Steven Seidman describes these three facets of premodern religious life and how those communities were able to prevent existential challenges from “erupting into full-blown cultural crises”.
Yesterday I made a post on Twitter which sparked some difficult but worthwhile conversation about the topics of colonialism and decolonization. The following are some additional thoughts I had on the topic:One reason why the Muslim world was so ripe for conquering is because they were overly invested in symbols and not The Truth. In other words identity politics and I sort of crass conservatism mixed with a simple minded symbolism is what contributed to the ease of them being conquered. This is why large tracts of the Muslim world will flip when one white dude draws a cartoon but will either turn a blind eye to, or participate in, corruption. Instead of the Qur’anic
(رب إني ظلمت نفسي)
“O God I have wronged myself” — Qur’an, 28: 16
it’s “the West is bad”. And the ulama’ have in large part enabled this line of thinking particularly from the vanquished lands of the Muslims.
If identity is not subservient to The Truth then you’ll have a people who espouse The Truth while contradicting it in their every day lives. Additionally, symbols and identity are easily hijacked, whereas The Truth remains aloof, an independent arbiter.
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.
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.
Given the recent attack in London — along with others, many would be highly suspicious of, if not downright hostile towards, any claims of Islam’s ability to empower those who have been downtrodden themselves. Quite the contrary, many view Islam as a corrupting force which prays on the poor and disenfranchised, of which then they all too often employ Islam as an irrational justification to mete our violence in response to perceived injustices. But it may surprise some, particularly American whites and Europeans, that Islam has a very different assessment in the black community. For many of us, even non-Muslim black folks, Islam is seen as redemptive, a system that has the solutions to our social, existential, and even civilizational conundrums. This was beautifully demonstrated by brother Ibn Ali Miller when he broke up two young men attempting to solve their disagreements through violence. He also gave a valuable critique against the voyeuristic technology culture that allows others to sit on the sidelines and gloat at the suffering of others. May Allah reward brother Ali and make him of the inheritors of Islam. An inspiration to us all.
WATCH: Ibn Ali Miller accepts council resolution. Thanks mom in emotional speech. pic.twitter.com/MX3kjDfCa6
— Christian Hetrick (@_Hetrick) March 22, 2017
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 21, 2017
وَنُريدُ أَن نَمُنَّ عَلَى الَّذينَ استُضعِفوا فِي الأَرضِ وَنَجعَلَهُم أَئِمَّةً وَنَجعَلَهُمُ الوارِثينَ
“And We want to empower those who were being oppressed in the land, to make them leaders, and to give them an inheritance in the earth.” Qur’an, 28: 5