The Shame of the Muslim Ummah

Sheila Musaji

Posted Mar 21, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Shame of the Muslim Ummah

by Sheila Musaji

In almost every pamphlet and Da’wah brochure - in every book printed in the last few years - in every speech given about Islam to non Muslims - the announcement is made that there are a billion Muslims in the world and that in America Muslims are (or soon will be) the second largest religious group. This appears to be a matter of great pride. We are also proud that Muslim countries control a large percentage of the most highly prized treasure of our century (oil) and have standing armies and huge caches of sophisticated weapons. And, we are proud that 67 out of the 166 members of the UN are Muslim countries.

Why are we proud? It is a matter of great shame.

The Rohingya Muslims in Burma, the Chams in Cambodia (or those few left alive after the genocide of Pol Pot), the Bosnians in Yugoslavia, the Somalis, Algerians, Iraqis, Kashmiris, Palestinians, Thais, Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Lebanese, Afghanistanis, the Moros in the Philippines cannot find any comfort in the fact that there are a billion Muslims in the world.

The Muslims who are at this very minute being raped, tortured, mutilated, starved, turned into refugees, gassed, bombed into the stone-age, orphaned, persecuted, repressed and enslaved cannot be proud.

I am certain that Islam is the straight path - I am grateful that I was guided to that path - I am certain that the Qur’an is true and that studying the Sunnah can help us to understand more fully how the principles laid down in the Qur’an can be applied to daily life. I love Islam, but I am ashamed to be a part of the existing status quo of the Muslim Ummah.

I am ashamed that we cannot protect innocent Muslims from being persecuted by non Muslims, and we cannot protect innocent Muslims (or non-Muslims) from being persecuted by HYPOCRITES calling themselves Muslims.

I am ashamed that - A billion Muslims are unable to do anything about the injustices being committed anywhere - against human beings or against nature and the environment.

I am ashamed that - A billion Muslims cannot establish anywhere a genuine DAR UL ISLAM to which Muslims could emigrate and from which Islam could expand its influence for peace and justice, and which others would look to in admiration because it was actually a mirror for the true teachings of Islam.

There is no Dar ul Islam, there is no Khalifa, there is no functioning community of believers. There are no leaders worthy of the name - Umar used to lie awake at night - he couldn’t sleep for fear that somewhere there was a person for whom he was responsible who was in need and that he would be held accountable Today’s leaders are sleeping soundly on a growing mountain of skulls.  Although in some cases outside forces have overthrown democratically elected leaders in Muslim countris (Mossadegh of Iran is a prime example), over a billion Muslims should have been able to do something to stop such injustice.  And, in some cases outside forces have installed and supported corrupt and vicious regimes as long as it was in their best interest (Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran are prime examples), but over a billion Muslims should have been able to do something to stop this injustice. 

There is no place to emigrate - no Medina, no ansars - a prisoner wrote to me just this week and asked “Sr. Sheila where is today’s Medina- now that I have found Islam, where do I go when I leave here?” And the answer is that there is nowhere to go.

We are in the position of TARIK’s army in Spain after Tarik had burned the ships. We HAVE no choice but to fight for justice and win or we can never call any place in this world our home. We just haven’t realized it yet.

At the root of our problems is ignorance. Ignorance of Islam - and ignorance of each other.  Most Muslims in other countries are poor, illiterate, tradition-bound and living under repressive governments. Because they cannot read they must depend on someone else to tell them what the Qur’an teaches and what Islam is all about. For them there is some excuse for ignorance. But what about us, what is our excuse. Too many of us, who are able to read, and have access to scholars, and materials - because of “tradition” are content to merely memorize verses from the Qur’an in Arabic and recite these verses without having any idea what they mean. They are also dependent on someone else to tell them what the Qur’an teaches. And, more than a few of those who are respectfully called Imam, Shaikh, Maulana, etc. are not really trained scholars. It is a case of the one eyed man being king in the land of the blind. In fact, we often prefer these one eyed scholars to the real thing because they do not challenge our traditions or demand that we throwaway our cultural baggage.

