By Roy Oksnevad
This is the third article addressing trends in 2017 that will have an impact on ministry to Muslims in North America. The January article explored the new administration’s awkward response to keeping America safe from radical Muslims through an immigrant ban. The February article highlighted a hidden trend coming out of the failed coup in Turkey and the fallout of a new wave of asylum seekers. This month’s editorial seeks to identify movements that we need to be aware of.
Islam and North America are experiencing uncertain times, particularly in light of the newly elected administration’s rhetoric and possible policies.
Islamic Radicalization vs Peaceful Islam: There has been a growing political expression of Islam in recent history that can be traced back to al-Afghani (d. 1897). Iran was the first nation-state to implement the idea of an Islamic state, in 1979. Other nations have followed, culminating in the establishment of the Islamic State (Daesh June 2014). In reaction to the carnage left in the wake of political Islam, Muslims have proclaimed that Islam means “peace.” The mantra that Islam means peace, in light of the conflicting news in Muslim majority lands, only results in confusion. Young Muslims have been attracted to this perceived dynamic political Islam, especially as some have left the U.S. to wage Jihad in the Middle East. Others have taken up the sword of Jihad stateside. Muslims are concerned that their loved ones may become radicalized through social media or jihadist preachers here or abroad. Like American Christian parents, American Muslim parents are concerned for the well-being of their children.
In addition, two false perceptions are surfacing from a simplistic understanding of religion:
1) Villainization of religion, which believes that any religion that holds to an exclusive position promotes intolerance and hatred. This idea creates fear that if these religions are allowed full reign to influence our politics and cultural values it will create polarization in the marketplace of ideas.
2) Idealistic view of religion, that believes that every true expression of religion would invariably lead to peace. The violent expressions of Islam are devalued and considered un-Islamic, regardless of history or primary documentation.
It is in this milieu that we as witnesses of Christ find ourselves. We feel the rancor of fear from the Christian community concerning witnessing to Muslims. We hear the fear from Muslims who are afraid of the political fallout that may come from this present political administration. There is a growing fear from the secular society that sees any group trying to witness as promoting hatred. This is the “white noise” that we must lay aside and focus on the task of being witnesses of Christ to a lost generation.
Materialism vs. Spirituality: Those of us working with immigrants realize that the “American Dream” is not as easy to attain as many thought. The immigrant’s life is consumed by a cumbersome bureaucratic system, low-paying menial jobs, struggling with new cultural values, and children adapting quickly to the new culture, creating tension in the home. People become so preoccupied with surviving in the visible material world that they have little time or energy to consider the spiritual world which is unseen. Hard-working Muslim immigrants seeking to better their futures by pursuing the “American Dream” are particularly vulnerable to dichotomy. It is the political or social agencies that are to provide for their immediate physical needs to find the elusive “American Dream.” So often the church gets drawn into this same response by trying to meet all the physical needs, coupled with a fear of imposing a spiritual agenda. How can the church be more than a social service and speak to the spiritual “Abrahamic Dream” found in Christ?
Political vs. Spiritual: As the newly elected president and branches of government bump along, the nation and world are looking to the government to try to figure out what policies and campaign promises will transform into legislation. The Muslim community, refugees, and illegal immigrants are looking to the government for help and direction. There is a growing uneasiness in the immigrant community, particularly in the Muslim and Hispanic communities, as to an uncertain future. More time and energy are spent on political solutions and less time looking to God who orchestrates the affairs of mankind. American Christians are looking for political solutions to secure their borders, tighten their immigration laws, and protect their citizens from all danger. The current vision for the US is “America First” or U.S. Nationalism. How can we steer the conversations away from the political and keep the focus on God’s Kingdom? Do we allow the political agenda to take over God’s Kingdom values? Are we truly aliens, just a passing through, looking to our home in glory?
Identity vs. Religiosity: The millennial Muslims being raised in North America struggle with carving out an identity that is unique. Their Muslim parents represent the old world with their desire that their children be raised Muslim. The mosque is becoming an “old man’s club” and irrelevant to how millennial Muslims experience life in North America (see http://www.unmosquedfilm.com/). Those who seek to carve out some sort of Islamic identity find the outward forms and ceremonial cleanliness old-school. Some millennials take on the outward forms of religion, particularly in dress and beards, yet desire to fit in American society. Non-Muslims assume that the religious symbols are a sign that the person is religious and shy away from presenting Christ to them. These young Muslims sincerely desire to cultivate internal piety, but don’t know where to find it. How can we see past the outward forms and speak to the spiritual hunger so many long to connect with?
Human Laws vs. Islamic Law: Islamic Law based on the Qur’an, the Hadith, and Islamic jurisprudence, is known as “Sharia,” or “The Way.” Muslims have come to the freedom-loving West to get away from militant elements of the Sharia that is now undergoing a renaissance in a variety of Muslim nations. Muslims are themselves wondering: Why do man-made laws tend to create more freedom than Allah’s laws? What should our position be toward promoting features of Sharia Law in the U.S.? No matter the laws that are enacted, our sinful nature seeks to get around the laws. How do we promote God’s laws that rule the human heart in our discussions?
Women’s Issues –Purity vs. Modernity: For the Muslim community, women’s issues impact men, women, and children. American Muslims are uncomfortable with the promiscuity of the West, while they are simultaneously uncomfortable with the complete veiling of women that is being emphasized by Islamists worldwide. Like many Christians, they seek to find the right balance between purity and modernity. Muslim families are seeking to find the best options going forward.
Victimization vs Honest Assessment: One of the tendencies of minority groups is to play the victim card. Honor and shame societies cover the bad and shift blame away to another person. For example, when a young Somali Muslim immigrant recently went on a violent attack at Ohio State University, the killer sought to paint himself as a victim (see http://www.nationalreview.com/article/442561/ohio-state-knife-attack-somali-immigrant-saw-himself-victim.) Others rushed to his defense with statements that Muslims were being victimized because of “Islamophobia.”
American Muslims will have to wrestle with this going forward. It is no secret that some American factions seek to define victimized groups and shepherd them into its political fold. How much of this positioning is more about politics and gaining legitimacy? Can these factions herd the diverse population of American Muslims—many of whom are successful doctors, professors, engineers, researchers, housewives, businesspersons, neighbors, and students—into a victimized group with an aggrieved minority mentality? Would Muslims even want this mantle of victimization? And if they don’t want it, who will stand up for the Muslim community and say they don’t want it, especially since the political microphone is always passed to the ones who do cry out that they have been victimized? If Muslims claim victimization, how can they explain that so many Muslims worldwide would want to come live in America if they could?
These are some trends that I see that will impact Muslim ministry. What impact do these have on the way we do ministry? Some are distractions that keep us from fulfilling our mandate to go into the world and share the good news of Christ. We need to be aware of these trends, recognize them, and have a thought-out plan to address them.
 Many of the following categories were originally found in an article “Issues American Muslims are Wrestling With” by Fred Farrokh in a January 24, 2017 blog at http://reachingmuslimpeoples.com/news/issues-american-muslims-wrestling/. These categories have been modified and expanded in this article. (accessed 3/11/2017).
 The comment that the mosque is an old man’s club is a reference taken from the documentary DVD done by young Muslims on the state of the mosque in North America titled “Unmosqued.” http://www.unmosquedfilm.com/
 “Assimilation, Integration, and Victimization” by Fred Farrokh written January 18, 2017. http://reachingmuslimpeoples.com/news/assimilation-integration-american-dream/ (accessed 3/11/2017).