Working Class Muslim Families Series Part 7: Conclusion and What Will Umar Do?

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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.

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Working Class Muslim Families Series Part 4: “Hijrah”

Those indigenous Muslims from isolated areas not satisfied with moving to the east coast always have the option of hijrah. As a matter of fact hijrah is an option for all Muslims in America and you see indigenous Muslims from all areas, East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, Down South, making “hijrah”.

Different people make hijrah for different reasons; but before I talk about those reasons and the pros and cons I first want to briefly deal with the concept of hijrah. There are some American-Muslims who have very sane and rational views about why they should make hijrah and how they should go about doing so and how this will benefit their children.

If your plan to make hijrah consist of getting as tourist visa, overstaying your visa and living off of the meager savings you have from America then you need to rethink your plans. If you are a grown man with children and you plan to go overseas, not work and study Arabic or deen full-time this may not be considered hijrah and instead may just be considered becoming an international deadbeat. If you plan on moving somewhere full time, have no prospects for employment there and have to come back to America for three, four, or six months out of the year leaving your family you may also want to rethink the soundness of your plans.

Technically, all of the things stated above are not hijrah at all. Most of these things involved becoming an illegal immigrant in a Muslim Land. You are not a citizen, your children there will not become citizens and you may not have the lawful right to even work or own property. You may be living full-time or part-time in a Muslim land but your children have no permanent legal status there, will never be considered a local or native and your status there is iffy at best.

As I write this I know of bitter Muslim young adults who grew up in Saudi Arabia and never knew America. They were never considered Saudis, but they were sheltered from all things American; now since they have no legal status in the KSA they are back in America feeling lonely and isolated in a non-Muslim land they did not grow up in and are resentful towards their parents. There parents may have done a lot of things; but they definitely did not make hijrah.

Just like there is a revolving door of Midwestern and Southern Muslims moving back and forth to the East Coast there is also a revolving door of families moving back and forth from overseas. When they are in America they work hard, save up a little money and then go overseas until their money runs out. Any benefits their children receive from living in a Muslim land are negated by the chaos in their lives. The children will more than likely grow bitter and their constantly having to move will mean their education will more than likely be lacking because they miss days of school.

It should be noted that there are ulama that encourage all Muslims in America to make hijrah and there are many Muslims, especially Salafis, who follow that opinion. For them hijrah is the goal at all times and they may or may not have a good plan. Their children could come back to America married to Muslims and fully grounded in the deen and they could come back unable to speak English in complete sentences.

To be quite honest the majority of those American-Muslims who I have known to make hijrah have came back to America in utter failure. Some of them come back with horror stories. Others come back with stories I dare not repeat.

Does this mean I am anti-hijrah? Of course I am not. As a mater of fact, if done properly hijrah is the best option. Instead of struggling to move from one city in a non-Muslim land like St. Louis to another like Philly you could move to a land where there is almost nothing but Muslims. There are many factors that exist though that makes this option very difficult even for the most thoughtful Muslims.

It is sad but true that the majority of the ummah live in poverty. Migrating to a dirt-poor developing nation when you are already poor is not a realistic option. Other places in the ummah are not that poor but are ruled by tyrants who are hostile to practicing Muslims. Such places are also not an option. Other places are mired in civil-conflict and terrorism. These places are not good, not only because you may be putting your life and the lives of your family at risk; but you also may be accused of being a terrorist when coming home to America, be harassed for the rest of your life and have your passport taken.

What does that leave us?  That leaves us with a handful of Muslim countries to work with. Many, if not most, indigenous brothers and sisters are not college-educated. Now, the figure for those who are college-educated is growing masha’Allah, but I will just deal with how it is now. Without a high-level of education this means that brothers who want to provide for their families will have to live in relatively prosperous societies that can afford to pay decent wages for jobs that are not high-skilled. Or live in places with a big need for English teachers for example. This leaves Muslims with the choice of the rich Gulf Arab States (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain), Indonesia, and Malaysia. Thee are also other countries that if well-connected one can make it on a modest wage such as Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan.

If one is not wealthy and looking to move there you must put employment ahead of ideology and conviction. Because, no matter how much you may want to live in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, if you cannot get a job then it is just a dream. If you manage to get over there and do not have a job then in all actuality your family will be suffering and it is a long way from home to be broke.

If a Muslim is not only able to get a good job; but also able to get along well with those of other cultures and have a gift for language, hijrah can be a great option if done with balance, realistic expectations and care. The entire family can enjoy the benefit of living in a Muslim land and can grow together. The key is to grow as Muslims and enjoy your time in a Muslim land without totally detaching yourself from the American-Muslim community and remaining aware of the fact that while your intention may be hijrah you are a visitor and you do not want to put yourself in a  situation where returning to America will be a hardship.

If brothers in Muslim countries only knew how badly many American-Muslims just wanted to live in a Muslim land where they would not be given strange looks, where their wives could cover freely and be given their rights, where the kids could be inculcated into the culture of Islam, where if you die you will get a proper Muslim burial, where you don’t have to worry about food being haram, and where you hear the adhan 5 times a day, if brothers in Muslim countries only knew how badly your heart yearend for Dar al Islam then you would think they would be helping working-class Muslims resettle in Muslim lands for the sake of their children.

Yet, with very limited exceptions, there are normally not wide open arms at the other end welcoming the American brothers and sisters. Instead, we face bureaucratic and visa nightmares fro “Muslim” governments and hostility from Muslims in Muslim lands and often return home and are harassed by the fed’s because we are seeking to grow closer to Allah. As we go closer to Allah American law-enforcement will try to stand in between us and the One who created both of us; but as the old Christian saying goes “you demons get behind me”.

These are prospects for hope involving hijrah, and there are reasons for concern, but no matter where we will go we will always have the swagger and speech of an American, because that is what we are, and believe me wherever you go in this world people will not let you forget that. No matter what circumstances we were born into, no matter how horrific the kufr of our childhoods was, and no matter how much we often carry our Americanness like an albatross around our necks, a greater hope may be available for our children if hijrah is done right, and if it is done wrong our children may see and bear horrors we have not even imagined.

New Series: Questions for Working-Class Muslim Families in America

( 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.

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