Fears and Prospects: Should a Nigerian Muslim Japa to the USA

There are some misconceptions about Muslims of Nigerian background living in the Western world (Europe and North America). These misconceptions are noticed in both physical and online interactions, particularly when discussing Islam in America. Sometimes, it appears as though there are no devout Muslims in America, and that they aren't striving for Jannah (Paradise) as well. One might assume that upon arriving in the United States, one's commitment to Islam would wane due to the perception that the environment is predominantly non-Muslim (Kafir), making it challenging to maintain one's faith. Friends and family often inquire whether you are still practicing your religion or maintaining the same level of consciousness after moving to a Western country. These concerns are sometimes truly genuine and sometimes some fears are exaggerated.

In summary, to address these concerns, let's refer to a response to a similar question on Islamqa:

The basic principle is that it is not permissible for the Muslim to settle among the mushrikeen if he is unable to practice his religion openly while being able to emigrate to a Muslim country. This is indicated by evidence from the Qur’aan and Sunnah….

In the Sunnah, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “I disown every Muslim who settles among the mushrikeen.” Narrated by Abu Dawood, 2645; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood.

With regard to common sense, the Muslim who settles among the mushrikeen cannot carry out many of the rituals and visible acts of worship of Islam, in addition to the fact that he is exposing himself to temptation because of the permissiveness in those countries that is protected by their laws. The Muslim should not expose himself to temptations and trials.

I've even witnessed instances where scholars questioned a friend of mine about his decision to come to the United States, suggesting that he was entering a land of non-believers (Kufar) where practicing his religion would be difficult.

The question at hand pertains to the extent to which it is true that Muslims who settle among non-Muslims (Kufar) cannot practice Islamic rituals. I have long intended to write about this topic, delving into the prospects and challenges faced by Muslims living in America. It should be noted that this write-up is not to antagonize statements from esteemed scholars but to explain some perspectives and approaches to coping as a Muslim currently living in the West.

My journey brought me to the United States in 2021, and I've spent approximately two years residing in West Virginia and Michigan. In this article, I aim to address certain misconceptions, highlight challenges, explore prospects, and share the approaches I've been learning and employing to overcome these challenges. I may also not be the fittest to discuss this given my length of stay but my perspective may be useful for someone out there trying to make a decision or someone inside struggling with certain issues.


North America, comprising the United States and Canada, is vast. To put this in perspective, a state like Alaska is larger than the entire Nigeria. In the United States, there are approximately 3.5 million Muslims, making up roughly 1.1% of the total population.

Given the vast geographical size of the United States and the distribution of the Muslim population, some towns or cities may only have one major mosque, while others might not have any mosques at all. In contrast, most major cities and state capitals have at least one central mosque. For instance, Dearborn, Michigan, boasts the largest population of Muslims in the United States, and the state of Michigan is home to not less than 140 mosques, with Dearborn having the largest number of them.

Given the vast land area, the Muslim population, and the number of mosques and their distribution, in most places, one would need to usually drive to a mosque unlike in Nigeria where mosques will usually be a walking distance in several places. A significant percentage of regular prayer attendees rely on driving to participate in the five daily prayers. One may struggle to find accommodation near a mosque. Therefore, proximity to a mosque is usually a crucial consideration when choosing a place to live.

One of the challenges to be mindful of, especially if you dine out frequently, is food, especially for Muslims who seek halal options. Many restaurants serve pork products or derivatives, and caution is needed even when dining outside, as cross-contamination between non-halal and halal items is possible. For those who plan to cook at home, it's essential to note that meats and chicken from retailers such as Walmart, Kroger, and Aldi are generally not halal certified. Thus, one must explore alternative grocery stores that offer halal-certified meats and chicken. Remember that halal products tend to be pricier than their non-halal counterparts. I've become more conscious of halal food in the US compared to Nigeria, where I used to dine out without checking for halal certification and purchase meat, chicken, and suya without hesitation.

North America operates on a credit-based system. As long as one is comfortable with taking credits and has a good credit score, they can make all purchases with credit. Credit card companies, like conventional banks, operate on a riba-based system. What is the way out for Muslims when purchasing properties? When it comes to credit cards, the rule of thumb is to ensure that you only make purchases or take credit that you can pay back before your payment due date, which is usually a monthly cycle. Any credit not paid back within this cycle incurs interest. Purchasing properties such as cars and houses can be more complicated.

For houses, the conventional mortgage system, just like car financing, is considered haram. There are Islamic mortgage options like UIF (you can find more information at UIF). While the down payment for these options may be higher than the conventional system, it is a worthy choice for Muslims to consider instead of going for riba-based bank mortgages. The challenge here is not whether there are no options, but rather if you are ready to obey Allah's instructions, rely on Allah, and do what is right for you as a Muslim.

