Who Gets to Be Part of a Community?

I have a bit of a bad habit – sometimes I expect everyone to have the same standards as me, whether it’s with movies, books, or even behavior. I sometimes hold people to a moral and ethical standard that really isn’t fair of me to do so like: Why do people buy popcorn at the movie theater? Don’t they realize how overpriced it is? And then I take a step back and try to understand that just because that’s how I feel doesn’t mean everyone has to think the same way.

Maybe the popcorn example is slightly lame but you get the gist of what I’m saying.

I think I used to do that with religion. When I was younger, everything was black and white when it came to Islam. Do that. Check. Don’t do this. Check. Make sure to do this and that. Check and check. But it’s not that simple and so I grew out of that way of thinking a long time ago.

I think the shifting of my view can be traced back to when I had a blog on Livejournal. In addition to my personal blog, I also belonged to the “Islam” community on the platform. I rarely posted, but ended up reading a lot of what people posted and leaving comments now and then. It was the first time I got to get a perspective of Islam and Muslims outside of the Muslims I knew and the Islam I grew up with here in the Bay.

Anyone could join the community, Muslim or not, and so there were people there who weren’t Muslim but were either interested in the religion or just wanted to understand it a bit more. There was one guy like that who would either post questions now and then or comment on others’ posts. One time, someone else posted a question in order to get feedback from the community and this guy posted a comment, giving his opinion of the matter and stating just that, that it was his opinion.

There was this Muslim person that was a bit… aggressive and replied to his comment in a hostile manner with a “What do you know? You’re not even Muslim.” I remember reading that and doing a literal *facepalm*. You shouldn’t talk to people like that. Ever. Bro wasn’t trying to give an Islamic opinion, just his own.

He totally disappeared from the Islam community.

Many months later, he resurfaced and mentioned somewhere that he left because of the hostility in the community. It was a completely understandable reaction. He shouldn’t have felt ostracized from the community he voluntarily joined.

This leads to the question of – So who gets to be part of the community?

There was a discussion of this at Taleef* during the Sunday night class. Who gets to be part of the Muslim community in general? We went over this topic by talking about the Public Minimum versus the Private Maximum, a concept construed by Dr. Sherman Jackson and explained to us by the teacher and Taleef founder Usama Canon. The “Public Minimum” is the minimum it takes for someone to be part of the community. The “Private Maximum” is our own practice of the religion. The issue is that the minimum hasn’t been defined and the problem erupts when people try to export their own Private Maximum to the Public Minimum and use their standards to say who even gets to be part of the community. What, you don’t feed the homeless, deliver babies, put out forest fires, do all the prayers (plus the optional ones), and fast every other day? And you call yourself a Muslim??

In the class, we were asked our opinion of who can belong to the community. I really liked the response of someone who said whoever “shows up”. You come to events, a class, awesome. Welcome! Religious affiliation doesn’t even come in to play, which makes sense for a place like Taleef where people who aren’t Muslim sometimes come as well to get an understanding of the religion.

The Taleef Mural

For me, it all related back to the incident on Livejournal. One became part of the “Islam” community because they happened to click join. There were no questions anyone needed to answer to determine who was who or to justify why they were joining the community in the first place. It’s unfortunate what happened to that one guy because what everyone should have realized, especially that person who was unfairly hostile, is that this guy belonged to the community because he wanted to be there. We all needed to respect that this fact was all that was necessary.

So I’m down with that definition of the Public Minimum.

As to my own Maximum… well my practices are private and I don’t really have an opinion on what anyone’s maximum should be. The only thing that I will say about my max is I’m not where I need to be yet and a lifetime of learning still awaits, InshAllah.

*I’ve mentioned Taleef before – it’s the place where I subtly asked my question about being bitten by zombies… without ever actually asking about being bitten by zombies.

4 thoughts

  1. Great post. Funny, my next post is going to be along these lines. Something about individuals experiences and how we can respect each other if we first understand how uniquely individual we already are. I would love to think I’m part of the minimum for sure in my support for you and your religious freedoms. Thanks for sharing. Please write more. One thing I noticed right away was the tone of this piece. Your writing set the tone to be very pensive and thoughtful while being respectful of all. Great job.

    1. Thanks Tony! All the blog posting you have been doing lately is inspring and I really do need to write more!

      Also, I would definitely see you as part of the minimum in any community as you are always really respectful of everyone you meet!

  2. I really do like this post. In a little bit different interpretation of Public Minimum and Private Maximum, it s even worse situation when there is Public Maximum (often being fake) and Private Minimum.
    Living where I do live, that inversion became clearly visible.
    From ex socialist country where there were not so much religion in public life, suddenly with new constitution religion became a tool for making goals. Of course there are many good people, being religious or not, but also a lot of people who accents religion too much as their outfit, hoping they will be recognize as a desirable in some circles but without really growing as a humans, better persons or in any other mean (making that private maximum along the way). And because there are different religion groups here, without any being really major, it becomes a powerfull way of an advertising and making artificial segregtaions letting very few people to benefit from it.

    I truly believe that the way my grandparents being believers, without everyday advertising their believing, rather truly trying to become better people through everyday practicing their religion and making their as u said Private Maximum in their own religion. As result it had Public Maximum but not in their own religion, but in those common things all people benefit from, goodness, kindness, tolerance. I think only in that way religion is not ‘L’art pour l’art’ thing, rather something that produces good things for all people, regardless which religion they are or do they believe in something at all.

    Again, I m sorry for my faulty English, hope it s still understandable, and also for my too long comment.

    1. I really appreciate your thoughts Alma! That is interesting that there could be an element of “fakery” when people try to uphold a much more pious vision of themselves to the public when it’s all just for show. I read a book one time where the author admitted to doing something of the sort in terms of the way he talked, dressed, and acted, in order for others to perceive him as a very religious man. Although he owned up to it in his book, I found it all quite disgusting for someone to actually do that!

      Thanks again for the comment!

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