Escaping the Hurricane: Reflections on Anti-Shari’ah Hysteria

The following is an article written by esteemed American Muslim scholar, Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, of Lamppost Productions. A Philadelphia native, Ustadh Abdullah has gone on to found Lamppost Productions, an online educational resource on Islam. He is also part of the teaching faculty at Zaytuna College. I became aware of Ustadh Abdullah many years ago when I was studying myself. I must say I continue to be impressed not only by the breadth of his scholarship [which is substantial and may Allah increase him in knowledge!], but by his application of what he has learned and his dedication to ground that knowledge in the reality in which he operates. The article which proceeds here, Escaping the Hurricane: Reflections on Anti-Shari’ah Hysteria, provides a well-needed perspective on the mania that has gripped much of the imagination of Americans concerning Islamic law/Shari’a, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Caught in the grip of this maelstrom, Muslims have been deeply challenged to separate the wheat from the chaff, with most responses seeking to either deflect the negative imagery hurled at them through unprincipled appeasement of the dominant culture, or the exact opposite, condemning America entirely. Ustadh Abdullah’s response is balanced and attenuated to the circumstances. Ustadh Abdullah exibits great courage in order to ask hard questions, such as those relating to the truth of the 9/11 attacks—a tender topic to say the least—while taking measured steps to dismantle many of the misconceptions as to what Shari’ah law is and what, if any, its consequences are. I hope you will find it as enlightening as I did. و لله الحمد

As Salamu ‘alaykum, brethren,

Below you will find a list of hypothetical questions that I believe all Muslims need to be thinking about along with some brief responses to them. A storm is brewing in the Western world and pretty soon it’s going to be a hurricane if we don’t get started with serious efforts to reach those around us, our neighbors, peers, families, and co-workers. As you know, 2012 is an election year, and both the Republican and Tea Parties have already gotten a headstart on their campaign to rid the white house of President Obama and God knows who else after that. My concern is to defend Muslims, not Obama, but I do mention him just to underscore how central the demonization of Muslims is to ensuring his own demonization. I believe it is our duty to make every sincere effort we can to get around the country (especially our leaders) to host as many interfaith gatherings as possible with the expressed aim of speaking about Shariah, terrorism, and the real issues at hand behind which the corporations and politicians want to hide: the ECONOMY. I’m a little sarcastic in some of my responses below in hopes that readers can decipher the logic of them all on their own. I have not furnished my responses with citations mainly because I feel that the evidence supporting these answers is as brilliant as the sun. Hence, there is no need to furnish you with them. Please let me know what your thoughts are on these matters.  While all questions are important, of particular concern to me is the response concerning 9/11. It seems to me that as long as we continue to accept “collective” responsibility for that tragedy we will never be able to dig ourselves out of the morass we find ourselves in and quickly sinking deeper into.

Does Shariah law threaten the US Constitution?

  • No.  The Shariah aims to protect five universal interests: religion, bodily integrity, progeny, sanity, and property.  This means that Shariah law actually would guarantee the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; guarantee the protection of life, honor, and property ownership; promote the preservation of the family and responsible adult interaction ; strive for economic justice and fight against exploitative and predatory business practices.
  • As for what Shariah has NOT done to America are: Restrict civil liberties; Rob the treasury; Destroy the economy and then reward those responsible for the market crash; Cut funding for education; Initiate three wars that are further draining the little credit we have left; Steal retirement benefits; Squander peoples’ life savings; Raise the costs of healthcare and pharmaceuticals; Predatory lending and foreclose on thousands of homes; Raise the cost of gas and food goods, extraordinary rendition; imprisonment without legal representation, torcher, etc.
  • The Patriot Act is more responsible for abolishing the Constitution than the Shariah would or could ever be.

Have Muslims infiltrated American institutions and taken over America?

  • No. The last time I checked the Muslims population in America was only 2.6 million according to the PEW Institute (http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-01-27-1Amuslim27_ST_N.htm) in a country of 300 million.
  • Last I looked as well, the “overwhelming” majority of those in charge of Congress, the economic sector, the military chiefs, institutions of higher education, major corporations, and the media were “white.” So where are Muslims supposedly taking over?

Do Muslims NOT want to live by the Constitution?

  • To be honest, it’s complicated. That’s largely because Article IV: Section 2 of the Constitution still promises to prosecute runaway slaves, the 13th Amendment allows the enslavement of people guilty of committing crimes, and Article I: Section 2 still counts blacks as merely 3/5 of a person.  If we could just efface some of this troubling stuff, I’m sure that Muslims would be totally fine with the Constitution (wink).