This ignorance of the essence of Islam of morality and ethics and principles and honor of plain old decency and common sense - is visible at every level. There are too many Muslims who carefully observe the minutest details of the Sunnah -folding up their pantslegs, entering the mosque on the “correct” foot, reciting the “correct” duah on entering the bathroom, lining themselves up precisely with a compass to pray at exactly the “right time” and who are unkind, intolerant, ungenerous, racist and dishonest.

Even today in the middle of what must be the greatest cumulative disaster the Muslim ummah has ever faced -  where life and death and the survival of individuals and of the entire ummah hang in the balance, where so many calling themselves Muslims are killing innocent Muslims and non-Muslims,  where our inaction can give courage to others to move against their local troublesome Muslim minorities (Albania, China, and Iran are probably the next slaughterhouses) what do we see as our most important concerns? Of course, it is whether or not some sister is wearing a scarf, or whether she is wearing it “correctly”, or whether or not some brother or sister is observing some minute detail of the sunnah.

There are millions of Bilals having the rocks piled higher and higher on their chests and we could help - but we don’t.

Our preoccupation with tradition and with the details of the law at the expense of the spirit of the law, turning the method of achieving awareness into a substitute for awareness, confusing the path with the goal, is exactly what the prophets have warned against time and time again. We are modern Pharisees who “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.”

Our individual ignorance is reflected in our local Islamic Centers, our national Islamic Organizations, our “Islamic” governments. If we as individuals are confused in our priorities it is no wonder that we see Islamic Centers established that are anti-Shura and these centers organized into federations that are incapable of action and “Islamic” governments established that implement the hudood punishments of the Shariah without having first created a society in which the basic needs and rights of its citizens have been taken care of.

It is no wonder non-Muslims are confused by the strange and even bizarre conflicting messages being given by the Muslims. Islam makes perfect sense. But, Islam is misunderstood because today’s Muslims don’t make sense. I am a Muslim and I don’t understand what is going on.

In North America/Canada the 6 to 11 million Muslims are living in relative freedom. Most of us have some education and are at least literate. We have enough to eat. We have access to libraries and other information. We are free to travel. We are free to speak. We should be the leaders of an Islamic movement. We should be a visible, active presence. We should be creating a strong Islamic community - taking care of our own people, establishing our own social service programs, feeding the poor, housing the homeless, teaching the illiterate to read, caring for the orphans, protecting the weak, establishing our own schools, hospitals and service organizations- instead we build fancy mosques which may be empty in a generation or two because our own young people see that they do not represent Islam.

So, even in North America where Muslims are a SIGNIFICANT minority we are in our ability to accomplish anything or to effect change an INSIGNIFICANT MINORITY. Because of our own shortcomings and refusal to put all secondary identifications aside - we are hopelessly divided.

“I have created you nations and tribes so that you might know one another.”

It seems that whether we look at what is happening in local masjids - in large organizations - in this country or in other countries - at every level of interaction between Muslims this Qur’anic verse is relevant. In this country we have Muslims who are - rich and poor - black and white male and female - indigenous and immigrant - we have different cultures, languages, styles of dress, food, music - different races, tribes - different madhabs. We have nothing in common - except our humanity and our Islam. If we were to get to KNOW ONE ANOTHER - to form a jamaat, AN UMMAH out of this group then we would have everything in common. But this requires making a real connection.

As it is now - we are not connected.

We don’t know one another. We do not even like one another. We remain in our own little groups. Unless we make an effort to create a real community out of all of these disparate elements - to turn our differences into a strength instead of allowing them to keep us week - we cannot create a community - and without a community of believers - an Ummah - whose ties to each other are stronger than any other ties - even of tribe or family we may continue down the path of division - Sunni against Shiah, nation against nation, majority against minority, madhab against madhab, and this path ends in Somalia - it ends in madness. Somalia should be a clear sign to all of us of what the prophet said about putting tribal identification - or any identification - ahead of Islam - LEAVE IT - IT STINKS!

The crises facing us as Muslims - as Americans - and simply as human beings - have in the past few years begun to come at us so rapidly that before we can react to one crises, we are faced with the next. Before we can fully absorb or understand what is happening on one front we are faced with another. The events and issues seem to have become more and more critical and closer and closer together. Until it is now as if we are watching a film on fast forward.

It is our own fault because we handle each crisis as an isolated case. We get busy with the most recent issues and bypass the previous ones - and ignore the central issue - RECONSTRUCTING THE UMMAH - not as a philosophical exercise but as a practical job.

