Muslims in America – What Comes After Resistance?

The American Muslim community is currently embroiled in a struggle against the injustices being perpetrated by the Trump administration. As to whether these actions are truly injust or simply a matter of selective outrage, fueled by a model minority narrative, remains to be seen. But one question which hovers over American Muslims is what is their fate, post-resistance?

In reading Daniel L. Fountain’s Slavery, Civil War and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity 1830-1870, one is inspired to, drawing upon the religious history of black folks in America, ask the question: will American Muslims adopt the world-views, mores, and religion[s] of their “masters”? By this I mean to compare the history of African Americans and their conversion to Christianity to American Muslims and their future conversion to liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism. In order to make this inquiry clear we must look at why and how Africans and their progeny converted to Christianity.

Anecdotal historical accounts of African religious life in antebellum America feeds us a narrative in which African slaves and their progeny converted to Christianity during their tenure as slaves. From this perspective we are left with the assumption that Christianity played a major role in the lives of slaves. However, recent scholarship gives a more convincing insight into the reality that Christianity did not come to play a significant role in the majority of African American lives until after emancipation. According to Fountain (amongst others),

“more than 60 percent of the slaves surveyed indicated that they were not Christians while enslaved (emphasis mine)1.”

My point being here is to challenge the notion that Christianity was a form of slave resistance. Instead, I argue that, since Christianity did not gain significant ground amongst African Americans until post-emancipation, it was more a means of assimilation than resistance. Fountain quotes nineteenth century physician and all around social agitator, Thomas Low Nichol, as saying,

“[t]he Southern people are eminently religious, and their negroes follow their example (emphasis mine)2.”

Whereas in the nineteenth century, the religion of America — and those who stood in position to impart “freedom” to slaves — was Christianity, the religions of America today are increasingly liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism, and thus, my concern is, will American Muslims embrace the religions of those who stand ready yet again to impart “freedom” to American Muslims? While some have balked at the heavy-handed tone in a recent article penned to American Muslim activists, I am equally concerned about the temptation for American Muslims to go down the same road as their previous American brethren did. In fact, as Fountain argues, it was,

“the expectation and delivery of freedom [being] the leading factor for African American conversion to Christianity3.”

The question remains: have the descendants of African slaves gained freedom and have their expectations been met? Many would argue that true freedom, the ability for self-determination, has not arrived yet. And likewise, in light of liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism (what I will term here as scientism), can these philosophies fulfill their promises to American Muslims4? For it is precisely the same gambit, the same offer, and the same temptation, I see American Muslims engaged in both in terms of embracing liberalism and the like, but also in an articulation of Islam that is pitched as resistance, and nothing more. If, quoting Fountain again, “under slavery, Christianity … did not meet most slaves’ needs … most did not convert”5 then what of an Islam that does not meet Muslims needs, particularly as Americans? It is here I believe most of the hard work needs to be done and thus should be the primary focus of scholars, for it is also the reason why so many Muslims, particularly the youth, look for truth-claims (even false ones) elsewhere6.


1. Fountain, Daniel L. Slavery, Civil War and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity 1830-1870. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. Pg. ix.

2. Ibid., 7.

3. Ibid., 5.

4. Jay Tolson, in the Fall 2016 edition of The Hedgehog Review, writes, “scientists began to wonder uneasily about whether scientific progress was compatible with scientific truth”. Tolson, Jay. “From the Editor”. The Hedgehog Review.

5. Fountain, 5.

6. Manley, Marc. “Between Political Theories and Truth-Claims: American Muslims and Liberalism”. Marc Manley – Imam At Large., 21 Jan. 2017.

Deviant Attributes and Behaviors – Do Muslims Blame The Poor Or Uplift Them?

