Prophet Ibrahim, Amina Wadud and Caught Between Compassion and Indignation

I’d like to say it’s that time of year again for another controversy but it seems these days every day is controversy day in the world of Muslim social media. In specific, many were deeply offended by the statements of Amina Wadud, a scholar who focuses on Islamic studies from a more feminist point of view. Her statement regarding Prophet Ibrahim was as follows,

Amina Wadud’s comment,

Yes, you read that correctly: She labeled Prophet Ibrahim a dead beat dad. I know many found it difficult to look beyond Wadud’s statement, which is blasphemous to say the least, but for myself, having some moderate training in recognizing mental health disorders, it signaled to me a person suffering from some form of a breakdown. Not simply this particular statement but Wadud’s statements and positions over the years. Also knowing a little bit about her personal background I think Amina Wadud may be dealing with untreated trauma, fueled by negative experiences within the Muslim community. I’m not saying this to excuse her despicable comments about the “Friend of Allah” (Khalil Allah), Ibrahim, peace be upon him. Just looking at the situation from another angle.

One problem I have had with the response to this is that from a number of imams and public figures. Many of them, not having adequate mental health training, took the opportunity to not only attack Wadud’s statements (legitimate attacks in my estimation), but also to then use her statements as opportunities to impugn any Muslim women who espouses any relationship to so-called feminist thought. For instance, Mikaeel Smith stated,

It’s not that I have an issue with Smith, and others, being offended by Wadud’s statements, but it’s that they did not restrict their issue to her statements themselves. It’s as if they’re saying any woman who is a feminist (especially black) is in complete agreement with Wadud. Would this include such sisters as Ieasha Prime or Tamara Gray, simply because they speak on matters pertaining to women? I’m not confident that many of us in roles of leadership/scholarship completely understand our grievances with feminism (of which there certainly are grievances). So to make statements like the above is, in my opinion, sloppy. There are legitimate critiques against feminist thought, many I have myself, but I prefer to perhaps be a bit more concise in my critique. I would encourage the brothers to consider doing so as well. In fact, sister Faatimah Amatullah Knight makes the kind of rebuttal that I’m thinking of,

She goes on to give a very balanced critique of Wadud’s statement by saying,

“If we are more forgiving to the characters of Shakespeare or Homer then perhaps we need to work on the prejudices that make us attack people who are traditionally deemed holy.”Faatimah Amatullah Knight

Returning to the question of mental health, I would ask, has anyone checked in on sister Amina Wadud? Perhaps she’s in her right state of mind (I pray to God she is not to excuse her from these statements) and perhaps she’s not.

But let us turn for a moment from the controversy — for there will always be controversy — and look at the kind of situation we have here and what our Deen tells us about it.

أَنَّ نَافِعَ بْنَ عَبْدِ الْحَارِثِ، لَقِيَ عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ بِعُسْفَانَ – وَكَانَ عُمَرُ اسْتَعْمَلَهُ عَلَى مَكَّةَ

It was narrated that Nafi’ bin ‘Abdul-Harith met ‘Umar bin al-Khattab during his khilafah in ‘Usfan, when ‘Umar had appointed him as his governer in Makkah.

فَقَالَ عُمَرُ مَنِ اسْتَخْلَفْتَ عَلَى أَهْلِ الْوَادِي قَالَ اسْتَخْلَفْتُ عَلَيْهِمُ ابْنَ أَبْزَى قَالَ وَمَنِ ابْنُ أَبْزَى قَالَ رَجُلٌ مِنْ مَوَالِينَا ‏ قَالَ عُمَرُ فَاسْتَخْلَفْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ مَوْلًى قَالَ إِنَّهُ قَارِئٌ لِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى عَالِمٌ بِالْفَرَائِضِ قَاضٍ قَالَ عُمَرُ أَمَا إِنَّ نَبِيَّكُمْ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ قَالَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَرْفَعُ بِهَذَا الْكِتَابِ أَقْوَامًا وَيَضَعُ بِهِ آخَرِينَ

‘Umar asked, “Whom have you appointed as your deputy over the people of the valley?” He said, “I have appointed Ibn Abza over them.” ‘Umar said, “Who is Ibn Abza?” Nafi’ answered, “One of our freed slaves.” ‘Umar replied, “Have you appointed a freed slave over them?” Nafi’ assured ‘Umar, “He has great knowledge of the Book of Allah, is well versed in the necessities of the religion and is also a good judge.” ‘Umar then remember a statement of the Prophet in which he said, “Did not your Prophet say: ‘Allah raises some people in status because of this book and brings others low because of it.’

For me, I see one of the central lessons to be learned here for our community is that we should ask ourselves, “how is my approach to the Qur’an ennobling me?” And, “how is someone else’s approach to the Qur’an ennobling them?” When you look at the trajectory of sister Amina’s last decade or so she seems to have become even more extreme and isolated in her musings about Islam and the Book of Allah. Is this due to mental health degradation? Perhaps. Or perhaps this degradation is brought on by insulting one of the greatest humans God has ever created and appointed as a light of guidance. It would seem the latter part of the hadith above gives much to consider.

