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American Muslim: 3 Lessons About Faith, Tolerance And Leading By Example

Insights from the Muslim chaplain of Harvard University. (Dustin Scarpitti/Unsplash)
Insights from the Muslim chaplain of Harvard University. (Dustin Scarpitti/Unsplash)
This article is more than 3 years old.

1. As religious people, our rules are for us. Our actions, however, are for humanity.

The rules that govern Islam are for Muslims, not for the world. Praying five times a day, abstaining from alcohol and pork — these are rules that some Muslims choose to follow, and some don't. All Muslims, however, should agree that our actions are for everyone. Whatever our faith may allow or prohibit has less to do with imposing those things on others as it has to do with beautifying our character in order to facilitate a level of comfort and human dignity for all people.

American Muslims must strive to temper our indignation at being cast as villains and threats to society. We must also endeavor to understand the reservations that some Americans may have about Islam.

Consider the example of Pope Francis. The fact that he is well-liked doesn’t mean he isn’t criticized for being either too passive on certain issues, such as the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal, or too strict on others, such as the limited role of women in the Church. In spite of what divisions there may be over his stances and teachings, his charm and humility have touched us all.

In the same regard, whatever political views Muslims may hold, we can learn from the way Pope Francis navigates his personal convictions with kindness and forbearance toward everyone, even those who disagree with him. An individual’s personal convictions must come second to the priority of treating them with civility and humanity.

2. It's more rewarding to be trusted than to be liked.

Sometimes, in the face of unjustified bias, conciliation seems illogical. Yet with resilience and patience, positive outcomes result. Martin Luther King Jr. learned this concept from Ghandi, and America learned it from Dr. King. Muslims would do well to model the examples set by those two great men. If peaceful coexistence is really the goal, then we have to push through moments of aggressive rhetoric and sentiment against us and see the bigger objective. Confronting every slight with antagonistic civil hostility is not the answer.

American Muslims must strive to temper our indignation at being cast as villains and threats to society. We must also endeavor to understand the reservations that some Americans may have about Islam. This can only happen if we join in. We mustn't be afraid or feel as if our faith is threatened by participating in all kinds of Americanisms, such as celebrating the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving and other harmless yet significant cultural norms.

I'd like to see more Muslim public school teachers, more Muslim children learning comparative religion, and more Muslims involved in politics beyond what affects Muslims.

If we want to be acknowledged as peaceful counterparts to our American brethren, then we must assist in all kinds of good and not be concerned only when a Muslim's rights are violated.

3. Our American nationality should be edifying.

Tensions between Sunni and Shia nation-states should serve as a catalyst for American Muslims to unify, not along partisan lines, but according to common interests. Although there are significant differences theologically and politically between Sunni and Shia sects, those differences should not be enough to cause an irreparable wound. If we can't even have fellowship with those who differ with us within our own faith tradition, how do we expect America to embrace us, let alone trust us?

If we can't even have fellowship with those who differ with us within our own faith tradition, how do we expect America to embrace us, let alone trust us?

Those who've emigrated from Islamic countries have helped build a positive image of the professional Muslim -- the shopkeeper and restaurant owner, the scientist and computer programmer, to name but a few examples. But some, not all, have had difficulty embracing pluralism and inclusion within the racial and political constructs of Islam.

Younger Muslims have done better. Examples of the new generation's eagerness for inclusive social equality can be found on college campuses all across the country, including at Harvard University, where the Muslim student body has begun to build an alliance with the Phillips Brooks House Association, which works with low-income youth in Boston.

In a word, these three simple lessons might be summed as tolerance. If American Muslims take them into account and are proactive about heeding them, we won't have to prove ourselves every time a maniac commits a crime and claims to do so in the name of Islam. The integrity of our collective efforts will speak for us in ways that words could never do.

Related:

Taymullah Abdur-Rahman Cognoscenti contributor
Taymullah Abdur-Rahman serves as Muslim chaplain at Harvard University.

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