Islam in America

America as “our people”

Posted in America by hossamaljabri on March 3, 2011

This is a section of a paper (seems to be turning into a book)  that I have started writing about Islam in America. This segment is in response to a question about Islamophobia that a sister recently asked.

Other relevant segments : How the prophet handled  Islamophobia ;  and why I love my country ;

Part 1 : The Nature of Creation

When Allah created Adam, He told the angels that Adam and his descendents are meant to be vicegerents[1] on earth(إِنِّى جَاعِلٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ خَلِيفَةً۬‌ۖ). This means that the human race is intended to be a responsible party on earth : to take care of this earth, take care of each other, live honorably, and to keep the covenant with their Lord.

(ps: the numbers in blue are footnotes, found at the end of the article)

Many generations came after Adam. These generations would often forget their covenant with their Lord. Allah would then send prophets to these people. Many prophets were sent after Adam. There are common themes which were exhibited by all the prophets, as the Quran narrates. These prophets came to remind their people and to guide them. They came with a beautiful attitude, related often in the Quran as : “ya qawmy”: “Oh my people”. They felt a deep relation to “their people”. They called them to good things. Generally, these prophets came with two messages:

  1. The first message is (يَـٰقَوۡمِ ٱعۡبُدُواْ ٱللَّهَ) : “Oh My people, worship God”. The first message is to remind and regulate the relation between the creator and the creation. Don’t forget your Lord who created you and loves you, and sustains you. Live a life of righteousness and love of your Lord
  2. The second part of the message addresses the needs of society. It is a message that addresses the specific challenges that are faced in society. It is a message of societal reform. The prophets identified certain problems faced by society and worked hard to advocate for change and reform in these particular areas.

Every prophet came with the first message. The first part of the message (Oh my people, worship your Lord) was common between all the prophets. The second part of the message, which deals with the reform needed in society, differed from one prophet to the next. It depended on the specific problems faced by the society. Each prophet called for a different type of reform. Surat Hud & Al-Araf in the Quran mention many prophets and their messages. For instance, prophet Su3aib in the Quran is mentioned as such:

وَإِلَىٰ مَدۡيَنَ أَخَاهُمۡ شُعَيۡبً۬ا‌ۚ قَالَ يَـٰقَوۡمِ ٱعۡبُدُواْ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَڪُم مِّنۡ إِلَـٰهٍ غَيۡرُهُ ۥ‌ۖ وَلَا تَنقُصُواْ ٱلۡمِڪۡيَالَ وَٱلۡمِيزَانَ‌ۚ إِنِّىٓ أَرَٮٰڪُم بِخَيۡرٍ۬ وَإِنِّىٓ أَخَافُ عَلَيۡڪُمۡ عَذَابَ يَوۡمٍ۬ مُّحِيطٍ۬

(And to the people of Madyan, we sent them their brother (Prophet) Shuaib. He said : Oh my people, worship God, you have no God but Him. And do not unjustly handle the scale (in trading). I recognize the good in you, and I fear for you the punishment of a certain day (Day of Judgment). )

As all other prophets, Prophet Shuaib had two parts to his message : (a)Worshiping God, and (b)addressing a specific societal reform – in this case: unjust economic dealings between people.

The prophet’s paradigm : “Oh My People”

Another relevant observation is how each prophet came as a loving and caring leader to his community. Every prophet came as a “brother” to His people[2]. Even Prophet Lot was called a “brother” to His people[3]. No sin is too great for God to send a loving messenger with a warning to his people to remind them and guide them. The prophets came as a mercy and guidance to their people. Every prophet came with the message “oh my people”. The paradigm was not one of anger or hate, but one of love and care. If, after many years of dawa (calling others to God) and hard work[4], the people reject the message of the prophets, Allah may then punish them in this life. Like a father who cares for his children who may be going astray, the prophets labored diligently for the benefit and health of their people. Prophet Su’aib in the verse above further tells the: “I see a lot of good in you, and I fear for you a punishment from your lord”. This attitude of loving their people, caring for them, and wanting the best for them is one that is a hallmark of these prophets who came to their people.

America is “our people”

Today, Muslims need to embrace America as our people. America, with its entire population, are our “qawm”;  they are the people whom we love and desire the utmost goodness for. Just like the prophet cared for his people – who were not Muslims – we need to care for our people. Prophet Muhammad was sent as a Mercy to mankind. Muslims in America today are the extension of this mercy.

The verse: “oh my people” is mentioned 47 times in the Quran by many prophets. Each prophet comes and speaks to his people. It is a loving term that is supposed to highlight the deep relation. Like calling someone and saying “Oh my son”. The prophet’s people were not just the “Muslims” but everyone in society.

Every prophet had a social reform message as part of his calling. This was in addition to the message of Worshiping God. The implication is that Muslims today, as they call to their lord, need to balance between both messages. Also, just like every prophet had a constant message (Worship God) and a changing message (social reform), American Muslims today should do the same. The reform is based on the needs of society. Muslims need to have a contribution to the problems in society, because they love and care for their people (the American people). This is from a deeply religious perspective and obligation. Muslims must contribute to the solutions of the financial crisis, economic problems, social problems, moral decay, child prostitution, unemployment, deterioration of the family, and so on.

This does not mean that American Muslims cannot stand for justice all over the world. We should indeed stand for justice everywhere. But Islam accepts a paradigm for circles of obligations. A person needs to take care of her family first. As American Muslims, America is our immediate circle of obligation.[5]

Just like every prophet was called a brother to his people, Muslim Americans should feel a sense of brotherhood, commitment, and responsibility to our “qawm”, our people, our brothers/sisters in America – the larger American society.

[1] Someone who takes care of the earth ; care about the earth

[2] The implication : The reformers, du3at, and Muslims in America today need to establish that sense of brotherhood to their people. Our people in America is the larger American society, for whom we are supposed to care and love.

[3] Prophet Lot was sent to homosexuals. Yet the Quran still called him their brother. He labored very hard in a caring way to call them to the same two messages everyone called for. Today, unfortunately, Muslims have a negative attitude towards homosexuals that prevent them from taking the message to them. Everyone is “our people”, and everyone has a right for the messengers to take the message to them. Here is a piece on homosexuality in Islam by Sherman Jackson

[4] Think about the long years of many prophets before they decided that their people are not heading the message. Prophet Noah called on his people for centuries. Prophet Muhammad for more than 13 years in Mecca. Even after these 13 years, the prophet did not give up on his people. We have to ask ourselves  : have we done our job on presenting Islam to our people ? I believe not.

[5] Circles of obligations start with each individual’s responsibility towards herself. After that is the immediate family, then their immediate society. If a person is not taking care of themselves (spiritually, physically, etc…) then there is no sense in taking care of the next circle. Our America society is our immediate circle of obligation, and we have to care for her, and take the message of God to America. Before reaching out to outside Arabia, the prophet cared for his people in Mecca.

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