The Condition of a Thinking Muslim…

…is a lonely condition. That seems to be the overriding theme of all the thinking Muslims I’ve encountered over the years. It is not so much that we have withdrawn from society to stacks of books and hours of reflection. Instead, it is that we are in intricately linked in a global society that seems to lack human connection. Some scholars have pointed to the break down of communities as a result of western modernity. The growing isolation due to modernization, urbanization, break down of traditional family and community structure has actually given rise to fundamentalist (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and everything else beneath the sun) and New Age movements. Despite their allure, many of us have not abdicated our minds and free choice to join some organization or community that imposes group-think. Even though others like myself have chosen to be autonomous thinkers, we still feel the absence of real communities and suffer from various degrees of loneliness and isolation.

A lot of people I have spoken with have a general sense of disconnection from this thing that we call Ummah. I have had lengthy conversations with some Muslims where we all questioned the meaning of community and even Ummah. Some went so far to say that the concept of Ummah was now a pie in the sky. As for the American Muslim community, we didn’t see community, instead we saw a mass of lectures, meetings, boards, committees, and numerous individuals imposing their views on the ways in which we should live our lives. The complaints about the lack of community remind me of another friend’s insight. He used to talk about a tension between the individual’s desire to feel connected to others in a community and a desire to be free from the social censoring of the community that robs you of your individuality. It is some food for thought. Being that I love words, I decided to look up community to reflect on its most solid and agreed upon meanings:

1: a unified body of individuals: as a: state, commonwealth b: the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself c: an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location d: a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society e: a group linked by a common policy f: a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests g: a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society
2: society at large
3 a: joint ownership or participation b: common character : likeness c: social activity : fellowship d: a social state or condition

Reflecting on these definitions of community, it is not entirely clear that being part of one will actually rid us of loneliness. For some people, the only way of assuaging the loneliness is by getting involved in real change. I’m happy about some initiatives that are aimed at solving problems that affect Muslim communities. They are social problems and I believe that they will help a number of individuals. But at the same time, all this work obscures the fact that the people who are disconnected and socially isolated will likely be the ones most tapped to do this work.

I used to attend one of the largest multi-ethnic communities, but at times experienced intense loneliness. In fact, these feelings have erupted in the middle of crowded rooms in gatherings or talks. In fact, I used to be extremely active in the Muslim community and at the end of the day, retreat to my isolated corner. I felt like I was doing meaningful work, but at the same time I suffered from the lack of real human connection. Even when I met and spoke to amazing people, I got a sense of the ephemeral quality of my relationships.

I have witnessed a general mood shift occuring within a growing number of Muslims over the past few years. Perhaps it is due to age, changing life phases, increased responsibilities, or even disillusionment, but many of my friends have phased out of going to Islamic events, like lectures, halaqas, conferences, and for women, even jumuah. Most of my friends graduated from college nearly a decade ago. The days of dawa committees and MSA conferences are long past. Our circles have tightened, often drawn closer to family networks and long time friends. Even those with families and who have maintained childhood friends experience loneliness. Perhaps this is the fate we face in the post modern age-increased isolation and disconnection. The only way we seem connected is through facebook where I read their favorite quotes, see links to youtube videos that amused them, and look at pictures of their kids. While my married friends seem to have busy lives, producing the next generation of American Muslims, my single friends are juggling a lot too. Many are overworked in their careers or in some demanding academic program.

The general sense I get is a growing isolation, especially if you don’t fit into one neat category or box. I personally don’t think that the solution this condition is in building more community centers or some initiative. Rather, I think it is in individuals. What people desire is fellowship and companionship. And that is developed over time as we create ethical friendships of mutual exchanges and trust. I think it is important for our spiritual and religious leaders to teach us to be better companions and friends. We can foster a sense of fellowship and through that, have actual communities that address the spritiual need to be connected, as opposed to being purely based on political and social interests.

