Expectations were high for this talk. Personally, I had been looking forward to this talk for over a month. As soon as I got to Philadelphia I had heard about it. To say that expectations were met would be an understatement. If you weren’t able to go I will try to put up a summary of what was talked about at the talk.
First, it was a real please just to see Dr. Jackson again. Him as well as Kareem and Amir al-Islam, made it a nice reunion. Sherman Jackson has a lot of love here in Philly. There was an almost audible buzz around the masjid all this week. The people here really trust him – and believe me, they trust very few here in Philadelphia (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, in some cases). I met Dr. Jackson on my way to the United Muslim Masjid, on 15th and Catharine that evening. He came by to see Luqman Ahmad, the imam there. Jackson and Ahmad go way back from what I understand. Imam Luqman said that they even roomed together for a bit. After the salah (prayer) Jackson gave a small talk, saving the best for Saturday.
The talk was held at the Law School, up at U-Penn, Dr. Jackson’s alma mater. The turnout was fairly good, from my numbers. Imam Luqman started the talk by talking about some of the history of Islam in Philadelphia and how it came there. How it has moved through all of the Islamic movements in America from the Moorish Science Temple, the Ahmadiyyah Movement, The Nation of Islam, the Salafiy movement and others. He also stated that despite all these “fads” as he called them, there has always remained a core or group of people that may try these clothes on to see how they fit but go back to their own way. This is becoming more prevalent in that the indigenous Muslims here, mainly Blackamericans, are establishing their own religious authority – their own autonomy.
As for any one who has been following this growth, knows that this is a crucial time. It is absolutely essential that the indigenous Muslims here (across all of America, actually but we’ll touch on why Philadelphia’s so crucial to what happens elsewhere) create their own religious authority.
After Luqman’s introduction, Dr. Khalid Blankenship talked about the history of Islam in Philadelphia as well. He pointed out that although there has been great and necessary scholarship about the fact that many slaves that were brought to the Americas were Muslim, they left no legacy. And that it wasn’t until later years, far after those initial Muslims came, that Islam started to show itself on American soil.
He pointed out there there were several different movements, among the most significant were the Ahmadiyyah’s and also the Free Masons. He lists the Free Masons because of their influence on the people who would be the creators of the first proto-Islamic movements, as Dr. Jackson calls them. That Noble Drew Ali was once a Free Mason and was influenced by their use of Islamic symbolism and other things taken from Islam. He gave a very concise and thorough talk.
Finally Dr. Jackson spoke last. He talked about the need for not just, but in this case, specifically, Blackamerican Muslims needed to find what he termed, “alternate modalities of Blackness, American-ness, manhood and Muslim-ness”, meaning that we as Blackamericans need to burry the hatched on this concept of African-Americans and find a way to embrace our American selves. We need to be able say, “I’m Black and I’m an American.” He spoke of the hyper-masculinity in our Blackamerican culture – most prevalent in Black urban settings. This characteristic, this hyper-masculinity is in fact an offshoot or symptom of a vanquished people. We are compensating in our manhood by lashing out wildly. He says these are typical symptoms of a vanquished people and in order to move forward we must confront these issues. An example he pointed out is that a young Black child may go to school and get all C’s or some B’s and C’s. When asked about this the child will reply, “I ain’t tryin’ to get no A’s.” The reason being is that scholastic and academic achievement are seem as cultural and ethnic apostasy. This is a major barrier for a people that are sorely in need of education.
Dr. Jackson’s counter example, in our example in the Prophet Muhammad for Muslims, is that the Prophet was never considered to be a “punk”. Neither by his companions or his enemies. That compromise is not lacking in manhood. The Prophet had to sacrifice many things in order establish Islam as a bona fide Arabian religion. I say Arabian because at the time before the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, it was not so. Prior to this treaty it was seen in the eyes of many or most Arabs, as Islam was not a majority religion at this point, to be committing ethnic and culture apostasy to become a Muslim. But when the Prophet signed that treaty doing away with some particulars (the treaty stating ‘In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful’ – the Quraysh, the tribe that controlled Makkah at that time, said, ‘We know no ar-Rahman, no ar-Raheem [The Gracious, The Merciful] – they said say, “In the name of your Lord” instead. Some saw this as a huge compromise but the Prophet said okay to this. The Prophet said he was the Messenger of God – the Quraysh replied, “Messenger of God? No…, if we thought you were the Messenger of God, we wouldn’t be fighting you! Say, Muhammad the son of abd-Allah instead. The Prophet agreed, they were allowed to make hajj the following year and more importantly the numbers of the Muslims grew almost exponentially because it was okay to be an Arab and a Muslim at this point. There was no longer any cultural taboo associated with being Muslim) some saw it as giving too much. The Prophet saw the long term gain as well as that since he was so secure in his being, in his manhood, that there was nothing long with compromise if the gain was worth it.
Finally, he too spoke of the need for a real American establishment of religious authority. Some one giving a fatwah (a non-binding religious ruling/edict) from a country 5,000 miles away, based on their place and time was inappropriate for Blackamerican Muslims, and American Muslims on a broader sense. Blackamerican Muslims must come to terms with their history. They must operate as a people who know their history, where they come from so that they can begin to truly deal with the ills that plague and torture our people.
I plan to take some more time in the future and try to expound upon this a little further but this will at least give you an idea of what was talked about. Leave some comments or questions if you like.