Now That The Sugar High Is Gone

 

– and other collected thoughts on the MANA conference.

So, here we are, a full week after the successful MANA conference and we’re already starting to see the mud slinging around the Muslim blogosphere. I was beginning to think real change had in fact come from this conference. But don’t mistake my sarcasm for critiquing MANA. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In fact, I would like to again extend my thanks to MANA for hosting their first conference. God willing, this is just the first of many more successful conferences.

So what should we expect from a conference such as this MANA conference? Should we emerge from it to find the streets paved with gold? Or as Conan so once eloquently put it:  “to hear the lamentations of the women”? Perhaps – or perhaps not. I will have to say in defense of MANA I certainly encountered many happy and motivated faces of those who attended the various workshops. And while I didn’t attend any myself I have it on good account that they were well constructed and of value.

It is precisely that last word, value, that keeps bouncing around and around inside my head as I ponder our current condition. If we do not value ourselves then I think very little will change. And from what Dr. Jackson had to say during his speech, that seemed to be one of his underpinning points – we as Blackamerican Muslims are in a unique vantage point, one where Allah has chosen us to be in this spot, this place, and this time, as the receptacles and carriers of Islam to this part of the world at this point in Time and History. So the enduring question is: what we gon’ do?

But to bring us back to the opening point, I’ll speak about some reactions I’ve observed about the conference. One in particular criticism smacks of one of the very issues the conference sought to address: disengagement. Disengagement is the word best word I’ve been able to find to describe the current mood of many Muslims around the country. Instead of seeing Islam as a system of access, it’s been co-opted as an illegitimate excuse to not participate. To help render my point perhaps such colloquialisms will sound familiar:

“Naw, akh. I quit my kafir job – it was too much dunya.”

“I dropped out of college to get a real education in the deen.”

And the perennial crowd pleaser

“I’m going overseas to study in Yemen or Syria so I can get that haqq.”

These should all be familiar to many of us. And while they might produce a giggle or two out of some of us, I believe they speak to an undercurrent in the Blackamerican Muslim pathology that continues to hinder and plague many of our communities from emerging out of the quagmire and starting to produce and participate. In fact, my biggest criticism of these folks is that that is all they do! Arm chair criticisms seldom produce anything and are for the sole benefit for lazy Negroes to sluff off, if you can pardon my French. It is not my aim to take potshots at my fellow Muslims but I do believe we have to starting calling figs, figs. In a conversation with a close friend of mine today, we both lamented at the criticisms that were leveled at the conference, specifically in reference to MANA inviting members of the Nation of Islam to the conference. The meat and potatoes of their argument rests in the fact that these people do not have the correct ‘aqueedah and therefore we should just toss the baby out with the bathwater [again?]. How dangerous and slanderous is this. MANA is the only organization that I’ve seen that has taken serious steps to extend the Nation an olive branch to try and bridge the gap in terms of dogma, but also to say, “hey, we as Blackamerican Muslims wish to express our solidarity with our fellow Black brothers and sisters and that we’d like to address the various maladies that attacking our communities”. Please note this: I am not a member of MANA. Nor do I speak for them. Rather, this is how I interpreted their gesture. But to dive in a bit further about this notion of correct ‘aqueedah, let’s ask our selves: “Hmm”, what would Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم do?”

Despite the efforts of many a pundit on the left and right, from within and without Islam, Islam is not an ahistorical process or entity. It’s inception was born and lived out in the context of 7th Century Arabia. Its characters and actors were real human beings who lived through a lot of real History. Yet, Muslims themselves tend to be woefully ignorant of this fact. The cultural and historical setting of 7th Century must be fully appreciated to fully comprehend all that was going on to understand Islam itself. Alas, this appreciation has been misapplied to a crude mimicking at best. In other words, the setting of Muhammad’s 7th Century Arabia is routinely ignored and instead we have Muslims [Blackamerican in the case of this article] in the 21st Century trying to live like Bedouins, having completely missed the examples that God has tried to lay out for us. Examples? Dress code is interpreted to mean one must wear thobes, robes, and turbans to be “authentically Muslim” – for those of us of opt to done a suit are condemned for imitating the kafir. Moral rectitude? Honesty? Had work? These have fallen by the way side or are totally ignored all together. How else can you explain large populations of Muslims that live complacent lives in areas that are dominated by poverty, crime, and drugs. And let’s not even toss in the Muslims who are participants in the above activities.

But this disconnection goes beyond wardrobe selection. The Prophet himself is severely misunderstood. Muslim education is sorely lacking in providing Muslims an accurate, historical account for his life. In a recent criticism, one Muslim found fault with MANA for having Akbar Muhammad on the panel discussion. The brother’s criticism was thus:

I think to myself: What the heck is a man that OPENLY says that Fard Muhammad is his god who appeared in Detroit in the 1930’s (for those wanting proof of their current beliefs it is here) and that a “Messenger” came after Muhammad ibn Abdullah (pbuh), doing here on a panel for Muslims that believe in tawheed and the finality of Prophethood and Messengership?