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25 thoughts on “The Condition of a Thinking Muslim…

  1. Assalaamualaikum Margari,

    I can relate to your sentiments. I remember being a MA student in New York and feeling absolutely no connection to a Muslim community. I live closer to my family in my current program so that reduces the feeling of isolation, slightly. I am also able to study and pray with my husband. Yet, I don’t feel very connected to any other younger Muslims in our age group. I make myself attend jumuah regularly although my masjid is composed mostly of older singles and couples. I just accept that right now and try to participate in the activities there. Although, the things that I am really interested in really have no voice. I am deeply concerned about issues of unemployment and incarceration but much of the community embraces a pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality that often ignores or stigmatizes certain populations.
    While I am married (and I think I am a damn good wife) many of the younger sisters seem more consumed with family life than I am and seem uninterested in communal work over private lives. So while there are people coming out to eat sometimes or at Eid there is really no sustained support networks between people.

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  2. Salaam out there sister,
    You and Jamerican Muslimah are about to make me say something. Its already done. All I have to do is press the green button. I’m glad you said folks are looking for companionship and fellowship. I argue that the kind of fellowship and companionship people are looking for has to be, to a degree, culturally specific too. I spoke to an ol’ head the other day insisting that if Muslims prayed together all the time it would automatically foster what he thought so many of us are looking for. I felt bad to disappoint a contemporary of Malcolm but thats not it. You don’t just show up at the prayer and “Kazaam”, “Poof”, everything is everything. Muslims like us, when someone walks up and says “How are you?”, if we reply “Shitty” we want folks to understand why, and be genuinely interested. We have lives, we are not robots dedicated to other world-views and experiences. But there are other ‘constraints’ because many of us grew up having ‘cool-as-a-fool’ friends of different genders and now we’re relegated to seeking out complimentary minds and personalities from half of the population, and its made worse as an American. I won’t even take up anymore space.

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  3. “He used to talk about a tension between the individual’s desire to feel connected to others in a community and a desire to be free from the social censoring of the community that robs you of your individuality.”

    Kinda says it all I guess. One of the reasons I don’t hang out with Muslims a majority of the time is that I don’t seem to find anything in common with most of them.

    Maybe its silly superficial things I don’t know, but when I think of listening to Iron Maiden or Metallica, going to a Springsteen concert, watching a college football game, or talking about women, other Muslims aren’t exactly on the top of my list.

    And I for one am not one of those people who can be alone. I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I don’t like being single (I usually associate my loneliness with being single, which might be wrong in itself). This creates another problem in itself, because a good part of the Muslim community thinks dating is inappropriate, so some of us start dating non-Muslims. Some might say go get married, but too many seem to rush into that, and find out that perhaps they should have taken things slower.

    Islam is important to me, but I can’t spend my entire time in worship or doing so called Muslim things. Perhaps its wrong to think so, but I kinda grow tiresome of it, so I don’t overdo things. Occasionally, I like to do something, without feeling guilty about it, and just relax.

    Trying to navigate through the plethora of differences between the beliefs, the race/nationality/ethnic identity boundaries and all the other things to do with ‘our community’ and living everyday life, some days makes me want to just quietly go into a corner, relax, have a cup of tea and watch some TV. Probably sounds lonely huh?

    Yes, we’re all sharing a drink called loneliness, but its better than drinking alone. (Billy Joel)

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  4. I just want to say I LOVe your blog. I also agree with you. This must be on many peoples minds becuase I have been reading these feelings or feelings simular on a few blogs.

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  5. I just wanted to say that even married people can be lonely. My husband and I are both converts with no Muslim family. As African-Americans we do not have the intricate cultural/familial networks that many people in our local community have. We just go to the masjid for Jumah on Friday and that’s it. Yay Ummah!

