When I was about 15 or 16 years old, there was a guy in our neighborhood who was also a member of the local street gang (the Haines Street Gang) his street name was Ball bearing, and he and I were neighborhood adversaries. At that time, he was also a neighborhood bully, and we ended up fighting several times as I was not a gang member and didn’t have automatic protection when I walked around in our neighborhood. Besides I was sternly prohibited by my father from even thinking about joining a gang (being Muslim and all). Although to tell the truth, I kinda wanted to join one so I could be part of the cool.
Nevertheless, I was more afraid of my father than I was of the gang members in the neighborhood. With the gang members, I felt that at least I had a chance at getting in some blows and maybe knocking one of those lames out, or letting off a few rounds if it came to that. With my father, I knew that there was no chance at opposing him, parents didn’t do time outs back then, and furthermore, I revered my father (as I still do) and it was unheard of in our family to go against my Abu. We were after all, raised as Muslims. So I would have scrapes with local gang members, and wannabes from time to time. Al-humdu lillah mostly it was only fist fighting, what we used call a ‘fair one’ back in Philly, but every now and then it would escalate to more serious types of confrontation, which is another story. After time, I became cool with most of them, plus my cousins Jessie and Vincent when they weren’t in jail, would keep an eye out for us (the Muslim side of the family) and say; hands off.
Anyway, this dude was testy, we fought several times and each time it ended in somewhat of a draw, with people breaking the fight up before it was clear that one of us got a butt whuppin by the other. Thus, he I were sworn enemies in the hood, with unsettled business, (although we didn’t call it the hood back then, we called it around the way), where we grew up in Germantown, in the area of Locust ave.and Musgrave st., bordered by Chew ave to the north, and Chelten Ave. to the west, (Northwest Philadelphia) and whenever we met each other on the street, on the basketball court, or in the playground, there was tension.There was no love lost between us.
As the years went by, the gangs died out in Philly and former gang members became drug dealers, and this brother became a big time dope dealer in the neighborhood, and surrounding area. He was busy making his money and doing his thing, and I was busy growing up as a sometimes errant Muslim, trying to stay on the path, with all my faults and insecurities as a teenager who was different. We were the only Muslim family in the neighborhood where I grew up, and everybody knew us and knew how we got down because back in those days, we believed that it was better to be packing and not need it than to need it and not be packing. The burglars and petty criminals in the neighborhood used to always avoid our house and our property because there was this spectrum of retribution, and back then, people had a lot of respect for Muslims. We were known as; that Muslim family on Locust Ave.
Years later, I had just finished making salatul Jum’ah at the Islamic Center on Broad St. (near vine) and was sitting down doing my little thikr after the salat, when I heard someone say: “Assalaamu alaikum”, as I turned and glanced over my shoulder, I saw that is was my nemesis from the old neighborhood. My first impulse was to grab the 9mm automatic from my waistband, which I did, but I didn’t pull it out because just as I wrapped my hands around the grip of my gun, he said again in a louder voice and with a big smile on his face; asslaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu. This time, we were looking eye to eye. There is something about the salaams from one believer to another which cannot be explained. His salaams went through me like a hot knife through butter, and I replied: wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuh! We looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity, and then we embraced. We started talking and he explained to me how he became a Muslim, and we became the best of friends. He was married and had four sons. We used to eat together, pray together, read together and go to the Masjid together.
As the years went by, we started to lose touch, and I heard that he had gotten back into the street game here and there. I was busy with my own family and children by that time. So when I did see him on the street now and then, he was moving fast; we exchanged salaams and some niceties, but not much more than that. Then one day, all of a sudden, I heard that he was dead. Shot multiple times in the street. I never knew the exact details of his death, who did it, what lead up to it, or whether or not his killers were ever caught. In Philadelphia back then as it is today; black men are killed on the street all the time; many of them Muslims. Most of the times when it happens, nobody knows nothing and people tend not to talk about the details even if they knew something. Nevertheless, I was hurt when I heard the news, and I wondered whatever became of his four young sons whom I knew now, would grow up, wherever they were, without their father.
Twenty years or so later, while I was the imam of a Masjid in Philadelphia, I got a phone call that a young African American Muslim was killed in the streets of Philadelphia. Such calls were not uncommon. I think that we had at least one homicide per month during my time as Imam of the United Muslim Masjid on 15th Street; sometimes more. So I arranged for one of the brothers of the deceased to meet me at the Masjid to discuss janaaza arrangements and so on. When I met him, he reminded me of my friend who was killed years ago. As we talked and he explained to me who he was and who his father was, I realized that he, and young man in his twenties who was killed, were the sons of my close friend, who twenty something years ago, met the same fate. When I went to see the body at the funeral home, I was taken aback that the young brother who was killed, looked exactly like his father. To this day, other than the janaaza of my mother (rahimuhaa Allah), that was the most difficult salaatul janaaza that I ever performed.
Throughout the years, I have had many children of my friends who were gunned down on the street, or who gunned someone else down, while they were involved in the street game, and are now doing life in prison; some whom I have known since they were born. I remember one case (people reading this from Philly may remember) where a young Muslim man in his twenties got caught up in street life and was gunned down in his car with multiple gunshots, then stuffed in the trunk of his luxury car, and the car set on fire. That hurt me deeply also because I remember when that boy was barely out of diapers, running around our house as a toddler while his parents were visiting our house.