But now, what about ourselves and our responses. Whether we like it or not, we must come to accept that some folks are going to say things we find offensive. When this happens we must also remember the advice that Luqman, peace be upon him, gave his son,

يا بُنَيَّ أَقِمِ الصَّلاةَ وَأمُر بِالمَعروفِ وَانهَ عَنِ المُنكَرِ وَاصبِر عَلىٰ ما أَصابَكَ ۖ إِنَّ ذٰلِكَ مِن عَزمِ الأُمورِ

“My son, establish salat and command what is right and forbid what is wrong and be steadfast in the face of all that happens to you. That is certainly the most resolute course to follow.”Qur’an,
31: 17

Is this easy? No, but neither is the discipline of controlling ourselves (عَزمِ الأُمورِ). I’m not saying that we don’t defend the Prophets, that we don’t stand up for what is right and against what is wrong. I’d be a hypocrite by publishing statements about Reza Aslan if I didn’t believe we have a right to respond to statements of disbelief and blasphemy. Just giving us some food for thought.

May Allah guide us, put Islam in our hearts, and make us from amongst the Grateful. Amin.

Morality and Liberalism – A Challenge To Moral Orthodoxy

This post may indelibly put me on the other side of some folks’ proverbial tracks but I feel that we are approaching a cross roads in America of which, if it goes unchallenged, we Muslims may find ourselves sailing down some very murky waters. To be blunt, this is about a post that Imam Suhaib Webb regarding Nicki Minaj. A critique which involved the morality (or lack thereof) of her image, in particular in reference to her new video Anaconda. Apparently, we have a double-standard in our community (by “our community” I am doubly referring to the black community and to the Muslim community) that wishes to marginalize whites to the role of sympathizer, not of critic. So long as whites sympathize with the social plights of blacks, Muslims, or other socially disparaged groups, their voices are welcome. However, should they begin to bring up issues that confront our (i.e., black folks, etc.) morality, or lack thereof, their voices are often ridiculed and silenced. I have an issue with this both as a black person and as a Muslim.

Without a doubt, white supremacy is a major issue and its presence (not legacy!) is still very much here with us today. But what is often missing from the overall narrative regarding white supremacy is the acknowledgement that some of the the most devastating critiques leveled at white supremacy have come from the pens of white authors and academics. Names such as Richard Dyer (White), Tim Wise (White Like Me) and Allan G. Johnson (Privilege, Power, and Difference) are just a few such examples. We need not, in an attempt to protect our dignity as non-whites, debar whites in participating in the overall critique of white supremacy. To do so would be, least of all, a double standard.

The second tract that I have major concerns on is the issue of morality. As a Muslim, no less an imam, I have an obligation to speak to the realities of the world I live in. And while Nikki Minaj is not the singular focus of any cultural critique I might have, undoubtedly she, and her ilk, would be a part of it. As a black father of a black daughter, I am deeply disturbed by the hyper sexualization of society. Undoubtedly black women have been the targets of such sexualization, undeniably at the hands of black perpetrators. Our collective silence on this is disturbing; our outrage at a white critic, juvenile. And while some would argue that a woman has a right to express herself however she likes, the right does not insulate her from public critique. To be frank, I appreciate those arguments on the one hand from non-Muslims. I am, however, deeply disturbed by Muslims who would object to another Muslim critiquing such behavior which is so obviously unacceptable (by Muslim and non-Muslim standards alike). Indeed, it has been my thought that the next wave of “extremism” to confront Muslims in America will not be in the form of violent outbursts or rhetoric, but will actually be the co-opting, adaption and condoning of post-modern liberalism, which can have little congruence with any modern faith tradition with still appreciates its pre-modern sensibilities.

To return to the issue of the original post, I find it very troublesome that we cannot confront the truth of a critique leveled against us simply because it comes from a white (male) voice. In all honestly, I am in complete agreement with Imam Suhaib’s assessment of Minaj’s video; I would stretch the critique further to her as an artist and ultimately, to her industry as a whole. If what Dr. Sherman Jackson recently said has any merit, regarding the current apathetic stance religion has towards “cool” and “sexy”, then we will need all hands on deck; all voices must be heard. For it is not the objective of this author, nor of the enterprise of Islam itself, to condemn sexual expression. Rather, Islam simply states such expressions are best relegated to the bedroom, where one may indulge one’s “inner freak” to one’s heart’s content, so long as it falls within the boundaries God Almighty has laid out. But that is another story for another day!

(Below are screenshots from Imam Suhaib’s original post)

Suhaib Webb on Nicki Minaj
Suhaib Webb on Nicki Minaj

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