To say that our thoughts are not entirely our own, as American Muslims, would be something of an understatement. There are tremendous forces being applied to our community: some political; others societal. Others yet, philosophical. And within all three of these are the proverbial carrots I’ve mentioned before, dangling in front of our eager faces. Of those carrots I want to speak on here is our attitude towards the poor, how it’s been influenced by aspirational whiteness and American mythology, and how we’ve adopted attitudes towards aspects of our own community, and the American poor in general, that is distasteful as well as undermining, both in terms of our perception in America and most importantly, in the sight of God.

Most American Muslims would fall within the designation of, as Amitai Etzioni puts it, “illiberal moderates”1, though given Etzioni penned this thoughts in 2007, I wonder how thoroughly the label “illiberal” would apply versus a more direct, “liberal”. Ruminations aside, my point is to say that a majority of American Muslims would in essence consider themselves moral conservatives. However, given the fact that ever increasing numbers of American Muslims are educated and reared in a liberal society, steeped in racism as well as American mythologies about the salvific nature of “hard work”, it is easy to see how those of a morally conservative stripe can still espouse assumptions about the poor, especially poor Blackamericans.

That immigrant Muslims were and continue to be baited by white aspirationalism is nothing unique to immigrants. Almost every racial and ethnic group that migrated to the States has had the same incentive to buy into whiteness. In fact, this goes a long way to explaining the attitude many American Muslims have towards the poor. Buying into whiteness has always been a package deal, requiring one to also adopt their attitudes towards the less fortunate, an attitude that vilifies them more often than it seeks to empathize and uplift the poor. And this tendency to impugn the poor is found in liberal as well as conservative political rhetoric in America. Whereas traditional conservative rhetoric would seek to ensconce black inferiority in genetics, liberals would often focus on the so-called cultural inferiority of blacks in America, nothing other than a veiled attempt to re-articulate “theories about racial differences in culture, values, and even intelligence”2. I conflate black and poor here because this is also part and parcel of whiteness and its conclusions about black folks in America, conclusions many immigrant Muslims willingly accept: blackness and poverty are one and the same; to be black automatically connotes poverty.

I would like to take a moment to highlight the flaws in these conflations and assumptions regarding race (blackness in particular) and poverty. First is to look at the source of poverty and disadvantage in the black community3. As Thomas Sugrue writes in his groundbreaking 1996 work, The Origins of the Urban Crisis,

“whites, through the combined advantages of race and residence, were able to hoard political and economic resources—jobs, public services, education, and other goods—to their own advantage at the expense of the urban [predominantly black] poor (brackets mine).”4

This glaring fact of a “forgotten history of actions” turns on its head the guilt and responsibility whiteness assumes black folks had in their own condition, asserting that poor blacks are the sole responsible party regarding their social condition. Immigrant Muslims, vis-a-vie aspirational whiteness, bought into this hook, line, and sinker. Ignored is the responsibility that “policymakers, large corporations, small businesses (particularly realtors), and ordinary citizens” had in the making of an urban black poor. While whites may be the original creators of this myth, immigrant Muslims have largely “reinforced racial and class inequalities” by towing the party line of whiteness and its attitudes towards Blackamericans. Ironically, American immigrant Muslims, and their descendants, are now having their narrative reshaped by similar external forces.

To help contextualize this phenomenon, so it is not to be misconstrued or mistaken for anti-immigrant Muslim bashing, I will point out some factors that led to this misstep. First that comes to mind is the American educational system itself. Given that many American Muslims, the children of immigrants, were educated in American public schools, this goes a long way as to why an alternative narrative was never presented to non-black American Muslims. The American public educational system has a long track record of having been complicit in forwarding a variety of myths that circumscribe the black experience in America. Far from being historically accurate, the public education system, as often a PR wing of American white supremacist society as not, has either ignored the plight of Blackamericans and how they have been the targets of American public and political policies that have led to the breakdown of the black family (a favorite talking point of liberals and conservatives alike), or have downplayed the impact of those policies on black American life in contrast to an ever more hopeful—and abstract—progressive rhetoric which seeks to pave over the injustices inflicted on the poor and black America, as inconvenient tragedies. Instead, the public education system often accentuates—in a deafening tone—American public policies that supposedly alleviated and overturned the centuries oppression directed towards blacks, like emancipation or the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1964. No mention is made of how whites, through mostly legal means, systematically privileged themselves of  innumerable resources such as jobs, public services, education, to say nothing of the redlining practices that barred countless Blackamericans from homeownership, as one example, one of the principal pathways to wealth-building.

