Islam is a religion of the middle path
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. The peace and blessings be upon you all, brothers and sisters. Praise be to Allah and a hearty thank you to IslamiCity.com for allowing me to write about discovering Islam. My name is Lee Glaesemann, and I currently work as a reading and study skills for college teacher at a high school in Minnesota, a northern state in the United States.
One glance at what I like to do and one can tell that I am your typical American male: I root for the home team (Go Minnesota Twins and Vikings!), I play many different sports, I lift weights, swim, and pedal on the Stairmaster at the local YMCA, and I even hang out with my family at Apache Mall or at the Chateau movie theaters. In other words, I am another American citizen attempting to live the American dream.
While I love my country and all Americans, I recognize now that an aspect of my identity runs counter to mainstream convention: I am a mainstream American living as a Muslim in the United States. To an American, this profound awareness of Allah's Truth is both exhilarating and frightening; the former because your heart has found its true partner; the latter because what you know often is difficult for most Americans to understand. Stephen Covey, a renowned self-help writer and business leader, states that one of our greatest challenges is to be understood by others around us. To be understood, he says, is equivalent to a starving man craving bread. To be understood, therefore, is essential to our existence. In the next few paragraphs, I would like to explain not only how but why I chose to be Muslim; in addition, I would like to identify the common struggles that new American Muslims encounter when they explain their decision to non-Muslim Americans.
I was your typical American Christian prior to becoming Muslim, growing up Lutheran in adolescence and early adulthood. Approximately five years ago, (I am 32 years old now), I had a chance to complete a cultural diversity project at my university. I decided to study Islam and Muslims because, as a Christian, I had been raised to believe that Muslims were the enemy.
The first Muslim I met was a student from Saudi Arabia, Khalid al-Khalifah. He had completed a degree in Arabic and Quranic Studies at his college, so he was the perfect one to teach me about this group that appeared so foreign to me. Admittedly, I was intimidated because the people looked so different; who were these girls who wore scarves and confining dresses? What I soon learned, though, would leave a distinct mark on me for the next five years.
As a "pretend" Muslim for three months, I prayed, ate, fasted, and talked with Muslims from around the globe. For the first two months, everything felt so odd, so strange, so counter to the way I live my American life. In addition to learning about Islam, I was inculcated by the cultures associated with Islam.
I finished my cultural diversity workshop, and, to be honest, even though I knew Islam was the true path for me, I continued with Christianity, mainly due to its familiarity -- it's uniquely American -- and its cultural comfort. What, no praying or fasting? Count me in! Yet, while I was a committed Baptist in Houston, Texas, where I taught ESOL for five years, Christianity never completely made sense to me. The dilemma we American Muslims face is that our proclamation in Allah runs so counter to the dominant culture's insistence that anything outside Christianity is misguided, misunderstood, or, in some eyes, "cult-like."
The other thing an American Muslim learns is just how marginalized many groups are in American society. While we can "pass" if we wear western clothes, we realize that many groups lack these options. If you're marginalized in American society, and, worst of all, if people know it, you're never really comfortable in your surroundings. The true key to feeling comfortable as an American Muslim is to embrace what you believe while maintaining the "qualities" which make you proud to be an American. Aren't there millions of Muslims in this world who are proud to be Saudi, Somali, and Malaysian? They know, and we should learn as well, that a person has to love Allah but at the same time love the country from which they come.
One of my students in my reading class is a very devout Muslim. One day in April, he invited me to a workshop on understanding Muslims, which I gleefully attended. When I listened to Jamal Badawi from St. Mary's University speak Arabic, my heart just sang again. Within two to four weeks, I took the greatest step by saying shahada (declaration of faith) on IslamiCity.
One of the things I think the Muslim ummah must address, though, is the initial isolation new Muslims, especially American Muslims, feel when they must interact with the public once they've altered their identities. One thing is that it's very difficult to let people know that you are Muslim.
I am cautious to let everyone know about my new identity. Too many Americans, unfortunately, associate Islam with terrorism or violence, primarily as a result of what is reported in the mainstream media. When people hear that you're Muslim, they automatically assume that you've become like the American Taliban John Walker Lindh, ready to take up arms against the "Great devil" United States.
Unfortunately, the deep-seeded hatred of Islam in the United States and in the west in general derives, in part, from the medieval Crusades; if you've read Dante's Inferno, a famous Christian Epic Italian poem about a man's journey through the cantos of hell, guess which prophet is in the second to worst layer? This work of literature shows gruesome graphical details because what it considers corruption of the Christian faith. That same mistrust of Islam and that same callous disregard for any religion "outside" Christianity still lingers in the hearts of too many Americans.
