SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association) – In an exclusive interview with SHAFAQNA, Sayed Ahmed Qazwini, gave his views and opinions about the challenges that Shia communities or Muslim communities in general face in the west. He stated to SHAFAQNA reporter that these challenes can be can be divided into these categories:
1. Individual challenges – Amongst the primary challenges that Muslims face in the west is preserving and practicing their faith. One reason behind that is due to Assimilation. Islam states that faith should be given the priority in life while society in the west is a very liberal and materialistic society and religion is usually not a priority. Many Muslims in the west begin to assimilate into the western culture and hence they adapt the teachings, behaviors, ideas and lifestyles of the western culture—whether good or not. The problem that rises is that some habits and behaviors of the western culture may conflict with the Islamic faith, leaving the Muslim struggling to find his way out of this dilemma. Should he favor faith then he may appear as an outcast in society or that may prevent him from “fitting in” society. Should he favor the society then that may mean relinquishing his religious tasks. Another reason to this is due to the nature of people’s lives in the west in that great concentration is placed on work and study leaving little time for faith. Many Muslims have a hard time in balancing between work and faith. If you were to ask many Muslims “why do you not pray” or “why don’t you come to the Masjid” the typical answer would be “I have no time”.
The solution to this obstacle relies on one’s will and determination and to never steer away from faith. The more one forgets his faith, prayer, Islamic teachings, the more he drowns in the materialistic life and the more difficult it becomes to return to God. For this reason Islam stresses the importance of always remembering God, death and the hereafter, so that one does not steer away. Thus it is important that a Muslim always keeps a link with his faith and makes time for his faith. In times of conflict, the priority should always be given to faith. One of the best ways in succeeding in this task is by holding weekly programs at Islamic Centers and Masjids through congregational prayer and lectures about Islamic morals and values.
2. Family challenges – Establishing and maintaining a faithful and pious family is very difficult in itself. In the west it becomes especially more difficult. The main difficulty is raising children. A child needs a lot of care and attention in order to meet his physical needs. Likewise, a child has spiritual needs and must be guided by his parents in order to grow up as pious believer. Many Muslim parents are too busy with work and neglect their children’s need for faith and discipline. Moreover, the western society not only does not provide the necessary discipline but may complicate the disciplinary process more. Immoral and un-Islamic habits and customs are taught to children in western society through the affect of friends, peer pressure, public schools, television, and internet. These factors play an important role in forming a child’s character, and sometimes negatively impact a child. For example, a child in the west grows up learning a set of immoral behavoirs and beliefs such as disrespect towards parents, lack of morals and ethics, no sense of responsibility, inappropriate role models such as actors, singers, and athletes, excessive mixing with opposite gender, etc. So it becomes difficult for Muslim parents to properly raise children in the west.
The solution to this challenge is by making time to raise our children ourselves. Parents must teach their children about Islam and morals while they are still young. Many parents wait too long until they start teaching their children about faith. The hadith says that learning while young is like carving into stone, meaning that a child is much more bound to accept and learn while young. When they grow it becomes more difficult to teach them and discipline them as they build their own personality and opinions. Taking our children to Islamic lectures or classes is also vital.
3. Social challenges – Having a Muslim Identity in the west is not easy. Muslims are usually discriminated against and looked down upon in the west. The religion of Islam is seen as a violent inhumane religion and Muslims as terrorists. Many non-Muslims don’t understand Muslims well and have many misconceptions about them. Keeping a public Muslim identity requires courage and perseverance.
Imam Ali says that people are enemies of what they are ignorant of. The main problem behind the Islamophobia that exists in the west is ignorance. Most westerners are ignorant about Islam and Muslims. They have an incorrect perception of Islam due to actions of some radical minorities or false propaganda against Islam. The solution is obvious—spreading awareness. Educating people about Islam is the cure to Islamophobia. Portraying the true Islam will remove all the negative perceptions, opinions and misconceptions of Islam. Most non-Muslims in the west are broad-minded and good-hearted. If the true Islam is portrayed to them they accept. The problem is that they are misled. Hence it our responsibility to teach them about our faith. Amongst the most effective ways in doing so is to teach through our actions. Through our actions we can prove that Muslims are peaceful, tolerant and successful.
4. Political challenges – Most Muslims have no incentive on participating in or affecting politics. They stand to look desperately from the outside and oppose the “evil” politics of the west while they can directly affect politics from the inside. From the smallest posts such as city council, to mayor to governor to House Representative to senator and finally the President, Muslims have little interest in participation in voting and running for a post. Therefore, reciprocally politicians give little attention to Muslims communities in the West. Muslims have not worked on establishing lobbying groups that advocate for their rights and interests. The result of this neglect towards the political system is the undermining of Muslims and their rights and roles in the west.