Muslim community in Europe and the US is not immune to inhibiting cultural influences. The first wave of immigrants, indeed, mostly came to fulfill this very quest, to find the material success that was glamorised for so long in their own home countries. Yet there were a few who actually were passionate for the Ummah (Muslim community), and from their herculean efforts, Islam managed to strengthen as their children were born. Now, as they themselves begin to recede back into old age and return slowly to their Creator, it is their children who are starting to assume responsibility and control the affairs of their communities. Though the older generation still retains a key grip, it should not be long before that too subsides, and leaves the world to their children. Yet for the Ummah to progress forward, these children will also have to move past the thinking that has plagued most of the elder generation, as well as overcome the new challenges presented by American popular culture.
Muslims, in their zeal to “integrate” often become afflicted with the same disorders as other Americans do. Our attitudes towards love are a clear example of our succumbing to the power of fun. Why does love have to be fun? Tying love with fun actually severely handicaps the power of love, as exemplified by our difficulty in loving someone for the sake of Allah. This often extends dangerously towards our level of love towards Allah and the Holy Prophet (PBUH), how many times do we lose concentration because we are “bored” in prayer?
This attitude also extends to our love of the Ummah: one can gauge the seriousness of the issue by simply looking at how deeply Islamic charities nowadays depend on holding concerts for raising funds for humanitarian causes, and how they sadly have big name Muslim celebrities entertain the Muslim crowds, in order to squeeze out money from the pockets of Muslims. This phenomenon, which has several variations (including basketball tournaments for charity), is extremely telling of the “Ummah consciousness” of a people, and their sheer addiction to fun and self-gratification, where they have to indulge themselves first before coming to the aid of the needy in their own Ummah. It does not seem to carry the same spirit of generosity and urgency when the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Guard from the Fire, even by giving half of a date fruit in charity.”
Social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter serve as another example of this phenomenon. The ideas of fun, frivolity, redundancy, and sheer narcissism promoted by these sites completely redefine our attitudes towards our lives. Before Facebook, one could feel perfectly content to have a sum total of dozen or more friends–but now, 12 looks likes a terrifyingly tiny number, and can become a cause for losing self-esteem. Yet if a person has a thousand friends, they will feel like an accomplished person of great importance and relevance, even if they are doing nothing on the grander scale of contributing to humanity or serving God. The “like” feature also ties into the same concept, serving as nothing more than fuel for narcissists on their personal pages. What is the purpose and ultimate consequence in liking the fact a friend went shopping that day?
Equally disturbing is the practice of frequently updating profile pictures, of showcasing the same person in different poses and settings – a practice completely unnecessary for facilitating communication, yet needed for the purposes of communicating self-obsession and glory. Also, prior to Facebook, individuals with a less than normal social aptitude would be inevitably forced to learn the dynamics of building personalities and interacting with people at some stage in their life. With Facebook, the person will perhaps never learn, having finally found a venue to voice the sounds of their soul without hesitation. Some also have experienced that using Twitter extensively damages one’s ability to expound upon reflections and thoughts – one will simply send out 140 character messages and feel the urge is gone. In essence, Muslims need to be aware of the inherent orientations of the tools they use, and realize that technology, just like “culture,” is not as neutral as it may sometimes seem to be – and to embrace everything in the zeal to “integrate” may not be in the best interests of the Ummah. If one truly believes in Islam as a whole, one must believe that the needs of the Ummah supersede his or her own needs.
Our enormous energies and talents deserve not to be wasted away in corporate offices, but rather in the service of the greater good of humanity. Becoming doctors, engineers, or accountants is certainly not inherently wrong- but we must realize that building the character of a nation, that curing them of spiritual diseases, is much harder and requires ten times more resources than building the infrastructure of a nation. Obviously, as long as the bulk of all individual energies are being used to secure personal careers, American Muslims on a whole will never tap into their potential to bring reform and prosperity.
Often, being an Islamic activist is only tolerated as a hobby – but if it is accorded its proper station as one’s true calling in life, it will be feared greatly, almost as if it surely portends poverty and ruin. Islam, though, is not meant to be taken up as a hobby, but as a life calling – and until we forgo our individualistic dreams and build grander dreams for the Ummah, one cannot have high expectations for the future. This is the fundamental mistake made by Muslims today, and in reality, it is this mistake which threatens ruin and destruction on the Muslim community.
If one believes the state of affairs of the Ummah to be pathetic today, we must believe ourselves individually to be pathetic as well. We have become desensitised to the plight of the world – how else can one describe our historically unprecedented ability to hear tragedy after tragedy, yet go back to spend hours watching T.V shows and games? Television claims to serve our powers of seeing and hearing, but in reality, it has taken control of our faculties of thinking, by controlling what we see and how we see. Ironically, we often accuse our brethren living in Muslim majority countries of being too sensitive, of being too combustible and manipulated by those who seek to give Islam a bad name.
Yet few realize that we too, awash in our luxuries and numbed into silence and inaction by them, are also being manipulated by those same forces. We must find a way to collectively fight back against these sterilizing forces, of creating new forces and institutions that are free from these dangers, and learn to orient our lives and ambitions toward the service of Allah and all of His creation – and if we can accomplish that, undoubtedly our future descendants will surely come upon a time, God-Willing, where decent men and women all over the world from Haiti to China will smile freely, and feel relieved at having found out that the forces of good have not been vanquished, that goodness and altruism still shine throughout Allah’s earth, like the morning glow rejuvenates us after the lethargy of the night.