Our advanced education along with international media presents us with a free market of ideas wherein many and divergent philosophies, ideologies and opinions compete and strive for the world’s acceptance and internalization. The West, in particular, is where these concepts ferment. People are coerced and persuaded to choose the ones that make sense to them. Some choose according to their whims and fancy, while others may choose according to their religious dogma or moral beliefs. Of course, the reasons for choice may be many.
Muslims in the West are often caught in the complexities of more than a few of these issues, especially when we deal with concepts that touch upon our identity, constitutional rights, and social or civil liberties. Hence, the importance of how we think about ourselves is crucial to the way we not only feel about ourselves, but also how we deal with others, particularly those who would like us to be viewed as an enemy or as undeserving of good treatment. Because this situation with all of its vehemence is new to many, if not most of us, we have to think seriously about who we are. I call this the reshaping of the Muslim mind. In the process of reshaping the Muslim mind, our Western environment forces us to revisit certain questions that we may have only casually thought about. We have to reshape or refashion how we define and think of ourselves if only to stand up to a media that bombards us with its own definitions of who we are which directs, if not coerces, others to accept those definitions of us.
We should ask ourselves the following serious questions, and I have followed some of them with statements and queries in brackets that could emanate from an unseen antagonist, like a qareen or from our alter-ego.
A. “Who am I?” “Am I Muslim?” [Alter-ego or qareen: “Indeed, these are strange questions!!”]
B. “Am I created?” “By whom?” “For what purpose?” [“If these are such simple questions why are you seriously thinking about their answers?”]
C. “Who really determines what is good and bad in this world?” [“The Constitution?” “People?” “The Creator?”]
D. Should I have or is there a principle or a methodology in adopting, choosing or supporting one philosophy over others?
Answering these questions with the view that we may have to state them in public is very important. Hence, our answers to ourselves are to take into account opposing and antagonistic views. This process reshapes our mindsets and focuses on who we actually are as opposed to being that which someone else would like us to be. This practice hopefully forces us to become less fearful of being seen as reactionary, intolerant and narrow-minded.
Our answers should erase our own doubt about “fitting” and “belonging” in society at large. If we discuss the questions mentioned above, we will acknowledge that we know we are Muslim based upon our conscious acceptance of the shahadah or testimony that there is no deity (none worthy of worship) except Allah. We believe every individual was created by God and each Muslim’s specific mission is to serve, worship and be obedient to Him. These components are collectively termed ‘ibadah’ (pronounced ‘ebaadah’). Our scripture, the Qur’an, says The One who created us said, “I did not create Jinn and mankind but to worship/serve Me.” Ibadah is to worship and submit to God’s commandments and prohibitions, that is, to live according to how God wants us to live. Thus, our lives revolve around that which gains the acceptance and approval of The Creator and Owner of all.
Muslims who believe and understand that Allah is truly the only deity, the only creator and the source of all power and life, know, accept and believe that the right to determine what is good or bad, right or wrong lies with Allah. From Him, through His scripture, and through His Prophet emanate the determinants of good and bad, right and wrong. However, mankind through the intellect that Allah has blessed him with, can determine to some extent good and bad, especially in regard to general ethics and morality.
The reality of life forces us to admit that the actual practices of a person and of a people are largely reflections of the powerful and influential people and forces of their society and environment. The lifelong struggle for the Muslim is to strive to his or her ability to resist, albeit with manners, that which takes one away from Allah’s approval.
This article recommends that Muslims should conscientiously choose values and principles to help their decision making concerning aspects of practicing Islam. Without a doubt, however, there are certain moral issues and propositions that non-Muslims debate about which there is no compromise as to their rightness or wrongness in Islam. To enter the debate about such issues or in making decisions involving acts not concerning moral turpitude, some scholars recommend calling upon two principles of law: one, “prevention of harm takes precedence over benefit of an action” and two, “less evil” is better than the greater one. The first refers to not doing a beneficial action if it involves more harm than good. The second is similar to the adage about choosing ‘the lesser of two evils’.
Finally, please let us not be intimidated by those who are trying to deprive us of the freedom of expression. Many do this by depicting Muslims as strangers who do not fit into modern society. We have agreed to maintain our contract of being law abiding, therefore we are not to disassociate ourselves from enjoying the good which the law provides.
Nonetheless, it is difficult, if not impossible, to enjoy the goodness of society without being affected by some of its negatives. We must, however, resist that which is unfair. Among the vehicles at our disposal of thwarting bad and creating good are our educational institutions. Their curricula, teachers and administrators must be top notch and address contemporary issues of identity in an informed and excellent fashion. We must also support our national organizations that are in the forefront of defending our rights and dignity because their work is critical to our overall well-being as a people.
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