Chaplain Chats – Tips On Reading the Qur’an

The following audio if from our Chaplain Chats talks with guest speaker Adnan Zulficar, the former Muslim Chaplain at UPenn. The talk was delivered on February 28th, 2012, at the University of Pennsylvania.

Chaplain Chats – Tips On Reading the Qur’an

Chaplain Chats – Islam and Blackamerica

The following are notes from a talk I gave as part of the Chaplain Chats series on February 21st, 2012, at the University of Pennsylvania. You may listen to the audio here:

Why the apparent connection between Blacks and Islam? What does Islam deal with in terms of Black America?

  • The continued struggle of Blackamericans to “settle upon a self-definition that is functionally enabling and sufficiently “authentic”;
  • The power and influence of white supremacy and its value system as a “seminal force of the contemporary global cum American sociopolitical order;
  • The hegemony of modern, Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims.
  • Blacks relate to Islam as blacks [i.e., “oppressed people”] and there is nothing unique or interesting about the link between BAM’s and Islam.
  • Blackamericans often saw a liberating agent in Islam that was not there for them in Christianity. Ironically, it was not present for Muslims living in the Muslim world either. The following is from the South African Muslim Judicial Council during the reign of apartheid:

“Has the [apartheid] government forbidden the worship of Allah? Has the government closed down or ordered the demolition of any mosque in a declared white area? If our government has ordered our Muslims to desert the faith of our forefathers, then our ulema would have been the first to urge us to resist, even to the death.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

What is Black Religion? Def: “a pragmatic, folk-oriented, holy protest against anti-black racism, an orientation shared with many, though not all, Blackamerican Christians and Jews.

Challenges of Islam & Black Religion

  • Post-immigration, many Blackamerican Muslims founded it difficult [and still do!] if unable to address their cultural, political and social realities in ways that were effective in an American context and simultaneously recognized as validly “Islamic” on the other.
  • The proclivities of immigrant Muslims who were assumed to be the inheritors of a “super-tradition of historical Islam”, rendering all of their cultural practices as normative if not desirable.
  • Such norms as the thawb have been subsumed under the “Sunnah”: والقوعد من النساء التى لا يرجون نكاحا فليس عليهن جناح أن يضعن ثيبهن غير متبرجت بزينة “As for women who are past child-bearing age and no longer have any hope of getting married, there is nothing wrong in their removing their outer clothes, provided they do not flaunt their adornments” Qur’an, 24: 60.
  • “America … produced the distinctly racial understanding of difference.” “American whiteness has always reigned as the most prized public asset a citizen could own.”
  • 1965: U.S. immigration law renders Muslim immigrants [Middle East/SEA] as legally “white”.

False Universals

  • Universalisms are ultimately neither as transcendent nor as enabling as they might like to be imagined. Such universals only serve the psychological and or material interests
  • Human rights, freedom, beauty, good, “Islamic”.
  • FU: to speak in universal terms but from a particular cultural, ideological or historical point of view. “’Human,’, ‘Islam,’ ‘justice,’ and the like are all taken, thus, to represent not particular understandings but ontological realities that are equally esteemed and apprehended by everyone, save the stupid, the primitive, or the morally depraved.”
  • To give obeisance or risk castigation.
  • Immigrant Islam “universalizes the particular”.

In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Taking Ownership: the function of the heterodox groups

  • They transformed—if not the creed certainly the “idea” of—Islam for Blackamericans and allowed them to lay claim to it in a way that historical/Traditional Islam had/has as of yet to do.
  • This, more than anything else, I believe what has grafted Islam onto the broader psyche of Blackamericans, rendering Islam a valid religious choice amongst the possibilities of Blackamericans.
  • In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Blackamerican Muslim History

  • First Resurrection: from slave times to 1975 with the death of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
  • Second Resurrection: from Elijah’s death until the divided leadership of Farrakhan and W.D. Muhammad.
  • Third Resurrection: the mastery of the Sunni discourse. The 3R seeks to “thwart the power and pretense of false universals”. Still waiting.

Lessons & Take Aways

Why/how did Islam fail to convey itself to modern Blacks unhampered/unmolested?

“The argument goes that Africans, unable to speak one another’s languages or being of rival cultures and living together on disparate, isolated farms, could neither fully maintain nor successfully pass on their traditional cultures to future generation.  Therefore, with each passing generation, more and more of the slaves’ African heritage disappeared or became incomprehensible to their American-born children.  Whites, seeing African cultures as uncivilized or the breeding ground for rebellion, accelerated this process of cultural disintegration by prohibiting most public displays of the slaves’ ancestral customs.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

Scarcity of resources available to Blacks led to the decline of African religions [Islam included].