I don’t have any so-called street cred, and by the grace of Allah, and by His mercy, I have never been a thug, and have never been a gang member (although I’ve done other things and may Allah forgive). However, I am certain that I am not the only one who has been touched in one way or another by someone’s senseless death. There are countless of families across the country whom this issue of wanton crime and violence has touched them in much more personal and profound ways than it has I. Still, I, like many other people, am not immune to its effects. Death is inevitable. But senseless death and killing in the streets is not only inexcusable; it is one of the most insane phenomena of our time, and something that we as Muslim Americans, should be very concerned about. The number of young black men who are shot, stabbed, assaulted, and killed every day by other young black men is staggering. For every one that is killed, there are countless numbers of orphans left behind, parents and siblings grieving, families hurting, and ends up with either another young black man in jail, or a killer, or criminal loose on the street. Every time of these horrendous events occur, a part of our community dies for no good reason. I can tell you dozens of more stories like this. So if people wonder why I take such a tough stance with regards to thug life, street life, gang life, hood life, criminal life, and drug life. This story tells you a little bit why; and that’s just part of the story.
Imam Luqman Ahmad
New book available by Imam Luqman Ahmad: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern day Salafi Sect”, A detailed analysis of the Modern day Salafiyyah Sect, their beliefs, practices, and influences upon the religious landscape of Muslim America. In particular, the indigenous American Muslim population. Available @ imamluqman.com
American Muslims have perhaps the best chance to alter the narrative of rage, extremism, tribalism, and Muslim on Muslim killing that’s been going on in the Muslim world. We have among us, Muslims from all over the world, from all cultures, backgrounds, languages, and math’habi or theological leanings. We have it within our grasp to change the status quo of sectarianism, intra-religious hostility, and classism based upon race, and ethnicity. In addition to that, we have the freedom to practice our faith, the freedom to dialogue in sincerity, to freedom to employ critical discernment in addressing our problems, and we have the freedom to make important decisions about what we want our future to look like. We should do everything possible not to waste this opportunity.
I’m not saying that it will be easy; but I do believe that it is well within the realm of possibility. However, it will require that we address issues of race, racism, ethnic separation, and religious sectarianism within our own ranks. It will also require that we learn to respect each other’s differences, cultures and social norms, and not impose upon each other practices that have been added to the religion that were not from it originally. One thing that we must keep in mind is that we are a diverse community; however, that diversity is only a virtue if we navigate it correctly by coming together. American Muslims have done extremely well in adjusting to a multi-cultural society and to get along with their neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens. We just need to transfer that success to the way we deal with each other.
The biggest hurdle by far I think will be to reconcile between immigrant and indigenous American Muslim communities. People don’t like to admit it but we are still living with the tale of two Muslim Americas; one, made up of indigenous American converts and second generation Muslims, and the other, immigrant communities who by and large view indigenous American Muslims, most of whom are African-American, as subordinates. We don’t like to talk about this or even acknowledge it; nevertheless relations amongst the two groups of Muslims need work.
The very first snapshot of the Muslim community was not only multi-racial, it was egalitarian, as characterized in the hadith of Ammar; “I saw Allah’s Apostle and there was none with him but five slaves, two women and Abu Bakr”(i.e. those were the only converts to Islam then).The Prophet had little regard for anyone’s race, social status, wealth, ethnicity, influence, looks, physical prowess or defects when it came to his choice of associates, and neither should we. He preferred the company of the believers whomever they happened to be, and he valued those who possessed good character.
We have to be concerned not just about the future of Islam, but the future of Islamic civilization as we know it, and have to realize just what it is that we as Muslims have to offer to the world. Muslims all over the world are dependent upon the west; for technology, for military armaments and advanced weaponry, for systems management, for advanced education and for industrial advance. The greatest asset that Muslims have to offer the world is Islam, that is, if we decide to believe in it, practice it and apply its moral principles to the emerging world civilization. I’m not talking about Taliban, or Salafi style imperialism here. I’m talking about the greater Islamic ideal of moral fortitude, justice, egalitarianism, and human rights.
Muslims must embrace the theory of Islamic idealism based upon justice, fairness and righteousness and apply it to our emerging civilization. We must demonstrate our ability to not only get along with each other but to work together a people of faith, as partners, and not as masters versus subordinates. Moral action during the Prophet’s time (SAWS) began with social justice at home and amongst your own people; it’s an idea whose time has come. Let us begin now. .
American born Imam, Luqman Ahmad has been serving since 1996 is the Imam and Executive Director of a Northern California Mosque, [Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center]. He is a classically trained Imam who is a graduate of Omdurman Islamic University in the Sudan and has also studied at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca Saudi Arabia. He a memeber of NAIF [North American Imam’s Federation], a founding member of COSVIO [Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations] and a prominent and active member of the Sacramento Muslim community. He can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org., or read his blog @ imamluqman.wordpress.com.
The true religion of Islam is more than polemical rhetoric, or wearing a thobe, a hijab, or short pants, or getting your picture in the paper. It’s about submitting to Allah, obeying Him, and establishing a lineage of belief, worship, family, brotherhood (love for the sake of Allah), prophetic tradition (Sunna), honor, and morality and character (akh’laaq), which is passed down from one generation, to the next, and to the next. Maintaining generational continuity of the faith is one of the premier challenges of the convert Islam.
