Since the election of Donald Trump much has been given to the topic of racism, and especially white supremacy, and its malfeasance in the public’s eye, or shall I say, the media’s eye. And while undoubtedly there has been an uptick in such occurrences what is being misconveyed is the important fact, historically as well as present day, that white aggression in the United States has been far more than a few bad apples. For many non-whites, especially so-called African-Americans. white aggression was as ubiquitous as it was vernacular, meaning that white hostilities directed towards blacks was not simply a privilege some white elites enjoyed inflicting on blacks but in fact, its apparently one of the few joys poor whites could enjoy. It would appear that the 2016 election has breathed new life into this phenomena and re-authorized that contingency of white America to again openly and unapologetically flex its muscles. Yesterday, at 1:00pm, I had my own personal encounter with it. Continue reading “Trump and the Resurgence of Everyday White Aggression”
Technology, in particular, digital technology – which includes the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT), is ubiquitous. Writers such as Neil Postman (Technopoly) and Nicholas Carr (The Shallows), along with many others, have written extensively on the effects and impact of technology on our lives. I agree with them. One aspect of the confluence between this technology and ourselves which doesn’t get as much attention is how technology also re-wires our perspectives on religion. Some of this reconfiguration is direct (such as affecting our attention span) while others are more subtle and indirect. It is the latter that I wish to discuss here. Continue reading “How Technology Influences Our Non-Technological Sensibilities”
Racism, at least in the American context, is as old as the country itself. Its legacy enduring as much as it is penetrating, and its consequences real and tangible. It’s here that I think many immigrants, immigrant Muslims no less so, are woefully ignorant of the real consequences of racism in America, particularly anti-black racism. Former Senator Fred. R. Harris, of Oklahoma, wrote in the introduction to Black Rage,
“There are many evils which derive from racism that are more easily identified, including the existence of ghetto neighborhoods, joblessness, stultifying classrooms, and poor health.”1
What Harris points out is that racism is far greater, far more evil, and far more determining than simply “not being liked”, as racism is so commonly understood in its American vernacular. Where once upon a time in America, racism determined where you could live whereas now its more likely to determine where you can’t. This “can’t” being determined by the joblessness that Harris articulates. When one is relegated to the lowest economic rung of the social ladder, one is forced to live in “ghetto neighborhoods” that also happen to have the greatest percentage of failing schools. And “poor health” can also extend to the urban extreme of being dangerous to one’s life, with the ubiquitous presence of violent crime in these areas.
To return to the Muslim question, particularly those of an immigrant history or background, they too have falsely been misled and even perpetrate the misconception that racism is only “not being liked”—suggesting it has no tangible consequences—being that many of these Muslims are educated in the American public school system, it is no surprise. However, in light of the recent ascent of the Christian evangelical Right, these Muslims now have a glimpse at the very real consequences of racism in America. The social opposition Muslims are being challenged with show that racism is far more concerning than simply being “disliked”. In the hands of a majority who also possess political power, American racism threatens to bear down on Muslims in America in way that have the potential to create cultural ghettos, discriminate against Muslims who seek employment, bully their children at school, ultimately leading to a degradation in their mental and physical well-being.
So the question remains, will American Muslims come to see that one of the primary challenges facing America is her enduring legacy of racism, and that legacy affects the lives of people in visceral ways, and that now perhaps is the time to crawl out of our gated communities and shells and truly embrace America, which will require standing up to her and telling her some things she’d rather not hear, especially from those who’ve, until recently (?), peddled a model minority narrative. Will American Muslims come to identify with America’s poor, that group which God says in the Qur’an, He, “desire[s] to show kindness to those who [are] oppressed in the land”2, or will our community sell God’s Sign for “a paltry price”3. I can only hope we will do the right thing, though time will tell. May God grant us strength, conviction, and dignity in these difficult times.
1. Grier, William H. and Cobbs, Price M. Black Rage. New York: Basic Books Inc., 1968.
2. “We wanted to empower those who were being oppressed in the land, to make them leaders, to give them an inheritance in the earth.” Qur’an, 28: 5.
3. “Believe in what I’m revealing, which confirms the teachings with you now, and don’t be the first to reject it, nor sell My revealed verses for a petty gain. Be mindful of Me!” Qur’an, 2: 41.
I was honored to have participated in a new media program: Muslims and Mental Health series. This episode explores legacy building in the African-American Muslim community. It examines issues of community mental health and how elders in the community are setting the tone for coming generations. We explore what the strengths and weaknesses of the community are. What works well and what could use improvement. What resources are needed in terms of human and material capital to make this community functional and healthy.
Perceptions are so important and yet, are also so fallible. Are we seeing “what is”, or can our perceptions be fooled? This question arose recently in the bi-weekly class I teach, Understanding Islam, at ICIE.
One young man asked what should he think of when it comes to “dark thoughts”: The kind you have when you are alone and feel that “the walls are closing in”; or that “God is punishing me.” Such are good and common questions.
If we turn our attention back to the initial premise (perceptions), we might glean some insights to help us understand what is going on.
Take these few “facts” of “reality”: We are currently rotating at a speed of approximately 1,000 mph (the speed at which the circumference of the earth spins). Can you feel it?
Even more astounding, as was pointed out in a previous post, whilst spinning like a mad top, we are actually hurtling through the cosmos at a staggering 490,000 mph! The thought of such blinding speed makes me reach for my seat belt.