In regards to assimilation [versus indigenization]:

“Given the increased vulnerability of Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11, there is a perduring temptation among many immigrant Muslims to seek acceptance by mainstream America in exchange for a domesticated Islam that can only support the state and the dominant culture and never challenge these. This entails an attempt to identify Islam with the proclivities and sensibilities of the dominant group. On such a reconciliation, however, Blackamerican Muslims who feel penalized, threatened, or devalued by the dominant culture are effectively called upon, now in the name of Islam, to abandon protest and the legitimate aspects of Black Religion and acquiesce to the indignities implied by white supremacy.”

Chaplain Chats – Islam and Blackamerica

Respecting the Station of One’s Lord – Between Proclivity and Acts – Engaging the Gay Community as Believing Muslims

There are few topics in the American context that are as controversial in modern times as homosexuality.  This is certain just as true for Muslims today as it is for Christians, though sadly to date, Muslims in America have not taken the time to develop their own arguments and positions on homosexuality settling instead for being subsumed under the vocal, if not dominant, discourse of the Christian Right.  It is my recommendation that Muslims make their positions understood, not in an attempt to thwart Divine Law concerning this subject as we shall see, but to promote a dialog that allows for political and social discourse without abandoning moral principles and obligations to Islam.

My reason for writing this is two fold. One, I was asked by a Muslim student to articulate Islam’s stance on homosexuality such that she could readily present it to her audience in clear yet unflinching terms. The second was a meeting I recently attended in Philadelphia in which a group of Imams sat to discuss issues facing the community. Sadly, nearly the whole discussion was wasted on a diatribe about homosexuals. When I asked the group of men if they had any doubts concerning the illegitimacy of homosexual acts they replied they had none. I pressed them, asking if there was a major issue with homosexuals coming to their mosques and demanding acceptance on the grounds of unrepentant homosexuals, again they replied in the negative. Instead, in my opinion, it amounted to nothing other than a chest thumping session where they could feel good about themselves, reveling in anti-homosexual stances, instead of actually engaging in useful discourse about trying to solve critical issues facing the Philadelphia Muslim community (issues such as AIDS, domestic abuse, criminal activity, lack of support for new Muslims, etc.).

Let me begin by dispensing with intellectual formalities and niceties such that my position on what is commonly referred to as homosexuality is clearly understood: Those who commit homosexual acts are committing heinous and abominable crimes before God.  This is the mashûr (standard) opinion in Islam regarding sexual acts between those of the same sex.  For brevity sake I will not delve into the hierarchy some scholars have placed on man-to-man sexual relations versus woman-to-woman. I am speaking on the entirety of that which is referred to as homosexuality.  One such example of this is clearly and explicitly outlined in the Qur’an in chapter 7, verses 80-84:

Wa Lûtan idh qâla liqawmihi a ta’tûna’l fâhishta mâ sabaqakum bihâ min ahadin min’l ‘âlamîn. – And Lot, when he said to his people, ‘Do you commit an obscenity not perpetrated before you by anyone in all the worlds?’ … Innakum lata’tûna’l rijâla shahwatan min dûni’l nisâ’, bal antum qawmun musrifûn. – ‘You come with lust to men instead of women. You are indeed a depraved people.’ … Wa amtarnâ ‘alayhim matra(n) – fa’ndhur kayfa kâna ‘âqibatu’l mujrimîn. – And so We rained down a mighty rain upon them. See the final fate of the evildoers!’”

The verse above is just one such example in which Islamic sources not only explicitly label homosexual acts forbidden (this worthy of Divine Punishment) but they are elevated above other crimes or sins “not perpetrated before … by anyone in all the worlds”.  Clearly, such acts are not only harâm (impermissible and punishable in the Here-After) but are of a degree above other sins such as consuming alcohol or gambling.

My point here is again not to waste time reasserting a standardly-held opinion in all orthodox schools but rather to find ways for the Muslim community to one, establish its stance on homosexual acts (and not on homosexu-ality as I will explain here) as Muslims and not simply letting the Christian (or any other group for that matter) Right speak for us and two, find a way, despite the grave nature of the sin, to at least establish a dialog with the gay community in a way in which traditional and conservative (of which I consider myself to be among) religious groups, in America or elsewhere, have been unable to do.

As it relates to the general body of sins, regardless of hierarchy, Islam maintains a division between what one inclines to do and what one actually acts on.  In other words the sin is not the inclining towards committing the sin but in the act of committing it.  In fact, Islam places a great deal of devotional importance on resisting one’s desires (at least those that contradict Divine Law), promising a great reward for doing so:

Wa ‘ammâ man khâfa maqâma rabbihi wa nahâ’n nafsa ‘ani’l hawâ fa ‘inna’l jannata hiya’l ma’wâ. – But as for him who fears the Station of his Lord and forbade the lower self its appetites, the Garden will be his refuge.” Qur’an, 79: 40-41.

