Ramadan: different gates (1)

And he [Jacob] said, “O my sons, do not enter from one gate but enter from different gates; and I cannot avail you against [the decree of] Allah at all. The decision is only for Allah ; upon Him I have relied, and upon Him let those who would rely [indeed] rely.”

وَقَالَ يَا بَنِيَّ لَا تَدْخُلُوا مِن بَابٍ وَاحِدٍ وَادْخُلُوا مِنْ أَبْوَابٍ مُّتَفَرِّقَةٍ ۖ وَمَا أُغْنِي عَنكُم مِّنَ اللَّهِ مِن شَيْءٍ ۖ إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلَّا لِلَّهِ ۖ عَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلْتُ ۖ وَعَلَيْهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُتَوَكِّلُونَ

Surah Yusuf, 67

Alhamdulillah, as Muslims, we’re blessed to have the Quran, in its entirety, passed directly from Allah azza wa jall, through the angel Gabriel, to the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, and each and every ayah contains guidance for those who pay attention.

The ayat above comes from Surah Yusuf, one of the only strictly linear narratives in the Quran. It chronicles the story of the Prophet Joseph, peace be upon him, from his childhood, through the time in the well, his adolescence and young adulthood in Egypt, his time in prison, ascendancy to the right hand of the Pharaoh, and reuniting with his father Jacob, peace be upon him, and brothers. And this ayat is Jacob’s instruction to the brothers as they set out to travel to Egypt again with their youngest brother (and Joseph’s only full brother) Benjamin, peace be upon him.

If you’re familiar with the Biblical story (Genesis, Ch. 37-50), the version in the Quran is substantially the same, with some slight differences in detail (like the line above).

Suhaib Webb mentioned this ayah in the lecture I linked to last week (see ~1:41:00 and following), and it struck me as profound.

Alhamdulillah I’m blessed to live in a beautiful home in a nice, newish neighborhood, just steps from one of the larger mosques in the United States. There are resources here for Muslims that just aren’t anywhere else: absolute rockstar sheiukh at every corner, giving excellent lectures somewhere, every night of the week; I can be pretty much anywhere in North Texas, and find a mosque within 10 miles, and never have to worry about catching satat in jummah (with a group). Alhamdulillah.

This is an undeniable blessing, direct and only from Allah azza wa jall, via the efforts of a couple of generations of immigrants to this part of Texas, first as students, then as employees and executives of the telecom and technology companies here, and may Allah bless them for their efforts.

The neighborhood in which I stay is home to, mostly, mid-level and retired technology people, with a few doctors scattered about for good measure, and a couple of accountant-types, and most of my neighbors come from Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh, with a couple of Arab families, and one Chinese family. All (as far as I know) were born into Muslim families, and most came as immigrants in their late teens or early 20s, as far as I know. Many of them own properties—apartment complexes, mostly, I think—back home in wherever or around here, and a few own some small businesses too—car washes, quick serve restaurants, etc. And then there’s me, the white, underemployed Art Historian revert.

By all appearances, we’re all doing well: big houses, decent cars in the driveway, health looking children, etc. and Alhamdulillah, most of us are, I think. Hana and I get by just fine, by the grace of God alone, and with all thanks and praise to Him alone.

Sometimes, I feel a bit out of place here. If it’s racism, may Allah forgive me, but I don’t think it is. I just have a difficult time connecting with the brothers here on a deeper level. We have completely different life experiences, for one, and our cultures are vastly different too. I’m no better than any of the brothers here, in fact I’m worse in very many respects.

There are a couple of Muslim-owned grocery stores and restaurants nearby, and with the mosque just steps away, you could squint a bit and almost imagine you were in some other country. It’s really a beautiful thing to be a part of, and I’m blessed to be here, amongst these wonderful people.

There’s just one problem. If you squint a bit, you can almost imagine that you’re in another country, and this scares the bejeebus out of many traditional (read: white, lower- and middle class, Texans) residents of Irving. Our mayor seems eager to support initiatives that marginalize the Muslims (and the Hindus in North Irving/Valley Ranch and the large Latino population in South Irving). The police and fire training facility next door to the mosque has a cross made from LED rope planted in its front flower beds (likely leftover from Xmas decorations a few years back). The mosque is a beacon for small groups of armed Islamaphobes to come and parade their beer bellies and racism and shotguns up and down the sidewalk from time to time.

On the one side, you have the Immigrant community that is understandably a bit concerned about the corrupting influence of capitalism and American “culture” on their Islam, and loosing their cultural identity. And on the other side you have the local residents that went from a lily white, Christian community, to a broadly multicultural hub in, what, a decade or so. There’s enough fear and trepidation and distrust to go around.

And here I am (in my mind) caught in between. Sure, the American culture is largely corrupt, morally and ethically bankrupt, and sadly lacking in so very many ways, and it seems constructed to distract believers of all stripes form worshiping. But at the same time, self segregation isn’t the answer.

By segregating ourselves, we’re making it easier for the state to marginalize us. By segregating ourselves, we’re limiting our opportunities for practicing the Sunnah. By segregating ourselves, we’re denying our children the opportunity for a social education: they’re not going to stay in Andalus, in the Islamic School forever.

I don’t know how to get out of this, and may God forgive me for pointing out problems without offering a solution. InshaAllah I’ll keep thinking about it, and InshaAllah I’ll find some ways to branch out in my own practice and get out in the wider public. And InshaAllah I’ll fear only Allah and find my place here: He brought me here, may He guide me to be a better neighbor and a better member of the community, and a better worshipper, Ameen.

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