Imam Zaid Shakir: Prominent American Muslim Leader speaks to

Imam Zaid Shakir, one of the imams from the Zaytuna Institute, renowned for its important Islamic educational programs and activities in America, spoke with One of the most influential imams known in the West, Imam Zaid starts from the example of the programs prepared by the Zaytuna Institute that are directed towards young people, and tells us how an atmosphere of communication can be established with young people in the modern world. Imam Zaid also indicates the fine line between tradition and religion.

Deriving from the Zaytuna example, what can you name as the key element in attracting youth to religion?

You have to have a relevant message that takes the teachings of the religion and makes it relevant for their lives and issues. Alhamdulillah, we have a lot of young people here; they want religion, because they have seen the emptiness of the secular promises; they have seen the failure of the left generally speaking, they have seen the excesses in abuses and treachery of the right and so they want to have an understanding of religion that has meaning in their lives. So we try to give them a message that does that.

Then what kind of modern vehicles do you utilize to manage this?

As Zaytuna, we try to use the Internet, publications, recordings. We have access to technology, we have the ability to broadcast messages over wide audiences and we have the ability to literally be in touch with the entire world in real time. So we have to take advantage of that. So one thing I do is, I have a monthly live webcast. We have participants from all over different parts of the world, mostly in North America. So there are all sorts of things we can do with modern technologies, as you say. It is just a question of using it. Other people are also using it and creating social networks via internet, so Muslims should the same. In our day, our first means of getting information about the world was newspaper. We used to get out mini gazettes. But now people log on to the internet and so for young people, this is their means of being touch with the world and we have to take advantage of it.

In multicultural settling like America, is it not difficult to separate tradition from religion at times?  

Well I think, it makes it easy, because if you are in a culture, say like Turkey where everyone shares the same basic culture, everyone's Turkish, everyone's Hanafi, everyone has common understanding of Islam, generally speaking, then it is easy for people to conflate culture with Islam, because there is one form of integrated cultural and religious manifestation. Whereas in a more multicultural environment, you have Muslims, Turkish Muslims, Saudi Arab Muslims, Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis, Algerians, Moroccans, Nigerians, Malaysians, Pakistanis, Bengalese, Indians... Everyone has a different cultural reality, so you can begin to contrast and say ‘well, this is cultural, and that's Islam." Whereas when you have a monoculture, it is very difficult to separate what is culture from what is from Islam. A person in Pakistan may think that "shalvar chamis" are Muslim clothes, because everyone there is a Muslim and that's what everyone over there wears. Whereas here, only the Pakistani Muslims wear them and the Arab Muslims wear something else and the African Muslims wear something else. So then, that clothing is unidentified with Islam. What's identified Islam is having loose clothing. I don't have to dress like a Pakistani, I don't have to dress like an Arab and I don't have to dress like an African. I just have to try to dress loose clothing. So it's easier in a sense to separate cultural forms of Islam in a multicultural environment.



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