Need for a Major Paradigm shift in Mosque proceedings/ sub-culture in America to forestall any potentially catastrophic fallout of Islamophobia, and for Americanization of the minority Muslim community.
– A 12 point agenda for serious consideration by the board of all mosques and Islamic centers and the whole spectrum of Muslim community leaders in America.
By Muhammad Yunus, NewAgeIslam.com
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009.)
The most naïve thing on earth will be to assume that there is no counterpart of Breivik or bin Laden among the 3-4 billion combined Christian and Muslim population of the world, leave alone the violent extremists of other faith communities, and mercenary terrorists – a breed that might be in existence underground or in the offing– no one knows. Since any single person (such as Fort Hood shooting by Nidal Hasan) - or barely a handful of them, not necessarily of Islamic faith (Oslo terrorist Anders Breivik is not a Muslim) can commit an ingenious but monstrous act of terror, the chance of another major terrorist attack ever in future on US soil cannot be ruled out. Therefore, the American Muslims have to put their act together to avert a potentially deadly backlash, given the ominous cloud of Islamophobia hovering overhead. Since American Muslim communities are surrounded by many ‘potential’ enemies (the Islamophobes among the neighborhood) they must groom and project themselves as an exclusive ‘American Muslim’ community that has nothing to do with the terror attack - whoever might be its alleged perpetrator, before it is too late. Here are some tips that can save them from a potentially aggressive backlash and at the same time, assist their Americanization.
1. The mosque and community discourses not to differentiate Allah with God. The word ‘God’ appears at the back of each American dollar note, is taken regularly by American leaders, and is without any trace of doubt, the verbal symbol for the Almighty Creator that in Arabic is called Allah. Until the rise of symbolism in the wake of the Dome of Rock fire (1969) and the Yom Kippur war (1973), many English translations of the Qur’an by Islamic scholars had the word God for Allah. But later editions of those works have used the Arabic word only implying that God had to be identified by a proper Arabic noun – a notion the Qur’an dispels by asserting that Allah is no different from God who is remembered in all places of worship - churches, synagogues, monasteries and mosques (22:40). Any insistence to calling God in the Arabic tongue reinforces the Islamic stereotype as a Cult of Muhammad with an Arabic deity and feeds the growing anti-Islamic propaganda and Islamophobia.
2. To visibly communicate Islam’s recognition of the Christians and Jews as fellow believers to the mainstream Christian community, such Qur’anic verses (illustrated below) that project them as religious co-equals with the Muslims should be inscribed in bold or gold on mosque façades in large letters:
“Say, ‘We believe in God, and in what was revealed to us, and in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We do not make a distinction between any of them. To God alone do we submit” (2:136).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Christians and Sabians - and (in fact) any who believe in God and the Last Day, and do good deeds - shall have their reward with their Lord. There will be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve” (2:62).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabians and Christians - (in fact) any who believe in God and the Last Day, and do good deeds - there will be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve” (5:69).
3. Muslim youngsters to be groomed to excel in moral conduct and behavior so as to uphold the heritage of their Prophet (33:21) as exemplified in the Qur’an, and to cultivate an urge for excellence in all their lawful pursuits for gaining a goodwill that excellence invariably brings.
4. As the Qur’anic message puts no bar against participation in cultural activities the Muslims in the Western world must encourage youngsters to participate in games, sports, athletics, swimming, song, dance and music – keeping within bounds of modesty and morality, to help inter-faith interaction as commanded by the Qur’an (49:13) and prevent cultural isolation.
5. Muslim women in America/the Western world may actively consider giving up the head-ear-chin wraparounds they wear on the following grounds:
Its distinctiveness gives a false signal of an exaggerated presence of the Muslims that may be threatening to some.
Its association with medieval papal attire creates a social barrier in that a non-Muslim woman (or even a Muslim woman) going about casually with her head and ear exposed may feel alienated from a woman wearing a uniform type headdress that is reminiscent of de-feminized medieval nuns.
It gives a false notion of regimentation as Muslim women from different cultures are as unconnected with each other as their non-Muslim counterparts from different cultures, but wearing a uniform type head-ear wraparound, they collectively look like a team or troop (as a prelude to a cultural invasion).
It can be physically inconvenient to some working women as well as to those participating in outdoor games, sports, swimming and athletics by blocking natural ventilation around their heads and ears.
It has lost its original role of providing security in an exclusively male occupied public arena. Today, a Muslim woman in any backstreet of America or Europe is probably far safer without the head-ear-chin wrap around than with it.
Face veiling is already banned in many places including the premise of al-Azhar University, public places in France; besides, it conflicts with a clear Qur’anic directive to women to keep the face visible for personal identity (33:59), and there is no Qur’anic instruction to cover the head, ear or chin.
The truth is, the head-gear covering the ear and chin entered Islam from Christianity some “three to four generations after the Prophet’s death when the Muslims were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium.” . As this antiquated Christian custom is distorting the image of Islam and giving a false picture of gender bias/ oppression, Muslim women will do better by retracting from this purely symbolic custom in their new Western abode.
