Nature instills in animals two basic instincts: fight or flight. But there is a third option practiced in nature and among civilized people. The third option is hiding. Top of the line predators hide and wait in ambush for their prey. Herbivores hide in trees and grass, depending on their skin color or hair making them almost invisible and safe from the animals that hunt them.
Most black Americans had no choice when it came to the civil rights movement. In America there is something that no one discusses that’s called the “One drop rule.” One drop of black blood in your bloodline makes you black. So for any black person with the slightest black features, there was no hiding or not talking about it and passing. For most blacks, that was impossible. There were a few blacks who successfully hid in white America, but they were few and far between. Back in the early 20th century, whites were well aware that some blacks might slip through the color barrier and hide in plain sight. As a result, the greatest insult from those days was for one white man to say to another that there was black blood in his family. In 1912, Ty Cobb, the Hall of Fame baseball player is reported to have went into the stands and stomped a fan with cleats and beat him senseless for calling him a “half nigger.”
Today people hide behind ideologies or hide their ideologies. Blacks today who want to pass into the white world adopt ideas that may be unpopular in the black community. Clarence Thomas is the best example. Blacks in the Republican party or the conservative movement in general would also fall into this category. Being a marginalized minority is tough. Blacks certainly were locked out of opportunities for advancement and still lag behind the country in many indicators mainly because a black person can almost never hide his black skin. There is an interesting but unspoken of African cultural practice of skin bleaching, but even those Africans who successfully bleach themselves are not trying to pass for white as much as they are rejecting their naturally dark skin.
This phenomenon of hiding is as old as nature itself. It has been a part of the animal world from the beginning. Hiding has its benefits. It is an economical action, not requiring the massive amounts of energy required for out running or out-fighting a predator. As Muslims, many of us have adopted the hide in plain sight defense used in the animal kingdom. The problem is, when Muslims hide, it is much more complicated than when an animal crawls into its hole. There is a huge financial benefit for Muslims in America who don’t get too public about their faith. The West in general and America in particular pay huge rewards for outsiders who excel at assimilating and adopting American culture.
Unlike the Civil Rights struggle of the 60s, Muslims can pass the line into mainstream society simply by a change of clothes or a shave. Go to the Christmas party. Meet with the guys at the bar after work, and before you know it, you are on a fast track to good money and the American middle class. Many of these middle class, almost invisible Muslims are major contributors at your local masjid and their contributions are the life blood of many communities, so obviously there is a little bit of condescension and confusion about invisible Muslims versus the “show offs” with long beards and small pockets who spend all their time at the masjid instead of blending into a prosperous society.
All masjids reap finacial rewards because of invisible Muslims who go out into the dunya and bring back buckets of cash. But there is a down side. An essential element of being an invisible Muslim is that either people don’t know you are a Muslim, or if they do know you are a Muslim, they know you as a person who does not take Islam seriously…like the terrorist do for example. Or they think you are “practicing taqiyyah,” a sleeper in waiting and their tolerance then is nothing but keep you close so you can be watched.
Worst of all, non Muslims end up being misinformed about Islam because millions of Muslims literally refuse to practice Islam if they are not at home or the masjid. So the non-Muslims who interact with the invisible Muslims, learn that Muslim women don’t have to wear hijab and that Muslim men don’t have to go pray on Friday afternoon, which only adds to America’s confusion about what Islam really is. Invisible Muslims make all kind of excuses for not practicing Islam at work or around non Muslims. They never wear the kufi or the hijab outside of the masjid and even stop attending Jumah, because “you will never get ahead like that in America.” A major effect of this behavior is that many non Muslim Americans claim they have never met a Muslim, when a better truth is that they have never met a Muslim who was crazy enough to actually practice Islam in their presence. This leads to non Muslims getting the idea that any Muslim they meet are not supposed to wear beards, pray in the workplace, wear hijab or attend Juma’h.
Many public school administrators don’t even know the Muslim day of worship because the majority of Muslim parents refuse to take their kids out of school on Friday afternoons. The harm here is that then the serious Muslim parent comes along and tries to practice Islam around the same non Muslims, who because of their extensive exposure to invisible Muslims, see the Muslim parent or employee who wears a beard or a hijab or who wants to take their kids with them to Juma’ah on Friday as some sort of liars or extremists.
In other words, when some of us hide what we are, we reinforce the idea with our Jewish and Christian co-workers and neighbors that Muslims are, as a moral issue, supposed to hide what we are, which reinforces the idea that Muslims have to hide our beliefs, because we are ashamed and know what we do is wrong. The big wrong in hiding is that the hider is not the one who pays, but the Muslim who stands for Allah is the one who has to fight two or three times harder just to fix the false truths established by the ones who hide. And the invisible Muslims must measure the money they bring in against the increased hardship they create for those of us who believe that a central part of our religion is that, unless our lives are in immediate danger, we are not supposed to hide.