Working Class Muslim Families Series Part Two: American-Muslims Living in Isolated and Backward Communities

This category is one of Muslims living in rural areas, in the west, or in Midwestern and southern cities with very dead Muslim communities. Many immigrant Muslims may not need to live in a vibrant community. Their Islamic values were reinforced by their upbringing and education. They do not need new Muslim friends because they have Muslim family. When they are in desperate need of seeing Muslims they can go home on vacation and see nothing but Muslims. The American-Muslim, especially the convert, needs to be in a place where they can grow.

If you convert to Islam and there are no Muslims at your school, none at your work, none in your family and you see no Muslims in your everyday life you may feel lonely. You may very well eventually quit being Muslim (and I have seen this happen maybe hundreds of times in St. Louis).

The convert needs to go to a masjid where he is welcomed and there are other Muslims like him. He needs brothers he can talk about fiqh with and discuss the NFL with, a brother he can tell about how much fitnah it is being celibate for this first time since he was a young teen and not feel he is a bad Muslim, a brother he can go to an aqeedah class with and then watch a PPV boxing match with over pizza.

If a brother has this, just this, he has a good chance of survival in the Muslim community. Having Muslims friends who you can relate with is so crucial to our experience. Friends can give you advice and tell you to say no when you want to say yes. When you are tempted to “make dawah” to or marry a non-Muslim girl that brother can tell you no. The immigrant may not tell you no. He may be married to a non-Muslim or have been married to one at one time; but his deen may also not be as fragile as yours.

Sadly most brothers in thee types of small communities end up either going to ISNA-style masjids that, for the most part, are not youthful or vibrant. They have little to offer the new Muslim and offer very little in terms of Islamic education. American-Muslims who want to advance in their knowledge of the deen will often be shut out at these masjids. This is not out of malice from the immigrant Muslim. The immigrant Muslims for the most part are warm and friendly to the convert; but simply do not know what to do, or do not have the spare resources, to accommodate them. This often drives indigenous Muslims in small communities to small, and usually fledgling and cash-strapped, African-American masjids in the inner-city. These masjids may be very small but they do teach Islamic knowledge, are strict in their observance, and offer a place for socialization.

For the working-class indigenous Muslim family you are between a rock and a hard place in these communities like St. Louis. You do not feel comfortable at the suburban immigrant masjid and you cannot afford to send your children to the Muslim school attached to the masjid and even if you can afford it your children will be poor kids going to a school full of wealthier kids not of their ethnic group which is often a recipe for problems. There is also the issue that most of these ISNA-style schools tend to be too liberal for a lot of indigenous Muslims, especially those schools in the smaller communities that may be under a greater pressure to assimilate. (If there is a MAS school in the area the situation is a little better for indigenous families as MAS tends to be more religiously conservative; but the ethnic problems remain).

The inner-city African-American masjid more than likely does not have a school. Indeed, in a recent conversation with Tariq Nelson, we were both hard-pressed to name African-American operated Muslim schools (that are not a part of the Sister Clara Muhammad system) outside of the Northeast (and even there there are only a few).

In these small communities you really don’t have an option to send your kids to public schools. You are already a small and isolated community and struggling to raise your children Muslim and then sending your kids to public schools will all but negate what little Islam they have. If you cannot afford or do not desire the immigrant school and the indigenous masjid either does not have a school or it is of poor quality then that leads Muslim families with two choices; moving to where there are better Muslim communities or making “hijrah” to a Muslim land.


6 thoughts on “Working Class Muslim Families Series Part Two: American-Muslims Living in Isolated and Backward Communities

  1. Good God Almighty, you’re scaring me Umar.

    I grew up in Brooklyn around lots of Muslims but always went to public school.

    I now live in Atlanta with my wife and four kids. We like the numerous Muslims here, but the economy is sagging and our hands are being forced.

    Up till now, we tried to balance homsechooling our kids and sending them to a Masjid for Hifz and other Islamic subjects.

    But my job has cut hours like crazy, and after looking for another job for almost four months, I’m being forced to leave the ATL. It’s kinda sad as I hoped to settle here and raise my kids, but I’ve made Istihkarah and it doesn’t seem I’m going to be in the Peach State much longer.

    My extended family (southern, Christian, black folks) are mostly from Alabama. Birmingham to be exact. I have family and land there and since I don’t have a home here anymore (my lease expired at the beginning of the month and I can’t afford to renew and I’m tired of looking for a job in the ATL) I’m going to head off to ‘Bama, Inshallah.

    There are masajid in B’ham. One WDM affiliated, one ISNA type mostly immigrants, and one really uppity, well to do immigrant out in the suburbs.

    I’m wondering if my kids will face the same issues you speak of here. All of my children are still very young, and only Allah knows what the future holds for us.

    However, I advise those Muslims that can (and I know everyone cannot) you should really consider homeschooling if public school and Muslims private school options aren’t available.

    Right now, I think that may be my only choice.

    May Allah protect us all.

  2. Thanks for this series.
    I live in rural Vermont, I’m a convert (1973). Even after all these years, even with all the really dear brothers I’ve come to know over the years, even with the reasonably established deen Allah has blessed me with, it is still tough not being around good solid brothers on a day to day basis. I believe Umar is telling it straight…if you are in one of these isolated situations and you have a family with children, you will be doing yourself a favor in this world and the next to go be with the people.

  3. I am constantly balancing the pros and cons between homeschooling and local public school (we have one more year til Kindergarten). Christmas is already ingrained in my daughter’s mind and more recognizable to her than the Eids are. Being a convert I have no clue how to nicely pass on islamic knowledge. No family stories, or rituals, or timing of when to introduce topics…
    Same issues you are bringing up are here in CA too. Thank god for the internet community, for myself. But for my kids…? I hope the challenges here can help build a stronger, more durable, more compassionate Muslim out of them. IF only I can help navigate them through it.

  4. Man, that’s tough. What I would think is that you have to move (if you can) if you really need that support system.

    We should really be leaders of good in our communities so that we don’t have to move. But to build that goodness all around us, is easier said than done.

    Most of our Prophets came from lands in which they were the only ones that had the religion, and they had to spread it amongst the people. But then again, we are just regular people and we need support and good friendship to stay on the straight path.

    I pray that Allah help us all.

    Thanks for the post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s