The Credibility Gap Widens

In 2016, I wrote several articles about what Dr. Sherman Jackson calls, “the credibility gap”. One of them was entitled Interpretation In Free Fall. In it I discussed an embarrassing exchange between Kayleigh McEnany and Reza Aslan, in which the two battled over authoritative claims about Islam. Here we are again with yet another example of Muslims being academically and publicly dishonest about Islam. Samina Ali’s Tedx talk, delivered at the University of Nevada, attempts to reduce hijab to essentially class and culture (Ali also fails to situate the topic of hijab, or headscarf, within the broader topic of ‘awrah, or nakedness, which is where the Qur’an and the Prophet situate it). According to Ali, if a women came from a noble enough station in society, she would not be publicly molested and thus is the raison d’être for hijab. What we have here is another 5-minute (well, 17-minute) gloss-over of a topic that requires far more finesse and skill than perhaps Ali is capable of bringing to it. At the risk of sounding elitist, I must say I found Ali’s assumptions to be full of holes, presumptions, and just downright sloppy.

What is most striking about pundits of Ali’s ilk is their complete ignoring of the Prophetic tradition with hadith like,

المرأةُ عورةٌ وإنَّها إذا خرَجتْ استشرَفها الشَّيطانُ

The woman’s body is ‘awrah (i.e., nakedness), so when she goes out, Shaytan attempts to take a peek.”1

These sources are typically dismissed in favor of what is exclusively mentioned in the Qur’an. This is done so, not for academic or hermeneutical purity, but for ideological reasons. It also allows such pundits to obfuscate their lacking credentials so as to mask their inability to discuss their chosen topics in-depth.  Ironically, what is equally striking is how Ali’s 17-minute video is almost completely comprised of nothing other than non-Qur’anic sources! How is it that such sources are disqualified from the conversation, let alone from having any authority, while they are invoked with impunity to support attacks against those very same authority claims? Sadly, this is another example of zero-credibility authority. What really begs answering from the likes of Ali is how do you: pray, pay zakah, make Hajj or ‘Umrah, etc.? None of these are explained in any detail in the text of the Qur’an. Should we then abandon qiyam, jalsah, ruku’,  and sajdah (standing, sitting, bowing, and prostration) as actions to perform in Muslim prayer given that their validity and method is solely and explicitly found in the hadith literature?

What ultimately baffles me is why do such Muslims even bother with Shari’ah, in that Shari’ah is essentially a post-revelatory enterprise to understand and codify what God intended through the demonstration of His Prophet in audience of the his Companions. Why not declare oneself a non-Shar’i Muslim (for the record, I am not advocating this!)? Instead, what we have — again — is an attempt to warp and bend Shari’ah to fit various agendas, such as liberalism (which rejects all authority external to the self, including God, His prophets, etc.), individualism (the embodiment of liberalism), or in this case, what appears to be some botched Marxist critique of Muslim/Qur’anic sexual ethics.

1. Recorded in Ibn Hibban’s Sahih (5598#), narrated by ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud: المرأةُ عورةٌ وإنَّها إذا خرَجتْ استشرَفها الشَّيطانُ وإنَّها لا تكونُ إلى وجهِ اللهِ أقربَ منها في قعرِ بيتِها/”The woman’s body is ‘awrah (i.e., nakedness), so when she goes out, Shaytan attempts to take a peek. She will not be closer to the Face of her Lord than when she’s in the middle of her home.”

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.

No Growth – No Surprise

Squeaky wheels gets the grease. There are some in our community who are attention seekers. They want a lot of attention and we obliged them. Perhaps if we work actively to steer our converts (so they can move beyond conversion into “being” Muslim) and other members of our community towards operationalizing their Islam, we could nip all of this in the bud. It’s no coincidence that some can rise to popularity in this age of social media and blogs (I myself have a well-read blog). It provides an (unhealthy for some) outlet for those who struggle with narcissism (a disease of our age).

