American Muslims: In search of the third way

Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality Views: 1612

Before September 11, American Muslims were on top of the world. The charisma of Islam was invincible and no one, white, black, Hispanic, Jew, Hindu or Catholic could resist its call. Islam was winning converts from all groups and all genders. Mosques were coming up in every major city in North America and so were Islamic schools and Islamic political action committees. American Muslim leaders, until recently a frustrated and marginal group suddenly found themselves rubbing shoulders with Presidents.

Islam was the fastest growing religion in America, in Europe, in Australia with 1.4 billion adherents worldwide and there were now six million Muslims in America. It was American Muslim votes that made the difference in Florida and were primarily responsible for placing George Bush Jr. in the White House. It was just a matter of time when there would be 25 million Muslims in America, The White House and the Congress would be in the pockets of Muslim lobbies, the Jewish lobby would be finally overcome and Israel would be at the mercy of an American administration governing under the influence of Muslim PACS. Islam would not only manifest itself in its truest form in America, but would also further empower America making this great power a great society. In November 2000, after the arrival of American Muslims as a political force, it was difficult to separate reality from fantasy.

I remember telling my wife; maybe I will be our Henry Kissinger, the first Muslim to become the Secretary of State. Then came Bin Laden and his bloody men and along with the World Trade Center, American Muslim dreams and aspirations came crashing down.

Things seemed to have changed overnight. The community does not dream of new victories anymore. Defending and preserving the existing achievements and assets such as the nearly 2000 mosques, the various Islamic schools, charities and access to media and government itself seems like an uphill task. The two sources of Islam's growth, immigration and conversion now are both arrested. Ashcroft's crusade has put an effective stop to the flow of Muslims in to this country and the strong association between Islam and extremist political violence in the media sustained by Al Qaeda and Palestinian suicide bombers has done unimaginable harm to Islam's image in America.

Not only has the community lost developmental momentum but also most of its hard earned goodwill has dissipated and now it faces hostility and prejudice as never before.

The most important aspect of the institutional development of American Muslims in the past thirty years was an implicit faith in American freedoms. Muslims were never worried about their civil rights in America. So they invested in institutions, which would either preserve the Islamic identity of the next generation mosques and Islamic schools, or advance the interests of Muslims overseas such as the various charities and organizations dedicated to the Palestinian, Pakistani, Kashmiri and other back home causes.

The attack on civil rights that has come in the form of various programs and legislations such as the USA Patriot Act, which effectively nullifies Amendments 4, 5, 6, and 8 directly and indirectly amendments 1 and 9 has caught the community off guard. American Muslims were never prepared to fight a major civil rights battle and they have not yet begun retooling in earnest.

Before September 11, American Muslims were a foreign policy community and now suddenly they are forced to become a domestic policy community, and they are confused and unprepared.

The shattering of the American Muslim dream and the crisis of civil rights has the community in total disarray. They are afraid, confused and extremely insecure about their future. While the American Muslim leaders are extremely politicized and deeply wedded to foreign issues most American Muslims are more concerned with the here and the now. All they care about is their salaries, the immigration applications of their families, and the size of their homes, the universities, which offer the abbreviated seven-year medical program, and the possibility of ensuring that their kids marry within the community.

Sure these ordinary, simple minded, often as materialist as any American, Muslims once in a while feel guilty and write a check for some cause back home, but very few of the mare as deeply motivated and committed to the so called Islamic causes as one might think after listening to American Muslim leaders.

If there are indeed six million Muslims in America and if they all spend just a hundred dollars a year on foreign causes, American Muslim organizations would have over half a billion dollar stops end. But most Muslim organizations, except those who channel the Zakaath (obligatory Islamic charity), have very little resources and often have trouble even paying their employees. The American Muslim Council, for its entire swagger and posturing has just a couple of thousand paying members; less than 0.05%. This is essentially because most Muslims do not really care about these foreign causes. They care more about mosques and Islamic schools and the future of their children.

Because most American Muslims are focused inward, they are caught in the cold war between the American Government and the American Muslim organizations. The former suspecting and accusing the latter of links with terrorist organizations and the latter accusing the former of seeking to use September 11 to marginalize them and roll back Islamic gains in America.

Most American Muslims have very little use for the radicalism of militants that belong to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. That is primarily the reason why they are here and not back home. They do not support terrorism or the extremism that is now threatening America. But they also cannot support the assault on their civil rights launched by this administration. Increasingly they are nervous about the anti-Islam rhetoric coming from the Christian Right and its growing influence on the White House.

