Stereotyping Rankles Silent, Secular Majority of American Muslims
Khalid Pervaiz is an American Muslim, an investment banker in Los Angeles with two young daughters. On the door of his home is a Christmas wreath made by his 7- year-old, and in the living room is a Christmas tree with an angel on top. His daughters go to the mosque, or masjid, on Sundays for classes in the Koran, but Mr. Pervaiz himself goes once a year on the major Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr.
"I had the privilege of being exposed to other religions from the very beginning, so I wasn't so fixed on the idea that Islam is the only way to live," Mr. Pervaiz said. "Every once in a blue moon I will go for my Friday prayers, but I still think I'm a good Muslim. If I don't go and pray five times a day, I don't think I'm less of a Muslim. I'm just not a practicing, going-to-the-masjid Muslim."
In behavior and belief, Mr. Pervaiz is among an overlooked silent majority of Muslims in America. They call themselves moderates, but another way to describe them is as cultural Muslims, akin to the assimilated cultural Jews who identify as Jewish, eat gefilte fish and celebrate Passover, but are for the most part not observant and not affiliated with a synagogue.
The cultural Muslims may attend prayers in mosques once a year on Id al-Fitr, not unlike Christians who make it to church only on Easter or Jews who attend services only on the High Holy Days. They may fast intermittently in the monthlong holiday of Ramadan, but they do not pray regularly. And yet they consider themselves good Muslims.
Generally, a Muslim is defined by faith in the religion of Islam; however, in the modern world there are religiously unobservant, agnostic or atheist individuals who still identify with the Muslim culture due to family background or personal experiences. This group is best described as cultural Muslims, since they are identified by association with a Muslim community rather than Islamic faith or rituals. Malise Ruthven discusses the term in Islam: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2000) as follows:
There is, however, a secondary meaning to 'Muslim' which may shade into the first. A Muslim is one born to a Muslim father who takes on his or her parents' confessional identity without necessarily subscribing to the beliefs and practices associated with the faith, just as a Jew may describe him- or herself as 'Jewish' without observing the Halacha. In non-Muslim societies, such Muslims may subscribe to, and be vested with, secular identities. The Muslims of Bosnia, descendants of Slavs who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule, are not always noted for attendance at prayer, abstention from alcohol, seclusion of women and other social practices associated with believing Muslims in other parts of the world. They were officially designated as Muslims to distinguish them from (Orthodox) Slavs and (Catholic) Croats under the former Yugoslavian communist regime. The label 'Muslim' indicates their ethnicity and group allegiance, but not necessarily their religious beliefs. In this limited context (which may apply to other Muslim minorities in Europe and Asia), there may be no contradiction between being Muslim and being atheist or agnostic, just as there are Jewish atheists and Jewish agnostics... It should be noted, however, that this secular definition of Muslim (sometimes the terms 'cultural Muslim' or 'nominal Muslim' are used) is very far from being uncontested.
Secular Muslims? Cultural Muslims? Skeptical Muslims? Atheist Muslims? Who knew?
Maybe we really are cousins.
I wonder, is there a Muslim Reconstructionist movement in the works?