A Brief History of The American Muslim

The American Muslim was published as a quarterly print journal from 1989 to 1995. The FOUNDING EDITOR was Sheila Musaji. The journal included an original piece of calligraphy by Mohamed Zakariya as an insert in each issue. Cover art by Safiya Godlas, Malika Moore, Sheila Musaji, etc. Its content was diverse and thought provoking, and it was visually beautiful.

It was produced entirely by volunteer effort and had no paid staff. There were a number of sections each with its own editor. Those ASSOCIATE EDITORS were: Arts Mohamed Zakariya, Book Reviews Laleh Bakhtiar, Education Sophia Hussain, Environment/Ecology Dawood Zwink, Gender Issues Aminah Wadud-Muhsin, Humor Karima Omar, Interfaith Dialogue Hamed Ghazali, and Dr. Hussein Morsi, Islam In America Sheila Musaji, Islamic Vocabulary Imam Fathi Ben Halim, Law & Policy Robert Crane, Esq., Poetry Abd al-Hayy Moore, Profiles Margaret Ramdoun, Q&A Abu Munir Winkel, Research Network Aminah McCloud, Science Mahboob Khan, Shariah & Fiqh Hamza Yusuf and Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Social Services, Frederick Thaufeer al-Din and Nur Bickham, Transformations Aminah Assilmi. Our RELIGIOUS ADVISORS were: Shaikh M. Amin Khowaldia and Shaikh M. Nur Abdullah.

Some of those whose art, poetry, articles and analyses we were fortunate enough to share were: Abd al-Hayy Moore, Abdul Cader Asmal, Abdul Basit, Abu Munir Winkel, Abul Khatib, Adele Ghani, Aisha Brown, Aisha Brown, Ali John Comegys, Ali Mazrui, Alphecca Murtady, Amina Wadud-Muhsin, Anas Coburn, Ayesha Ansari, Bob Hurd, Catherine John, Charles Upton, Constance Shabazz, Dawood Zwink, Ed Jouney, Fahmi Howeidi, Farid NuҒMan, Frederick Thaufeer al-Deen, Ghayth Nur Kashif, Ghulam Haider Aasi, Greg Noakes, Hafiz B.A. al-Masri, Hakim Archuletta, Hamza Yusuf, Hasan Zillur Rahim, Hina Azzam, Hoda Boyer, Hussein Morsi, Imad-as-Dean Ahmad, Imam Luqman Abdul-Kareem, Imam Alauddin Shabazz, Imam Faruq Bilal Rasheed, Imran Hosein, Javeed Akhter, Jeffrey Lang, Jennifer Doane, John B. Denson, Karim Ardalan, Karima Omar, Khadija Abdelmohty, Khaled Abou El-Fadl, Laleh Bakhtiar, Lex (Nur) Hixon, Linda Malas, Lois Stands-Raheem, M. T. Mehdi, Maalik Bennett, Maria Abdin Michael Wolfe, Mohamed Zakariya, Mohja Kahf, Mustafa Paul Bergner, Nausheen Akhter, Nu Ha Mim Keller, Rashid Siddiqui, Rev. Paul Davis, Robert Crane, Safiya Godlas, Sahra Nadiir, Salam al-Marayati, Samar Luberto, Sardar Hayat Khan, Sh. M. Nur Abdullah, Sh. M. Amin Khowaldia, Sh. Hisham Kabbani, Sharifa Alkhateeb, Simon Tunstall, Steven Abdulkader, Suhail Bannister, Sulayman Nyang, Syed Hashim Ali, T.B. Irving, Taalibu Janna, Tarajee Rahman, Vincent Cornell, Yahiya Emerick, Yahya Monastra, Yahya Blankenship, Yasin Aljibouri, Yussuf Nazeer,

Before he considered turning “Struggling to Surrender” into the wonderful book it became, Jeffrey Langs initial chapters were published in TAM. The Ramadan Sonnets of Abd al-Hayy Moore were first published in TAM. We were the first to prepare a Directory of Islam in America (1992), and the first to do a WhoҒs Who of Muslims in America (1994).