In a sense, American Muslims are caught between the rock and the hard places. They are against terrorism and they are against the war on Islam. They are not with Bin Laden, they were never with him, but they are finding it increasingly hard to be with Bush and his campaigns at home and abroad. Intuitively they are seeking a third way one that will save Islam from extremism and America from the decline in its civil rights standards, but unfortunately their leaders have failed to articulate the third way.

The community needs to find a new way of thinking about its future in America. They have to transcend the Islam vs. the West (Israel) paradigm, which still shapes their leaders politics. They need to listen more to the intellectuals and scholars who are seeking to chart a new path for the community.

American Muslims need new leadership, more intellectual and less political. Only then will they be able to find a third way out of their current dilemmas.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of International Studies at Adrian College and the author of the new book, American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom. His work is archived at www.ijtihad.org



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  16 Comments   Comment

  1. Ahmed Meah from USA

    I believe we need to invest in a structure that will protect our rights in this country. We need our leaders to come up with ideas and suggestions to face current threat facing muslims in the west. We need another model to challenge mental terrorism coming from bigots like Jerry Farwell, Pat Robertson, Frank Graham and other extremist.

  2. Grendizer from uk

    I dont know what Mr. Khan is smoking, but it has to be powerful stuff to delude him so.

    "American muslims, were on top of the world before 9/11' ?! Obviously memory is not one of his stronger suits.

    His fantasy of being a Muslim "kissinger" is truly laughable, if not narcissistic. Maybe him and that sell out al-fadl are friends. This is one dude that the Muslim community doesnt need on its side.

  3. Qadir from USA

    I hate to say that most of the things that the author has alluded to, are correct. It is well known in Islam that if the deen and iman go away from the population, then Allah would make worst among them as their leaders. This is the main reason for the suffering of the ummah. At present, nobody can point out a single honest muslim leader in the entire muslim world who is god fearing. So why should the "so called muslim leaders" in US be different as most of the muslims in US have come from outside bringing with them the unislamic things which have multiplied after coming here. Many times, I wonder about the good heartedness of many americans who take interest in islam despite seeing these 'so called muslims'. Whosoever Allah guides to the right path cannot go astray. When these good hearted people accept and spread islam then people like this author would fade into oblivion. Remember! people have designs but Allah has designs too and He is the best of the designers. Hopelessness is kufr.Those of us who strive as if this world is everything would surely be very deppressed by the present scenario. Those of us who believe that just the day of judgement is 50,000 years and the life after that is eternal would not not be affected by any calamities what so ever(Insha Allah).

  4. Tariq

    There is another angle. The actions taken by the US government to stop immigraion from Muslim countries may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Muslim societies. After all there had been a huge brain-drain going on from the Muslim countries to the US.

  5. Yahya Bergum from USA

    Alhamdulillah - for article (and comments). Please read Abdul Wadoud's comment, if you have not already read it. I also hear things like, "Oh, the Bosnians rarely come here for paryers - they have their own mosque." Hearing such things can leave me rather upset.

    Being a fairly recent convert to Islam, I often fail to see the reasons for this kind of segregation. Even so, I already suspect Muslims from Turkey and places associated with Turkey are uncomfortable praying in mosques "belonging" to Arabs.

    Whether or not such suspicion is really justified, not long after converting to Islam I was given a fez by a brother (he said he rarely ever used it - this story might explain why...) that another brother thought made me look like a Turk. (One time) I wore this fez in place of my topee (which was also a gift) before attending Salat al-Jummah. Off hand, I do not remember a time when I felt more alone among others, although I was packed in amongst well over a hundred other Muslims.

  6. NAEEM from Dammam, Saudi Arabia

    There is no reason why the Author of this Article should lose hope, feel heart-broken and also blame a much published, argued and accused staunch Islamic Lovers. The Author must know that Muslims are such an Ummah, which cannot be suppressed or oppressed by any unruly wisdom. Islam emerges victorious after every 'Karbala' !!

    Allah the Almighty tests his subjects with poverty, femine, losses of men and material, disease, death etc. to see as to how deep their Iman has been kept upon Him and how close and true are they in their utterance and acceptance of Kalima Tawheed - Laa Ilaha Illallah. Not only in America, sometime somewhere else, these types of tests have been carried out. You can see the flourishing of Islam in Russia before the decline of Communism over there. You can watch the Islam in Communist China. You can take an example from the Racists' country - India, where the treatment meted out to Muslim Community. The phase of problems now American Muslims undergoing is also a part of the test by Allah, Who wants to see them as to how bold they are to face the challenges before them in the light of Islamic tenets.

