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A brother who has read this series told me on the telephone that I am overly optimistic about the future of Muslims in America. That sounded odd to me because most people accuse me of being negative and pessimistic. However, as I have outlined in this series, I do believe that a good future is available for American-Muslims if we can address the social ills that ail us while holding onto the rope of Quran and Sunnah at the same time.
There can be no solution to these problems though unless we successfully raise our children as Muslims and we do our part to help build and sustain Islamic institutions. Dawah is important and should never be forsaken; but more important than dawah is sustaining the existing Muslims. So, if you are living in a city that is not conducive to the Islam of your children or does not nurture your Islam then you need to go.
The problems of raising Muslim children vary depending on the race or ethnicity of the family and children. The offspring of affluent immigrant suburban Muslims are at risk of just falling in love with the dunya and the modern secular world. With an elite education and the ability to materialistically achieve at the highest level while having a minimal Islamic identity it is highly probable that the bulk of these young Muslims will raise children less Muslim than they are and that many will not raise Muslim children at all. This will weaken with every generation with the remaining Muslims falling into the categories of the very conservative Muslims who have clustered themselves in areas with a high concentration of Muslims (which will be the biggest category), a few progressive Muslims who want to hold onto a non-white identity and have some kind of loose connection with their roots while not professing to follow the Sunnah, and fresh immigrants. More so than any of the categories though you will find people with names like Blake Siddiqhi and Lisa Faruq who are descendents of Muslim immigrants who did well financially ; but they have no connection to Islam due to intermarriage and a lack of Islamic education by their parent or grandparents.
I do not feel that these projections are particularly difficult to make. Those seeking a modern and reformed Islam, almost by definition, want to be a part of the modern world and lack an enthusiasm for traditional Islam. They were born and raised into more traditional Muslim families so they have a semblance of Islam; but without such a benefit given to their children they will have even less Islam, if any at all, and it is highly doubtful that the generation after that will identify as Muslim at all.
The clustered Muslims who practice selective engagement have the greatest chance of ensuring Islam is spread to the future generations in America. This idea is not unique to Muslims. In his book entitled “The Vanishing Jew” the Harvard law professor and Jewish activist Alan Dershowitz projected that the American-Jewish community of the future would be much smaller and yet much more religious. This would happen, Dershowitz argued, because with the high-rates of inter-marriage, low birth rates, acceptance of Jews, and secularization, those who are non-observant Jews or Reformed today will more than likely not exist in any significant numbers in the future. So, the Jewish community will be more pious, but less visible and politically influential. The remaining Jews for the most part will be orthodox Jews living in Jewish neighborhoods (think Borough Park in Brooklyn or Rockland County upstate).
I think the analysis of Dershowitz applies to the typical middle to upper middle-class immigrant Muslim family. Particularly, the ISNA or progressive types (and possibly even some Zaytuna types), for the same reasons as the reformed and non-observant Jews they will fade away with the generations. However, just as they will fade away, those Muslim communities who cluster on the North Side of Chicago, Bridgeview, Brooklyn, Queens, North Jersey, Philly, Baltimore, the DC Area, Michigan, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and a few other places will survive and what do they have in common? Maybe they are Taabliqui, maybe they are MAS, maybe they are ICNA, maybe they are Salafi, maybe they are Sufi; but what they all have in common is that they are religiously traditional and conservative and, in practice, not theory and not through pandering, they are racially diverse ( albeit with more work to be done).
Unlike the Jewish community though the Muslims in America benefit from two things that Jews do not and thus makes the comparison not an exact fit. Islam is an evangelistic religion, a religion of dawah, we are mandated to spread the message of Islam wherever we live. As a matter of fact many ulama have ruled that it is haram to live in this country if we are not making dawah. Judaism is not such an expansionist faith like Islam and Christianity and therefore it can only grow through having a high birth-rate. There is also the issue of immigration. There are maybe 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and many live in failed-states and this is not going to change any time soon. While Muslims are living under poverty and in oppression in Muslim lands they will migrate to the West and in this case America. For the sake of their children and their akhira I would advise them not to come to America, but regardless of what I think and advise they will come here, and they will add to an increasing Muslim population here and offset some of the losses from those who have apostated and children assimilated.
At this point in time there will be many reading this who are thinking one of two things (or both). First, they are thinking the issues I am discussing and the dreams and aspiration of working-class Muslims in America I speak of are in my head and do not really exist on a wide scale. I can assure you that I am not making this up. If you think that I am, email me personally and tell me where you live and I can either put you in touch with people in your city or tell you where to go to meet people in the predicament of which I speak.
The second thing people are thinking is, and I think perhaps maybe this opinion may be the majority in many circles, is why am I making a fuss? Hey, we are in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Muslims are dying to come here and raise their children and you are complaining about having to raise your children here? America is the land of opportunity. If you work hard and get a good education here you can succeed materialistically no matter your race, religion or ethnicity. And, finally, they will not see what I see. Maybe they are cloistered in immigrant Muslim communities, or maybe they see the American-Muslim community and approve of the direction it is heading too. Their goal is the “mainstreaming” of Islam in America and they see this as achievable. More mosques are open and more Muslims are visible, so what is the fuss? A mainstream Islam for a mainstream America is being created!
