Presented by the Lamppost Education Initiative, this is a talk concerning the rising tide of anti-black and anti-Muslim violence. It addresses the need for a return to manhood in which the vulnerable of our community feel they will be protected.
The Dunya can be like a radioactive zone: harsh, chaffing. But if we’re rooted in truth as well as dignified modalities of manhood and womanhood, we can get through this life intact, God willing, to enjoy the fruits of The Next.
“It is good to carry some powdered rouge in one’s sleeve. It may happen that when one is sobering up or waking from sleep, his complexion may be poor. At such time it is good to take out and apply some powdered rouge.” – Yamamoto Tsunetomo
The challenge of modernity is not met necessarily in the clash of civilizations, the clash of titans or anything quite as grandiose as we may be led to believe. Rather, it would be the clash of plurality; the attempt to make the many, one. In modern times, we often see the implacability of multiple notions on the same ideal. These neuroses have not escaped the Muslims here in America, where it is often more popular than not for self-appointed vanguards of personally conceived notions to coerce the masses into a mold other than that of their choosing. This is carried out by groups and individuals, that for lack of a better word and for dramatic effect, I will dub virtue bullies. The tactic is simple: bludgeon, batter and browbeat those who are perceived to differ in form and thus function of these bastions of moral rectitude. The results of these cultural-psychological attacks are the demonization of individuals and groups who can now easily be used as target practice – religious target practice in as far as this post is concerned. But in my opinion, these attacks are a rouse; a distraction, a cover-up. An applying of rouge to cover one’s blemishes.
What I am speaking about here, primarily, are the notions and concepts on manhood and vis-a-vie, Islam, that some bloggers have taken to attacking. These rants are not merely a waste of time – indeed, they are a fitnah, a trial and tribulation of the community in a time when we have bigger proverbial fish to fry. We live in a time when we need contributors, not detractors. Those who can strive intelligently and morally to say “yes”. Not to fall back on their shortcomings as a safety net to give us the all-too familiar, “no”. But we must get to the heart of these derisive comments. What is really being said here? What is the goal and what is it that these pundits of manhood are seeking to protect, or as I mentioned above, cover up?
To cut to the quick, many of these attacks have centered around the theme of a “hard working man”. The kind of man who earns his keep and, if possible, with his hands. Work that may not involve physical labor while not outright disdained, is certainly mistrustful. Vocations of an intellectual nature are cast with aspersions. After all, how can one really embody all that is right and manly, if you’re providing for your family while dressed in an ascot sweater, wearing suede shoes. Of course, we must not forget the affinity that such men may also have for coffee beverages, such as lattes, cappuccinos, and the like.
While the examples I am giving here are for dramaturgical effect, they are nonetheless, part and parcel with this scornful outlook on those who do not fit their predetermined profile. But in essence, these attacks are highly reminiscent of nativist sentiments towards immigration. Like the attitudes of many lower-class working whites at the turn of the 20th century who saw themselves as the defenders of a way of life, so to do these unsubstantiated claims smack of the same song ilk. Manhood, in the eyes of this self-selected few deem those who exist outside their socio-economic class as lacking in manhood. I say these notions are folly and instead, it would appear that their mascara is running at this point.
To say that Islam is a religion that is broad and wide enough to emcompass many modalities of manhood goes without saying. I would prefer to move beyond this Islam 101 narrative and instead seek to broaden the circle of enclosure. We must endeavor to find ways to include, not exclude. To state that the only acceptable form of dress is for men to dress as these pundits due is outright idiocy and completely outside their jurisdiction. Many such pundits have had the audacity to call for reforms in the community that will promote marriage, strong families and yet, many of them have been the participants of multiple marriages, leaving a wake of divocees, uncared for children and worse in their wake. How can someone who has little to no formal education, no formidable job skills, and makes a questionable contribution to community or society have the gumption to leer at persons who have a well-paying jobs, provide for their families in comfortable means, and even have the disposable income to potentially give to charity [something most of these individuals are hardly in the position to do, let alone reliably provide for their families in safe neighborhoods, provide quality educational opportunities for their children, etc.]? But instead of pointing the looking glass at themselves, they reach up their sleeves for some powdered rouge. Again, the mascara is really starting to run at this point. Only upon becoming spiritually sober, to awaken from the slumber of half-baked misconceptions of manhood whose substance is that of papier-mâché, will they have the chance to contribute something to themselves, their families and their communities and perhaps even society. I continue to be baffled at the state of some Muslims’ minds. With the serious future we face, that intellectual capital would be spent on something as asinine as this truly boggles the mind. Assuredly, manhood in Islam can be broad enough to accommodate a cup of coffee.
