Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
Excuse Me, But We Are the West!
That is right, you and I, we are the West. Elementary, my dear Muslims! Let me explain how.
But first let me thank you for your patience and indulgence in reading this book thus far. Now I am saying something that is bound to cause you some surprise. It is also bound to make some non-Muslims in the West unhappy – and quite probably puzzle everyone everywhere.
I am saying that we are the West – you and I; and our children and children’s children, if that were to be the will of the Almighty. At a time, and in a world, in which people are busily debating about Islam and the West and about Islam in the West, I am saying Islam is the West – in the sense and to the extent you and I, Muslims, are the West.
It shocked some of my best friends when I first started saying it in the early 1990s. At that time, I gave several speeches in which I said: I Am America! My audience consisted of some highly educated and brilliant professors, doctors, students and other professionals. We were trying to form an organization called Concerned Citizens for Peace and Understanding (CCPU) to perform community service in Upstate New York.
One of my goals in those days was what I used to call mainstreaming of Islam in America – making Islam and Muslim life and culture part of the daily life, vocabulary, imagination and activities of mainstream, everyday America. My wife and I worked on that goal starting way back in the early 1970s.
We had even at that time, in the early 1970s, more or less decided to make America our home. Even otherwise, what my wife and I never doubted was the simple fact that to a Muslim the whole earth was home. This to us was elementary Islam, and we had very little ambiguity on that subject. Islam – and somehow growing up under my parents’ influence, may Allah bless them – had taught me that the whole of earth was to humans home and national borders and boundaries were human conveniences.
To me the entire human history – and the history of Islam – from Adam and Nuh and Ibrahim Alaihimussalam to Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, bore powerful and incontrovertible testimony to this universal, supranational, trans-territorial Islamic perspective that I had on the notion of citizenship, whether American or some other.
Those were the days, in early and mid-Seventies, when my wife got our school district to identify and label the contents of our school food. Those were also the days when my wife and I won a major concession from our school district, after a series of representations and appeals, to give permission to my little daughter to take swimming lessons in the school’s Olympic-size pool wearing what the school district called street clothes.
The world had come a long way from early 1970s to the early 1990s. America was slowly beginning to rub its eyes and blink at the looming presence of Islam in its midst. Islam was putting out its bright and beautiful shoots everywhere in America in the cracking dawn of a new day in the history of America – the West and the world.
So, my thinking in the late 1980s and early 1990s had firmly moved to a point where I was looking at myself not merely as a passerby or a spectator on the American scene, which I never did at any time anyway, but as a full participant, actor and stakeholder.
I saw clearly that I was no longer, not that I ever was, on this train called America for mere joyride, but that I was on that train the passenger, the driver, the train and its destination – its very destiny, albeit in a very humble, infinitesimally microscopic way. Like everyone else who was on this train calling himself or herself an American.
Ham Kooza-o, Ham Kooza Garo, Ham Gile Kooza, as a poet once put it in a different context.
Life as a thinking, analytical, sensitive, caring, questioning and fairly straight-shooting human being had thrust upon me this final conclusion that seemed to me so obvious and inevitable from the start. Life had added a new one to the checkered list of my roles and identities in this world. And with it life had ever so imperceptibly added a new mountain of responsibilities and obligations to the already crushing load on my shoulders. My domain now was the whole world, and America was a major part of that domain.
Life had added a whole new chapter to my life based on the glorious Hadith of Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, that says: Kullukum Raa-‘in Wa Kullukum Mas-oolun ‘An Ra-‘iyyatih. I now saw myself as Mas-ool for my American Ra-‘iyyah – for my new Qawm.
And I saw my role as not limited to the building and serving of America as a citizen and a university teacher – which was my profession – but as extending to the additional obligation to take Islam to every home, heart and institution in America – to this new Qawm of mine in America. In other words, mainstreaming of Islam in America became part of the very definition of my American citizenship as well as my very definition of myself as a Muslim.
And by citizenship I do not mean either the ceremony or the piece of paper that gives you naturalization status, but the broader and inclusive concept of civic, social – and altogether – Islamic responsibility that gives meaning and legitimacy to those rituals and trinkets and makes them more binding upon you than the next person.
