Takfir Is Not A Call For The Headsman’s Ax

In a recent tweet by Qasim Rashid, representative of the Ahmadi heretical community, Rashid claims that by one proclaiming an individual or group as outside of Islam — particularly on creedal grounds — is synonymous with a call for the headsman’s ax. This process — known as takfīr, while being a sensitive one, is also not unknown throughout Muslim history up to the present day.

Mr. Rashid has taken the bait of one of modernity’s most enduring myths: that religion is inherently violent because religion is inherently divisive. According to Rashid’s logic, which is also seconded by virtually every representative from the Ahmadi heretical group, Ahmadis have been persecuted because they are different. In other words, because of difference. But this theory does not hold water if we examine it in light of the Nation of Islam, another heretical group, and orthodox American Muslims. Indeed, many American orthodox Muslims, while holding those in the NOI to be heretics, maintain friendly even familial relationships with them. There has been no call to violence from orthodox American Muslims against Minister Farrakhan or followers of the NOI’s teachings. Clearly Mr. Rashid’s logic is bankrupt and reveals itself bare for what it is: political jockeying.

I have participated in a number of interviews and interfaith events with Ahmadis and in every single instance they use the stage to try and score political points. They employ post-Enlightenment and liberal philosophies, to which they impugn difference as they source of all violence, to force or coerce orthodox Muslims into accepting their heresies as legitimate by employing the state: Ahmadis attempt to position themselves as “the good Muslims” while all other orthodox Muslims as either terrorists or misguided by their “corrupt” clerics who supposedly use religion to stir up hate against them.

Dr. Jonathan Brown, of Georgetown University, makes a claim for us to reconsider Ahmadi beliefs as they are articulated today, versus what was said by its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Brown stated,

“…the Ahmadi tradition needs to be taken for what its representatives say TODAY, not what Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote or said a century ago. Every tradition has the right to redefine itself, so scriptural gotcha games are not useful. To clarify, what I mean is: for example, if Mirza Ghulam Ahmad said ‘Anyone who denies my prophecy is not a Muslim,’ but Ahmadis today say this is not what we believe, then their words should be definitive.”

I agreed with Dr. Brown to the extent that those beliefs are made definitive, to which they have not been. Akin to the NOI, many of its leaders, such as Minister Farrakhan and Dr. Wesley Muhammad, continue to play a game of cat and mouse, seeming at times to articulate the orthodox creed, and others times the same old kufr (disbelief). So my counter argument to Mr. Rashid and Dr Brown is thus:

Takfir = terrorism? This is political jockeying. They can’t ever grieve with the victims of tragedies without trying to take center stage. As an Imam I can say that as by the words of M. G. Ahmad, I don’t consider Ahmadis Muslim (takfir) and I’m not calling for violence. Drawing theological boundaries is not a call for the headsman. They have to stop playing these stupid little reindeer games. If Ahmadis want to be considered Muslim then Ahmadi clerical leaders need to unconditionally articulate the orthodox creed but refuse to, often being purposely unclear as to where they stand. Want to be considered Muslim? Step one in that direction would be to stop calling yourselves/identifying yourselves with the man (M. G. Ahmad) who was clearly a kafir!

There is no arguing that Ahmadis have faced reprehensible oppression and violence in certain Muslim countries but the sources of that violence lies with those cultures as well as in the modern state itself, which the latter has an incredibly bloody track record of violence based on difference. Mr. Rashid and his community have a lot of work to do if they wish to gain legitimacy in the orthodox Muslim community versus attempting to use the state as a bludgeoning tool to gain admittance.

#MiddleGroundPodcast – But Based On What? Muslim Identity in the West


[Direct download]

This episode, we bring you some more commentary and perspective on theological boundaries in Islam from the Blue Bottle coffee shop in Culver City, California. This episode discusses, amongst many things, Haroon Mogul’s Muslims Need A New Definition of Islam In Order To Survive.

“I believe the way forward is to bring about a new definition of Islam that will coexist alongside the ones we already have.”Haroon Moghul

More Thoughts On the Relation Between Islam, Blackamericans, and Bebop

The following is s short excerpt from The African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective [335-7], by Ingrid Tolia Monson. Monson’s book provides some further insight on the nature of the relation and attraction that Islam held for Blackamerican jazz musicians as well as Blackamericans as a whole who embraced Islam.

