Nurullah Ates talked to Suhaib Webb for World Bulletin about American Muslims and being a Muslim in the U.S. Here are the questions and his answers …
1- Can you evaluate demographic and cultural background of Muslims in US- in terms of education, ethnic background, median age?
The best resource for that would be PEW. PEW study that was done and also there is a book written by Dalia Mogahed called “Who Speaks for Islam’’. These numbers show that 50% of American Muslims are from America and 50 percent are immigrants or children of immigrants. Also, 37% of Muslim Americans are under the age of 35. As far as ethnicity, our Mosque alone has 90 different ethnicities. So, extremely diverse.
Overwhelming of American Muslims have college degrees. Professionally most people are moderately successful. 50 percent of the community are African American according to some studies.
2- What do you think about this cultural diversity and its implication in the future? Do you think it has advantages or disadvantages?
I think there is an incredible potential where you have obviously financial potential and you see Muslims are participating in public institutions. Number two is that you are going to see the connection between older generations and younger generations. It is almost 40 percent of our community is under 40 years old. Then, definitely they are going to have different expectations and needs that are different than those who came before them.
3- What do you think about the attitude of Muslims towards other ethnic minorities- like Asians and Hispanics?
You can see in California that Muslims are doing a lot of work with those communities and Texas is another central place for those groups where substantial amount of them resides. But still Muslims are trying to institutionalize themselves to play a ‘‘larger game’’ if you would participate in broader societies. At least the dominant institutions, I mean institutional works are still not there.
4- Do you think the diversity (variety of ethnic and sectarian backgrounds) within the Muslim community has setback or potential?
No I think it is a setback. Because the lack of symmetry when it comes to religious authority of thought has led to splitting of mosques, jama`as (congregations) , communities. So I would rather prefer the monolith of Turkey and Malaysia than the diversity of America when it comes to Islam. But in England you cannot compare England to America. It is another level. The divisions are in England are very much more intense level than here. It is not like here.
Even the approach to education is very problematic. If you look America, I do not know about Turkey, there is no liberal arts experience in Muslims schools. There is no history. The only history that we have is Seerah (biography of the Prophet) and Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet), when you take out Islamic historical experience what you are doing is creating the perfect modernist. You create someone who just looks life as kufr (disbelief), iman (belief), shirk (associating others with Allah), tawheed (Oneness of God), Sunnah, bid`ah (innovation in religion), fiqh, grammar, balaghah (eloquence). And these are all constructed in Aristotle’s format which looks perfection. But when we bring history like history of Spain and Ottoman Empire, the history of Indians, Mongols or the history of Abbasid or Umawyeen, it will protect us from utopic understanding.
I am sure if you look at ISIS, you will see that their knowledge of Islam is shown to be extremely weak, like their knowledge of history. In Spain once the Muslims conquered one of the cities, they put Jewish people as the governors of those cities. This humanizes the experience. So we are teaching young people now to be perfect modernist. They have no exposure to organic history.
The embodiment of Prophetic mercy is found in the human experiences not in the theological ones necessarily. Like for example I was taking a humanity class in college and we were studying Hagia Sophia and our professor said: ‘‘do you know that the Ottomans did not destroy the paintings of `Isa (Jesus) and Maryam (Mary). And she was like ‘’is not that incredible, amazing? ’’.
If we were to ask to “some” people, the fiqh opinion on that, they will burn it down. But for the genuine Muslim-human opinion it does not say that. The Prophet (Pbuh) said my community is not agree on misguidance.
So we have human experience of the Ummah that we can also learn from. This is something I am working on actually. We have collective experiences that we can learn. So in American Muslim community, if you go to Islamic schools there is no history. There is no calligraphy etc.
To be continued
Source: World Bulletin
About Imam Suhaib Webb
Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American Muslim Resident Scholar, thought leader and educator. After his conversion to Islam, Webb left a career in the music industry and pursued his passion in education. He enrolled at the University of Central Oklahoma, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Education.
While pursuing his bachelor’s degree Imam Webb studied privately with a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. After intense private training in various Islamic sciences, Imam Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he not only provided Khutbas (Sermons) and religious classes but also counseled families and young people.
After serving as Imam and resident scholar in various communities across the country, Imam Webb decided to further his education and training in Islamic Law and various other Islamic sciences. Imam Webb enrolled at the world-renowned Islamic educational institution Al-Azhar University in the College of Shariʿah. There he studied at the college and privately with leading Islamic thinkers on contemporary Islam. After years of study in the Arabic Language, he was appointed head of the English translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Masriyah as a Mufti (Jurist).
While undergoing rigorous training in Islamic Law, Imam Webb completed the memorization of the Quran while in the city of Makkah. Imam Webb has not only studied at Al-Azhar but also holds a number of licenses from traditional scholars in various sciences as was practiced in traditional Islamic law for centuries.
Imam Suhaib Webb strongly advocates for an authentic articulation of the American Muslim identity. He is a proponent of understanding the various challenges facing the American Muslim community and finding solutions based on an authentic American Muslim experience.
In 2009 his website www.suhaibwebb.com won the Brass Crescent’s best “Blog of the Year” award. Recently he was part of a delegation that visited Auschwitz to develop better understanding between Muslim and Jewish Americans. He was named by the British Government as a “Moderate Muslim leader” and was named in 2010 and 2013 as one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.
From December 2011 to March 2014 Imam Suhaib Webb served as the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center’s Imam. In April 2014 he transitioned into ISBCC’s Resident Scholar. Imam Webb has lectured extensively around the world including the Middle East, East Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America. He is also the founder and an Instructor at Ella Collins Institute. He lives in Boston, MA and is a proud Celtics fan.