NPR Asks How & Why Blackamericans Are Drawn To Islam

National Public Radio recently did an interview of Imam Anwar Muhaimin of Masjid Quba here in Philadelphia as well as yours truly, asking how and why Blackamericans, despite the phenomenons of 9/11 and more recently, the FBI raid in Detroit, are drawn to Islam. I spoke at some length with the gentleman from the Associated Press, as did my wife, about the continuing evolution of Islam in the Blackamerican experience. You can read the article here. Even though AP did mention the part about Blackamericans being drawn to Islam for many of the social reasons, it did leave out some of the points I tried to elucidate concerning the breadth of reasons why Blackamericans come to Islam: social, spiritual, and otherwise. In other words, the reasons are as vast as there are people coming to it. Perhaps in the future this point can be discussed further at length.

Hat tip to Safiya for putting the AP in touch with us.

Update: Since the article seems to not be on NPR’s web site any longer, I’m going to insert it directly here.

JESSE WASHINGTON, AP National Writer

By now, Sekou Jackson is used to the questions: Why does he need to leave a work meeting to pray? Don’t black Muslims convert to Islam in jail? Why would you even want to be Muslim?

“It’s kind of a double whammy to be African-American and Muslim,” said Jackson, who studies the Navy at the National Academy of Science in Washington. “You’re going to be judged.”

Jackson’s struggle may have gotten harder when the FBI on Wednesday raided a Detroit-area warehouse used by a Muslim group. The FBI said the group’s leader preached hate against the government, trafficked in stolen goods and belonged to a radical group that wants to establish a Muslim state in America. The imam of the group’s mosque, a black American named Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was killed in a shootout with agents.

Although the FBI was careful to say those arrested in Detroit were not mainstream Muslims, it has accused other black Muslims of similar crimes, most recently in May, when four men were charged with plotting to blow up New York synagogues and shoot down a military plane.

Yet the Muslim faith continues to convert many average African-Americans, who say they are attracted by Islam’s emphasis on equality, discipline and family.

“The unique history African-Americans have faced, we’re primed for accepting Islam,” said Jackson, 31, who grew up in a secular home and converted to Islam when he was about 18.

“When someone comes to you with a message that everyone is equal, that the only difference is the deeds that they do, of course people who have been oppressed will embrace that message,” Jackson said. “It’s a message of fairness.”

It was a message of black pride in the face of dehumanizing prejudice that launched Islam in America in the 1930s.

Created by a mysterious man named Wallace Fard, the “Lost-Found Nation of Islam” strayed far from the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, but its mixture of self-reliance, black supremacy and white demonization resonated with many blacks. Some 30 years later, Malcolm X began the African-American movement toward traditional Islam when he left the Nation of Islam, went on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and proclaimed that all whites were not evil.

In 1975, the Nation split into two factions: a larger group that embraced orthodox Sunni practices, and another, led by Louis Farrakhan, that maintained the Nation’s separatist ideology.

Today, it is difficult to determine the number of Muslims in America. A 2007 Pew survey estimated 2.35 million, of whom 35 percent were African-American. Lawrence Mamiya, a Vassar College professor of religion and Africana studies and an expert on American Islam, said Muslim organizations count about 6 million members, a third of them black.

Most African-American Muslims are orthodox Sunnis who worship in about 300 mosques across the country, Mamiya said. The second-largest group follows Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, which has about 100 mosques in America, abroad and U.S. prisons, Mamiya said.

He said the third-largest group is the Ummah, founded by Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the black activist formerly known as H. Rap Brown. The group has about 40 or 50 mosques. The organization targeted in the raid near Detroit was part of the Ummah, the FBI said.

“The vast majority of African-American Muslims are using the religion to strengthen their spirituality,” said Mamiya, who has interviewed many black Muslim leaders and congregants. He said the number of black Muslims is growing, but not as fast as before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Few white Americans convert to Islam “because the tendency is to view Islam as foreign,” he said. “For African-Americans, it’s part of their African heritage. There’s a long tradition (in Africa). … It moves them away from the Christianity they saw as a slave religion, as the religion that legitimized their slavery.”

Margari Hill was a California teenager seeking an antidote for nihilism and widespread disrespect of black women when she found Islam in 1993. A few years ago she began covering her hair with a hijab, or head scarf.

“I wanted to be thinking about humility and modesty,” said Hill, a 34-year-old teacher in Philadelphia. “I decided it would help me be a better Muslim and a better person.”