Many people in the United States and Canada buy cars on credit. One option for Muslims is to save for several months until they can afford a car. The length of time needed to save largely depends on the family's income. Another option is to find non-interest car financing companies, although this may not be available in all states. An alternative is to borrow money from friends or family to purchase in the absence of savings. Some may question, "Is a car that important?" Yes, a car is very important. Public transport in the United States is not as efficient as in Europe or even some parts of Nigeria. Distances between places are generally greater, making a car a necessity rather than a luxury in the American context. International students, upon their arrival, often need to plan how to acquire a car, and most people eventually have one within their first two years in the United States. Having a car is directly related to ibadaah (acts of worship) and being regular at the mosque. In many instances, people will need to drive to the masjid (mosque). Now, you can imagine someone who has just arrived, hasn't connected with other Muslims or the mosque, lives far away from the mosque, and doesn't have savings or cannot afford the cost of a car. In that case, even if their spirit is willing, the frequency of their mosque attendance will likely decrease over time, potentially affecting their faith if precautions are not taken.

There are a good amount of mosques that adhere to the Aqeedah of Alhu-Sunnah and are blessed with excellent imams who possess remarkable Quranic recitation skills. Many of these imams are either students of knowledge or possess extensive knowledge of the Deen (faith). However, some mosques may have a diluted adherence to the Sunnah or, in some cases, may be adherents of some other Islamic sects. This is something one needs to be careful of.

Ramadan is a particularly beautiful time, characterized by the melodious Taraweeh prayers and recitations, often accompanied by communal iftar gatherings in the mosque, depending on the local community. What may be missing is our traditional tafsir sessions.

As a Muslim, your foremost responsibility when relocating to a new place is to entrust your affairs to Allah. Before making any major decisions, it's crucial to perform Solatul-Istikharaah. This prayer is a means of seeking Allah's guidance on important decisions and ensures that your choices align with the protection of your faith.

The second major responsibility upon arriving in a new place, or even before securing accommodation, is to connect with a Sunnah mosque or the local Muslim community. This step is of utmost importance. Your duty as a Muslim is to identify with a local mosque and its community, volunteering and supporting each other's growth. This is important whether you are in Nigeria or the USA, and it holds even greater significance for Muslims living in America. For parents, there is also the responsibility of fostering friendships for their children and instilling an Islamic identity in them. In practice, you may need to put in extra effort to maintain your Islamic identity in this context.

You must be intentional about socializing and forming connections with people. You may need to actively create a community for yourself or seek out an existing one to join. Unlike in Nigeria, where communities are often readily available, in many other places, including the West, you'll need to put in effort to build your social network.

For devout Muslims, it can be challenging because adhering to faith may preclude participation in activities like attending clubs or parties with music and alcohol, visiting beaches, or going to gyms with immodest dress codes. The solution lies in finding a mosque or an Islamic center and getting involved as a volunteer. Seek out like-minded friends and be intentional about building those friendships. When attending gatherings, resist the urge to be engrossed in your phone. If people don't approach you, take the initiative to start conversations. Avoid always being alone, as isolation can make it easier for negative influences to affect you. Being part of a community or Jama'ah is a directive from the Prophet (SAW) and is essential for maintaining a strong Islamic identity.

A man is upon the method of his close friend, so let each of you look into whom he takes as a close friend.” (Reported by At-Tirmidhi).

“The example of a good companion and an evil companion is like that of a seller of musk and a blacksmith. The seller of musk either sells you (perfume), gives you free samples or you get a pleasing smell from him. As for the example of an evil companion – such as a blacksmith – he either burns your clothes or you get a nasty smell from him.” [Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari].

In my interactions, I have observed that some Nigerians abroad prefer to practice Islam and socialize exclusively with those who resemble them or belong to their specific Dawah movement in Nigeria. However, it's essential to remember that the message of Islam is global, and there are valuable lessons to be learned from people of different backgrounds and countries. It's important to be cautious when choosing a community to join, as some communities may not adhere strongly to the Sunnah, which could potentially weaken your faith.

Eids (Islamic festivals) in America may differ from those in Nigeria. There might not be crowds or a festive atmosphere, and it might not be a public holiday. Children may go to school as usual, and they may encounter celebrations like Halloween. As Muslims, it's our responsibility to discourage our children from participating in such activities. When Eid comes around, it's important to plan and schedule time off work. Students can inform their advisors and often receive accommodation from their schools or departments. You can celebrate by going to parks, dining out, organizing potluck gatherings with friends, enjoying outdoor activities, exchanging gifts with friends in your community, and making the day special in your way. Sitting idle and complaining or feeling uninspired because of the lack of a traditional festive atmosphere is not productive. If you sit down and do nothing and complain or feel not excited because of the mood around you, you may also be part of the problem. We can always make things happen.

