Islam in the West: Past, Present, and Future

Islam in the West: Past, Present, and Future

SHAFAQNA – By Dr. John Andrew Morrow (al-Ustadh al-Duktur Ilyas Islam)

Delivered in Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday, December 24th, 2016, at the 46st Annual Muslim Students Association – Persian-Speaking Group Conference.
In the Name of Allah, the Creator. Allah is One and Muhammad is His Messenger. Praise be to Allah, the Most Loving, and peace and blessings be upon His Prophet, Muhammad the son of ‘Abd Allah, the Truthful and the Trustworthy, and upon his Holy Household.

The topic for today is “Islam in the West: Past, Present, and Future.” It is long overdue. So, hallelujah, l’chaim, and takbir. If you have no past, you have no future. So, let me school you on the history of Islam and in the Western world.

Ten to twenty percent of African slaves brought to the Americas were Muslims. Islam, however, did not survive slavery. Long before this land became Anglo-Saxon, it belonged to France and Spain. Colonization coincides with the suppression of Islam in Spain and the forced conversion of the Moriscos. As the historical record indicates, many of these conversos or converts, the Muslims who were coerced into becoming Catholics, fled to the New World where, they preserved, for as long as they could, their Islamic identity.

The first large wave of Muslim immigrants to the Western world took place in the mid 1800s and early 1900s during the gradual collapse of the Ottoman Empire. They came by the tens of thousands, primarily from what is now Syria and Lebanon. They settled in South Dakota, and North Dakota, where one of the first mosques was built in Ross in 1929. Several other waves of Muslim immigrants and refugees were to follow in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80, 90s, and the during the new millennium. They came from Syria and Lebanon. They came from India and Pakistan. They came from Iran and Iraq. And they came from Afghanistan and other countries.

Most of these immigrants made major mistakes. The earliest Muslim immigrants were so eager to integrate that they ended up assimilating. Although some families survive, most of them disappeared without leaving a trace. They all became Christians. Others established mosques that catered to members of their racial, linguistic, ethnic or cultural background. In short, they only cared about themselves. They could not care less about the entire Muslim community or even the broader society. But there was one man who did care and who did make a major difference: and that man was W.D. Fard.

Known by over 40 different names, including Wallace Dodd Fard and Wallace Fard Muhammad, this mysterious man settled on the Pacific Westcoast during the first decade of the 20th century. A proud man, he never hid his identity: he openly and proudly professed that he was a Muslim. He lived in Oregon. He lived in California. He served time in prison. And he eventually made his way to Detroit, Michigan, in 1930, where he founded the Allah Temple of Islam, what some of you know as the Nation of Islam.

W.D. Fard was a Muslim. He was of Greco-Turkish origin. He was probably a Bektashi, an Alevi or an ‘Alawi. He appears to have been some sort of Ithna-‘Ashari with Ghulat or extremist tendencies. Detroit had a huge Lebanese Muslim community at the time. Go to Dearborn and see for yourself. It was also right next to a huge African American ghetto.

Unlike his co-religionists, who never once thought of crossing the proverbial tracks, to preach Islam to oppressed, marginalized, exploited, and segregated African Americans, W.D. Fard visited them, mixed with them, ate with them, lived among them, talked to them, taught them, educated them, guided them, and brought them into the Nation of Islam.

The Nation of Islam was not Islam as we understand it. It was a mixture of black nationalism, Christianity, Islam, and a long list of ingredients that W.D. Fard and Elijah Muhammad mixed and cooked in a pot like gumbo. So, while I am very critical of certain ideas and aspects of the Nation of Islam, I give credit where credit it due. W.D. Fard loved black people. He combined his Islam with all kinds of questionable elements; however, he believed that such teachings were necessary to build up a broken people.

Recommendation Number One

Reach out to Non-Muslims. Islam is not private property. Shiism does not belong to the Lebanese. It does not belong to Iraqis. And it certainly does not belong to Iranians. Islam is a world religion. It was sent to Allah to all people. We are all required to invite people to Islam in the best of ways possible based on our abilities. This is the Sunnah of the Prophet and the Sunnah of the Imams. They all dispatched missionaries to spread the teachings of true Islam. Appeal to all but pay special attention to the poor, the weak, and the oppressed; to the economically-disadvantaged, to African Americans, to Hispanics and to American Indians.