The brother continued:

This was a tragic and completely avoidable sore point of the MANA Conference Weekend. I must also admit that I was appalled and saddened that Imam Siraj referred to Elijah as Honorable. It was all very disappointing and I was hurt to witness this spectacle.

And more:

If we return to the days wherein we lacked clarity regarding tawheed and shirk, we will certainly accomplish nothing even if we solve the many undeniable social problems plaguing us.

Plus:

Sadly, in the end, Siraj lent legitimacy to an irrelevant and illegitimate (not to mention weird) movement.

And concluding with:

Finally, I can only imagine how alienated white Muslims must have felt with the invitation of a man who believes that whites were created in a laboratory by a big headed scientist.

Taking it back to my point about the historical Muhammad [pbuh], how can we explain the Prophet’s behavior in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah or his invitation that extended to the Quraysh? Indeed, it is an incontrovertible truth that the Prophet’s Message could not have been delivered without the aid and help of shirk-committing, idol-worshipping, kafir Makkans! Yes!, indeed the Prophet collaborated with these “kafirs” on numerous occasions – his flight from Makkah was aided by a boding, idol-worshiping Makkan! And of course there’s the Prophet inviting the idol-worshipping Arabs even when Islam was in a position of power and authority. Never did the Prophet ever make is Message “an Islam thang”. When one steps back and looks at the Prophet as a man, as a human being, one theme that runs through is life is that he was a man who was truly troubled about his people and loved his people and wanted the best for his people. Now if the Prophet could engage in this, and he most certainly had the “correct ‘aqueedah” [for if the Prophet ain’t got it, who do?], then why can’t we do the same? As Blackamerican Muslims, we should feel free to invite, engage and work with members of our community, even if they don’t have the “correct” ‘aqueedah. In my opinion, this is just plain niggardly. And as my friend poignantly pointed out, “what have you done to help out your fellow man/neighbor” in comparison to what the Nation has done? ‘Aqueedah or not, Akbar Muhammad is someone who cares about the plight of Blacks – can you say the same? This isn’t poker and all deeds are cards on the table – no bluffing.

The bewilderment continues as I examine the brother’s post. Imam Siraj’s use of the title, “Honorable”, seems to be a point of contention. But when was the Prophet ever ungracious, even to people that killed his loved ones, slandered his wives, and tried to take his life? Never! If I address the Pope as his Holiness, does this mean that I recognize him as divine or that I believe Jesus is the son of God? This 3rd grade analysis has got to go! And I don’t know how this in any implicates any of the MANA members in condoning shirk. As a member of an interfaith counsel, if I sit and talk with a bishop about improving Christian-Muslim relations, does this mean I’ve condoned the Trinity? More holes than Swiss cheese. Siraj’s engaging Akbar in no way compromises his tawheed or Islam. And since when did a Black conference worry about alienating [just] white folks? I suppose that a Chinese, Japanese, or Mexican Muslim might be equally uncomfortable but I guess those are just throw away groups [?]. And why is it that we as Black folks cannot engage on a subject that might have great benefit for our community without being labeled as nationalists or abandoning our religion?

But let me temper my ending words here; I do not wish the brother any ill will. Indeed, it is my hope we can find common ground. And we need not look any further than our Prophet’s sunnah for the example of finding common ground? If there’s one message that I came away with from the conference it is this: we’ve got a lot more work to do. The road continues down the bend. No rest for the weary. I pray God grants us a beneficial understanding of our noble master and Prophet and that his Message was not in vain – that it sinks into our hearts and minds and allows us to partake in greater engagement and like him, knock down all barriers and return all of our hopes, fears, likes and dislikes to God and not resting them on the proclivities of any other.

And God knows best.

Kafir – A Word Reexamined

If there is one primary characteristic that Modernity spells out to me, it is in the way in which certain schools of thought or groups of people, who deemed antagonistic or undesirable, are cast, part and parcel, as barbaric and backwards. The underlined point in this type of casting is that the target group has always been so. Modernity, in all of its technological advancements, falls short in analytical thinking. Islam, as an example, a highly sophisticated entity (no different than any other religious tradition) is reduced to simple barbarism (as if it has always been so). Ironically, many Muslims have fallen pray to this line of thinking as well. Recently, I was reflecting on the user of the word, kafir, and how it is used and understood now, in this Modern context, and then how it was used and understood in contexts prior. And while I do not subscribe to the apologists’ theory that the word some how does not have any application for Modern Muslims, I do think there is a sincere and important need to revisit the history of this word in the Muslim tradition. Sample if you will, as articulated by Dr. Sherman Jackson:

