Call for reform
It's been two decades since academic and author Jeffrey Lang made the passage from atheist to devout Muslim, yet he remains as passionate as ever about his conversion.
Born to a Roman Catholic family in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1954, Lang spent his early years questioning the existence of God and finding no satisfactory answers.
"I rebelled against all the institutions that society held sacred, including the Catholic Church," Lang said in a recent talk to Toronto's Forum for Learning, where he spoke from the heart about his passage from questioning to conviction and from bitterness to belief.
His abusive home life, with an alcoholic father, led to more bitterness, so at 16, Lang publicly declared himself an atheist.
In 1982, at age 28, Lang accepted Islam, based primarily on a chance reading of the Qur'an.
As Lang became a practicing Muslim he also experienced the challenges of being a convert, both from within and outside the community.
"It's lonely being a convert to Islam," he said in an interview following his talk. "I felt vulnerable and disconnected from the host community and needed support.
"The Muslim community was somewhat critical that I wasn't conservative enough and that there was no physical change in my appearance...but I didn't become Muslim to enter into a community - I already had a family. I wanted to be accepted as I am and this was a challenge."
To address these challenges, Lang wrote Struggling To Surrender - Some Impressions Of An American Convert To Islam, in which he also tackled the rigidity of the mosque culture.
"At first I used to attend mosque for the five daily prayers and I loved going there, but once I got married and had girls, they were not welcome at the mosque," he wrote.
"I would like to see mosques being more family friendly - presently they are like a men's club."
Lang has three daughters ages 17, 16 and 14. "Without me, my girls would lose their only link with Islam and I don't want that to happen."
After the book was published, Lang received hundreds of e-mails, letters and phone calls.
"Mostly from atheists, converts and second-generation Muslims (living in the West) who also feel alienated from the mosque culture."
His latest book, A Call For Help From Within The American Muslim Community, is based on the feedback he received from second-generation Muslims.
And it illustrates that Lang has grown increasingly concerned about the future of young Muslims in America. He says many do not feel welcome at the mosques and are falling away from the faith.
He suggests that the mosque should be a place for spiritual education and bonding and "cultural traditions that are nonessential need to be removed - mosques should not become a cultural asylum."
In the recently published book, Lang has offered solutions.
"Take back the mosque," he says, "don't give it up or smother Islam - that will keep our children away. Make it user friendly, let women become an essential part of the mosque."
His wife is on the board of directors for their local mosque.
After his talk in Toronto, as Lang was autographing books for his audience, a young man came up to him and said, "Dr. Lang you've made a believer of me - I was an atheist but now I want to revisit my faith."
Lang had a very positive experience in Canada and upon his return to Kansas, wrote to say, "Many Muslims from around the world have expressed to me their hopes that the U.S.A. Muslim community will lead the way toward Islamic reform, but I keep responding that my hopes are in Canada.
"This latest trip has left me all the more convinced that Canada is where to look for an Islamic reformation.
"I only hope our community in the U.S. gets dragged along."
Raheel Raza is a freelance writer and founder of the Forum for Learning.
Source: The Toronto Star
Topics: Islam, Ummah (Community)
While I agree with most of the comments, Canada has a different leaning to the USA in that we are a "multi-ethnic" society whereas the USA is a "melting pot" and all immigrants must be Americans first. I never felt alienated as a new Muslim and our Mosques here do encourage women to participate for the most part. Canada allows a far more tolerant view to people of differing religions or cultures and this is probably why he says that his hopes for a new age of Islam are tied to Canada. As a side note, I don't consider myself a convert, but rather as one who woke up one day to realize that he is Muslim.
Islam is a universal religion and the problem lies with our weakness. Human beings are not perfect and we can not excel in everything. However, the main idea is to focus on our shortcomings so that we contribute positively to the whole society including ourselves.
We are all one race human race. Our religion set us guidelines on how to treat our human race with compassion and kindness. If we can not relate to that then it means the problem lies with us. We are the ones that need to reform.
I guess the writer brough an interesting subject and there is no reason why the author should be misunderstood. It is clear and simple that our mosques need to reform to reflect the culture that we live in a multi culture in a western society. That does not mean we are changing Islam. Also the leaders of the mosque should follow what the majority of their people want.
