In a recent conversation with a Muslim brother I told him “you know from what I see most of the second-generation Muslims I see online don’t see to like Islam that much and they positively hate the Sunnah. If you say something against Valentines Day or make any Islamic judgment they label you an extremist and they are only comfortable with a Muslim-identity as a social construct and not as a religious one.”
He pointed out to me the fact that these same Muslims, who will not judge any Muslim no matter how deviant (unless that Muslims is what they call a Wahabbi), are ready to excommunicate anyone who is not “green”, “organic”, or feminist, and he pointed out this is because they derive their beliefs from their educations from non-Muslims and their peers and not from Islam. Islam only re-enforces what they already believe and if Islam contradicts what they believe then they negate that aspect of the religion. We both noted that a tragedy of this era is that the Muslim organizations such as IANA and the Mahad have been closed by the government and a scholar who could have combated the issues of our times such as Sheikh Ali- al-Timimi is incarcerated. So those who are in opposition to this mindset such as myself are easily isolated and vilified; because I do not carry the weigh of a Sheikh Ali. Of course there are others, who do carry weight, and who agree with me on any points, who have run from the fight. Still more who disagree who are large in numbers, as a matter of fact much larger than these online forces of the Muslim Left, who are content just to be to themselves and say the internet is a fitnah.
The Digital Divide
I am a little older than many of my readers and due to this I came of age slightly before computers became the norm for schools and were common in the homes of people. So, I did not grow up knowing how to use a computer and didn’t type for the first time until I was in high-school and I have never learned how to type properly or use most computer functions (and do be quite honest I do not find computers all that interesting).
The first experience I had on the internet is when I was 22 years old and was a roommate of Ismail Royer. He was working at CAIR and had been educated at elite schools and knew a lot about computers and he taught me a few things; but I still did not have an email address and still could not really figure out what to do with a computer.
Around 1998 my curiosity in the internet was peaked because a lot of brothers were communicating with one another on AOL such as Idirs Palmer and Tariq Nelson and I wanted to get in on their conversations. I still did not have a computer but would go on computers at college campuses to see what the brothers were doing and then I discovered all of the Islamic knowledge online, info on Muslim events and communities, Muslim matrimonial sites, and what not.
It was not until maybe 2002 or 2003 when I was already in my late 20′s that I began to be on the computer on a daily basis and owned a computer and then it took me a while to figure out what to get out of it.
The core of who I am was already established without the influence of a computer. This means I am much more comfortable to talking to someone face to face than online. I do not have an online and an offline persona and my friends generally tend to be people I have known, in person, for years. Most of my Muslim friends do not have Facebook pages and do not read blogs. If they own a computer it is for business or for the kids and like me they grew up without computers.
These are brothers who go to the masjid everyday and pray and many are very active in the community and well-read (and a number quite wealthy); but I can’t get them to read my blog or even pick up their email (which they do a few times a year).
Contrast this to many Muslim bloggers and other only Muslims who have grown up with computers, studied them, love them, and maybe even work with them. A lot of their identity is online. Just as I grew up playing sports, fighting and riding my bike they grew up on the computer and playing video games. In many cases this will mean that I am more physical and aggressive and they are more computer literate and it can mean that while I would rather call you or see you in person they would rather text or email. It also means that many ideas I have that would seem normal, or I would even say unquestioned and orthodox, to many of my offline brothers, seem radical, stupid and bizarre to many online Muslims who have grown-up online.
False Perceptions From Online Identity
False perceptions can be created or manufactured such as those who say I am obsessed with machismo, homosexuality, and violence. I think people who knew me would tell another story. It was not until I started blogging that I even began to think about any of these issues or that I even became concerned.
From the time I took shahadah I never knew any Muslim men who were openly soft and “in touch with their feminine side”. I never knew a Muslim, not a single one, who believed homosexuality was not haram. From time to time I would go to masjids and Muslim events and there would be women who did not cover and there was free-mixing; but this was rare and almost all of the masjids I went to the men and women were separated and the women were covered and as I told my sister-in-law I do not know the names of many of my good friends wives and I would not recognize them if I saw them in the street and I have dined in their homes many a time.
I lived all over the country and I never attended a masjid were the ideas many Muslim bloggers espouse were the norm. When I started blogging I started to encounter Muslims for the first time who praised the feminization of Muslim men, vilified jihad, praised feminism, looked the other way on homosexuality, tried to separate Islam and politics, and showed a general weakness on many Islamic issues. These are Muslims who scorn Muslims and praise un-Islamic ideas such as anarchism, vegetarianism, humanism and the like. These were ideas I had not run into in my visits to hundreds of masjids in dozens of cities.
After I started blogging I felt the need to talk about these issues and then after I saw these problems online I then began to see them in the community mostly amongst the young second-generation Muslims of Desi and Arab backgrounds, white Muslims, and what Tariq Nelson refers to as the “Mulatto Mafia”.
In my day to day life outside of the blog I seldom if ever discuss any of these issues with brothers I know or at the masjid. The reason for that is I do not have to. There is no discussion; because everyone agrees with me and this does not matter if I am in St. Louis, New York, or Virginia. At TalkIslam my ideas may be controversial, and may cause someone like Johnpi to have paranoid thoughts about me, but at most American masjids my ideas are nowhere near as controversial and can find far more in agreement with than the far-left ideas of the progressives, Quransits and others discussed there and that is why they are relegated to online activity for the most part ( this is not to say that maybe some of my political views are not outside the mainstream but on religious issues my views are far more closer to the norm than those you will see discussed at forums such as TI and on many blogs).