Why are the Muslims blaming the West for not mobilizing its forces or establishing policies to intervene in rescuing us from these disasters. Shouldn’t we have our own organizations to spring to our rescue and defense. We have resources and we have leverage - what we lack is a united Muslim Ummah and leadership.
Why are Muslims demanding justice when they possess the source of justice - ISLAM. Why after spending billions of dollars on arms are the Muslim countries not capable of defending even themselves, much less rescuing others.

How can we ask the U.S. government to defend the democratic process in Algeria and to stop supporting that particular dictatorial regime - when as far as anyone can see most Muslim governments are dictatorial, autocratic, and repressive and we are asking them to support other such governments.

Yes, the inaction of the US and the UN is shocking, the inaction of any human being in the face of the suffering of other human beings is shocking. But even more shocking and tragic is the failure of the Muslims to act. Worldwide, Muslims are in trouble. Muslims living in predominately Muslim countries are suffering under the rulership of dictators, tyrants and kings. Muslims living as minorities in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, India, China, Russia, Bosnia, Greece are suffering. Muslims living as minorities in much of Europe - in France, Germany and Spain are experiencing a rise in anti-Islamic feeling, prejudice and restrictions on their ability to practice Islam. In Germany some of the refugees from the holocaust in Bosnia have been attacked by gangs of fanatics.

Those of us living in America, Great Britain and Canada - are at the moment among the best educated and affluent and temporarily at least the most free to speak, to meet, to organize, to protest and to act. We are in the best position to take a leadership role. To establish a viable Muslim community here, and to work for social, economic and political reform. To make a difference and influence the direction this country takes. To put pressure on Muslim governments for reform. To develop social service programs to help the less fortunate Muslims here and relief programs to help Muslims in trouble overseas.

But we are unable to accomplish anything. We can’t even agree on the day Ramadan begins. In cities with more than one mosque we cannot coordinate a calendar but schedule two or three events on the same day - competing with each other. We do not cooperate - share information - compromise – coordinate - network - and so although the number of Islamic organizations is increasing dramatically - the quantity and quality of the work being done is decreasing just as dramatically.  There is not even one Muslim hospital in the United States, not one home for the elderly (and we also have some elderly people who do not have family to care for them), not one orphanage ...

When we do act - we do it in such a disorganized way that we are ineffective. We waste our human resources - our financial resources - our intellectual resources. We cut off half of the Ummah from effective participation and as Fathi Usman said: “expecting the Ummah to develop without the full participation of women is like trying to fly with one wing - it can’t be done”.

We need to support Muslim businesses and professionals to build a strong economic base. We need to build social service programs to take care of those in need. We need meeting halls and youth centers more than fancy mosques - you can pray in a gym but you can’t play ball in a mosque. We need to stop giving money indiscriminately to salve our consciences - and to demand accountability - and to know where the money is going and what it is accomplishing. We need to demand real Shurah and full participation of women at local mosques. We need to investigate and find out which organizations and individuals are REALLY doing something and support them and work with them. We need to allow leadership and representative organizations to develop and grow from a solid grassroots base. We need to abandon extravagant, wasteful, show off projects and concentrate on small, practical, utilitarian projects that can be locally supported. (For example, before we distribute thousands of Da’wah fliers with a phone number to call for more information we need to be sure we have someone who speaks English to answer the phone.)

There is no excuse for anyone not to be able to do something - to get involved - to give whatever sadaqa they have - time, effort, knowledge or money. I came to Islam as an adult and have not had the benefit of being born a Muslim. I don’t have a college degree. I am a woman. I am terrified of public speaking. I have a job. I have 3 young sons and a house to run, and yet I am able to do something - without the funding or support of ANY organization, as a volunteer effort.

If I can do something - anyone can do something - and if you don’t know what to do contact me because I need help and know lots of others who also need help.

Insh’ Allah - if we do our job ASSALAAMU ALAIKUM will become a statement of fact and not a hopeless dream, and INSH’ALLAH will not be a way to avoid commitment.

Condensed from a speech at the Islamic Center of St. Louis in November 1992.  Originally published in the Winter 1993 print edition of The American Muslim.