Islam is a religion that teaches us peace and it is upto us to keep that peace within our hearts and those that surround us be it women, men or people from different backgrounds. I guess a mosque in a western country is more challenging since all the muslims from different countries have to pray in harmony regardless of their backround. So don't we think a reform is definitely necessary.
I respect your conscious decision to approach me with civility, so God willing I can respond in kind with my comments to you.
With sincere appreciation I accept your complements, though I must also acknowledge that only God can decide whether I truly deserve them. To be frank, I'm but a simple man who desires little more than to live a meaningful life free from injustice.
As for whether I've ever been invited to become a Muslim, it happened once. But the experience was unpleasant because the "invitation" was intolerant in tone. Of course, I wouldn't summarize my personal experience of Islam based on this one instance, since I've met many Muslims who spoke of their faith to me without actually proposing conversion. On balance, my memories of those times are positive, for it was during those occasions that I learned how much common ground we shared in matters of faith. In fact, the similarities are numerous enough that we can celebrate them together. And while calling Islam a beautiful way of life may seem cliche to some, I believe in my heart that this is true.
That being said, there are enough differences between your faith and my beliefs that make conversion/reversion a long shot for me, to put it mildly. Out of respect for your spirituality (for spirituality is a great gift for those who are blessed with it), I choose not to discuss these differences.
On a final note, I ask that you pray not just for me but for the entire world. I fear that things will get worse before they get better. I believe that we'll achieve peace when all human beings embrace their common bonds instead of warring over our differences, but my gut tells me we're still a long way off.
i think its obvious by the number of supporting comments, that the vast majority of those reading this article fail to see that the author interpreted his thoughts and not those of mr. lang in the article. i'm absolutely certain that mr. lang would have been shocked to see an article written in the negative such as this one, being attributed to him. mr. lang did not speak of subservience, nor the lack of free thought in the proverbial masajid, rather he alluded that things could be better - which ofcourse, things could.
the author has slanderously mistaken mr. lang's words of making the masajid's more open to non-muslims and muslims on the fringe etc, and put his clearly undergraduate hate of the masajid element into the article.
everyone should write letters to the author denouncing this intellectually void diatribe.
on the issue of reform, islam is perfect, ergo - isnt in need of it. the term 'reform' is self-defeating, if not wholly mistaken, in that is connotes christian and jewish thought into the issue of reformation. christians, jews, hindus et al need to constantly reform because their faiths are incomplete and false, islam isnt. they need to constantly update their books, their thinking and practices because their religion isnt divinely inspired. ours is, alhamdulilah.
muslims need not to reform islam, but themselves. for us to succeed as we did in the past for several hundred yrs, we need to mold ourselves into what is perfect, Islam. the non-believers constantly update their philosophies to the detriments of time, we arent in need of that.
I would also suggest that women's leadership should be studied and brought to the fore front of all our discussions. Women leadership in the muslim world is lacking. During our prophet's days muslim were leaders in so many different areas also excelling in their work.
Being a muslim person in the 21st century should be a blessing where we work side by side with our global community to also bring 21st solutions to our global problems. Only muslim intellectuals and professionals can bring real time solutions to bridge the gap that exists between our mosque leaders as well as muslim leaders who are well behind global issues of the 21st century.
The earth is so vast no one should feel that there is no space for anyone to sit and reflect on. Our mosques should also be part of that space where we can take some time of work be it at luch time and so and reflect on our spirituality.
I find that there is much truth in the article presented. For many the masjid has become a men's club for muslims or santuary of some cultures. Never-the-less it is of the utmost importance to stress that in no way is it Islam that needs reformation, but rather it is the hearts and minds that deserve chance. There are many problems facing our community, none are so much that Allah and His Messenger have not provided a solution for. Again many are the problems facing the Muslims, Islam is the solution, and is in no way the problem. Allahu Alim
Wa Alaikum As Salaam wa Rahmantullah
Mr. Lang is so very right. It is so discouraging to see his
daughters could not go to the Mosque. However his
family is not alone. There are many who left or is
leaving the mosque. Some have maintained Islamic
traditions and values within the family, but majority
have gone astray. This is my own experince of seeing
these happenings in the community once I left the
leadership or circumstances compelled me to do so.We
maitained the tradition of having Islamic Center and
Mosque for the family according to Islamic tradition
maintaining modesty.There are primarily two types of
Muslims across the nation. One is moderate and other
Of course there are some in gray zones of either.
