Islam as an American Way of Life

Category: Faith & Spirituality Views: 1014

I did not feel the need to write on this topic until I saw a large billboard on Harbor Freeway in Southern California. It displayed two bikini clad women in front, with two modestly dressed Muslim women following them. The message implied on the billboard was that the women in skimpy bikinis was the American way. But the billboard only perpetuated misconceptions about the treatment of women in Islam.


The Islamic concept of Shura, which means mutual consultation by community members, forms the basis for democracy. Islam is therefore democratic in spirit, and takes an additional step toward building a consensus.


On the issue of equality in Islam in relation between the sexes, the Qur'an laid out marriage rules that guarantee married females the right to retain their family names and to possess property. A woman may not able to drive her own car in Saudi Arabia, but this is because of the Arab culture and not because of Islam.

Just as America provided a haven to the Christian Pilgrims, it has attracted highly educated Muslims from various Islamic countries. The pilgrims came to American shores for freedom to practice their Christian religion. Islam is the new kid on the block in America. Different faith groups living harmoniously in America make us "One nation under God...with liberty and justice for all."

Muslims also claim "In God we trust". Among the five Pillars of Islam, belief in God is the very first Pillar. In the year 1967 when I decided to migrate from India, I had offers from U.S, U.K, and Australia. Instead of flipping a coin to choose my new home, I picked America since its way of life jibed with my Islamic values, not knowing that the Hollywood and media giants in America had created a different image of Islam.

After having lived in America for 34 years, I am now glad to see many changes for the better. At this point it must be mentioned that most Americans perceive the governments in Islamic countries being run by dictators and tyrants. However, this dichotomy can be easily explained. The dictators in the Middle East have been installed in spite of Islam. They represent the aftermath of European Colonialism which swept through those countries in the last (20th) century. In reality, the American system of government is closer to Islam than it is in many Arab countries.

America maintains friendly ties with Saudi Arabia in our spirit of multiculturalism as it does with other countries. For example, a recent American survey of best-selling poets listed Rumi on the top. Rumi's mystic Persian poetry dates back 800 years. He was the founder of the Mevlevi path, known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes. Rumi was native of Konya, Turkey. His poetry of ecstasy where human reality and longing for God are joined by flashes of metaphor and continue to speak profoundly across the centuries.

The Islamic concept of Shura, which means mutual consultation by community members, forms the basis for democracy. Islam is therefore democratic in spirit, and takes an additional step toward building a consensus. It places a burden on the majority to work with the minority parties in order to build goodwill and weigh minority viewpoints. Even in mosques, there is no priestly hierarchy. Each member of the mosque stands equal before God and is directly responsible for his or her actions.

Islam and America have another common interest--food, hygiene, and dieting. Many Americans are highly appreciative of the month-long fasting during Ramadan. Fasting has been prescribed to all followers of the Abrahamic faith such as Lent by Christians, and High Holy Days fasting by Jews. Some of my non-Muslim American colleagues even go to the extent of missing lunches and coffee during Ramadan, as a gesture of moral support to their fellow Muslim employees.

In the year 2000 census, Muslims have been estimated as the second largest religion, and constitute a growing community in the United States. Out of seven million Muslims currently residing in U.S., about four million were born in America. Muslims are monotheistic and worship the same God as Christians and Jews. The Qur'an, the book of revelation for Muslims as conveyed through Prophet Muhammad, also refers to the teachings of Jesus, Moses, Abraham and all other biblical prophets (may peace be on them).

On January 20, 2001, in his inaugural address, President George W. Bush grouped mosques along with churches and synagogues. When he launched the faith-based initiative from the White House, Imam Qazwini from California was present amongst other priests and rabbis representing interfaith leaders.

To sum up, there is much in common between Islamic way of life and American way of life. Both of them place emphasis on individual responsibility. There is no way to pass the buck, and blame someone else for your actions. Furthermore, there are approximately 2,000 Arabic root words in the English vocabulary, and you see more and more of them appearing in each succeeding edition of Webster's Dictionary. This is an indicator of growing understanding of Islam by Americans in a positive way.


Akhtar H. Emon is president of the Arabic Language Institute Foundation (ALIF) in California, which is committed to promoting the teaching of Arabic as a second language in all U.S. public high schools.

  Category: Faith & Spirituality
Views: 1014
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