The true religion of Islam is more than polemical rhetoric, or wearing a thobe, a hijab, or short pants. It’s about submitting to Allah, obeying Him, and establishing a lineage of belief, worship, family, brotherhood (love for the sake of Allah), prophetic tradition (Sunnah), honor, and akhlaq (morality), which is passed down from one generation, to the next, and to the next.
It is tragic when people enter into this faith and fail to pass it down to their children, or sometimes not even fully embrace it themselves, or try to live it through someone else’s reality without never having experienced its beauty.
In order to fully engage your Islam so that it becomes more than a bevy of regurgitated slogans, and faddish adaptations that you pick up and then discard later, you have to believe in, it in its totality, and practice it as a lifestyle.
To a true Muslim, Islam is not part of your life; it is your life:
Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds. (Al-An`am 6:162)
Islam is a lifestyle that you, yourself, must establish for yourself and your family. No one can do it for you; no imam, no sheikh, no scholar, and no saint. It is up to you to believe in it, embrace it, and practice it, or you can play with it. If you play with it, you are bound to lose it.
The reality is that many people who convert to Islam, are losing their religion, and fail to pass it down to their children and the next generations. Our faith is amongst the most valuable of gifts, and we need to do everything that we can to preserve and pass it down to our loved ones.
I was talking to my father, Sheikh Abdulkarim, about the issue of people leaving the religion and he reminded me of the verse: “It is He Who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when ye knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections: that ye may give thanks (to Allah).” (An-Nahl 16:78)
We have to value our Islam and realize that we came into this world with nothing, yet, now we are Muslims and have the guidance of Islam. This is a tremendous gift and there is nothing more beneficial than you can embrace for yourself, and pass down to your children, than Islam.
Success as a Muslim, without a doubt is a matter of tawfiq (divine enablement), and divine grace). Guidance is up to Allah; Verily Allah guides and leads astray who He pleases:
If Allah so willed, He could make you all one people: But He leaves straying whom He pleases, and He guides whom He pleases: but ye shall certainly be called to account for all your actions. (An-Nahl 16:93)
However, there is the matter of whether or not we engage causative factors which are determinants to the type of outcome that will occur. We cannot blame Allah for the condition of our religious practice and the loss of our children to the ways of the world. Parents have to take responsibility for how, when and to what degree we practice our faith.
It is arguable that the biggest problem to beset African American Muslim communities by far is that most of them are not part of communities. This is a dangerous state; especially for someone new to Islam.
The basis of success for a community is enjoining upon each other truth and patience. This is best done with jama`ah (congregation). When there is no jama`ah, there is no leadership, when there is no leadership then there is no cohesion, and when there is no cohesion, people are left to their own individual machinations and when they are left to their own machinations, there is no religious order, and when there is no religious order, chaos almost always ensues. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever among you wants to be in the middle of Paradise, let him cling to the congregation.” (At-Tirmithi)
Americans have been converting to Islam in large number since the 1960’s, and some say that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States. I have no reason to dispute that claim, Yet despite the phenomena of mass conversion to Islam spanning half a century, it seems that for many converts to Islam, the religion is not passed down to subsequent generations of Muslims.
So if Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States, it can be argued that amongst converts to Islam, it is the religion with the fastest turnover rate. Many converts today are without community and end up being stray sheep, and the Shaytan (Satan) is picking them off, one by one, family by family, household by household.
Why is this important?
Well, it matters because as each subsequent generation of practicing Muslims evolve within the family, the moral and religious values of Islam takes hold and are reinforced within the family unit, the extended family, and then it impacts the society at large.
When Islam is not sufficiently passed down to the next generation, our children are left at a great spiritual disadvantage. More often than not, a person converts to Islam, has children, and the children grow up not to practice it, and take on social ills like teenage pregnancy, incarceration, social dysfunction and blatant immorality as if they have no guidance at all.
There is a conspicuous malfunction in the methodology of religious practice and thinking for much of the convert community, which resulted in impeding the generational flow of the religion to many of our children.
The number of children of converts to Islam who have either left the religion, are dead because of wanton gang or drug related violence, or are incarcerated, ex-felons, or non high school graduates, or single unwed mothers, are staggering.
The question that we have to ask ourselves is; now that we are aware of our circumstances and the consequences of our actions and inaction, what is it that works, and what is it that doesn’t work for us?
If we examine our history as Muslim Americans for the last forty years, we will get a firsthand snapshot of where we have been successful and where we have made mistakes with respect to passing down Islam to our children.
When people do not know the critical mistakes of their history, they are doomed to repeat them, and by all accounts, we as indigenous American Muslims, are making the very same mistakes, over and over again. One of the greatest errors during the last half a century is when people become detached from the masajid (mosques) which are the houses of Allah, from the congregations of Muslims, and from the salah.
Muslims are brothers and sisters to one another in the global sense. However, in the fragmented world that we live in, Muslims are required to practice their religion in a local sense in order to preserve its practice within the individual and family.
There is no single determinant which ensures that a convert to Islam, stays in the faith, practices in and successfully passes it down to their offspring, but there is a methodology based upon the Qur’an and Sunnah, which has proved to be most successful for converts to Islam over the last 40 to 50 years or so, and that is the establishment of jama`ah (congregations).
American Muslim congregations are one of the few places where you will find, two, three, and four generations of Muslim family, still in the practice of deen. People who are attached to the masajid, and are part of religious congregations are much more likely to keep their Islam, and practice it, than those who aren’t.
Congregational communities, centered within a masjid, with an imam, and a community of people who establish the salah, have specific loyalty, commitment, and accountability to and with each other, and who have a communal focus, is a formula that works for American Muslims.
I didn’t say that it works perfectly; however, it does work and it does offer some sense of order, communal routine and stability. Such communities offer prayerful consistency, fraternity, cooperative spirit and effort, religious teachings, and spiritual support, which are all healthy and contributive factors to the good practice of Islam and being a Muslim in America.
Such an environment is critical for the convert to Islam. It doesn’t produce a perfect Muslim, for there is no such thing. However, it does create an environment of measured and consistent growth, as well as singularity of focus and religious message.