As-Salamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah. I pray that this missive finds you and your family in the deepest embrace of Allah’s mercy and blessings. I was just informed of your post in which you indicated that you would not be coming to the ISNA convention this year. I am writing this note to ask you personally to reconsider your decision. While your reasons are both clear and reasonable (and whether I fully agree with them or not is rather beside the point) the ultimate impact of your decision, I fear, will be to penalize and potentially damage the very people whom I know you love and only want the best for: the American Muslim community. And let me state here, before I go any further, that I am not writing this note at the behest or even primarily in the interest of ISNA: I have not spoken with anyone in the ISNA organization nor have I in any other way communicated with any of them. This is simply a personal appeal in the interest of what I believe to be in the best interest of the Muslims.
The challenges we face as an Ummah today are simply staggering. And even when the matter is clear from a moral standpoint, the road to practical decision-making is often cluttered and befogged by so many legitimate competing considerations and interests that even the best of us cannot always see our way to the unequivocally proper course of action. And while cowardice is a loathsome trait for any Muslim – the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) sought refuge in Allāh from cowardice! – it is simply not the only explanation for inaction or even wrong action in these trying times in which we live. I agree that ISNA cannot have its cake and eat it too: it cannot publicly condemn this kidnapping in Nigeria or that beheading in Iraq and then turn around and imply that it is not a political organization when it comes to condemning the political wrongs of America, domestically or internationally. But, for better or worse, ISNA is our flagship Muslim organization in America; and it serves concerns and interests far beyond the purely political. The annual convention is a time when American Muslims come together in a space that feels like their space to enjoy the benefits of brotherhood and sisterhood, to mutually reinforce one another before the soul-numbing challenges and equally critical opportunities they confront throughout the year. This is especially the case for young people and for families who need to expose their children to a collective presence of Muslims to which they can point with pride, in an effort to ground them in memories that can blunt the sting of the “double-consciousness” they often suffer as young Muslims, according to which they both want to be and not to be Muslims. My fear is that your public decision not to attend the ISNA conference will have a palpably felt negative effect on all of this and many other non-tangible benefits of this annual Muslim gathering. And as I am sure you know, the negative impact of such set-backs can often be permanent and irreversible: some things are simply more easily retained than they are retrieved.
I know that you mentioned that your Muslim conscience made it difficult for you to attend the conference inasmuch as your attendance would likely be interpreted as approval for all the shortcomings you catalogued of ISNA. But you have now made your point, and no one is now likely to attribute any such tacit agreement to you. In fact, your missive has produced perhaps the ideal circumstances under which these issues might be openly and frankly discussed with the ISNA leadership directly. I do not know how much influence I would have in this regard, but I would be more than happy to support and push for such a meeting during the conference if you would like to pursue such.
Tariq, I have always admired your courage. And if you recall, when you were kind enough to grace us with your presence at our conference in southern California this year, I said as such publicly to everyone in attendance. Courage is a laudable, indeed a necessary, trait for a Muslim. And given the humiliations this Ummah has known over the past two centuries, it is easy to imagine how some of us might be prone to elevating this value above all other considerations as an absolute, first order value. But through his actions our Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) taught us that courage is only one among many values and character traits that we must possess and properly deploy in pursuit of Allah’s pleasure. And I would submit that as much as this Ummah needs courage today, it has perhaps an even greater need for unity – even if in disagreement (something we could teach the West about) — and the diffusion of genuine brotherly and sisterly love throughout its ranks. This is what I believe your attending the ISNA convention this year will promote. And it is this, in addition to the blow it might deliver to American Muslim morale, that I think your absence, given your public statements about your reasons for not coming, might impact in a palpably negative way.
So, my appeal to you, Tariq, is simply to reconsider. Of course, should your Muslim conscience prevent you from doing so, I will completely understand and harbor no ill feelings or vain thoughts. In the meantime, I pray that Allāh will continue to strengthen you and bless your courageous efforts to serve this Ummah and that He will open the minds and hearts of us all to know and appreciate the grandeur and value of the brotherhood and sisterhood of la ilah illa Allah.
As-Salamu alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.
Your brother in Islam,
S. Abd al-Hakim Jackson