communities in western nations such as the US and Europe are more important than ever.
The negativity surrounding Islam and Muslims in the public consciousness is essentially the result of fear and misinformation. To counteract this negativity, the Muslims must take the reigns and forge ahead with determination.
We have to embrace our identity – both Muslim and American, or Muslim and British etc. and begin to take deliberate action with confidence in who we are and that we belong right where we are, wherever that may be.
Mind The Neighbors
What will your Church-going Christian neighbor find when she decides to stop by the local mosque? Will the young man who decided to say his shahadah, feel totally out of place in the congregation?
Will there be any support for either of them afterward; or will they feel comfortable enough to want to return? When our non-Muslim neighbors visit our business establishments, will they have their negative stereotypes erased, or reinforced?
There are three key areas that need to be brought up to speed: our Institutions, our businesses, and our personal presence in our neighborhoods and workplaces.
A mindful approach in these three areas with the intent to better represent Islam to those around us – essentially by being better Muslims and citizens – I believe, can have astounding positive effects that will resonate across the world. (By God’s will).
The Muslim is not a recluse and Allah hasn’t commanded us to covet and hide Islam from the world, He commanded us to do our best, to be presentable, to strive for excellence in all things.
So, race to [all that is] good. Wherever you may be, Allah will bring you forth [for judgment] all together. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent. (2:148)
Organizations That Do More
Our centers and places of worship should be places that our non-Muslim neighbors can feel good about having in their neighborhoods.
It’s useful to think from an outsider’s perspective: When our neighbors’ pass by, what do they see? Do they feel estranged by un-translated signs in foreign languages? If they call, does someone answer the phone or encounter a helpful automated system? And if they walk in, will they find signs and smiles, welcoming them and providing them with directions and information? Are the grounds clean and well kept?Pages: 1 2