Scourge of Secular Capitalist Islam – A Response

Brother Naeem wrote a passionate post over at his blog. As my comments were too long, I decided to write them here.

as-Salaamu ‘alaykum, Naeem. I can see that you are indeed struggling to reconcile some issues that are very near and dear to you. Let me provide a bit of food for thought.

I am often disheartened when I hear Muslims giving such harsh criticisms of American Muslims, or as you have put it, “the whole American Muslim project”. I believe part of this interpretation of realities comes from an uncritical and unrealistic examination of Muslim history. Let me elaborate. It seems that when God chose Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, or any other country, to enter into Islam, its non-Muslim history has somehow become lost and inconsequential in the shuffle. It is very easy and convenient to think of Egypt as a Muslim country now, but what was Egypt’s transition like, from a non-Muslim polity to a Muslim one? What struggles did Egypt have to go through to negotiate this transformation? Even to this day, there are folk holidays still in practice such as Shams an-Nasim. To be direct, it seems to me that when Muslims look upon the enterprise of Islam in America it’s always viewed as accidental or incidental. Never it is look at as the qadr of Allah: it’s never seen as quintessential. Perhaps if we were to have patience and a more realistic view of the situation, we would see that Islam in America is very young when compared to other pockets of Islam around the world. It has also grown and developed in a highly unique way, very different than how Islam developed in Senegal or Malaysia. Yet, we seek to uphold a paradigm of success based on Saudi Arabia or some other imaginary location that embodies a supposed timeless Islamicity. Not only is this position not fair to Islam in America, it is even detrimental to the growth and development of Islam in America.

While the article’s observation is critical, I feel it lacks a “critical responsibility” as one scholar put it. It is very easy to say “no” or “nay”, but it takes foresight, forbearance, and a certain amount of emotional commitment to the cause to say “yea”. Perhaps you have been in Saudi Arabia too long; it is your new home. When one has been absent for so long, fondness fades from the heart. This is not to say that there is nothing to be critical about when it comes to American foreign policy, culture, or politics, and yet, just about every other Muslim polity has been and is guilty of the very same things you condemn America for:

“Maybe it’s the unquestioning adoption of capitalistic maxims which finds American Muslims enslaved by their struggles for better jobs, bigger homes, and nicer cars; Maybe it’s the callous attitude of American Muslims striving for the American dream while participating in a system that is ravaging the entire world, politically, militarily, economically, and environmentally”.

Tell me where the vast majority of Muslim countries are not attempting to do the very same? What are the political policies of most so-called Muslim countries? What are their environmental standards [if they have any at all] and practices? Not only do I disagree with the above statements but I find them to be blunt generalities, wielded to obtuse effect. “Maybe it’s the callous attitude of American Muslims striving for the American dream”. Where do you derive your justification for branding all American Muslims as callous? I ask where and how because you give no distinction; no nuance to your accusation. What seems to be at place here is a misappropriation of observations. What else do you expect Muslims in America to do? Should they sit around and wait for the Qiyamah? Are we not entitled to earn economically sound and viable livings, doing the best we can to navigate our existential reality? It seems like when our Gulf cousins are driving Bentleys and Land Rovers, so long as they have a white thobe and shamagh, they’re keeping it Islamically “real”. What would you have American Muslims do? Make hijrah? Drop out of their karif schools? Quit their kafir jobs? How will you support us? Can we all move to Halal Arabia? The issue at hand here is not Secular Capitalist Islam, Suburban Capitalist Islam, or any other chic neologism, but rather that there remains a strain of Muslim thought that is engaged at denouncing the validity of Islam in American while they have obviously chosen to put their stock in other ventures by either moving abroad or staying here but checking out. My advice would be this: if you’re happy in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or Utopia-bad, then check your uncritical advice until you’re willing to put up some of your own personal capital.

Enough with all the dear Abbey letters,

55 Replies to “Scourge of Secular Capitalist Islam – A Response”

  1. Masha’Allah Marc,
    From your brother in the “anti-Utopian” internal/external struggle!
    Another necessary post to the utmost.Rubbing elbows with real live folks,with real live problems,and real live emotions/fears-help us with our own.
    Thanks Brother!Please keep it comin’.


  2. As-Salaamu alaykum Brother Yursil,

    With all due respect.Please explain to us American Muslim converts/reverts(whatever) HOW:
    Turks and non-Sahabah Arabs went from being non-Muslims to “ideal tariqah members”;how did it happen,how long did it take,what was the PROCESS!

    Jazak Allah Khayr,

    Rooted On Clouds

  3. As-Salaamu alaykum Marc,Elders,Brothers,and Sisters:

    I heard a very insightful segment on NPR Radio this morning while driving home from Fajr.
    The topic was simplicity and directness(as to avoid arrogance and rivalry) in teaching and writing,and the main focus was on author Henry Fowler:…display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as……….”.
    I found this segment eerily similiar to this post,and some of the hurt feelings which come about with,often what I believe are well-meaning Muslims on different perspectives of an issue;not only in our respective masajid,but in forums like the blogosphere as well.
    May Allah guide and heal us all!