Does the Qur’an forbid Muslims from befriending non-believers/”infidels”?

  • Yes and no. There are two kinds of infidels mentioned in the Qur’an. One that is hostile, antagonizes, and works assiduously to make life difficult for Muslims, and another who is accommodating and congenial. Whenever the Qur’an speaks harshly about the infidel (kaafir), it is speaking only about the first of the two.

Do Muslims believe that the Qur’an is superior to the Constitution?

  • Yes. Muslims do believe the Qur’an to be superior to any man-made document. But that does not mean that faith in the Qur’an is necessarily difficult to reconcile with good citizenship. In reality, the Shariah obliges Muslims to respect and abide by any law that does not infringe upon their fundamental religious duties. When a Muslim is found confronted by such an infringement, the Shariah encourages them to either seek reasonable accommodation by peaceful means or to immigrate to another land where their religious rights are respected.

Are Muslims being nice just because they’re a minority in America?

  • No. But Muslims are being cautious because they are fully aware of the great evil that “white” America is capable of when they get scared (e.g. massacres of entire native populations, dropping atomic bombs on civilian populations, interning yellow people in concentration camps, inundating the inner cities with crack cocaine and illegal firearms).
  • Dissimilation (taqiya) is actually to “conceal” one’s Islam to the point that a non-Muslim doesn’t know that a Muslim is actually a Muslim. It is to “deny” one’s Islam in the face of danger. So Muslims are NOT practicing ‘taqiya’ as some have suggested. Muslims aren’t concealing any more of a sinister intention than that of their accusers who MIGHT be concealing an intention to institute a new Jim Crow (outside the prison walls) or to aid the political ascendancy of the Ku Klux Klan.

What is Shariah?

  • Shariah literally means a clear path to a large body of fresh water. It has been used also to mean a ‘divine path’, ‘moral code or ideal.’ All the prominent apostles of God were given a Shariah. In other words, Abraham had a Shariah. Moses had a Shariah. Jesus had a Shariah. And Muhammad, the last apostle of God, had a Shariah. What distinguishes each of them is merely that the laws differed slightly.

Would Muslims like Americans to accept Islam?

  • Sure. But we understand that all guidance comes from to God. The Qur’an teaches us that we cannot guide those whom we love, and that it is not God’s desire for all people to be Muslims. This desire is no different than the Christian desire for all to believe in Christ. While we understand that it is not all Christians who seek to demonize Muslims by alleging that we represent an imperialistic and fascist system of domination, it is also clear that our Christian antagonists, in particular (like Pat Roberson and Franklin Graham) are merely concerned about the rise in our numbers because we make their own ideological imperial efforts more difficult to accomplish.

Would corporal punishment return to America if the Shariah law was enforced?

  • Not necessarily. This is because the Shariah law is not a static inflexible system of law nor is it merely a penal code. The Shariah covers matters of religious praxis, doctrine, virtue ethics, matters of personal status (marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody), finance, commerce, peace, war, and many other matters. The proof that the Shariah’s penal code is dynamic can be found in the fact that the Caliph ‘Umar I put a stay of execution on the punishment for theft (cutting off hands) during a famine when hungry people were being caught while stealing food.

Would non-Muslims have to abide by Shariah law if it existed in America?

  • No. Non-Muslims would not be expected to live according to the demands of the Shariah if it was to be practice in the United States. It would only apply to Muslims who have willfully pledged and vowed to live according to the Islamic teachings. Islamic history is replete with examples of Christian, Jewish, Magian, and other communities flourishing under Islamic rule without being forced to live as Muslims.

Were Muslims responsible for the attacks on 9/11?

  • Whether you believe Muslims to be responsible or not, consider this. The so-called 19 hijackers all supposedly died in the attacks on the Trade Towers, Pentagon, and Flight 93 which crashed in PA. Who identified them? In other words, if the only witnesses to the 19’s actions all died during the crashes, how do we know those 19 supposedly aboard those flights actually carried out the attacks? How do we even know they were aboard? Did the victims text pictures of them back to their loved ones or to law enforcement? A claim that they were “known” terrorists is not sufficient proof especially considering the credibility of the source of that allegation. This is worth considering whether or not you believe in some of the conspiracy theories out there.