If the American public education system was inept, if not downright dishonest, then the private system of Islamic schools have been doubly worse. In fact, many so-called Islamic schools failed to not only provide adequate representational education reflecting American realities, they were inept at education overall. In addition to a subpar education, most American Islamic schools tended to be heavily immigrant in terms of their population. Given the aforementioned aspirational whiteness rife amongst American immigrant Muslim communities, it is no surprise that the children of these immigrant Muslims would not learn a counter narrative to the ones given them at customs.

It is clear to see the reason by which immigrant American Muslims bought into an attitude and view of blacks-as-poor as well as to the American poor period. However I am not satisfied to let our community off the hook. There has to also be something terribly decadent in this world view as well, for it is incontestable that the American Muslim community is generous. The question is: Who is the worthy recipient of American Muslim generosity? Why is it that American Muslims have been so willing to send money abroad and not to their neighbors. I know many will argue that this shift is changing and there may be some evidence of this, particularly in the younger generation. I sincerely hope this to be the case. However, my point in writing this is to also illustrate how the broad American Muslim communities conceptualization of poverty, who’s worthy and who’s not, also speaks volumes to the division between the so-called immigrant community and the Blackamerican Muslim community. I believe a significant portion of this contention is rooted in racist assumptions that American immigrant Muslims have bought into about the conflation of blackness and poverty as well as perspectives American liberals and conservatives have on poverty in general.

That many American immigrant Muslims bought into the inferiority of blacks (remember, for sake of argument here, blacks and the poor being synonymous) has been personally and communally confirmed through my engagement as a Blackamerican Muslim, as well as many other Blackamerican Muslims, in our community. Many believe these assertions (in large enforced, if not given to them, by whites) are justified, the proof before their very eyes when they gaze upon black (urban) America. In fact, this was a major contributing factor to me writing the essay in response to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s comments at the Reviving The Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto, December 2016. In his comments, Shaykh Hamza made reference to “black-on-black crime” as well as to the “breakdown of the black family” while making no reference to the external forces which have worked night and day for centuries to actualize this violence and breakdown. I make reference again to Shaykh Hamza because he represents to a large number of American immigrant Muslims, the paragon of piety and acumen. And yet, despite his personal and professional accomplishments, it revealed, as I said, “that religion is not an unconscious or automatic inoculation against the vicissitudes of racism”. In fact I would contend that Shaykh Hamza himself has been a victim of the American public education system and liberalism, one in which he was educated, the other he was reared in according to his own statements. The latter akin to what Sugrue calls “the strange career of New Deal liberalism that simultaneously empowered African Americans while perpetuating race-based inequalities in American life”5.

Another contributing factor to American immigrant Muslims buying into white-inspired notions of black inferiority is the promise of the American economy, more specifically to the faith that if they worked hard, as have so many other immigrants had done so (or so goes the myth) that their hard work would be rewarded, economically speaking. And to a large degree—the extent to which American immigrant Muslims were allowed to assimilate into whiteness—this proved to be true and thus confirming their “faith”, making it even more difficult for many American immigrant Muslims to, “see that racialized inequality [in America] is, at core, a political problem”6 and not one of inherent racial or cultural deficiencies.