It is tragic when people enter into this faith and fail to pass it down to their children, or sometimes not even fully embrace it themselves. even worse when people live their Islam through someone else’s reality without never having experienced its core beauty. In order to fully engage your Islam so that it becomes more than a bevy of regurgitated slogans, and faddish adaptations that you pick up and then discard later, you have to believe in it in its totality, and practice it as a lifestyle. However, the secret to it all which is reality is not a secret at all is that you must be engaged with Allah; that you must worship Him Alone without partners.
To a true Muslim, Islam is not just a part of your life; it is your life. قُلْ إِنَّ صَلاَتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ [“Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds” 6:162 Islam is a lifestyle that you, yourself, must establish for yourself and your family. No one can do it for you; no Imam, no sheikh, no scholar, and no saint. It is up to you to believe in it, embrace it, and practice it, or you can play with it. If you play with it, you are bound to lose it. The reality is that many people who convert to Islam, are losing their religion, and are failing to pass it down to their children and the next generations. Our faith is amongst the most valuable of gifts, and we need to do everything that we can to preserve it and pass it down to our offspring.
I was talking to my father, Sheikh Abdulkarim about the issue of people leaving the religion and he reminded me of the verse; “وَاللّهُ أَخْرَجَكُم مِّن بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ الْسَّمْعَ وَالأَبْصَارَ وَالأَفْئِدَةَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ[It is HeWho brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when ye knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections: that ye may give thanks (to Allah..] We have to value our Islam and realize that we came into this world with nothing, yet, now we are Muslims and have the guidance of Islam. This is a tremendous gift and there is nothing more beneficial than you can embrace for yourself, and pass down to your children, than Islam.
Success as a Muslim, without a doubt is a matter of tawfiq (divine enablement), and fadh’lillaah (divine grace). Guidance is up to Allah; “Verily Allah guides and leads astray who He pleases”; وَلَوْ شَاء اللّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلكِن يُضِلُّ مَن يَشَاء وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاء وَلَتُسْأَلُنَّ عَمَّا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ. [If Allah so willed, He could make you all one people: But He leaves straying whom He pleases, and He guides whom He pleases: but ye shall certainly be called to account for all your actions. 16:93] However, there is the matter of whether or not we engage causative factors (as’baab) which are determinants to the type of outcome that will occur. We cannot blame Allah for the condition of our religious practice and the loss of our children to the ways of the world. Parents have to take responsibility for how, when and to what degree we practice our faith.
It is arguable that one of the biggest problems to beset African American Muslim communities by far are that most are not part of communities. A lot of things have been done over the last twenty-years to undermine African American Muslim communities such as multiple spheres of influence that owe allegiance to a foreign entity, scores of fatwa that undermine social and family cohesion, millions of pamphlets, books, cds and propaganda which promoted mutiny within Muslim communities, and many African American Muslims pinning there futures on Muslims who were not looking out for their interests. This is created a very unstable religious environment; especially for someone new to Islam. The basis of success for a community is enjoining upon each other truth and patience. This is best done with congregation (jamaa’at). When there is no jamaa’at, there is no leadership, when there is no leadership then there is no cohesion, and when there is no cohesion, people are left to their own individual machinations and when they are left to their own machinations, there is no religious order, and when there is no religious order, chaos almost always ensues. The Prophet (SAWS) said; “Whoever among you wants to be in the middle of Paradise, let him cling to the Congregation.” [Sound, collected by Abu Eesa at-Tirmithi]
Americans have been converting to Islam in large number since the 1960’s, and some say that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. I have no reason to dispute that claim, Yet despite the phenomena of mass conversion to Islam spanning half a century, it seems that for many converts to Islam, the religion is not passed down to subsequent generations of Muslims. So if Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States, it can be argued that amongst converts to Islam, it is the religion with the fastest turnover rate. Many converts today are without community and end up being stray sheep, and the Shaitaan (Satan) is picking them off, one by one, family by family, household by household.
Why is this important? Well, it matters because as each subsequent generation of practicing Muslims evolve within the family, the moral and religious values of Islam takes hold and are reinforced within the family unit, the extended family, and then it impacts the society at large. When Islam is not sufficiently passed down to the next generation, our children are left at a great spiritual disadvantage. More often than not, a person converts to Islam, has children, and the children grow up not to practice it, and take on social ills like teenage pregnancy, incarceration, social dysfunction and blatant immorality as if they have no guidance at all. There is a conspicuous malfunction in the methodology of religious practice and thinking for much of the convert community, which resulted in impeding the generational flow of the religion to many of our children. The number of children of converts to Islam who have either left the religion, are dead because of wanton gang or drug related violence, or are incarcerated, ex-felons, or non high school graduates, or single unwed mothers, are staggering. The question that we have to ask ourselves is; now that we are aware of our circumstances and the consequences of our actions and inaction, what is it that works, and what is it that doesn’t work for us?
If we examine our history as Muslim Americans for the last forty years, we will get a firsthand snapshot of where we have been successful and where we have made mistakes with respect to passing down Islam to our children. When people do not know the critical mistakes of their history, they are doomed to repeat them, and by all accounts, we as indigenous American Muslims, are making the very same mistakes, over and over again. One of the greatest errors during the last half a century is when people become detached from the masaajid which are the houses of Allah, from the congregations of Muslims, and from the salat.
