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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Muslim Baalei Teshuva in America

Geneive Abdo, liaison for the Alliance of Civilizations at the United Nations and author of Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11, has written a piece for the Washington Post that may not be reassuring.

According to the Amazon review of her book:
The younger generation of Muslims in particular is charting a different way of life. They are following new imams and placing their Muslim identity before their American one.
This is the theme of her article for the Washington Post as well, America's Muslims Aren't as Assimilated as You Think:
If only the Muslims in Europe -- with their hearts focused on the Islamic world and their carry-on liquids poised for destruction in the West -- could behave like the well-educated, secular and Americanizing Muslims in the United States, no one would have to worry.

So runs the comforting media narrative that has developed around the approximately 6 million Muslims in the United States, who are often portrayed as well-assimilated and willing to leave their religion and culture behind in pursuit of American values and lifestyle. But over the past two years, I have traveled the country, visiting mosques, interviewing Muslim leaders and speaking to Muslim youths in universities and Islamic centers from New York to Michigan to California -- and I have encountered a different truth. I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States. At the same time, the real story of American Muslims is one of accelerating alienation from the mainstream of U.S. life, with Muslims in this country choosing their Islamic identity over their American one.
According to Abdo, this is due not only to the overall resurgence of Islam worldwide, but also--paradoxically--a result of 9-11, which has led American Muslims to feel more isolated on the one hand, but also has pushed them to rediscover Islam.
From schools to language to religion, American Muslims are becoming a people apart. Young, first-generation American Muslim women -- whose parents were born in Egypt, Pakistan and other Islamic countries -- are wearing head scarves even if their mothers had left them behind; increasing numbers of young Muslims are attending Islamic schools and lectures; Muslim student associations in high schools and at colleges are proliferating; and the role of the mosque has evolved from strictly a place of worship to a center for socializing and for learning Arabic and Urdu as well as the Koran.
In a sense, on some level you might even call them Ba'alei Teshuva.

But in keeping to that comparison--everything depends on the Rebbe you follow:
Imam Zaid Shakir -- who teaches at San Francisco's Zaytuna Institute, America's only true madrassa -- refers to such young Muslims as the "rejectionist generation." They are rejectionist, he says, because they turn their backs not only on absolutist religious interpretations, but also on America's secular ways. Many of these young American Muslims look to Shakir (and to celebrated Zaytuna founder Hamza Yusuf) for guidance on how to live pious lives in the United States.
According to the New York Times, in an article on both of these men:
Both Mr. Shakir and Mr. Yusuf have a history of anti-American rhetoric, but with age, they have tempered their views. Mr. Shakir told the Houston audience that they are blessed to live in a country that is stable and safe, and in which they have thrived.
The question is: how tempered are those views and how does that view reflect itself in the Islam that they teach.
While leading a mosque in New Haven in 1992, Mr. Shakir wrote a pamphlet that cautioned Muslims not to be co-opted by American politics. He wrote, "Islam presents an absolutist political agenda, or one which doesn't lend itself to compromise, nor to coalition building."

While he did not denounce Muslims who take part in politics, he pointed out the effectiveness of "extrasystemic political action" — like the "armed struggle" that brought about the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. A copy of the pamphlet was found in the apartment of a suspect in the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993. Mr. Shakir says he was questioned by the F.B.I., but had no link to the man, and that was the end of it.

While studying in Syria a few years later, he visited Hama, a city that had tried to revolt against the Syrian ruler, Hafez al-Assad. Mr. Shakir said he saw mass graves and bulldozed neighborhoods, and talked with widows of those killed. He gave up on the idea of armed struggle, he said, "just seeing the reality of where revolution can end."
The impression you get from Shakir's words is that he gave up the idea of armed struggle for purely pragmatic reasons. But that does not mean he has given up on the idea of the struggle itself--or its goals: the takeover of the US.
He said he still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law, "not by violent means, but by persuasion."

"Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country," he said. "I think it would help people, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it's helped a lot of people in my community."
Maybe we just need more honest Moslems.
Or maybe they need different Rebbes.

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