It is from here, a faith in the promise of America through hard work and the social benefits available to American immigrant Muslims vis-a-vie whiteness that an attitude was adopted, an attitude contradictory to the view as articulated in the Qur’an. This new view in America tended to view the poor in general, and blacks in particular, through a lens of condemnation. A view and a belief deeply rooted in the white American psyche which articulated “that unemployment and poverty are the fault of poor people and their deviant attitudes and behaviors, not the consequence of macroeconomic changes that have gutted urban labor markets”7. It is because of this adopting of the one of the greatest of all white (conservative as well as liberal) mythologies in America (hard work) I believe American immigrant Muslims tend to donate to foreign causes. Many will counter that this is due to the nostalgia many American immigrant Muslims harbor for homelands, though in the face of recent tragic events in America, events which implicate American immigrant Muslims (certainly more than it does Blackamerican Muslims) specifically, the speed in which American immigrant Muslims were able to raise funds for the victims of San Bernardino, for instance, was astounding. Yet other urban organizations which also seek to fundraise for various charitable causes, causes that obviously would benefit poor black and brown populations (some of which are Muslim!), the same expediency and generosity is lacking. The obvious difference being that American Muslims are, one, not implicated in their poverty, and two, the above mentioned prejudices towards black, brown, and poor populations are in full effect.

I would like to revisit Sugrue’s assertion that Americans, rooted in the mythology of whiteness and hard work, fault the poor as their own worst enemies. For in this regard American immigrant Muslims are not alone. I have also witnessed many Blackamerican Muslims look upon their fellow black non-Muslims as “deviant”. It is here that I feel Muslims have also shown themselves to be susceptible to another American virus: pride. It is ironic that many Blackamerican Muslims will consider themselves superior to non-Muslim blacks while living in the same squalor. I am aware of certain arguments related to communal belonging and salvation in the Here-After but I cannot turn a blind eye to this indifferent attitude our community takes towards the poor, doubly so Blackamericans, who, as Dr. Sherman Jackson has attested, has been American Muslims’ “Banu Hashim”. Neither is it, in my opinion, religiously sustainable to harbor such condescending attitudes towards the poor given the Qur’an explicitly states that the poor have a right to a portion of our wealth,

“Truly, human beings are insatiable from the moment they’re created, for they’re worried when misfortune comes, yet greedy when times are good. However, it’s not the same with those who are inclined to prayer, who are diligent in their devotions and who know that there’s a claim on their wealth from the poor who ask and from the poor who are held back from asking.” Qur’an 70: 19-25

Similarly, the Prophetic traditions are filled with innumerable exhortations towards caring for the poor. This is but one example,

أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَقُولُ شَرُّ الطَّعَامِ طَعَامُ الْوَلِيمَةِ يُدْعَى لَهَا الأَغْنِيَاءُ، وَيُتْرَكُ الْفُقَرَاءُ، وَمَنْ تَرَكَ الدَّعْوَةَ فَقَدْ عَصَى اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏.‏

Abu Hurayrah relates that the Prophet said, “The worst food is that of a wedding banquet to which only the rich are invited while the poor are not invited. And he who refuses an invitation to a banquet disobeys Allah and His Messenger .” Sahih al-Bukhari, 5177

Returning to the point above, it is critical for American immigrant Muslims and their descendants as well as Blackamerican Muslims to know that issues related to the poor in America, to urban black American, cannot be explained away simply as the result of pathological behaviors, especially not because of the lack of work ethic, or other such irresponsible and racist jargon, without addressing the elephant in the room which is white supremacy, anti-black racism and the structural, political, and public policies that have led to the breakup of black families, economic disenfranchisement, as well as other forces external to black America and the greater American poor. But this change of attitude in our community will only have a chance of manifesting if American Muslim leadership becomes educated and trained on the realities that exist in America: its history, its policies, etc. And as can already be validated, such an educational endeavor will not merely be an act of piety or kindness, but will also provide the education, knowledge, training and means for all American Muslims to understand what is being enacted upon them, especially American immigrant Muslims, from a political and public policy point of view.