The second problem with being a new Muslim or an American Muslim is that Time becomes an enemy. What do I mean? The point is that, in general, Muslims
need approximately 15 to 20 minutes to perform each prayer properly. In Saudi Arabia, for example, they will put people on hold, close down shops, and stop class in order for people to perform prayers. In the fast-paced American society, businesses struggle to give employees one 30-minute break, 20 minutes if you are a teacher or a student. I think, if you talked to several new Muslims, they will probably relate their frustrations in performing each prayer "on time." Few businesses are willing to concede much to anyone, let alone a new Muslim who suddenly makes additional requests to perform something "not practical."
The third major concern is a new Muslim's relationship to his often non-Muslim family. Whether we want to admit it or not, families like to build their cultural heritage around their faith. A child's development is marked by his or her performance of certain religious rituals -- i.e. communion, confirmation, church retreats, Sunday school. When a new Muslim finally garners the courage to tell his parents and relatives of his faith in Allah, there is a lot of heartache. Sometimes it's so bad that parents and children never speak to each other again. Sometimes it's just a matter of time. The point is that no one can control how another person feels.
The last major problem is that a new Muslim accepts Islam but is unsure which culture to embrace. There is only one Islam, of course, but there are several different cultures that embrace it. Often, most American Muslims will be in contact with other Muslims from very different cultural backgrounds. Americans can be Muslims and follow Islam (alhamdulilah!), but most likely we've grown up in a distinctly western world with western ideas and western ways, which is not completely bad. Last time I checked, Allah (subhanah wah ta allah) does not separate his world between the East and West; all of it belongs strictly to him. The struggle develops when Muslims from the East interact with American Muslims in a manner that seems a typical to the social customs of the West. (I also understand that miscommunication is a two-way street!)
A Chinese philosopher once said that a journey of a lifetime begins with a single step. I tend to believe that, with time, Allah-willing, most new American Muslims will achieve a peaceful balance between their identity as a Muslim and their responsibilities as loyal Americans. I understand that Islam is a religion of the middle path; if Allah is the true source of common ground for all of us, then surely we can find a common ground within ourselves.
"Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses over mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness over yourselves .." Quran 2:143
Congratulations & thank you for sharing with the rest of the world & us Muslims.
Thank you with all my heart mind & soul.
I dont know how long ago you wrote your article,Islam is a religion of the middle path.As you know the passing time has the best answer for many quistions that we find very difficult to solve at one time or other.
The first problem you mentiond about isolation feeling the newcommer to Islam has is just natural.The same as the feeling of early moslems, early Christian and early Jews in there socities praior to adopting the new faith.That is a priece they have to pay, and in the same time an extra reward that they chose and were selected by ALLAH to get.
As they have more and more of the faithfull who goes through the same thing they are going through, it become easer.
The second problem you mentiond about the prayer(salat). Let me ask you how many salat time comes during your work shift?. If you are like the typical workers not olny in the US but also in most of the world, 2 salat in the winter and one only in most of the rest of the year. that is, in your owen calculation 20mn most of the year and 40mn in the winter(where you need to do Aser in addetion to Zuher at work ). Of course if you cannot leave work you are permited to do it at work,and that is 5-10 mn each at the most. Many work places in moslem countries has prayer area as you perhaps already know. So lunch time for most pepole is 30-60 min.,not to say about hours that cold be used for bussness lunches. It is for the fathfull to decide how to use his or her time.
As far as the other salat when you are not at work, it take much less time than what alot of people spend everyday in shopping malls,sport clubs or even bars. It is your choice how to use your time. What is actully most usefull to you your family and your socity? Personally I feel salat is.
I hope that you already had a feeling of how good it is to do Fajer salat befor sunrise then go to work, and how productive and froutfull your day is.
I wish you the best , and hope ALLAH (GOD) will be always with you and guide
YOU ARE THE LUCKY ONE HAD BEEN CHOOSEN.
YOU STORY MAKE ME REALIZED HOW ISLAM IS VERY TRUE.
it is very insightful and true what you have related brother. also i too, have trouble at times keeping up with prayers at work but Allhamdililah i know there is a way eventually, and to this day my family does not know about my new identity (it has been 2 years). i too had very typical christian background. my conversion to islam has been the lighthouse in this stormy life. i agree with you that Islam is the ultimate magnet in our ummah and all else is secondary i also agree the the multiculturism in Islam sometimes can become very tribal and certain elements can cause dissention but muslims true in heart will always overcome it for they are the rightous servants of Allah SWT inshallah
I am also facing every issue you have discussed as a western revert. Although i read things for a few years I said Shahada in january 2002. I have only a few muslims near me. There is no nearby mosque and i feel a sense of isolation. My family is not aware yet but they are busy with their own lives so that is probably not a big issue once the shock is over. I love Allah and I know this is right for me. I just wish I had more friends to come over and hang out with, shop with and pray with. The Christian world is tempting to relapse into but i won't. I wasn't happy and now I found fullfillment in my heart, alhamdulilah I will struggle same as you to merge two worlds into one. Majida Amal
thanks so much for sharing your story.....its one i can relate to , as i am embarking down this same path...im reading and learning at this stage.
