He discussed several uniquely American issues that early Muslim immigrants had to face. First, how does one determine the qibla? He cited the interesting case of the Albanian Islamic Center, which has two mihrabs: one faces northeast and the other faces southeast. He ascribed this to the early immigrants’ view that the qibla should be based on a flat map (the “rhumb” view). As time passed, however, many Muslims adopted the “great circle route,” which determined the qibla according to Earth’s shape. Instead of destroying the original mihrab, the center’s members indicated the new direction by placing a prayer mat on the floor.
After this he remarked that some of the enslaved African Muslims turned toward the east, most immigrant Muslims faced the southeast, and the Nation of Islam faced the west (toward Chicago). When Warith Deen Mohammed integrated most of his father’s followers into the orthodox Sunni community, they turned their
faces toward Makkah. He compared this to the revelation bestowed upon the Prophet to face Makkah instead
In closing, he stated that determining the qibla is still being debated in America, and thus a kind of “anomie” exists, as if one were “praying inside the Ka‘bah” and thus can face any direction.
Second, how “Islamic” is the English language? This question used to carry a great deal of baggage due to British colonialism and English’s close relationship with Christian missionary efforts. He mentioned Ismail al-Faruqi’s Toward Islamic English as an attempt “to make English compatible with Islam.” However, he maintained that this is no longer an issue, at least among the younger generation, because they were born in this country, have no direct experience with colonialism and missionary activities, and are fully at home in the language.
Third, is America part of Dar al-Islam (the Abode of Islam) or Dar al-Harb (the Abode of War)? Early Muslim immigrants saw America as a “dirty” culture. When they saw that it was not all bad, however, they devised a “justification” for staying in this non-Islamic land: Dar al-Da‘wah (the Abode of Calling to Islam). As their interaction with mainstream America increased, they began to criticize Muslim countries and developed the idea of Dar al-Ahd (the Abode of Social Contract). In other words, “we can live here, obey the law, practice our religion, but we don’t want to assimilate.” As they acquired a more accurate understanding of America and what it stood for, they began to see the Constitution as the best “Muslim” constitution and American values as “Muslim” values. Right now, according to him, American Muslims consider America Dar al-Salaam, meaning that although it is non-Islamic, it is “more Muslim than Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey.”
He then briefly addressed other issues, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) campaigns to educate Muslims about their rights and encourage them to vote and become active citizens; how Prophet Abraham has become a major figure, especially in interfaith circles, whereas he enjoys no such distinction in the Muslim world; and the rise of Muslim ethnic comedy after 9/11. These comedians’ material is not based on the immigrant experience and what happened “back home,” but on what they have experienced in America. Their stage is the “symbolic airport,” because that is how Islam and Muslims entered the American imagination.
During the Question and Answer session, he made several interesting points:
• Muslims have more confidence now and not so much anxiety as before.
• The absence of anti-Muslim campaigns would mean that Muslims were not even being recognized. Thus, in a rather counter-intuitive way, such negativity becomes a “path for inclusion” and “actually helps integration.”
• Ethical pluralism is not necessarily directed against Islam. Given that Muslims’ continued survival in America depends upon mutual respect among communities (e.g., civil unions and homosexuality), this fact should be understood and accepted.
• Anti-Muslim prejudice is stronger in Europe because European “identities” are not “rootless,” as is the case with their American and Canadian counterparts.
• The “real face” of Islam in America will not appear for a long time, for it is still in the process of becoming.
Dr. Bilici closed his lecture by mentioning that his next project, “Frontiers of America,” will explore the presence of Muslims in such American-specific institutions as chaplaincy, the political sphere, and halal food vendors.