American Muslims must stand with the poor. Not because it makes good PR, not because it makes us feel good about ourselves or helps to pacify our guilt, but ultimately because it pleases God. It is the right thing to do. We must not abandon the poor in this country to a system and rhetoric that would have them believe that the cause and solution to all of their problems and woes start, and end, with them.

1: Etzioni, Amitai. Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy, 2007.

2: Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U Press, 1996. Pg., xxxvii. Read the intro here.

3: Poverty is not solely a black issue though the African-American community has doubtless been hard hit as well shall see through public policy.

4: Origins, xxxvi.

5: Origins, xxxvii.

6: Origins, xxxvi.

7: Origins, xxxvi.

The Slippery Slope of Apologetics – Between Empathy and Suicide

It goes without saying that the events that took place on the morning of January 7th, 2015, as perpetrated by three gunmen in Paris, France, were heinous and unjustifiable. But equally unjustifiable is the call and charge, from amongst Muslims and against Muslims, to condemn violence “perpetrated in Islam’s name”. While both vocalizations may appear to have credence, I believe it is an insidious and slippery slope to communal suicide.

I have received several requests today from members of the Muslim community to address the tragedy involving the staff of Charlie Hebdo. While I understand the sentiment to hold community meetings and the like, I believe it would be an error to hold an event for something as particular as this. None of us, by and large in the Muslim community, are in disagreement as to the heinous nature of what was done but I do believe it a detrimental act of getting into the business of apologizing for acts which we did not commit or condone; no matter how you spin it, that is what we would be doing. In fact, and I am not alone in this assessment, it is precisely this kind of response from the Muslim  community that can further exacerbate those fringe elements within our community to seek extreme measures for perceived injustices.

To be frank, I am also concerned about allowing the dominant culture to dictate what is or what isn’t a “good Muslim”. Should our condemnation not meet their approval (and the goal post on this seems to be ever shifting) then can we  all not be criminally held as suspicious? It is akin to the structural racism that faces of us African-Americans, when white America says things like “you could get ahead or do better if only you tried harder or weren’t lazy”. This rhetoric encourages Blackamericans, to not strive for excellence, but to strive for dodging the ridicule of whites. This can be a pernicious and never ending maze which we run ourselves ragged through.

Our focus as Muslims, now more so than ever, must be vigilantly on being true to Allah and His Messenger, which has, does, and will always suffice any group, in anytime and in anyplace.

Problematizing Statistical Analysis of Blackamerican Participation in Farmers Markets

The following is a short paper/project that I did for a GIS course I took in the City & Regional Planning Department at the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania ,in 2011. I wanted to do a quick study to show the lack of presence of Blackamericans at farmers markets (predominantly white spaces).

Map A-1: Farmers Market Density
Map A-1: Philadelphia Farmers Market Density

It has been some measure of consternation as to why Blackamericans appear to have a much smaller degree of participation in farmers markets (and some would charge the whole localvore1 phenomenon as a whole) as compared to non-blacks in general and in particular to whites.  Several oft-quotes deductions point to lack of education on the part of Blackamericans regarding food:

“If people only knew where their food came from”.2

Continue reading “Problematizing Statistical Analysis of Blackamerican Participation in Farmers Markets”

A Letter To My People

In the past two weeks, I have had a number of conversations with Blackamerican friends and colleagues (Muslim) who have expressed dismay of the present state of Black America. I commiserated with them, expressing my own turbulent thoughts. I thought I might share a few of these thoughts here. Just as a note: these thoughts are the culmination of ideas based upon my personal experiences, observations, conversations, research and scholarship, and as a concerned citizen. I welcome any feedback and constructive criticism. However, if your words are nothing other than vitriol, save the electrons, as I will not be posting them.

And God knows best,

In a recent talk I had mentioned that Black folks have steadily become the most secular people in the United States. This surprised many people, especially other Black folks, who thought of themselves and other Black folks as being particularly religious. However, when I directed them to look at their lived realities, the social and existential conditions, the proof was in the pudding. Continue reading “A Letter To My People”