I havent yet got to te stage of trying to fully assimilate, but its nice to know of the challenges I have ahead.....Ill know what to expect. Havent tried this on the family yet ewither, but my wife is very supportive of this path, although she herself is unsure.
Blessings on you and thanks for sharing...
I appriciate your courage. I cannot even imagine how difficult it is for you and most other American new Muslims. May Allah (SWT) bless you with the wisdom to face any challenges in future.
I totally agree with your sentiment. As far as prayer is concern,you just do the best you can. Allah is just and merciful. I was told Allah (SWT) wants to see your intent. If it is impossible for you,just pray when you get home. Islam is a middle religion.
Wish you a blessed life.
It is a mistake to imply that the ayah "ummatun wasitan" [al baqara: 143] suggests moderation between American patriotism and Islamic religious identity. The author imposes his personal idea of moderation between these two concepts onto this ayah and uses it to justify his opinion. While translated as middle, "wasitan" has been recognized by the scholars of arabic and tafsir to indicate "just", being that the pre-Islamic arabic used to describe the middle element of a matter to be the "just". The totality of this ayah relates to the changing of the qibla and the selection of the Ummah of Muhammad (saaw) as a new, unique, and honored ummah distinct form the two previous ones. It is in this distinction that the scholars also recognize "wasitan" to refer to the ummah of Muhammad (saaw) being between the ummah of the Jews and the ummah of the Christians, thus referring to a middle and just ummah.
I am also a Muslim who was born in the U.S. and raised to be a Christian. I became Muslim approximately 5 years ago. I agree with you about finding time to pray. It was difficult to make them all on time in the beginning. But now my general policy is that I won't miss it for any reason.
There is something we must remember when dealing with our pride in our country brother.
Muhammed told the Muslims that their were no nationalities or races within Islam. The worldwide Muslim community is one united community. Also, Allahs Messenger said that he who has in his heart as much faith as a grain of mustard seed will not enter hell, and he who has in his heart as much pride as a grain of mustard seed will not enter paradise.
May Allah's peace mercy and blessings be upon you.
Just as a follow-up. I said Allah eases hardships when you purify your intentions and actions for His sake. Iv'e worked in many places and, Alhamdulillah, there was always a private place to pray. I believe this is from Allah's blessings because who else can read thoughts about the Muslim's dire wish to perform prayer on time but Him; and who else but Him will help the Muslim who turns to Him? this is over a course of years, and in all this time I was passed by few curious walkres who NEVER bothered me. Here again if you focus on Allah He will focus on you, to the point where you will slight any interruptions and just go forward relentlessly. "And whoever fears Allah will find an exit from every problem, and will receive bounty whence he does not expect," -Qur'an.
From Micheala Franklin,M.D. Ph.D
As Sallamu Alakum Wa Ratmatullah Wa Barakatu
Welcome, May Allah(swt) Continue to guide you on your journey. Stay strong. The ultimate completion of your din is Paradise.
Surat Ya-Sin 76 should help when dealing with what others may say.
Mustaafa Ibn Yahya Hassan
May Allah stregthen your eman.
Your journey to be a muslim was very interesting. What a wonderful,creative,heart warming article!. Alhamdulillah you took the right step by choosing ISLAM as your religion. Masha Allah, consider yourself truly blessed, Akhy Ali. Allah SWT guides the chosen ones. Alhamdulillah :), I felt extremely happy to be able to read your wonderful article at Islamicity.
MAY ALLAH SWT INCREASES YOUR IMAAN(FAITH) AND MAY ALLAH SWT BLESS YOU WITH THE BEST BLESSINGS, ameen, ameen,ameen.
Congratulation on you decision.
But I must say, it is very difficult to have a Jewish name and be a Muslim. Most people cannot understand why I would even consider Islam. So I tell them this:
My mother is Catholic (Lebanese); my father is (European) Jewish. I learned both the Torah and the New Testament. Therefore, I cannot believe that Jesus was just another person, nor could I believe that Jesus was to be worshiped.
So I figured I'd just believe in God and obey the 10 commandments.
After I learned about Islam, immediately, I new this would be my faith. It made sense to me; it inspired me. When I went to Lebanon for the first time and woke up to the calling of prayer I thought to my self "this is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard". It is still my favorite thing to hear, something that I miss very much when I am home.
I struggle with my Western values and Islam daily. I find it difficult to pray at work (if not impossible). I have yet to find my "middle path", but I understand my challenges and work intensely to overcome them.