I saw it – this job of mainstreaming Islam and making it accessible to the average American – as not only my basic human and Islamic duty, but as my primary American duty – which to me, of course, was subsumed under the definition of Islam. For I had something to give America that many others did not; for I had Islam to give America over and above what I gave America as an ordinary citizen and teacher; for America, to my way of thinking, had as much need, and right, to Islam as I did; for America needed Islam as much if not more than it needed all else in life.
All this to me meant one simple fact – that I was now America. And that is what I proceeded to say in some of my speeches in those days with some of my best friends and some of the finest minds in the Muslim world in the audience.
They listened to me with patience. But that did not stop them from looking at me with crinkled eyes and quizzical looks. They were too polite to snicker or sneer openly, but I could tell they had serious reservations about what I was saying. A huge gulf seemed to lie between us. With every passing minute it seemed to grow wider.
I am America! What is he talking about? How could it possibly be? That is what they were thinking. If they were not such highly educated, brilliant and enlightened people – many of them – this is what I would have thought they were saying to themselves: You are not a Christian; you are not a Jew; you are not white; you have an accent; you were born in India; you are a Muslim; you are dark; you are an immigrant; you are from the Third World; you are like one of us; you don’t drink or do drugs; and on top of that you have no power, position or status in America – what on earth do you mean you are America?
I am afraid some of them were even thinking if this was a new face of self-hate, defeatism, inferiority complex, surrender or just plain sellout – a nice man losing his marbles or a once-acceptable Muslim now suddenly gone berserk.
To them – and to be fair to any one in their position – the problem would have been that I was not just saying I was an American, I was saying I was America, which is a very different thing. That meant I was saying I am the face of America; I am the soul and spirit of America; I am the past, present and future of America; I am all that is good or bad in America; I represent America’s failings as well as her triumphs; I share America’s guilt and virtue; and I embody America’s destiny. I was in effect saying to the world, you want to see America, look at me I am America.
Evidently, to some of those present it was sheer nonsense; to me nothing was more self-evident. To some of them it was madness; to me it was the height of logic. To some of them it was laughable; to me it was sad that the cream of Muslim intellectuals failed to see something this obvious and this clear. To some of them the question was, how could it be. To me the question was, how could it be otherwise.
And here is the crux of my logic. The moment you decided to be born in America, or in England, France, Scotland or Trinidad – well Allah decided it for you – you became an heir to all that America had to offer by way of wealth, poverty, culture, tradition, history, failures, successes, foibles, triumphs, defeats, hopes, frustrations and dreams. That was the basket of goodies in which you landed as a newborn baby.
This was also the basket that was handed to you the day you became a citizen. Accepting American citizenship was an act of deliberate choice on your part. No one held a gun to your head. You could have said yes or you could have said no, but you wanted it, so you said yes to it. One thing you could not have done as a Muslim was kept your fingers crossed behind your back and pretended you did not know what you were doing.
You were now boarding a train; and when you board a train you go where the train goes. That much you should know – and I suspect you did. Unless you thought of yourself as a gun-toting cowboy who could jump off the running train on your own horse galloping alongside and set off into the wilderness.
Of course, it was a different matter that a train like America affords a choice of destinations – at least in theory. That it grants you the right to negotiate the very direction of the train – at least in theory. And that it opens up before you the possibility – however small and no matter how theoretical – of making life better for all travelers all over the world.
And frankly, it was not so much the train ride, but rather this choice that made some of us want to hop on to the train of American citizenship. For some of us, it was not a question of how quickly the American train would lead to personal fame and fortune. It was more a question of how America’s sundry bounties, resources, courage, determination, compassion, fairness, spirituality as well as America’s commitment to liberty, equality and universal justice will help to create a better world for all of Allah’s creation.
That is where the real charm of American citizenship lay for some of us at that time. And that is also where, despite all the holes punched into that optimistic outlook of late, it still lies. That is the true transcendental meaning, the spiritual dimension, of the much-touted expression, the American dream. That is the real promise of America, as her founders conceived it. Without it life is a nightmare and America would be a sham and a travesty of her founders’ dream.
But now I am no longer saying I am America – that is old hat. Rather, I am now saying we are the West – you and I and all Muslims who are citizens and immigrants and visitors in the West. I am now extrapolating and extending my ten-year-old model of I Am America to a broader model of We Are the West.
