By Saud Inam
In recent times we’ve encountered the rise of extremist groups who theologically twist, omit and reinterpret Islam in a way that Islam was previously not interpreted by the scholars in our past. As Muslim Americans living in the West the struggle to hold onto our faith is becoming harder and harder every day. In our efforts to be accepted by broader American society some Muslim Americans knowingly or unknowingly omit, whitewash or remove certain Islamic beliefs, values and morals in their lives or practice.
This is a dangerous trend that can lead to us misinterpreting Islam and compromise our Hereafter. Many may say that we must adopt to our society and blend in, however, the purpose of Islam is to change a society for the better not blend into the background of the society. Islam should be front and center in the lives of Muslims. Shying away from your Muslim identity isn’t helping reduce Islamophobia in America—in fact it’s doing the opposite. Each Muslim who shy away from his or her faith is one less Muslim who has the ability to positively impact and influence the image of Islam and Muslims amongst his or her friends.
In order to preserve our Muslim identity and truly represent Islam we must uphold all Islamic values, principles and beliefs in our lives. I’ve come up with a couple of areas or topics of concern that I’ve heard in the Muslim American community that are dangerous both spiritually for a Muslim, but also counterproductive in countering Islamophobia.
Here are a couple of mindsets that are common in our community that we need to address:
1) “You do know there are different interpretations on ________ in Islam?”
This phrase often comes from the layman Muslim, not students of knowledge or seekers of knowledge. It comes from an individual who seeks to justify his/her opinion or view without actually having to defend it. It’s a common phrase you often hear from Muslims who seek to simply diminish anyone’s argument to “interpretations.” Yes, in Islam there are several interpretations of Quran, Seerah and Hadith, but some principles, values and practices cannot be negotiated. Often times when this phrase is said evidence is not given and the phrase simply gives the Muslim the comfort in his or her mind that what they’re doing is right. They don’t want to be proven wrong and are truly not seeking the Truth. Their egos and desires get in the way of hearing the Truth.
However, if one is truly seeking the Truth they must open their minds and hearts and avoid intellectual arrogance when seeking the Truth.
2) “Only Allah can judge me”
This phrase is dangerous as well when Muslims say this it doesn’t mean what they say it means. This phrase essentially means: “do not give me advice on my spiritual practice.” It shuts the door on any possible help you may be able to provide an individual. Yes, in the phrase were to be taken literally it is correct, but often Muslims who say this are merely deflecting the advice or the injunction / ruling that Islam prescribes and throws it to the side.
Dawud Walid has a great blog post about this and would highly recommend everyone read it:
3) “I interpret Islam by myself, because the scholars/imams/mullahs can’t be trusted these days”
By far this is quite possibly the most dangerous things that some Muslims do. Interpretation of Islam by oneself is virtually spiritual death. If Islam were to be interpreted by the individual then why did Allah send the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to teach us Islam and how to practice it? Did his companions tell him “I can learn how to pray by myself, it’s ok I’m good” or did they listen to every letter, every word and follow every action he took. Yes, there are awful imams, mullahs and scholars out there who are irrelevant, ridiculously strict and extreme in their views, but just as there are bad doctors there are also good ones too. Imagine for a moment if you were sick with the flu and went to one doctor who misdiagnosed you with a broken arm would you say: “I’m never going to go to a doctor again, they’re all not qualified and don’t know what they’re talking about?” No you’d find a qualified doctor who would diagnose your sickness correctly and provide you an appropriate cure. Likewise, we need to treat our scholars, imams and mullahs the same way.
This is not to say to completely say that we need to shut off our critical thinking capabilities and leave it at the door when seeking spiritual knowledge. We must ask questions and keep on asking questions until the answer we’re seeking makes sense.
4) “You don’t know how it’s like to be __________, you have no right to speak about my lifestyle/spiritual practice”
This is another dangerous trend where some Muslims seek to deflect sincere advice by saying that the one giving advice is unaware of their struggle and thus is not qualified to give them advice. This shows a problem of ego within the Muslim that must be addressed. Regardless of where advice is coming from it should be analyzed and processed. If one truly wants to achieve a better understanding of Islam and get closer to Allah they should treat every moment of their life as a learning opportunity to learn more about themselves and their relationship with Allah. If that learning opportunity comes through the form of advice from one’s fellow brother or sister then take it and use it as an opportunity to use their advice as a mirror to reflect upon your weaknesses and how to improve upon them.
Those who seek to remind their brothers and sisters about their Islamic beliefs, practices, morals and values are often demonized or shamed or labeled “Salafi” or “Wahabi” or strict. It’s an unfortunate phenomenon that when advice is given the first knee-jerk reaction of some is to become defensive or respond with anger, resentment or hate. As a religious community our faith encourages us to be mirrors to one another and to remind each other and exhort each other to good and forbid evil. Yet, we see a dangerous trend of privatizing and customizing Islam to our desires and opinions. Yes, everyone has their struggles in adhering to faith, but we should have the intellectual humility and humility in general to know when we are doing wrong and avoid justifying our wrong actions to ourselves and others.
Obviously all of this is reliant on how the advice is given. We must give sincere advice in private to each other and with sincerity and a clean heart.
I pray that we become a community who’s intellectual humility increases, our egos decrease and our yearning for seeking the Truth increases. In order to grow spiritually we must work together in this journey to seeking Allah’s pleasure and his Paradise. So next time that brother or sister gives you sincere advice listen with the intention of analyzing and deeply reflecting on their advice. It is only through reminders and advice we as a community will grow.
Editor’s note: Saud Inam is a Muslim American activist, social entrepreneur, blogger and Project Manager for Discover Islam-USA a Muslim American media company dedicated to producing high quality media about Islam and Muslims. He is always on the lookout for more opportunities to help empower the Muslim American community.