Defining the American Muslim Identity

 By Imam Luqman Ahmad

Identities by definition, are personal to the individual. Webster dictionary defines identity as; [the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others].  People can identify with the same thing, the same value, the same profession or even the same religion but no two identities can be exactly the same. This is just one reason why there should never, ever be a such a thing as a single Muslim American identity. Different, so-called Muslim identities, as far as groups, sects, mathaahib and the like? Okay, but a one-size fits all version of Muslim identity, representing Muslim fear, Muslim patriotism, Muslim needs as citizens? No. and it should be never be something that we are searching for like a lost treasure or a holy grail.

If a person’s occupation is a policeman, he can’t turn around and identify himself as a fireman, (unless, he is both of course). The impossibility  in taking all the revolving parts of Muslim American reality; Muslim, American, citizen, non-citizen, immigrant, 2nd generation immigrant, convert, green card holder, no green card yet, indigenous, descendants of slaves, descendants of slave owners, descendants of abolitionists, conservative, liberal, holy, unholy, and everything else in between , and come up with a singular Muslim identity for public consumption.

Constitutionally if you are a citizen, you are an American. After that, there are so many possible variables, it could make your head spin. We live in a country of labels. Millennial, baby boomer, generation X.  we as Americans are a free people (at least for the time being), as human beings; we are slaves (abeed) of Allah. Whether it is individually, or collectively as a group, we are all servants of Allah, each with our own different levels of moral fortitude, or bankruptcy, debauchery or virtue, intelligence, and stupidity, patriotism or indiffernce, erudition or capriciousness. This all depends upon our varying levels of belief, understanding and practice of Islam and who we are as individual human beings. Nevertheless, we are, and will always be, slaves of Allah, and it is He, and His Prophet (SAWS) who can defines most justly, at least in a religious sense, just who, or what, is a Muslim American.  American Muslims can be, and most are;  good citizens, hard working, law abiding, and industrious. However, we woiuld be less than fothcoming if we didn’t  acknowledge that amongst us as well, are the law breakers, the unscrupulous, and the dishonest. American Muslims are not clones; we are human beings like everyone  else. Individual charachter traits, tendancies, and proclivites towards virtue, or corruption, is a matter of personal disposition, circumstance, commitment to our faith, and tawfiq (divine enablement). It is hardly a matter of singular national identity. If you are, Muslim, Islam is your identiy.

As Muslims, American we should define ourselves first and foremost, in moral, or religious terms. It is nonsensical for American Muslims to attempt to formulate a singular domestic identity for all 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, the Holy Quran, by personal delivery by the Angel Jib ‘reel Gabriel.

Our religion comes from the highest available source; Allah Himself, and has been preserved through an extremely rigorous process of textual and narrative authentication.  So it seems incredulous that we as American Muslims would embark upon 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 you, who will feel uncomfortable living near you, and will not understand you
as Muslims, or believe as we believe. “Yet no faith will the greater
part of mankind have, however ardently thou dost desire it. “ 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 in sha 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-humdu 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, as well as many other virtues that exemplify the moral high ground of Islam.

Our God given Islamic identity and list of virtual t seek out, moral challenges to overcome, and service to engage in, is a pretty good identity to aspire to, cannot be replaced by a better one. Ultimately, we all shall be judged according to our own individual scales.

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.” [5:118]. 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

Imam Luqman Ahmad is the former Imam of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center, and currently Imam and Executive Director of the newly formed Islamic Center of Del Paso Heights, he is a writer, public speaker, consultant, and President and CEO of Lotus Tree Institute, an American Muslim Think Tank. He is also the author of the book: “The Devils Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect” a book about Muslim radicalization and theological extremism in Islam, available on Amazon.com Contact him at imamluqman@icdph.org. Read his blog @ imamluqman.wordpress.com.

 

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