The original article was published April 27th, 2011, on Lamppost Productions web site.

Storytelling

To say that Muslims have been just as equally affected by modernity, the modernity that many Muslims claim to abhor, would be a feat in understatement.  In fact, the sooner that Muslims come to grips with this reality the better chance Muslims will have at confronting modernity. Muslims could proactively (vs. reactively) decide on what aspects of modernity they can negotiate, and what aspects are indeed a real threat to their Muslim identity.  One such aspect of modernity is the individual.  There are a number of new theories floating around in the minds of Muslims regarding the individual and individualism.  Many Muslims decry religious authority and seek to be “free agents”, navigating their Islam and modernity with the tools of reason and intuition.  The Qur’an and Sunnah are seen as a threat to individuality; both are interpreted via a nouveau ijtihad.  Before delving into a possible critique of this choice, we should perhaps look at the formation of individualism and its effects on Muslims today in their relationship with Islam’s sacred sources.

To be concise, I thought I might provide a reading of the situation through examining Walter Benjamin’s article, The Story Teller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov.  Benjamin provides some insightful criticism of the modern age: “The art of story-telling is dying out.  With it also dies the human capacity that is the essence of story-telling: trading experiences.  The explanation for this is that experience itself is falling away”.  Indeed, storytelling (as well as art, though that is another subject entirely) is dying out and with it goes the traditional method by which Muslims and most pre-modern cultures related wisdom, not just solely information.  In tradition-based cultures, experience functioned as the repository of wisdom.  With the advent of the information age, experience, as Benjamin says, “has fallen in value” (Benjamin 1).  A critical difference between information [خبر] and wisdom [حكمة] in the Muslim tradition is the component of transience, the movement of wisdom from the teacher to the student.  Even on a communal level this translated as the wisdom of the Prophet [s] and his understanding—what elicited God’s pleasure and displeasure—on such subjects such as God’s nature and edicts.  This, in many ways, is what the spirit of the following hadith is getting at: “Surely, my Ummah will not agree upon an error” [إن أمتي لا تجتمع على ضلاة] – related by Anas Bin Malik.

A major challenge facing Muslims today is the challenge of distance.  By distance here I mean the distance that is felt between them and the sacred sources of the religion.  Most attempts to close or bridge this gap have resulted in pan-nationalism in the historical Muslim world or as an identity crisis in American Muslims.  For many Blackamerican Muslims, for example, great efforts have been spent to try and adopt the dress and mores of immigrant Muslims as a means of closing the gap of authenticity.  For the most part, neither group has been very successful in making the Muslim tradition and its sacred sources speak to them with meaning and agency in the American context.  Some of this has to do with the pressures that have been exerted on Muslims from the dominant culture.  Secular America, often as hegemonic as so-called fundamentalism, looks upon religion as something archaic and outdated.  For a religion whose tradition is linked with storytelling, this is especially problematic:

“More and more often there is embarrassment all around when the wish to hear a story is expressed. It is as if something that seemed inalienable to us, the securest among our possessions, were taken from us: the ability to exchange experiences” (Benjamin 1).

“Embarrassment” here sums up to a great degree how many Muslims are feeling about their religious sensibilities.  Scientism (an extension of secularism) has fought to secure its place as the only means and method moderns can come to “know anything”.  Traditions of knowledge which do not solely rely upon empiricism are deemed retrograde and backwards.  Despite the fact that science has not come to be the panacea it claims to be — the world’s problems seem to only mount in the face of the salvation science is supposedly capable of bringing — many Muslims still feel a tremendous pressure to capitulate to its dictum.

To summarize, the Muslim tradition places great importance on experience.  This is reflected in the ijazah system of certification.  In essence, one gets one’s ijazah from one’s teacher, who presumably has not only the requisite knowledge but also experience, so that one will go on to teach others that same topic; one will continue the tradition of storytelling.  Such teachers know the story and the narrative which such knowledge both comes from and speaks to.  Benjamin’s insight here speaks to the modern predicament, where Muslims feel as if they have arrived at this quandary out of the blue:

“Every glance at a newspaper demonstrates that it has reached a new low, that our picture, not only of the external world but of the moral world as well, overnight has undergone changes which were never thought possible.” (Benjamin 1).

Benjamin’s remarks speak to the disconnection and loss that many Muslims feel as the world has become less and less moral.  It certainly has left us with the feeling we have arrived at this crossroads “overnight”, though in fact, it has been the slow erosion of values and morals over many years and decades.  Indeed, I have heard many Muslims comment in dismay over the lows “never thought possible”, both inside and outside the Muslim community.

