by Wasan Abu-Baker
Muslims are well known for their warm hospitality. Our prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that whoever believes in God and the Day of Judgement, let him honor his neighbor, whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him honor his guest as he is entitled. A guest enjoys a special place in Islam. Honoring the guest is tied to the faith of a true believer. Across the world you will find Muslims doing their best to offer hospitality to the guest in their home or their community. Entertaining a guest is important, it signifies the respect and concern of a host towards his guest and towards God. Hospitality in Islam is a triangle that links God, the guest, and the host.
According to some scholars, Muslims began arriving to the New World as immigrants in the twelfth and fourteenth centuries during the exploration period when Spanish and Portuguese started their journeys to discover America. The most recent Wave of Muslim immigrants was during the 1900s when Muslims from the Asia and Africa arrived as a result of war, political persecution, poor economies, and lack of access to education. They came from Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and other countries like Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Kenya, and Pakistan. The Muslim communities in the Central Valley speak different languages: Arabic, Persian, Urdu, English, Spanish, Armenian, French, Bosnian, Turkish, and Russian.There are some disparities between those who came to the states at a pre-adolescence age and a generation who was born in the United States. Although many generations grew up in the American culture, they have experienced cultural conflicts in assimilation into the mainstream culture because of the traditional standard and lifestyle that they must adhere to in their household and tight knit community. There are also many segments of Muslim immigrant and refugee communities with various socio-economic status, education achievements, cultural assimilation, and living conditions. These differences contribute to how the youth identify themselves and other Muslim Americans. Besides this challenge of integration, Muslim Americans have a responsibility to educate their neighbors about the real meaning of Islam. We can do this through words, but even more effectively through actions. We need to show that Islam is based on honesty, serving others, caring, being responsible members of society, respecting all people, respecting human dignity, and human rights.
As an American Muslim, I focus on my ability to practice Islam, being a productive member of society, and raising my children in the United States in a way to preserve their Islamic identity and keeping their native language.
During my experience as a parent trying to raise first generation Muslim kids in the United States, I have found, when raising my children, I need to understand that the pressure that I will face from the surrounding environment will challenge my efforts to keep their Islamic identity. I put huge efforts into educating myself. I attended the education school in New York, finished my degree in education, read every single book starting from children’s literature to books that will open my eyes about my new world as a Muslim immigrant.
There are various annual conferences, community events, and annual bazars organized to keep Muslim society united and provide safe spaces for immigrants and refugees to share and express their challenges, obstacles, and accomplishments. The Muslim community also maintains close connection to their faith and culture by celebrating two major holidays: Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr, and Eid Al-Adha in the United States.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and the month in which the Quran was revealed. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. The month is spent fasting during the daylight hours from dawn to sunset. Fasting, which is recognized for its health, spiritual, and psychological benefits is considered by Muslims as a means to improve their moral character and provides an opportunity for spiritual renewal.
Eid Al Fitr, on the first day of Shawwal in the Islamic calendar, marks the end of the month of Ramadan and lasts three days. It’s an important Islamic holiday that involves Muslims waking up early and praying together either in an outdoor prayer ground or a mosque.
Eid Al-Adha is also known as the Feast of Sacrifice. This festival commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son to God (Allah). This festival also marks the end of the Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims in various places gather for special morning prayers, wearing traditional clothes, sharing their national dishes, handing out gifts, and wishing one another well.
Other celebrations for Muslims include, the birth of the newborn, weddings, and the birth of prophet Muhammad (PBUH). These are social gatherings that also bring people together, wearing their traditional clothes, speaking their native languages, and sharing their personal stories.
The power of the Muslim community comes from a strong belief in Allah (God), trusting in his will and plan, following the example of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH), belief in all the prophets, the example of the prophet’s companions, the five pillars of Islam, and the pillars of Iman. The religious leader is named Imam and is responsible for teaching the Muslims and sharing knowledge about Islam, manners of a Muslim, practices, and being a good Muslim in the United States. Although the Imam is an important resource for the Muslim, it is the individual responsibility of each Muslim to seek knowledge about his/her faith and improve him/herself. Friday prayer is the most religious day of the week for Muslims where they pray at the mosque and listen to the speech given by an Imam.
Muslims need to feel respected in schools, hospitals, at work, at community events, colleges, and anywhere else they participate. In order to accomplish this we need to engage entire communities.
Sharing one story: A few months ago I moved to Texas where an incident happened to me. I was filling my car with gas and a stranger opened his car window questioning me about where I came from. He was wondering if I was from Iraq or Morocco. I responded to him that I was Palestinian from the Holy Land. He said that Muslim men abuse their wives, and I answered him that Muslim women are not oppressed. Islam is the religion that respects women. We have our rights. Islam empowers me to practice my role as a mother, wife, and a productive member in the American society.
In my community, you must first get to know someone before having an in-depth conversation about community wide issues. We need to be sure that I am speaking to community leaders who have the respect and support from the Muslim community. Also, the Muslim community is very diverse and comes from many different cultural backgrounds, one must learn what their country of origin or background is before having a discussion. The entire Muslim community is concerned about the world’s perception of Islam and that there is a lot of islamophobia in this country and hate crimes against Muslim. There are many community leaders willing to help the community change and overcome these challenges.
The biggest challenge is having a similar vision and method of overcoming these challenges; they need to unify a very diverse community which is difficult. There are many cultural holders and are mostly made up of community elders. They hold the key to many traditions and cultures that the next generation can access through them. Religious leaders also hold the key to developing young Muslims to good members of the community. The young generation also further develops and communicates culture using technology (i.e. social media).
In the United States, there is more cultural diffusion and more mixing of the Muslim culture among itself. Simply putting these diverse groups together, will teach them about the importance of communication. This means more cultural awareness among the Muslim community. This unity of the Muslim community will allow it to interact with other cultures and religions without a challenge. This value of diversity and respect for others brings us a long way towards resolving community problems.