Imam Yassir Fazaga – an inspiring Muslim speaker known in the Middle East, Africa, and the West – serves as Imam at Brushy Creek Mosque in Austin, Texas. On Friday March 24, 2017, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan and staff had the opportunity to attend District 6’s conversation with the Muslim community event at Versante Canyon Community Center. Imam Yassir spoke to the crowd gathered in the community center’s cozy club house and answered questions from the attendees. We wanted to share with our atxd6 audience some of the insight offered by Imam Yassir and to ask him a few questions beyond his public talk.
After the age of 15, Imam Yasser moved from Eritea, in northeast Africa, to the United States. He pursued a Bachelors Degree in Islamic Studies, a Masters in Psychotherapy, and has a PhD in Psychology. As an introduction at the March event, the Imam offered some statistics on Islam to supplement his talk. After a few of these stats, our interview with the Imam begins:
Statistics on Islam:
- Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity), it is the fastest growing major religion.
- There are Sunni and Shia Muslims, representing 85% and 15% of the world’s Muslims, respectively.
- There are 3.3 million Muslims of all ages in the United States, or about 1% of the U.S. population.
- Not every Arab is a Muslim. There are Arabs who are Christian, Jewish, or Atheist.
- Under 20% of the worlds Muslims are Arabs. In fact, 62% of Muslims live across Indonesia, China, and Pakistan.
What are misconceptions of Muslims in the United States?
The media puts a magnifying glass on people of minority populations. Unfortunately, ISIS has overtaken the image that some non-Muslims have of Islam. ISIS is not Islamic; if you look at their actions, their largest group of victims are Muslims. ISIS picks anyone who disagrees with their ideology, not just non-Muslims. They have gone against the instruction of the Quran which states, “If you kill one person, you kill off entire humanity.”
The outrage by Muslims living in the United States towards ISIS is palpable. Muslims must continuously denounce ISIS as un-Islamic, and remind individuals living in the West that Islam is a non-violent religion.
Do you feel pressure being a Muslim in America? What are the key differences between being a Muslim in America and being a Muslim elsewhere?
Muslims in America have to be Muslims by choice because there is no societal pressure on Muslims to conform the teaching of Islam as in the rest of the Muslim world. Practicing Islam in the United States, compared to the Muslim world, is unchallenging due to the fact that freedom makes it easier for people to believe. For instance, here, Muslims may open Islamic centers, hold conferences, and create room for intellectual, societal, and spiritual growth. However, unlike the United States, in the Muslim world, it is not difficult to stop and pray in any location or to fast during the holy month of Ramadan, without constant reminders that you are the only one around that is doing so. There, Muslims encounter more encouragement, and a sense of common mutuality when it comes to Ramadan, Eid, and even Friday Prayers.
How does Sharia relate to American democracy?
Islam regulates the way of life for Muslims. Sharia law is the way that a Muslim governs him or herself. Muslims utilize Sharia law as a way to guide their behaviors and aspects. For example, Sharia Law states Islamic laws such as prohibiting Muslims from drinking alcohol and eating pork. In addition to ways to eating, it provides information on familial matters and regulations of marriage. What individuals may not know is that The U.S. Constitution and Sharia law do not oppose one another. They both promote the freedom to individuals.
What is Ramadan and how does fasting work?
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and it is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar. This year, Ramadan is from May 26 through June 25. Throughout the holy month, Muslims are to abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset. Muslims fast because they want to become closer to God. By fasting, they get a sense of feel for the lives of those who are less fortunate in life.
Ramadan is a time to detach from worldly pleasures and focus on one’s inner self. During this month, Muslims spend their times at mosques praying and reading the Quran. In addition, Muslim family and friends gather with one another during iftar – or dinner – in order to break their fast. After Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid Al Fitr that ends fasting upon Muslims. Eid Al Fitr is celebrated with family and friends. On the day of Eid, the Muslim attend a morning prayer, then go out and celebrate with breakfast and a day of festivities.
It seems that the Hijab (or headscarf) has a different connotation in various parts of the world. How does it differ in the United States and in the Middle East?
The Hijab is a veil or headscarf. While some Muslim women do not perceive the hijab to be obligatory to their faith, other Muslim women wear the hijab as a means of visibly expressing their Muslim identity. Most women or girls wearing the hijab are making a statement saying they are beyond the superficial exterior; they choose to not be judged on their appearance, but instead on their intellect and personality. In the United States, the overall perception of hijab is often a misconception of what it truly represents.
Some individuals believe that hijab is forced on Muslim women by men, and fail to see the choice. For me, it is at times confusing to see how individuals in the United States perceive hijab. After all, this is a country founded upon choice, and religious freedom. For many women that I know, the hijab is a way for them to confidently interact in society. Because wearing the hijab is done by choice, women in the United States feel safe enough to put it on.