Lecturing At William Penn Charter School

Many thanks to Thomas and his class at the William Penn Charter School – an educational institution built on Quaker values, for inviting me out to speak on Islam again. I have spoken before at William Penn and am always impressed with Tom’s class. This term, Tom was teaching a class centered around the theme of Peoples of the Book. The main text they were reading for the class was Karen Armstrong’s piece.

I spoke on the concept of the People of the Book, namely Jews and Christians, and how they were spoken of in the Qur’an and mentioned in the Sunnah but I also elaborated on the cultural knowledge of the pagan Arabs and what they knew of in terms of stories from the Torah or the Bible. A great deal of Orientalist scholarship has tried to paint the Arabian peninsula as being more isolated than it was. More recent scholarship counters that despite paganism and idolatry being a prevalent practice amongst the Arab tribes of Arabia pre-7th Century, the narratives of Moses, Jesus and Abraham, just to name a few, were known to these Arabs and thus were relevant to them. We also examined how not only is Islam seen by other religious traditions but more importantly, how does Islam see itself in the context of the People of the Book.

Continuing about the legacy of Biblical stories in the Arabian peninsula, without their cultural familiarity of these stories the Qur’an’s relevancy would have been greatly dimmished, hence giving rise to new and alternative scholarship that suggests the Arabian peninsula was more connected to its neighbors, primarily through trade, than has been previously suggested.

I also fielded questions from a number of students, with topics ranging from 9/11 [a perennial question] to how do Muslims negotiate marriage with non-Muslims. We also discussed the role that religion plays in informing social and cultural participation in religion. One of the students, whose family hails from a historical Muslim country, described his family dynamic which consisted of three generations in his household: his grandfather, his parents and he and his siblings. The grandfather still practiced, praying 5 times a day and so forth with the student’s parents being more lax in their religious consistency and finally the student, who said that he didn’t not think much about religion at all. All three generations seemed to function under one roof but more to the above point about culture, we had discussed whether or not, if his family had stayed in their country of origin, would he have been more apt to have had some form of communal practice. By coming and staying in America [i.e., his identity forming here] and his parents not being full-time practitioners, their religious practice tapered off to reflect their environment, where there were no secondary or tertiary enforcements to inform his religious consciousness.

We also discussed the phenomenon of Islam in the Blackamerican community. As a case point, illustrating the mass familiarity Blackamericans have with Islam, one of Blackamerican students in the course stated his grandfather was a Muslim. A brief talk was given to the unique status that Blackamerican Muslims hold as an indigenous American community, whose door is [currently] open to Islam and Blackamericans can freely choose to be Muslim without having to sacrifice anything in the public sphere.

I look forward to going back again. I congratulate Tom on running such an informative course for his students to learn about the many religious traditions we have in America.

17 Comments Lecturing At William Penn Charter School

  1. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    Sister Seeking,

    What I meant by my statement is that to a great/er extent than say white and/or immigrant Muslims [Pakastani, Arab etc.], Blackamericans enjoy a great deal of civic protections in that are not afforded to other racial/ethnic groups. I will try to be precise:

    White American Muslims: they enter into Islam, as the current political and cultural climate stands, running the risk of cultural/ethnic apostasy. In other words, the greater society looks at their choice to be Muslim being equal leaving all that they recognize and know [i.e., white and American] as acceptably white and American. So forth, a valid white identity of being both white and Muslim has not been established in the public sphere. Within this I have not spoken on whether or not Whiteamerican Muslims play a role in this.

    Immigrant Muslims: while there are laws on the books protecting any and all groups from public discrimination, to be sure the public sentiment towards these groups is far from positive. We only need to look at the current rhetoric being issued forth by the McCain-Palin camp towards presidential candidate Barack Obama. In a recent Youtube video, many McCain-Palin supporters cast aspersions that Obama was a terrorist because of where his family was from and because of his middle name [Hussein]. Many of our Arab/Pakastini brothers and sisters are facing tremendous public backlash due to their respective origins. But to bring it back to your question, you cannot attack a Blackamerican, publicly, without their being an equal if not harsher backlash due to the protections afforded Blackamericans vis-a-vie our history as Black people in this country. That same cultural/historical protection has not been afforded to immigrant Muslims for a variety of reasons, a few in which I covered above or in other posts on this blog.

