If a person's occupation is a policeman, he can't turn around and identify himself as a fireman. The encapsulating predicament confronted by American Muslims in trying to come up with a singular domestic identity for public consumption, is that although constitutionally, we as Americans are a free people (at least for the time being), but as human beings; we are slaves (abeed) of God.
Whether individually, or as a group, we are all servants of Allah, and subject to His will and decree at all time. Granted, we can be dutiful slaves, negligent ones, or somewhere in between according to belief and practice. Nevertheless, we are, and will always be, slaves of Allah, and it is He, and His Prophet (SAWS) who define just who, or what, a Muslim is. American Muslims can be good citizens, hard working, law abiding, as well as in a few cases; law breakers, unscrupulous, and not productive. These characteristics have to do with character, disposition, and sometimes mere circumstance, but not identity.
If you are a Muslim, Islam is your identity. You can be a dutiful Muslim, or a sinful one, still your identity is a Muslim. In order to be a Muslim, you have to consider yourself to be a slave, and a servant of Allah; accountable to His command and subject to His will.
The moment any Muslim ceases to consider himself, or herself, as such, he or she, ceases to be Muslim.
Muslims, American or otherwise should define themselves first and foremost, in moral, or religious terms. It is nonsensical for American Muslims to attempt to formulate a singular domestic identity for American Muslims while taking Allah out of the equation. Such would be a self-imposed paradox. Not convinced? Okay, let's do the math. The operative word here is Muslim. There would be no Muslim, without Islam, and there would be no Islam, without Muhammad (SAWS) the Prophet, who taught it, called to it, preached it, and practiced it.
It goes without saying that there would be no Prophet without Allah be He Exalted and Glorified, who created him, purified his noble lineage, made him the seal of the Prophets, and then, out of His divine Mercy, cleared a path through the heavens, blocking all demons from the path, and sent down to him , by personal delivery by the Angel Jib 'reel (Gabriel) from above seven heavens, accompanied by a host of angels, His Holy, uncreated word (the Quran), and he still wasn't finished. After that, He (Allah) then dispatched him to mankind, speaking in His Holy Name (in the name of Allah), as a witness, a bringer of glad tidings, a warner, and caller to Allah by His permission, and as an illuminating light.
It's overwhelmingly clear, that our religion comes from the highest available source; Allah Himself, and through an extremely rigorous process of textual and narrative authentication, the Quran and prophetic tradition has maintained the highest standard of purity, until this very day. Then, after that, it seems incredulous that some American Muslim leaders and organizations want to make the fateful and futile attempt to re-define an American Muslim domestic identity, and leave Allah out of the equation, as if He doesn't have a say about what is, or is not the identity of a Muslim? What is a better identity than Muslim, and all that it entails?
Islam does not belong to the Muslims; as Muslims we practice it, but it is Allah who owns it, be he praised, and elevated be His name!
Islam is a path; it is the path of Allah. He defines it, He guides to it, He commands adherence to it, He puts whom He pleases upon it, and he denies who He pleases from it. Despite all that I have mentioned, in recent years, Muslim apologists have managed to execute a fairly successful, lexical end run around the word Islam so that many Muslims now emphatically regard the meaning of the word Islam; to mean peace.
The classical, canonical meaning of Islam, according to Muslim theologians, legists, and traditionalists, for the last fourteen hundred years, has been submission; submission to Allah. Being submitters to Allah (Muslims) is a much loftier civilizational plateau for human beings to aspire to than just being peaceful. A rock resting on the sided of a grassy hill in the countryside is peaceful.
Submission to the One and Only God, is something much higher, much greater.
Those of us who were adults and practicing Muslims before 9/11 can still remember the days when the inferred meaning of Islam according to Muslim Americans was submission. However, it is clear at this juncture that one of the first casualties of attempting to redefine the meaning of Islam to make it more palatable for public consumption, is that a whole generation of Muslims are growing up to believe that Islam simply means peace. Hence, as long as you are peaceful, don't bother anyone, and obey the law, you are a good Muslim.
Human beings will never ever be free from Allah. Everything that exists in the heavens and on earth is under the domain of the All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and Glorious Lord, Allah be He Exalted and Glorified. Muslims, just like non-Muslim have been granted the freedom to obey, or disobey Allah, to believe or disbelieve in Him, to worship Him or mock Him, although He is far above any deficiency or blemish.
