Readers may scold me for saying so, but religion is for people, not God. Religion is an important means by which people live a coherent life according to common standards. It works in community, not isolation. It works even better when the greater community– schools, stores, offices, even government– encourage conduct approved by the dominant religion. America was supposed to be a secular country, but its population always has been overwhelmingly Christian, and its culture reflects Christian values, especially concerning holidays. Other religions are free to develop and flourish, of course, but they do so in minority. They do so successfully to the degree that they are able to form and maintain community which integrates into American culture.
Do you doubt that religion cannot be sustained in isolation? How does society label a person who claims to bring a new religion, a person who engages in new behaviors built upon an ideology to which no one else subscribes? It happened to our own prophet Mohammed, SAW. Some people called him crazy.
I suppose a case could be made for all religion being the work of mental derangement, yet what is mental derangement if not a singular baffling and obscure departure from the accepted standards of community behavior? Let us leave this argument alone, as it peers over a slippery slope that offers nothing but discomfort, confusion, and ultimate isolation. Let us return to something more manageable– our own religion and culture.
People, not Allah, need religion, and people are capable of changing it. In Islam, we call that change bidah— innovation— and it is not allowed, according to scholars who have spent years with the original texts. Nevertheless, religion changes. It evolves, and that is not an undesirable tendency. Religion must adapt, just like any other discipline, to new and useful developments in secular society. In Islam, we call that ijtihad, and we are all free to exercise the right of it, within limits. Granted, our independent ijtihad may not coincide with the “legal” decisions that have been, and are being made, by scholarly persons who have devoted their lives to learning the sources of Islam. However, those persons do not live in our skins, do not move within our families, our jobs, our neighborhoods. Legal decisions based on ijtihad do not take into account the diversity and the difficulties of living Islamically in modern Western society. The goal of intent must include integration and reconciliation with non-Muslims in our personal spheres.
Therefore, when new Muslims are unsure about a behavior, such as visiting Christian family members on their holidays, or keeping a dog in the house, or listening to music, they are wise to consider their motivation with respect to the spirit of Islamic intent. In other words, use common sense before starting threads on FB entitled, “Are We Allowed to …….?”.
Are we Muslims allowed? Are you, as a new Muslim, allowed? Do you have common sense? Do you how much the practice of your religion depends upon the ease with which you integrate it into your participation in the necessary yet secular cultural institutions?
Over the years, I have read and contributed to many discussions about how we might “fit in” as Muslims, especially as covert Muslims. I am usually scolded, because I do not support rigid adherence to strict behavioral tendencies seen in Islamic practice. Those behaviors bring conflict with family members and employers. Without the support of our families and employers we bring nothing but unpleasantness– or worse– upon ourselves. To what extent are these conflicts unavoidable as we strive to adhere to what we think is required in Islam?
Each of us must answer, and find a way to minimize conflicts while maximizing our involvement in community– both the community of our fellow Muslims and that of the wider Western culture.