Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Who is a Muslim?

This is an important question, excerpted from my doctoral dissertation. 
     Who is a Muslim? Islam, as has been amply demonstrated in chapter 8, is not a monolith. The diversity of Islam is represented by many different communities of interpretation, with unique cultural overlays. From the Qur’anic perspective, Abraham was considered to be the first Muslim, because he surrendered fully to the Transpersonal Will. Other sources claim that Adam was the first Muslim. Yet others who do not restrict the state of surrender merely to the human species may make a perfectly valid interpretive claim that the first Muslims were really the angels in the creation myth of Islam, because it was the first order of creation that surrendered to the Divine Will and prostrated before Adam.
     Hence Islam is the religion of fitra, the primordial religion. Therefore, the definition of a Muslim is a being or creature who has surrendered to the Will of God. In order to affiliate with Islam specifically as a faith tradition, one is required to accept that there is only One God and that Muhammad was the final prophet. However, as is the principle for a culturally competent approach to psychotherapy, the effective and preferred recommendation is to defer to the client in terms of whether he or she self–identifies as a Muslim. As we have noted, there are Muslims who self–identify as Muslims but who are often not considered Muslims by the dominant forms of Islam, and this causes its own identity problems. The followers of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, for example, self–identified as black Muslims. But not until quite recently when Elijah’s son, and now Louis Farrakhan, started adopting the nonracist egalitarian principles of Islam and some ethnocentric customs of the dominant form of Islam, were they considered Muslims by mainstream orthodoxy. There are also Muslims who self–identify as secular Muslims. This is to say that they have adopted modern secular values but are still attached to the essential monotheistic principles of Islam, without conforming to the demands of the shari’a and orthopraxis.
     In an ever–increasing globalized world, it is becoming abundantly clear that there is no place for any stereotype of a Muslim. In Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, an anthology of essays edited by Mattu and Maznavi, an essay titled “Punk–Drunk Love” by Tanzila Ahmed helped to shatter any vestige of stereotyping in Islam that I myself might have been holding on to:
My parents had never understood why the intersection of being Muslim, activist, and a punk was so important to me. Growing up, I led a life of duality—the secret life of a punk–rocking activist combined with the home life of a pious Muslim daughter. As the oldest of three daughters to Bangladeshi immigrants, I was the guinea pig who wasn’t allowed to do anything. Sleepovers were out of the question, and when I became a teenager, the only way I was allowed to go to a punk show was if my mother waited in the parking lot while I was in the pit. And Allah forbid that my dad ever found out about it—I would have been kicked out of the house had he known I was crowd–surfing, with the hands of boys holding my body up. (2012, pp. 63–64)

     Ahmed courageously recounts a romantic affair she had as a 30–something West Coast South–Asian American journalist with a Muslim punk rock artist, knowing full well that he had a serious girlfriend who lived close to him on the East Coast. So, to assume that a Muslim woman is incapable of liberating herself from the shackles of a patriarchal religion and culture is very far from the truth. But this is also not to say that her liberation was devoid of any psychological struggle, which is not specifically addressed in this descriptively brief essay. More importantly, what is true about Ahmed is that she self–identifies as a Muslim, even though her ethical and moral stance around female sexuality may not be considered by patriarchal orthodoxy as appropriate for or worthy of a well–adapted Muslim woman.

     It is also important, in the context of psychotherapy, to make a distinction between the religious identity of the client and the religious experience of the client, especially if the religious identity of being a Muslim is confined to the notion of praxis. Is it possible for a Muslim to be a Muslim without strict attachment to the mainstream’s notion of the five pillars of Islam: One might ask, for example, is the Naqshbandi Sufi teacher Lewellyn Vaughan–Lee a Muslim? Perhaps he does not feel the need to be identified with the faith as a religious identity, because he has transcended the religious or transpersonal subpersonality and is focused, in the process of self–integration, on the religious experience as a Sufi, in pursuit of and in surrender to an ontological reality. In this case, the question itself − of who is a Muslim − by those who claim to speak for religious orthodoxy in mainstream Islam is reduced or limited to one of religious identity.  

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