Marc Manley — Imam At Large

Words, Thoughts, & Insights For The Rest of Us - Religious Director of ICIE

The ALS Challenge

Here is my response to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Boy … was that ice cold.

No Apology Required – A Khutbah

IMG_1452-sm It was my pleasure to have been invited to deliver a khutbah at The Muslim Association of Lehigh Valley (MALV). I chose to address the dual topics of chaos in the world and pressure upon Muslims to apologize over actions they have not committed. These are two topics challenging Muslims today, particularly in America. Our youth are bombarded with media images of so-called “Islamic” militants committing the most heinous acts imaginable. The gut reaction to these has been to deny any relation to the perpetrators of these acts in hopes of deflecting negative public opinion. While I understand this is natural reaction, it is one which can lead down a rabbit hole as well. Instead, we need to infuse our youth with the knowledge and comfort to know that simply because a person claims Islam as their religion and attempts to justify their actions based on that faith, in no way means that they are indeed Muslim. We need no greater vindication that to simply say that such acts fall outside of our faith. Period. Instead, we should be about the condemning of injustice and oppression regardless if it is perpetrated in our own zip code or thousands of miles away.

Morality and Liberalism – A Challenge To Moral Orthodoxy

IMG_1452-smThis post may indelibly put me on the other side of some folks’ proverbial tracks but I feel that we are approaching a cross roads in America of which, if it goes unchallenged, we Muslims may find ourselves sailing down some very murky waters. To be blunt, this is about a post that Imam Suhaib Webb regarding Nicki Minaj. A critique which involved the morality (or lack thereof) of her image, in particular in reference to her new video Anaconda. Apparently, we have a double-standard in our community (by “our community” I am doubly referring to the black community and to the Muslim community) that wishes to marginalize whites to the role of sympathizer, not of critic. So long as whites sympathize with the social plights of blacks, Muslims, or other socially disparaged groups, their voices are welcome. However, should they begin to bring up issues that confront our (i.e., black folks, etc.) morality, or lack thereof, their voices are often ridiculed and silenced. I have an issue with this both as a black person and as a Muslim.

Without a doubt, white supremacy is a major issue and its presence (not legacy!) is still very much here with us today. But what is often missing from the overall narrative regarding white supremacy is the acknowledgement that some of the the most devastating critiques leveled at white supremacy have come from the pens of white authors and academics. Names such as Richard Dyer (White), Tim Wise (White Like Me) and Allan G. Johnson (Privilege, Power, and Difference) are just a few such examples. We need not, in an attempt to protect our dignity as non-whites, debar whites in participating in the overall critique of white supremacy. To do so would be, least of all, a double standard.

The second tract that I have major concerns on is the issue of morality. As a Muslim, no less an imam, I have an obligation to speak to the realities of the world I live in. And while Nikki Minaj is not the singular focus of any cultural critique I might have, undoubtedly she, and her ilk, would be a part of it. As a black father of a black daughter, I am deeply disturbed by the hyper sexualization of society. Undoubtedly black women have been the targets of such sexualization, undeniably at the hands of black perpetrators. Our collective silence on this is disturbing; our outrage at a white critic, juvenile. And while some would argue that a woman has a right to express herself however she likes, the right does not insulate her from public critique. To be frank, I appreciate those arguments on the one hand from non-Muslims. I am, however, deeply disturbed by Muslims who would object to another Muslim critiquing such behavior which is so obviously unacceptable (by Muslim and non-Muslim standards alike). Indeed, it has been my thought that the next wave of “extremism” to confront Muslims in America will not be in the form of violent outbursts or rhetoric, but will actually be the co-opting, adaption and condoning of post-modern liberalism, which can have little congruence with any modern faith tradition with still appreciates its pre-modern sensibilities.

To return to the issue of the original post, I find it very troublesome that we cannot confront the truth of a critique leveled against us simply because it comes from a white (male) voice. In all honestly, I am in complete agreement with Imam Suhaib’s assessment of Minaj’s video; I would stretch the critique further to her as an artist and ultimately, to her industry as a whole. If what Dr. Sherman Jackson recently said has any merit, regarding the current apathetic stance religion has towards “cool” and “sexy”, then we will need all hands on deck; all voices must be heard. For it is not the objective of this author, nor of the enterprise of Islam itself, to condemn sexual expression. Rather, Islam simply states such expressions are best relegated to the bedroom, where one may indulge one’s “inner freak” to one’s heart’s content, so long as it falls within the boundaries God Almighty has laid out. But that is another story for another day!

