Don’t Confuse Islam and Muslims

There are many people in American society who are searching desperately for something to hold onto in a world that is changing too fast. The social, cultural, legal, educational and religious institutions that reflect the moral and ethical values and principles a society is based on are all in crisis because there is no longer any common agreement on what is the ultimate source or basis of these institutions, “God is dead” and without a firm belief in an ultimate authoritv to whom we and all our institutions are responsible we are left with the individual as the center of the universe. The rights, wants, needs, aspirations, and desires of the individual have superceded the rights of the community.

Many people know that something is terribly wrong. No amount of material comfort or technological progress can fill the terrible internal void. All the values, rules, and definitions that give stability to a community are now “relative” and subject to change at any time.

Many of those Americans who have been fortunate enough to be exposed to Islam are precisely those who were searching for what was missing in their life. When they were exposed to ISLAM through the teachings of Qur’an and Hadith, it hit them like a bolt of lightening. THIS IS IT. This is what was missing. Faith in God – Iman. Submission to God’s Will – Islam. A way of life based on revealed truths – Din. A criterion by which to judge – Qur’an. A community to belong to based on the brother/sisterhood of all believers, not on race, nationality or any criteria other than righteousness. A purpose in the universe and a relationship to all of creation – Allah’s Khalifah.

When any sincere person is searching and is fortunate enough to be exposed to the actual teachings of the Qur’an directly – the message comes across forcefully – the miracle of the Qur’an is repeated as it speaks directly to the heart and conscience of the individual. And. it speaks to each individual in his own terms – a sailor might be struck by the ayahs describing the sea and realize the impossibility of these having been written by a desert Arab – a lonely, despairing person might be struck by the realization that God is as close as their jugular vein – a scientist, a philosopher, a housewife, a prisoner, anyone who is sincerely searching will find what it is that they are searching for in the Qur’an. The miracle is that it can speak to anyone at any time and in any place and touch a chord that forces them to accept that this is THE TRUTH. You can accept it or reject it but you cannot ignore it.

Those who come to Islam through study, comparison and questioning, who accept Islam based on firm conviction after any doubts or questions have been satisfied are fortunate, They are fortunate because once they have reached this clear understanding of what Islam is and who they are, they are unshakeable, and are able to survive as Muslims against all outside pressures.

Those who are not so fortunate are those who do not have an opportunity to complete this process before they are confronted with the sometimes vast discrepancy between the teachings of Islam and the actual behavior of some people who call themselves Muslims. If thev come to see those “Muslims” as being the living examples of what Islam is and their behavior as Islamic behavior they may rightfully make a judgement that this is not what I am searching for. This is not the answer. This is not who I want to be. Since they do not yet know Islam they are unable to see that this person is behavinq contrary to Islam.

This is even more likely to happen when the non-Muslim or new Muslim is trying to understand the principles and spirit upon which action is based, to come to terms with internal realities – Iman, Taqwa, Unity of God, and they are confronted with “Muslims” who throw them off the track by emphasizing and criticizing them for external, ritual, often trivial matters. ‘’Muslims’’ who stress the letter of the law while denying the spirit.

I wish I could reach everyone: who is in the process of learning about Islam and tell them – Go to the source. Study the Qur’an. If anyone tells you something about Islam demand proof from the source. Don’t assume that because someone was born a Muslim they are an authority Islam. (In fact, they may know less than you do!) Don’t assume because some practices are widespread in the Muslim community that they are Islamic, this is not necessarily true, there is a lot of culture masquerading as Islam. Be very suspicious of anything that sounds unreasonable, unjust, or leads to distress and confusion instead of to peace and harmony.

Originally published in the July –August 1990 print edition of The American Muslim.

See also Resources for New Muslims