While all of the above “facts” are verifiable through certain means, nonetheless, our perceptions are often what govern what we take as reality. Even at the moment of writing this article I feel none of the truly awesome forces at work everyday upon myself. Yet, perceptions or not, reality remains “fixed”: we are hurtling at speeds beyond comprehension.
If we examine the first question: “the walls are closing in”, we will find, upon calm examination, that indeed (earthquakes aside) no walls are falling in upon us. It is quite the opposite: the walls have not moved at all; only our perceptions of them changed.
As to the second question, feeling that “God is punishing me”, let us look to some examples that discuss God’s punishment.
God says in the Qur’an:
“We will give them a taste of lesser punishment before the greater punishment, so that hopefully they will turn back.” [al-Sajdah: 21]
وَلَنُذيقَنَّهُم مِنَ العَذابِ الأَدنىٰ دونَ العَذابِ الأَكبَرِ لَعَلَّهُم يَرجِعونَ
“Those are the people who trade the Next World for this world. The punishment will not be lightened for them. They will not be helped.” [al-Baqarah: 86]
أُولٰئِكَ الَّذينَ اشتَرَوُا الحَياةَ الدُّنيا بِالآخِرَةِ ۖ فَلا يُخَفَّفُ عَنهُمُ العَذابُ وَلا هُم يُنصَرونَ
Now, let us look to the hadith literature:
Related by Abu Hurayrah, “I heard Messenger of God (ﷺ) saying, ‘When Allah created the creatures, He wrote in the Book, which is with Him over His Throne: ‘Verily, My Mercy prevailed over My Wrath’. [Agreed Upon, narrated from Riyadh al-Salihin, hadith #: 419]
لما خلق الله الخلق، كتب في كتاب، فهو عنده فوق العرش: إن رحمتي تغلب غضبي
Related by Abu Musa, “The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “This people of mine (Ummah) is one to which mercy is shown. It will have no punishment in the Next Life, but its punishment in this world will be trials, earthquakes and being killed.” [Sahih, narrated from Sunan Abi Dawud, hadith #: 4278]
أُمَّتِي هَذِهِ أُمَّةٌ مَرْحُومَةٌ لَيْسَ عَلَيْهَا عَذَابٌ فِي الآخِرَةِ عَذَابُهَا فِي الدُّنْيَا الْفِتَنُ وَالزَّلاَزِلُ وَالْقَتْلُ
Related by Bahr bin Marrar, vis-a-vie his grandfather Abu Bakrah, “The Messenger of God passed by two graves (ﷺ) and said: “They are being punished but they are not being punished for anything major. One of them is being punished because of urine, and the other is being punished because of backbiting.” [Sahih, narrated from Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 1, Hadith 349]
إِنَّهُمَا لَيُعَذَّبَانِ وَمَا يُعَذَّبَانِ فِي كَبِيرٍ أَمَّا أَحَدُهُمَا فَيُعَذَّبُ فِي الْبَوْلِ وَأَمَّا الآخَرُ فَيُعَذَّبُ فِي الْغِيبَةِ
As we begin to analyze the above statements from the Qur’an and Sunnah, we can see that punishment is real. However, punishment seems to have a number of caveats:
Punishment, by God, is severe, thus, those who are punished know it. It is not a matter of “feeling”. Punishment, as it relates to this life, can also be a mercy, as it allows us to taste what would potentially be our ultimate fate, encouraging us to rethink our lives and “turn back”, as in the verse from surah al-Sajdah.
Clearly God is Merciful, as is stated in the Hadith Qudsi as well as numerous verses from the Qur’an, in that “God’s mercy proceeding His wrath”. So what is left for us to think? Are our perceptions merely twisted? Are we not being punished? One aspect that can help us ascertain our plight is to examine our deeds and actions.
If we are indeed harboring feelings of remoteness, this may be as result of (a) acts we’ve committed that have pushed us away from God and God’s pleasure and/or (b) our perception (mentioned above), influenced by the whispering of Shaytan as well as our souls.
If we read the story of Cain and Abel, we see that it was Cain’s nafs (his soul) that coerced him into slaying his brother:
“So his lower self persuaded him to kill his brother, and he killed him and became one of the lost.” [al-Ma’idah: 30]
فَطَوَّعَت لَهُ نَفسُهُ قَتلَ أَخيهِ فَقَتَلَهُ فَأَصبَحَ مِنَ الخاسِرينَ
طَوَّعَ (the verb at the beginning of the verse above) means “to subjugate” (s.o., or s.th.) into obedience. It is not true obedience. In a sense we can act for our true selves or against. This is confirmed in modern studies on neurology and behavior, what Kelly McGonigal says in her book The Willpower Instinct:
“the promise of reward is so powerful that we continue to pursue things that don’t make us happy”.
Our nafs can, if not disciplined, override our senses and alter our perception of reality, even our actions. This can lead us to a skewed perception of reality. Ironically, we make think ourselves distant when in fact we are close to God:
“We created man and We know what his own self whispers to him. We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.” [Qaf: 16]
وَلَقَد خَلَقنَا الإِنسانَ وَنَعلَمُ ما تُوَسوِسُ بِهِ نَفسُهُ ۖ وَنَحنُ أَقرَبُ إِلَيهِ مِن حَبلِ الوَريدِ
In the end, we must strive to be honest with ourselves and ultimately, with God. Are the walls closing in? Is God punishing us? The answer to these questions may lie in straddling a line between hoping for God’s mercy – in that it is always near – and being honest enough to access our actions and correct them in accordance with His laws. And we seek protection from the accursed Shaytan.