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.

NBC Nightly News – Why Muslims Need A New Media Strategy

On Sunday, December 4th, I had the privilege of having 10 seconds of my interview with NBC aired before the nation. Yes, I am being sarcastic.

As I mentioned in this week’s The Middle Ground Podcast, I don’t believe in the conspiracy theory of the media to portray Muslims as victims, at least not entirely. Undoubtedly there may be a few journalists who do but I firmly believe that the vast majority in the media who portray Muslims as victims are doing so at the direction of a vocal group of Muslims themselves. It’s much easier for us to demonize the media and scapegoat them for all of our problems than to face an inconvenient truth: many of us love being victims because we believe we can use pity to coerce Chuck into getting what we want from him: our pre-9/11 lives back.

This startling truth was made even more clear when I was interview by Larry Mantel on his show, AirTalk, on KPCC radio.

One caller, Fawaz, further illustrates my point. He spoke on how he was supported by the community, as immigrants. Never did he speak on what they contribute back. He further said,

“I do take an issue with some of the other points. I am an American Muslim, I am an immigrant, but I am fully integrated with the local activities and am part of Arcadia dialog; interfaith group.”

My response to brother Fawaz was,

“the glaring point is I, and your guest, would not be on this show if this wasn’t an issue”.

Clearly the American/Muslim issue has not been put to rest, despite Fawaz’s claims, otherwise there would not be a continued national discussion regarding it. What is most misunderstood here is there’s a difference between being a citizen and being fully American; there’s a difference between how one thinks of one’s self and how one is perceived by others in that society; and the difference between the potential to be fully American and current realities.

Clearly we must take efforts to stop sabotaging ourselves through continued invocations of victimhood. Only through a strong, principled, and courageous voice can we make our narrative felt and understood.

Are We Dropping the Baton?

Much of social media can be a slosh of one-liners: a blur of detached quotes and images. Total chaos. But once in a while a post comes along that does make you stop and reflect. The Islam & the Third Resurrection Facebook group posited the following question:

“Why does it seem like the majority of all the black American Muslims are 55 and up? Why weren`t they able to successfully pass Islam on to their children?”

This is a prescient question, one deserving our undivided attention. And while not wanting to universalize, this also reflects a comment I made during my interview with sister Heather Laird when asked about the differences, if any, between the challenges facing the Blackamerican/indigenous American-Muslim community and the immigrant community:

“It’s like a different album cover but the songs are still the same.”

This question cannot be answered in any single, simple term. It’s as complicated as the folks who made the problem itself. I tried to address some of this in the interview (timeline about 16:00) but if I were to begin an attempt to answer this question, it would be an accusation against the older generation that they thought “it was all about them”. They largely built nothing for succeeding generations: very few institutions by Blackamerican Muslims (masajid, schools, other spaces) and dysfunctional mosques and schools by immigrants. In both cases, the few places that were built were devoid of any purpose and back by little if any human capital.

Additionally, these two communities have stifled any and all creativity in their children. As a result, Islam was mainly reduced to a reactionary theology, devoid of real character building, absent of moral conviction, that painted God as little more than a great big cop in the sky, ready to punish anyone who drove 65 in a 55 mph zone, with their pants too long, their beards too short, and the hijabs not wrapped tight enough (or absent all together!). Our inclination to protest (something present in both the Blackamerican experience as well as the immigrant one) has gotten the better of us: we protest to the point that we even proverbially picketed our children. And with all of the alluring secular options to just bounce out and live lives as “good people”, they were failed to be led to see how, in any way, that religion adds value to life.

So let us ask God for guidance, to come to our senses, and try to right the ship before it’s too late for us all.