Additionally, God urges those of conscious in the Qur’an to turn to their Lord after committing heinous or devious acts:

Wa’lladhîna idhâ fa’alû fâhishatan aw dhalamû anfusahum dhakarû’Allaha fa’staghfirû lidhunûbihim wa man yaghfiru’l dhunûba illa’Allah wa lam yusirru ‘alâ mâ fa’alû wa hum ya’lamûn. – Those who, when they act indecently or wrong themselves, remember God and ask forgiveness for their sins—and who can forgive sins except God? And they do not knowingly persist in what they were doing.” Qur’an, 3: 135.

An important distinction needs to be made here in order to fully understand the arguments presented.  Islam does not condone identity by proxy of proclivity.  In other words, Islam does not recognize one’s lifestyle simply because of one’s likes or dislikes, regardless of whether those proclivities are by nature or nurture.  One of the arguments the gay community often uses to substantiate their right to commit homosexual acts is that they were “born that way.”  Islam does not single out homosexuals in this case: I would have no more right to have a beer, gamble or fornicate with any number of women, simply because I like beer, am an alcoholic, like to gamble or having a gambling addiction, like women or because I was born a so-called heterosexual.  What takes primacy in these scenarios is not individual proclivity but respecting the station of one’s Lord (maqâm).  And while this would appear to many go against popularly held conceptions of freedom and individualism, this in fact is the dominant opinion Islam takes on human (read individual) rights.

Beyond all this lays an opportunity for (American) Muslims to engage a community that might otherwise be branded as off limits and irredeemable.  The question for me now is not if but how and to what extent the Muslim community is willing to engage and make space for, as Dr. Sherman Jackson has said, gays and lesbians.  True, this endeavor will require a tremendous amount of courage and intellectual capital on the part of Muslims.  Some have argued against any such engagement whatsoever on the basis of Sadd al-Dharâ’i’ or Limiting Harm.  Certainly this is a valid point, as Islam sees homosexual acts committed with impunity an individual and social harm.  However, others have argued that given the political and social climate in America, the one group that might be inclined to uphold the rights of Muslims to practice their religion would be none other than the gay and lesbian community.  The decision will no doubt be long and hard.

In the end, I find the choice to engage the gay community on those grounds which Islam permits (i.e., committing homosexual acts is a major sin) while still offering the possibility of salvation by encouraging the rejection of such heinous inclinations, is one in which preserves the dignity of all parties involved: it seeks to not reduce gays to people who only commit homosexual acts (and do not have other aspects to their humanity) and it allows Muslims a productive avenue of “Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil” (al-Amru bi’l Ma’rufi wa’n Nihayatu ‘ani’l Munkar), an obligation all Muslims are called upon to do.

Respecting the Station of One’s Lord – Between Proclivity and Acts – Engaging the Gay Community as Believing Muslims

CAIR-Philly 2012 Banquet

Join us at the Sixth Annual Dinner and Fund Raising Banquet for CAIR-Philly on March 10th, 2012. The event will be held at the Springfield Country Club in Springfield, PA.

Highlights of the event are as follows:

Prior to the start of our program, there will be a 90-minute reception with complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres to provide guests with the opportunity to socialize, network, and visit vendor exhibits.

Speakers for the evening include Dr. Sherman Jackson and Imam Siraj Wahhaj.  Entertainer Michael Harrison will also perform. Learn more our speakers and entertainer.

We also have a very special and fun-filled program in place for the children. In addition to our speakers and entertainment, as supporters of CAIR, you will be updated on our many accomplishments over the last year as well as our future plans for the upcoming year. We are working hard to make this an exciting and fun-filled event for the entire family. We hope you come out and share this wonderful evening with us.

Your attendance will affirm your confidence in CAIR-PA as a leading Muslim organization advocating on our behalf to help create an improved environment for us and our children.

To reserve your seat, please visit the registration page. Purchase your banquet ticket by February 29th and “Like” CAIR-Philadelphia on Facebook, and your name will be entered in a drawing to win 1 of 2 Kindle Fires! (Visit the Kindle Giveaway page for more information.)

If you are interested in co-sponsoring this event by having an exhibit or advertising in our program booklet, please contact us at 215-592-0509 or e-mail us at to make arrangements.

Some Highlights and Videos

Dr. Jackson’s speech

Moein Khawaja’s speech

Siraj Wahhaj’s speech

CAIR-Philly 2012 Banquet

Embracing God By Embracing America: American Muslims, Shari’ah & the Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – Preamble of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution.

What is the Shari’ah? Is it taking over America? Can American Muslims embrace the United States’ Constitution as believing Muslims?

Extra Reading

Maqasid al-Shari’ah handout/cheatsheet [PDF].

Dr. Sherman Jackson’s response, ” ‘Soft Shari‘a Fundamentalism’ and the Totalitarian Epistemology of Vincent Cornell” in [PDF].

Vincent Cornell’s article, “Reasons Public and Divine: Liberal Democracy, Shari‘a Fundamentalism, and the Epistemological Crisis of Islam.” [PDF].

Embracing God By Embracing America: American Muslims, Shari’ah & the Constitution