As a Muslim American in my early thirties, most of my co-religionists who are near my age are "second generationers." Either they are the children of immigrant parents who came to this country in the late 1960's and early 1970s, or they are the children of Americans who converted to the religion of Islam during that same period.
I chose Islam as my religion on the eve of my 18th birthday while away at college in New England. I had been thinking about it for years, my initial interest sparked by encounters with Muslims who were extraordinarily generous of spirit. My heart and mind were contented that Islam was the proper path for me and although I knew that there would be social consequences, the decision of my heart and soul was to convert and accept Islam as my own religion.
When I was a new convert in the 1990's , the American Muslim community was a lot more conservative. Some of the "re-evalutaions" of how Islam should be lived in America, especially post-9/11 has resulted in a "loosening of the belt," which has translate into a combined large roar coming from Muslims my age asking for an "American Islam."
Although I understand some of the intent behind this call, I am weary of my second generation co-religionists who are willing to sacrifice Islamic traditions in order to finally feel accepted by American society.I am lucky that this has never been a consideration for myself. Even before I was Muslim, as a middle-class Black American , I was raised to believe that, "try as I might, I would never be white." I would never be the fully American in the eyes of some.
Almost immediately after my conversion to Islam, I traveled to North Africa to begin learning Arabic and to feel what it was like to live in a Muslim majority society, some place where my headscarf was the norm or at least not disdained. That was thirteen years ago. I have since traveled, visited, studied, and lived in three Muslim majority countries in North Africa,the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
What I have come to understand from spending all of this time abroad is that whatever "American Islam," becomes it must always humble itself to the well established traditions of older Muslim communities, be they in Malaysia, Senegal or Syria.
I say this because, yes it is true that Islam adapted to each place where it went to create a distinct culture, but there were also inner consistencies and logics that were not shed. I fear that in our quest to be more American than Congress, we as a community may actually weaken and dillute our faith.
Tonight I got a ride home from the mosque from an Iraqi couple. They are recent refugees who, we discovered, live on the street over from my apartment here in Chicago. The woman is older and would like for me to spend some time with her daughters. From only just speaking with her a little, I was already impressed by her knowledge of Islamic religious schools of thought.
It is through contact with such people that I feel myself grow, and that I learn how to live Islam more fully regardless of where I am. Before we prayed tonight at the mosque the Iraqi woman and I were debating about whether someone could actually live off of what is given as pubic assistance in America. She was commending America for offering such a program, whereas in Arab countries she said, people only get what they work or beg for. Yes, I told her, but public assistance is not enough to live off of. She disagreed. If one lives a simple life, no television, no (cell) phone - it is enough. She was adamant. The call was given for us to pray and so our debate ended.
Later ,in the car, as I showed her where I lived, she joked that we should get together at the park near our house and play tennis together. We both laughed at this joke.
I am a Black American convert to Islam, for whom "American Islam" means melting all of the diasporic Islamic traditions together, not cutting and pasting so called Western and so called Islamic values together until Muslims are safe and go unharrassed in their pursuit of a materialistic American dream.
I am fully confident that I am American, the descendant of a people who gained their citizenship after centuries of bondage. I am striving to be a good Muslim and this too requires serious effort. A lot of effort is also needed to explain this Path that I have chosen to my fellow Americans. Perhaps if they see me and my Iraqi neighbor playing tennis in the park with our headscarves they will understand.
More information about text formats