American first; Muslim first. No Contradiction.

Picture taken from Time Magazine cover, August 30th 2010

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.

Let’s begin.

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.

The Muslim scholar, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti, member of the North American Fiqh Council, states:

“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.

Conclusion.

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.

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27 thoughts on “American first; Muslim first. No Contradiction.

    • Hi Nick,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      In your comment, there is an underlying assumption that Saudi Arabia somehow represents the core principles of Islam. Saudi Arabia does not represent Islam. Their dictatorship do not represent Islam. Their denial of basic human rights to migrant workers and women, for example, is a complete disgrace to Islam.

      Religious freedom is a right within Islam. There are many verses that acknowledges diversity in beliefs and cultures. There is no compulsion in religion. This is a famous verse (among many) in the Quran that manipulative countries (such as Saudi Arabia and Iran) ignore. There is no such thing as declaring wars against non-Muslims, forced conversions, forced marriages, genital mutilation, denials of human rights. These barbaric acts do not represent Islam nor Islamic teachings.

      Islamic lifestyle asks followers to live simply: pray, fast, give alms to poor, make pilgrimage (if you have the means). This is one of my favorite verses: “The Believers men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger” (9:70). Muslims are encouraged to teach others about their faith–educate, set records straight, spread the goodness within the faith. This, in no way, means denying human beings the right to make their own decisions.

  1. “Saudi Arabia does not represent Islam”

    who represents islam then? what is official “islam”?

    saudi arabia is one of the few “pure” islamic nations–governed by sharia (islamic law).

    “Muslims are encouraged to teach others about their faith–educate, set records straight, spread the goodness within the faith. This, in no way, means denying human beings the right to make their own decisions.”

    you can cherry pick “happy” verses from the quran and imams all you like. muslims are also taught that Allah’s Messenger said “You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: Come here, Muslim, there is a Jew (hiding himself behind me) ; kill him.”

  2. The core principles of Islam are: (1) belief in one God (polytheism) and Muhammed as his messenger; (2) alms (zikah); (3) pilgrimage; (4) salaat (prayer); and (5) fasting during month of Ramadan. With very few exception, most Muslims agree to these. Please tell me with which one you disagree?

    Nick, there is no representative for Islam. Islam is not like Catholicism where there exists hierarchies (Pope, bishops, priests, etc).

    Islam is not one monolithic community. There exists diversity in opinions, especially in regards to interpretation. Within the folds of Islam, there exists many branches and schools of thought. Thinking that Saudi Arabia represents the diverse reality of the ummah (Islamic community) reflects a lack of knowledge about its complex history and practices.

    Could you give evidence for your claim regarding the supposed teaching where Muslims could go around slaughtering Jews? Could you also talk about a Muslim whom you have met with this worldview? I have never met such a Muslim who thinks this is acceptable by the Islamic faith. The only “acceptable” form of aggression is that done is SELF-DEFENSE where another individual presents harm to you and/or your family.

  3. Nick,

    I encourage you to research on the different Islamic traditions so that you gain more knowledge on the diversity of Muslims and the flexibility of Islam as a religion.

    Islam is a very diverse religion with many different traditions. Sunni and Shiite traditions, for example, are two you may have heard about. Sufism and Ahmadiyya are two other traditions that are based on Islamic scripture and the teaching of Muhammed. Within each tradition, there exists schools of thoughts. For example, in Sunni, there are four main schools of thought. Saudi Arabia (not Saudis per say) follows Hanbali interpretation. It is considered one of the strictest interpretations– and I would add, narrow-minded–perspectives on, well, everything. Being stricter does not mean it adheres faithfully to the spirit of Islamic teachings. It does not make it “better” or more “correct” than another school.

    I can go on forever discussing these in detail, but perhaps this link will be useful to you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_schools_and_branches
    I am not a fan of wikipedia, but it does a good job of outlining.

    I also recommend reading on Islamic history and the contributions that Muslims have had on civilizations throughout time. Yes, there are “Islamic” countries that are straight up barbaric, but it was not always like this. When did this change? I think it is driven by politics and politicians use religion as a tool to gain power. Check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0IaCK-7z5o

    It may be of interest to you how Sufi orders, in particular, view Islam and the teachings of the prophet. Even within Sufism, there exists orders that are “Sunni” where followers are faithful to teachings of Quran, Muhammed and the tenants of Islam. Just because they are an unheard group, it does not mean that they are not Muslim and followers of Muhammed. A lot of their poetry and music has produced some of the most amazing spiritually enriching teachings in history.

  4. “Could you give evidence for your claim regarding the supposed teaching where Muslims could go around slaughtering Jews?”

    are you denying your prophet mohammed said this? think hard and take your time to answer =)

    • Nick,
      This saying of the Prophet Muhammad doesn’t refer to Muslims. It refers to the Second coming of Jesus Christ. When Jesus, peace be upon him, will return to finish the Anti-Christ (Dajjal). After that, Jesus peace be upon him will clear the world from all those people who created mischievousness on Earth, that will be the army of Anti-Christ.