For those of us who personally know converts who leave Islam, you’ll often see there was no progression, no growth of who they were as a person (not only as a Muslim) during their stint in Islam. I hold us a community (fard kifayah?) partially to blame: we have no expectations on ourselves other than beards, hijabs, and bummery (yes, that’s a word). This is also where, again for those of us who do know these converts, we should be challenging them by asking, “why did you spend x-number of years jumping from lily pad to lily pad instead of learning how to swim in the big pond?” What do I mean? Salafism, Sufism, progressivism, this ‘ism and that ‘ism. Some even claim that Islam, vis-a-vie, Muslims, are incapable of competing in the marketplace of ideas. How ironic that in making this statement (which in to some degree may actually hold a bit of validity) thet indict themselves! Obviously is you spend your life committed to the Cult of Personality and not to establishing a relationship with God and His Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم then you can’t expect blood from a turnip. This ordeal is bigger than any one personality; I see the same issue happening now with the UnMosqued people (which is interestingly enough, also taking place online via social media. Just go on Twitter and look for the hash-tag #unmosqued – also see #remosqued). People are whining and complaining about the predicament of our mosques (some true – some maybe not so much) but that’s it. It only amounts to complaints. Folks are unwilling to be that change they want to see in their mosques and communities. Case in point, I was just asked by a young Muslim this morning:

“Why did you want to become an Imam and grow closer and become an important part of your Muslim community? This MSA is my first ever Muslim community and I just can’t help be feel that maybe I just wasted my time by joining it.”

I am not chiding this person but as you can see, many struggle with seeing validity in their lives and the easiest and most convenient target for their frustrations is the Muslim community (an abstraction). My reply was:

“In short, because I like people, because if I don’t, who will. Because I have the necessary skills and talents, in sha’Allah. And because I don’t see it as a waste of time.”

For every commentator on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, we should be asking critical questions, not simply refuting this or that particular person’s misguided reasons for leaving Islam. What can we do, right now, today, tomorrow, this month, this year, to make our community a beacon of light and hope, where folks (myself included!!) can be rehabilitated, where we can help reinforce our children’s love of Islam (and themselves!). Where Islam becomes a lived-in reality, a way of life, not simply a collection of do’s and don’ts (we need more do’s!!).

In a closing observation, I want to say this about converts, who often look for validation and a sense of belonging. For some, this is sought in the Black community (for others with Arabs or South Asian community). This is why for some, even in their demeanor, they attempted to co-opt Black vernacular, body language, urban modes of dress and even derogatory aspects of Black urban behavior. In essence, they seek acceptance from and by African-Americans. This is often the base because their his whiteness is perceived as an immutable barrier to BEING black. Why else do so many feel so comfortable in weighing in on issues with in the black community such as black masculinity. What is not addressed is they own perception of whiteness and how its seen as emasculation personified (look at the critiques of Nuh Ha Meem Keller, Hamza Yusuf, Joe Bradford and others by white converts). Some pursue their Islam through Salafism in its urban, Blackamerican form, not Arab or Desi Salafis (for they do exist in abundance). And even when Salafism “disappointed” them, their next “lily pad” they jump to is often Sufism (the sign of an imbalanced mind – this is nothing to do with those groups in particular); but not just any expression of Sufism (Naqshbandi, Qadiri, Shadhili) but the tariqah which is predominantly black: the Tijani Order. The issue here is seeking acceptance from personalities and groups of people: African-Americans in this case here, instead of dealing with their obvious identity crises and (erroneous) misgivings of being white (which for many white converts, they seem to feel — and indeed may be encouraged to feel — is in jeopardy of discrediting the authenticity of their Islam) has more to do with their apostasy than anything else in my opinion. You’ll notice that theology (tawhid) is often left out of the discussion and the reason being is that for many new converts, theology may not play a major role in the decision to convert (I know it didn’t in mine — I had no idea what tawhid was when I became Muslim. All I knew was my best friend since I was 5 years old became a Muslims, so I became a Muslim — the important part is that I eventually grew as a person which allowed me to grow in my Islam). The major reasons initially may fade over time (boyfriend, girlfriend, marriage, etc.) and if people grow in themselves then such things as tawhid, Sunnah, etc. may become the defining points in why they stay Muslims.

Food for thought.