What I am trying to get at here is more than simply deconstructing Benjamin’s essay for deconstruction sake.  The purpose is to look at the current state of Muslims in America and ask some hard questions.  What does our Islam mean to us and are the means and methods of making Islam real, relevant, and meaningful to us, successful.  Prophetic tradition, starting as an oral one, has placed a high value on person to person exchanges of story, knowledge, and experience.  This is similar to what Benjamin has to say here:

“Experience which is passed on from mouth to mouth is the source from which all storytellers have drawn” (Benjamin 1).

It would seem to be this type of mouth to mouth exchange that many Muslims are beleaguering nowadays.  This helps explain the rise of “traditional knowledge” or “traditional Islamic knowledge” as a buzzword.  However, most of these institutions still rely upon a method of teaching that does not quite bridge that gap.

To return to the theme of reading, it is my theory that modern Muslims have turned to reading the Qur’an in the manner and method in which they read novels.  I use the word novel here, not as a stand-in for “book”, but literally, as “novel”.  Benjamin purports,

“The novelist has isolated himself” (Benjamin 3).

The novel is also, as Benjamin says, “devoid of council”, something many Muslims are sorely in need of today.  “The novelist isolates himself and does not come from oral tradition nor goes to it”.  Some may see Benjamin’s commentary as a Romantic rant, longing for “simpler times”.  I do not see it as thus; for me, “oral tradition” is synonymous with “lived-in” and “pro-human”, and thus, I see it as an alternative method of articulating what the Sunnah of the Prophet was about: council:

أكان للناس عجبا أن أوحينا إلى رجل منهم أن أنذر الناس وبشر الذين ءامنوا أنلهم قدم صدق عند ربهم قال الكافرون إن هذا لسحر مبين

“Is it astonishing to men that We sent Our inspiration to a man from amongst them?  That he would warn mankind as well as give glad tidings to the believers that they are considered by their Lord truthful, sincere?  Those who reject faith say, ‘This is clear sorcery’.” [Qur’an 10: 2].

The tandem of Prophet and Revelation provides that direct, oral relation, the transference of knowledge and wisdom to, not a readership, but a living community.  In this light, the Qur’an, a book whose name can also be said to be “The Recitation”, indicates that it is not simply any book, and most certainly not a novel.  One of the primary characteristics of the Qur’an is that it is a revelation that came down to a human community amidst their history, not in isolation.  My goal in saying this is not to provide the definitive way of reading and interpreting the Qur’an, but to introduce and remind that in order to come to know the Qur’an (and the Prophet, and God), one must not be tempted to read it as a novel amongst other novels.

There are a couple of characteristics of the novel that are worth mentioning here that Benjamin draws our attention to.  First, is the notion that the novel is almost always about, “a particular character, event, or situation”.  This helps to affirm the notion of the novel as isolated.  The Qur’an reveals itself not as a singular event, not about a singular character, and its situation varies from chapter to chapter (sometimes even within it).  This has led many to criticize the Qur’an for being inconsistent; some Muslims even find it difficult to follow.  I believe this is partly in due to the influence of modern literary standards which are largely based off of reading and interpreting novels. Second, is the sense of closure.  Benjamin says, “The novel terminates itself from our memory through the complete closure of the book”.  Not to be confused with “making our minds up for us (something modern and post-modern literature abhor from doing), there is still a closure when the last words are read.  The Qur’an has been and is, continuously rehearsed and recited.  It lives where Muslims live (or ought to, I would argue).  It challenges and compels its adherents to “reflect” and “ponder” its “ayāt”, or signs.  Muslims, if they hope to extract meaningful and relevant interpretations from the Qur’an, they may need to reconsider just how it is they are approaching Islam’s sacred sources.

Experience is king, someone once wrote.  It certainly seems to be for Benjamin as well.  This finds easy correlation in reading the life of the Prophet.  As was mentioned above, the Prophet and the stories of the Prophets and other stories in the Qur’an are in fact translated into experience for us.  This is best understood through the famous narration: “His character was the Qur’an” [كان خلقه القرآن].  By this, Muslims are “counseled” (also known as “nasīhah”/نصيحة) by the Prophet’s life, his understanding and relating of God’s Message.  In the absence of this, historically detached Muslims devolve into lonely individuals who are no longer capable of “speaking exemplarily”, as Benjamin says, to their most important concerns, chief amongst them a dignified existence that will allow them to negotiate what modernity needs and what God wants.  The lonely individual’s existence gives them no counsel, leaving them anxious as well as impotent.