Muslims are brothers and sisters to one another in the global sense. However, in the fragmented world that we live in, Muslims are need to practice their religion in a local sense in order to preserve its practice within the individuals and families who share the same neighborhoods, and cities. There is no single determinant which ensures that a convert to Islam, stays in the faith, practices in and successfully passes it down to their offspring, but there is a methodology based upon the Quran and sunna, which has proved to be most successful for converts to Islam over the last 40 to 50 years or so, and that is the establishment of jamaa’aat (congregations), of a person having n imam and teacher that he or she can see and interact with and who are their to own the words and own their teachings.
American Muslim congregations are one of the few places where you will find, two, three, and four generations of Muslim family, still in the practice of deen. People who are attached to the masaajid, and are part of religious congregations are much more likely to keep their Islam, and practice it, than those who aren’t.
Congregational communities, centered within a Masjid, with an imam, and a community of people who establish the salat, have specific loyalty, commitment, and accountability to and with each other, and who have a communal focus, is a formula that has worked for American Muslims.I didn’t say that it works perfectly; however, it does work and it does offer some sense of order, communal routine and stability. Such communities offer prayerful consistency, fraternity, cooperative spirit and effort, religious teachings, and spiritual support, which are all healthy and contributive factors to the good practice of Islam and being a Muslim in America. Such an environment is critical for the convert to Islam. It doesn’t produce a perfect Muslim, for there is no such thing. However, it does create an environment of measured and consistent growth, as well as singularity of focus and religious message.
For more and more Muslim converts to Islam, Islam has simply become a fad, and not an actual way of life and practicing Islam for many people these days is optional for them; not mandatory. For others, Islam is something to argue about more than to practice. They will argue about the Quran and the Sunna while ignoring the actual principles and teachings of the religion. There are others who will only practice Islam as long as it does not require any sacrifice, or require them to go out of their way. These are the types of people who end up losing their religion all together.
However, there are those who sincerely believe that Islam is the guided way to live your life and can be applied to everything you do, and they are willing to submit to it all. These are the true ahulus Sunna wa jamaa’at [the people of sunna and congregation], and they are the ones who will find their way by Allah’s permission through the madness, the fitna, the sectarianism, and the turmoil of our times. These are the people who will in sha Allah; benefit the most from congregation, and being in communities. To these people, I am saying to you that until there is a caliphate that is for all Muslims, and until the return of Jesus the Christ, the son of Mary (AS), the awaited Messiah, the best places to be are with a congregation of practicing Muslims, with a just Imam. This will aid you in the preservation of your religion, and your children’s religion. Here are just a few of its benefits. Wallahul Musta’aan.
Prayer in congregation. Congregational prayer is the primary institution of a worshipful family and community, worship itself is the purpose of our creation; and it is the first extension of Islam’s value system. “وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ [I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me.] 51:56 during my sixteen years as Imam of the Masjid, I have seen many brothers come into Islam and stay within the faith and practice it, teach it to their children, who grow into adults as Muslim. At the same time, I have seen many of them convert to Islam, and go for years without engagement in the masaajid and with communities all the while their children grow up without the knowledge of the practice of Islam, and as adults are alien to the teachings of Islam. Of course there are a lot of reasons for this but almost in every case, the ones who left Islam, and whose children were alien to the deen were people who did not attend the masaajid, were not part of communities, and did not attend Jum’ah with regularity. The Prophet (SAWS) said; “If there are three men in a village or desert and salat is not established among them, then the Satan takes mastery over them. So be with the congregation since the wolf devours the remote (stray) sheep.” Anytime there are Muslims living in any vicinity, it is incumbent for them to establish the salat. When this does not happen, it is inevitable that the Shaitaan will overpower them. “(They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs” 22:41 Establishing the salat is perhaps the single most significant factor that ensures that a person stays Muslim, and that there is trans-generational Islam. When people pray, they tend to stay in Islam, when they pray together; they tend to stay in Islam together. This seems to have been the pattern over the years; those who pray, stay, and those who don’t pray, leave the religion. Leaving the salat and abandoning the masaajid is one of the principal reasons that people leave the religion; the Prophet (SAWS) said, “Between man and polytheism and unbelief is the abandonment of salat.” It is important that every Muslim child sees their parents, or step-parents going to the Masjid for prayer, getting up for Fajr, calling the athaan in the home, experiencing that precious family moment which occurs after they have finished the congregational prayer. There is nothing that can replace that. Children need a distinct, moral and spiritual foundation, in order to thrive as practicing Muslim adults in America, and there is no better foundation than the salat. When there is not a strong foundation, the dunya will tear them apart.
Cooperation and Familiarity. Congregational life, and lifestyle, plants the seeds of cooperation in righteousness and piety; تَعْتَدُواْ وَتَعَاوَنُواْ عَلَى الْبرِّ وَالتَّقْوَى وَلاَ تَعَاوَنُواْ عَلَى الإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ إِنَّ اللّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ[“and cooperate with one another in righteousness and piety, and do not cooperate with each other in sin and transgression”]. Cooperation in righteousness and piety is fundamental to our faith is the methodology which engages group action for good. Allah has created people to depend upon one another in the handling of their affairs, both religious and temporal. When people are in communities, they develop familiarity with each other, understand each other’s nuances, become more inclined to cooperate with one another, establish shared goals and aspirations, as well as develop a sense of belonging and accomplishment when they achieve these goals, whether it is building a Masjid or a school, upgrading their facilities, feeding the poor, or engaging in religious projects to help people. Their children get to know and befriend each other, and they see each other’s children grow, and thrive. Cooperation and building upon successes breeds more cooperation. These things are easier facilitated through congregation than through unanchored individuals, going it alone. This union develops to trust, willingness to support and do business with, and a better resolve to solve problems that arise amongst each other, because they have invested in the relationship. These things are essential for our children to witness. When there is no cooperation, perseverance, spiritual bond, and loyalty in the religious group, it sends a message to our children that there is no stable future for them being amongst the Muslims.
