The Issue of Identity and Acceptance: Muslim-Communities Globally

One of the issues that I constantly have to sort-through personally is the issue of identity and acceptance. In many social-circles within different Muslim-communities, people choose to stigmatize converts for various reasons…many of which are ridiculous. These stigmas are very much hurtful and even damaging for the psyche of the convert. I’ve been Muslim for the last six years and I still continue to get the same question about me changing my name. I’ve always been of the opinion that my name doesn’t classify me as being pious or impious. I am my actions and words. It is known in the Islamic-tradition that faith is seen through the acts that you perform with your limbs. So, I continue to believe this. Many people fail to realize that the prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions were indeed converts and their names were Arabic and they were in Arabia, so their names matched the place they lived. Their names were specific to their geographical location. Yes, this may not be the case for everyone but it was definitely their case. So, why do people still ask why I have yet to change my name? Many individuals through the Muslim-community have even went so far to say that I am imitating the kuffar by not changing my name to a Muslim-one. I’ve even had someone tell me that I should name my child an Arabic name when I have one to differerientate him/her from Western society. I’m sorry, but I am a Western Muslim and I do not feel the least amount of guilt for being so. So, let me stop right there. Whenever someone tell me to change my name I simply ask them if they mean I should change my name to an Arabic one. Why do so many equate being Muslim with being Arabic and looking a certain way?

However, I would say that we have to stop stigmatizing people for wanting to keep their identity, especially when it doesn’t pose any problem to Islam. The only time the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would change the name of a companion is if it meant something bad. And I’m not trying to do extensive research about my name. It’s not that serious. If only we could move beyond superficiality. What is a name, anyways? Just something that you call yourself and identity yourself by for identification purposes. Why not look at me from my actions instead? Telling a convert that they should or is encouraged to change their name is troubling to me. It’s troubling because it shows this incessant obsession with outwardly appearances. In the Islamic-tradition, Allah doesn’t look at our bodies or our clothing but our hearts. So, what does that mean? It means exactly what it says. Allah looks at our actions and what is within our hearts. So, why do we seek to box people up into categories?

In many ways, it is us that strip people of themselves. It’s not Islam. Islam is quite clear in how it deals with personal-identities. Islam never forbids an individual to stop being Bengali, Sengalese, Black, White, Spanish, Chinese, Indian, or etc. So, why do we seek to bid identity? The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was an Arab man, so he had his own culture. Sometimes people will get culture confused with Islam and will seek to correct you about something that isn’t even Islamic. Some people will tell you that we have to eat with our fingers, but this is incorrect. We can if we would like, but it’s not an obligation. Or if you’re a sister you have to wear a black abaya with a black hijab. Correction, if this is what you’re wanting to do than go forth in wearing it. I typically wear my abayas on a daily-basis, but I may switch it up. The abaya is Arabic and it doesn’t have to be the daily-attire of a Muslim woman. So, where is all of this coming from? Why must we infringe upon someone else’s culture to impose another? We have to respect the diversity that we have within the Muslim-community. If someone doesn’t speak Arabic, look Arabic or have an Arabic name than you should quickly get over it. If someone doesn’t appear as Muslim as you like than you should quickly get over it. It’s you that is wrong for stripping people of their identity. It is you that creates hostility and division. It is you that is seeking to maintain racist ideologies from the days of Jahiliya (pre-Islam/ignorance).

An American-Muslim is simply American. What does it mean to be American? It means that this Muslim is coming from a society that is specific in certain traditions, cultural-norms, ways of viewing and living life. This is no different than the person coming from Japan, Spain, Senegal, Ghana, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. We are all from different places, but we unite under Islam. We should embrace the diversity that Islam gives us. We shouldn’t take it for granted. Instead of trying to measure someone’s Muslimness….how about trying to understand how we can come together to better ourselves and our communities through practicing Islam? Why does that seem like a better option than the option of simply judging someone based-off of superficiality? I am not pointing fingers at anyone specific, but this is just a needed wake-up call for those that seem to feel troubled to see or know of a Muslim that doesn’t necessarily look or sound like them. In case you’re seeking daleel or evidence for why I am opposed to racism, please continue to read:

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, God will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge. The inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and (even) the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave (no monetary inheritance), they leave only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion. – Sunan of Abu-Dawood, Hadith 1631

The prophet Muhamamd (peace be upon him) is telling us that even God(Allah) understands the fish in the sea, so what does that tell us? This tells us that language comes from Allah and that if Allah understands the fish in the sea than the diversity of languages that we see in our world is from Allah. On top of that, no person should feel sad that they don’t speak Arabic or another language. Allah gave us the language(s) that we have, so feel at ease. Easy, easy does it!

If this hadith isn’t sufficient for you in regards to why we shouldn’t feel the need to be racist and ethnocentric than please continue reading:

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (49:13)

This is indeed the ultimate proof for how we have to move away from these racist and ethnocentric ways in which we carry with us to: mosques, events, gatherings, and parties. So, please just leave people alone. We have to realize that enjoining the good and forbidding the evil should only be done by an individual that has knowledge of that which is halal (good) and haraam (good) or else we may speak things that are false and untrue.

“Ibn ul Qayyim said that it is the greatest sin. Ibn ul Qayyim said that speaking about Allaah swt without `ilm is the greatest sin that you could commit. He bases it on this verse”:
“Qul innamaa 7arrama Rabbi-l-fawaa7isha maa DHahara minhaa wa maa baTan, wal-ithma wal-baghya bi ghayri-l-7aqq, wa an tushrikoo bi-Llaahi maa lam yunazzil bihi sulTaanaa, wa an taqoolo 3ala-l-Laahi maa laa ta3lamoon.”

“Say: The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are al-Fawaahishah (great evil sins, every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse, etc.), whether committed openly or secretly, sins (of all kinds), unrighteous oppession, joining partners (in worship) with Allaah for which He has given no authority and saying things about Allaah of which you have no knowledge.” [The Noble Qur’aan, 7:33]

So, we just have to be careful in how we choose to direct our concerns. If we are speaking without knowledge then this is extremely serious and should be cautioned against to the best of our abilities. So, remember the next time you feel compelled to tell someone that this or that is haraam (bad/unlawful). So, remember this the next time you choose to tell someone their name is haraam (bad/unlawful) or because it seems too Western. Just remember that Islam came as a mercy not a burden and you shouldn’t make it into a way of life that is unbearable for the next person. Islam is a moderate way of life. It’s the middle path. It’s not extreme. It’s easy and simple.

So, I will leave you a few lasting words to think about as we travel through this beautiful religion and way of life:

“Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses over mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness over yourselves ..” Quran 2:143

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