I recently came across an article in the Huffington Post discussing the idea of thinking of the West and Islam as having unrelated, separate histories. We seem to think of the West and Islam as being inherently in opposition. The West valuing progress while Islam valuing a seeminglystagnant tradition. Media often propagates these binaries and, unfortunately, so do our American and Muslim American communities.
As someone with a degree in the humanities, I often get into debates with friends and family over issues that often result in me being labeled “socially liberal.” Apparently, this also means that I am a “bad Muslim.” Often times, my friends and family look at me in dismay because in their eyes I have “sold out” and chosen the West over Islam, again thinking in the binary way discussed earlier. In their eyes, because I may be critical of gender segregation in Muslim spaces, that means I also value glamorizing alcohol consumption and American “hook-up” culture and my points are often delegitimized as coming from the mouth of a “western-pundit.” However, I am not stripped of all legitimacy because ultimately, I am not as big of a traitor as a sister who doesn’t wear hijab (she obviously doesn’t care about the Deen, right?) and am somewhat knowledgeable of the religion and its history.
I find it especially troubling to associate any critique I may have of my own community as solely influenced by Western thought. This is particularly troubling for me because I spent the past four years of my life writing papers criticizing White and Western hegemony, Euro-centrism in academia, and Western cultural imperialism. So no, my critiques (which are often far outnumbered by my praise) of my Muslim communities is not a result of me being “brain-washed” by “liberal” professors in Ann Arbor. I do not believe in cultural or civilizational hierarchies, so my critiques of my own community come from a genuine love and care for my American Muslim community, and not from a belief that “Western” thought or culture are somehow inherently superior (there is a difference between leftist and Western). I love the Deen and this Ummah, but that does not mean it is perfect. I want to see it progress. I want to see it be dynamic. I want us all to be more and more proud to be Muslim every day. I want us to realize that Islam is demonized and I want us to do something about it. I would like to see us combat the false dichotomy between Islam and the West and further ideas of coexistence over isolation. I want to see Muslims leading domestic social justice endeavors. We are on the right path. I love this Ummah and would like to see it become as inclusive and understanding as possible. How dare you question my commitment and allegiance to the Ummah because I discuss taboo issues and attempt to combat forces of oppression found in (but definitely not limited to) our own Muslim communities?
The fact the people are willing to listen makes me optimistic. They don’t have to agree with what I have to say, but dialogue is important. However, the fact that people are willing to listen have made me slightly more aware of my male and Sunni privilege within Muslim communities. It is a shame that those two criteria allow people to take me more seriously, but I am glad that they do allow my voice to be heard. So I would like to end by saying that we should be aware of any voices being silenced within our own Muslim communities and why they are being hushed. How can we preach inclusivity when we aren’t thinking about who is being silenced and who is producing current Islamic knowledge? I hope we can continue to think critically and keep our minds open. Let us hear the voices of all Muslims and never forget the Islamic principles of love, mercy, equality, and social justice.