About Us

The American Muslim is dedicated to the promotion of peace, justice, and reconciliation for all humanity. We strive to:

  *    Provide an open forum for the discussion of ideas and issues of concern to Muslims in America from various points of view (based on Qur’an and Sunnah) representing no one school of thought, ethnic group or organization, but to encourage all to be represented in these pages and to speak for themselves.

  *    Provide a forum for and encourage inter-community dialogue particularly on divisive issues, and to encourage interfaith dialogue to find common ground for cooperation on issues of mutual concern

  *    Provide the most comprehensive information possible about individual and group efforts and projects to enable networking and cooperative effort.

  *    Offer support and encouragement and provide shura (consultation) to those who are speaking publicly on behalf of the Muslim community

  *    Help Muslims with a deep personal commitment to Islam and to America to locate each other. Help people of faith (Muslims, Christians and Jews) who share our concern for dialogue, peaceful resolution of problems to find each other so they can work together.

  *    Provide a balanced, moderate, alternative voice focusing on the spiritual, dimension of Islam rather than the more often heard voice of extreme political Islamism.

Can We Get Along?

“Some individuals have experienced a profound spiritual event and named it “the dark night of the soul”. Civilizations have experienced the same phenomena. For example, Western Civilization went through such a period and named it “the Dark Ages”. Today, humanity is experiencing a dark night of its collective soul, a historical event as yet unnamed, which could lead us further into darkness, or provide an opportunity to do good works and be a source of light in the darkness.

More than ever before in history it is becoming clear that all the races, all the species, all the nations, all the religions, are in this together. All of us are at a crossroads. All of us are living in an epidemic of violence for which we must find a so1ution.

We have had a lot of experience with vio1ence. We are surrounded by it now and have been surrounded by it through our history. And yet we still don’t a1ways recognize its many faces and we dont seem to know what to do about it. We still haven’t learned how to settle differences peaceably between friends, between family members, between nations, between races or between re1igions.

We see scenes of great horror on television everyday, and we calmly continue to eat our popcorn. We have lost touch. We are not shocked or horrified. We are not overcome with grief. We seem to have accepted that this is just the way it is. We have seen so much that we have been anaesthetized into unconsciousness. We see it, but we are not fully conscious of what we are seeing and this is serious because one of the few characteristics that may be exclusive to the human race is consciousness Җ to be aware of our “selves” and to be able to imagine ourselves in someone elses shoes.

We need to regain our consciousness to be aware of our connection to each other Җ to care about not only what happens to US but what happens to THEM. We need to recognize violence in all its forms. We recognize war and murder as violence. We need to recognize poverty, hunger, homelessness, racism, prejudice and all forms of intolerance, bigotry and injustice against any people anywhere as acts of violence which damage the human spirit, and to understand that we cannot have peace as long as these acts of violence continue.

We need heroes to lead the way. But, if we think about who are really our heroes and heroines, who are the people we would really like to trade places with. This may tell us something about ourselves. How many of our real heroes represent something worthwhile?

We do give a sort of false honor to a few worthwhile individuals who obviously embody in their actions those qualities and beliefs we say we value. But it is an honor that doesn’t demand that we see them as role models for our own behavior. We see them as so far above and different from “normal” people that we don’t feel we need to try to be like them. This actually degrades and dishonors their purpose because a hero is meant to be an inspiration for us, an example of possibilities. The whole point is that they are normal people, no better or worse than any of us. When we see them as somehow innately superior, paranormal, as if there is a certain percentage of humanity who are born with a gene for heroism, we take away their heroism. After all, what would be heroic about doing what comes naturally. Heroism must be an effort, a struggle, an act of courage, of overcoming limitations, of “doing” in spite of these human limitations.

