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Challenges  of Muslims Living in America

Ibrahim B. Syed


In Qur’an, Surah Ale-Imran, 3: 200arabic



[3:200] O you who believe, you shall be steadfast, you shall persevere, you shall be united, you shall observe GOD, that you may succeed.


Presently many Muslims live in predominantly non-Muslim lands as a ‘minority’. Muslims have voluntarily migrated to these lands.  Some have come involuntarily. Descendents of those who were brought involuntarily,  are reverting back to  Islam, face unnumerable problems. Those who came voluntarily also face the same problems.

It is no secret that we witness family problems and family breakups; teenager reellion and disrespect to parents, teachers, grandparents, siblings and other figures of legitimate authority.

We see addiction to tobacco, alcohol and drug addiction. Muslims are feeling disenchantment with their surroundings and with their faith.

Muslims  have tried to solve their problems on an individual as well as parochial basis and very often Muslims end up getting entangled with the non-Muslim Social Service agencies and law enforcement agencies whether they like it or not. These approaches have produced varied results, but in reality have produced no satisfactory long-lasting solutions.  Even in those lands where Muislims have lived for three or more generations and where predominantly “Muslim” neighborhoods have become common, the desired solutions still escape them.

These problems are not unique to Muslims alone. Non-Muslims living in America are neck-deep in the same entanglements and desparately seeking for answers. In many cases a   Muslim may be  comapred  to an ostrich  chased by a hyena. It puts its head in the sand and the hyena disappears. The hyena does not disappear, but the ostrich cannot see it  as it is being caught and devoured by the hyena.

The life our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was not accidentally spent in various situations. His thirteen years of stay in Makkah where the majority was non-Muslim is a lesson and guidance for Muslims in  America.  Subsequently there are unnumerable examples when Muslims lived in a land that was predominantly inhabited by non-Muslims of various kinds.

The important lesson the Muslims of America should learn from the Makkan life of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is utmost patience  in all matteers but especially those dealing with the non-Muslims.

One can see this patience in the treatment of Bilal by his slave master, Umayyah ibn Khalaf.

Umayyah ibn Khalaf

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Umayyah ibn Khalaf ibn Safwan[1] was a Meccan Arab, a leading member of the Quraish and head of the of Bani Jumah. He was an opponent of the Muslims led by  Prophet Muhammad (SAW)  and is best known as the master of Bilal ibn Ribah, a slave he tortured for converting to Islam.

He was rumored to have a relation with Layla bint Harmalah

His son, Safwan ibn Umayah, became a Muslim after the conquest of Mecca, another one, named 'Ali, was killed at Badr.

Opposition to Islam

Umayyah was involved in the pagan religious ceremonies of Mecca, where he distributed perfume in the square of the Kaaba.

After Muhammad began to preach against idolatry, Umayyah became a staunch opponent of the new teaching.

His most notable action in this regard was that he subjected his slave Bilal ibn Ribah to torture for having adopted Islam. Bilal was to lie down on hot burning desert sand and had a heavy stone put on his chest which made breathing difficult for him. And since he still refused to denounce Islam, a heavy person was to jump on the stone. Bilal used to repeat "Ahad! Ahad! (One God! One God!) .

 Friendship with Abd al-Rahman

Ummayah had a close friend called Abdu-Amr ibn Awf, but their friendship was strained when Abdu Amr converted to Islam . Abdu Amr changed his name to Abd al-Rahman and later emigrated to Medina.

Because of their friendship, the two formed a written agreement, according to which Abd-al-Rahman was to protect Umayah's property and/or family in Medina, while Umayyah would protect Abd-al-Rahman's in Mecca. When Abd al-Rahman's name was mentioned in the document, Umayyah protested, saying "I do not know Ar-Rahman" and requested that the pre-Islamic name "Abdu Amr" should be used, to which Ad al-Rahman yielded .

 Pilgrimage of Sa'd

Umayyah was also an intimate friend with Sa'd ibn Mua'dh , the leader of the Banu Aus[citation needed]. When Umayyah was in Medina on his way to Syria , he used to stay with Sa'd and when Sa'd was in Mecca, he used to stay with Umayah

Prior to the Battle of Badr, Sa'd visited Mecca once to perform his Umrah with Umayyah, when they came across Abu Jahl. They had an argument, and as it became heated, Sa'd threatened Abu Jahl with stopping the Meccan trade route to Syria and informed Umayyah that his life was threatened by Muhammad

 Battle of Badr

In 624, the Meccan decided to confront the Muslim forces that threatened a caravan from Syria led by Abu Sufyan ibn Harb. Abu Jahl was rallying the people for war, saying "Go and protect your caravan."

