If you have been around long enough in the American-Muslim community and around those who are active one of the things you will find is people tend to move around a lot and most of this moving is done in search for the best community possible for them to live in as a Muslim.
Just the other day a brother in Oklahoma called me and told me he had to get out of that state because the Muslim community is too small and he needs to come to the East Coast where the community is more vibrant and he asked me what city was the best for his family.
Generally I believe that the heartland of American-Islam is from Northern Virginia to New York City and within that strip you will find the most active Muslim communities. California, Michigan and Chicago also have large numbers of Muslims but they are nowhere near as developed as the communities on the East Coast, although each of those places has certain good things about them.
For me I believe that Northern VA represents the most developed Muslim community in America (and I can extend that to the Maryland suburbs) and they has the most to offer as for as schools, family activities, Islamic knowledge, activities, restaurants, stores, political organizations, gatherings, etc. So, initially I recommended that this brother move to Northern Virginia.
He is an African-American and from St. Louis and I know that Oklahoma, as nice as the people are there and as good as the Muslim community may be to some people, is too slow for that brother. His family would be a perfect fit in NoVA and he would love the fact that he can go to fajr at Dar al Hijrah and there is a large crowd, masha Allah. It was when I told him the economics of the situation that he shuttered. I told him for an apartment like he had in Oklahoma, which was 3 bedrooms with 2 bathrooms, which I am guessing he paid between $600 and $800 for, he would have to pay around $2,000 for in NoVA at least and more than likely would never be able to afford to by a house Islamically. We also quickly dispelled the myth “oh, but you make so much more on the coasts” which used to be true but that is no longer the case due to illegal immigration and is just a simple matter of supply and demand.
That is where our conversation ended but I have had many such conversations over the years with brothers from the Midwest and the South who live in small and very isolated Muslim communities and see the need to move to a bigger and better Muslim community and I have seen brothers go back and forth over the years, including myself, from community to community.
The problem lies in the fact that most of the American brothers, like myself, are used to paying between $300 and 700 for a place to live and we come to the East Coast and the rent is through the roof and that is just one of the many costs that rise. Combine that with the fact that while the immigrant Muslim communities on the EC are vibrant, the indigenous communities are numerous but just as strapped for cash as brothers everywhere else (they just have a little more knowledge and experience).
A part of growing up the way a lot if us do is that a lot of the money we make is informal and even if you get a good job it is normally through what the Arabs call wasta and when you leave your hometown you have left your wasta behind and unless you got something special to offer you are just another jibaro coming to the EC in search of the Muslims and most brothers have seen too many to pay you any mind as far as helping you. Nonetheless, brothers make these sacrifices all the time and when I talk to brothers in Wichita, KS or Birmingham, AL I can almost bet I am going to hear “yea akh, I’m thinking of moving to Philly” or something like that.
It is natural, of course, because a Muslim in a place like St. Louis can feel lonely. The community is built for older Desis, older followers of WD, and a mixture of refugees and there is no vibrancy and no youth. The two organizations that dominate the young adult Muslims and have brought excitement to them in America, az-Zaytuna which is more geared towards Sufis, and al-Maghrib which is more geared towards a non-madhabist crowd, have basically no presence in St. Louis ( if I am wrong someone please correct me but I know for a fact there is no al-Maghrib). Even at the height of the Salafi Dawah there were only a handful of Salafis in St. Louis, there is no active chapter of MAS ( which is needed), and I cant think of any Sufi tariqa that is active locally. Today you still have what you have always had in St. Louis; a few Salafis, a few Tabliquees, a handful of guys involved with ICNA, and that is about it. You have a good CAIR chapter and Sheikh Nur, but that is not enough to sustain a community and keep the youth. If the young stay, their deen will suffer unless they have tremendous iman, and if the convert stays they will more than likely not feel fulfilled.
Many of the best leave and others stay and say they will be the ones who can revive a place like St. Louis and some of those brothers leave a few years down the line due to a sense of frustration.. Others do what they can and may Allah reward them. A lot of these brothers come running back home flat-broke too after getting hit hard by the high cost of living on the EC. These brothers, and I include myself in this and may Allah be the judge, are not that concerned about making money and are more interested in putting themselves in a vibrant community and contributing to the spreading of Islam in America, and many pay for that later on when they are older and broker.
The battle is between two realties; the one of deen and the one of money, and in an ideal situation the two would come together and they sometimes do and there are a lot of brothers who have successfully transplanted themselves. The key is finding that community that is good for your deen and your wallet. I love the Muslim community of NoVa (although I am not a fan of the endless strip malls, McMansions, and yuppie nature of the community-at-large), but economically it doesn’t work for me and for most of the brothers I have known going there over the years.
New York has a huge Muslim community, the biggest in America, but the community is too ethnic and while I love NYC and its history and vibe as a whole, I am not crazy about the Muslim community, and I am definitely not crazy about the outrageously high cost of living in an increasingly unequal city of the haves and have nots.
What is more important? Economics or deen or do you have to make that choice? I think that at different stages in your life it is natural to worry about things more than at other stages. If a brother has a big family it is a hard decision because if you raise your kids in one of these small communities it is hard to keep them on the deen at the same time you can’t take them someplace where they will be starving.