For more commentary
Email this page to a friend
Keeping Faith With Islam in a New World
I am dreading the anniversary of Sept. 11. I am an Egyptian-born Muslim who recently became a permanent resident of the United States, and I brace myself for a renewal of blame.
Muslims across the United States have condemned those attacks and have visited schools, churches and synagogues to explain how different is the faith they hold dear from the hate-filled zealotry that took control of those planes. Countless Muslim commentators, on television and radio and in newspapers and magazines, have distanced themselves from the evil perpetrated on Sept. 11. But if Muslims are continually called upon to apologize, a defensiveness will set in that will distract from the questions we need to ask to move beyond Sept. 11 and reclaim the stage from the maniacs who want to take over the mosques.
All Muslims cannot be held accountable for the murderous actions of 19 men. But we must hold ourselves accountable for examining how those men were able to distort the teachings of Islam to such an extreme end.
When the World Trade Center towers crumbled to the ground, they brought down with them the denial of many Muslims. Many at first could not believe that Muslims had committed such an act. But over the past year, moderate Muslims, realizing that they had been silent for too long, have spoken out against the extremist element in the religion.
As a Muslim living in America, I have had to work hard at my identity in a way I did not when I lived in the Middle East. Miles away from the calls to prayer that blare five times a day from the thousand minarets of Cairo, and that give an ebb and flow to the day in a way a watch never can, I strive to locate and preserve what I value in Islam.
I first visited New York in the summer of 1982. I was back this summer, my 20th anniversary visit. As always „ this was my fourth trip „ the city had my heart racing. But I did not know where to put my eyes. How do you deal with the gaping wound in Manhattan, so strangely juxtaposed with the serene Battery Park City promenade, with its stream of roller-bladers and joggers? How do I reconcile myself to the thought that the awful attacks of last year were carried out by fellow worshippers of a religion I cherish and which has provided such constancy in my life?
Mohamed Atta and I were both born in Egypt, a year apart, and called ourselves Muslim. Why did his identity fill him with so much hate and lead to his murderous end, while mine gives me a much-needed core of solace?
We both lived abroad for several years. Why did his expatriate experience lead to Osama bin Laden's chauvinistic Islam while my years abroad injected my faith with tolerance and an acceptance of others?
On the most basic level, Mr. Atta and I represent the two forces tugging at Muslims today. His backward-looking faith, austere to the bone and stripped of compassion, sought to recreate an era that exists mostly in the imaginations of fundamentalists.
Perhaps because women have rarely fared well in these imaginary bygone eras, I struggle to keep my Islam strictly in the here and now. Islam's emphasis on social justice and egalitarianism is my springboard into a faith that refuses to separate people into us and them, Muslims and others. How could I separate the two when they share the same concerns? The "Why do they hate us?" asked by my American friends is echoed in the "Why do they hate us?" from Egyptian relatives and friends, hurt that Muslims have been collectively blamed for Sept. 11.
As the anniversary nears, Muslims too are reflecting and taking stock of what the past year has taught. What have we learned?
From Internet chat rooms to mosques across the country, we have worked hard to understand the meaning of that hyphenated existence, Muslim-American. This quest has taken many forms.
One example is the multifaith Web site beliefnet.com. On its Islam page, Muslim Americans have tackled questions as varied as interfaith marriages and proper attire for the beach. The theme of many postings is simple „ we are Muslims in America, not Egypt or Saudi Arabia, and as such, that identity must be firmly rooted in Michigan or New York, not Cairo or Riyadh. This has allowed us to tackle subjects (like homosexuality) that are taboo in many Islamic countries around the world.
Another example is the determination of American Muslims to resist foreign influences in their mosques. They are paying more attention to their prayer leaders, the messages they preach in Friday sermons and, most important, the source of the money that pays the imams' salaries. Many are fighting Saudi financing and the attempt to impose the puritanical Wahhabi school of thought on Muslims here.
I am saddened that such a debate has not taken off with much vigor in other parts of the world. While there are individual Muslims who speak out against the regressive pull of the fundamentalists in countries as far afield as Egypt and Malaysia, often earning themselves a place on a death list in the process, the clerics who should lead Muslims away from the hatred of Mr. Atta and his conspirators are disappointingly silent.
In some Muslim countries, clerics have chosen to toe the government line; in others, the government has silenced them. Here in the United States, Muslims do not have to worry about negotiating these political minefields. We are free to debate the kind of Islam we want. We do not have to apologize but we must question, criticize and speak out. Only by reclaiming our own voice can we silence the zealots.
Mona Eltahawy writes frequently about Egypt and the Middle East.
Copyright © 1998-2014 MargieAdam.com - All rights reserved
Site created and maintained by Lucille Design