Umayyah however, anxious about Sa'd's warning, disliked to leave Mecca, but Abu Jahl told him "O Abu Safwan! If the people see you staying behind though you are the chief of the people of the Valley, then they will remain behind with you."

Abu Jahl urged until Umayyah said "As you have forced me to change my mind, by Allah, I will buy the best camel in Mecca". Umayyah told his wife "O Um Safwan, prepare what I need (for the journey)." She said to him, "O Abu Safwan! Have you forgotten what your Yathribi brother told you?" He said, "No, but I do not want to go with them but for a short distance." So when Umaiya went out, he used to tie his camel wherever he camped.

In the battle, Umayyah was captured by his old friend Abd-al-Rahman ibn Awf. He was killed by a group of Muslims led by his former slave Bilal, in spite of Abd al-Rahman's protestations and his attempt to shield Umayyah with his own body. One of Umayyah's sons was also killed at Badr, defending his father.

A narration attributed to Abd-al-Rahman ibn Awf reports:

“ On the day of Badr, when all the people went to sleep, I went up the hill to protect him. Bilal saw him (i.e. Umayyah) and went to a gathering of Ansar and said, "(Here is) Umayyah ibn Khalaf! Woe to me if he escapes!" So, a group of Ansar went out with Bilal to follow us (Abd-al-Rahman and Umayyah). Being afraid that they would catch us, I left Umayyah's son for them to keep them busy but the Ansar killed the son and insisted on following us. Umayyah was a fat man, and when they approached us, I told him to kneel down, and he knelt, and I laid myself on him to protect him, but the Ansar killed him by passing their swords underneath me, and one of them injured my foot with his sword. (The sub narrator said, " 'Abdur-Rahman used to show us the trace of the wound on the back of his foot.") ”

Sunnis tend to view this as Sahih and have included it in Sahih Bukhari

Khabbab ibn al-Aratt.

One can see this patience in the treatment of Khabbab (RA) ibn al-Aratt by his slave mistress, Umm Anmaar.

A woman named Umm Anmaar who belonged to the Khuza-a tribe in Makkah went to the slave market in the city. She  wanted to buy herself a youth for her domestic chores and to exploit his labor for economic gains. As she scrutinized the  faces of those who were displayed for sale, her eyes fell ON a boy who was obviously not yet in his teens. She saw that he  was strong and healthy and that there were clear signs of intelligence on his face. She needed no further incentive to  purchase him. She paid and walked away with her new acquisition. 

On the way home, Umm Anmaar turned to the boy and said: 

"What's your name, boy?'' 


"And what's your father's name'?'' 

"Al-Aratt. " 

"Where do you come from?" 

"From Najd." 

"Then you are an Arab!" 

"Yes, from the Banu Tamim." 

"How then did you come into the hands of the slave dealers in Makkah?"  "One of the Arab tribes raided our territory. They took our cattle and captured women and children. I was among the youths  captured. I passed from one hand to another until I ended up in Makkah . . ." 

Umm Anmaar placed the youth as an apprentice to one of the blacksmiths in Makkah to learn the art of making swords. The  youth learnt quickly and was soon an expert at the profession. When he was strong enough, Umm Anmaar set up a  workshop for him with all the necessary tools and equipment from making swords. Before long he was quite famous in  Makkah for his excellent craftsmanship. People also liked dealing with him because of his honesty and integrity. Umm Anmaar  gained much profit through him and exploited his talents to the full. 

In spite of his youthfulness, Khabbab displayed unique intelligence and wisdom. Often, when he had finished work and was  left to himself, he would reflect deeply on the state of Arabian society which was so steeped in corruption. He was appalled  at the aimless wandering, the ignorance and the tyranny which he saw. He was one of the victims of this tyranny and he  would say to himself: 

"After this night of darkness, there must be a dawn." And he hoped that he would live long enough to see the darkness  dissipate with the steady glow and brightness of new light. 

