By Ahmed Al Matani
I have been blessed with the chance to travel to different parts of the world to learn about how people live and act. More specifically and extensively, I have been blessed to visit and live in the United States of America for more than one occasion.
Living in the US has been a great eye opener for me to witness some of the phenomena and situations by some Muslims which require some discussions and analysis. One clear observation, I do not want to be judgmental, is the way some Muslims tend to negatively change to be perceived as open-minded people by the West. I must make it clear from the beginning that I am not generalizing and this article is mainly based on my personal experience and observations which could be a completely different experience for others.
So what others (non-Muslims) and we (Muslims ) act when moving to the West?
Let us examine the following scenarios:
One day, I was in one of the subway branches in the US, I was waiting for my turn to order the only thing that I could order as a Muslim guy which is tuna sandwich bearing in mind there are different opinions about whether Muslim can eat red meat (beef, goat and so on) and chicken from non-Muslim stores (where I have decided to opt the disallowance opinion since it is more convincing to me. For those who wish to know more about the debate on this among Muslim scholar, they may refer to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRhIB2bKfIQ or https://www.soundvision.com/article/zabiha-or-non-zabiha-3-scholarly-opinions for more details).
There were few people in front of me. Among those there was one Hindu student who made me cast a critical eye on his way of handling his vegetarian order. First of all, he asked the staff member to wash his hands before touching what he wanted to order although the staff member was wearing disposable gloves. The staff member was respectful and kindly accepted to do so. This request was repeatedly asked by the Hindu student with every staff working in the store. I was fascinated by his commitment and conformation to his religion dietary laws. I was curious to chat with him to know more about what and why he did. For him, it is either done this way or he won’t eat. He told me that he has been living in the US for more than five years. He always tries to observe these teachings wherever he goes. I was impressed with his attitude and commitment. Basically, he does not want to put down his roots in India just because he is living in the US now.
I visited some stores owned by Muslims in the United States. For my surprise, some of them sell non-halal items like pork, alcohol drinks and other things. When you ask them, they tell you most of my customers are non-Muslims and the Muslim community is small and argue with me that how they can feed their kids if they do not sell these items.
On the other side, while I was exploring one of the American cities, I clapped eyes on a Jewish store. I was curious to know what they sell. When I got inside the stores, everything seems certified kosher. I asked the shopkeeper if he sells non-kosher items or food in the store. He said, ” We only sell kosher items in this store”. ” How about non-Jewish customers?” I asked him. He told me that they are most welcome to stop by and buy things from my store. ” Don’t you think that you miss out a lot of customers when you only sell kosher items?” I asked. ” This is a kosher store and it is meant for those who wish to buy this kind of food and items” he replied. I am not sure about other Jewish stores but this is my personal experience with this store. This Jewish shopkeeper observes his teachings when doing business whereas some Muslim stores owners tend to sell anything including unlawful things and do not seem to care if they feed their children with unlawful money
This situation took place in Oman. The US embassy in Oman approached my school to host some American students from different religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. The organizing committee made sure to bring food that could suit all the students. Guess what happened. The Jewish American students refused to eat any food. So, we ended up buying them raw vegetables and fruits so they could eat that day. It was an eye-popper for me and my Omani students. I spoke to my students on the importance of maintaining our principles and teachings where we go like those Jewish American students.
During one of the Ramadhan’s that I observed in the United States, I was waiting for my advisor in the area next to the coffee place. I could hardly believe my eyes when my eyes accidently fell on one of my Arab Muslim friends drinking beer and eating something during Ramadhan. After seeing that, I was not sure if I should cast my eyes down because I did not want to him to think that I am going to judge him because whom I am to do that? Or I should go and talk to him. I said to myself I would talk to him at a different time. Unfortunately, he realized that I saw him so he came to justify what he was doing. I told him he does not have to do that. I reminded him with the verse 108 in chapter 4 of the Quran where Allah says, ” They conceal [their evil intentions and deeds] from the people, but they cannot conceal [them] from Allah, and He is with them [in His knowledge] when they spend the night in such as He does not accept of speech. And ever is Allah, of what they do, encompassing”. I told him he should not worry what people say he should be concerned what Allah can do to him. But I felt obligated to give him a piece of advice and leave it to him to decide what is good for him.
I was so lucky to meet with a Muslim family from Albania. The parents were born and raised in the US and the same for their kids. I was so impressed to know that all their teenager children have memorized the Quran although their spoken Arabic is not that good. I was impressed how the women are modestly dressed although they have lived all their lives in the US. They have decided to observe the Islamic teachings instead of blindly assimilating into the Western culture as a lot of Muslims tend to do.
On contrary, I have met a lot of Muslims born and raised in the US and identify themselves as” not practicing Muslims”. Some might pray occasionally or do not fast Ramadhan or drink. Some told me that their parents never raised them as strong Muslims because their parents worried that they might be judged by the Western society and would not be considered real Americans. Basically, they have forgotten about their roots for the sake of assimilating in the American culture to please human beings and to upset Allah. I was speechless.