(Below are screenshots from Imam Suhaib’s original post)

Suhaib Webb on Nicki Minaj

Suhaib Webb on Nicki Minaj

webb-2

How To Be Powerless & Live Well

The following is a short article I wrote for al-Madina Institute’s blog entitled How To Be Powerless & Live Well. It is meant to address some of the spiritual and psychological struggles we all go through at one point or another.

Over the past several years I have been contacted by a number of Muslims who have confided in me about various issues they struggle with. One of these challenges is the notion of power. They revealed that they often feel powerless in various situations, or even in life in general and thus experience an array of emotions, chief amongst them, depression. I confided that I too struggle with the very same difficulties and thought in light of not being able to provide any definitive solutions, I would at least share some reflections on the topic.

You can read the full article here.

An Open Letter to CAIR – A Critical Re-centering of ‘Race’ as the Premier Civil Rights Issue for American Muslims

In my last post, I wrote, among many things, the need for American Muslim leadership to reorient its focus on domestic issues:

“American foreign-policy cannot be the litmus test or yardstick by which American Muslim leadership is judged to be efficacious.”

Continuing in that vain, I want to share a letter by one of my dearest friends, Dr. Muhammad Khalifa. I have known Dr. Khalifa since I first became Muslim and his friendship and voice have remained bastion of sanity when the world around me seemed quite the opposite. As a disclaimer, I am posting this not to demonize CAIR in particular, or to, as I also said, “draw ideological lines in the sand”. Rather I say this to demonstrate the urgency for us to focus on oppression at home, especially when it is a form of oppression we can put our hands on. And to Allah belongs all the praise.

An Open Letter to CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations)

A Critical Re-centering of ‘Race’ as the Premier Civil Rights Issue for American Muslims

August 15, 2014

Dear fellow social justice activists,

Dr. Muhammad Khalifa I write this letter to reflect on CAIR’s response to the killing of Michael Brown. By several eyewitness accounts, Brown was an unarmed Black teen who, while waving his hands in the air yelling, “I don’t have a gun,” was shot and killed by a Ferguson, MO police officer. While I applaud CAIR’s willingness to support this issue, I write this letter because I carry a heavy heart and imbue deep disappointment with CAIR’s approach to issues of oppression, racism, and social justice in the U.S. Muslim community. The encouragement to give a Friday sermon to address this issue is far too little, and too late. In fact, without a more concretely sustained response to racial injustices in America—particularly those that impact Blacks, Latinos, and Indigenous Americans—CAIR’s response seems not only reactionary, surfaced and sensational, but even opportunistic; if the latter were true, what easier way to exude an image of standing for racial and social justice, than to encourage a khutbah on the heels of Michael Brown’s killing? It allows one to continue to focus on their own agenda, without appearing to hypocritically ignore even more palpable issues of oppression confronting other minoritized Muslim Americans. It is safe, easy, harmless, and doesn’t require the types commitments and sacrifices of, for example, those like Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Julius Rosenwald, and Louis Isaac Jaffe—other non-Blacks who fought and died because they saw this as apart of their own struggle toward social justice.

The broader context within which this shooting incident sits is far more worthy of attention, but has been noticeably ignored by CAIR. To show where I am going with this, I cite some of my earlier published works,

“Their (Black males) statistics of oppression foreshadow others’: the highest incarceration rate, the highest school failure rate, and the highest school suspension rate, the highest pushout/dropout rate, the highest arrest rate, the highest murder and homicide rate, the most negative image media, the highest drug use rate, the highest rate of new HIV infections, the most rapidly growing suicide rate, and the most likely to be recidivist. Yet, the president is a Black man.”

