Are all things American inevitable?

elderly muslimThe question of whether to place the elderly in a nursing home is all too common in America. The benefits are there, as are the negatives. Religion plays a big factor, but the quality of medical care seems to trump theological concerns at some point in the life of an elderly person. Lynette Clemetson of The New York Times snagged an excellent story on this issue Tuesday, except she applied it to the growing population of American Muslims:

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. -- As a founder of the growing Shiite Muslim community here, Hussein Walji oversaw the building of the area's first mosque. He directed construction of its youth center, and followers hailed him as a visionary for adding an auditorium for ecumenical functions like the M&M picnic for Muslims and Methodists.

But even family members find Mr. Walji's latest expansion uncomfortably American: he is developing plans for an assisted living and nursing complex in this Minneapolis suburb.

"I could never do it," said Mohamed Remtula, Mr. Walji's brother-in-law, his ailing mother at his side in his living room as he and Mr. Walji discussed the planned complex. "It just is not in our culture."

I particularly appreciate the sections of the article dealing with the individual struggles of aging American Muslims and their families. Anyone could relate, and it gave me a greater appreciation for the level of importance Islam places on family.

The story is an excellent example of an immigrant trend piece, except applied to a highly religious group of immigrants who take their theology seriously:

The Koran does not directly deal with how to care for aging parents. But prophetic teachings emphasize children's responsibility to care for parents, as they were cared for as infants. Traditionally, families and religious leaders have interpreted this as a duty to care for parents at home.

"Yes, it is a mandate to take care of one's parents, but it is not explained how to do that," said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an organization of mosques. "You can keep your parents at home and not truly be caring for them, if you cannot meet their needs."

Other traditional teachings have been updated to meet contemporary needs, Mr. Syed said. Day care and baby-sitting help, also once thought of as a violation of religious obligation to family, are now accepted by many working Muslim families.

While I thought the piece was solid, I would have appreciated if the theology that drives Muslims' faithfulness to their elderly was unpacked a bit more and then compared to Christian and Jewish theology. That may be a bit too much to ask for in a news story, but the scant reference to the teachings of the Quran left many unanswered questions.

Also, is the interpretation of the Quran strictly used by Shiites? Or Arabs? Islam is anything but monolithic, as Mollie pointed out in her last post, so the article should have shown us some of those perspectives.

Photo via Flickr.

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