In fact, if we are being really honest we would have to admit that if someone in our own family were to consider leading such a life or following their example, we would at the very least try to talk them out of their “idealism”. In normal life the real world, the trait of idealism, the person of the idealist, have become the object of insults and suspicion. Idealism has come to be seen as the opposite of realism. We do like to have a few idealists around as token “good guys” to make us feel better about ourselves. But not too many of them and not demanding that we change. We are willing to support them in their personal sacrifice and efforts, even send money, as long as they are the ones making the sacrifices. But when they begin to demand that we change, they are almost certain to become martyrs.

Most of us say that we believe in one of the great faith traditions ֖ Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism all of whom teach brotherhood, justice, mercy, tolerance, compassion, the highest ideals to which humanity can aspire. But, it would seem that if so many people held such beliefs and followed such teachings we would see the practical results of that belief ֖ somewhere. And, when we look around us at the condition of humanity and the planet there is no light shining from anywhere which reflects the results of establishing a real society based on actually following these teachings which we say we believe in.

The Crusades, the Inquisition, blatant Colonialism, outright slavery are in the past, and yet the mentality which brought these about is still prevalent. We still have too many people who are so strongly committed to their own beliefs that they are willing to see others die for those beliefs and too few who are so strongly committed to their beliefs that they are willing to give their own life for those beliefs!

Looking at the state of the world it would not be unreasonab1e to conclude that all of these belief systems are a failure. Or, we might conclude, as I have, that the failure is with us because we lack either the courage or the vision or the commitment to act on those beliefs.

Now is a good time to test those beliefs, because at the same time that we are realizing that we have economic, social and environmental problems that are global in scope. At the same time that we face these global problems, the systems we have depended on have failed us. We are witnessing the collapse, or at least the redefinition of established social, political, economic and ideological systems worldwide. Colonialism (political or spiritual), apartheid, communism, materialism, nationalism, capitalism, sexism, racism, any of the systems which saw one group of human beings versus another, or all human beings versus nature are collapsing or being challenged.

They have failed because instead of being based on a belief in God and a commitment to act and order our lives based on that belief they were based on the small dreams of small people who had made themselves small by their own definitions of themselves. There is no justification in any of these belief systems for what we have done or what we are doing. It is we who have defined ourselves as members of a particular race, tribe, ethnic, religious, political or linguistic group to the exclusion of others who do not belong to the same groups. It is we who have defined the essential element of ourselves not as human beings but as members of these categories. It is we who have created systems that were also based on these small definitions, and these systems have failed.

We have tried every violent means as a solution to our differences, too often even in the name of religion and it has gotten us nowhere. We have walked our separate roads and when our paths crossed that meeting has been marked most often by. violence, intolerance and injustice.

We have now come to a point in history where it is obvious that all partial solutions have failed. We have a situation in which it is possible to imagine the total destruction of the world as we know it ֖ either through nuclear war or through continuing destruction of the environment. We rea1ly are between a rock and a hard place.

I believe that it is time for all of those who believe in GOD, who believe that there is a purpose to this life, who believe that we are responsible and accountable for our actions to see this crossroads we are at as an opportunity to take the first steps on a new road that we can walk together in peace.

In America we may have the greatest opportunity to see this possibility become a reality. We are just beginning to realize that we have become a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious society. We used to think of ourselves as a melting pot but that concept implies trying to change people, to make them all the same, to homogenize them. It won֒t happen, and it cant be done without damaging the human spirit. Perhaps if we discarded the idea of being a melting pot in favor of a mosaic we might be able to begin making connections. A mosaic not only accepts the fact of difference, it requires difference, it rejoices in difference, it uses difference. The different colors, textures and shapes together create something more beautiful and powerful than any single element could.

We need to dialogue to come together and attempt to understand each other and learn from each other so that we might also learn how to get along with one another. We can’t wish each other away. It is highly unlikely that racial, linguistic, religious or cultural differences will disappear, certainly not in our lifetime. There will continue to be people who are different as long as there are people. And yet, we have to live together. If we are to survive we must find ways to live together in peace. There are no more options left except the option of peace.