She also is attracted to Islam’s family values and the egalitarian message embodied by the prophet Muhammad’s “last sermon,” which according to Muslim scriptures says that no Arab, white or black person is superior or inferior to members of another race.

Hill’s ex-husband, Marc Manley, said that many blacks who have struggled with crime, drugs or alcohol are drawn to Islam’s regimented lifestyle, which includes prayers five times a day.

“Especially in the urban context, it provides a vehicle for African-Americans to deal with those ills,” he said. “It provides a buffer or a barrier.”

Muhaimin was born into a Muslim family after his parents embraced Islam in the 1950s. He grew up in Saudi Arabia, “but was very clear from a young age that I was and am an American citizen.”

“America is my country, I love the United States,” he said. “I don’t agree with everything our politicians do in our name, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a citizen of this country.”

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On the Net:
Margari Hill blog: http://www.azizaizmargari.wordpress.com
Marc Manley blog: http://www.manrilla.net
http://www.qubainstitute.com
(This version CORRECTS that FBI raid was on warehouse, not mosque.)

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On the Net:

Margari Hill’s blog: http://www.azizaizmargari.wordpress.com

Marc Manley’s blog: http://www.marcmanley.com

The Quba Institute: http://www.qubainstitute.com

(This version CORRECTS that FBI raid was on warehouse, not mosque.)

‘Umrah 2008 – The Trip I’ve Been Waiting My Whole Life For

 

Before I delve into the heart of this post I would like to plug and praise the Madinah Institute. It was through their hard efforts that we all had the most enjoyable time, no doubt at the cost of them sacrificing some of their own enjoyment. May Allah reward all of you for your efforts. Second, you will notice that I have abandoned the usual academic, stoic prose in favor of a more heart/religion on my sleeve approach. This was no ordinary trip, thus warranting no ordinary post. I hope you will enjoy it.

But not to fear. For those of you who just anxious to see the images, here they are [I’ll be trying to put these back up again soon]. I hope that after you view through them, you’ll take a few minutes and read over the post.

Another quick note about the post. When you see [s], this stands for sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam [May God send peace and blessings upon him]. It is a salutation that Muslims send on the Prophet Muhammad when we mention his name. Ok. Enough notes. Enjoy.

It’s hard to believe, that at 11:20am, I am sitting comfortably in JFK airport on July 10th, 2008. From the first moment that it entered my head I never thought it would ever come to fruition. I must learn to be more trusting and imaginative with my Lord. Truly, God never ceases to astound. And while the time has seemed to hang in Limbo over the last month or so, it has all compressed here in this moment. All of the thought, the planning, the speculation, snares and trip wires, have evaporated and all that remains is myself, two bags and a 2pm date with a very sexy looking 747.

To relate how this trip even came about I must first relate how I met the brothers from the Madinah Institute at the ISNA 2008 Baltimore convention. They happened to be involved with facilitating it. In short time we were hanging out and having coffee, discussing projects that we might want to work on together in the future. The standard meet and greet that one does at such places. But shortly after meeting them it was immediately suggested that I accompany them on their Summer ‘Umrah program in Saudi Arabia. I politely nodded my head, giving an affirmative response that was more articulated on manners I learned as a child than sincere foresight of actually praying in the Holy Mosque. We promised to keep in touch after the conference, and that I did sincerely intend to do as it’s not often that I meet many Muslims today that I really feel comfortable with. Perhaps I’ve just had a string of unfortunate circumstances. Either way, I am very glad to have met them.

While toiling in my office in early June, I received a phone call from one of the brothers asking, “what can we do to get you to come with us to ‘Umrah?” I was shocked and excited at once, like diving into a swimming pool on a hot summer’s day. You know it’s going to be freezing and yet it always surpasses your prediction. But once the cold water washes over your body, you can’t imagine standing poolside any longer. You want to be engaged. You want to stay engaged. Such was my initial feelings when I received my invite. The negotiations were quick and subtle and before I knew it, I was putting in a request for time off. For the next four-plus weeks I had to respond to, “you’re going where?” I graciously replied, “Mecca [from here after referred to as Makkah]. Saudi Arabia. You know, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah? Yeah, there’s where I’ll be.”  I even took the time to point it out with Google Maps. It was at that moment that the realization hit me in successive waves: staring down at the computer screen, two tiny dots seemed to grow bigger and bigger in my mind. Makkah. Madinah. The birthplace of Islam. Where it all started.

