The Dull Knife

The most dangerous knife in the kitchen is the dull knife. It's unreliable and when you least expect it, it cuts you. When you most need it, it slips.

I have noticed a growing tendency amongst our communtiy that we are no longer people of extended thought — knowledge you might say — but instead have become people of narrative. I do not say this as a snide remark but I say this with also indicting myself. Narrative is important but without foundational knowledge, we'll have nothing other than shifting sand to plant the flag of our narrative in.

Everyone's busy. That's what I hear. That's the excuse I'm given. But I also hear, "Shaykh, I want to learn Arabic!" (without showing up to the Arabic class) ; "Imam, how did you learn your Arabic?" (I spent many many long hours sacrificing play time to do thousands upon thousands of drills, etc.). The list goes on and on. And instead of providing opportunities for learning, I believe the last generation of institutions and their scholars/imams/etc., have largely indulged the phenomenon I call Islamotainment. Our gatherings, if we have them at all, tend to range from "chop-it-up" sessions to superficial demonstrations of knowledge that are more about their "wow" factor versus anything transformative. So what can we do?

First, we must ask ourselves if we're satisfied with how things are. Little is going to change if we feel there's no need for it in the first place. Second, we must be willing to sacrifice, even if it's just a little bit. This is reminiscent as to what the wife of the Prophet ﷺ — A'ishah — relates when he said,

أنَّ أحبَّ الأعمالِ أدوَمُها إلى اللهِ وإن قلَّ

"The most beloved deeds to God are those done regularly even if small."Sahih al-Bukhari, #6464

And third, we must have a sense of urgency about the time we have in this life, how we spend it, and seeing knowledge as something fundamental, elemental even, to knowing and worshiping God. To this I am reminded of the statement of Abu Qilabah's (a Successor of the Companions of the Prophet) in which he said,

ما أمات العلم إلا القصص – يجالس الرجل الرجلَ القاص سنة فلا يتعلق منه شيء – ويجلس إلى العالم فلا يقوم حتى يتعلق منه شيء

"Nothing kills knowledge quite like storytelling. A person can sit with storyteller for a year and nothing will come of it. But one can sit with a scholar and they won't stand back up without having gained something."al-Asfahani's Hilyah al-Awliya' wa Tabaqat al-Asfiya'

I see Abu Qilabah's use of "qasas" similar to our use of "narrative". And I do believe that narrative is important: its ability to oversimplify powerful myths, as Joseph Campbell says, is extremely useful and can be very inspiring. But narrative built on sand is soon to shift. Where once one's narrative was to be rooted in fitrah, now one finds oneself actively supporting homosexuality, not because the Qur'an changed its tune, or God went back on his word, but because the narrative changed on homosexuality. To this very topic, God says in the Qur'an,

ما يُبَدَّلُ القَولُ لَدَيَّ وَما أَنا بِظَلّامٍ لِلعَبيدِ

"My decree does not chnage with Me nor am I ever unjust to My servants."Qur'an, 50: 29

So I pray we can return to being a community that pursues knowledge, in big and short strides, so we can know who we truly are and live for the reason we were truly made: To worship The Almighty as He commands.

Amin.

America’s Enduring Problem of Racism and the Promise of Acceptance

America has an enduring problem: racism. Sadly, many Muslims are not sure quite where they should place their hands and feet regarding this dance with Ms. America: many of us desire acceptance above respect. But what acceptance can one ever have if you leave it wholly to another? What acceptance can there be if it is based not on who you are but on how much of yourself you are not? Like a pretty girl who has no intentions of sleeping with you, Ms. America is quiet happy for you to make a fool of yourself fawning over her. Ms. America loves flattery. But as they say: flattery will get you nowhere.

Until we deal with ourselves, all of our politics, activism, and “jihads” will be all for naught.

American Muslims and the Need To Be on the Right Side of Society

Daniel Haqiqatjou, of the Yaqeen Institute, brings to light an important topic challenging American Muslims: the pressure many feel to be on the “right side” of a whole cadre of subjects ranging from Darwinism and eurocentric science to homosexuality. Paraphrasing Marwa Elshakry1 from her Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950, Haqiqatjou says,

“…accepting Darwinism was due less to a careful intellectual assessment of the theory and more to Muslim intellectuals, politicians, and elites simply signaling their social and political alignment with modernization, secularization, and Europeanization. Likewise, the rejection of Darwinism by traditional Muslim scholars and their students was at times a marker of their general opposition to colonialism and its cultural and religious impact on Muslim society.”

What’s important to note here is that while Haqiqatjou’s article speaks to the question of will American Muslims adopt Darwinism wholesale or not, the phenomenon he outlines is even more critically important. The bigger question is not the embracing Darwinism “inevitable”, but more urgently, is the abandoning of an independent skepticism — regarding all that is western and its implied bias that that which is western is inately better — inevitable? Will Muslims, due to pressure from their society as well as a collapse of a relevantless leadership in the face of these challenges, relinquish the ability to think on their own? If this happens, the question not only becomes “how will Muslims thrive in the West”, but also how can they contrinute to it as Muslims, with any sort of Muslim genius, if intellectually Muslims cast themselves into the dustbin of bygone ideas?

You can read Haqiqatjou’s article here.

Notes

1. Elshakry, Marwa. Reading Darwin in Arabic: 1860-1950. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

American Muslims – Between the Pragmatic and the Progressive

The following quote from Amos Wilson, scholar of black studies, has made me ponder the current outlook on life many American Muslims hold: is it unquestionably our destiny to “progress” forward to a better and brighter future? Like any parent, I most certainly hope so but history, especially if this election cycle is any indication, shows us that life is anything but a sure, steady, and guaranteed progression to a brighter and more prosperous future. One quote of Wilson’s caught my eye:

“The idea that we must necessarily arrive at a point greater than that reached by our ancestors could possibly be an illusion. The idea that somehow according to some great universal principle we are going to be in a better condition than our ancestors is an illusion which often results from not studying history and recognizing that progressions and regressions occur; that integrations and disintegrations occur in history.”1

While generally not regarded as a scholar of education, I do think Wilson’s remarks are worth considering for American Muslims. Specifically, the need for us to consider what are our particular educational needs. This may (and ought to) subdivide again, in that the educations needs of particular aspects of the American Muslim community (suburban Desi vs. urban Blackamerican, for example) will have needs that will vary from segment to segment. My point being, that if we are to have a brighter future, then the American Muslim community will need to produce not only leaders but educators, ones who are adept, cognizant and articulate with American history and how that history will challenge American Muslim hopes and aspirations for a brighter tomorrow.

Notes

1. Wilson , Amos N. The Falsification Of Afrikan Consciousness. Brooklyn: Afrikan World Infosystems, 1993.