It is obvious from Benjamin’s article that he is not only lamenting the loss of stories, he is also subtlety calling for the return or rebirth of storytellers.  In the Muslim context this is the shaykh, the ālim, the imām, the griot.  It is through the tradition of the Muslim storyteller that the characteristics of the religion are retained.  Without Muslim storytellers, those who have dedicated their lives to the continuity of these stories, how else will Muslims preserve that critical aspect of their identity?  The tendency has been in modern times to prop up a few rock star imāms who draw crowds of individuals who often return home feeling just as isolated and lost before attending said event.  I believe if Muslims are truly invested in their futures here, it will necessitate them developing scholars, leaders, storytellers—“master craftsmen” in Benjamin’s words—who will live in and amongst their communities, keeping the story alive and meaningful to Muslim communities.

The hope for developing Muslim storytellers is to help restore the connectivity amongst Muslims.  It will also allow the healing and holistic aspects of the message of Islam to be delivered to Muslims with greater efficacy.  As Benjamin states,

“Quite apart from the fact that a man is receptive to counsel only to the extent that he allows his situation to speak” (Benjamin 3).

For me, Benjamin touches on one of the great challenges facing Muslims in America: The disconnect between generations.  It is not authenticity that challenges generational understanding but rather the ability for the older, “more knowledgeable” generation, to be receptive to the realities facing young American Muslims today.  There is a dire need for a Muslim leadership—religious or otherwise—to be emotionally connected and concerned with younger Muslims today.  Benjamin says, about counsel,

“[it] is less an answer to a question than a proposal concerning the continuation of a story which is just unfolding” (Benjamin 3).

I see this as another means of “Surely, my Ummah will not agree upon an error”.  Benjamin is also astute in pointing out one of the natures of counsel:

“Counsel woven into the fabric of real life is wisdom”,

as well as,

“To seek this counsel one would first have to be able to tell the story” (Benjamin 3).

Against the allegations that religious knowledge equates religious tyranny in the Muslim world, this system allows those who have dedicated their lives to the story, the Message of Islam, to walk hand in hand with those who profess Islam as their religion, facing the trials and tribulations of life as one community, as one Ummah.  After all, when the Prophet [s] was questioned as to what religion (“deen”) was, he replied, “sound advice, sound advice, sound advice” [إن الدين نصيحة, إن الدين نصيحة, إن الدين نصيحة].

Reading

Extra Viewing

  • Thanks to the link from brother Omar. See his comments below. It fits well into the discussion.

Paying the Price For Our Lack of Vision

I’ve been resisting writing and posting during Ramadan but I opted to put out one small post. I pray everyone’s Ramadan is rewarding, redeeming, and fulfilling.

One of the most memorable lines from the Star Wars franchise was Emperor Palpatine’s cruel admonishment of Luke when he cackled, “you shall pay the price for your lack of vision!” This chastisement was swiftly followed by searing bolts of blue lightening. If it weren’t for the timely intervention of Luke’s at-one-time sinister father, Darth Vader, Luke may have met a very unfortunate fate.  In what has also become now a cruel twist of fate, American Muslims are now paying their own price for lack of vision, as the United States now increasingly turns on Muslims, demonizing and terrorizing them, not unlike this recent incident in New York, where a mosque was attacked by a small pack of marauding teens. Similarly to Luke’s blunder, American Muslims simply did not adequately prepare, in this case, for life in America. Where is our Darth Vader in our time of despair?

