Q:If you are Muslim, we'd like to understand more about the complexity and diversity of "the Muslim world," as it is often called. What does "being Muslim" mean to you? What do you find beautiful about Islam, and how does it find expression in your daily life? What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?
What does being Muslim mean to me? That’s a question I don’t get very often. You see, most people don’t bother to ask the question because they already assume that they know all the answers. All they have to do is watch FOX news and viola!... instant Muslim expert! The truth is, being Muslim is so complex, yet so simple. Paradox, it is. But, I understand it. Does NPR care to know why? We shall see.Being Muslim in America, as an American, as an African-American, as the son of educated parents, as a person of multicultural awareness and worldwide acceptance, it’s easy. As a Muslim, I have all the freedoms I need. All the joys I ever wanted. All the pleasures I can imagine. You see, being Muslim is about not answering to anyone but God. So, for as long as I am doing my best, and I am aware of that best, then what anyone else has to say or think of it really doesn’t matter. That translates into minimal, if any, enemies, no grudges, no hang-ups, no impossible-to-fulfill wishes, and so on. I live my life to the simplest satisfaction. I really am happy with it. Sure, there are always areas where it could be improved-a little more money on my paycheck, a little easier time at work, a little more time with the family, a little more leisure, a little more…it’s not a lot to ask. But, you see, as a Muslim, I have learned to be grateful with what I have already been given. It is not difficult to forget these blessings, but it is easy to be reminded that others don’t have it, and if I continue to be ungrateful, it will be taken from me and given to someone else. As the saying goes…you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Being Muslim also means having acceptance of the world around me. Sure, it’s not going well in certain areas, but I also recognize that everything happens for a reason. I do not agree with slavery, but I recognize that without it, I may not have been born. I do not agree with lots of things that happen in the world, but I do accept that all things happen for a reason, beyond what many of us can even begin to imagine. I don’t write the fate, I swim with it and just make sure that I have my lifejacket on and keep on swimming in the right direction, even if it seems upstream. Getting swept away with the current of life is just not an option I was given by God. I have strength to use. I have courage to ignite. I have hope to embrace. This is Islam. I also recognize that many world religions have the same foundations and creeds of love, honesty, caring, knowledge, sacrifice, and so on. So, by being Muslim, I have to uphold the universal truths, the universal imperatives, and the universal codes of excellence and betterment of my society. If I were Christian, Jewish, or Hindu, and I followed these same facts, it would not be abnormal. Now, do this as a Muslim, and it’s news!Islam is beauty and contains it. I love the beauty of the Muslim woman, the architecture, the Qur’an’s flawlessness, the simplicity, the love, the unity. Everything is beautiful, as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I don’t find flaws or ugliness with Islam. People, prejudices, politics, greed, and ego make Islam ugly. Not many of us would admittedly stare aimlessly at something that we thought was ugly and repulsive. Islam has been around for a long time. Something must taste good to the eyes of many.
It finds expression in my daily life in many ways. I pray, fast, give alms, wear modest clothing, and such. All these things don’t directly make me “seem” Muslim, but they are focused characteristics of anyone who takes their way of life serious. My way of life is being focused, reduced stress, and plenty of love. If that means that I try my best not to look intently at every woman I see because I don’t want my wife to get on my case or for fear of falling into an irreversible relationship, or if it means that I don’t worry about every little thing people say, do, accuse, complain, rant, fight, kill, and think, or even if it means that I make sure I am kind to everyone I meet, even people I don’t necessarily care for all that much, but they would never know that, then yes, I think I am doing a good job. Is it because of my Islam? Maybe. Maybe not. It could just simply be my personality. In the end, it really doesn’t matter now does it. Love does not wear a face, cross, yarmulke, sport-jacket, or hijab…it just is. People may not know that I am Muslim. I am just the nice teacher. In that instance, being Muslim is not important, being nice is. That is what God sees. That’s what I will be judged on. That’s what I feel and believe. And no, I could not care less who disagrees with that as well.
I do ponder a lot in regard to my tradition of Islam. But, my concerns are with myself. You see, I can’t do a darn thing for anybody or any cause or any issue or any calling until I can handle my own self, my own feelings, my own heart, and my own sins. This does not mean that I don’t care about anyone or anything. What it means is that I can’t afford to be judgmental about someone else’s affairs when I have work to do on myself. But, that’s just me. Or maybe that’s just Islam. You decide.
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