So I have this friend that’s been in lockdown for a while and is not seeing the light of day anytime soon. I’ve kept in touch with him and we dialogue regularly about our respective faiths (he has discovered Islam while in prison). He reads my blog (I have quite the following in prison circles) and mailed me a response to my blog entry “Losing My Religion”. I am posting it here with his permission:

Taking a cue from your opening question in “Losing My Religion”, I asked myself, have I ever felt sick of being a Muslim? At this point in my journey, I would have to say no. But like you, I have seen, and to a degree experienced, a good deal of theological madness. As a result, there have been times where I felt the necessity/urge to separate myself from what I considered to be an unhealthy/corrupt atmosphere. And as you pointed out, it’s not the religion itself that is at fault or the sources of the problem, but rather the practitioners and their interpretation of the religion. There are, I think, three general areas of concern.

1) Image (grand scale). A perfect example is the manner in which Islam is currently portrayed in the media these days. Listening to the commentators, seeing the pictures of the aftermath of a suicide bombing, learning how women are treated in certain “Islamic” countries, prompts some to ask me how can you (talking about me) follow such a barbaric religion. And in the same vein that as a black man having to answer for the ignorance of other black men, I invariably find myself giving a history lesson in order to explain these discrepancies. And that’s the big picture.

2) Image (small scale). On a more practical scale, having to deal with individuals who are not serious about he practice of this way of life also become problematic in the very same way. Like a Christian, there is an expectation of how a person should carry himself, an expectation of how one should live his life. But when you have individuals who claim to be a Muslim, but lives like a mongrel, how do you deal with that? Again, we have the problem of having to explain these individual’ actions, “yes he says that he’s a Muslim, but what he is doing is outside the scope of what we believe.”

3) Idiots (every variety). Or you get the liberal/fundamentalist extremist who want to either take Islam back to it’s golden age or usher Islam into the 21st century by whatever means necessary. Islam is not a complicated religion. In fact it’s quite simple. Our tenants, beliefs, laws, traditions are all very well defined and spelled out. Yet there is still confusion. There are groups of people who want to change the religion to suit there needs. We’ve talkeda bout this problem in the past. What makes God’s word any less relevant, or any less of a commandment today then it was 1400 years ago? It doesn’t.

The end result is, in general, a person may very well question the path that he has undertaken because of these problems. But more likely, what we find, ad what I personally experienced is a flight from the mosque and the brotherhood into a type of self-imposed isolation. The thought is, “I’ll just worship Allah by myself.” Unfortunately, this plan is not good in theory or action.

Growing up, I had a small group of friends and even a smaller group of family members that I dealt and associated with on a regular basis. My father recognized ths, and encouraged me to expand my circle and reach out to the rest of my family. And he told me something that I remember (and still haunts me from time to time) to this day. He said, “boy, you can’t go through this life along and do everything yourself. You need people to depend and help through things that you won’t be able to handle yourself.” He was absolutely right, and it haunts me to this very day because I didn’t heed his advice and find myself with little outside contact as a result.

Anyway, Islam works on a similar model. Islam is a communal way of life. It’s about shaping an individual in order to shape a society. It’s through the brotherhood that Muslims, ideally, learn about being Muslims, assist one another in problems or adversity faced, defend/protect one another, grow spiritually. Virtually everything that a Muslim is called to do in terms of worship is directed to establishing and maintaining these bonds of brotherhood. Muslims are called to pray together (not separately) five times a day. Muslims are called to fast together during the month of Ramadan, Muslims are called to perform the Hajj together, etc. These are basic tenets, but ones that are called to be done and experienced as a collective. It took me a time of reflection to understand the importance of this.

I realized that not everyone is going to live up to my expectation of what a Muslim should be. There were going to be bumps in the road. But just because the journey may be bumpy from time to time doesn’t mean that I don’t travel the road. I realized that I was in as much error by isolating myself as the people I believed to be “off the mark”. Why, because one of the utilities of a brotherhood is the grounded foundation in truth and correct practice that it should provide. I can’t make anybody do anything. But I can be an example and a voice to how things should be done.

It was the very line of thinking that convinced me to accept the position as leader of our community here. We have to strive to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. And the effect we have on others can be as simple as just doing the right things ourselves, of being in a position to teach and explain. So, instead of feeling embarrassed or ashamed when confronted with the actions of wayward Muslims doing whatever wayward Muslims do, I simply and politely explain the difference between correct and incorrect actions.

And you’re absolutely right: this is a journey that I’m still working out. It’s a journey of a lifetime.

‘Nuff said. Yeah, he’ll see the responses.

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