Khabbab did not have to wait long. He was privileged to be in Makkah when the first rays of the light of Islam penetrated the  city. It emanated from the lips of Muhammad ibn Abdullah as he announced that none deserves to be worshipped or adored  except the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He called for an end to injustice and oppression and sharply criticized the  practices of the rich in accumulating wealth at the expense of the poor and the outcast. He denounced aristocratic privileges  and attitudes and called for a new order based on respect for human dignity and compassion for the underprivileged  including orphans, wayfarers and the needy. 

To Khabbab, the teachings of Muhammad were like a powerful light dispelling the darkness of ignorance. He went and  listened to these teachings directly from him. Without any hesitation he stretched out his hand to the Prophet in allegiance  and testified that "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His servant and His messenger." He was among the first ten  persons to accept Islam . 

Khabbab did not hide his acceptance of Islam from anyone. When the news of his becoming a Muslim reached Umm Anmaar,  she became incensed with anger. She went to her brother Sibaa ibn Abd al-Uzza who gathered a gang of youths from the  Khuzaa tribe and together they made their way to Khabbab. They found him completely engrossed in his work. Sibaa went  up to him and said: 

"We have heard some news from you which we don't believe." 

"What is it?" asked Khabbab. 

"We have been told that you have given up your religion and that you now follow that man from the Banu Ha shim ." 

"I have not given up my religion" replied Khabbab calmly. "I only believe in One God Who has no partner. I reject your idols  and I believe that Muhammad is the servant of God and His messenger." 

No sooner had Khabbab spoken these words than Sibaa and his gang set upon him. They beat him with their fists and with  iron bars and they kicked him until he fell unconscious to the ground, with blood streaming from the wounds he received. 

The news of what happened between Khabbab and his slave mistress spread throughout Makkah like wild-fire. People were  astonished at Khabbab's daring. They had not yet heard of anyone who followed Muhammad and who had the audacity to  announce the fact with such frankness and deviant confidence. 

The Khabbab affair shook the leaders of the Quraysh. They did not expect that a blacksmith, such as belonged to Umm  Anmaar and who had no clan in Makkah to protect him and no asabiyyah to prevent him from injury, would be bold enough to  go outside her authority, denounce her gods and reject the religion of her forefathers. They realized that this was only the  beginning . . . 

The Quraysh were not wrong in their expectations. Khabbab's courage impressed many of his friends and encouraged them  to announce their acceptance of Islam. One after another, they began to proclaim publicly the message of truth. 

In the precincts of the Haram, near the Kabah, the Quraysh leaders gathered to discuss the problem of Muhammad. Among  them were Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, al Walid ibn al-Mughira and Abu Jahl ibn Hisham. They noted that Muhammad was getting  stronger and that his following was increasing day by day, indeed hour by hour. To them this was like a terrible disease and  they made up their minds to stop it before it got out of control. They decided that each tribe should get hold of any follower  of Muhammad among them and punish him until he either recants his faith or dies. 

On Sibaa ibn Abd al-Uzza and his people fell the task of punishing Khabbab even further. Regularly they began taking him to  all open area in the city when the sun was at its zenith and the ground was scorching hot. They would take off his clothes  and dress him in iron armor and lay him on the ground. In the intense heat his skin would be seared and hit body would  become inert. When it appeared that all strength had let him, they would come up and challenge him: 

"What do you say about Muhammad'?" 

"He is the servant of God and His messenger. He has come with the religion of guidance and truth, to lead us from darkness  into light." 

They would become more furious and intensify their beating. They would ask about al-Laat and al-Uzza and he would reply  firmly: 

"Two idols, deaf and dumb, that cannot cause harm or bring any benefit..." 

This enraged them even more and they would take a big hot stone and place it on his back. Khabbab's pain and anguish  would be excruciating but he did not recant. 

The inhumanity of Umm Anmaar towards Khabbab was not less than that of her brother. Once she saw the Prophet speaking  to Khabbab at his workshop and she flew into a blind rage. Every day after that, for several days, she went to Khabbab's  workshop and punished him by placing a red hot iron from the furnace on his head. The agony was unbearable and he often  fainted. 

Khabbab suffered long and his only recourse was to prayer. He prayed for the punishment of Umm Anmaar and her brother.  His release from pain and suffering only came when the Prophet, peace be upon him, gave permission to his companions to  emigrate to Madinah. Umm Anmaar by then could not prevent him from going. She herself became afflicted with a terrible  illness which no one had heard of before. She behaved as if she had suffered a rabid attack. The headaches she had were  especially nerve-racking. Her children sought everywhere for medical help until finally they were told that the only cure was  to cauterize her head. This was done. The treatment, with a ret hot iron, was more terrible than all the headaches she  suffered. 

