One thing that really gets to me is the line that many Americans like to draw between being a Muslim and being American. As if the two could not coexist logically. I want to set the record straight here. I am a very proud American who would defend MY COUNTRY, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and all our core values to the very end. On the same token, I am a practicing Muslim who strongly believes that the faith of Islam is simply a beautiful thing that has been hijacked by the wrong people with violent agendas.
After watching yet another obnoxious clip on why Muslims and Americans can’t get along (whatever that means), I decided to write about how striving to be a Muslim has only heightened my sense of responsibility to be a better and more responsible American citizen.
1. Environment. Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said, “All the earth has been made to me as, like, a mosque.” This hadith reminds me about the responsibility that Muslims have to our planet. Muslims are required to keep mosques clean, as it is a house of worship. The planet is the largest mosque for Muslims; thus, by extension, we must maintain it just as clean. Whether it’s recycling, reducing the amount of trash, conserving energy, or picking up trash. Muslims are responsible in keeping their environment safe for all living things as we believe that this Earth does not belong to us. Recently, attention has been brought to the environmental ethics that are a core aspect of Islam. I am not as eloquent nor as knowledgable to talk authoritatively on this subject, but there are tons of lectures and books out there. Read the lecture by Sheikh Ahmad Kutty here. If you have time, read this much longer piece that incorporates Quran and hadith. Back to my main point, though. Being a good stewards in our planet begins right at home. If Muslims in America would each fulfill this responsibility to the environment, they would contribute to a cleaner and safer environment for all American citizen.
2. Racial equality and religious tolerance. Let’s begin with the hadith of Muhammed (pbuh) that states “no Arab holds greater esteem over a non-Arab; nor a Black person over a red person; except on the grounds of good action and piety.” (Read the prophet’s (pbuh) last sermon here).
Note that the prophet of Islam makes a distinction between people ONLY on the ground of their deeds. America too, makes a distinction between “good” people and “bad” people based on legal grounds rather than on race, gender, creed. While we still see prejudice in America today, I can proudly say that the United States stands out among the rest due to its persistant struggle to reach racial and gender equality. In this respect, I believe that the U.S. is more Islamic in its dedication to equality than other so-called “Islamic” countries who oppress and exploit women, children, migrant workers, and other minorities.
The issue of slavery is often waved around as a counter argument against equality in Islam. Many would argue that Islam accepts slavery as a social condition. It is important to realize that slavery was a present condition when the prophet of Islam (pbuh) was around. Overturning an entire system would have received heavy opposition. Instead, the prophet of Islam (pbuh) often recommended others to free their slaves or treat them with dignity, as brothers, if freeing would leave a slave in a worse state (ie. homeless or unable to provide for themselves): ‘”Your slaves are your brethren; therefore whoever has a brother who depends upon him must feed and clothe him in the way he feeds and clothes himself; and should not impose upon him tasks which exceed his capacity; should you ask them to do such things, then you are obliged to help them.” (also see An-Nur, 221 for a similar command). The Qur’an also recommends and considers freeing one’s slaves as one of the greatest deeds. It is important to remember that slavery was a condition that existed before Islam. Thus, while there are debates that Islam doesn’t explicitly abolish slavery, it is impossible to consider slavery a humane practice by Islamic standards. Read other perspectives on slavery in Islam, I prefer Roger du Pasquier’s explanation.
Moreover, Islam calls for integration and tolerance with those who are “different” from us. “O People! Verily We have created you from a man and a woman and we made you into various tribes and creeds for the purpose of mutual recognition (not discrimination and racial pride). Verily the most pretigious and honored amongst you is he who fears Allah the most” (49:13). The Qur’an has asked Muslims to know and befriend our neighbor, not attack them. Moreover, Surah Al-Kafirun is God’s clear command to Muslims to live peacefully and tolerantly together with non-Muslims: “O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshipper of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be a worshipper of what I worship. To you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” I bring up Surah Ak-Kafirun because I am tired of Quran quotes taken out of context in order to “prove” that Islam asks Muslims to be violent towards non-Muslims. This surah is reminiscent of our first ammendment. Americans have the freedom to worship freely as long as our observances don’t interfere or impose on the observances of others.
3. Lawful citizen. Muslims must obey the laws of the country in which they reside unless it prevents them from worshipping. Keep in mind, however, what may be lawful in a country (ie. alcohol consumption) does not make it lawful for a Muslim. In this respect, obeying the laws of Allah are a Muslim’s priority. Nonetheless, we are also commanded to remain lawful and peaceful citizen as long as our rights to worship aren’t breeched. Of course, as Muslim, we also reserve the right to speak up for social injustices and demand our rights as citizens.
“We have to abide by the law of the place where we live. We are not committed to obey any law contradictory to Islam. You cannot live in a society without complying with its rules and laws. You will be forced to follow those laws. If you want to disobey the laws of that society, you will make yourself liable to penalties and punishments. That liability is against Islam.”
4. Education. In Islam, both men and women have the right to pursue education to the fullest extent. Let’s begin with literacy. As Muslims, we believe that Islam was sent to mankind “by the pen”: “Recite (Iqra is the Arabic term which also translates to “Read”) in the name of the Lord who created you…Iqra and your Lord is the most Generous, who taught by the pen, Taught man [mankind] what he knew not” (98: 1-5). When prophet Muhammed (pbuh) received revelation from Angel Gabriel, he was commanded to “read”, even though he was illiterate at the time. Every Muslim has a right to pursue education and pursue knowledge to the fullest extent. Moreover, Muslims are also responsible in educating others as well. Most of the atrocities attributed to Islam today (terrorism, female circumcision, domestic violence, forced marriages, mutilations) are due to ignorance on the part of the “Muslim” who executes the injustice. On the same token, ignorance about Islam in general due to hateful propaganda causes ignorance on those who in turn act discriminantly towards the Islamic faith. Much of the knowledge about the prophet (pbuh) that we have today is attributed to hadiths (sayings) that were taught by his women—his wives, especially Aisha. Seeking education is a responsibility for all Muslims; education about Islam and education to develop one’s talents in order to contribute to his/her society.
5. Community Service and Charity. Charity isn’t an option for Muslims, it is a requirement as it is one of the five pillars of Islam, what is called zakat. God warns Muslims in Surah al-Ma’un (107) that those who do not feed the hungry, drive away the orphans and do not assist those in need, are among those whom He regards as hypocrites. Those who do put the needy before themselves, however, are rewarded spiritually on Earth and in the afterlife by Allah: “For those who give in charity, men and women…it shall be increased manifold (to their credit), and they shall have (besides) a liberal reward.” (57:18). Islam also requires you to spend on others first before yourself: “They ask you [Muhammed], what they should spend. Say: ‘Whatever you spend that is good is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want. And whatever you do that is good Allah knows it well.” (2:215). In America, community service and charity are part of the values with which Americans grow up. In order for many students to complete highschool, they must complete a certain number of community service hours. After highschool, there is nobody to hold you responsible for this. As a Muslim, I am always responsible to continue this service as long as I am able to do so.
The core principles and teachings in Islam do not contradict the core values of America. On the contrary. Being a good Muslim holds one accountable to defend and uphold the values of freedom, equality, and tolerance.
I hope for the day when I will stop seeing and hearing thick lines being drawn between the two identities: Muslim and American. I identify with both identities and they have only complemented each other. In the words of Asma Gull Hasan, “Being Muslim makes me a better American, and being American makes me a better Muslim.”
Proud to be both.
No contraditions there.