Islamic Studies Options in the West

Many young Muslim students in the United States who aspire to learn Islamic sciences have a strong desire to travel overseas in order to learn their religion.  However, for most of them it is not a possibility due to personal, work, or university obligations.  Many of them hold on to a false hope that they will eventually travel overseas to master the sciences of their religion and return as qualified Islamic da’ees or instructors.  This leads them to become lazy and neglectful to do anything to further their knowledge of the religion with the resources that are available in their lands.

Even though traveling to a Muslim country to learn from numerous Islamic scholars is probably the best option, it should not hinder a true student of knowledge from fulfilling his thirst for Islamic sciences if going abroad is not an option for him/her.  There have been many efforts made to make the goal of learning Islam easier for those Muslims who cannot travel overseas to study.

Following is a list of some options currently available (there may be others as well):

  1. Islamic Online University
  2. Bayyinah Institute
  3. Mishkah: Islamic University of North America
  4. Foundation for Knowledge & Development
  5. Jamaal Zarabozo’s Website
  6. American Open University
  7. Tooba University
  8. AlMaghrib Institute
  9. Knowledge International University
  10. Islamic University of Minnesota
  11. Arees Institute
  12. New Muslim Academy
  13. Zaytuna
  14. Al-Salam Institute

Muslims in the West: Prophetic Guidance on Dealing With Bad Perception & Persecution

Us Muslims here in the U.S. are facing three main problems with regards to our image and rights:

  • Weak political support
  • Bad public opinion
  • Islamophobia

In many ways, this is no different than the Meccan phase of the da’wah during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). They too had the above three problems. As Muslims, I think it is important for us to look into how he dealt with it. After all, he is our ultimate guide.

When I personally reflect over the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and how he dealt with the above mentioned problems, I can recall at least three steps that he took to deal with them:

Step 1 – Always hold on to Islamic principles and values and never negotiate on them

We know that the Meccans offered the Prophet (ﷺ) many worldly possessions in favor of him giving up his religious ideas because they were unpopular. They even offered that they would worship his God for a year provided that he worship their gods in return for a year, which resulted in the revelation of Surah Al-Kafiroon. However, he stood firm and refused to do so. This is important because today we have some people who are arguing that we should change our religion to make it more palatable to the west. They want us to shift our values and principles in accordance to dominant liberal narratives and deny or reinterpret explicit texts in the Qur’an and Sunnah to fit those narratives. But we have clear guidance from the Prophet (ﷺ) to refuse to give up our principles, beliefs, and values just so that it is acceptable to others. We believe it to be the truth from our Lord and we will and must hang on to it no matter what.

How would Christians in the west feel if Muslim countries told their Christian populace that they must give up this idea of God having a son and dying for everyone’s sins and either change it or reinterpret it in a way so that it is not offensive to Muslims? If western countries are going to keep repeating the mantra of religious freedom, then they need to be made to live up to it. We must stand up to the full extent of the law for our right to worship and believe as we please in peace.

Step 2 – Look for support in all avenues

We know that the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) made alliances with some non-Muslims in order to securely deliver his message in Mecca. Whether it was Abu Talib, Abyssinia’s Christian King Najashi (who later converted), or Mut’im ibn Adi, the pagan man who provided him protection to be able to re-enter Mecca safely after he was harassed in Ta’if, the Prophet (ﷺ) sought means of securing ways to continue the da’wah and the practice of his faith. This shows us that we should utilize all permissible means necessary to secure our existence and rights in this country. Therefore, we should look into hiring professional PR firms, lobbying groups, having PACs, think tanks, building alliances with other groups and influential people, and raising funds to support all of these tools. This is how in the modern western world rights are preserved and legislation influenced. Can you imagine if we requested all Muslim institutions in the U.S. to give 1% of their budget to such causes under one large umbrella Muslim organization created for this purpose? That’s not asking for a lot. Even if half of them respond, we could gather up a lot of money. By IRS standards, 501c3s are allowed to give a certain percentage of their budget to lobbying causes. PR firms and lobbying groups are not cheap.