    Now everyone in the Muslim Ummah has to identify the share of his responsibility and carry out that responsibility diligently to its meaningful completion. Take one step towards Allah, He will take ten approaching you. But the condition is that your turn comes first. Everybody must feel and start doing something under his own power and capacity. Disseminating the message is our duty whereas implanting the same in the hearts of people is Allah's wish and Allah's work.

  7. Matt P from USA

    My observations on convertion to Islam is that the number has increased substantially after the last year, in parallel to the interest in Islam and the Middle East. Perhaps Muslims are not directly contributing to this, but the religion has enough appealing power if studied with good intentions.

  8. khalid from usa

    al hamdulilah. I bear witness that none is worthy of worship but allah and he has no partners. my brothers and sisters in islam. we all believe in the divine decree. all things happen as allah wills them. north america is experiencing the same things that qurayish experienced over 1000 years prior to our time. and the people are only going to be guided as allh see's fit. We as muslims are being tested in this country. do we really beleive and accept allah's decree? during the time of muhammad Pbuh did not the people do exactly as people in america are doing now? did they not fight against allah and his messenger with all that they had? but Allah made the believers to be victorious as was his promise. So does his promise still stand. we should not worry about who is in office or who is the president because there is no strenght nor power accept in allah and he gives it to whom he pleases when he pleases. all we can do is worship him and continue to let people see by example that islam is the only true way to salvation and peace. the muslims of the first islamic community dealt with hardships far greater than that which we are experiencing now in north america. so we need to show patience and prayer in the face of adversity and allah will if it is his will grant islam and the muslims victory over shaytan in this life and the life of the hereafter.

    As Salaam alaikum.

    khalid

  9. Atif Mahmood from USA

    Being a muslim is a good thing perhaps very good thing BUT we need to learn how to separate religion from politics & state matters. Yes, we need more intellectuals, more politicians, more religious scholars & etc. We got to grow, got to unite. Jewish brotherhood is a very good example to learn from. I can see that majority of us understand the current sitaution and is ready to make a difference BUT we still just can't get it? I think we need a strong leadership. Take a lesson from our history, even from our religion, all groups of people succeeded under an umbrella of a great leader. Where is our leader? If he will be honest, intellectual and skilled, I am sure majority (including me) will say YES to his very call. At this point I cannot see any leader/ party to trust in. I just don't know. I want to make a difference but HOW? We just can't wait for Huzrut Imam Medhdi. We got to do something. We need program & lectures which bring political awareness and maturity within us. Mosque's should be made cultural-political-intellectual centers.

    I wish I find people who talk more about modern sceince and democracy and not the size of their "Own" community, # of mosques or try to share their secret with me that who is actually a muslim and who is not (sunni-shiait-wuhabi etc).

    I am just sick of it. I wish people start talking about future and use past just to learn mistakes.

    Ammeen

  10. E Shariff from USA

    The author of this column has an inferiority complex. He is trying to corrupt the Muslims mind like the way his mind is corrupted.

    There is no third way. Islam is the only way. We need to implement the laws of Allah (SWT) and follow the Sunnah of our Rasool (SAW). This is the only way. Our Rasool (SAW) said you become what you imitate. Why are we imitating Kafirs? Why do we want to be like them? Why do we want to wear the tie even though we know it is the symbol of the cross? Is there no fear in our heart of Allah (SWT)?

    People like Mr. Muqtedar Khan are the ones who lead the masses astray. And we have these people talking about Islam.

    And Mr. Khan, please keep your opinion to yourself. No practicing Muslim wants to hear you garbage.

    And Allah know best.