Peace between man and nature and between men and other men. Let us focus on what we have in common. Let us take the first step of getting to know one another.

The Qur’an gives us a mandate to do just this. Unto every one of you have We appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but He willed it otherwise in order to test you

by means of what He has revealed to you. Compete then with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. 5:48

True piety (or righteousness) does not consist in turning your faces towards the cast or west but truly pious is he who believes in God and the last day and the angels and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggar, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and truly pious are they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril, it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God. 2: 177

The Qur’an is appealing to us, both Muslims and non Muslims to acknowledge that we do have different religious practices, but not to allow those differences to stop us from doing what needs to be done, and in fact to compete in doing good deeds. And, the Qur’an is telling us clearly that what is essential to our faith is simply how we treat one another. We need to take this advice to heart. To realize that we are brothers and sisters. That we are in this together. Hopefully, through coming to know each other we will be able to discover our similarities and to find ways of resolving our differences and solving our problems.

Each generation has had to make choices, but for most of the course of human history those choices were limited to a relatively small area of impact (individual families, clans, tribes or ethnic groups). This generation faces what may be the biggest challenge Җ because the choices we make may have global impact. The choices of our generation may be the choices that will define our future as a species on this planet.

Individual commitment, idealism, if you will, is a powerful force. You can make a difference. Individuals don’t have to be merely pawns. Most individuals may be merely carried along by the forces of history—but the forces that shape history are also the product of individuals. Whatever reforms are made, however our systems are redefined, whichever ideology will dominate and shape the future, whatever movements develop will be started by individuals.

You may choose not to make a stand ֖ to play it safe but that choice at this moment in history. will only mean that you will be carried along with whatever movements and systems are now developed or redefined to fill the current vacuum. And, that vacuum will be filled. Because some individual or collection of individuals will step forward to guide and lead society in one direction or another from this crossroads. Whether or not that force will be for good or for evil depends on who steps forward and what they stand for.

If you think that this can’t apply to you because you are not important enough or rich enough or intelligent enough, or any other limitation or excuse you can come up with remember what Martin Luther King said:

“Everybody can be great Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart ful1 of grace. A soul generated by 1ove.”

Look inside yourself to see what it is that you do best, what is your God given talent. Then look outside yourself to see where that talent can best be put to use.

Our various paths have led us to the crossroads where we now stand and where we now have to face our future together. Whether or not you participate, or watch from the sidelines, you will be effected by the direction history moves from this crossroads.

Rodney Kings recent statement sums it all up: “People, can we all get along?” Can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?

With Gods help I believe we can! If we will!”

What Can You Do

If you agree with our purposes and objectives—email us to be added to the newsletter mailing list if you or your organization is willing to take responsibility for a particular section (e.g. environment, social issues, humor, etc.) contact us ֖ submit articles, poetry, cartoons, comments for possible publication volunteer to help with research for the index and for links ֖ send the most recent issue to Muslims and non-Muslims who share our commitment to dialogue so that we can expand our base of awareness send us information about important events, projects, etc. so we can help publicize these ֖ send us information about important articles so we can add them to the index ...

Look around and find organizations or individuals that are doing positive, constructive work and help them. Send in your membership fees so that they can continue their work. There are a number of outstanding organizations that are having trouble staying afloat only because of lack of funds and/or volunteers.

Volunteer for community activities and service organizations. Join Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, Lions, Kiwanis, the local PTA. Join your local interfaith organization and get involved in a dialogue group. A visible, active Muslim presence is the best Dawa you can do.

Why The American Muslim Has Been Revived

With the events of 9-11 and since, I became more and more aware that it was time to become active again, and also to re-connect with many individuals who had worked on The American Muslim or other projects and to expand those connections to other individuals.