Art Blakey’s African Travels

Ingrid Tolia Monson It is clear that its members of the New York jazz community of the 1940’s demonstrated awareness of both the anticolonialist internationalism of Robeson and Du Bois, as well as the more cultuml and spiritual pan-Africanism and pan-Asianism of Islam. Art Blakey emerged in the New York modern jazz scene through his work with the Billy Eckstine band from 1944 — 1947 (Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were his bandmates in 1944) and his recordings with Thelonious Monk in 1947. He had come to New York from Pittsburgh with Mary Lou Williams in 1938 and worked with the Fletcher Henderson orchestra from 1939 — 1941. Blakey’s first recordings as a leader were four sides for Blue Note in December 1947 with the 17 Messengers, a band conceived as a training band for young musicians. Its members included Sahib Shihab and Musa Kaleem (Orlando Wright). Blakey, whose Muslim name was Abdullah ibn Buhaina, dated his conversion to Islam at about this time. Blakey never publicly explained his path to conversion to the Ahmadiyya movement, but Dizzy Gillespie reports that a Muslim missionary named Kahlil Ahmed Nasir convened many New York musicians to the faith (Gillespie 1979).
ship. Although Blakey later remembered going to Africa for two years beginning in 1947, he likely spent only one year in Africa.

Blakey consistently denied that he ever played music while in West Africa. In one of the most detailed accounts of his African sojourn, Blakey told two French interviewers in 1963: “For two years, I immersed myself solely in philosophers, religion, and Hebrew and Arab languages. I do not remember havin
Blakey’s choice of the name Messengers for his short-lived group of 1947 and for the more enduring group from 1954 onward signifies in several directions. From an Islamic perspective, the word invokes the Islamic belief in Muhammad as the messenger of Allah; from a more broadly African American cultural context, the word implies the common cultural belief that African American music has a message, that it “says something” of deeper cultural significance. Since the Ahmadiyya movement believed in a continuous prophetic tradition (i.e., that there were prophets after Muhammad), the name of the later group, the Jazz Messengers, implies a prophetic view of the music itself. After the failure of the 17 Messengers in 1947, Blakey was unable to secure regular work and decided to travel to Africa, to pursue religious studies by working his way over on a g played an instrument even one time during that entire period” (Clouzet and Delorme 1963). Blakey’s denials later became even more emphatic: “I didn’t go to Africa to study drums — somebody wrote that — I went to Africa because there wasn’t anything else for me to do. I couldn’t get any gigs, and I had to work my way over on a boat. I went over there to study religion and philosophy. I didn’t bother with the drums, I wasn’t, after that. I went over there to see what I could do about religion” (Nolan 1979: 19).

Implying that his religious quest was somehow incompatible with music (a remarkable assertion when considering religion in West Africa), Blakey always stressed that his main inertest in Africa was religion.

Although Orthodox Islam disapproves of music, particularly instrumental music, Islam in West Africa has long blended the celebration of Islamic festivals and beliefs with traditional animist worship practices that are deeply musical. In West Africa Blakey is likely to have encountered Muslim groups who made considerable use of drumming. He is also likely to have encountered Akan, Ewe, and Yoruba religious ideas, practices, and music, as well as secular urban popular music in his travels. In 1963 Blakey explained African American interest in Islam to his French interviewers: “Islam brought the black man what he was looking for, an escape like some found in drugs or drinking: a way of living and thinking he could choose freely. This is the reason we adopted this new religion in such numbers. It was for us, above all, a way of rebelling” (Clouzet and Delorme 1963: 38).

Citations and Further Readings

  • Manley, Marc. “The Social Origins of Bebop.” The Manrilla Blog: Academics. 28 Nov. 2008. Web.
  • Monson, Ingrid. African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective (Critical and Cultural Musicology, 3). New York: Routledge, 2003.

To Be Or Not To Bop

An excerpt from To Be or Not to Bop, Beboppers… The Cult [pp. 291-3]

To Be or Not To Bop Number seven: that “beboppers” expressed a preference for religions other than Christianity may be considered only a half-truth, because most black musicians, including those from the bebop era, received their initial exposure and influence in music through the black church. And it remained with them throughout their lives. For social and religious reasons, a large number of modern jazz musicians did begin to turn toward Islam during the forties, a movement completely in line with the idea of freedom of religion.

Rudy Powell, from Edgar Hayes’s band, became one of the first jazz musicians I knew to accept Islam; he became an Ahmidyah Muslim. Other musicians followed, it seemed to me, for social rather than religious reasons, if you can separate the two.

“Man, if you join the Muslim faith, you ain’t colored no more, you’ll be white,” they’d say. “You get a new name and you don’t have to be a nigger no more.” So everybody started joining because they considered it a big advantage not to be black during the time of segregation. I thought of joining, but it occurred to me that a lot of them spooks were simply trying to be anything other than a spook at that time. They had no idea of black consciousness; all they were trying to do was escape the stigma of being “colored.” When these cats found out that Idrees Sulieman, who joined the Muslim faith about that time, could go into these white restaurants and bring out sandwiches to the other guys because he wasn’t colored — and he looked like the inside of the chimney — they started enrolling in droves. Continue reading “To Be Or Not To Bop”