It is really quite irrefutable that Black men are of the most oppressed groups of men in the U.S. In my field of education, this oppression is perhaps most palpable: even after disciplinary offenses were equally discovered by educators, Black males nationwide were still four times (4x) more likely to be suspended than their White counterparts. This, of course, contributes to being pushed out of school (as opposed to being blamed for dropping out), and ultimately to what we researchers refer to as the school-to-prison pipeline. What emerges from this, and other research from scholars such as William Julius Wilson and Tyrone Howard, is an extensive regime of oppression toward Black men in America. Black male oppression, in all honesty, may very well be the single most virulent form of oppression in the U.S. today. Now, where is CAIR on issues like that? In consideration of these more intractable realities, in other words, it seems as though CAIR is missing from the front, and has preferred more media-frenzied and popularized responses to singular incidents. And if my perceptions are wrong and they are indeed fighting such battles, few of us have actually seen them in the racial battleground circles where they occur.

I understand the religion of Islam to be anti-oppressive. I also understand from my Islamic teachings that when being anti-oppressive—whether fighting illness, poverty, ignorance, or racial oppression—one must begin by acting local. I remind my brothers and sisters at CAIR that Black Muslims in the U.S. comprise over a third of U.S. Muslims. Yet, they have far fewer opportunities than their foreign-born and second-generation coreligionists. It is not the fault of these Muslims, but when will their (i.e. Black and Latino) issues be re-centered in national discourse around social justice? For, given the bleak statistics around Black males, they are far more likely to be oppressed because of their gendered race, than their religion.

Of course, I do not claim that CAIR supports racism or oppression of any type; nor do I lay this responsibility totally at the feet of CAIR or like organizations. Rather, probably because of their own histories and lack of awareness of how oppression operates, morphs, and is reproduced in this context, I claim that they are unfortunately slipping into a posture of what researchers refer to as post-racial—in this case, the use of discourse that is so broad and void of specific critiques of racism, that the critique itself serves no purpose and may even do more harm than good. Executive Director Awad’s statement, “Despite progress in race relations over the past decades, our nation still has a long way to go to live up to the true American values of equality and justice for all,” is a testament to this fact, and implicitly confirms the following sentiment: CAIR will mention it in the broadest, safest, most general and impotent way, and will make no mention of the specific abominations facing daily life for Black males; CAIR will not really take up this issue, but wants to appear to be taking up this issue. Will you not mention his name (Michael Brown), resist, agitate, or even center his story, except in ways that are palatable in the popular American discourse and imaginative? In ways that are comfortable to you?

I urge CAIR to confront microaggressive racism and institutional racism in the U.S. I urge CAIR to center the most salient local forms of oppression in their civil rights agenda, and these are tied to Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans. I urge CAIR to not seek highly visible incidents that will bring notoriety, but then lack a sustained agenda to confront the contexts that brought about the oppression. But also I urge CAIR to invest in the policy-level conversations that can impact policies that impact the daily lives and opportunities of Black males. And I finally urge CAIR not only to link with the NAACP, the ACLU, the NOI, and Urban League, but also with the grassroots, smaller, advocacy and community organizing agencies found throughout urban America. Without such emphases and alliances, you may loose the fight of credibility and relevance in this context. Many of us have travelled throughout the Middle East and South Asia, and we have seen firsthand the treatment of Blacks and other expatriates in these lands. When you come to the U.S., and then primarily focus on issues that confront Arab and Asian peoples, you really suffer a devastating blow to your own organizational credibility.

As I conclude this letter, I do so with deep conflict and consternation. I come from a family in which I am one of the only Black men who has not been jailed or imprisoned for a period of time. I sit today, in fact, as the only non-imprisoned male child from amongst 2 other brothers with whom I was raised. I am conflicted not because we need the help of CAIR, for this conversation is far broader than that. Afterall, we Black, Brown and Red, folk have been resisting for centuries, will do so for many more to come, and will do so in ways far more culturally responsive than what organizations like CAIR or MPAC might bring. But I am conflicted because letters like these have all too often fallen on deaf ears, and as they have, so too have the such Friday sermons fallen on my own deaf ears. I, and my people, need relevance and we detest hypocrisy. So too, is it, that the people who claim to represent my faith and civil rights, have an agenda that is not relevant for the civil rights in the daily lives of Black men. This conversation is broader because I see my fellow Muslim leaders becoming even more out of touch, and so too are the masses that follow. Finally, please do not seek prominence, moreso than you would even seek justice. Yet if you shall continue to do so, then please, leave the legacy of Michael Brown to the honor, dignity, and esteem that it deserves.

Muhammad Khalifa
Black male, Scholar-activist, Professor and Academic, Husband, and, Father of 3 Black sons,
East Lansing, Michigan.

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