Moving Beyond Theory
by Yahiya Emerick
"In Islam, you..." "Islam teaches that the state is..." "A Fatwa issued by a scholar in..."

This is what you hear on a daily basis when you travel in Muslim circles. There is always someone propounding on what Islam teaches, how Islam shapes our behavior and what Islam says about halal/haram issues. This is all well and good. However, as is my habit, I'm going to poke some holes in our usual assumptions so we can see what we really need to do to improve ourselves.

Picture this: you're in a Muslim convention, Masjid or at a local function where there are a lot of people. Some people are talking about politics, others about "religion" while others are gossiping about whatever (or whoever). Some of the people will be recognized "scholars" or known for their Islamic learning. They may even be distinguished by distinctive clothing, or they're just wearing expensive suits and ties.

You sort of feel like you're in a Muslim society. There's "Salam" every where you turn and you can reasonably expect a certain conformity in behavior and modes of expression. Group activities such as the Salah and dinner solidify this feeling. Maybe there will be some speeches of interest to the attendees and maybe a little bazaar with books, clothes or whatever.

But for all the knowledge, for all the hierarchies based on religious" knowledge and for all the talk of what Islam says about this, that or the other thing, the simple truth remains that when everyone leaves, they are returning to a world dominated by non-Muslims and their culture. Even if you were in Egypt, Arabia or Malaysia, the dominant culture is not necessarily "Islamic" as much as it is based on tradition.

So the woman who asked a question about women's rights "in Islam" to the speaker on the podium, and received an answer that women's status "in Islam" is wonderful, will leave the gathering and return to the "real" world where Muslim women are either not welcome in the Masjid near them or are at best a tolerated evil there.

The man who talked to his brother about building an Islamic community will return to his home where he is the only Muslim in the neighborhood. Likewise, the kids who were forced to sit in the lecture hall by their parents are going to return to their public school to see their girl/boy friends, talk about the latest Madonna album and laugh and joke like any other non-Muslim.

For all the talk about building brotherhood or sisterhood, there will be none of it outside the convention hall or lecture forum. For all the talk about "in Islam this" or "in Islam that", the truth is that outside the place, there is no "in" anything except kufr.

I know of a sister who wanted to divorce her husband. She knew about the divorce procedure in the non-Muslim court system, but what about in Islam? She went to one big Imam from a wealthy Arab country and laid out her case. She was often beaten and abused by her husband and he didn't even support her or their children. She was the one who worked and paid the bills, in addition to being hit all the time! This "Imam" gave her a religious ruling telling her she should just stay married to him and never mind the beatings.

So the sister went to another Imam from a poor African country. He was more sympathetic and advised counseling for the couple. The husband refused to come to his office for counseling and the Imam tried his best to contact this man and even sent a message that he would be willing to come to their house and counsel them there. The man didn't budge. He wanted no part of any counseling. The Imam could have pursued the matter, but he was also counseling hundreds of other Muslims who had social problems. The wife finally gave up and decided a secular divorce was her only option. She couldn't find a way to arrange an Islamic divorce.

Of the several Masjids that I've had close associations with, one startling factor I've always taken note of is the lack of Islamicity in many of the sisters. (Not all sisters so don't get mad at me.) You know, the wealthy women who wear the dynamite Shalwars, ultra-high heels, gold jewelry and expensive hair-dos. (Hijab is unheard of for many women.) Their main activity seems to be gossip, endless gossip. Although the Prophet counseled us to never talk about others, all they do is feast upon the rumors, gossip and "juicy" tid-bits of info on this or that person or family.

I've known many sincere sisters in these different Masjids, some were converts, others were immigrants who had strong Islamic awareness. One complaint they would give is the lack of real sisterhood they felt. Many were sick of the gossip-mongers (who often held power positions in the women's activities in the Masjid) and they felt powerless to stop it. A few sisters I know of tried to confront the gossip-mongers, but they were treated so cruelly and viciously that they haven't returned to their respective Majid's yet.

I remember one of the sisters telling me, "Who is my community?"

Here's the problem: We always talk about the theory of Islam; what Islam teaches in regards to personal, social and political behavior. But we never seem to move beyond the theoretical. If Islam says a person shouldn't back-bite, we parrot this phrase from our mouth. But then we engage in back-biting as if we never recognized it was wrong! We say that the Imam is the leader of the community, but then we "hire" Imams from third world countries, bring them here to lead prayers and teach Arabic, but then give them no respect or authority whatsoever!

My favorite issue is that of the "scholars" who have their heads in the sand. You know, all those guys with degrees from Madinah, Syria, India or wherever, who act and talk as if they were in 13th century Baghdad or Damascus. They'll wear their little "scholar's" uniforms, issue fatwas left and right, talk about the theory of Islam and act is if they are part of a monolithic Islamic state which is functioning and healthy.

But there is no Islamic state anywhere in the world, the level of knowledge among Muslims about Islam is extremely varied, there are no authorities to verify or study the merits of fatwas, Muslim countries were conquered completely and are now places where Islam is suppressed and many "scholars" are more influenced by their cultures than by Islam.

Think about the Taliban, for example, where they have forbidden sisters to work, study or even go out without a tent on their heads.  As one Taliban spokesman was quoted as saying, "This is our culture for over a thousand years."

There are also a lot of Arabs, Indo-paks, Africans and converted Muslims, both black and white, who also are influenced by their culture over Islam as well. (Think about all the permissive fatwas issued from "American" Muslims in recent years.)

The simple plea remains: "Who is my community?"

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