“Premodern and even early modern jurists spoke quite casually of the “non-Muslim wife” [al-zawjah al-kafirah], the “non-Muslim mother” [al-umm al-kafirah], and “non-Muslim parents” [al-walidan al-kafiran] as human beings worthy of respect as such. For example, in Bulgat al-salik li agrab al-masalik ila madhhab al-imam Malik 2 vols. [Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, n.d.] — an authoritative Maliki text still used on the graduate level at al-Azhar seminary today — after indicating that a Muslim must be good to his parents regardless of their religion, al-Dardir [d. 1201/1786] writes, “and he should guide the blind parent, even if he or she is a kafir, to church, and deliver him or her thereto and provide him or her with money to spend during their holidays” [2: 523]. Also, the Maliki and Hanafi schools unanimously agreed that a non-Muslim mother [umm kafirah] had a primary right to custody of her Muslim children in cases of divorce from a Muslim husband, assuming that she would not attempt to steer the children away from Islam. […] It should be noted that the Maliki school bore the brunt of the atrocities inflicted by the Christians upon their expulsion of the Muslims from Spain and Sicily and the Hanafi school bore the brunt of the Mongol invasions. Still, these views on the non-Muslim relatives remain standard in the Maliki and Hanafi schools right down to the present day.

Essentially, in the Modern context, both used by Muslims and understood by non-Muslims, kafir has come to no longer be a religious term for those who are outside the belief-fold of Islam but rather a subset of humanity, unworthy of respect, completely devoid of value. In the Modern context, the kafir is someone who is rejected, not on moral or religious grounds, but some deeper, innate characteristic that is wholly incompatible with Islam. Sadly, this philosophy was common in much of the rejectionist rhetoric I heard as a young Muslim in the Blackamerican community as well as the need-to-dominate propaganda I head from immigrant Muslims. This is completely inconsistent with the view of many of the jurists and great personalities from Islam’s past that Modern Muslims evoke! When one examines this, the [hostile and unfortunate] nature of relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims becomes more clear. Does this mean that the word kafir has no place in Islam today? I would argue it certainly does have a place but it should have nothing to due with placing or determining “human value”. Instead, as it has been understood in times past, it is merely a demarcation, signifying someone who is outside the religious fold of Islam. And as in a recent conversation with a non-Muslim, who stated, “this is the problem with Islam”, in that as long as Muslims see the world in a Muslim/non-Muslim dichotomy, then we will inevitably have this issue. My rebuttal to her was to quite frankly, “grow up”. There is no reason why I should be forced to not recognize those who are outside of my religious fold whilst still keeping good relationships with them. To claim that I have to make up my mind, to either jettison the word [and join the rest of the “reformist” Muslims who would just as soon sell the religion for a chance to gain the approving nod of the dominant culture] or use the word in its current state, dehumanizing all those who fall outside the classification as Muslims, is erroneous and childish. Life is not a true or false exam – I will make my own choices and operate by my own rationals, thank you very much. In truth, this classification, kafir, would apply in my case with many members of my family and even friends – it is no way a classification of their worth as human beings.

And God knows best.

Also see Mu’min and Kafir – Negotiating Shared Space.

Two Muslims – A Small Skit

Man#1 stands outside a small food stall on a dirty corner somewhere in a North American city. While waiting for his sandwich, Man#1 is approached by Man#2. Man#2 addresses Man#1 with a thick accent:

Man#2: You Muslim?

Man#1: Yes, I am. Are you?

Man#2: [Chuckles]…, you Muslim, huh? Where you get that bag?

Man#1: I bought it. Online.

Man#2: You know what this means [Man#2 points to Man#1’s bag]?

Man#1: Yes. It’s the Prophet’s San…

Man#2: Yes, let me please tell you. It’s the Prophet’s Sandal.

Man#1: Yes, I know it is. I bou…

Man#2: Where you get this? You Muslim?

Man#1: Yes, akhi. I am a Mus…

Man#2: You read Holy Qur’an?

Man#1: Yes, I do. I used to teach…

Man#2: This book is Holy Book. In Arabic language. Not like your English.

Man#1: Yes, I know. I studied Ara…

Man#2: My father was shaykh. I used to know many Qur’ans. Many suwrah.

Man#1: Oh, that’s great. Umm…, well, I gotta be…

Man#2: You pray? You pray the salah?

Man#1: Yes, akhi. I pray 5 times a…

Man#2: My grandfather was a shaykh. He knew the whole Qur’an.

Man#1: That’s great. Look, I’d really love to…

Man#2: Ma’sha Allah, may God guide you. I have to go now. I own a party store. I have to get back.

Man#1: Oh, okay. We’ll maybe I’ll see…

Man#2: It’s not haram!! Wa’Allahi al-‘Adheem!, I don’t drink. This is for the kafirs. I sell only to kafir.

Man#1: Sure. Okay, well, it was nice…

Man#2: I have to go. You Muslims, right?

God as my witness, this exchange took place right after my moving to Philadelphia. It was one of the funniest moments in my life. I know there are some of you out there that have had this same experience with almost the same exact guy! Well, just a little humor to start the week with.