Recommendation Number Two

Adopt an open-mosque policy. Islam is a world religion; not a cult. Mosques need to be open to all Muslims. Show some Islamic etiquette. Show some good manners. Show some hospitality. Be friendly. Be welcoming. Greet your fellow Muslims. Make them feel at home. Consider it customer service. Mosques also need to be open to non-Muslims. Invite individuals who are curious about Islam into your mosques. Provide a row of seats at the back.

Recommendation Number Three

Adopt a women-friendly policy. As Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, said: “Love of women is the morality of the prophets” (Kulayni, Tusi, Majlisi, Tabarsi, and Amili). He also said: “A persons’ faith does not increase unless his love for women also increases” (Kulayni and Qummi). Treat women with respect and reverence. Toss your cultural misogyny and sexism into the trash bin of history. The teachings of Islam are transmitted by women. If you want your children to lose their Islam, keep your women illiterate and ignorant. Women must always be welcome into mosques. The women’s section needs to be the same as the men’s section. Split the mosque down the middle. Do not exclude women from the mosque. And do not stuff them in a dirty closet. And for God’s sake, treat them with dignity. No more of this “Women’s section is over there!” How about: al-salaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. How are you my dear sister? How may I be of service?

Recommendation Number Four

Adopt a representative, diverse, and equitable leadership policy. Mosques are not private property. They are not dynasties. Nepotism is prohibited in Islam. Leaders need to be elected. They need to be the best of the community and the best of the community can and should include women. Not only do I want to see women leading boards or sitting as board members, I want to see diversity: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Caucasian Americans. Enough with monolithic mosques. Rely on Western scholars of Islam. Employ them in leadership positions.

Recommendation Number Five

Adopt an English language policy. Speak to the people in the language of the people. The language of the people is the language of the land. It will be the first language of your progeny. That is not to say that you cannot have programs in Arabic, Persian, Urdu or other languages. It does mean, however, that your main programs must all be in English or, at the very least, bilingual. As Almighty Allah says in al-Qur’an al-Karim:

We have not sent any Messenger except with the language of his people so he can make things clear to them. Allah misguides anyone He wills and guides anyone He wills. He is the Almighty, the All-Wise. (Qur’an 14:4)

The Prophet and the Imams spoke Arabic you will tell me. Yeah right. The Prophet spoke Arabic. The Prophet also spoke Persian. In fact, the Prophet, and the Imams, spoke every imaginable human language. The Prophet and the Imams trained missionaries. They sent their companions all around the world to spread the teachings of Islam. When they spoke to Arabs, they spoke in Arabic. When they spoke to Jews, they spoke in Hebrew. When they spoke to Christians, they spoke in Aramaic, Greek or Latin. When they spoke to the Persians, they spoke in Persian. When they spoke to the Berbers in North Africa, they spoke in Tamazight. Show us the same courtesy that the Prophet and the Imams showed to others.

Recommendation Number Six

Engage in interfaith and intrafaith work. Dialogue with Jews, Christians, Sunnis, and Sufis. Build bridges between believers. This is the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah enshrined in the Covenants of the Prophet.

Recommendation Number Seven

Make the mosque appealing to children, youth, and young adults. Make Islam fun and engaging. Give them good memories. Create a positive and progressive image of religion. It is called branding. Cater to the needs of the youth. Give them a voice. Give them the opportunity to organize. Give them the opportunity to lead. Prepare them to be our future leaders. Pave the way for them.

Recommendation Number Eight

Distinguish between your culture and your religion. Keep everything that is positive from your culture of origin and adopt everything that is positive from Western culture.

Recommendation Number Nine

Learn from the experience of others. Compared to the Sunni community, which has been solidly organized for a century, the Shiite community is much younger. It still struggles with issues that were resolved decades ago by the Sunni community. Abandon the idea of replicating your religious practices as they existed in your countries of origin. Unless you adapt and evolve you are going to go extinct. Your faith will fizzle out like a wet firecracker.

Recommendation Number Ten

Stop ignoring social issues. Stop pretending that they do not exist. Get rid of this “Holier than thou” attitude. Sunni Muslims openly speak about domestic violence, sexual abuse, alcohol abuse, mental illness, fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. Most Shiites refuse to deal with reality. Muslims are not superior to non-Muslims in any of these areas. These issues are just as prevalent in the Muslim community as they are in the non-Muslim community. In some cases, they are even higher.

