Here is my response to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Boy … was that ice cold.
This 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)
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.
The American Muslim community is a relatively young one. Its process of coming-of-age has, and continues to be, an understandably tumultuous one. The ground upon which we stand is an ever shifting one and thus, naturally there are going to be some mistakes, missteps and snafus. And while I’m not here to begrudge any of that, I would like to comment on a damaging tendency that is currently wreaking havoc on our community and that is namely the emotional hostage taking that we currently see. It is detrimental enough that this takes place between rank-and-file Muslims (particularly online through social media) but it becomes even more nocuous when it’s perpetrated by leaders. So I make these few comments, not in the spirit of fanning flames, but in hopes we can reconsider alternative methods—more productive ones—that will allow us to have our differences but also allow us to maintain unity (which is not the same as uniformity!).
To put it bluntly, American foreign-policy cannot be the litmus test or yardstick by which American Muslim leadership is judged to be efficacious. Not all institutions are equipped or even necessarily concerned, with such subjects. In the case of Dr. Tariq Ramadan and ISNA, myself, along with others, would question whether or not such political jockeying is (A) something ISNA is equipped to do, and (B) if ISNA would be effective at achieving that goal. Additionally, Dr. Ramadan’s critique include no roadmap as to how ISNA, or any other Muslims organization, might achieve those goals. I personally find those clamoring for changes in foreign policy (as detestable as it is) whilst silent on domestic injustices indicative of a broader malady, one which highlights why the Muslim community still struggles to find a niche in the American narrative: by and large, we’re not concerned with what America does at home, only what it does abroad. Nor can foreign-policy be the preferred or prestiged conduit by which American Muslims formulate (or attempt to formulate) communal unity. Case in point: post-sermon du’as (supplications/prayers) are often highly politicized, resulting in complaints because one geographic location was mentioned while another was not. With the current levels of injustice in the world, American Muslims need not feel they must pick which continent to root for. We can have solidarity with our brothers and sisters no matter where they are, though local issues should take priority as they are the ones we are most likely to have the ability to affect change in.
Lastly, to return to the topic of leadership, (American) Muslim leaders must be conscious of the influence and power they wield. From fanboys (and fangirls!) to followers on social media numbering in the thousands, we must know and acknowledge we operate and employ tremendous sway. So when we draw ideological lines in the sand we must know that we’re not only drawing our own personal lines, but also lines for potentially thousands of others. If a leader chooses to boycott or not attend a certain conference it can have damaging effects by dragging out grievances (justified or otherwise) into the public sphere where it quickly devolves down into pitting one person’s followers against an institutions like a grudge match. Instead, we as Muslim leaders must work to forge environments where our disagreements and grievances can be legitimately aired without turning every instance of ikhtilaf into a public drama.