Spiritual and moral support. Being a committed part of aMuslim community fosters an atmosphere of support for one another through many means; social, financial, moral, and intra-personal. The strongest method of support is to enjoin upon each other truth, and patience; “Verily Man is in loss, except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy” Without spiritual support, and righteous actions, mankind suffers a devastating spiritual loss. Personal interaction and moral support that is found in congregation, eases the burden of isolation. In today’s world, it is difficult to know who you can trust, and who you cannot, who is sincere and who isn’t. When people are engaged in a Masjid, participating in the salat, in reminding, in fellowship, and doing good acts, they naturally begin to support each other morally over time.
Collective accountability. Within the jamaa’at there is a certain degree of shared accountability that is not present outside of it. When brother and sisters in Islam hold each other accountable, transgression is lessened. Spousal abuse is widespread in our communities, but when sisters are a part of a congregation, there is more recourse and direct help from within the community. When Muslim children see that their parents are true to their religious and communal obligations, and have spiritual focus and goals in life, it is easier for them to do the same as adults because such experiences, and rearing serves as their foundation in life. When our children see that their parents have no real commitment to our faith, to our institutions, to our communities, or to each other, it sends them a message that there is no real future for them as Muslims, and that it’s not worth the effort. We are seeing this occur time and time again.
Leadership. Having communities with Imams is part of the tradition of Islam that has helped preserve our religion in America, dating back to the late 1800’s Being under some sort of religious leadership, whether it be an Imam, an Amir, a Khalifa, or a Sultan, is the sunna of our Prophet (SAWS); The Prophet said, “Whoever notices something which he dislikes done by his ruler, then he should be patient, for whoever becomes separate from the company of the Muslims even for a span and then dies, he will die as those who died in the Pre-islamic period of Ignorance (as rebellious sinners)”. The ideal communities are those who have leaders who are fair, just, and knowledgeable of the religion so that can correctly teach people what is right and guided according to the Quran and Sunna. However, any leader is better than no leader at all. When Muslim people do not have religious leaders, there is chaos. Brothers who have imams and are under some direct Islamic leadership tend to be more focused upon their religious priorities than those who aren’t. Imams are of varying qualities; some more knowledgeable, and more pious than others. Still this should not prevent someone from the benefit of praying behind an imam in the congregational prayer; The Prophet (SAWS) said: “If the imam leads the prayer correctly then he and you will receive the rewards but if he makes a mistake (in the prayer) then you will receive the reward for the prayer and the sin will be his.” We are living in the last days, and many of the major signs of the hour have passed. In the hadith of Huthaifa, he was asking the Prophet (SAWS) about the trials of latter-day times; “What do you order me to do if such a state should take place in my life?” He said, “Stick to the group of Muslims and their Imam (ruler).” I said, “If there is neither a group of Muslims nor an Imam (ruler)?” He said, “Then turn away from all those sects even if you were to bite (eat) the roots of a tree till death overtakes you while you are in that state.” Ibn Taymiyyah said, “It is better to endure under a tyrannical leader for 100 years than to go one night without one.”
Granted, we are all American Muslims, and brother and sisters in Islam. However, if we take a closer look, it is evident that there are clearly two, distinctly different, Muslim Americas. One comprised primarily by immigrants from Muslim countries, and their children, and the other from American Muslim converts. As immigrant communities are growing, thriving, and blanketing the landscape with multi-million dollar masaajid, schools, and cultural institutions. African-American Muslim communities are struggling, lack physical resources, lack influence, and are very small in comparison. The future looks very bleak for the American Muslim converts unless we re-establish congregation with just and knowledgeable imams. Religious congregations are not perfect, but it is a lot better than chaos. For many American Muslim converts, there is hardly any religious order in their lives. Imperfect institutions that teach, regulate, and fulfill the order of the deen of Islam, are better than no institutions at all.
Shaykh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad
Philadelphia born, Shaykh Luqman Ahmad has served as an Imam in California for the last 22 years. He is currently Associate Imam and Resident Scholar at the Toledo Masjid al-Islam Toledo, Ohio where he teaches Nd delivers Friday sermons.
We are constantly being told that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. We are also being told that the Muslim population is anywhere from 2 million, to six million and that a third of them are converts. That would put the number of converts from around 700,000 to 2,000,000. However, I’m not sure if those numbers are accurate because many converts are leaving Islam, and or never even begin to practice Islam in any appreciable way other than take their shahaadah (declaration of conversion), and you don’t see anywhere near those numbers reflected in the nation’s masaajid.
Nor do you see too much evidence that most people who became Muslim say, 20 years ago have stayed in the religion, raised their children upon it and started a second generation, or even third generation. The overall estimates of the Muslim population may be accurate, but the stated percentage of converts does not seem reflected on the ground. In almost every major city in America except for maybe Philadelphia and to a certain extent, Atlanta, you don’t see too many large communities of converts to Islam. You see a lot of young people who are recent converts and that’s great but where are the thousands upon thousands of Muslims who converted ten years ago? Twenty years ago? Thirty years ago? Where are their children, their grandchildren?