Sadly, Islam in American, in its heretical inception—referred to as the First Resurrection via The Nation of Islam—did a far better job of indigenizing Islam.  The Second Resurrection [Islam 2.0?], consisted of both immigrant Muslims and new orthodox converts, who were initially unconcerned with the dominant culture’s views of Islam, and thus chose to either live anonymous lives in their new found homes—vis-a-vie through the door of whiteness—or in the case of Blackamerican Muslims, chose to live new lives that had little to do with the existential realities as colored folks living in a post-Jim Crow America. Both groups lived in a fantasy; a bubble.  Of particular interest to immigrant Muslims, whiteness has been the gateway that many if not most immigrants have successfully integrated into the American social landscape.  This created a dichotomy in American Islam in which immigrant Muslims increasingly turned a blind eye to the underside of assimilation: whiteness, and all of the unearned privilidges it entails. Blackamerican Muslims, having no such option, opted to simply limp along, paroting their immigrant counterparts without the Players Club incentives. Much to the dismay of [immigrant] Muslims, the 9/11 attacks did away with any hopes of Muslims being considered white/American, and thus we arrive back at our “price” for “lack of vision”. In another twist of ironic fate, blackness and its legacy of civil rights engagement [i.e., its holy protest against white domination and supremacy] seems to be the last bastion of hope for both communities. It is the only social modality that is seen and recognized as viably America: out of immigrant and indigenous Muslims, it’s the only one that’s socially acceptable, if not preferred. Perhaps if immigrant Muslims had not uncritically flocked to the banner of whiteness [I can hear Admiral Akbar shouting now, “it’s a trap” – or “it’s a twap”, however you prefer your phonetics] and Blackamerican Muslims had not been so quick to abondon blackness, we might very well be in a completely different situation today.

The Nation of Islam, and subsequently its splinter group, led by the courageous Warith Deen Muhammad, charted a vision of Islam [by Islam here, I mean as it was socially expressed by the NOI, and not by the normal rigors of classical Muslim theology] that sought to place the cares, concerns, and proclivities of [Black] American Muslims at the heart of its agenda.  And while the WD movement has also fallen on hard times, it still alludes to the crux of the current social predicament.

In many ways, Muslims in America were afforded a tremendous blessing post-9/11. Public sentiment towards Muslims was somewhat tarnished but by and large, the cloud of negative perceptions of Islam were held at bay, only occasionally making their way in to the public arena.  In fact, there was a notable calling amongst non-Muslims that the 9/11 attacks were perpetuated by a few terribly misguided souls and that Muslims and Islam were not to blame.  American Muslims, instead of capitalizing on this opportunity to push forward efforts to indigenize [not assimilate] themselves to their social, cultural and political landscapes, simply rested on their laurels.  Both sides of the indigenous/immigrant isle have been equally to blame.  Native-born Muslims still continued to favor a brand of Islam that was more about cultural acting than getting down to brass tax and most immigrant Muslims were so devastated at the quandary of being abandoned on the doorstep of whiteness that most of the efforts out of that community have been mostly assimilationist at best, if not simply down-right floundering.  So again, where is our Darth Vader in our time of need?

Simply put, it is my belief that if Muslims do not solve this issue [if it is already not too late], then Islam will suffer a fate worse than persecution: irrelevancy.  And by issue, I mean to address what is at the heart of mainstream America’s growing resentment towards Islam. I believe this to be mainly aesthetic: people simply do not like the way Islam looks and feels as a result of not knowing what Islam’s story is, or more precisely, what the American Muslims’ story is. And American Muslims have failed in telling their own story because they have yet to craft one. Narrative is crucial to survival in America; if you don’t have one, you don’t belong. Perhaps it’s not too late to stop, reflect, and take stock of our condition, our situation.  Let us look at examples from our common cultural past that have succeeded: the Nation of Islam as well as the American Jewish community, who have critically understood the necessity of story and narrative as a primary means of not only survival but also of flourishing. To delay any longer would be akin to another favorite Star Wars quote: “almost there … almost there …” – and we all know what happened next after that.

Cross posted on Tumblr.

The Trouble With Muslim Pundits Part Two

Back in May of 2008, I wrote a post for this blog entitled, The TroubleWith Muslim Pundits Today, in which I, using Irshad Manji as an example, attacked and exposed the self-serving and selfish tendencies of many a Muslim pundit who would seek to “reform” Islam without actually contributing anything to it, let alone actually understanding Islam. Since then, the trend has not lessened and Muslims (so-called) of varied stripes continue to find employment as moles and trojan horses. It appears to be one of the few sectors of the economy that is still growing.

The reason for this short quip is a note that came across my GMail screen from writer and author, Ali Eteraz, in which his status update stated: “I feel bad for the Muslim scholars against Valentine’s Day. One is afraid of the reaction against him, the other one (last line), is just plain lonely”. He then proceeded to link to the following link which gives the standard display of a Muslim country and its army of clerics who seek to subjugate and psychologically terrorize its citizens into some imagined expression of Islamism: http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=270724. As with Manji, my biggest objection is that these attacks and critiques come from a specific mindset that is set on maintaining its own form of hegemony, not to mention its overall mean-spiritedness. Never is there any attempt to understand how and why these scholars come to their conclusions. Nor is there any admittance that the goals of these scholars have very different goals than those of the pundits, if indeed they have any goals at all aside from furthering their careers as “reformers” who pass off their own personal experiences as ontological truths.