Muslims who came in sixty's were basically
professionals. They needed to raise the family
according to Islamic values. They did. Once Islamic
Centers and Mosques were built, it was time to import
Islamic Scholars. So it was done. These Islamic
scholars also came and are coming with diferent
backgrounds. They started teaching Islam according to
their back ground . Majority of them did not and does
not know how to raise family in the west. Their words
are the words of God and the Prophet. No question can
Yes the western muslims need reform to examine the
problems and establish institution for the family with
modesty and humility not isolating the 50 percent of the
population. So let there be fundamentalist with their
choice and let the moderate come out and restablish
theirs. May be one day there may be a compromise.
And to Mr Lang's point, we need to stop judging those "liberals" among us and alienating them from the Muslim community.
I would agree with this article except for the fact that until we get past our issues with the word "reform", I don't believe there is the chance for any.
I am in support of Dr. Lang's general comments about the need for Muslims to reform.
Many of these Mosques are opened by immigrant Muslims who too often bring their cultural baggage with them instead of just the religion.
While living in San Diego I personally witnessed my wife being made to feel as if she was some sort of plague only because she wanted to come in and offer pray at a local Masjid.
For some Muslims to even see a woman in the Masjid is an obscene display. However, this ignorant belief or perception has nothing to do with Islam. In the 'old country' where women have limited rights it would be normal for women to be treated and/or perceived this way.
It is no wonder that we are losing many of our youth to American Culture because too many of our Masajid have made our mothers and daughters little more than baby sitters or cooks.
We need to look at the role(s) women had under the Prophet (pbuh) in light of present day circumstances.
Even among Muslim American Islamic Organizations, women are still shut out of leadership roles with few exceptions.
However, this is not to condemn all Masajid or Islamic organizations, many are making great strides in being inclusive.
Islam does not need reform, Muslims need reform. The very idea of reforming Islam is ludicrous because Muslims rightly believe it from our Creator and we know He is without error.
The best chance for Islam to advance and grow in the USA is for Muslim reverts to become more involved, take on more leadership roles and to establish more Masajid.
Many Muslim African-Americans are already doing this and they represent the great hope for Islam not only in this country but for the whole Islamic world.
I very much like the rational approach the writer has towards his faith in Islam - firmly grounded in the Holy Quran. I find too many Muslims have elevated the status of questionable hadith on par or even above that of the Holy Quran, introducing ignorant and intolerant concepts. The danger is that the practice of Islam will become grounded in mindless ritual controlled by ignorant mullahs having their own ulterior motives other than the pure faith and worship of Allah.
I agree with brother Akbar Khan for stating that that conversion is the wrong word to use but reversion is the correct word to use. This label is in accordance with the messenger of Allah saying: "Humans (children) are born in a state of fitra (Islam)but their parents turn them into Jews, Christians etc..."
As for sister Umm Muhammad & brother Adamo Ibrahim, I agree with you also when you implied that Islaam does not need reform because this word is not suitable with a religion that is perfected over 1400 ago. This does not mean that Islaam does not need tajdeed (renewal). In fact, there are ahadith in which the messenger of Allah Muhammad (pbuh) stated: "Allah sends to my Ummah, (scholars)that renew its religion every century" hadith saheeh=authentic hadith. Furthermore, Imaam Ali stated: "Do not force your children to adopt your manners because they are created in an era different than yours" Nahjul Balaga.
Some bothers & sisters still use mosque in their vocabulary. Please refrain from using this terrible word. Mosque is a horrible word to describe a masjid. Mosque comes from its Latin root Mosquitos & Spanish word mosquito or moustique in French; thus a small & irritating insect. It's a masjid for crying out loud and Muslims should not insult the House of Allah by using this Latin derogatory and orientalist word. We Muslim men must be strong enough to control our sexual desires & lower our gaze when we see beautiful women because when we hide women behind walls and wrap them up in niquab, we tell the world that we are sexual beasts that cannot control their bestial urges. Taqwa requires that women wear hijab in masajid & pray behind men but can interact after salat (prayer)as it was the case in Makkah. -Can anyone that disagrees with me tell me how come in Hajj Muslim men & women are not segregated by walls especially during Tawaaf al Ifada but are segregated in separate rooms and divided by walls in masajid?
