Western Muslims are dying to fit in

I am very worried about the future of my Muslim brothers and sisters in Western countries.

Why do I feel this way?

It is because I see an increasing and alarming pattern in news reports that point to a very dangerous phenomenon -” the crisis of a people who are literally dying to "fit in." The inevitable end result of such behavior is usually a loss of identity, self-respect and -” you guessed it -” losing the respect of others. Worse still, those who are dying to fit in will remain marginalized.

We are all too familiar with the plight of youth from who are dying to fit in at their schools. Those who are openly rejected by various "in" groups because of skin color, race, physical features, size, religion, gender, drug/alcohol/sexual abstinence, or even high academic achievement, pay an even higher price when they try to fit in.

The situation of Western Muslim minorities is not so different from that of ostracized students dying to fit in with their prevailing peer culture. For example, an American Muslim woman announces that today she will lead congregational Friday prayers before an audience of TV cameras and reporters.

But is prayer leading — admittedly an exception to 1400 years of Islamic tradition — really the highest priority for an American Muslim woman? Since Islam does not have a hierarchical Church, mandated to approve or disapprove such a change in practice, every Muslim can do what he / she thinks it is right.

So why the wide publicity? It is because the woman and her supporters are dying to fit in with Western ideas of "progress," ideas which assume that her not taking a prayer leading role would somehow be discriminatory.

Growing instances of Muslims dying to fit in, and losing so much in the effort, are deeply connected to ways in which North American Muslims have been steadily losing their civil liberties since 9/11.

In fact, they are replacing Blacks as the ethno-cultural group most targeted by racial profiling through police and other civil authorities; and sadly, they are replacing Jews as the group most singled out by hate-crime perpetrators. In today’s sad reality, not a single place of worship in Canada or the U.S is spied on more than mosques.

And so, as my people are losing their basic rights to worship in peace and safety at mosques across America, one of my sisters in the faith feels she must promote her desire to lead prayers in front of the cameras. It is sad for her, and sad for us, because she is dying to fit in.

In another example, a Canada Muslim Liberal senator has called for the legalization of prostitution. Why, brother, is this such an important issue for you? What about child poverty, homelessness, security certificate detentions, the injustices of our anti-terrorism law, etc. etc.? Are all these issues less important?

Recently, the Canadian branch of an American Islamic organization sent condolences to families of the four RCMP officers murdered by a deranged Alberta gunman. It would seem logical and sensitive to do this: after all, Canadian police officers are our sons and daughters too, as well as our neighbors and friends. We Canadian Muslims are not foreign to them.

But was there something less benign about an American-based Muslim group sending out condolences on this sad occasion? Was it also a desperate public relations move, trying to show that we Muslims are not terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers, and that we care about the welfare of this country’s law-enforcement professionals? This should go without saying, brothers and sisters; to overstate such concerns is another submission to the syndrome of dying to fit in.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that I have cast doubt on an expression of genuine sympathy, this same American Muslim NGO has never called on Washington to bring American troops home from Iraq. Is it also dying to fit in?

And I wonder why not a single American Muslim organization — including the one I’ve just referred to — ever speaks out to assert that it is against Islamic values to leave millions of Americans without adequate health care, or that the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, or that the U.S. carries a higher public debt than any other nation on this planet. And I keep wondering; is this the cost we are really paying for dying to fit in?.

During the recent public debate in Ontario on whether to use Islamic (Sharia) law in family arbitration cases, a number of Canadian Muslims expressed shame over the word Sharia, others defended the usage of the word but felt it had significant shortcomings, and others rejected it totally. Are these people also caught up in the phenomenon of dying to fit in and thereby losing some basic principles of faith?

In another unsettling development, some Muslim women in Canada recently organized a beauty pageant. To justify her participation, one of the young participants said she wants to show “we’re not terrorists, we don’t bomb people.” What else is she showing about wanting so badly to fit in?

Last week, Spanish Muslim leaders issued a fatwa (religious ruling) declaring Osama bin Laden an infidel. Hello?? Almost full four years after 9/11? This all-but-redundant fatwa says much more about their desire for social approval that it could ever say, at this late date, about condemning extremism!

Yes, brothers and sisters, I’d like to fit in too. But how?

The sensitivity of North American Muslims to all forms of discrimination has seen a manifold increase since 9/11, especially among our youth. Simply put, the ideal of a just society has completely vanished from their consciousness.

Having to feel and act as a “foreign minority” greatly reduce the effectiveness of Canadian Muslims in addressing the key social and political issues of this country. Above all, it seriously hinders both social and political integration. It is only when the religious self-identification of a minority is based on positive individual and collective values that any minority can survive within a dominant culture, especially that of the Western world.

Instead of dying to fit in, Canadian Muslims can contribute tremendously to our multicultural society by speaking out against discrimination and deprivation wherever they occur — among our First Nations people, refugees, the poor, the needy, children, the sick and the elderly.

In fact, Canadian Muslims who feel “foreign” because of their religion are significantly less active in the social and political life of this country and feel less politically effective than those who do not feel socially and psychologically subordinate.

The source of political effectiveness for Muslims living in Western liberal democracies is not to act foreign, nor does it lie in dying to fit in. Being whole people, being who we are without shame, intimidation, or inferiority, is the only positive way out of the mental ghetto created from our misplaced attitudes of religion-based subordination.

Let us reject dying to fit in … and instead live to contribute.