      There will be some Jews who will be join the Anti-Christ as well, along with many other groups of people.

      Those who will repent and recognize Jesus following the Shariah of Muhammad the Last Messenger of God, will be saved, those who reject from the army of Dajjal will be killed.

      Then will Earth experience a couple of decades of Peace and harmony. Then Jesus will experience a natural death, and the Day of Judgement will be very near!

      So next time, please quote the reference of the quotes you use, also make sure they are exactly what they say they are, because when you quote that what it means, “you are quoting” and not changing words !!!

      Moreover, if you really want to understand Islam, please start with the basics so that you understand what comes next. Start with the life of Muhammad and the Noble Quran.

      • umersultan: “This saying of the Prophet Muhammad doesn’t refer to Muslims.”

        what utter bullshit:
        “The last hour would not come unless the *Muslims* will fight against the Jews and the *Muslims* would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: *Muslim*, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.”

  5. I don’t talk to Muhammed on my cell phone, Nick. He’s not on my Skype or messenger. Asking me to affirm or deny something he has said is absurd. What we know of the prophet is learned through compilations of sources that may or may not be reliable. With that said, any teaching that one finds that coincides with the greater body of Islamic teaching should be carefully researched (that’s what the “schools” do) and then decided whether or not it is acceptable to follow. Just because a well-known person says something doesn’t mean we take it at face value without critical evaluation. I hope you also know that there are dissenting opinions on issues just like there exists in other communities (academic communities, religious communities, national communities, and so on). You are implicitly suggesting that one possible worldview represents all Muslims’ based on a verse you have cherry-picked.

    Nick, Muslims do not move around as a single entity. Each person is an individual with their own set of experiences and knowledges that define their particular worldview.

    This is a space where I invite comments and dissenting opinions. At the same time, I also hope these lead to productive dialogues not just attacks based on ignorance.

    But let’s talk about it…From where do you get your ideas? Healthy dialogues require one to question our sources, no?

  6. “Healthy dialogues require one to question our sources, no?”

    they also require that you answer the questions asked of you instead of avoiding them with childish, deflective comments. like typical muslim reactions we see in the media you think i am attacking you by questioning your beliefs. and yet you dont answer them. you speak of ignorance and yet you act as if you have no knowledge of a major, controversial teaching from the “second most authentic hadith collection after Sahih Al-Bukhari, and is highly acclaimed by Sunni Muslims”, the largest denomination of muslims (80-90% of all muslims).

  7. Nick,

    I answered you. What I haven’t answered, I do not have knowledge to talk about. Hence, I said I didn’t know and asked you to teach me.

    Could you tell me what particular school of thought within Sunni tradition follows this teaching? As you probably know, there are four major schools. Which Sunni school accept this as valid, what specific countries implement this hadith and perhaps scholars who have discussed this in depth? Could you provide links to your sources as well?

    I am not deflecting nor feel threatened. I am simply asking if you’d be so kind as to teach me more about the things of which I’m not aware. I am a careful scholar, though. I like to know from where my information comes.

    Hope I’m not asking for too much.

    Peace

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  9. As for religious pluralism (though I don’t like that word), the existence of ancient Jewish, Christian, and even Zoroastrian fanes in the Middle East is evidence enough buttress Maha claims, something which Western Christianity, by and large, cannot boast about as a matter of history. The oldest churches and synagogues in the world can be found were Muslims once ruled. So if indeed the Prophet did order the indiscriminate massacring of Jews – which of course he didn’t – the Muslims who came after him must have done a very poor job as the Jews had their Golden Age, the age of Moses Maimonides and his ilk, while in Muslim Spain, al-Andalus centuries later. Never was there a Jewish Question in the Middle East as there was in Europe. There are still Jews in Iran, ancient Persia; there are still Zoroastrians in Iran; there are still Christians in Iran and in all the places the Byzantines once conquered: Egypt, Syrian, etc; and all of them have managed to avoid getting slaughtered for CENTURIES thus far. What does that say? While its true the relationships between the faiths in the past, and even today, is strained, it’s pretty far-fetched to make claims of the Prophet preaching mass genocide of a particular people. It seems as if Islam is being viewed from the lens of current geo-politics rather than from documented history and from serious critical examinations of primary and secondary religious texts, which is a shame.

    And as for “cherry-picking,” this is an incident of the pot calling the tea kettle black. Centuries of history, in addition to the textual evidence the sister has brought, has been conveniently ignored. Beside, the context of the hadith mentioned is eschatological, dealing with end times, NOT with today. With text, there must be context, else some ridiculous assertions run rampant.

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  11. ok, excuse me, so it’s ok then that mohammed was talking about slaughtering jews in an eschatological context. what a ridiculous assertion running rampant i had to think that someone could interpret this as meaning today, except the fact that it DOES NOT say “the end will come and THEN you will kill all the jews”, mohammed’s words literally say that the end will NOT come UNLESS muslims wipe out the jews.