It's important to emphasize that no one will prevent you from practicing your faith or having an Islamic identity, including growing a beard, wearing shorter trousers, observing the five daily salat (prayers), and fasting. The choice to do so is entirely yours. Many organizations actively promote diversity and may even provide a prayer room if requested. Most universities offer a Musolah where you can pray, and in some cases, they provide a reflection room that's open to anyone but is often primarily used by Muslims. If you find yourself in a location without a prayer space, mosque, or reflection room, you can also inquire and take the initiative to establish one. Your rights in this regard won't be denied, and it won't jeopardize your job.

Imam Idris Oni shared on his Twitter feed: "As a Muslim, some of the most important considerations when planning to travel abroad are your faith, the culture of the new place, and how the environment could impact you, your family, and your faith. Money is important, but it should never be the sole driving force."

My personal view is that while the fear nurtured by some people may be justified, the West is not as unfavorable as some portray it to be. The challenges of remaining a conscious and righteous Muslim are global, whether you are in KSA, Nigeria, or America. Muslims must find ways to address and mitigate these challenges. I acknowledge that the challenges can be much more pronounced in some places than others, for example, in Northern Nigeria vs. Southern Nigeria. I agree and understand that certain places may present more significant challenges than others, such as the difference between northern and southern Nigeria.

As Ustadh Kabir Al-Asfar mentioned in a Facebook post: "Traveling out has its perils. As simple as traveling from rural areas to urban areas has its challenges. I know people who left the far north to work in Lagos, simple Lagos, and their religious life is in tatters."

Living in Lagos, working there, and being a practicing Muslim, praying daily Salah in the congregation can be very challenging. You could face workplace discrimination due to your choice of dress. In Lagos, some organizations still do not allow head coverings (not hijab). It can also be difficult to find time to excuse yourself to pray in certain jobs. These challenges may likely be non-existent for Muslims in America.

The real question is: Do you want to pray, and are you ready to make the effort to pray? I have observed Muslims not missing gym workouts, football sessions, and various social gatherings, which may require them to commute considerable distances, yet they complain that distance prevents them from attending the masjid.

Another brother, Ahmed Alaofin, responded to my post on Facebook, and said:

I have a little experience to buttress the Solat part of this write up; sometime in January 2017 I was in New York on official assignment and was going to be there for about three months, our office was on the 18th floor and it was during the winter season, I was then wondering and worried about Solat, so, one of Americans (white guy) that was the technical person setting systems up for me to work with asked me after he has provided me with everything I needed to work it, that is there anything else I would need to make my work easy and I replied in affirmative, asked and what is that, I told him I have everything set up perfectly, but, I still have a problem that I am a practising Muslim that prays five times a day, but, seeing the environment, it is going to be difficult to pray, I can't go to the balcony due to the weather and no sight of mosque around even if I have to be going downstairs to observe, the understood me asked me to give him little time to solve it, then after some minutes he took me to a room like space to pray, specially arranged for me to pray …

As for raising children in America, I am currently navigating that path and praying to Allah for guidance. Some colleagues and mentors have chosen to homeschool their children, enroll them in private Islamic schools, or opt for charter schools (publicly funded independent schools with curriculum autonomy). Some supplement public school education with rigorous Islamic teaching at home and in Islamic centers/masjids. I've also seen a few parents take their children away from America for a period (1-3 years) to immerse them in Islamic learning and then return. In short, there are solutions to explore, but the fundamental question is the willingness to explore these solutions and remain steadfast on the path of Allah.

If one struggles to fulfill their obligations as a Muslim in Nigeria, it may be even more challenging in the West. You may not have someone inviting you to pray, you might not hear the call to prayer (Adhan) publicly, which serves its purpose, and the masjid may be farther from your residence. All of these factors potentially act as inhibitors. The United States may need more Islamic callers, workers, and activists to promote and propagate the faith. It's important to stay connected to your roots and continue to seek knowledge from righteous sources.

The population of Muslims generally affects the number of mosques in a city, which, in turn, influences the availability of halal restaurants and stores, as well as the presence of Islamic/Muslim-majority private schools. These are factors to consider before making decisions.

Disclaimer: The above reflects my perspective and may not apply universally. Specific situations may vary based on location. It expresses my views based on personal experiences and experiences of others. I have not covered all possible challenges, but I have mentioned what I believe are the most common or general ones. We pray to Allah to keep our feet firm on the path of Islam and ask Allah, the Turner of hearts, to guide us in His obedience.