We need to re-evaluate the statistics that are being fed to us, because it has lolled many of us into a false sense of accomplishment to the point where we brag about how well Islam is doing amongst converts in America while in reality, it seems converts, by and large, are not faring that well and that the largest concentrations of Muslim men in America are those in our nation’s prisons. When I used to volunteer at Folsom prison in California, there were hundreds of male converts in attendance, and I have never seen hundreds of Muslim male converts at any Masjid anywhere in California.
Converting to Islam is one of the most significant life changing events that will ever happen during your time on this earth. To a true Muslim, faith is central to his or her entire being. How they understand and practice Islam will impact virtually every area of life; family, children, profession, character, marriage, and most importantly, the afterlife. So whatever you do, if you are a convert to Islam, do not ever take your Islam for granted. You have been given a gift that is more valuable than you may realize. You owe it to yourself as a Muslim to follow the guidance of the religion you have accepted as your way of life, as do we all. You also owe it to yourself to take the necessary steps in order to preserve your faith, spread it to your family, and pass it down to your children.
Statistically, there is a great chance that after a year or two, you will not be practicing Islam at all. Chances are that the euphoria that accompanied your conversion to Islam will be gone. Chances are that you won’t be attending a Masjid on a regular basis, and may not even have learned your prayers or how to purify yourself. Chances are that you will not be grounded anywhere in particular, not part of any Muslim community, and just floating from here to there, picking up bits and pieces of information when you can. All the while not finding specific the specific answers to your life’s problems that you need.
Of course this is not the case for every convert to Islam, and it may not be the case for you. However, based upon recent history, the chances are high that if you are a Muslim convert, and have been Muslim for less than 5 years, you will not be a practicing Muslims 5 years from now. There are many Muslims who convert to Islam, and gradually understand and practice the faith, get married, perhaps, have children and produce healthy Muslim families that continue into the next generation. However, that’s not the way it is for the majority of converts during these times we live in today. Most Muslim converts in America these days are a one shot deal. They convert to Islam but it doesn’t really spread to the next generation. The average convert today is simply subject to too many fluctuations, and quirky influences in his or her faith and ideology in the name of Islam to keep up.
If you are one of them, it is likely that even though you still believe in Allah, and His Prophet (SAWS), you still have not been able to connect the dots. You are still searching for what is the best Islam; one day something is haram, the next day it isn’t. Maybe you’ve put your heart into one or the other popular brands of Islam and then realized that it didn’t give you all the relevant answers you needed for your life as a Muslim convert, born and raised and living in America. Perhaps you’ve tried your hand at salafiyyism, and really believed the fatwa from 10,000 miles away that told you that you must be saddened by the happiness of any non Muslim, or that told you that you have to spend an inordinate amount of time debating with other Muslims, or that told you that you can’t wish your mother happy birthday or buy her an anniversary gift . Or maybe you tried Sufism and found that even though you sat around doing thousands of thikrs, paid hundreds of dollars to attend seminars of a visiting shaykh, or traveled hundreds of miles to kiss somebody’s hand, has not removed your inner demons. Or maybe you’ve simply given up and just kinda hold on to the basis of faith while having no real spiritual feeling or propulsion in your life. If you’ve been particularly unfortunate, you jumped on the bandwagon of Muslims who spend so much time arguing with each other, and trying to uncover faults in one another that they have lost track of their own spiritual health. If any of this is the case with you. then know that you are not alone. These are the things that happen to the majority of Muslim converts in America. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the dots can be connected and there are answers to morally dysfunctional Islam, and if you can hang on for about 5 to 7 years, you’ll have realized that the simple Islam of the Prophet (SAWS) was all you needed in the first place. If you’re still new to the deen and don’t have the time to do the merry go-round approach, it should please you to know that these faith fatalities can be avoided if you are aware of the obstacles before you. You don’t have to make things up on your own as you go along, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel, and you don’t have to grope around in the dark, hoping you’ll figure it out in sha Allah. None of the above methods work, and all three contribute to moral dysfunction which contradicts the whole purpose of your accepting Islam in the first place. Islam works wonders for the soul when practiced correctly. When it is not, the results can be devastating. Islam is a path, not a destination. Don’t assume that you can travel the path of Islam, without any direction, and do not ever assume that you can lead yourself. Once you do that, the devil takes the reins. Even Dorothy, had to follow the yellow brick road in order to reach the wizard of Oz.
Islam has been in America for more than 400 years and people have been converting to Islam in relatively large numbers since the seventies. Unfortunately, many new converts to Islam are deprived, and sometimes deprive themselves the opportunity to benefit and learn from people who accepted Islam 10, 20, or 30 years ago, and are still practicing it. This is due partially by the absence, or scarcity of Muslim communities, which contributes to the generational disconnect between Muslims. Not only are new Muslims, not benefitting from seasoned Muslim converts, in many cases, largely because of foreign influence, newer Muslims show less and less respect for Muslims who have practiced Islam in this country for decades. It’s not uncommon to find a two year convert to Islam, condemning an Imam or Muslim who fasted thirty Ramadans! Muslim Americans are finding themselves dealing with issues that have long been settled by their predecessors.