Well, I am sorry, but if I waned to be in the mainstream of America I would have never became Muslim. When I took shahadah, I was embracing a faith that offered me a radical alternative to the American way of life. A faith not at one with liberals or conservatives or any other religion or political ideology on this planet. If I believed in religious pluralism, in the sense that all religions are the same and no one should profess the exclusivity of the correctness of their faith, I would have never became Muslim.
It is the belief that Islam is the Haqq, The Truth, which sustains me and guides my plans for my family. I am an extremely flawed Muslim and human being, and I am not setting myself up as a role model by any means, but the brothers I have met and loved in this deen have struggled because we are trying to get closer to Islam and live the Sunnah in our lives. Those who seek the mainstream struggle to get farther away from Islam, and closer to an American or secular humanistic model. So, when you talk about unity in the Muslim community, between the immigrant and the indigenous, you have to take these things into consideration, many of us are on the same highway but we are headed in different directions and I want to take my family in the direction that brings them closer to attaining Jannah and not the one that brings them closer to a suburban McMansion.
Jews are a model for Muslims in America. I have found that almost every shade of Muslim I have encountered who has discussed some future model for the Muslim community has invoked the Jewish experience as a model. Progressive Muslims invoke the Reformed model which basically means you can believe anything and still call yourself a Muslim. The model is based on modern humanist thought and anything in Islam that violates the edicts of global secular thought has to go. For them, Islam becomes just some empty traditions made modern and cute. The word Muslim has a cultural meaning and not a meaning of submission to Allah and adherence to the Sunnah of His Messenger (s.a.s.). Socially, this will lead to failure and will die within a few generations (just like Reformed Judaism now is looking at a dire future) and religiously you can call this Islam, but in fact it is not Islam. You can call me the King of England, but that does not make me a king, and you can call a butterfly a mocking bird but that does not make it a mocking bird. You can invent your own Islam out of the words and thoughts of humans, but it will not be – and will never be – al-Islam.
The model the progressives have for our children is a model that will take them out of Islam. And, as the beliefs of the progressives gain momentum – and they can be found in most of the major Muslim organizations and in Muslim schools throughout America – the ascendency of this thought must be taken into consideration when thinking about what kind of Muslim future there is in America for your children. These organizations may not call themselves progressive or reformed Muslims but many in them hold those beliefs.
At this stage in America however these reform minded Muslims do not define the mainstream. The mainstream of Muslim organizations is the alphabet organizations that directly deal with the lives of Muslim children in America: ISNA, MAS, and ICNA. You can also say that Zaytuna and al-Maghrib are organizations that are central to Muslim families and children in their unique ways as well (but are not operating schools).
ISNA and MAS have the most Muslim schools attached to them and in some areas operate the only schools. Therefore, the direction these two organizations are headed, and their definition of the mainstream (which they both seek to be in) is crucial in analyzing a future for Muslim children.
No organization has a greater effect on the identity of more Muslims and the religious and scholastic education of Muslim children than ISNA. This is particularly the case for Desi Muslims; but the reach of ISNA is wide and ensnares the entirety of the American-Muslim community. In many cities, such as St. Louis, the only school operating full-time for Muslim children is a school at an ISNA-affiliated masjid. Therefore, if you want your child to be professionally educated by Muslims and socialized with Muslim children, you have no choice other but to send them to an ISNA school.
There is good in ISNA and their efforts to move American-Muslims into the mainstream if that means that Muslims are not looked at funny or what have you can be positive. But, if that means that the uniqueness of Islam, the Sunnah, Dawah, and the fundamental truths of Islam will take a backseat in terms of effort and emphasis to the need for moderation, mainstreaming, and image-making to the non-Muslim society, then I do not see ISNA-related schools as those where it is safe to entrust the future of working-class Muslim children or their Islamic education too. If interfaith comes before aqeeda and PR gimmicks to gain support or sympathy comes before the Sunnah then I do not think Muslim children are in the best environment to grow.
With regards to the ISNA educated children, we have tens of thousands of examples to look at to see how it turned out. An entire generation has graduated from ISNA schools and is now in young adult hood. Financially, most of these young Muslims are doing well. Educationally, the majority have received college degrees. Politically, most are voting and moderate. So, by the standards of American society these young Muslims are doing great and their educational model should be one that working-class Muslim would be ready to accept for our own children.
But, there is more to the story. There are no figures, but go to city after city and masjid after masjid, and you will find that the community has lost the bulk, if not the majority of those educated in Muslims schools. It is not that most of these young Muslims do not still indentify themselves as Muslims – they do – but they are absent from the life of the Muslim community and living lives that are not distinguishable from their non-Muslim peers. For those who are still practicing – and there are many but I would venture to say they are a minority – there is a strong propensity towards an Islam that is diluted in order to not conflict with modern American society.