Preparing for a trip such as this one took one a little bit of finagling. Initially, I thought I would have to buy my ihram from the Internet but I was easily able to locate one in Philadelphia, not more than ten blocks from my house. In a small Muslim shop on 52nd and Chestnut in West Philadelphia, I procured my ihram from Shaykh Muhammad, the proprietor of Muslim Fashions. In fact, I had called the day before to see if he sold ihrams and he had set one aside for me. The shop was a quintessential inner city Muslim store, filled with rows of jumbled books, organized in no particular order. A small supply of men’s clothing in the forms of shalwar khamees, thobes, kufis and the like and a large selection of women’s clothing apparel. But what stands out the most with shops like these is the overwhelming bouquet of odors. Dozens of vials full of perfumes and body oils clutter the display case, their scents mixing vigorously with piles of incense, from boxes full of brown and green sticks to cones. The olfactory is completely stunned – one may not be able to smell properly for several hours even after exiting the store. And of course, anything one buys from Muhammad is ripe with the scent, needing four to five washings to attempt to remove. But the most important thing about this exchange is that none of the above should be seen as a negative. It’s just part of the experience.

The only intervening activities of note from here until departure was the head scratching one does at puzzling out how to wear the ihram without it coming undone and flashing everyone at the House of God. Definitely not in the itinerary. But like so many things in modern life, a simple Google search [sh. Muhammad ‘Adaly] – coupled with an hour or two of laughs and you’re a pro a walking around the house in two bed sheets, practicing, “Labbayka allamhuma labbayk -  [At your service, my Lord, I am at your service]”. With the ihram mastered, it’s time to pack.

Anyone who ever needs to fly from JFK and lives in Philadelphia, I highly recommend the Grey Hound/MTA/AirTrain combination. An e-ticket from Grey Hound can be had for as little as $12 – $15. Two dollars gets you from Port Authority to Howard Beach on the A Train. Another seven klaks and you’re on the AirTrain which will take you to any terminal in the airport. As long as you leave with plenty of time, it’s the most relaxing way to fly out of New York City for under $30 one-way.

For those who don’t know me as well, I have an extreme phobia of flying. Extreme to the point that I need to be medicated to board the jet. Logical persuasions always fall short of the mark. After all, it’s a phobia – it is not dictated by the norms of logic. And from the first moment I laid eyes on the Saudi Arabian Airlines 747 jumbo jet, my fear escalated to another level. I was astounded by how absolutely massive the aircraft was. My mind raced, trying to find a believable equation that would justify 50 tons of steel flying up into the blue yonder. But if there’s one thing I’m learning on this trip and that’s to not underestimate the Grace of God. I spent the two nights before my flight reverently supplicating to have a safe flight as nightmares flashed through my head of crashing planes, wreckage and worse. And yet, on boarding the plane, a peculiar sense of tranquility washed over me. A subdual of my fears granted me a very comfortable flight. Even take off and landing, which are normally fraught with anxiety went by smoothing [well, fairly smooth – my palms were still slightly moist]. The crew was quite pleasant and I enjoyed talking with them, discussing my first trip to Saudi Arabia. “Truly, with hardship comes ease.”

Saudi Arabia is very hot. That is something that should just be put out in the open and gotten out of the way. Or, if not out of the way, put out in the open to establish a context in which almost all actions, activities and indeed thoughts, occur in. From the moment you step off the plane you know you’re in a very different place. Not just because of the language or the palm trees but because of the heat. In fact, it is the environment of Saudi that impresses me the most. Harsh and yet beautiful, it commands your respect instantly. On the ride from the airport at Jeddah to Makkah, you pass through a very harsh terrain that is composed up scrub, sand, broken rocks, boulders and mountains. One is reminded of the times that the Prophet Muhammad and his people had to live in. The pre-Modern Bedouin has all of my respect. Traversing such terrain on camelback is not for the faint of heart.

Our arrival at the hotel was made quick as we landed in Saudi on Friday, the day of communal prayer [Jumu’ah Prayer]. Our task was to unload as quickly as possible, shower, and head off to the Haram [the Holy Mosque]. Having never set foot in Makkah before, I was anxious to get underway and within thirty minutes I was strolling down the street, white ihram wrapped around my body, headed towards the mosque, with only a general sense of where I was going. The street was packed bumper to bumper with traffic, as Makkah’s inhabitants tried to find parking spaces for the prayer. I gazed around me, bemused, as the thought occurred to me [and not for the last time, either]: “What is a boy from Michigan doing walking down the street in Makkah?! Wow!, I am really here!”. And I seemed to belong there somehow. As if I my very feet had contributed to smoothing the path that leads to the Ka’abah. It was with this thought in mind, rounding a corner, that the minarets of the Grand Mosque came into view. I was completely stopped in my tracks, transfixed in a gaze. At your service, my Lord, I am at your service [labbayka allahumma labbayk]. It was huge. Bigger than huge. It was magnificent. It took me several moments to take it all in, to digest it. Like a whirlpool, the gates of the Haram swallowed patron after patron, headed to find a spot to sit, awaiting the Friday Sermon. But yet again, another silent thought came to me: “This is modern architecture. As beautiful as it may seem, these minarets are modern fabrications. What I am in search of is ancient. Much older than these.” And so I picked up the pace, descending the last portion of the road that connects to the white marble outside the Haram.