I have not the slightest doubt in my mind – May Allah protect me from folly! – that I was right then and I am right now. I meant what I said then and I mean what I say now.
I am perfectly willing to debate this with you, just set up the time and the place. But don’t you see how obvious it is? Where were you born if not in the West – those of you who were, that is? What other home do you know than the West? Where were you educated if not in the West?
Where do you work if not in the West? Where do you plan to spend the rest of your life if not in the West? Where do you hope to raise your family if not in the West? The list of questions is endless. But the answer to all of them is one and the same: In The West!
Then, and that is my point, why don’t you claim the West as your own? Where is your pride of ownership? For how long will you remain an outsider looking in through the lattices of your own making, when the whole West is yours to claim? How long would you sit on the bleachers and watch the game when your names are all on the roster of the team?
So, make no mistake about it – we are the West, you and I, and our children and children’s children, if the world lasts that long. And those who tell you otherwise just don’t get it. Most of them don’t have the tools that would enable them to see this matter clearly.
But this is what many of them would be saying 10 years from today – mark my words. I am just saying it to you before a lot of others do – as Allah has made me do with regard to a number of other things all through my life.
What it also means, when I say we are the West – and this is where some non-Muslims, especially the right-wing, racist, super-patriotic and religious-fanatic types among them would be displeased with me – is that we are the changing face of the West, you and I. We are the new West, the future West – Islam and all.
That means don’t look for a lot of us in bars and strip clubs. Instead look for us in mosques and Islamic gatherings. Don’t expect all of us to be passive consumers of the junk food in the market. Instead expect at least some of us to make a run for the better quality of food, one expression of which is Halal, Tayyib food.
That also means, don’t expect all of us to be dragged, bound and gagged, behind the juggernaut of interest and economic bondage. Instead expect many of us to flail about desperately looking to create alternative ways of bringing economic liberty and financial security to individuals and families, as much as we can, based on Halal new principles and models of economics and finance.
Therefore, when I say to you that we are the West – you and I and all Muslim citizens and immigrants in Western societies – I am not saying we are the old West. I am not saying we are the Christian or Jewish or Biblical West.
What I am saying instead is that we are the new West – the Muslim and Islamic West. That means a West that is – by every right and in actuality – as much Muslim and Islamic as it is Christian, Jewish, atheistic, agnostic or some other. We are the face of the new West that is as much Qur’anic as it is Biblical. We are the new partners and stakeholders in this joint new enterprise called the New West – in spite of everything that has happened in the West, and the world, over the past 25 years or may happen in the West, and the world, over the next 25 years.
We and the West, and Islam and the West, are now the twain that never shall part – should that be the will and pleasure of the one who is the master of the West as well as the East; who is the king of kings and the only and real king; who gives power to whom he wants and snatches away power from whom he wants; and whose mercy and grace cradle everything.
That means we are the future of the West. We have seen that future; that future is here; and it is us – you and I and our children and our children’s children, in full partnership with all the others who staked out the West before us. This is our destiny and the destiny of the West and no one is going to put a wedge between us.
Now do you see how as Muslims we have really come home to the West? Do you see how in elections, how in the democratic form of government, how in the right to put people of our choice – the people we think are the best – in and out of power, we have really come home to some of our own long-lost Islamic legacy?
This is nothing if not another paradox of life and of Islam: In going forward to the West, we have gone full circle back to our roots in the divine guidance of Islam. For, it was Islam that first taught the world what it meant to empower the powerless; what it meant to give rights to women; and what it meant to put in office, not those who claimed heavenly descent or divine right, but those who possessed superior character and skills. This new business of the West, therefore, is really old hat to us.
Don’t let anyone take this away from us –not in the name of Islam; not in the name of loyalty or allegiance to the Muslim world “back home.” Not even citing all the fights that have broken out – and that have gone on forever – between Islam and the West, between the Muslim world and the West.
For, Islam came to break the chains of tyranny from the minds and bodies of people; it did not come to make human beings slaves and dupes of anyone. Part of that freedom is for us to be able to decide if we want to be part of the West as much in mind as we are in body.
END OF CHAPTER 34
Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
© 2003 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.