What coming to America taught me about Islam's influence on national identity.
A few months ago, I took the oath and became a US citizen. Originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria, I grew up, lived, and worked for most of my life in these countries. I grew up under the theocratic regime of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the autocratic and repressive regime of Assad.
Although being an Iranian-Syrian is not a common combination in the region—since Arabs and Persians (or Sunni and Shia) have traditional rivalries and sometimes hold racist view against each other— I had the opportunity to grow up in both versions of Islamic religious societies: the Shia and the Sunni, as well as Persian and Arab (though some Syrians might call themselves Phoenicians).
This also allowed me to understand the on-the-ground socio-political and socio-religious platforms of these predominantly Islamic societies.
A few years ago, I came to the United States on a scholarship to teach at a university and later was planning to take my experience and acquired knowledge back to my countries. Nevertheless, the war erupted in Syria and my path changed. However, the issue that I would like to shed light on is that since I have become a citizen, I have witnessed an issue that has increasingly perplexed me.
I have observed that many Muslims, who were born or grew up in the United States while enjoying freedom of speech, expression, assembly and whom this country has given shelter and a home, frequently judge the United States based on the Quran, Allah, Muhammad, and their Islamic ideals, not based on the Constitution or democratic principles and human rights. There are several researchers investigating this phenomenon. I have noticed that many Muslims criticize this country not based on real developmental or economic policies, but based on Islamic principles.
They criticize the United States for not being Islamic enough, for what people wear, for how people date, for how people listen to music, for how people drink, for how people dance, etc.
I must confess that this attitude has been extremely puzzling and frustrating to me. In the beginning, I thought that one approach to these kinds of people and proponents of Sharia and Islamic laws in the United States was to address the issue intellectually. I thought that the productive approach was to draw on the modern economic, political, social values, and human rights that are in contradiction with what Muhammad said, what the Quran said more than 1400 years ago and what Imams and Sheikhs say now. However, since their evidence is not based on logic or science, and is rather based on what Allah, Muhammad, and the Quran say, it is extremely difficult to have any intellectual debate with proponents of Islamic principles in the United States or other Western countries.
Since their evidence and logic is been based on the Quran— written more than 1400 years ago— Allah’s words, Muhammad’s sayings (since he is regarded as the ultimate model and paragon for how one should live), there is little one can say in response. I usually respond simply by asking why they do not live in an Islamic state or their country of origin. Why do they not return to their Islamic country? There are plenty of Islamic and predominantly Muslim societies around the world to choose from.
It seems that the answer is that if you do not like (or even hate) how the United States is structured and how the society functions, then you can return to your Islamic country of origin. No one is forcing you to stay here. If one is so angry and frustrated with the un-Islamic character of the United States, with how Americans live, drink, dance, listen to music, have parties, work and how the social values contradict Islamic principles, then they can return to their Islamic country, where Islamic social values are respected, ingrained and indoctrinated into every cell of the society and political structure.
There are many other Islamic countries and dominantly Muslim societies where the courts operate based on Sharia and Islamic laws, where the majority of the people are Muslims, where every aspect of Islam is practiced based on the Quran, Muhammad’s sayings, and Allah’s ideal society, where one is punished for violating Islamic laws.
I am not arguing against any kind of constructive criticism in societies. In fact, I do believe that an informed citizen should be consciously and intellectually aware of the political development in the country, in this case the United States, and should be capable of constructively criticizing the path the government is taking in case he or she believes that the policies are detrimental to the good of the society, and to offer solutions.
Indeed, it should not only be encouraged to participate in socio-political and socio-economic debate, but I believe that it is also the obligation and responsibility of each person to take part in the political and social process to hold their representatives accountable. I find it totally unconstructive and offensive to judge and criticize the society on the grounds of not complying with Islamic principles, what the Quran says, what Muhammad said more than 1400 years ago, and what Allah believes should be a perfect society.
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