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  6. As salaam alaikum ,

    Thank you for posting. I think alot of us are feeling loneliness with our communities and not really feeling connected at all. I know do and have for quite for time. You wanna connect with the sisters or other muslims and have that beautiful bond that you always hear other sisters having in other cities or communities that you just can’t quite find were you are or no where near around. Even sometimes after married muslims may isolate themselves to just jummah or not even that. Allah knows best. May Allah strengthen in iman and help us to build bonds along with love and compassion with our heart and teach us to truth meaning of sisterhood and brotherhood so that we may insha’Allah live it. ameen. Jazak Allah khair

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  7. I think a lot of bloggers who think outside-the-box tend to rely on their blogging compatriots for some sense of community. A lot of us have been cast out of the local scene or feel that way and have found people with similar experiences in cyberspace. Eventually though, and here is a call-out, we’re gonna have to do more because we’re not going to want to see our children develop this way. But for us, if it does impart a sense belonging within Muslim circles then great.

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  8. It’s amazing how much better you can feel about the community, if ther are just two or three people in it, that you can really relate to. Once that need is filled, then you can interact with lots of people that are not so “thinking”! But if there are people in your life that you can relate to intellectually, then you just end up feeling frustrated with everyone.

    Another thing is actually opening up to people and testing the water so to speak. I used to be very reserved, but now I speak my mind and sometimes, people that you don’t expect to be responsive, are so.

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  9. We have to get up, get out, and do something! Growing up Muslim in a tight knit prodominately black community, i didn’t know what bored or lonely was. I was over emmersed in the community. Everyday we were busy learning and having fun. We did everything together and our parents made sure we were active in all forms of society, not just Muslim. My beloved community has since changed, died even. The children have moved away, the parents have lost their zeal and “foreigners” have moved in and taken over. Having small children myself, I know that if I want my children to have an inkling of what I had growing up I must get up, get out and do something. Create programs and activities that they can get involved in and enjoy, find like minded parents and formulate our own parties. Waiting for the community to do it is like waiting for grapes to ferment into a fine wine. I once told a paki muslim friend that we needed a community center outside of the masjid to get active in the community and prodive a fun relaxed atmosphere for families, and she did agreed. We couldn”t have any fun in the masjid b/c it’s against the ‘rules”, so we were left with meeting in each others homes, and if you weren’t paki then you were pretty much home alone. I made the same statement to a white muslimah and she agreed and offered to help me organize and possible get a grant for the center. What’s funny is that as soon as we get the center up and running, guess who’s gonna walk through the door…..

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  10. Salaam,

    Oh……..I just read the quote al.. recited from your post……I am in that lonely condition…true words
    true words

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  11. As-salaamu-alaikum,

    This post is right on time for me. In some ways I feel different. There is no one place where I know I “belong”.

    I’ve decided to just make a more concerted effort to reach out, be the real me, and see what happens.

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  12. i so get the loneliness thing. just being the weird convert, for one thing. but also in the past few years i have been drawn to less patriarchal interpretations of things—I mean of things to do with women and all. and that has caused me to have severe ideological rifts with people. Though I keep it to myself to avoid confrontations and suspicion. Actually, that’s why I really love my place in the little online community of Muslim women who are more critical of the advice of the Muslim male elite scholars who would have us all be barefoot and pregnant with one eye to see the way and all that.

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  13. i was born a muslim and am still a muslim but my people its not easy for me.when i was home thats in my country n going 2 school my family though that i was going 2 be a great person so when i started wearing hijab i received a lot of discrimination but i try 2 wear it . but now am in the united states n livin with non muslims n am not seeing muslims i dont know good days 2 fast or da muslim new year .all i want is to be a good muslim i love islam with all my hart. since am young the people am staying with decite for me and i feel that my iman is slowing down. need help

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  14. The Clear work of a thinking Muslim in terms of tracing his family history back to Makandal and Boucman.. With some ancient documentation and divane inspiration..

    AFRICAN MUSLIMS IN HAITI FATHER A REVOLUTION

    http://thoughtmerchant.wordpress.com/2008/03/02/african-muslims-in-haiti-father-a-revolution/

    Thought Merchant
    http://www.thoughtmerchant.wordpress.com
    Politics and commentary for the thinking person of
    color.
    Better to sell an idea than to buy a lie!