The latter part is what I would like to bring to the table here, both for Mr. Eteraz, as well as others like him. Is it not conceivable or permissible that a scholar of Islam might stand against certain practices that s/he may deem unhealthy for Muslims? Can any one of these pundits answer with 100% assurance that the changes and reforms they call for are truly looking out for Muslims? Or are they simply ways to either mock or berate? I am increasingly revolted at this small but vocal constituency within our ranks. Not for their dissenting opinions, but the spirit in which they dissent. I have yet to see from a single so-called pundit a viable alternative or solution to the rulings scholars deliver. For one who has spent 17 years studying Islam in a thorough and systematic way, who is seeking the scholar’s path as a career, I am offended by such cynical treatments of heavy and important matters. For me, it is the lack of respect for, not the domination of, scholars and religious authority that plagues Muslims today. And comments like these only add a bit more gasoline to the fire.

I remember having a conversation this past year with a young Muslim who was quite upset about Halloween. I told him that there have been differing opinions on the permissibility of Halloween from the scholars point of view. I said myself, that I could not see a 100% irrefutable proof that it was not permissible to dress up in a costume, so long as the strictures for dress code were obeyed, and go door-to-door collecting candy. And before he could wag his tongue, I said that while I can’t find a Prophetic reason against it, it still doesn’t mean that I would recommend for Muslims to do so, especially Muslim children. The young man paused with a confused look on his face as asked how I could object to it if I didn’t think it was haram. I explained to him that even though it may not be haram (i.e., irrefutable evidence or unanimous consensus on the subject) still did not mean that I might not consider it detrimental to the health and development of Muslim youth. That I would argue against Halloween, not based on a sound hadith, for example, but because of its context and it being culturally detrimental to young Muslims. The point of this example is that a scholar of Islam has a moral obligation to protect and guide the community. S/he should and must struggle to find ways for Muslims to participate in society. I, though not quite a scholar myself yet, have comfortably signed off on the permissibility of Thanksgiving precisely because it is good for Muslims to spend time with their families.

I do not fear for that scholar or group of scholars who made a decision to protect the dignity and continuity of Muslims within their ranks. Nor do I think they will be lonely. The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophet, may God grant him peace, and will never be lonesome. My challenge to Mr. Eteraz and to other pundits would be this: if you wish for Muslims to participate in St. Valentine’s Day, what will you give them in return? What obligations do you have? And to those scholars who would say no to St. Valentine’s Day, what would will you give the Muslims in return? Ali – I know you will feel this is a personal attack on you but I feel to sit back and watch this mean-spiritedness brew is unacceptable.

The conversation is much deeper than cheap cynicism.

Ali Eteraz can be reached at eteraz@gmail.com.

To Be Or Not To Bop

An excerpt from To Be or Not to Bop, Beboppers… The Cult [pp. 291-3]

To Be or Not To Bop Number seven: that “beboppers” expressed a preference for religions other than Christianity may be considered only a half-truth, because most black musicians, including those from the bebop era, received their initial exposure and influence in music through the black church. And it remained with them throughout their lives. For social and religious reasons, a large number of modern jazz musicians did begin to turn toward Islam during the forties, a movement completely in line with the idea of freedom of religion.

Rudy Powell, from Edgar Hayes’s band, became one of the first jazz musicians I knew to accept Islam; he became an Ahmidyah Muslim. Other musicians followed, it seemed to me, for social rather than religious reasons, if you can separate the two.

“Man, if you join the Muslim faith, you ain’t colored no more, you’ll be white,” they’d say. “You get a new name and you don’t have to be a nigger no more.” So everybody started joining because they considered it a big advantage not to be black during the time of segregation. I thought of joining, but it occurred to me that a lot of them spooks were simply trying to be anything other than a spook at that time. They had no idea of black consciousness; all they were trying to do was escape the stigma of being “colored.” When these cats found out that Idrees Sulieman, who joined the Muslim faith about that time, could go into these white restaurants and bring out sandwiches to the other guys because he wasn’t colored — and he looked like the inside of the chimney — they started enrolling in droves. Continue reading “To Be Or Not To Bop”