    Book 041, Number 6985:
    Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

    Translation of Sahih Muslim, Book 41: The Book Pertaining to the Turmoil and Portents of the Last Hour (Kitab Al-Fitan wa Ashrat As-Sa`ah)

  12. @ Nick,

    Could you tell me what particular school of thought within Sunni tradition follows this teaching? As you probably know, there are four major schools. And there are other traditions, such as Sufi, who consider themselves Sunni as well. Which Sunni school accept this as valid, what specific countries teach this hadith and perhaps scholars who have discussed this in depth? Could you provide links to your sources as well?

    I wanna learn more because I personally have never heard of this teaching. My imams have never taught this nor the friends I know. I am asking you to teach me more.

    Hope this isn’t too much trouble.

  13. When I ask for sources, please do indicate reliable websites or bibliographical information. I attend a research 1 university and can definitely gain access to the material rather quickly. I love doing research.

  14. I’d not rely on a translation from Arabic to quote the Prophet necessarily, as he didn’t speak English but Arabic. In critiquing hadith literature, knowledge of the Arabic grammar is a prerequisite and indeed essential: we don’t just go claiming the Prophet said this or that and then quote an English translation without some resource. Mistranslations and misinterpretations are fairly common, especially when going from Arabic to English, from Semantic to Germanic. Even I myself don’t have sufficient knowledge of Arabic to offer an analysis on the hadith mentioned, but I do know that it relates to the End Times, which apparently, we must not be too near since Muslims aren’t killing Jews hiding behind rocks.

    Besides, even in the translation given, there’s no advocating of killing Jews so that the Last Hour will come. The Prophet didn’t say, ‘Go kill Jews so that such and such will happen.” While Muslims share certain eschatological similarities with Christians – such as the return of Jesus (peace be upon him), the battle with the Anti-Christ, etc – we are (mostly) not as Millenarianist Christians, who are purposely trying to force the hand of Biblical prophecy with politics and money so the Jesus might return, where he will, according to the scriptures (Book of Revelations), make war against the Jews who reject him. To my knowledge, no one is forcing Hadithic prophecy. No one is really obliged to anyway since the hadith, regardless of its authenticity, does not supersede the authority of Qur’an, which therein, you will find no injunction of killing Jews outright or killing anyone out for that matter, especially for the sake of prophecy. The conversation between the hadith and Qur’anic text is dialectic in nature: as the sister said, it is not monolithic by any means. But really, this discussion is mote unless a proper examination of the Arabic grammar with text is done.

    And even still, this doesn’t negate my previous point with regards to history of Muslim/Jewish relationship, the myriad of textual examples the sister employed, and the Prophet himself, who was married to an ethically Jewish named Umm ul-Mukminin Safiyyah. I don’t think anyone ever put a sword to her throat to fulfill some eschatalogical prophecy, one that really no one is obliged to believe in anyway.

  15. “I attend a research 1 university”
    then do some research, it will be good for you =) i provided you with the entire book name and verse number. i’m sure your imam will be able to help you with the information you seek.

    • As I mentioned in my comment above that the Hadith you quoted from Sahih Bukhari, when it refers to “Muslims” it refers to the army of the Jesus son of Mary, peace be upon him.

      What you should understand about the Ahadith is that they were spoken by the Messenger of God at certain point in time, while talking about a certain topic.

      Different companions from that talk would narrate what they heard from the Messenger to their students, and the students to their students.

      Then the era of the Compilation of Ahadith came, when Imam Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and others traveled across the Muslim Lands in search of Ahadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) and compiling them, cataloging them. The Imam analyzed the truthfulness of the narrator by asking other people in the community, cataloging his memorization skills and his family’s lineage, & each narrator’s biography.

      Why am I mentioning all of this??

      Because, I want to make you understand that by just quoting one Hadith, you are like most probably citing a paragraph of a whole story. So you cannot go to a Hadith Website that has English Translations, and do your “research” by reading them and making your own conclusion. That will make you not only confuse but it can make people have seriously wrong conclusions like in this case.

  16. Also you should not forget, if you already know, that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, married a Jewish woman himself, and in Islam Muslim men are allowed to marry the People of the Books- Jews and Christians.

    If the objective of Prophet Muhammad’s teaching is of hatred, then God would have never revealed a verse on Prophet Muhammad allowing Muslim Men to marry the People of the Books (who are observant in their religion).

    I hope it clarified much of the confusion you had.
    May God guide us all to the Straight Path. Amen.

  17. As mentioned before, I encourage all kinds of opinions on my blog, but I definitely do not invite comments that dehumanize any group of people.

    I reserve the right to have my blog reflect and maintain the integrity of my personal values–and discrimination and hateful speech simply isn’t tolerated.

    There are other pages for hate speech and religious debates–and mine isn’t one of them.

    Shoooo!

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    • Salams brother and thanks for responding. I appreciate you reading my blog and posting a comment, but I am pretty sure my post does not say that there is a contradiction between being Muslim and American. On the contrary, the post is in agreement that Muslim Americans–like myself (and yourself)–find great harmony between these two identities.

      I will be visiting your blog.

      Salams from Miami, FL

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