    In the end, Blackamericans are in a unique vantage point due to our blackness and our Americanness – a boon that is not available to any other ethnic group in American. Are there cases of discrimination towards Blackamerican Muslims? To be sure there are. I am not living in a valley filled with milk and honey. But Blackamericans can enter into Islam without out that choice being looked at askance as not a valid choice of either blackness or Americanness. The same cannot be said of Whiteamericans or immigrant Muslims.

  2. maryanncoledia@yahoo.com'Sister Seeking

    “A brief talk was given to the unique status that Black American Muslims hold as an indigenous American community, whose door is [currently] open to Islam and Black Americans can freely choose to be Muslim without having to sacrifice anything in the public sphere.”

    Salaam Alaikum

    Brother Marc,

    Pardon the stupid question but, can you please explain what you mean by this?

    I’m asking becuase I wear hijab, and work for the government and have definitely sacrificed much to do so? Are you referring to Muslim men?

    Thank you kindly,

    Sister Seeking

    P.S.-I’m not trying to start a debate about the validity of hijab or anything like that, but I just wanted to put that out there.

  3. margari.hill@gmail.com'Margari Aziza

    I agree with you that Black American Muslims are uniquely positioned to be publicly Muslim without relinquishing their identity as either American or Black. Unfortunately, I see that eroding a bit. Back in the 90s when we became Muslim converting to Islam was in many ways another way of expressing a Black identity, an alternative religious identity confirmed membership to a non-European civilization and adoption of anti-colonia, anti-racist, and anti-imperialistic activism.

    Over time, I saw people move away from that. I’ve seen the appropriation of Arab or South Asian cultural expressions in order overcome their Black identities. I’ve seen this type of escapism within both traditional and salafi circles. On the flip side, I’ve seen how certain religious expressions or adherence to modes of scholarship as accepted within the orthodoxy as critiqued by some Black American Muslims as a sort of “selling out.” Perhaps this is more contested than we’d like to think. But because our communities are stuck in these contestations which have turned into stale sloganeering, few of us are now providing a positive example to the broader society. Maybe we’re still riding off of the image of Malcolm, I dunno. Just some thoughts….

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  5. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    For what ever reason ( I’m leaving that investigation up to folks like you and brother Marc) orthodoxy is making our people dysfunctional.

    I think we should be a bit more precise with this critique and I will clarify here for my intent: I am not against orthodoxy in any fashion. With the above state that, “orthodoxy is making our people dysfunctional”, I cannot concur with this. If I were to understand your and the judge’s statements correctly, it seems a misplaced sense of orthodoxy is what’s at play here. Many of my posts have been targeted at this misguided sense of religiosity but under no certain terms has that meant to be an attack on orthodoxy. In fact, I would profess my own creed, my own religious identity and practice as being firmly rooted in the tradition [small “t”] and spirit of orthodox Islam. Let us not be too hasty in our critiques on others before we banish whole realms of Muslims from the fold or potentially indite ourselves!

  6. maryanncoledia@yahoo.com'Sister Seeking

    “On the flip side, I’ve seen how certain religious expressions or adherence to modes of scholarship as accepted within the orthodoxy as critiqued by some Black American Muslims as a sort of “selling out.” Perhaps this is more contested than we’d like to think.” Sr. Maragari

    SS: Very, very, very true dear sister. You hit the nail on the head. I’d like to share a comment from a Muslim woman who is a family court judge s4aid to me in our online correspondence:

    ” I deal with African Americans who are Muslim, and have adopted the culture of foreign nationals who they believe to possess authentic Islam. The cultural practices they have adopted are dysfunctional, and I’m dealing with their dysfunction everyday in my court room.”

    I paraphrased her comments becuase it was so long to post here.

    For what ever reason ( I’m leaving that investigation up to folks like you and brother Marc) orthodoxy is making our people dysfunctional. I think this is one of the reasons BAM’s are suspicious and down right skeptical of other BAM’s who are not mentored by BA’s when pursuing their Ijazza. Allah knows best.

