On Islam, and being a Muslim in America

Hello, my name is Elmurad Kasym. I am 29 years old and I am from Kyrgyzstan, a small country north of Afghanistan, south of Russia and west of China. I have traveled to the USA before and this time I am here on a US state-funded scholarship pursuing a master’s degree in international relations in Denver, CO. After arriving here for the third time, I continue to discover the unknown America. This time, I am learning about religious practices and attitudes towards religions the founding fathers did not profess.

One faith tradition that receives a great deal of scrutiny and criticism in the US is Islam; the reportedly fastest growing religion in the world and the USA particularly. This year’s biggest controversy, so far, is the Park51 Islamic Cultural Center project near Ground Zero and the Eid ul-Fitr celebration one or two days before the 11th of September. What a challenge for Muslims in America! But I am sure these issues would have been resolved easily, should there only be more understanding and awareness.

Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr
Islam is currently celebrating one of its most sacred times in the year – the month of Ramadan. This is a month when Muslims abstain from meals, sexual intercourse and other acts that would break one’s fast. Ramadan is a month of self reflection, asking for forgiveness from both God and those whom one could’ve somehow hurt, and seeking spiritual and physical cleanness. According to Islamic teachings, rewards for good deeds are multiplied by several times in Ramadan. The blessed month finishes with one of the two most important holidays – Eid ul-Fitr, which any Muslim wishes to celebrate.

Muslims follow the lunar calendar whose months move “backwards” against the solar calendar. Thus, every single month of the lunar calendar starts 10-12 days earlier than in the previous year. Ramadan this year starts on August 8 (as opposed to the last year’s August 18) and concludes, based on the moon sighting, on either 9 or 10 September. The conclusion of Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr falling so close to September 11 is creating a stronger impact on  American society than, let’s say, the flood in Pakistan.

“How can they be celebrating their feast on the worst day in this country’s history?!” “This is yet another proof the Islamists planned and carried out those attacks, and are now impudently slapping in our faces!” This is the impression I am getting from news and blog posts about Ramadan and Park51 controversy. But is it so in reality? Are “those Moozlems” celebrating the end of Ramadan purposefully on the anniversary of the tragic events?

No! It just happens so this year that the lunar month of Ramadan is concluding close to the 11th of September. This was not planned, just as it was not planned last year when Ramadan’s completion was celebrated a week or so only after the 11th of September.

The religion of Islam: Facts and Misconceptions
One of the profound lessons I learned in my life was confronting the difference between what I I thought/was told and reality. The “Learning Other Cultures 101 class” I took in early 2000s in California taught me that Americans were not all about fancy convertible sports cars, half-naked blond women on the beach, machos shooting right and left, and rivers of Coca-Cola and that young Americans were not into either partying or smoking pot.

It is my firm belief that these images were painted in my mind due to a) scarcity of information about the USA and b) Hollywood movies that do not represent all life styles practiced here. Scarce resources coupled with an intensive “attack on brains” off of the TV screen left a wrong impression of the USA which did not encompass the whole of the diverse America.

Now, having arrived here, I can see the religion of Islam is being misrepresented in the same manner: what we know about this religion comes only from TV and/or other mass media outlets. The true image of Islam was hijacked by hate mongers just like the 9-11 planes were hijacked by those who do not represent Islam. I urge my readers not to judge this religion based on some insane individuals’ acts in its name. If so, what kind of conclusion we are expecting people will reach based on the crusades, the Kansas bomber and the KKK? Do these acts, no matter how far apart in history, represent the true Christian religion or the USA? Cleary, no!

Neither do those who flew the planes into the World Trade Center, blow themselves up and innocent civilians, kill non-Muslims and commit other horrendous acts in the name of religion and securing a place in Paradise, represent Islam.

The religion of Islam is not about violence. I realize this line has been uttered hundreds and thousands of times, but have we really thought into it?  What do we know about this religion and its “advocacy in favor of violence”?

Islam is the completion of the monotheistic mission the prophets (peace be upon them all) were sent with by God the Almighty. In the Koran, God says He does not want any difficulty for His creations – us, humans – but wants ease. The God of Koran frowns upon any violence – physical or psychological – and encourages good deeds.

God says in the Koran He forbids us from killing ourselves. According to that very Koran, killing an innocent soul equals to killing the whole humankind and saving a soul is equal to saving the whole humankind. Now, how can those “martyrs” blowing themselves up and others convince anyone they are doing an act which will please God? Such a criminal is not getting even close to Paradise, let alone virgin mates. And, according to the “do not kill thyself” command of God, they will be thrown into Hellfire for committing suicide and unjustly inflicting death on other creations of God.

In fact, Islam has a long history of eradicating violence and inequality. For example, in the pre-Islamic times, Arabs used to bury some of their infant and small daughters alive and Islam abolished that tradition. Islam also helped put an end to slavery by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), being first to do so. Is this the same religion that some believe promotes and encourages violence? Clearly not!

As we can see, the image painted about Islam is wrong to the core. The real mission Islam bears is a set of rules and regulations called to make the humankind’s life on earth easy and comfortable. Islam teaches humans to love and be dutiful to parents even if they are not Muslim like the father of Abraham (peace be upon him). Islam teaches us that the humankind was born from Adam and Eve and urges to live in peace and harmony among different races.

I, for one, practice my religion to the best of my knowledge and capabilities and see no single point in the Koran, Sunnah or Shariah which would justify or encourage an act of violence against non-Muslims around me here in the US, or anywhere else. In fact, Koran teaches me to say “for you is your religion, for me is my religion.” I am able to freely practice my religion whether on campus or in mosques. Why should/would I want to hurt any non-Muslim? For letting me to freely exercise my religious views and rights?

Even though it is frequently misunderstood, Islam’s mission is enabling people to live this short life serving the Only Lord and employing every means to please Him; means as little as sharing a meal with your family, keeping oneself clean, not being haughty and being kind to your neighbor. I think we can all agree, no matter our faith tradition, that these are noble and worthy goals.

Citizens Project’s note:
You may contact the author of this post at Elmurad.Kasym@du.edu.

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