I had noticed over the past few years that many of the individuals who had represented the Islamic “middle path” and a moderate voice in the public dialogue on Islam ֖ who stood for justice (for Muslims and non-Muslims) ֖ who spoke for dialogue, peace, tolerance, building bridges (within the community and with other communities), changing hearts by example as opposed to argumentative preaching, ֖ who spoke up against intolerance, violence and injustice (against Muslims or non-Muslims, whether carried out by Muslims or non-Muslims) ֖ who saw themselves as proud Muslims and proud Americans—had faded from the pages of the Muslim media, had vanished one by one from our local mosque, had been replaced by other voices that promoted a vision of Islam that promotes anger, discord and even violence.

I had noticed that the attempt on the part of the various factions within the Muslim community to become “the voice of Islam in America” was drowning out any real dialogue within the community because all too often those who control any particular organization or mosque expected (or sometimes demanded) that you agree with their: Shi’a anti-Shi’a/ Sunni anti-Sunni/ modernist anti-modernist/ Salafee anti-Salafi/ Sufi anti-Sufi/ ethnic/ cultural/ nationalistic/ political ... interpretation of Islam completely, to take sides absolutely. A mentality that says you are 100% with us or you are against us. Those who attempted to work together across these sectarian lines on projects, and issues that concern us all equally as Muslims in America were simply forced out, ignored or frustrated into silence.

I noticed that within all the Abrahamic faiths - Christianity, Judaism and Islam - extremist groups claiming to speak for all (e.g. Christian militias, Gush Emunim, Al Qaeda, ...) and who justified terrorism or exclusivism were not being universally denounced and were sometimes being encouraged by fellow religionists. This threatens to drown out dialogue between communities.

I had noticed that the public discourse (Muslim and non-Muslim) focusing more and more on the “Clash of Civilizations” as an inevitable, violent confrontation between “them” and “us” in order to establish the “winner” (possibly the “last man”) as the voice of the New World Order was threatening to drown out any real dialogue between civilizations.

When the September 11th tragedy struck I realized that the world had changed suddenly and irrevocably. I heard on the news and read on the Internet statements by Shaikh Hisham Kabbani, Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, Michael Wolfe, Ingrid Mattson, Muqtedar Khan, Abdul Hakim Murad, Hassan Zillur Rahim, Bob Crane, etc. that were examples of the Qur’anic injunction to speak the truth even against yourself. They spoke about the need to reassess our foreign policy and correct injustices that lead to frustration and anger, and also stated unequivocally that terrorist acts are forbidden by Islam, suicide bombers are simply murderers. I was proud of them for standing up to be counted. I was thankful that God might be helping the Muslim community to bring something good out of this tragedy by re-animating the voice of reason, tolerance and compassion, but also fearful for those voices based on past experience.

As I had feared, on the internet response sites, on Islamic sites, in fliers distributed (at least at our local mosque), I began to see angry rhetoric directed against these individuals from fellow Muslim Americans and fellow non-Muslim Americans. I thought that it was too much to expect them to continue taking a courageous stand without at least the verbal support and encouragement of other Muslims. I personally wanted to offer support for those in the forefront of what hopefully appears to be a movement to recapture traditional, moderate Islam.

I believed that there were many moderate Muslims “somewhere, out there” who were also feeling isolated, and maybe as ready as I am to re-connect with each other, to share ideas and information, to inform each other about their Islamic work or projects, to offer consultation, support and encouragement to each other to re-animate the dialogue within the community and between communities.

The idea was born to begin The American Muslim Network, contact those I could and see if they agreed that it would be a good idea to connect, share ideas and information, inform each other about projects needing help, give mutual support and encouragement, open a dialogue on issues facing the community in America, and hopefully come up with some creative and constructive ideas to counter the false image of Islam presented by the extremists. According to the feedback I have received, this was an accurate assessment.

In 1992 I was privileged to be invited to give the Baccalaureate address at Amherst College in Massachusetts. That speech follows, and I believe is even more relevant today, and precisely why we need to re-animate the dialogue within the community and between communities.