Is American Islam Oppressive?
Muslims in America practice the art of compartmentalization—buckets with labels such as: Muslim, non-Muslim, Shia, Sunni , converts, activists, professionals, Muppies and Mipzters. We navigate the deep and turbulent waters of sub-sub-cultures were the interplay of social, cultural, societal and gender norms either isolate or empower.
Being born Muslim—we become a collective Bill Murray bound in Groundhog Day…to repeat and re-repeat our days until we find a path that best suits our predilection. In the Nietzschean equivalent we would be paralyzed, forced to relive every heartbeat without the slightest change.
What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you…and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times’ — Nietzsche
If we were to repeat each action, each happiness, each pain, each love, each joy, and every misstep ad infinitum. How would we live our lives? What would we change? Would we echo Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
Bodies imprisoned, feelings chained,
Thoughts captive and speech punished,
Yet we resolve to go on living.
Is life the coat of a pauper,
Hourly patched with scraps of pain?
But now the tyrant’s term expires,
Forbear a while, the days of grievance wane.
In this parched wasteland of our age
We must remain, but something will change —
Religion instead of liberating can imprison when we carry out prayers without piety, ritual without reflection, charity without care, and have conviction without a moral compass. Reflection is critical and necessity for the growth of individual’s religious and spiritual dimensions. The Holy Quran in Surat Yunus—Jonah— (10:24) states:
إنما مثل الحياة الدنيا كماء أنزلناه من السماء فاختلط به نبات الأرض مما يأكل الناس والأنعام حتى إذا أخذت الأرض زخرفها وازينت وظن أهلها أنهم قادرون عليها أتاها أمرنا ليلا أو نهارا فجعلناها حصيدا كأن لم تغن بالأمس كذلك نفصل الآيات لقوم يتفكرون
The likeness of this world’s life is only as water which We send down from the cloud, then the herbage of the earth of which men and cattle eat grows luxuriantly thereby, until when the earth puts on its golden raiment and it becomes garnished, and its people think that they have power over it, Our command comes to it, by night or by day, so We render it as reaped seed; produce, as though it had not been in existence yesterday; thus do We make clear the communications for a people who reflect. 10:24 Shakir
The Quran teaches us to reflect upon this world, the hereafter, our lives, intentions and actions. Some traditions state that a moment of reflection is considered a form of prayer. Reflection deepens the heart, humbles us, makes us more empathetic, humanizes the other and can be transformative.
Reflection helps us to forge an original relationship with Islam, a relationship that ignites the spirit and sets the soul a blaze. Converts to Islam understand this most clearly; individuals who have made the journey their own. A path full of obstacles and tribulations. A path full of reflection and growth. A journey that liberates.
I recently had the opportunity to hear a panel of converts at the Al-Hujja conference in California. You can listen to panel here: Conver(t)sations. The question every born Muslim needs to ask themselves is:
Have I created an original relationship with Islam?