October 25, 2016


MY MUSLIM FATHER'S FAITH IN AMERICA (Mohammed Naseehu Ali , 10/24/16, The New Yorker)

It was during one of our late-evening tête-à-têtes before my freshman year that my father finally divulged his reasons for sending me to the United States.

"Allah has blessed that country," he told me. Knowing that such declarations were usually preludes to lengthier reflection, I assumed a ruminative posture and waited for him to continue. "One must wonder why Allah chose to bestow such abundance of wealth and glory on a nation of unbelievers," he said. "Remember, they don't worship Allah; they don't pray five times a day like we do. And yet Allah continues to bestow his blessings on their country." The reason, he said, was very simple: Americans were the ones doing Allah's work, by steadfastly upholding the Islamic tenet of zakat--a form of alms-giving that makes up one of the Five Pillars of Islam. "Their government welcomes people who are seeking a better life," my father said. "They shield and protect the weak, the poor, and the persecuted from all over the world, and, the most important of all, they support orphans and protect the rights of women, as instructed by the Prophet Muhammad in his last sermon."

Father was quick to remind me that, despite the enmity between the Reagan Administration and Ghana's military leadership, "it was America, and not Saudi Arabia," that sent shiploads of food to Ghanaians during the famine that struck our country in 1982. I was only twelve at the time, yet the image of bags of rice and corn and canned Dutch cheese, delivered to our local mosque with "u.s.a.i.d. from the american people" emblazoned in blue and red, remained vivid in my memory. "All of these are good deeds we Muslims are required to practice, but we have allowed the Americans and Europeans to lead in this effort," my father said. "And that's why they are blessed with peace and prosperity while we are afflicted with social distress and civil strife all over the Muslim world. If you think deeper, you'll realize that Americans are the true followers of the Islamic doctrine of peace, charity, and respect for human dignity."

Father also impressed on me that the scholarship funds I had obtained from Bennington College were donated by wealthy Americans specifically to pay for the schooling of African students like me. In his mind, such philanthropy was as Islamic as building a mosque. "By giving education to a Muslim, the wealthy donor had furthered the cause of Islam, and the resultant good karma is enough to keep the United States elevated in the eyes of Allah," he said.

Father had other ideas about American ascendancy. He believed that U.S. leaders were mighty because they were God-fearing (he cited as evidence the country's motto, "In God We Trust"), and that America was bolstered by the prayers of Muslims in Africa and Asia who depended upon the remittances made by their sons and daughters living and working in the United States. "We here pray daily for you and your country, and Allah listens," he once told me, long before I had even considered becoming a U.S. citizen. As risible as his theories sometimes seemed, I have come to make sense of most of them in the past twenty-eight years, as I've comfortably assimilated into American culture.

Posted by at October 25, 2016 5:53 PM