Culture, Family, Gender & Identity, Life

Can we stop pretending there’s just one kind of Muslim?

That's why it was so troubling to hear a parent say that he would rather only the "Muslims of quality" attend events instead of everyone.

I attend a really great university with an active Muslim Students Association (MSA). The MSA here tries to create programming that invites and includes as many people as possible. There are hundreds of Muslims among the undergraduate and graduate populations and the average event garners about 40-50 people each. It’s a pretty good turnout, but it’s always nice when more new people find their way to MSA events.

That’s why it was so troubling to hear a parent say that he would rather only the “Muslims of quality” attend events instead of everyone.

Whoa there, sir. Let’s hold it right there.

There are some things you need to understand.

There are nearly two billion Muslims across the world. Practice and spirituality look totally different for everyone. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and of course, there are going to be differing ideas and perspectives. There is no such thing as one kind of Muslim or the correct kind of Muslim. And more than that, there is no religious precedent to exclude or be less welcoming to those who might not match your own version of piety.

We should want every kind of Muslim to feel embraced in every Muslim context, we should want them to feel comfortable and safe in sacred spaces. Further, we should want non-Muslims to visit Islamic events to learn more about it and lessen the distance between communities, preventing isolation of Muslims.

Please understand that there is a huge range of Muslims.

And nobody is in a position to judge or rank or create labels for each person. Muslims come from every kind of background ethnically, racially, socioeconomically, regionally, linguistically, etc. Some Muslims wear hijab, and some don’t. Some Muslims pray sunnah after every prayer and some don’t pray at all. Some Muslims are, in fact, gay. Some drink alcohol and some smoke weed. Some Muslims are having pre-marital sex. Some aren’t quite sure they believe in God.

Regardless if that terrifies or upsets you, understand that these people exist. And they are still Muslim.

If anyone wants to call him or herself a Muslim, that is beautiful.

If you can’t understand or accept their versions of practice, say Alhamdulillah and nothing else, because they are still Muslim. They are still in your Ummah (community). They want to be Muslim. Maybe you feel that these are sins that are immense and hard to look past. My guess is you have sin in your past, too. It’s important to remember that sin does not invalidate faith; it does not disqualify your Islam. And even more important, we are told as Muslims that there is no sin God cannot forgive.

Who are you to have so little forgiveness in your heart that you feel superior to God’s mercy?

In your heart, it’s fine if you are praying they find guidance to a more pious path if that’s what you believe, but do not impose your practice on them. Let them meet and be among other Muslims. Invite them to your homes. Sometimes these people are strangers, but sometimes they will be your children, your cousins, your best friends. But it doesn’t matter because they are your sisters and brothers in Islam and they deserve to feel like a part of the Muslim family.

We should not be perpetuating a culture of such intolerance that children feel like they need to live double lives. When they are comfortable asking questions and talking to their parents and community about faith and when they know that despite mistakes and rebellion they are still loved, they are more likely not to resent this faith and culture. They will be more likely to find spirituality. 

I also want to take a moment to point out that this spectrum of faith is not a circumstance of being Muslim in the West.

It happens everywhere. It is not a consequence of being young. Muslims of all ages have different perspectives. Muslims at any age in any country engage in all types of activity and I know this for a fact. Maybe people are sneakier or less public about their personal lives in stricter cultures, but I promise that it doesn’t matter where you are, Muslims are not uniform in any society.

Only God is in a position to judge faith and character and nobody else has the right to look down on anyone for not having perfect faith, because there’s no way you are perfect either. There is not a litmus test one needs to take to be Muslim. Once you make the declaration of faith, that’s it. You’re Muslim.

Mosques and other sacred spaces were not built solely for one kind of Muslim. Everyone should be welcome to engage with their spirituality. Labels are meaningless. These terms we throw around like “conservative,” “liberal,” “religious,” are pointless. I’ve been referred to by some people as super liberal and others as completely devout and conservative. I practice my Islam the same in every context. Some people feel totally “religious” but would stand by the fact that they support “liberal” values.

So there’s no reason to toss around labels like they characterize people. They don’t. Again, they’re meaningless. People should just feel free to be Muslim. 

Everyone has their own path they need to make in life and no two are going to look the same. Allow others to find their way, and if they ask you for directions, then you’ve done something right to be considered so trustworthy and kind that your advice is valued. 

So that statement about “Muslims of quality” not only is ridiculous to me, it offends me. It’s that kind of language that fosters narrow-minded environments.

And I know many people are completely accepting and loving toward everyone in their communities, but for all those that wouldn’t be, I hope they find these words and take a moment to think about them.