For some unknown reasons, I look more non-Arab when I wear the Western attrite. People mistakenly think I look non-Arab. One day, I met with this Arab student who is studying in the US who introduced himself to me as ” Moh” abbreviating his real name with a Western flavor and accent. He was taken aback, when he heard me speaking to him in Arabic. Then he told me that his name is Mohammed but he had to change it to “Moh” so his friends do not know that he is narrow-minded. Also, he does not want to be perceived as a terrorist. If it is only confined to changing names, I would let it go. But these people who change their names tend to drink and have girlfriends to show that they are openminded. However, if they see an Arab girl who does the same, they start talking about that girl in a bad manner. This is not to say that she is right in doing the same but I am saddened by double standard and way of thinking. For them, it is okay for them to do wrong things but it is not acceptable for females to do the same. Wrong doing is wrong regardless of the person’s color, gender or ethnicity.
So, what makes us (Muslims) forget our shells and what should be done?
Role of strong foundations
A lot of Muslim kids nowadays either in the Muslim world or in the West are not brought up with a strong foundation of their Islamic teachings and principles. In the Muslim world, a lot of kids are born Muslims but they are not taught the foundations of their religion. Some might argue that the schools are doing this job. I am afraid subject of religious studies has become a subject that students have to study to pass the tests. But are these classes impacting the way these children or students act or behave? I would argue that they mostly don’t. If someone examined how these classes are conducted, she/he would realize that these classes are designed to make them memorize not to question things and critically ask questions about their religion because it is not appropriate to ask critical questions. Life has changed now and these kids can find information within a click of a button. If parents and school do not equip these young people with critical tools to filter what is right and what is wrong, these kids might get information from wrong sources and get influenced and it might be too late to fix the situation.
In the West, a lot of parents, as the Muslim guy in scenario six stated, do not bring up their kids to be good practicing Muslims. As a result, these kids do now grow up with a strong foundation and understanding of their religion. Such attitude from parents leads to having kids with shaky foundation and understanding.
Changing priorities among Muslim families
A lot of parents in the West aim at answering how should they be identifying themselves, ” are they American or are they Muslims?”. What comes first? There is a struggle in what to put first. From my limited observation, some tend to opt being American over being Muslim because they believe they clash with each other or they can’t be combined because of the negative associations that media has created with the religious identity. As a result, these parents decide to be perceived as less religious to avoid the struggle of being judged. Muslims in the West and other places seem to play a passive role in educating people about Islam. They tend to adopt the slogan ” Do not trouble the trouble until the trouble troubles you”. A lot of Muslims in the West and East believe they should not talk non-Muslims about Islam while they see a lot of Christian missionaries on the street trying to educate people about Christianity. Most of the Muslim immigrants feel unobligated to correct the image of Islam in the West after being spoiled by the media. Their main concern is to find a better life than the one they had in their original countries. A lot of non-Muslims told me that their Muslim friends never spoke to them about Islam. Some told me that they have Muslim friend who drink. Muslims should play a better active role in educating non-Muslims about truth about Islam.
Role of media
Media in the West has tremendously contributed in spreading a very bad image about Islam and Muslims as a result Muslims have faced a lot of problems and being called and given negative descriptions like terrorist and oppressors. When I got to the US, I decided to buy a device that helps showing Arab channels to remind us with the Arab culture. For more surprise, in the religious channel section there were more Christian channels in Arabic than Islamic ones letting alone English ones. In every state, the TV channel cable will always have religious channels that propagate Christianity and Judaism but rarely Islamic channels either because there is not enough funding or people who are willing to work for these channels to educate people about Islam. On the other hand, media in the East or what so called Muslim world has also contributed in spreading this bad image. How many channels are broadcast in the Muslim countries where they only spread wrong ideas and do not teach the world about Islam. Islamic programs are confined to certain hours during the week but thousands of channels that promote music, fun and sports are broadcast and funded by many people. If Muslims do not act upon that, how do we expect to see a change. I would like to echo what Gandhi once said, ” Be the change you want to see in the world”. There should be more funding to promote So there should be some actions taken to make the change we as Muslims hope to see.
In conclusion, Muslims wherever they are must unite and try to go back to the roots of their religious teaching instead of selling out our identities. They should not be feel ashamed to reveal their identity wherever they go like the Hindu guy. There should be more funding to establish more TV channels to educate non-Muslims and Muslim about the truth of Islam. Educated young Muslim people should play a better and more active role in educating people using modern tools of communication like social media tools and ways.
Muslims when they travel, they should represent Islam in the right manner and stop being hypocritical: following in their countries and selling out their religion when they are out and should not mix between culture and religion. If there is something cultural that clashes with the Islamic teaching they should not follow.
To help children become good Muslims two things are required establishing a good parent-child relationship and maintaining and showing parents’ strong Muslim identity. The whole society must work as a team to have a strong community representing Islam in the right manner.