I think it would be difficult for American Muslims to live in our country as Muslims live over here. In Afghanistan, their traditional practices are common to almost everyone, but in America, we would find these practices distracting, almost disruptive.
Imagine if there were employees in the workplace who insisted on taking a break in the middle of the afternoon to go somewhere and pray for awhile. Or insisted on taking every Friday off to attend services at the mosque. During Ramadan, they would get little sympathy from their boss if they became too weak towards the end of the day to work because they hadn’t eaten anything.
Our country was founded for religious freedom, but Muslims probably find it difficult to exercise their religious rights because our country is so used to being oriented towards a Judeo-Christian calendar. Our work week revolves around having off Saturday and/or Sunday. Workers are expected to work through the whole day, with breaks at certain accustomed times, like lunch. Our religious holidays are meaningless to Muslims, as theirs are to us.
I would think that Muslims in America would huddle together in their own communities like Hasidic Jews or Amish Christians, unable to assimilate easily into the regular workforce because of their particular religious practices. They would have to create communities that closed for business on Fridays, and shortened the workdays during Ramadan. They would have to create workplaces that allowed employees to take off for prayer every day. This is the normal lifestyle in places like Afghanistan, but it would be peculiar in America.
Perhaps that’s why countries like Afghanistan insist on calling themselves Islamic Republics – they may fear that becoming Westernized will make it difficult to live according to their religious traditions. I understand this fear. What sounds unusual for Americans is very normal here; in fact, it is unusual for an Afghan not to pray in the middle of the afternoon, or to not work on Friday, or to work less during Ramadan. It’s just part of their culture.
As we work to move this country forward, and as more and more Muslims come to America, we need to remember what freedom really means – the freedom to be oneself, to do what one believes, and to have others tolerate that which makes you different. That which makes you different is what makes you unique in all the world.
Islam is still one of the fastest-growing religions on the planet, and we will certainly see more and more Muslims in America. We need to find ways to accommodate their religious traditions as well as maintain our own. I believe God would commend us for this if we make a way for us all to worship him in our own ways.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.