In the US, the domestic violence rate against women is approximately 20% (Tjaden). Although some Muslim-majority countries have comparable rates, some are higher. In Syria, for example, 25% of married women have been beaten by their husbands (Zoepf). In a study conducted by the Turkish government, 40% of women report having been the victims of domestic violence (Jansen, Uner, Kardam et al.). In some parts of Egypt, 50% of women are battered by their husbands (Kharboush et al.). In Afghanistan, 85% of women report that they have experienced domestic violence in the past while 60% state that they suffer from serial violence on the part of their spouses (Human Rights Watch). While limited in scope, a study conducted by the World Health Organization found that 15% of women from the Iranian city of Babol were physically abused by their husbands,
42.5 were sexually abused, and 81.5% were psychologically abused within the past year (Faramarzi). These statistics are in line with those from the Iranian government. In fact, a study conducted by the Ministry of Higher Education and the Interior Ministry, reveals that 66% of Iranian women suffered some sort of domestic violence during the first year of their marriage. As for Pakistan, the rate of domestic abuse ranges from 50 to 95% (Tribune, Niaz, Ministry of Women’s Development, Price, Ansar Burney Trust, Amnesty International, United Nations, Ireland, Ali and Bustamante-Gavino, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, IRIN, etc.).

Illicit drug use in the US is approximately 10% (National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes for Health). In some Muslim-majority countries, it is close to 15%. In fact, according to an article on the “Most Drug Addicted Countries in the World,” 14.32% of Iranians inhale or inject heroin. More conservative estimates place the rate of opiate addiction in Iran at 8% of the general population (Narconon). If we use this lower number, Afghans rank number one in opiate addiction in the world: the Iranians come in third place, the Azeris come in fourth, the Pakistanis come in seventh, and the Malays come in eighth (Griffiths).

Although the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the Shariah condemn the consumption and abuse of alcoholic beverages, many Muslims imbibe such forbidden liquids. The World Health Organization reports that Tunisians, Chadians, and Emiratis consume twice as much alcohol as Germans (Mamoun). Ironically, the average Iranian consumes more alcohol than the average Russian (24.8 liters versus 22.3 liters per year) (Mamoun). As Abdelhak Mamoun reports,

As for Arab countries, according to the latest report from the World Health Organization, the ranking comes as follows: Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates come first among Arab countries in the rates of their consumption of alcohol. Sudan comes third at a rate of 24.1 liters, Lebanon comes forth at a rate of 23.9 liters and then followed by fifth, Qatar, at a rate of 22.7 liters. Bahrain is ranked sixth at a rate of 21.2 liters and Morocco is ranked seventh at a rate of 17.10, eighth is Syria at a rate of 16.3 liters, ninth is Oman at a rate of 15.5 liters, tenth is Jordan at a rate of 15.2 liters, eleventh is Algeria at a rate of 10.9 liters, and 12th is Iraq at a rate of 9.1 liters.

As much as Muslims may condemn “the decadent West,” the abortion rate in the US is comparable to that of many Muslim-majority countries. The abortion rate in the United States is 20.8 per thousand live births (UN Data). In Indonesia, it is 26 per thousand (Sundawa; Hundley) while in Kazakhstan, it is 35 per thousand (UN Data). These two Muslims countries happen to have some of the highest rates of abortion in the world.

In the US, the rate of sexual harassment is 30 to 40%. Most studies speak of 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 American women being subject to unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. In some Muslim-majority countries, it is much higher. In Tunisia, for example, 53.5 percent of women report being victims of psychological and physical violence, namely, being harassed by men, stalked, verbally insulted, and sexually harassed (Stop Street Harassment). As for Afghanistan, research conducted by Women and Children Legal Research Foundation reveals that 93% of women are harassed in public, 87% in workplaces, and 89% in educational institutions (Stop Street Harassment). Of all Muslim-majority countries, one has the worst reputation of all: Egypt, where over 99% of women are victims of sexual harassment (El Deeb; Tse; The Economist; Amin). And while some Muslims might argue that only “immoral” women are harassed, 72.5% of victims surveyed were wearing hijab, and some were even in full niqab (Zuberi). Such sickening behavior is normative in many Muslim-majority nations in the Maghreb and the Middle East.

Let us forget about adults for a moment and deal with Muslim youth here in the West. 51% of Muslim college students smoke tobacco (Ahmed et al., Family & Youth Institute). And I am not just talking about guys. 58.5% of male Muslim college students smoke; however, 33% of female Muslim college students smoke (Ahmed et al., Family & Youth Institute). But that is not a very big deal. It gets more serious when it comes to drinking and drugs. 49% of Muslim college students consume alcohol (Ahmed et al., Family & Youth Institute). 38% of Muslim college students use illicit drugs (Ahmed et al. Family & Youth Institute). 32% of Muslim college students smoke marijuana (Ahmed et al. Family & Youth Institute). If that does not offend Muslim sentiments, perhaps the statistics on sexual relations outside of marriage will.