    An excerpt from “A Plea to the Wielders of Academic Dis(of)course”-Cathy Popkin:

    One humid afternoon last summer,as a colleague and I sat over our respective manuscripts and iced coffees in a neighborhood sidewalk cafe,alternately working and chatting,we became aware that it was getting increasingly difficult to hear one another across the minimal distance imposed by our small outdoor table,and we looked around to locate the source of the interference.There at the opposite end of the establishment sat two professors,evidently also colleagues,expatiating significantly on Wittgenstein,emitting such a barrage of assurance and self-importance that we were struck dumb as well as deafened by it.As the sun set and the volume of disquisition rose,we drew our chairs closer together(rather,I realized later,than raising our own voices) to consider the display of authority that was being projected across the field of cafe tables in such booming terms.The volume,we concluded,was vulgar,but it was not the most offensive feature of this “yackademic” assault.Nor did we find ourselves composing yet one more lament on the subject of academic jargon.What was so oppressive about this oration was the hyperbolic certainty of its delivery. This discourse did not “suggest”,”propose”,”hypothesize”,or even “contend”.It KNEW.Moreover,it knew BETTER.

    Marc’s Dec.10 2008 post “Applying Rouge” discussed the “intellectual hating” flip-side of this discussion superbly:

    Peace and Blessings,

    Rooted On Clouds

    (This comment is not “personally aimed at ANYONE.Just an attempt to balance things out for myself,for the sake of pleasing Allah.)

  4. salam Marc
    A bit late in the game, but I’ll just share my own personal experience.

    I moved to the Middle East less than a year ago. And Allah knows how much I miss the “American Muslim project”. In America, we struggled to implement our Islam. Within that struggle was the reminder of how important Islam was to our identity, our very being. In this Muslim country, awash with wealth, there isn’t much of a struggle left. The rituals of deen go on, while the sense and intrinsic value of deen hardly enters the soul. My religious friends here are the ones who pray 5 times but who hardly know anything about what it MEANS to be a Muslim. My religious friends in America struggled with the rituals and learned everyday what it means to be a Muslim.

    Integration is a struggle. We will all make mistakes. But appreciation of the struggle is something that many Muslims miss.

    And I think a lot of frustration has to do with the conflation of Muslims integration within America, with America’s policies in the Muslim world. Recently, another American Muslim and I engaged in a lengthy, somewhat heated discussion with a couple of British Muslims. We were berated for being too “loyal” to America or too “nationalistic”. Apparently, appreciation of what America/UK has given us and what it gives Muslims everyday is the wrong approach. Instead, the Brit Muslims wanted us to hate on the countries that gave us education, wealth, (passports) because of the foreign policy actions of the governments. But of course, these Brit Muslims would never give up their passport or any of the other benefits that their families continue to extract from government.

    Ultimately what is the practical alternative/solution given to victims of the “American Muslim project”. None, because there aren’t any. Instead, the desired outcome is for us to sit at home and type of laundry lists of why America sucks and why Muslims in America also suck. And then after that venting, we can go back to our normal routines again.

    May Allah help all the Muslims, wherever they are, in establishing the deen and bettering themselves and their communities.

  5. My religious friends in America struggled with the rituals and learned everyday what it means to be a Muslim

    Indeed, although that last part, “what it means to be a Muslims” has recently come to the surface as another issues Muslims must face. In that question of what it means lies an ugly fact that many American Muslims suffer from an inferiority complex. Hence, all of this “going overseas” to study has been to a great degree, not to become more competent Muslims, but rather to get a stamp of validation. Unfortunately, in the process of geting validated, some of our brothers and sisters have been indoctrinated in modes of thinking and behavior that are detrimental to their and their families’ Islam. The recent case of Sharif Mobley is a good example. From what I have gathered in conversations with those who knew him, he intended to learn Arabic and Qur’ān, but because of the hostile and unpredictable environment that is Yemen, he fell into a desperate situation.

    I think a lot of frustration has to do with the conflation of Muslims integration within America, with America’s policies in the Muslim world

    An excellent observation and a commendable one. This is something that is just barely on the tongues of a few Muslim scholars, intellectuals, and leaders, but I hope that it can begin to get a bit more attention. There is indeed a misinformed fusing of moral sensibilities and on-the-ground responsibilities. This fusion has resulted in the imaginative brain drain that continues to distract American Muslims, especially though not exclusively, indigenous Muslims, from prioritizing their own realities first before giving attention to certain political causes abroad. I am saddened to see American Muslims go to any lengths to donate money to certain causes abroad when their own communities are afflicted with poverty, crime, homelessness, domestic abuse, fraud, and the list goes on.

    Jazakallahu khayran for the comments.

    Other reads:

    • Authority Crisis: Who’s On First?
    • A Wakeup Call

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