I do not blame these young Muslims; rather I blame ISNA and the social thought of those around that influenced their direction. These schools were largely opened in middle to upper-class suburbia in areas that were not heavily populated by Muslims. Indeed, if you look at writings in many Muslim publications in the 1990′s there were Muslims writers, somewhat bizarrely, writing that it was a plus that the Muslim community was spread so thin and not geographically concentrated. In real life what did this mean?
It meant that young Muslim immigrant kids would grow up in areas surrounded by non-Muslims. Non-Muslim kids would be their neighbors and friends and later their lovers and spouses. When they went to the mosque or Muslim school they felt out of place because they felt they could not behave as they wanted to. That is why when you go to an ISNA masjid or school and see the youth they normally have no outward signs of being Muslim nor do they have the speech of Muslims; rather they have the speech and dress of their non-Muslim neighbors.
( Note: The coding problem has been fixed so you can view the spot properly and comments are closed to the end of the series but I really look forward to the discussion insha’Allah)
I recently spoke to a brother who is amongst the brightest minds and a leader of what is known as the second-generation immigrant Muslim community in America. These are Muslims who grew-up in America and are the children of Muslim immigrants. The brother and I talked about efforts from second-generation Muslims to reach out to African-American Muslims and we both noted that while there is goodwill there is also a lack of understanding of the nuance and complexities in the African-American Muslim community and a cultural gap for many. After speaking with him I have become motivated to write a short seven-part series on raising Muslim children in America.
This article is geared towards what I have titled Working-Class American -Muslim families. These Muslim families are overwhelmingly African-American; but there are other indigenous American- Muslims such as myself that fall into this category. Our struggles on many levels are not those of second-generation immigrant Muslims so I will write from a standpoint of the challenges and perils as we see them from our religious, social and economic perspectives.
One of the issues that separates many of our communities is the issue of class and how that affects the family situation and the raising of children. Not only does there seem to be a different approach regarding the raising of children and interaction with the non-Muslim society between indigenous American-Muslims who are friends of mine; but there also seems to be different way in which class alters our decision-making process regarding the raising of children. As an example, American-Muslims such as myself tend to look at universities, law-enforcement, and other institutions of this society with a weary eye, while many first and second generation immigrant Muslims view them in an idyllic light. As an example I am no fan of academia, but I love pro sports; and many of my second-generation Muslim friends love academia and hate sports. It is a mater of culture and taste.
Religious immigrant Muslim families tend to look at things much differently than indigenous Muslims (or at least those I have known). Because most came to America for business and to make money they will choose to live where they can get a job or where they can make the most money. Not to sound pompous; but just as my friends and I talk about moving places where there are the most Muslims they will often talk about where they can move to make the most money. This does not mean they are greedy or irreligious; it just means they came here with a purpose, and that is to get an education and make money, and that is going to be first and foremost on their mind. They figure since they are Muslim and are teaching their children deen and sending them to the masjid and even to a Muslim school that the deen of their children will be fine no matter if they live in small, isolated, and backwards Muslim communities. What we are witnessing today is that many of the children of such immigrant families are growing up and becoming religious just as their families anticipated; but many are not. Many have very little if any connection to the Muslim community, know few Muslims outside of their family, and are marrying non-Muslims and holding views contrary to Islam. Some are outright leaving Islam. The parents cant be blamed; they thought by earning a good life and providing for their children’s education they were doing the right thing and just as none of their family back home left the deen or stopped practicing or made up a “new” Islam they could not imagine their children doing so. The parents did not realize the importance of socialization with other Muslims, population-clustering and the dangers of public schools and universities. Immigrant Muslim families in older and more established communities have a different set of issues to deal with but their children largely benefit from socialization. You will find in these large communities Muslim identity is more rooted and young Muslims are more forward with their Islam and while some areas of vibrancy are shared with indigenous Muslims in the Northeast there are some areas that are uniquely vibrant for immigrant Muslim communities (Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Michigan, Cleveland, Boston, and possibly even Minneapolis-St. Paul).
The less traditional and conservative, yet active, younger generation of Muslims also happen to be the group the most prone to want to reach out to indigenous Muslims and more specifically work to heal the rift between immigrant Muslim communities and African-American Muslims. These brothers have good intentions; but since they tend to be more liberal, and the bulk of indigenous American-Muslim families more conservative and traditional, and since there is an economic-class divide, it can be difficult for these activist oriented second-generation immigrant Muslims to relate to the issues I am going to speak of. Recently a well-known second-generation Muslim who is very steadfast in trying to bring immigrant Muslims and African-Americans together spoke at a gathering. As good as his intentions were he could not connect culturally. He spoke in a very bland and academic manner with a soft voice and wore tight-fitting yuppie style clothing and several brothers asked me afterwards if he was gay (and not with an approving tone).
I am writing this series for Muslim families like mine. Conservative in their outlook, traditional, and working-class. Muslims who struggle economically yet strive to follow the Sunnah. Indigenous Muslims not at peace with the norms of this society and not wishing for their children to return to the kufr they may have come from. Muslims like my wife and I whose main goal for our children is that they be Muslim and we hold that goal for them higher than any dunya goal. This is for those brothers and sisters who struggle and make mistakes and often have a hard time finding a home in the community. I pray that this can be of some benefit to you.