  11. A. bdul Wadoud from USA

    As Salaamu Aliakum

    We don't need more Muslim intellectuals what we need is Muslims who are Muslim in deed and not just in name. As long as we continue to segregate ourselves along racial and national lines. As long Muslims from Egypt won't stand in salat next to muslims from Iran. As long as you can go to a city and hear "we have a Pakistani Mosque and a Somali Mosque and a Mosque that people from Bosnia go to" or "I won't let my daughter marry anyone not from my country" We have problems. Islam was supposed to remove culture and race as qualifications for anything and the idea of Mosques based on where you are from is abhorrant. Islam is growing in America because people like me read about what Islam is supposed to be and represent and realize the truth therein. Until we start to behave and not "act" like Muslims we will have problems the best way for us to change our situation is for each of us to behave in the manner of our Prophet(PBUH). But how can we when most of us are Muslims in name only. Muslims because our parents were or are, parents who in many cases don't go to the mosque or pray. Remember that before we were given any laws the Prophet took thirteen years to work the hearts of believers into understanding and believing "la illaha illallah" so that it was not just in their mouths but in their hearts for as we all know "what is in the heart comes out in the hands". Until that day we will continue to distort the Sharia and make it into something that chokes mankind instead of something that frees it. The mosques will stay empty except during Ramadan and for Jummah. Until being a Muslim is more than just a lable we will have a bad image and we all of us are to blame. Aquire true faith for with it comes the ability nay the desire to do good deeds and it was through good behaviour and good deeds that Islam was spread and why it is still today the fastest growing religion in the world, not because we have intellectuals knowledge we have faith we dont.

  12. saadiqah from USA

    AsSalaamu 'Alaikum ~ The 9/11 attacks did disturb the momentum in the American ummah. However, there have been reports that reversion to Islam has actually INCREASED, as Americans take a closer look and find all their quietly kept discomforts with Christianity answered in Islam. I wonder what Br. Khan's assertion about the complete disruption of the community is based upon.

    Secondly, I absolutely agree that Muslims in America are looking for a third way. But a third way will not be found collectively as long we barely fund our Muslim non-profits that provide what little leadership we have in our part of the worldwide ummah.

    As much as we disagree with many in the Jewish community, I think there is something we can learn from them to apply in the here and now regarding organization, just as Allah (swt) used their spiritual history to illustrate lessons to mankind in general.

    Think about it: How is it that such a minority population - what, maybe 2 or 3 percent of the US population? - wields such power that politicians, media moguls and financial houses alike yield to their voice? It's called brotherhood...a brotherhood that's REAL, not theoretical, and shown in life outside of congregational prayer.

    Brothers and sisters, it's time to flex our muscles...or better yet, strengthen the bonds such that we will have greater power to direct and greater momentum with which to find that third way.

  13. Ibrahim from USA

    This article implies that 9-11 has had a negative impact on the muslim conversion rate, specifically here in the U.S. I have heard and read the exact opposite to this. The best estimates are that in europe conversion is up as high as 400% and here its easily tripled comparing to pre-9/11. So, what is the truth?

    I would think the best weapon against Bush would be to show that more people of his own faith are turning towards Islam.

  14. mohammed yussouff from usa

    Very nice article. Is there any organization for

    muslim intellectuals?

  15. s. kashif haque from USA

    Salaam aleikum,

    This article is full of convuluted b.s.. The very intro is flawed, "Before September 11, American Muslims were on top of the world" really? in what sense? There were the steven emersons/daniel pipes types, the whole Hisham Kabbani/American Islam fiasco at the state dept., U.S. missile strikes on afghanistan and Sudan (evidence later found to be false), 2 mosques bombed, false accusations levelled after Oklahoma City, 10 years of sanctions imposed on the people of Iraq, etc.

    Secondly, the author seems to have some form of internal identity crises which manifests clearly in the article. Is the Muslim Ummah not one body? Do we simply throw Muslims not in the 'blessed' USA in the garbage and selfishly look out for ourselves? Do u take the side of the kuffar over Muslims? If so is it halaal for Muslims to take part in enforcing the sanctions on Iraq, plundering the oil in the Gulf, or actively aiding and abetting the abuse of other Muslims overseas?

    Thirdly, the writer's point about financial independence is correct, but not in its complete context. Institutions such as IIIT, the AMC, NAIT, have always had shady finances and very little community support. If they can't even get money from the community they claim to represent and work for, than who the hell pays for all of the fancy conferences, seminars, websites, brochures they produce (even some the author himself has spoke at).

    Fourthly, what credability and scholarship do these so-called "intellectuals" and "pseudo-scholars" have. When push came to shove, and the issue of whether bombing Afghanistan was in the public eye, each and every single "American" Islam organization kept its mouth shut or like lap dogs yelped and barked for approval in hopes of pleasing their master, never mind the opposition from many parts of American society itself. Furthermore, not one "American" Islam organization or "intellectual" ever said or did a damn thing for either the Muslims in Camp Xray? Why?