At Madinah, among the generous and hospitable Ansar, Khabbab experienced a state of ease and restfulness which he had  not known for a long time. He was delighted to be near the Prophet, peace be upon him, with no one to molest him or  disturb his happiness. 

He fought alongside the noble Prophet at the battle of Badr. He participated in the battle of Uhud where he had the  satisfaction of seeing Sibaa ibn Abd al-Uzza meet his end at the hands of Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib, the uncle of the  Prophet. 

Khabbab lived long enough to witness the great expansion of Islam under the four Khulafaa arRashidun--Abu Bakr, Umar,  Uthman and Ali. He once visited Umar during his caliphate. Umar stood up--he was in a meeting--and greeted Khabbab with  the words: 

"No one is more deserving than you to be in this assembly other than Bilal." He asked Khabbab about the torture and the  persecution he had received at the hands of the mushrikeen. Khabbab described this in some detail since it was still very  vivid in his mind. He then exposed his back and even Umar was aghast at what he saw. 

In the last phase of his life, Khabbab was blessed with wealth such as he had never before dreamed of. He was, however,  well-known for his generosity. It is even said that he placed his dirhams and his diners in a part of his house that was known  to the poor and the needy. He did not secure this money in any way and those in need would come and take what they  needed without seeking any permission or asking any questions. 

In spite of this, he was always afraid of his accountability to God for the way he disposed of this wealth. A group of  companions related that they visited Khabbab when he was sick and he said: 

"In this place there are eighty thousand dirhams. By God, I have never secured it any way and I have not barred anyone in  need from it." 

He wept and they asked why he was weeping. 

"I weep," he said, "because my companions have passed away and they did not obtain any such reward in this world. I have  lived on and have acquired this wealth and I fear that this will be the only reward for my deeds." 

Soon after he passed away. The Khalifah Ali ibn Abu Talib, may God be pleased with him, stood at his grave and said: 

"May God have mercy on Khabbab. He accepted Islam wholeheartedly. He performed hijrah willingly. He lived as a mujahid  and God shall not withhold the reward of one who has done good."

One can also witness this patience in the boycott and confinement of Muslims in Shi’b Abi Talib.

“The 10th year of the Prophethood was a year of extreme persecution and distress in the Holy prophet's life. The Quraish and the other tribes had continued their boycott of the Bani Hashim and the Muslims for three years and the Holy Prophet and the people of his family and Companions lay besieged in Shi'b Abi Talib. The Quraish had blocked up this locality from every side so that no supplies of any kind could reach the besieged people. Only during the Hajj season they were allowed to come out and buy some articles of necessity. But even at that time whenever Abu Lahab noticed any of them approaching the market place or a trading caravan he would call out to the merchants exhorting them to announce forbidding rates of their articles for them, and would pledge that he himself would buy those articles so that they did not suffer any loss. This boycott which continued uninterrupted for three years had broken the back of the Muslims and the Bani Hashim; so much so that at times they were even forced to eat grass and the leaves of trees.

At last, when the siege was lifted this year, Abu Talib, the Holy Prophet's uncle, who had been shielding him for ten long years, died, and hardly a month later his wife, Hadrat Khadijah, who had been a source of peace and consolation for him ever since the beginning of the call, also passed away. Because of these tragic incidents, which closely followed each other, the Holy Prophet used to refer to this year as the year of sorrow and grief.” (3).

During this endurance the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) taught us a number of lessons: to establish a strong and functionally united Muslim jamaat, not to become isolated from Muslims, not to become assimilated into the non-Muslim culture, but also not become isolationists and totally avoid interaction with non-Muslims.  If we were to follow thse practical examples, our success would be no less than Bilal and Khabbab ibn-al-Aratt (RA) for we would, like the Prophet (pbuh) and his companionins (R Anhum) be fulfilling the command of Allah (SWT), in Surah, Ale-Imraan, Verse 200



[3:200] O you who believe, you shall be steadfast, you shall persevere, you shall be united, you shall observe GOD, that you may succeed.

“O ye who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allah, in order that you may succeed.” (  Al-Qur’an, 3: 200)


1. Editorial “Challenges we face as Muslims in a Predominantly Non-Muslim Land.”  Iqra, Vol.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        21, No. 9-10, October 16, 2009



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