The alienation of Western Muslims is a double-edged sword. On one side, those who converted to Islam, were born into Islam in the West, or those who became Westernized upon moving to the West are ostracized by the “Muslim community” for a variety of reasons. On the other side, to the general Western public, Muslims will never be “Western enough” to blend in with society – often due to superficial actions, like hijab-wearing women. I have seen constant discussion from converts, from which standpoint I will be writing these posts, on how to balance our culture with our faith.
The idea for this series was sparked by a question in a forum from a fellow convert:
“How are the ulama’ relevant to those of us living in the West? For example, the prohibition of sitting at the same table where alcohol is being consumed is an impossible junction in the West, unless one is a hermit.”
Which brings me to the first topic: Uluma, and the West.
The Uluma are doing their best to guide the entirety of the Ummah to Jannah. It’s that simple. They are using their vast knowledge to explain, decipher, and apply Islamic law and theology to the present, modern world.
We face issues today that nobody in the time of our beloved Prophet (saws) could have even dreamt of. With the age of the internet, the teachings of various scholars can be heard across the entire world. This is incredible in that we can access knowledge in the West that would have been nearly impossible to obtain without months of travel, and even then only to those who were physically and monetarily able. The downside is, we often rely only on scholars overseas who have never stepped foot in the West to be aware of the problems, hardships, and struggles faced by Muslims in the West.
In the United States, we have a combination of local, statewide, and federal government. The government is split in this way so that there can be overarching rules that govern everyone, while other more personal decisions are guided by lawmakers more local to the issues at hand. The variance in cultures, situations and people have developed unique problems to each locale, and someone who can visually see and experience the same issues is often the person most qualified to issue a declaration on how to deal with it.
When we in the West ask legalistic questions as they relate to our social contexts, the scholars will undoubtedly answer with what they believe is the best answer – but they may not be fully aware of the situation. This is why it is often stressed for converts to have a strong Muslim support group, or to stay connected closely with a local masjid, in order that they can hear, learn, and discover methods of handling the unique situation that surrounds their life and lifestyle.
Many scholars do not know what it’s like to be a convert with non-Muslim family, and the difficulty that presents itself with balancing maintaining family ties with avoiding haraam activities. Many scholars do not know what it is like to live in a majority non-Muslim country. Many scholars have only lived in cities where halal meat is readily available at any given time, even in restaurants.
Islam does not change, no matter where in the universe it is being practiced. The application of Islam, though, can be changed to ease hardship. Within the boundaries of Islam, there is room for small changes in practice that provide a temporary relief while a situation is difficult. When the Uluma overseas make rulings, they are speaking for the entire world. Local scholars can consult the jurisprudence to evaluate what rulings can be moderated in order to ease the burden on Muslims in the area (or even an individual Muslim), while still upholding the standards of Islam. Individual Muslims can practice this as well, with the important warning to beware of the nafs and do not step outside the limits of Islam.
In the end, my encouragement is for each individual -including myself – to start with the basics: fasting, salah, and charity are the same among all scholars. When it comes down to more complex issues, consult a scholar that you trust to listen to your individual situation and give you the best advice on how to approach it. The most difficult part in this is that if you trust the person to appreciate your situation and provide valuable advice, you really need to follow it. Allahu alim.