This question, posed by Dr. Ingrid Mattson during her address at the conference “Islam in America: Civic and Religious Youth Identities,” stresses the need for Islam to start feeling at home in the so-called “new world.” Despite its universal claim, many still view Islam as a religion of the Middle East, a faith presumed to be practiced only by Arabs. They view it as an alien phenomenon for Americans. These misperceptions do not reflect the truth for those who are more familiar with the facts about Islam’s history and demographics in America. Muslims have been a part of America for hundreds of years. Islam is not the only religion that originated in the Middle East, nor do Arabs consist of the great majority of Muslims, who live and practice their faith peacefully in the Middle East, Europe, Southeast Asia – and, yes, the Americas. Yet, many feel American Muslims still need to form their identity.
In this issue of The Fountain, Dr. Zara Khan, from Respect Graduate School in Pennsylvania, analyzes this issue and the conference where Dr. Mattson posed her question. Can American Muslims produce more holistic, nuanced, and embodied forms of celebration, culture, and sanctified expression? Can American Muslims generate cultural forms that give importance to music, joy, celebration, and community? Can they use the American land, language, experiences, and tradition to produce songs and rituals?
Another perspective about Islam comes to us from Cairo, one of the earliest centers of human civilization. Ali Gomaa, the former grand Mufti of Egypt, writes about the main principles of ethics Islam offers to mankind. While reading his essay, one cannot help but realize how the image of Islam that is often portrayed in the media is diametrically opposite the real Islam, which is based on freedom, security, and the protection of human rights. According to Ali Gomaa, for a perfect manifestation of religious life, the faithful must adopt universal values like mercy, peace, respect, solidarity, and truthfulness, and they should also be well-versed about their rights and how to obtain them. By holding the wider community responsible for all individuals’ prosperity and security, Islam, according to Gomaa, prescribes a certain social security system.
Exploring the interaction between reason and faith, Lawrence Brazier muses on concepts like infinity, time, knowledge, the story of creation, the forbidden tree, the duality of Adam and Eve vis-à-vis the oneness of God, choice, and perfection. Brazier philosophizes on these deep concepts, encouraging us to exercise our reason and to rely on virtues like patience, sincerity, submission, and grace – values present in all major religions.