In virtually every human discipline on earth, new members learn from the ones who immediately preceded them and benefit from their experiences. Scientists, educators, people in the military, law enforcement, doctors, lawyers, builders, scholars of Islam, artists, carpenters, and even athletes learn from the ones who immediately preceded them in their craft. Sadly, the same is not true for many converts to Islam. Many converts to Islam are making the exact same mistakes, attempting the same failed (un-Islamic) methods of deen, falling for the same cons, arguing about the same issues, running into the same brick walls, and repeating the same misdirected actions that some Muslims have been doing for nearly half a century or more. The difference now is that we are heading into the last days and things are deteriorating very rapidly. Subsequently, the condition of the convert is steadily worsening, and the amount of confusion is much higher. It’s time that we have honest discussions about our journey so that we can learn from our mistakes. In the age where our country has elected its first African American President, American muslim converts, most of whom are African American, are third class Muslims in their own country.
I have been a Muslim for half a century. My parents converted to orthodox Islam in the fifties. I’m certainly not the best Muslim, and make no claim to be the quintessential example of everything a Muslim is supposed to be. That job has already been covered by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWS). I have managed however, through the years, to pay close attention to what was and is going on in Muslim America. After teaching classes on Islam and lecturing to Muslims and non-Muslims for nearly three decades, serving as an Imam of a Muslim community for nearly fifteen years, administering the shahaadah to hundreds of American Muslims from all walks of life, speaking with thousands of Muslim converts, I’ve started to notice recurring patterns of how Muslim converts in America have fared. Most of them seem to not practice the religion, leave it all together, or hold on to the central theme of Islam (monotheism) and languish in bewilderment about the rest. Many just wait around to see what the next CAIR inspired protest is going to be. It is interesting to note that Muslim Americans endured discrimination, torture, name calling and abuse decades ago only to arrive in the 21st century and we can’t endure a cartoon, or a simple disparaging remark. A great scholar of Islam, imam al-Qurtubi once said: “knowledge is acquired through two things; nusoos (textual evidences from the Quran and the Sunna), and tajriba (trial and error). The goal here is to learn from our experiences, connect the dots, pinpoint specific problem areas of deen practice and provide solutions based upon the Kitaab and the Sunna. Islam is a system of faith that works, when you believe sincerely, employ correct measures of knowledge, and stay focused on the prize, which is eternal bliss and salvation.
Nevertheless, it still remains that nearly seven out of ten Muslim converts, end up either not practicing the religion or leaving it all together. The most common causes are information overload, coupled with too many different directions of instruction, and spheres of foreign influence, and a woeful lack of facility and resources amongst indigenous American Muslim communities (most of whom are struggling). The new Muslim is often given conflicting information about what they should do, which group they should join, who and what they should love and hate, and where they can and cannot go to worship. The average muslim convert spends about 5 to 7 years literally going around in circles with their religion, sometimes embroiled in research, or dispute with other Muslims about what is haram, about what is halal, or the meaning of this or that verses in the Quran or this or that prophetic tradition. Other times they are busy trying out different types of Islam, different labels, each one requiring that he or she re-adjust their faith foundation, while repudiating the other group. One day a Salafi, the next day a Soofi, the next day a Maaliki, the next day a Habashi, the next day a Tablighi, and so on.
Multiple intra-faith changes in fundamental spiritual foundation can take its toll on any Muslim. For the children of converts, it can be devastating. Children are born in the state of fitra (natural godly disposition). No one embodies the pure fitra in his being, character and path, more than Rasoolillah (SAWS). This is why Aisha (RA) the wife of the Prophet (SAWS), has said; “His (The Prophet (SAWS)) character was the Quran”. This is the truth. If you care to believe it, al-humdu lillah, otherwise, my response is; Allahumma salli alaa Muhammadin WA alaa aali Muhammad
All of the aforementioned sub groups of Muslim, and Islam have some benefit in them. Following a madhhab can give order and stability to practicing Islam, especially in areas of technicality such as inheritance, marriage and divorce and other matters. Salafiyyism has reinvigorated the spirit of learning, despite its drawbacks. Many Muslims have learned humility and simplicity by association with Jamaa’atul Tabligh, and Sufism has its benefits as well as it directs one to focus on his or herself. However, like the other aforementioned, it is not all-encompassing. In fact none of the secondary sub-groups of Islam can offer as much as Islam itself, as a total faith. Furthermore, no one, no Imam, no sheikh, no teacher, no Sufi path, no faqih, or amir can equal the guidance found in the unadulterated sunna of the Prophet (SAWS). The best Islam for American Muslims and all Muslims across the globe is the Islam of the Prophet (SAWS). Islam can exist without Salafiyyism, Sufism, the schools of thought, the Habashis, the Shehu, the Saabiqoon, the Wahhaabis, and the Qaadirees, but none of these groups or disciplines would exist, or could exist without Islam. Laa ilaaha illa Allah!
