Added 12.5.16 (Original convo 11.13.16)
What is it like to be a Muslim in America today?
Thanks to Allah, it is wonderful to be a Muslim anywhere on earth. Thankfully, also, in the US we can meet and pray peacefully typically without any impediment, and we also enjoy working and living life in general in the US. Muslims are often very well educated and many of them are doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc., so we are doing well and we are doing well for others. At the same time, yes, there are sometimes incidents or expressions that reflect negative views about Muslims and those have increased since 9/11 and yet even further since the campaign and election of Donald Trump. It seems people feel empowered to exercise their bigotry at this time, whether that be directed at Muslims or countless other sub-groups within the US population. Of great concern is the uptick in harassment and attacks on women who cover. Meanwhile, many non-Muslims have come forward in response with beautiful acts of kindness. For example, someone recently brought flowers to a masjid local to me along with a card saying that we are an important part of the community. Regardless of anything, the job of the Muslim is not to achieve an ideal circumstance, but, rather, to deal with situations in whatever manner is pleasing to Allah. The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for all his affairs are good, and that is for no one except the believer. If something good happens to him, he gives thanks, and that is good for him, and if something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him” (Muslim, 2999). That does not, mean, however, that we are apathetic. Faith requires that we do our best to achieve good and suppress evil. Allah says, “By time, indeed, man is in loss except those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other in truth and advised each other in patience” (al-Qur’an 103). The present circumstances provide us with plenty of opportunities to show good character, to provide help, and to provide good answers—the sorts of moments that can really change people's minds about Islam and Muslims. I pray that Allah makes us successful in those endeavors.
Have you experienced any discrimination?
I (Aiman), myself, am a white male and my family has been in the US since the 1700s, so I have certain cultural capital that not all Muslims have. At the same time, I do get looks, some may erroneously view me as a traitor, and I have been called Osama Bin Laden and such. In a couple cases people said things that revealed they feared me, though I have not nor would I do anything to merit that fear. As well, in online conversations I've been told to "go home." Thankfully, where I work I am pretty well supported and in general things are pretty good for me. Contrariwise, as I mentioned above, there has been an uptick in hate crimes and nastiness. At University of Michigan, there's a rock that was painted with "Kill Them All," which I'm thinking was meant as a threat to many besides Muslims, and a woman was threatened and made to take her hijab off on campus before the perpetrator would let her pass. Another recent report says a transit employee in New York who wore the head cover was called a terrorist and shoved down a flight of stairs. Unfortunately, there have been many attacks on Sikhs mistaken for Muslims, as well. You can easily find hundreds of other incidents listed in so many online articles and there are many, I'm sure, that go unreported. Hiring is another area where there can be complications. I know a man, for instance, who did a wonderful job as far as I know, but got so much harassment that he quit and found a job in Dearborn where there are more Muslims and greater tolerance among much of the community. I also know prominent Muslims who are cherished in their workplaces, because at least practicing Muslims tend to be model employees, which some employers are well aware of.
How do you deal with attitudes from some Americans who claim Muslims are not peaceful?
When we encounter those sorts of attitudes, then that means we have a job to do and we have to go to work. First, that means having correct conduct by being clam, fair, and friendly in our dealings with everyone. Secondly, we have to share information whenever there's a natural moment or chance to do so. For example, there are verses in al-Qur'an that discuss killing and some people take these out of the context of persecution that was going on when they were revealed (al-Qur'aysh gruesomely tortured the early Muslims, kicked them out of their homes, starved them, and eventually tried to exterminate them entirely). However, Allah makes clear how we should behave with non-Muslims outside such situations: "Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion - [forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers" (al-Qur'an 60:8-9). As well, even when Muslims are in the position of governing (i.e., in a position of power), the Prophet, peace on him said, "Whoever hurts a non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys God" (Bukhari). The Arabic word for hurt used here is in the broad sense, not just physical hurt, but emotional or psychological hurt as well. Good behavior is actually what spread Islam in the first place, so, indeed, we have to be patient and kind with everyone.
What is your view of the conflict in the Middle East?
Which one? Syria? Palestine? Yemen? Unfortunately, the Muslims are divided, ignorant, and in love with this life rather than the hereafter so they are easy targets and also don't know how to respond to trials and tribulations that are meant to prompt their repentance and spiritual movement back to Allah. The answers are in our own religion if we would go back to it. There are movements in the right direction, just not en masse enough to counter what's going on right now. As for foreign involvement, then there are plenty of criticisms to go around regarding ulterior motives, etc., but as far as the Muslim is concerned, the fault has to go back to the Muslims, ourselves.
What does the term jihad really mean?
Linguistically it refers to struggle. In Islam it means the struggle to make the Word of Allah utmost. First, that means struggling with the self to obey Allah, for example by establishing the prayers on time, and to be morally upright with good conduct with others, etc. Next, it means to help one's family and community to do the same, to recommend one another to truth and to patience and to help each other do good on the face of the earth. It can also mean to use one's time and wealth to share the message of Islam. And, indeed, it can also be to expend one's wealth, time, and even life in the protection of humanity, even if that means fighting to protect people from tyranny and oppression.
How much information that the media disseminates about Muslims is true, and what is not true that the media publicizes?
Wow. Well, it's really all over the place. Occasionally, I've seen pretty useful and good articles in the news. Meanwhile, a great deal of it is terribly misleading and even when it's meant well, there's something a bit broken in it so that the light of Islam doesn't quite shine through it. The other problem is that so much of what is mentioned is about ISIS, etc. which is actually a terribly anti-Islamic organization, so that sometimes all people can think about when the word Islam comes up is violence, which is terribly screwed from the reality. Contrariwise, for example, less than half of one percent of al-Qur'an is about fighting while the bulk covers matters of belief, good character, community, inspiration, and wisdom.