54% of male Muslim college students fornicate (Ahmed et al. Family & Youth Institute). In many Muslim cultures that is encouraged. Go out, be a man: get some experience. And it is forgiven. Who do you think they are having sex with? Do you think they only sleep with non-Muslim girls? Well here is a hard-fact (no pun intended): 48% of female Muslim college students have sex out of marriage (Ahmed et al., Family & Youth Institute). And not just with Muslim guys. Many of them have sex with non-Muslims. And they get STDS. And they get pregnant. And they get aborted. But, of course, Muslim women are never forgiven. They are shunned. They are disowned.

“Oh, but the people you are talking about are bad Muslims; they are from bad families.” No, they are not: they come from all kinds of families. They come from liberal families. They come from conservative families. They come from irreligious families and they come from extremely religious families. Alcohol, drugs, fornication, and adultery impact Muslims from all walks of life. In fact, 67% of Canadian and American Muslims have had sex outside of marriage and of the remaining, 50% have considered it (FYI).

So, wake up, smell the coffee, and stop smoking opium. And I mean that literally. There are Qaris of the Qur’an who are addicted to heroin. There are hijab-wearing women who cheat on their husbands. There are “pious” Muslim men who beat their wives black and blue. And there are “religious” Muslim men, who regularly attend mosques, who sexually abuse children.

Stop living in la-la land. We are human beings. We are not infallible. If you think you are perfect and infallible, then I will offer you a free psychological assessment. We are all sinners: all of us. We cannot and must not shut sinners out of our community. What is a mosque but a place for repentant sinners? Why do we say astaghfirullah or “Forgive me Allah” all the time?

I am not going to throw a teenage girl out of a mosque because she does not wear hijab. I am going to embrace her with open arms. I am not going to turn away fornicators, adulterers, and people who struggle with substance abuse. But I am not going to leave them there either. I am not going to enable them. I will meet you were you are and help to build you up. That is the example of the Prophets and the Imams, peace and blessings be upon them all. Open your hearts and open your minds. As Almighty Allah says in the Glorious Qur’an:

O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (39:53)

As the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

Indeed, before Allah created the creation, He decreed for Himself, ‘Indeed My Mercy prevails over My Anger. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Talk to your youth or let them talk to scholars who can relate to young people. Do not push them outside of Islam and outside of faith. As Almighty Allah said in the Holy Qur’an:

And never give up hope of Allah’s Mercy. Certainly, no one despairs of Allah’s Mercy, except the people who disbelieve. (12:87)

Recommendation Number Eleven: Be actively engaged at all levels of society. Embody the ethics and ideals of Islam. Serve the community, not just the Muslim community, not just the Shiite community, not just your sub-section of the Shiite community, serve the entire community. The Prophet was the Qur’an walking; he was no just the Qur’an talking. Had he just been the Qur’an talking, he would never have succeeded. He succeeded because he practiced what he preached. He lived Islam fully in all its dimensions. And it was the same for the Imams: they were an outpouring of good; loving, caring, kind, and compassionate. Love Allah by loving others; by loving your equals in creation; and by loving, caring, and protecting Creation; this planet, Our Mother.

If you want to build a strong community that maintains its Islamic identity, integrates well with the broader society, and can become a force for good, you will never succeed without the help, guidance, assistance, and wisdom of Western scholars of Islam. Use us before you lose us. You ignore and marginalize us to your own detriment. We need to work together: Eastern Muslims and Western Muslims, Muslims by birth and Muslims by choice, women and men, sisters and brothers; the youth, the middle-aged, and the elders for the collective good of the Muslim community, Western civilization, and the whole wide world. As the Prophet Muhammad taught, “There is no shame in religion.” It is time to put ta‘aruf, politeness, formality, and social hypocrisy aside, and speak frankly, openly, and honestly about the problems that impact us all. Otherwise, we are condemned to perpetuate the cycle of sin, darkness, and despair. I call you out into the open. I call you all to the light. I call you to confession, repentance, and atonement. I invite you to treatment, therapy, and healing. I call you to physical, psychological, and spiritual health.

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Dr. John Andrew Morrow is a senior scholar specializing in Islamic, Indigenous, and Hispanic Studies.