None of the sectarian versions of Islam are good enough for us here in America. We are a free, independent, and fairly educated people. A third grade level kiddy fatwa is not good enough for us. We don’t believe that language and a foreign accent is tantamount to being better than us (well, some of us do). However, the point is that one third of American Muslims are a convert community (at least that’s what they say but the numbers are questionable), and as converts, guidance to Islam was a personal decision of Allah. Converts by nature are more spiritually intuitive upon their conversion than the average Muslim. First of all, their sins are all forgiven on the spot so the convert is operating as a person without the stain of sin, at least in the beginning of their Islam. The only Islam that will suffice us in the long run is the Islam of the Prophet (SAWS) in its original form, without the added on names, the added on ideas, and the added on culture
The second most common cause of leaving the religion or not practicing it for the convert is the ill treatment, and indifference they receive from other Muslims. Many Muslims have complained of walking into a Masjid and receiving less welcome than they would if they walked into a local Wal-Mart. Some Masaajid in America do not even allow women to come in to pray! When Umar ibn al-Khattaab wanted to prevent his wife from entering the Masjid for prayer the Prophet responded by saying; “Do not prevent the bondmaids of Allah from entering the houses of Allah”. The divide between immigrant Muslims and indigenous American Muslim converts is wider than it has ever been in our domestic history. As institutions (including masaajid) that are run by, cater to, and controlled by immigrant Muslims and their communities are flourishing whereas institutions of means that pay attention to the needs of our nations converts to Islam are virtually non-existent.
Unfortunately, Islam in America is ruled by political Islam which is built upon the agenda of fear and reaction, not faith and pro-action. Political Islam does not offer the same nurturing environment that spiritual/moral Islam does. Much of Muslim America has become a colony of one or more Muslim groups or ideological platforms from abroad. Many of whom are embroiled in conflict, fratricide and power struggle. It is a harsh environment, as Americans are learning to cooperate with one another, and live side by side with one another without conflict and chaos, the Muslim world is still struggling with basic civility and respect for differences. Much of that has crept into the American Muslim reality so we too, have become harsh, unforgiving, extremely sensitive, and impatient with each other and so on. Converts usually expect a nurturing environment when they become Muslim and often find the contrary. It is the right of every Muslim to find safety amongst his or her brethren. “The Muslim is one from whom other Muslims are safe from his hand and his tongue”  Without safety, there is no co-operation, or forward movement, except by force, and we as Americans are free, and force does not work for us in areas of faith, thus, many of us are stuck.
The third major cause of people leaving and not practicing the faith is arguing back and forth over every petty issue they can find. A decent teacher will also instruct his students not to argue with people about deen because any Muslim leader should know the damage that it causes; ”And obey Allah and His Messenger. and fall into no disputes, lest ye lose heart and your power depart; and be patient and persevering: For Allah is with those who patiently persevere” 8:46 It was reported about the Prophet (SAWS) that he said; and if your are comfortable enough in your faith to fight and argue about it, you would be practicing it and not trying to beat it over someone else’s head. History has shown that teachers, who are more familiar with the student, and his or her condition and environment, are more suited to teach the religion to American Muslim converts. Unfortunately many indigenous American Muslim converts are still under the delusion that in order for information to be correct, it has to have an accent, thus, the few American teachers that we have, as a whole get a lot of push back from indigenous American Muslims.
Lots of Muslims bicker back and forth on the internet; most of them bicker on behalf of their group. African Americans tend to bicker on behalf of themselves since most of us are floaters without an Imam, a community, a shaykh, or a communal foundation. Many of them bicker back and forth on behalf of one of the dozen or so foreign spheres of religious, sectarian influence that has blanketed our nation’s converts to Islam. Of all the peoples in the world who share the same language, same socio-economic and demographic conditions, same race, religion, and national identity, African American Muslims are arguably the most fractionalized of them all. That’s why we have nothing, and our communities whatever is left are crumbling before our eyes like huts made of sand.
The fourth major cause of people leaving Islam is the lack of congregation , and Muslim congregations that cater to, or are at least welcoming to American Muslim converts. The Prophet ﷺ said: “I enjoin you to be in congregation for verily the wolf devours the stray sheep”. It is imperative to have to have congregations and communities of Muslims who share the same localities, the same problems, the same conditions and the same or similar backgrounds. It will be nearly impossible for African American Muslims converts to be duly served without institutions that cater to their needs. It is difficult and nearly impossible to establish viable institutions that serve their interests without critical mass, and you can never have critical mass without having congregations, and I’m not talking about Facebook congregations either. I mean real congregations with leadership, people who are focused, and willing to put in the work required to rescue a civilization. It is only through congregation that we can make use of our own elders, scholars, experienced Muslims who were also converts, and seasoned imams, and leaders who know us, care about us, and are accessible to us. Granted, there may not be many in these categories, but they are there, and they are underutilized.
The fifth cause, which I alluded to earlier in this article, and which may, or may not contribute to the hemorrhaging of the convert community, is that masaajid and communities where converts usually attend in high numbers tend to be small, poor facilities, with scant resources or funding. Converts communities are almost exclusively in the inner cities, and in the poorer neighborhoods of America. Of the billions of dollars that have been raised and spent on building and upgrading masaajid in the United States, hardly any of it was spent on indigenous American Muslim communities. It would be illogical to believe that this reality does not negatively impact converts, and convert communities in some way. These problems that I mention in this post will not go away by themselves; and what I posted here is just the tip of the iceberg. May Allah help us…..
Imam Luqman Ahmad
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a writer, a researcher and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Northern California. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation (NAIF), and the CEO of ‘Mosque Without Borders’, an organization that address Muslim sectarianism in the United States. He is also and the author of the new book, “Double Edged Slavery “, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States, and the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect “, a look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at email@example.com.