What Do We Want?

“What do we want? What is the thing we are after? As it was phrased last night it had a certain truth: We want to be Americans, full-fledged Americans, with all the rights of other American citizens. But is that all? Do we want simply to be Americans? Once in a while through all of us there flashes some clairvoyance, some clear idea, of what America really is. We who are dark can see America in a way that white Americans cannot. And seeing our country thus, are we satisfied with its present goals and ideals?” – W. E. B. Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art”.

The above is a quote from the masterful W. E. B. Du Bois, which I felt adeptly described the current situation that Muslims in general, and Blackamericans Muslims in specific, find themselves in. In the wake of the much-ado-about-nothingness of ISNA 2009, I see nor feel any clear articulation of what it is we as a Muslim community are after. Muslim leadership is either woefully silent or ignorant of the question. Yet, it is a question we must ask ourselves. As Muslims, are we after a fully-fledged American existence, with all its rights and privileges therein? And if we answer in the affirmative, then how might we best accomplish this task. It is here, at this cross roads that I feel the double-consciousness of my own people, namely Blackamericans, and the unique perspective we may be able to lend to this circumstance. Not only can we as Blackamericans see America in ways that that our Whiteamerican counterparts cannot [the latest issue with Professor Gates should illuminate this fact], but we can also shed unique clairvoyance on America for our immigrant brothers and sisters as well.

In a way, this puts a new twist on the idea of “double-consciousness”. In doing so, Blackamerican Muslims could be poised to help articulate and navigate this precarious existence we have all arrived at. Yet we falter at the starting gate, mainly due to an alternative form of double-consciousnesses, one that is rooted in a struggle for Muslim authenticity where many are torn between being authentically black/American and authentically Muslim. In the end, though, if we can over come some of these obstacles, we may, as an entire Muslim community, be able to ask some very important questions of ourselves and our existence, not the least of which is: upon looking at American and seeing it as it currently is, are we and can we be satisfied with its present goals and ideals? These are the questions for a people who are grounded, who have a vested interest in not solely the survival of America, but its prosperity in general, and how that equates a prosperity for the American Muslim community in specific. 

If Islam in America is to survive, it must avoid two major pitfalls. One, is that of being domesticated by the state/dominant culture in which Islam is no longer free to voice a critical opinion, be it a supportive one at a critical juncture, or admonish or even condem the actions of that very same state/dominent culture with efficacy. The other is that while in attempting to evade domestication, it must not render itself foreign and or inconsequential. This latter part’s success will greatly depend in part on whether or not American Muslims can solidify their identity here, navigating the tightrope of Tradition and prudent opportunism.

And finally, if all of the above can be actualized, we may finally be able to begin the meaninful aspect of our growth and journey as Muslims in this part of the world. Many of the ills we see in the society that we would condem for moral reasons could finally be done so with real social weight and capital, versus the hollow words of dogmatic arm chair generals. If our goal is to change society, to make a more just and moral society not simply for the perpetuating of secular values but because that is what is most pleasing to God, then we will have to alter our entire game plan.

So I ask, are we satisfied with our present goals and ideals?