Online there becomes a culture clash between those who come from the grassroots such as myself and the bloggers and online Muslims who tend to represent the crowd I previously referred to. This also happens to be a crowd that tends to be upscale financially, suburban, and ready to accommodate the greater-society. Their cultural background often means they are interested in inter-faith whereas the brothers I know are interested in giving dawah (even if we don’t do it like we should). Our outlook towards the greater society tends to be oppositional (even if we are not physically opposing and are productive members of the society) as Yusuf Smith pointed out and theirs tend to be accommodating, non-threatening, and filtered through secular educations and ideologies.
Salafi-Sufi Divided is Overhyped
The Salafi-Sufi divide is relatively minor to this discussion. I do think there is a confluence between so-called Traditionals, some Sufis, Modernists, and Progressives and at some point they all come together; but that is not the main issue.
On the social issues I discuss, for the most part, Salafis from Masjid ar-Rahma in Newark, NJ, Sufis from the Jamaat of Muhammad al-Shareef in California, Taabliquis at Masjid an-Nur in Chicago, MAS brothers at Dar al Hijrah in Falls Church, VA, attendees of Masjid at-Taqwa in Brooklyn, followers of Imam Jamil al-Amin in Atlanta are all going to essentially agree with one another and with me. All of these Muslims represent grassroots Muslims and on social issues are all pretty much on the same page and that page is very far from that of the Modernists, Progressives, Cultural Muslims and yes even a number of pages away from Zaytuna even if some have friendly relations with one another.
None of them see this as the ideal society, all believe Islam can transform this society, all believe in dawah, none of them filter Islam through humanism or their secular educations, none of their masjids have free-mixing, uncovered women, gay-acting brothers, veggie meals, readings of Greeks, none are scared to use the word kafir, and the like and I will say that these types of masjids represent a very large percentage of masjids in America.
However, while there is a difference between these grassroots, often working-class, Muslims and the Zaytuna and Traditional types who tend to be more liberal, non-aggressive, less traditional on social issues, and put a heavier emphasis on their secular educations, that is not the biggest divide.
You will not find that many brothers at the masjids I described going to the salon, wearing hair full of gel, wearing tight jeans, going by non-Muslim names, and yapping on their cell phones while sitting with a Mac Book at a coffee ship drinking frappaccino, shopping at Whole Foods, and having an “organic lifestyle”. All of these groups espouse a masculine Islam and the brothers would tend to see most of this as less than manly and therefore not befitting of Muslims ( although not haram) and in this there is a cultural divide within the community between these Muslims and the Zaytuna and traditional crowd that also tends to merge into a racial divide.
Reverse Hijrah and Its Problems
As a product of the Reverse Hijrah that began to take off in the 1970′s to America where so many Muslims left Muslim countries to live in America and other Western nations we have a large group of the children of these Muslim immigrants who are now young adults.
The results have not been good. The vast-majority of second-generations Muslims, are not Salafi and going to attend an Almaghrib event or a Dawud Adib lecture and are not Sufi and going to a Zaytuna event or a dhikr circle. No, they are completely detached from the religion and this is the majority.
The biggest group of second-generations Muslims are those we see everyday who do not pray, do not dress as Muslims, do not talk as Muslims, and often marry non-Muslims and will not raise their children as Muslims. Most may still call themselves Muslims although many are open apostates or will say “my family is Muslim”.
Then you have the cultural Muslims, who seem to be a large group online. These are the children of mostly religious Muslim families who see being a Muslim just as part of what they are. That does not entail any serious belief and they tend to be scornful of anyone who takes their religion too serious. It just means they accept Islam as sort of an ethnic-group and a social construct; but are not too crazy about observing the Sharia in their lives or in gaining any knowledge of the deen. You cannot argue with them because an Islamic daleel means absolutely nothing to them. You give them Quran and Sunnah and they retort with an article from the New Yorker or a book they read by a non-Muslim academic. You mention an Islamic scholar who is not John Esposito or Karen Armstrong and who, God-forbid, graduated from a Muslim university, and they become suspicious. If they have any energy to be used towards the deen it will be to try and change the religion and they are often joined by white Muslims who maybe have been Muslim a few months; but are quickly promoted by darker Muslims with colonial mindsets.
Many of these cultural Muslims are liberals and in this era having a Muslim identity, which is seen as non-white, gives them street-cred with the Left. If you observe there gatherings you will not know that you are observing a gathering of Muslims as boyfriends and girlfriends are together and few, if any, tend to be dressed in any kind of Islamic manner. These cultural Muslims, sitting alongside their non-Muslim demographic group, will tend to have few children and few of these children will grow up to be Muslim.
The smallest group is the religious and maybe Hamza Yusuf and the like can appeal to those cultural Muslims for some reason.
This leads me to two thoughts; do not make hijrah and the indigenous-immigrant divide will never be erased in the Muslim community.
Looking at the disaster of the second-generation how could any Muslim in good faith advise a Muslim to raise their family here if they do not have to? That is why whenever a brother emails me and says “hey I got a visa and I am coming to America” I tell them to burn the visa and stay in a Muslim land even if it means poverty. The poverty of this life is nothing compared to the fires of Hell. In Pakistan or Egypt your children may grow up and be poor, and bad Muslims, but they will still be Muslim. In America there is a very good chance your children and grandchildren will not be Muslim.
This is not to say that there are not successful examples of raising good Muslim children in America and not plenty of good second and third generations Muslims here, because there are, they are just a small minority though. And, even the ones who have held on to their deen and even prospered in the deen, cannot very well tell Muslims don’t make Revere Hijrah because they themselves are a product of Reverse Hijrah.
The grassroots convert and their offspring, no matter if they are Salafi or Sufi or like most Muslims don’t say they are either, can say “look, I know this place, don’t come here.” It is our home, and we have nowhere else to go, and as long as we are here we will contribute and try and make this place better for everyone, but if we did not see the error of the society and its religion we would have never embraced Islam.