That is only because of the divine mercy of our Lord subhaanahu wa ta'ala, which extends over everything. This freedom, free will, is not something that human beings wrestled away from Allah by force, or by social media inspired revolt; this is something that was granted to us by Allah, as a test.
Although the desire, that many Muslims have, to come up with a uniform identity that can non-Muslim Americans can find acceptable, is understandable, it is nevertheless untenable and unobtainable without compromising the self respect of Muslims, or without compromising Islam itself, so that it becomes something other than Islam. There is no way this get around this. This is why after 10 years of rigorous campaigning, complaining, protesting, reaching out, and overextending ourselves, we have not been able to satisfy all of the four-hundred plus, non-Muslim Americans that we are as American as apple pie.
The reality is that as long as you are a Muslim, regardless whether you practice Islam diligently or not, and despite spending millions of dollars in outreach and public relations, there will be some people who will not like us, will not feel comfortable living near us, and will not understand us as Muslims, or believe as we believe. "Yet no faith will the greater part of mankind have, however ardently thou dost desire it." [Quran 12:103].
There are some who do not want to understand Muslims, or Islam, and I'm okay with that. There are even some who understand Islam very well, but choose not to like it, nor want it for themselves, or maybe even hate it, and I'm okay with that too, and let us not forget, that there are some whom Allah has sealed their heart, and their hearing, put a covering upon their eyes, and they will never believe; "Allah; has sealed their hearts and their hearing, and over their eyes is a veil; and awesome suffering awaits them." We as Muslim Americans need to understand these things, because it is the truth, and we are living in ominous times. This is not the time to dolly up Islam with costumes, and make-up, so it looks better, and feels more modern.
Time is too precious to spend too much time, money, and worry trying to change things which our Lord has already decreed. Outreach for da'wah and understanding is an acceptable act in Islam, as well as efforts to mitigate the harm and potential harm that may befall innocent Muslims, or non-Muslim Americans, because of bigotry or ignorance. It still remains that the only legitimate, identity that all Muslim Americans can share, is Muslim; Plain and simple.
If you want to be an American, fine; most of us are American. If you want to be a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, then fine. If you want to be a basketball player, civil engineer, university professor, or bee keeper, that's all well and good insha Allah as long as we keep within the boundaries of what is permissible according to our faith. However, when we bring Islam into any of our endeavors, then we have to adhere to a higher identity standard; we then have to bring the tenants of the religion, and our scripture into the picture.
Allah has to come first. If a Muslim Physician excels in his profession, al-hamdu lillah, it shows that he's a good doctor, not necessarily that he is a good Muslim. If a Muslim businessman is convicted of fraud, that not a defeat for Islam; it's a personal shortcoming and it shows the true picture that some Muslims adhere to our moral teachings more than others. We can't point to a successful Muslim liquor store owner who makes millions selling alcohol, drug paraphernalia, blunts and pornography as an example of a successful Muslim American, or an example of the success of Islam in America.
This life short, and soon enough, every sane, adult human being who has ever walked, , crawled, ran, stumbled, or been wheel chaired or carried on the face of this earth, will have the opportunity to make their case, or have it made for them, before Allah the Merciful and Magnificent.
In the final analysis, we as Muslim Americans do not have the right to determine for ourselves, or for anyone else, a Muslim identity. Such has already been defined by the One Who created us. We do have the opportunity in a free society to be the best Muslims we can be, and to set an example of devotion to our Lord, faith in action, brotherhood, co-operation across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic lines, s well as many other virtues that exemplify the moral high ground of Islam.
Our God given Islamic identity cannot be replaced by a better one; and it dictates that those Muslims who are diligent and firm in their faith and practice will be rewarded, and that those who are less than that, can be forgiven. It also determines according to the Quran and Prophetic tradition (sunna), that those who disbelieve that they are slaves of the Almighty God, Allah, that He is the King, and Sovereign, and that they are not subject His whim, will answer to His justice on an appointed day. If such are punished, or if they are pardoned, I'm okay with that. (Except if I was the one being punished, and may Allah save us all from His punishment).
It was said in the words of our beloved Prophet Jesus the son of Mary; "If you punish them, then, surely they are your servants; and if you forgive them, then verily Thou art Forgiving and Merciful." Muslim Americans should not go around pointing fingers and trying to define who is saved and who is not. However, we should never forget the identity that was given to us by our Lord when He made us Muslims.
That's all the identity we need.
Imam Luqman Ahmad is Executive Director of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center, Sacramento, California
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