    Something else to put out there is that for some reason orthodox Islam seems to always point you back to the political problems of the middle east ( namely Palestine) I think some BAM’s may feel uncomfortable with this.

    I have tried, and tried asking Imm’s who visited Charles Catchings blog if they are aware or understand that “some” of us feel that we are at the same place the AME church was centuries ago in liberating themselves theologically, denominationally, politically, and FINANICALLY from the dominant group. Nobody has ever answered my question… I’m beginning to wonder sister… The closest response was ” wait for the elders to die and than we can move forward.” I’m sorry, but if black people waited for the George Wallace’s of the world to die we still be in the back of the bus both mentally and physically.

    few of us are now providing a positive example to the broader society. Maybe we’re still riding off of the image of Malcolm, I dunno. Just some thoughts….

    SS: Sister Margaret if you have the time, and patience can you explain to me what type of example you are seeking please? Break it down in dummy terms (laymen terms) for me. I’m interested.

    Sister Seeking

  7. maryanncoledia@yahoo.com'Sister Seeking

    Salaam’Alaikum Brother Marc,

    When I stated: “I’m leaving the investigation up to folks like you” I meant that from the position of your scholarship not in a political way.

    Also, when I said I believed orthodoxy is the problem let me give you just one example:

    Teaching women to not care of themselves and manage their life by complete economic, social, and emotional dependence on their husband has been presented as being the ideal Muslim woman.
    My problem here, and I see it when I meet both Imm, Bam, Wam, etc, sisters in my job who are seeking information and public aide. That’s where I’m coming from. Based off my correspondence with the judge, it appears that she is dealing with the reassignment of wealth becuase women were removed from the family finances by a belief that taught them not to care for themselves.

    I did not mean an attack on our creed:
    The six pillars of Human found in the Qur’an
    The five pillars of Islam found in the Qur’an

    I do agree that many of do not know what orthodoxy is becuase every Islamic group presents themselves as “having authentic Islam.”

    Salaam

  8. maryanncoledia@yahoo.com'Sister Seeking

    I’m going to half [sic] to change my software program:

    Correction:

    Should read the six pillars of Eman ( faith)

  9. margari.hill@gmail.com'Margari Aziza

    Salaam alaikum sister seeking,
    When I said that many Muslims are still riding off the image of Malcolm X I mean that many people respect us less for what we have done in the Black community, but they respect us for what we represent as Black American Muslims. Malcolm’s image is very powerful, more so than NOI and Farakhan. No other leader captured our imagination and symbolizes Black manhood like Malcolm X. Even the talk of racial equality in his bio and film is powerful. Many of us saw that as a model for how we should relate to our brothers and sisters and that shaped our expectations of how we thought they should treat us.

    For many years now Muslim Americans have done little that is effective in transforming inner city communities. [What] I’m saying is that we have to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. I’m not saying that Islam is not transformative. We have a lot of brothers and sisters who turn their life around. But at the same time, we got some knuckle heads living the same dysfunction and trying to dress it up in Islamic terms. We still have unstable families, shiftless brothers and sisters, gangsterism, hustlers and welfare pimping going on. Alhumdulillah that is not part of Black community’s popular image of Islam. It is not just orthodoxy or those with foreign or traditional leanings that are dysfunctional. I think the blame can be spread around evenly.

    Also, I just wanted to clarify something about what is taught as orthodoxy in gender roles. I’ve studied Maliki fiqh and the fiqh of marriage in some of these traditional circles. And no where does it say that women should be financially, socially, and emotionally dependent on their spouses. In fact, the women in my class were surprised to learn of their property rights. Women started asserting themselves, “I don’t have to cook! You should help around the house! I am not a maid! I have a right to not be verbally or emotionally abused! Your money is my money and my women is well…my money!!”

    A lot of husbands got irritated and a number even tried to stop their wives from going to this school. They attacked the character of the teacher, saying it was all bida’a, etc. In fact, one of my friends was divorced once her husband found out she went to the institute.

    I guess it would be more useful to think about who is promoting the ideal and why, rather than making broad sweeping claims about traditional positions on marital relations. Okay, gotta run!