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  15. I was an ordinary worker, paid small, just enough for a mounth. Thinkin of lonelines is the air i breath on and life on, it choked me yet im livin in indonesia, the largest muslim in asia, n i fail to find “ummah”, since i councious n aware of needin it. It’s unconditional love brother..,i said to my self out of desperation n confusion. How far would you willin to give n not wanting a return, be a mother, father, brother to those around not letterly,then i start givin all, i dont have much but i keep givin (funny how i felt now had”ask him, he help u”sign in my forehead). I still lonely though, but now i could cry for just a tiny thing, n my own ummah that they don’t even realise…So i gave u my own remedy not to heal actually just to ease… Run,baby run..,you got allah in you heart then you were the life one, dont need other (i love osama by theway,dispite of what his done, his among the one…, i think)

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  16. I am new to your blog, which I think is very eloquent mash’allah. It’s strange that I just recently made an entry on my blog on the same issue. Yours is definetly more eloquent than mine so I posted a link to you, hope you don’t mind. My question is , how do we proactively repair our condition? No one looks at a wound and lament the bleeding without seeking a cure. So what’s the next step?

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  17. salaam alaikum kheir insha’Allah,
    I wasn’t just looking at the wound and lamenting. I offered what I felt was a solution. Here it is:
    “…personally don’t think that the solution this condition is in building more community centers or some initiative. Rather, I think it is in individuals. What people desire is fellowship and companionship. And that is developed over time as we create ethical friendships of mutual exchanges and trust. I think it is important for our spiritual and religious leaders to teach us to be better companions and friends. We can foster a sense of fellowship and through that, have actual communities that address the spritiual need to be connected, as opposed to being purely based on political and social interests.”

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  18. I certainly felt this when I was Muslim (tho very active in my community), and see it now with my parents. My parents are great people, and they have Muslim friends, but they don’t partake in “the community” anymore after many years of bad experiences. Many of the kindest and most thoughtful Muslims I’ve ever met were something of loners.

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  19. Salaam, I believe there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. It is not necessarily a bad thing to be alone, as astectics, gnostics and those who reflect enjoy “peace and quiet,” and the sense of not being bothered by the constant berage of idle talk. One example, I remember I was in a masjid and was waiting for the gathering to disperse after salaat. The sisters were talking-not even necessarily gossip but to me unnecessary speech. I became annoyed and went to another part of the sisters’ side of the musallah and made more salaat.

    Now as far as loneliness. We all experience it, whether we are in musallah, a mall or at home. I believe in one sense is that because we are in the West, we as Muslim Americans have been culturally influenced with individualism. We look out for number one, we do things for others (Muslims and non-Muslims) with a cautious eye or at a distance. We are at our core human beings. Although we die alone while we tred this earth we interdepend on one another. It’s natural, yet for some reason there is a disconnect. I think one of the problems is that we separate our deen from our human condition. Islam does not automatically resolve evrything, it gives us solutions to us as humans. It requires reflection, understanding and humility, to be a willing vessel from learned scholarship without sacrificing our intellect. We have to ask ourselves do we even really want to be bothered with other people?

    I noticed one person’s post stated that some Muslims have earned our Bachelor’s degrees 10 years ago. One non-muslim told me in passing conversation that he opined as we get older we have a lesser tolerance for others, so friendships, marriage or even travel, we better either make our connections or what I like to remind myself is to not waste time with persons I don’t consider “quality people.”

    So yes, we should begin to ask ourselves some pertinent questions for as a “community” we all are participants in the whole. It’s like the hadith that if your brother is pained or one part of the body aches the rest does or something. I don’t have an answer, but part of it is reflection and looking at how those of the Prophet’s time shared, gathered, house, fed and cared for one another because they realized that generation fo Muslims’ survival depended on it.

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  20. PS: I’m not saying I rank with gnostics at all, but it was just an observation. I pray insha’Allah that I may reach that level…

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