6. Muslims must translate their devotion to the great Prophets Jesus Christ and Moses by celebrating the Christmas/ Yom Kippur for example, in all Islamic centers and mosques in a befitting manner, inviting sympathetic priests and rabbis - and there must be plenty of them - to grace the occasions.
7. Some thoughts regarding the role and architecture of the mosque:
The earliest mosques in different parts of the world where Islam went were modeled after the local monasteries, temples and churches. Example: Masjid Agung, Demark, Java built in 1466 and Niujie mosque built in China 996 look like monasteries. Cheraman Juma Masjid, Kerala, India built in the Prophet’s lifetime has the façade of a Hindu Temple. The Great Mosque of Kairouan, Tunisia, built in 863 and Mosque of Cordoba built over 784-987 reflect strong influence of Berber, Roman and Gothic architecture. Therefore mosques in the Western countries should have the facade of the local churches rather than those of the classical Islamic civilization.
Islamic centers will do better to building architecturally compatible functional buildings for prayer and enhance its religious role by employing it, in addition to prayer, for community service (such as free health clinic, food bank, free IT training etc. in present day context) as required by their faith and practiced in early Islam - some are already engaged in, albeit in a limited scale. A model architectural design for 21st century utility mosque is illustrated in this link:
8. The gender segregation in mosques in the Western world, where there is no gender segregation in public place is meaningless, and undermines Islam’s image as a universal gender-neutral faith. In the same spirit, Muslim women, whom the Qur’an projects as co-guardians of men (9:71) should not be barred from leading a congregation prayer as traditionally imposed.
9. A professional mosque imam, if engaged, should have the following credentials to effectively play his community and inter-faith role as a witness to humanity (2:143, 22:78) and to defend the faith and the Prophet in the media.
Adequate universal education, IT skill and command in English written communication.
Well read on the clear ahkamat (commandments) of the Qur’an that he may convey to the community as part of Friday pre-prayer address (khutba) or through any Qur’anic learning program for the youngsters. (Traditional khutba in Arabic is against a historical context that is more than a millennium ante-dated and is profoundly anachronistic in 21st century America/West.)
Well read on the noble personal qualities of the Prophet, drawn on the historically authentic references of the Qur’an to be able to inspire the community with his noble qualities, and defend him against the barrage of diatribes and abusive and demonizing remarks, his opponents frame by drawing on his classical biographic accounts.
Have a basic idea of American history and law and national leaders.
Clearly understand the dichotomy between Islamic theological disciplines (Classical Islamic Sharia, Hadith and the Sira of the Prophet), and the Qur’an – the former historically derived, informed, shaped, and contextualized and therefore profoundly anachronistic for the 21st century Western world/ America  and the latter universal with no space, time boundaries and applicable for all times and historical contexts.
Preferably skilled in some art forms like song, dance and music that the Prophet himself watched (with his wives) on festival occasions , is very popular in the West/world today and therefore serves as an ideal avenue for interfaith interaction as enjoined by the Qur’an (49:13), mentioned under 4 above.
10. Muslim leaders, spokesmen, ulama and imams must be respectful to all faiths and faith-communities, quote only what is the best in the Qur’an as it enjoins (39:18, 39:55), must not make any statement that purports to undermine other faiths, promote hatred, feed religious bigotry radicalization, gender and racial discrimination, cultural alienation and other vices with which Islam and Muslims are brush-stroked today.
11. The Muslims must stop debating whose religion is the most perfect and instead preach the fellow Muslims to excel in goodness and lawful pursuits and to cultivate other universal virtues (justice, forgiveness, tolerance, good neighborly relations etc.) as their faith (the Qur’an) enjoins.
12. The Muslims must shun any proselytizing as today it is far more important for the Muslims to gain the respect and admiration of the people of other faiths that in its early centuries brought converts, rather than soliciting others who despise and trivialize them to join their faith. Besides, with their singular emphasis on prayer, rituals and symbolism, a potential convert is not likely to acquire the noble virtues of the Qur’an from his association with the Muslim community as his early counterpart did. Today, it is immensely more important for a Muslim to epitomize the noble paradigms of the Qur’an, following the Prophet’s example (2:143), rather than bring into Islam the Christians or adherents of other faiths – who may be better than them in conduct and behavior and God’s sight; and the community leaders should tailor their speeches and thinking accordingly to win friends from among potential foes.
Karen Armstrong, Islam, Islam, A short history, New York 2002, p. 16.
2. See the following articles for details:
i) The evolution of the Hadith sciences and the Prophet’s Sunna and the need for a Major Paradigm Shift regarding the role of the Hadith Corpus and the scope of Madrassa education.
ii Acceptance of The Satanic Verses Episode of The Classical Sira is Shirk and Kufr.
iii) The Classical Islamic Law (Islamic Sharia Law) is NOT a Word of God!
3. Afzalur Rahman, Role of Women in Society, London 1986, p. 374-381.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.