Ramadan Lesson #3: Embracing Diversity Among Muslims

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“Oh mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know (recognize) each other” (Al-hujrat 49:13).

Something that I have noticed popping up continually throughout this Ramadan is that the American Muslim “community,” along with other “communities” around the world, often gets portrayed as a large, faceless entity that adheres to a single interpretation of Islam, rituals and beliefs included. This notion, as I see it, negates the plurality of ways in which the religion is practiced and embodied by its adherents and has been used to relegate those who (internally or externally) have legitimate questions about the faith to the shadows. Believe me, I can empathize somewhat with the logic behind the construction of a monolithic view that is often shown in the media and preached about; trying to build a single, unified community within a sometimes hostile, xenophobic American society makes sense and provides a support system. As a white, middle class, college educated Muslim I have the luxury of hiding my faith from public view when I choose most times, which is not the case for many other Muslims – I get that.

That being said, I do not believe that my faith group should sacrifice inclusion and celebrating diversity for the sake of collective security and trying to “blend-in.” Why is that a religion that possesses a holy text that explicitly states that God has consciously created mankind in various forms, i.e. cultures, sexual identities, colors, still wrestles with being inclusive and acceptance of a plurality of interpretations? I cannot tell you how many personal anecdotes that have been shared with me about friends not feeling welcomed in this or that mosque, community, or whatever because of their “non-orthodox” beliefs, practices, or freaking personalities! This type of treatment and utter rejection in some cases is laughable in my opinion considering the long-duree of Islam, which has always involved the religion, with the exception of its core texts, evolving as it spread to new geographic regions and cultural contexts. I think it is also quite gutsy (read: self-righteous) on the part of people arguing that Islam means something very narrow and disregards anyone who may hold alternative opinions – were any of us around for the nearly 1300 years of Islams existed to say that with certainty? No!

Diversity and inclusion enrich my religion and the catalyst for beautiful dimensions of it (art, the plurality of fiqh that evolves over time, mysticism) and I do not foresee going anywhere. As a Muslim I firmly adhere to this belief and cannot picture my spiritual experience being the same without it. This Ramadan more than ever before has shown that, whether it comes in the form of doing dhikr with my queer Muslim friends, cooking iftaar for a friend who may drink during the rest of the year but abstains for this month, or longing for maghrib time so that I can give a kiss to my jaan. My friends and I may not be the picture perfect Muslims that some others wish us to be, but man, I will take this authenticity over fakeness any day.

Salaams for now.

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