What is American Islam? by Dr. Musa Maguire

This is a pretty well written article by Dr. Musa Maguire on what people can mean when they say American Islam and how people view it, and in what respect it is being called ‘American’.

What is American Islam?
By Dr Musa Maguire

Director of Community Relations, MA’RUF

There is a lot of talk and enthusiasm these days about “American Islam”. As Muslim communities take root in the United States and confront unprecedented social, political, and cultural realities, we are faced with difficult decisions about how to define our identity and practice our faith in this land. Despite its popularity, however, the exact definition of American Islam remains unclear.

In this discussion, it is fair to say that there are two absolutes. First, the core beliefs and foundational principles of Islam will remain the same. There is nothing about our life in America that will change the nature of Paradise and the Hellfire. Islam will remain the only faith with a direct connection to God, both spiritually (through tawheed—Islamic monotheism) and historically (through the fortress of scholarship). In other words, we pray directly to God without partners or intermediaries. And when we quote the speech of Allah and the sound statements of his Prophet (S) we can be certain of their veracity. And even here in America, the Companions of the Prophet (S) will remain the standard bearers of faith, character, and conduct. And as would be the case anywhere else, we should hold in grave suspicion anyone who slanders or dishonors them.

The second absolute is that we must actively communicate the message of Islam in America. This would seem obvious, but too often we find ourselves in a defensive posture. We ask our neighbors to accept us, but we refrain from calling them to accept Islam. It is not always easy to convey Islam in a hostile environment. There is no better example of this fact than our beloved Prophet Muhammad (S). He suffered, bled, and starved to convey the message of Islam. We are unlikely to ever face such hostility in this land, so what is our excuse if we hide the truth? May Allah grant us the courage and wisdom to convey Islam in this land!

Beyond these two absolutes, there are several other ways to conceptualize American Islam. Each has some merits and drawbacks. First, some may define American Islam in a cultural sense, emphasizing the need to integrate within the society. This definition is problematic for two reasons. First, for converts like me, or second generation Muslims, or even immigrants who have spent a good portion of their life here, we are already culturally American. Muslim youth, no matter where their parents come from, are proof of this. They choose football over cricket. They eat burgers rather than biryani. And when they sing their favorite song, it’s “yo shawty” rather than “ya habibi” (neither of which I condone, by the way!) So, cultural integration is not really an issue, because it has already happened. This brings us to the second problem. Islam has always been flexible in accommodating different cultures, but integration has its costs. We still have to recognize the clear limits of Islamic law and do our best to abide by them. To rely on a cultural definition of American Islam, we miss the crucial point. Yes, we need to be ourselves, but we must do so lawfully. What do we gain by integration if we lose our souls?

On this note, another way to think about American Islam is through jurisprudence. Given the wide variety of unique and unprecedented issues that face our community, many have called for the development and application of “minority fiqh”. To the extent that this environment requires specific dispensations or unique rulings that are not applicable elsewhere, it may be possible to speak of American Islam. However, this is also problematic. Islamic law has always been sensitive to contextual factors, potential outcomes, and social benefits. Why describe this as American Islam when it is more accurately an illustration of Islam’s universality? Still, this is a complex matter, and one that will remain highly controversial for the foreseeable future. For the common Muslims, we must remind the scholars to have taqwa (piety, fear of God). Don’t plunge us neck-deep into doubtful matters. Guide us to live a life of principle rather than one defined by exceptions and excuses. And likewise, we must heed the advice of the scholars to be tolerant and forgiving, to focus on the basics, and hold ourselves to account before judging others.

Finally, in America, there are advantages and opportunities that remain unavailable in the historically Muslim world. This relates not only to material and financial gain, but also to social and ethical principles. Some may object to this statement, but anyone who lives here, at some level, knows it to be true. Two clear examples come to mind. First, America just witnessed a major historical milestone: a member of a historically oppressed minority group reached the highest political office in the land. So what does it say about us that Muslim communities are still dramatically divided along ethnic and national lines? Even here in Milwaukee, there are Muslims who refer to people from other ethnic groups as “slaves”. What does it say about our Muslims communities that American society, in this respect, has proven to be more Islamic than us? There are few places in the world where Muslims from every background and ethnicity live in such close proximity. But instead of being our greatest asset, this diversity is often our greatest liability.