In light of the guidance of our Prophet (ﷺ) in such circumstances, we need to build support for our rights to believe and practice our faith as we see fit. PR and lobbying firms and our partners through alliances could help us significantly with public opinion and political support in D.C. The former will be working on behalf of all Muslims in America because we would be drawing the money to pay them from Muslim institutions. There are some Muslims who feel uncomfortable making alliances with groups that they believe hold contrary beliefs to their religion. However, we must understand that aligning ourselves with a particular group does not mean condoning their particular beliefs and practices. When the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) aligned himself with Abu Talib and Mut’im ibn Adi, he was not condoning their rejection of the message. Similarly, if influential groups and people are willing to offer support and assistance in our right to belief and practice, then we should accept that in light of the guidance of our Prophet (ﷺ). However, if a group makes their support conditional on whether we condone their particular practices or beliefs which contradict our faith, then of course we should reject the offer. Fortunately, in most cases, these groups do not make such conditions.

I just hope we don’t become part of the system and forget why we are doing what we are doing, which is what, as some have argued, has happened in to the African American community. They’ve done everything discussed above but still suffer persecution by the government and various segments of the population. Some have suggested that the reason is that many African Americans go into politics and media but don’t do much for their communities or their people. They just become part of the system. Michelle Alexander in her phenomenal book The New Jim Crow states after criticizing the claim that “previous outsiders, once given a chance, will exercise power differently” that [p. 250]:

“The reality, however, is that the existing hierarchy disciplines newcomers, requiring them to exercise power in the same old ways and play by the same old rules in order to survive. The newcomers…are easily co-opted, as they have much to lose but little to gain by challenging the rules of the game.”

If this is true, then I hope this doesn’t happen with us. We should have a clear plan, strategy, and goal.

Step 3 – Remain patient over those who will hate us no matter what

Whether we like it or not, there will always be Islamophobes. Allah has made us aware over and over again in the Qur’an that we will be tested, harassed, made fun of, and ridiculed because of what we believe and this is something that a believer should expect. It is part of the test of life. “You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient and fear Allah – indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of determination” [Qur’an 3:186].

Islamophobes aren’t going anywhere. They will always be around and have been. All we can do is stand firm and respond to their false allegations and that’s about it. They’ll keep changing their arguments to attack us or cherry pick horrific incidents from our communities to show how all of us are bad just like they did during the Prophet’s (ﷺ) time. They used to claim that Muhammad wants to divide families, disturb the social order, etc. in order to make him and his followers look bad. However, the Prophet (ﷺ) remained patient in Mecca and continued to move forward despite their attacks. We should do the same.

How to Practice Speaking Arabic in the West

I’ve been studying Arabic for the past 2 years or so via Zoom and while my reading and listening comprehension has significantly increased, my speaking ability is very weak. This is mainly due to the fact that I don’t get to practice at all. The only practice time I get is once a week with my Arabic teacher, however, most of my responses are restricted to general responses like, “yes”, “no”, “can you repeat that”, “yes I understand”, “ok”, etc. I really struggle with formulating sentences especially expressing complex thoughts.

Recently, I started a self-exercise which I thought I’d share here because it seems to be doing the job. I started keeping a daily diary where I describe my day in Arabic on one page. In it, I express my thoughts and all the activities that went on in my life that day. Then I write down all the words that I had to look up to express myself and memorize them. As the days go by, it gets easier because we often express ourselves using the same words over and over again. If you do this continuously for a month, then you would have gathered a month’s worth of vocabulary that you use to express yourself. Now imagine doing it for three months. This in my opinion is one of the best ways to practice speaking Arabic or any target language.

I realized something else as well, many Arabic students focus heavily on learning words from Arabic to English but not the opposite. This will help you with reading and hearing comprehension but not speaking because you must be able to recall words from English to Arabic when speaking. You have to train your brain both ways, otherwise, it gets stuck in one mode. I find lots of times while looking up words for the day that I already know them in Arabic but just cannot recall them from English, so now I’m having to re-memorize them but this time from English to Arabic. If you want to speak, then you MUST memorize daily words that *you* utilize everyday from English to Arabic.

Before beginning this exercise, I was initially going to memorize a 3000 most often used words in English after translating them into Arabic. But it was daunting, seemed too time consuming, and boring. But with the daily diary, it’s more motivating because you’re creating *your* own list of personal words that *you* use on a daily basis to express yourself. Also, many of those 3000 words, I don’t even use on a daily basis!

This should get you to a broken Arabic level within a month or two insha’Allah. I find the path to speaking fluently is as follows:

No Arabic -> Broken Arabic -> Average Arabic -> Above Average -> Completely Fluent

The way to progress to each level is practice! The more you practice, the better you get! Since I don’t have people to practice with, I plan to start arguing with people in Arabic on Arabic social media pages :-), just to practice and fine-tune my Arabic. This is probably the only time arguing online with random people makes sense.

I assume the steps above can be utilized for learning any new language.

Happy learning!