  10. maryanncoledia@yahoo.com'Sister Seeking

    “I don’t have to cook! You should help around the house! I am not a maid! I have a right to not be verbally or emotionally abuse! Your money is my money and my women is well…my money!!”

    SS: LOL : )

    “I guess it would be more useful to think about who is promoting the ideal and why, rather than making broad sweeping claims about traditional positions on marital relations.”

    SS: LOL-You got me there…

  11. theblog@manrilla.net'Marc

    @Naeem – Salaams.

    Salaams, Naeem. I was just looking through some of the pictures from ‘Umrah I What a great time that was this summer. In sha’ Allah we’ll all meet up again in Madinah.

    Thanks for reading the post. I may add a brief thought here, something between what you wrote and what sister Aaminah said.

    First off, I think both of your evaluations hold validity – I will try one build a bridge between the two of them.

    I can certainly appreciate your words of concern relating to your children and their identity formation as Muslims. This process is proving to be an ever increasing challenge as Muslims, having as of yet to establish a vibrant Muslim culture here in America, are running the risk of falling prey to the dominant culture. What I mean by here is not that the dominant culture is merely reduced to a Venus fly trap, but that without a solid foundation to stand on, it is only natural that Muslims will want to participate in this dominant cultural experience, even if it is to their detriment. This goes doubly so for children who have a tremendous need of belonging – a need that is not being currently met by the American Muslim community.

    That being said, I do not see Saudi Arabia as a viable option. It may be working out for you, Naeem, and I pray that it is, but it is not a solution that can be implemented on a mass scale, hence sister Aaminah’s comments. I believe her rebuttal is rooted in the fact that neither is it practical nor even desirable for her to relocate herself and her family to a foreign country so that she can simply raise her child as a Muslim. Such a Herculean effort should not need be the solution for those of us here in America, Canada and so forth. Instead, we must face the challenge of what Allah has measured for us [walladhi qaddara fa hadaa “…and by Him who has taken measurement and provided Guidance…”?] by developing a pertinent, meaningful and healthy American Muslim identity.

    In addition, having finally been to Saudi Arabia, I would be even more hesitant about moving there and raising a family, especially given that my future wife would be American like myself and would find the cultural climate a bit too awkward if not stagnant. As you and I spoke of in person, it is no utopia. Saudi has many ills that it is currently facing as it rushes to meet Modernity head on. I think I’ll take my chances here in the States.

    So we are left in a quandary [?]. America is our home and yet there are many things in American culture that are unhealthy – and I should add here, not just unhealthy for Muslims, but unhealthy for humanity! And it is here that Muslims have an opportunity to offer their neighbors some sound advice [God willing, through sound practice of the teachings from our Beloved Prophet {S}]: to provide America with a critical analysis of its ills, of its short comings. This is something for the most part that neither Christianity nor Judaism can do, as both have been “domesticated”?, and can do little more than pat America on the back. But any such critique can only be effective if it’s from the inside and not a foreign enterprise [as much of it currently stands]. To further grasp this concept no need look no further to the phenomenon of white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence against blacks pre-1960’s. It took, for one part, the shaming of the white dominant society, by a small minority [i.e., Blackamericans], and then the soul searching and soul changing on the part of Whiteamericans for its second part. And even though the brutalities that were carried out against Blackamericans by their own government were observed and criticized by overseas voices, it required an indigenous articulation of the problem to get results. So the only question remains “how we gon’ do it?”

    Something tells me that we, as Muslims in America, are standing on a precipice. On one side stands an indigenous, dignified existence, one that would be the envy of the Muslim world, where Muslims could live out their lives in safety and security. One the other side is darkness and denigration. Having failed the task set before it, Islam can never grow and prosper and will forever be seen as a foreign, hostile enterprise, who’s core values are antithetical to American ideals. Within one to two generations, Islam will cease to be the fastest growing religion and will more than likely fade to the waste side, and can easily be shelved as an “immigrant phenomenon”? or something that low-income Black folks do, much akin to how cutting grass or washing dishes is seen as appropriate Mexican labor.

    So again, I ask you, “how we gon’ do it”? if we’re all in Utopia Arabia or somewhere else?

    And God knows best.

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