The new Mecca

Education, and the resultant intellectual engagement with the world around us, is one of the tenets of faith in the Islamic tradition. By turning our back on our intellect, we are turning our back on the trust (amânâ) that God has given us; by turning our back on understanding God’s creation, we are turning our back to God; by claiming we can know God, we deny God.

What role does America play in keeping the Islamic tradition alive?

For Muslims across the world, America is the new Mecca. While it does not have the same religious obligation association as Mecca does, Muslims are flocking to the United States in far larger numbers, for at least some part of their lives. (There are 1.2 billion Muslims. Only 2 million can make Hajj every year. Assuming a generation is 40 years – a generous time span – and that each person on Hajj is unique, that means only 80 million Muslims can go on Hajj every generation – just under 7%. More Muslims than that have positive interactions with the US and its institutions than that in a 20 year period.)

Muslims who are settling here in the US are making this country a new Mecca, and I don’t just mean Harlem. Here in the US you have Muslims from all over the world coming together sharing stories, ideas, philosophies, languages, dress, ways of practicing the faith. America is what Mecca used to be before the Wahhabi group took control of Islam’s holiest site. You can come here and nobody challenges your Islam, that is a relationship between you and God, and only God can judge who is a Muslim, not some government agency. Muslims come here often as part of an ethnic cohort, but can freely mix with Muslims from other parts of the world. Read some Hajj narratives and you see the wonder and awe that people experienced, not only at the religious experience, but at the breadth and depth of thought.

That feeling of intellectual engagement, of trying to understand the world around us, is present here in the US. This place is the new intellectual Mecca, the place where Muslims are most likely to bring back the Islamic spirit. As American Muslims we need to revel in the challenge of trying to understand Islam with millions of voices clamoring around us. Our only other alternative is to say God is not worth the effort, and that we should take the lowest common denominator approach and turn the religion into one of literalism, denying the infinite nature of the Divine. “I am a hidden treasure, and I wish to be known,” a hadith qudsi on why there is a creation.

From here, we can take our new ideas, our new thoughts, our renewed energy in Islam to all parts of the world, and create that excitement at being Muslim again.