Likewise, the historically Muslim world is besieged by materialism and classism. These social diseases have tragic results when transplanted in the American context. Consider, for instance, the issue of marriage. Our youth are growing up in a cauldron of indecency. Their peers, their desires, and Shaytaan all conspire to lead them astray. Yet, for the most part, we have not presented them with a viable, lawful alternative? In effect, we have established a system where only the strong can survive. And why? All too often, marriage—the only lawful way for the youth (and this includes boys and girls) to fulfill their desires—is put out of reach due to financial, class, and ethnic barriers. The American environment presents some very difficult challenges in this regard, but it also gives us an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Piety is the only characteristic that really matters in marriage. And marriage itself can be a means to attain piety. Despite all the problems with gender relations in America, you will find an egalitarian spirit in love and marriage that is often absent from our Muslim communities. Let us remove the evil and artificial barriers from marriage so our youth can live an honorable life in this land.

So what is American Islam? It is nothing other than Islam lived fully, practically, wisely, and confidently in America. We don’t need to reinvent our faith. The Quran and sunnah are revelations from Allah, applicable to all times and places. However, America does give us the opportunity to examine and reform ourselves, to revive the faith, to love each other for Allah’s sake, and to prove our ideals through action. This may seem like a grand task, but Allah says:

“And [Allah] joined their hearts together. If you had spent all that is in the earth, you could not have done so; but Allah united their hearts. Indeed, He is Exalted in Might and Wise.”

Allah is certainly capable of planting faith firmly in our heart, uniting us upon the truth, and enabling us to overcome the evil that divides us. Could there be any better American Islam than this?

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5 Responses to “What is American Islam? by Dr. Musa Maguire”


  1. 1 'Abdil Kareem December 21, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    alsalaamu ‘alaykum,

    I disagree with his second “absolute.” Allah never made dawah obligatory on every Muslim. Only those who are specialized in this field of our religion are permitted to engage in dawah (ayah 3:104). Just as only doctors who are authorized to perform surgeries may operate on patients, only those Muslims authorized to perform dawah may do so. The reward for this is immense, but if you’re not qualified to give dawah you will undoubtedly enter into debate about matters you haven’t studied and will most certainly speak about Allah without knowledge and begin lying about Allah unintentionally (or intentionally). The punishment for this is most severe and some ulama like al sheikh ibn Baaz rahimahullah have stated that it is worse than shirk due to ayah 7:33.

    So in this country, sure, we definitely need people to take up this important job, but what we currently have is thousands of jahalaa giving a version of dawah that is nothing more than compromising our religion to ensure the Americans are never offended. Well guess what, tawheed is highly offensive to shirk and kufr.

  2. 2 danishalhyderabadee December 26, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    asSalaam’alaykum wa Rahamtullah,

    Part of actively communicating Islam in America, would include the aspect of learning as well and funding the efforts. As we know from the Sunnah that the Prophet (SAW) said that the brother that works and cant go to the classes of the Prophet (SAW) will have the same reward as the one who does because it might be because of his working and earning a living for both, the other is able to focus on his islamic studies. Similarly was said about Jihad, that the one who funds a brother’s expedition would have the same reward as the one who actually goes on the expedition. So if you look at it in these two respects, you can say that ‘communicating Islam in America’ is not only verbally doing it yourself, but also being in the background and providing the support and structure to make that possible, and most Muslim organizations tend to have the role of support and structure, if they aren’t actively doing it.

    Verse 104 form Ale-Imran specifically mentions that there should be a group form amongst the Muslims that are dedicated to the field of dawah. And part of actively conveying the message includes that but remmeber that the Prophet (SAW) also told us to convey his message even if it is one verse. So doing dawah isnt only obligatory upon those who specialize rather it is upon all of us in the ability that we have.

    I think most of your contentions from the post are in regard to people realizing their self-worth and what they are able/capable and qualified in doing and what they aren’t. Which is a different issue, and definitely needs to eb dealt with.

    Taking a few classes on Dawah with qualified instructors would be sufficient to talk to the average American one-on-one. A good example is How to get Shahada in 10 minutes by Kamal elMekki and Yusha Evans etc. But going on a public forum and speaking about Islam and representing Islam might need more qualifications than that because we know that the Prophet (SAW) only sent out people that were qualified to other lands.