Of course, I am a tea drinker so I dare not ask what may be said of me.
I keep wondering when Blackamerica is going to take stock. More and more, I see in my fellow young, black males, levels of aggression and intolerance that baffle my mind. Gun violence. Gang violence and even for those not associated with gang violence, the misplaced reverence that so much of pop-black-culture has on it. What, you may ask, is this reverence? In Philadelphia, one need not venture far to see the signs. Scarface T-shirts being sold on the corner or out of someone’s car in South Philadelphia. Grown men walking around in Biggie and Tupac T-shirts with fake bullet holes in them. And then of course, the glorifying of violence in the pop culture through acts of hyper-masculinity. How else could you explain Michael Vick’s behavior? In a discussion with a white associate, he expressed his dismay over Vick’s behavior [and rightly so] in his role in dog fighting. “He’s got it all, you know. Fame. Money. How could someone like that just f#ck that up?” I shook my head and replied, “manhood”. My associate looked quizzically back at me and said, “Manhood? What’s that got to do with it?” I chuckled, wryly, and continued, “it’s a black thing, man. You wouldn’t understand”.
At the risk of dabbling in pan-Islamic rhetoric, this, in my opinion, is one of the greatest things the Prophet brought with his Message. Beyond no god but God, the Prophet also brought about a new modality of manhood, one where you could fully be a proud, protective, strong character and yet it tamed the domineering, bombastic and even violent tendencies that were prevalent in the society he lived in during 7th Century Arabia. It is here that his Sunnah has so much potential for Blackamericans [though not exclusively] to address and resolve the pertinent issues of our time: Hyper Black Masculinity.
I cannot lay claim to the term, hyper masculinity, in reference to Blackamericans. As usual, it was a term I heard coined by Dr. Sherman Jackson. In a talk that Dr. Jackson gave last year at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Jackson urged Blackamerica to deal with three things: education, economics, and sex. And he tied all of these together in a talk that addressed the state of Islam in the Blackamerican community to the malfeasance on black males and their overt masculinity. Dr. Jackson drove home his points by illustrating that the Prophet, as our example, was a man who was never seen as a coward, though he was never full of bravado. He was never perceived to be a “punk” or a “chump”, even by his enemies. The Quraysh had many things to say about the son of Abdullah, but a coward or a chump was never one of them. I need not spend time here reiterating the blessed characteristics of the Messenger – he was kind, caring, compassionate, thoughtful and so on. Yes, we know them but we do not implement them. A recent case drove this home for me:
I was photographing a group of imams and when it came time for the group picture I placed the women in front, seated in chairs. This was done mainly out of photographic needs. But like clockwork, one of the imams boisterously raised his objections to have women siting in front of him.
“Akhiy, these are women and we are men! How can we be protectors and leaders of our community when we place our women in front of us? No, no! We have to have them get behind us.”
“If we have them ‘get behind us’ they won’t be in the picture. Can’t you be a man and stand in the back? No one here seems to be challenging your authority or place as a ‘man’. Need you be a tyrant to show it?”
Needless to say, I’ve had a few issues with this person before and I took this opportunity to stick it to him a bit but this is typical of the reaction of many Muslim men – and yes, the imam was Blackamerican. Instead of addressing real topics and real issues and standing up and dealing with those “like a man” we instead take our misplaced pride and break the proverbial stick over our leg so all can see how manly we are. So I make this plea, this cry to my fellow brothers [and sisters, as they will certainly be a part of this] regardless of religious affiliation, to look at, contemplate and rethink our approach to manhood and to be a man where it counts, to make the change.