My mother worships at an evangelical mega-church, one of those “born-again” organizations that have sprung up across the United States in recent years. Her church, like others of its kind, has attracted thousands of members and their dollars, keeps growing year after year, adding programs and services, expanding and developing its capacity for Christian outreach, with single-minded focus, dedication, and effectiveness.
This particular church dedicates itself to global ministry. It now trains and supports full-time missionaries to dozens of countries around the world. The missionary families go to “third world” countries ostensibly to teach, administer medical care, or develop cottage industries for women and children. They return to the States from time to time to give presentations on their progress. They sometimes bring back human proof of their success.
Recently, my mom came back from church energized by one of these presentations. A pair of Romanian girls gave a heartfelt speech about they had been rescued from prostitution by the missionaries, and how thankful they felt for their new faith in Jesus. My mom wanted me to be interested in the story, and I pretended, for her sake, to be interested, but inside, my heart cringed.
While Christian mega-churches organize, proselytize, work together, and rejoice in their success, Muslims are still trying to separate Islam from political terrorism. While Christian evangelicals bury their real goal in the delivery of desperately needed social and economic services that should be available to all people in all places, without an underlying religious impetus, Muslims are still fussing about head-scarves and the rights of women to drive cars and work outside the home.
The Christian evangelicals, like the Tea Party to which most of them belong, are doing something right in America, right in terms of achieving their goals. I don’t like evangelicals, with their back-door approach, and I despise the Tea Party, with its contempt for the rest of us. I recognize that my negative attitude towards these groups masks a sort of jealousy. I want to see Muslim mega-mosques– here, in the United States—- doing the rescuing, the teaching, the doctoring, and the ministering to populations that need these services.
Oh, I know, we are making progress. My community’s Islamic Center continues to grow in size and influence. An additional mosque is planned for my end of town, but maybe I’m still “homesick” for the Muslim majority environment in which I cultivated my Islam. Maybe I still miss hearing the azan from a dozen nearby mosques. Maybe I wish daily activities could be planned around prayer times rather than business hours. Maybe I wish restaurants could close during the days of Ramadan.
Evangelicals are certainly supported by the culture of the masses. American culture has evolved around the daily practices of Christians, not Muslims, and therein lies an impediment to the further integration of the Muslim lifestyle into the American mainstream. Muslims must insert themselves into this pre-existing culture, rather than build one from scratch. My community offers instruction on Sundays and calls it, “Sunday School.”
The evidence does show that Muslim communities are growing is size and influence, right here in my community. I must give thanks for this, rather than let my heart sink because of the superiority of evangelical efforts. Islam has not matured in America, and will not mature in the near future. In some ways, living here as a Muslim is more difficult for me than for a Muslim who was either raised in a Muslim society or converted to Islam without having lived in a Muslim country. I was raised as a member of the majority, and converted to Islam while living in a Muslim majority. I don’t like being a member of the minority with respect to religion.
This is my personal struggle. I accept it.