    Perhaps this topic itself might need more analysis and retrospect. This post is getting a bit too lengthy for that.

    Allahu’Alam

    • 3 'Abdil Kareem January 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm

      wa ‘alaykas salaam wa rahmatullah,

      “I think most of your contentions from the post are in regard to people…”

      Yes, exactly. I’m not saying one has to be a scholar certified by other scholars to merely talk to an American about Islam, but to engage a knowledgeable Christian in a debate about Islam requires qualifications.

      I think more Christians appropriately refrain from religious debate on the grounds they’re not qualified than Muslims do. Most Muslims, on the other hand, have an orgasm when a Christian asks them about Islam and the only fruit of their discussion is reaffirming the Christian’s beliefs.

      As you suggested, if most of these jahalaa knew their place and simply funded or supported those who are qualified in this field, it would’ve been better for them.

  3. 4 Muhammad Ahmad July 31, 2010 at 7:08 am

    Also check out this book titled “They are either Extremely Smart or Extremely Ignorant” : http://extremelysmart.wordpress.com/download-my-book/

  4. 5 Abubakr Stores January 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    This is a great article and I do respet Dr. Muas’s courage and understanding of Islam.
    I went to school in Bowling Green State University in Ohio in the 80s but had to leave and go back to Nigeria my Country because I was afraid I may not have the opportunity to practice my religion( ISLAM) This article showed me that my fears were unfounded if we can have an American convert with Dr. Musa undwerstanding.
    Yes Da’awah is every muslims responsibilty as shown during tjhe prophets’ life time were everybody was engaged in da’AWAH ONE WAY OR THE OTHER


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Fiqh As Sawm

Islamic Rulings Surrounding Ramadhan and Fasting. Based on “Manar As Sabeel Fi Sharh Ad Daleel” Of Shaykh Ibraheem ibn Duwaiyan (d. 1353 AH) as explained by Br. Salim Morgan. Transcribed and Edited By Ibn Al Hyderabadee

Prologue Introduction

Chapter 1: Fasting in Ramadhaan
1. A pillar of Islam 2. Obligation of Fasting 3. Sighting of the Moon for start of Ramadhaan 4. One reliable witness' presence is sufficient 5. Conditions that make Ramadhan Obligatory for an Individual 6. Expiation for the inability to fast due to age or illness 7. Requirements of a valid fast 8. Obligations to fulfill during fasting 9. Recommended acts of fasting

Chapter 2: Permissions and Prohibitions

1. Impermissible to break fast during Ramadhan 2. Prohibited to fast for a woman in her menstrual or post-partum bleedin 3. Obligatory to break it when it is required to save a person’s life 4. Recommended to break fast for one who is ill and fears harm from fasting. 5. Recommended to break fast when one is traveling 6. Permissible for one to break fast who begins a journey while fasting 7. Permissible for a pregnant or nursing (breast feeding) woman 8. Change of condition of a person doesn’t obligate one to refrain from eating and drinking the rest of the day. 9. Prohibited to fast a voluntary fast instead of an obligatory one.

Chapter 3: That which Invalidates Your Fast

1. Intentional Intake of anything into the abdomen 2. Intention to break fast 3. Fluctuating Intention to fast 4. Vomiting intentionally 5. Menstruation or Post Partum Bleeding 6. Masturbation 7. Marital Relations 8. Cupping for both parties 9. Death 10. Apostasy 11. Above are Exempted in some cases

Chapter 4: Repayment
1. Missing a day of fast in Ramadhan
2. When does one make up a missed fast
3. If missed fast are not made up until few dats before next Ramadhan
4. Missed fasts first or voluntary?

Chapter 5: Recommended, Disliked, and Impermissible Days of Fasting
1. Recommended Every Other Day Sawn Dawood
2. The three white days of every Islamic month
3. Six days of Shawwaal
4. Month of Muharram and the 10th
5. Ten days of Dhil Hijja and that of Arafat
6. Disliking of the month of Rajab
7. Disliking of the day of Friday
8. Disliking of the 30th of Shabaan
9. Impermissibility of fasting on the two Eids
10. Completing of a voluntary fast is not Wajib

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