Daily News Indonesia – Yesterday was the first Friday of the month. And every first Friday of every month I am scheduled to deliver the Friday sermon (khutbah) at the Jamaica Muslim Center in New York. The rest of Fridays of the month I am scheduled to deliver khutbah at various mosques around the City, including once at the United Nations.
Yesterday the timing of my khutbah was possibly so important. The circumstances we live in are deeply challenging. From the political season in the US, to the inhumane treatment of our fellow Muslims in India, to Covid-19 Corona virus, to many others. All of these issues were briefly touched upon in my khutbah.
But in addition to the above issues, yesterday khutbah become important because as in the past, the Jamaica Muslim Center received a group of special students from Fordham Prep High School. They had planned their visit for quite long time.
And so I purposely chose to speak about Islam in general, as if I were introducing the religion to a non-Muslim audience. The topic of my khutbah was “reasons why Islam is widely embraced by the West”.
In this khutbah I wanted to remind the audience that there is apparently a paradox when we come to the development of Islam in the West.
On the one hand we can see how Islamophobia and the sentiment of anti-Islam has grown from time to time. For us Muslims in America such trends are not a new phenomenon. Since the tragic event of the 9/11 in 2001 such behaviors towards Islam and Muslims have skyrocketed and can seem unstoppable.
But particularly since the election of the current administration, those who posses that sentiment have become more open and aggressive. Several of the worst incidents have taken place just in the last few months.
On the other hand we see, despite these challenges, Islam has paradoxically been growing tremendously also seemingly in an unstoppable way. In America, it is not only that many Americans have turned to Islam. More importantly, Islam has become an integral part of the society and gets recognition from the American society at large.
The election of two young Muslim women to congress two years ago is certainly clear evidence that Islam and Muslims have become an integral part of the vibrant diverse American society. As compared to the past, we are not guests anymore in our own country.
Two weeks ago I was in Europe, visiting 12 cities in 6 countries. Despite of challenges, for example the stabbing of a Muazzin in London and the killing of 9 Muslims in a small city called Hanua in Germany, Islam grows fast unchallenged.
The question remains in the mind of some people: Why has Islam grow so strong and fast, despite of all these challenges?
To answer this question, I am sure there many reasons to mention. But in my khutbah yesterday I mentioned only five points.
First, because Islam is inherently “in line with our human nature”. Nothing in this religion contradicts our “healthy human nature” (tabi’ah insaniyah).
For example, our human nature inclines to gain and succeed in our worldly life. We want a beautiful home, fancy car, good savings, and many more. Islam came not to deny those inclinations. Instead it came to provide a clear guidance on how to pursue them.
Our nature inclines to have partner (wife-husband) in life. Islam came to accommodate it by institutionalizing marriage.
In a nutshell, every aspect of natural inclination in life is accommodated with clear guidance and regulations. This is to make human’s life decent and honorable.
Second, Islam connects our hearts and minds. In this religion the more religious we are, Insha Allah, the more intellectual and smart we are.
Faith is a heart connected issue. But Islam does not want us to have blind faith. Islam therefore obligates Muslims to seek knowledge, even on faith issues.
Allah says: “And know there is no God but Him and seek repentance for your sins”.
The first verse that came down to prophet Muhammad was a command to read. And reading is the beginning of knowledge inquiry.
Third, Islam has clear and practical teachings. From the concept of Tauhid (Oneness of God), to ritual worships, to matters pertaining to human affairs (mu’amalat), all are clear and practical.
Take the example of “eating”. Islam provides a clear teaching on what and how to eat. The Prophet said: eat when you are hungry and stop before being too full”. He also told us to be balanced in terms of food, water, and air in our stomach.
The Holy Quran says: “eat every thing on the earth which is halal and thoyyib”.
Bear in mind that many Muslims only focus on the halal issue. They forget that halal is accompanied by another regulation, and that is “thoyyib” which means “good and healthy”. Possibly in other words, the food we eat must be nutritious and not harmful to our body.
And so Islam provides very clear and practical guidance to live our lives decently.
Fourth, there is a deep sense of humanity. Islam is about mercy, love and compassion. Islam takes into consideration our sense of humanity deeply when it comes to any matter.
All that has been said out there about Islam, that Islam is intolerant is wrong. In fact, the soul of this religion is “mercy”. “And I did not send you (o Muhammad) but as a mercy to all humanity” (Quran). This is a clear declaration about the nature of this religion.
After he was forced to leave his beloved city Makkah, some years later he was enabled by Allah to return with a powerful army. He did not seek revenge. In fact, he declared upon his arrival in Makkah: “Today, all of you are free!”.
Many people forget that after they were expelled from the city of Jerusalem by the Christian Romans, it was Umar bin Khatthab, the second Muslim Chaliph, who ordered that the Jewish people have rights and can come back to settle and worship in that Ancient City.
Also when our Jewish friends in Europe were massacred by Nazis there was a single majority Muslim country in Europe called Albania which came to their rescue. They hid them, changed their names, and protected them from the evil army of Hitler.
All this was possible because Islam teaches Muslims to be loving and compassionate to the weak and marginalized in the society.
Fifth, Islam is inline with universal human values. From basic freedom to tolerance, justice, equality to human dignity, basic human rights to pursuit of happiness, all these are essentially Islamic.
Take an instance of human rights. Islam guarantees the right of every individual, from the right to live, to economic and political rights, to the fundamental right to believe and practice his or her faith.
“There is no compulsion in the religion” and “your religion is yours and my religion is mine” are just two out of many verses in the Holy Quran which are affirming and confirming that Islam gives the full rights of all people to believe in any faith they chose to.
As we are so into so called “modern universal values”, Islam is, in fact, not a stranger to those values.
These are among the basic characteristics of Islam, and have attracted many in the West to embrace it. Islam itself is powerfully beautiful and attractive. Despite some Muslims who may have become “hijaab” (barriers) to the beauty of the religion.
New York, 7 March 2020
Imam Shamsi Ali
* Director/Imam, Jamaica Muslim Center
* President, Nusantara Foundation USA