The title of the article is "CALL FOR REFORM" it does not say " REFORM ISLAM" and if you read the article carefully you can make out that it is refering to REFROMING MUSLIMS NOT ISLAM. Anyway please read the article before you make ridiclous statements. May Allah guide you. Let us all thnk before me say something. I think this is problem with the muslims we react rather then contemplate.
She shouted and cried about the killing of American Journalist Daniel Pearl, who was killed in Pakistan, and called for Pakistani's to give some sort of apology to the family and give them money. I AM PAKISTANI...what do I have to do with Daniel Pearl? Why do I have to give money to the Daniel Pearl Fund, huh Raheel Raza?
As a Muslim writer, her views are not to be relied upon or trusted. She offers no solutions, all she offers is finger pointing.
I am sure Dr. Lang never think in his life to REFORM Islam as it is not Islam that need reform but the lovers of this religion need reform.
So don't build a wrong impression about Dr Lang just because someone did a poor try explaining his message that is infact "reforming of the muslims" duhh... Isn't that obvious
Most mosques I've been to have womens and childrens programs.
I think REFORM is a code word that these non-Muslims are using to influence Muslims to change our religion to fit this society. If we don't stand up for Islam
we will fall for anything.......
I do agree that the mosques are too rigid and too unwelcoming given the current situation. Whenever my family, friends, and I go to the mosque, I almost always find a tense environment where almost everyone feels estranged within the presence of the rest of the worshippers. Preachers must move away from the habit of only talking about Palestine and welcome other issues of equal importance. I do agree that a great many Muslim youth will eventually feel alienated and walk away in disappointment and loss. My family and I have become fed up with the routine of the preachers whose sole role in the mosque is to raise funds for the building of other mosques and the suffering of the Palestinians as though no other people are under suffering.
I shall be forwarding it to dozens of Islamic Musjids and groups. I am actively involved in 'Muslim-Jewish-Aboriginal Healing and Sharing Circles' as well as www.tikkun.org and this article makes me extremely happy.
But you know what? 'm not offended in any way. Cos 'm sure this way the world of unbelief will come to know about Islam more and more.
And finally, for your information Islam DOES NOT AND WILL REJECT WITH ALL ITS POWER ANY SO CALL 'REFORM' TO IT. The religion has been perfected 1400 years ago and that is the way is going to be till eternity. People lay behind reform just to redicule the religion, but Islam has been tested like this before and as always it shall PASS the test, in Sha-ALLAH.
I have never EVER witnessed or experienced in seeing the level of disconnect between reverts and Muslims who grew up as Muslims, which Mr. Lang suggests and Raheel Raza proudly portrays. If it exists in some masjids, that is possible I am not saying that it is not, but there are literally 20 masjids around my house, all of which I have prayed in and visited numeous times, and I have never seen th level of disconnect as is blown out of proportion by this article written by Raheel Raza.
One point of the Masjid being a Men's club and not family friendly may be true, since Masjids pop up everywhere, in apartment buildings, in vacated store houses, industrial buildings. You don't have to build a masjid with a dome and minarets and arches. Toronto is a perfect examlpe of that for Raheel Raza a writer for the Toronto Star, to understand this basic fact.
The other thign is, in Islam your rank is higher than others is based on nothing but solely your level of piety, as related in Ahadith by Ahmed that Rasul-Allah (saaw) had said so.
I find all kinds of Masajids all over the place, and only ONE within the Greater Toronto Area resembles a Masjid with a particular non-Canadian in terms of it's exterior appearance, and that is the ISNA Masjid - and they are one of the most open Masjids in accepting Women's roles in the Masjid and community as being invaluable and necessary.
Another point is that I know many reverts who would vigorously disagree with Jeffrey Lang on the point of Masjids as being a "men's club." Go to University of Toronto Mississauga and Torono Campuses. The President's and Amir's of the MSA's are sisters.