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 – especially those of us in western nations -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?
Our institutions have so much potential, but are often sorely lacking in funding and personnel. We’ve been presented with an incredible opportunity to be ambassadors of Islam. Each and every one of us can offer something to make our establishments better:
You Can Make A Difference
Even if it’s five dollars a month, your contribution can help your local center be a more inviting place with more programs and much needed services.
Get involved! Reach out and discover ways you can donate your time to help your nearest Muslim organization flourish and grow.
Brotherhood for God’s Sake
Unfortunately, one of the biggest hindrances to our Islamic institutions is us. It’s time to get over our differences, stop dividing ourselves up by ethnic heritage and come together as an ummah.
The companions of the Prophet Muhammad were diverse, yet they supported one another as one community. This verse should be enough for us:
And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers… (3:103)
New Muslim businesses are upholding the values of Islam, catering to the tastes and comfort of Muslim consumers and beyond. They are accessible, friendly, and high quality- appealing to a broader consumer base, opening the doors to greater familiarity with Muslims.
Although it’s thrilling that brands like Old Navy, UNIQLO and DKNY are entering the Islamic fashion market (making it more mainstream than ever before) Muslim businesses are about more than tapping a multi-billion dollar market…
Verona Collection recently opened a store in a mainstream mall in Florida. Its founders see it as more than just a clothing store for Muslim women: “Verona Collection’s success is ultimately advocating inclusivity, tolerance, and being part of this nation’s fabric…
With the heightened rhetoric of Islamophobia, we hope to be an agent of change – dispelling stereotypes, micro aggressive activity, and misconceptions.” (https://themuslimvibe.com)
Honest Chops is a Halal butcher shop in NYC. Similar to an artisanal meat store, they’ve been featured in many major media outlets. CNN Money reported: “Everything at the shop, from its seasoned hamburger patties to whole chickens, is humanely raised on a vegetarian diet, free of hormones and GMOs. They call it their “Honest-to God” guarantee.
While the concept appeals to the pious, the shop’s locally grown focus has also attracted secular people, who make up 60% of its customers.” Its founder explained, “It’s really about bringing benefit to the society around us.” (http://money.cnn.com/)
Shahed Amanullah, co-founder of Affinis Labs, said it well:
“I believe that entrepreneurship is a good deterrent to prejudice and racism. If you can enhance someone’s life through a product, they’re going to look at you differently.”
These inspiring businesses have gotten lots of positive attention and are gathering rave reviews. I hope to see even more high quality businesses thinking beyond the Muslim population while maintaining the integrity and guidelines of Islam. These businesses offer an interface that can help us make enormous strides in bridging the gap, and clearing misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.
You, Every Day
You’re sure about Islam right? Never underestimate the power of self-confidence. Don’t fight against your identity, whether you are an immigrant, first generation native born, or whatever. Let Islam inspire and bring out the best in you. Maintain consciousness of God and do more of the actions that please Him: smile, help others, be generous, forgive. And let the best manners encouraged by Islam resonate in all you do.
Being integrated does not mean sacrificing or compromising your values and faith. You’ll see, Insha’Allah, that the more you practice Islam, the more the light of guidance will radiate from you wherever you go.
There’s no need to compromise any of Islam for the sake of fitting in. It’s possible to be fully Muslim and at the same time a well-adjusted, integrated and engaged citizen of the society in which you live.
In fact, that’s the only way to go.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)