An open letter from Jeremiah D. McAuliffe, Jr., Ph.D. to the Pittsburgh Muslim community one year after he embraced Islam
Becoming a Muslim: My story by Jon Dean
My dear brothers and sisters,
I pray Allah grants you His peace in your minds and in your hearts. I am somewhat nervous about writing this letter because of two reasons. One is my lack of depth of Islamic knowledge, the other is because of attitudes and behaviors in our community that I have found very disturbing. I have only been a member of this community for one solar year, but frankly, I see little difference than in the Christian communities of which I have been a part. Like those communities there is a small group of people, always the same people, who try to organize and run activities and day-to-day operations. Others either criticize or simply do nothing at all. I have heard Muslims question the piety of other Muslims, indeed, have heard Muslims implying (and saying outright) that another Muslim is "kafr". I have heard so many truly hateful comments about certain communities among the People of the Book that I don't know quite how to respond. I have watched men run outside, play frisbee and football, socialize and have fun while two sisters sit for hours all alone and with nothing to do and no one else to talk to. This was supposed to be "protecting them". From who? From what? I know personally about sexual assault-- two members of my family are victims of such crimes, yet with my Muslim brothers I feel like I am not trusted. Honestly, what I saw was not "protection", but a form of cruelty and meanness. I walk to the masjid and see on the grounds: diapers, tissues, popsicle sticks, partially eaten food, cigarette butts, coke cans, cups, candy wrappers, etc. and I think, "How many Muslims walked by this and didn't pick it up? Why wasn't it thrown in the garbage in the first place?" I have taken on the editing of the newsletter, and I have received complaints which is fine. I ask the person to write the complaint-- I'll publish it (yes, even if critical of what I am doing) but I get nothing. When I am here working on the newsletter only two or three people are ever here for prayer. To a new Muslim, sorry brothers and sisters, you aren't setting a very good example! I tell you, if this is Islam I want nothing to do with it.
But I know this is not Islam. Islam is kindness and compassion. Islam is strong faith in the existence of Allah, though unseen, and belief that the Qur'an is a revelation from the One True God to us. Islam is following the best example of Muhammad (PBUH) but what is the Sunnah exactly? Is it how he wore his clothes or his facial hair, or is it the type of person he was. And if it is both which is more important? None of us use rocks to clean ourselves with, but isn't that Sunnah?? Muhammad (PBUH), to my reading, was so very, very kind, flexible, sensitive, easy. It just seems like many of us emphasize the outer form of the Sunnah at the expense of the inner form-- and thus our inner form is filled with harshness.
But of course, that is only one small group of Pittsburgh Muslims. Because I have seen many people who are what I would think Muslims would try to be. Their personalities are gentle and kind. They have smiles on their face-- smiles that cover up pain as they see what a state our ummah is in. They are often trying their very best to do whatever they can and they bear the slings and arrows of others' criticism with much more patience than I have! How hard they seem to be trying to go beyond their cultural conditioning into the universally human life-style of Islam. They are examples to me. Without them I would have stopped coming to any masjid in Pittsburgh months ago. How sad that so many of them come only to jumah prayer. When I ask why they don't do something to change things they sadly shake their heads and walk away. How did they get so dejected?
I have three suggestions.
1. We must stop centering our attention on what is wrong with the other person and concentrate on what is wrong with us as individuals. We need to take our own moral inventory rather than concentrating on the defects of others. Only Allah and that person can take their moral inventory. As part of this we need to foster the virtues of patience and compassion in ourselves. We need to ask "what can I do" rather than "what is the other person doing".
2. The administrative structure of the masjid needs to be changed: how people are nominated and chosen to serve on the Executive Committee needs to be updated. Perhaps people need to serve in these positions for two years and should be people who live here permanently.
3. We need to read, read, read! We need to learn, learn, learn! We need to know about sociology, anthropology, and psychology so we can confront the challenges that face us when so many different cultural groups have been thrown together. We must have the courage to reject aspects of our own culture that is not Islamic and adopt those from other cultures that may be more in line with Islam. This will take incredible amounts of courage and open-mindedness. Allah can give us these gifts if we ask and are sincere.