All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost… (1)
Many of us are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Although I, like many in this younger generation, love this land dearly as my home, it always felt weird to sing “Land where my fathers died/ Land of the Pilgrims’ pride” from the song “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” in elementary school, because my fathers did not actually die here. They were not natives of this land, they were not part of the story of America in the decades and centuries since the landing at Plymouth Rock. We their children are here, and starting to make our mark, but it is in other lands and other times that our roots already lie.
On a visit to Pakistan recently, this reality was made very clear to me. My family had lived in that house, in that neighborhood, for generations. Every family knew every others’ family and its entire history, both before and after the Partition (2). Walking the streets of my neighborhood in Karachi, people recognized me, without blinking an eye at my years-long absence. The local tailor gave me salaam as I passed by and informed me that he still remembered making the sherwani (3) my dad wore at my parents’ wedding. And everyone knew how to say my name. To me, this was an experience unlike any other. I could see that however much I felt at home in New Jersey, there was much missing from my experience of what a home could be.
The feeling I got that summer was like finding something I had not been looking for, but had sensed was missing all along. It was my cultural heritage, the comfort of knowing who I am and where I came from. I was more complete for recovering it. And as I grew up, I came to find a greater heritage, one I thought I had always had, but had never known for its true value. While cultures are part of our lives, Islam is even more essential to us. And too often, this is the heritage that is not used and enjoyed by many rightful heirs.
As this generation of young Muslims comes of age, it’s clear many are looking for that sense of identity. There is a lot of confusion at heart, to be sure. It’s hard to go on Facebook and scroll down the Newsfeed, without physically cringing. Guys identify themselves as sneakerhead skaters. As punk. As emo, complete with depressing status updates. So many are wanna-be ghetto, in love with the rapper image, saying ameen to lyrics about the thug life from the comfort of their well-lit suburban bedrooms. Imam Abdul Malik summed it up pretty well, as he raged, “Brothers saying ‘Where’s my G’s, where’re my ni**as…’ YOU FROM PAKISTAN, SAYIN NI**A! YOU FROM EGYPT, SAYIN NI**A! Youre a Muslim, worshipping Allah and reciting the Qur’an, SAYIN NI**A!” You cant help but feel pity for these brothers and sisters, whose search for identity has led them to some degrading lifestyles.
But alhumdulillah, there are many as well who have found their heritage in Islam. Those who came from perhaps not the most practicing families, who came to fall in love. Those who were looking for their roots, began searching perhaps just with their names, and ended at the beautiful treasure that is our deen. Young American Muslims are populating the masaajid, attending the halaqaat and the Islamic classes, and raising the standards with MSAs, all seeking the pleasure of Allah.
Because deeper than the roots of ethnicity, deeper than the roots of town and country even as I had found, are the deep roots of Islam. Allah answers the Quraysh and all those who mistake their culture for their heritage, “He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. [It is] the religion of your father, Ibraheem. He named you “Muslims” before and in this [revelation]…” (Surah Hajj 22:78) In this day and age, what person observing from the outside would expect Islam to be on the rise? Would expect the seedlings of imaan to be planted firm in the youth? With all the distractions of dunya and, outside forces making it dangerous to be Muslim, to the point where we are watched by the police for no other reason? And yet, here we are.
It can only be that Allah has willed it, that Islam will survive, and thrive, and give honor to those who submit to it. No other identity found in our society, in none of these pathetic subcultures under the overall culture of Jahiliyyah, is as strong or as proud or as rich as the identity of Muslim. Being lowered in submission led to being raised to great heights for our predecessors. It is not so long ago that high in the esteem of all the world were the Muslims; bright were the warriors’ swords, sharp were the scholars pens and heavy the books, and full were the coffers of sultan and merchant. Great ideas grew and adorned the world like flowers abounding, the garden with it’s center, la ilaha illlah.
And if we begin with the same source, the same growth is possible again. Every young branch that sprouts out of our tradition, no matter how distant, is intimately connected to the roots. I got the chance recently to begin a formalized study of tajweed, the science of beautiful, proper Quranic recitation. I am reciting in practice to my teacher, Abu Zayd. He in turn once recited to his teacher, and he to his teacher, and so on and so forth, all the way back to Imam Hafs, who learned from the great teacher from Kufah, Imam Asim, who learned from Abu AbdurRahman Al-Sulami, who learned from Uthman ibn Affan, who learned the Quran as it was revealed from Rasulullah. This connection with the Prophet himself is precious, and is incredible to consider, sallalahu alayhi wassalam!
This knowledge will continue to spread after us, connecting others to their heritage. Every Muslim that lives their life seeking the pleasure of Allah, through dawah, learning, or ibaadah, is walking the well-worn path of Rasulullah and the Prophets, ‘alayhimus salaam. It is a heavy burden, a noble responsibility, and a great honor. The well of Islam is a deep one. So let us drink deep, giving praise and thanks to Allah, because there is plenty to satiate the thirsty.
(1) The Riddle of Strider, from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
(2) Partition of British India into the independent countries of Pakistan and India in 1947, after which there was a great mass migration of Muslims across the border into the land of Pakistan.
(3) A type of traditional Pakistani tunic, worn on formal occasions.
I welcome everyone’s thoughts and feedback. Please comment below and share if you liked it. Jazakumullahu khayran, all, for the positive reception I’ve gotten since my first piece!
Next up, I want to do a multi-part post on an epic man that is justifiably known as “the Salahuddin of Africa,” who is an incredibly relevant example for us, who not many people have actually heard of. Would you like to read about him?