I will endeavor to try and describe many of the wonderful things I have seen, heard, tasted and touched on this trip to the best of my ability. But I must plead guilty to being unable to properly describe what it meant to behold the Ka’abah the first time. Also named the House of God and the House of Abraham, the Ka’abah is the centerpiece of Muslim prayer. It is the direction to which Muslims pray. Often people will say that Muslims turn the direction of their prayer to Makkah, and while this is true, it is only true in that Makkah houses the Ka’abah. When at the Haram, one’s direction of prayer is the Ka’abah. It is stunning to see all four of its walls lined with people. Men, women and children all bowed in prostration towards it. Again, I was hit with the thought that when I am at home or in the office and praying, it is towards here, here!, that I am pointing my body. My qiblah [direction of prayer] leads here.

But in addition to the direction of prayer, it’s also the significance of being at the Ka’abah, to know that one is standing on the very same ground as the Prophet [may Allah bless him and grant him peace] once stood. That the companions of the Prophet once stood [may Allah be pleased with them]. An avid student of the religion from day one, I have read many an account of this or that event taking place at the Ka’abah, like the reading of ar-Rahman, the 55th chapter of the Qur’an, at the Ka’abah and the reaction of the Quraysh to it [my apologies for readers who are unfamiliar with some of the terminology. Feel free to contact me you wish to have a more detailed explanation]. But now with being here, I’ve gone from passive observer to active participant. To being inserted into the historical narrative, however small my bit part might be.

The Ka’abah is also much larger than one thinks, perhaps twenty feet in height and draped in black cloth, sewn and adorned with golden writing and calligraphy. The focus of the Ka’abah is the Black Stone. Pilgrims strive day and night to pass within its vicinity; to touch it, to kiss it. And despite what one thinks, being big is much more of a disadvantage when you’re trying to wade through a sea of people. I was never once able to get remotely close to the Black Stone. I simply take up too much room. But tawaf is not about touching the Black Stone or kissing it. It is nice if you can but it’s more just the presence of being in this place – one can feel the sanctity of it. The floor of the Haram is covered in white marble, which can be quite blinding in the intense midday sun. Thus I walked in, joined shoulder to shoulder with perhaps several thousand people, to make the Jumu’ah [Friday communal] Prayer.

After prayer I spent a little time walking through some of the shops that line the street going back to the hotel. Makkah, in a word, is bustling. There’s a palatable beat and rhythm that the people move to. Not in some exotic notion but rather that the people are always moving briskly – going somewhere of importance, at least to them. Shops line the streets selling a variety of goods from prayer mats, skull caps, and head scarves to money changers, food carts, fruit sellers and the like. There are also the make-shift vendors, many of them women, dressed head to toe in black, who call out their wares, haggling down to the last riyal [Saudi Arabian currency]. There is also no shortness of beggars, many of whom seem to border on professionalism, repeat the same stories over and over about how they came with their families to Makkah, had all of their money stolen, the car wrecked and so forth and ask you humbly, “Ya hajji, hajji, fiy sabiyliyllah” [O’ Pilgrim! Give for the sake of God]”. And while many of them are no doubt regulars there are indeed poor people on the street, many missing limbs and the like. For those who have not been and are planning to go, you must steel yourself for these encounters for while the professional beggars can be easily brushed aside, it is sometimes a child in the street with a missing leg or arm that can pull at the heart strings. But Makkah is for worship. That is the best advice I can give. Stick to worship at the Haram, at the Ka’bah and that will pull you through.

The next major task was to make ‘Umrah, one of the major foci of the trip. ‘Umrah is a type of pilgrimage, like the Hajj, but is shorter [taking only a few hours to complete], sometimes referred to as the minor Hajj. It does not fill the requirement of Hajj [the once in a lifetime mandate to make Hajj] – and can be performed any time of the year where Hajj is only performed in the month of dhul-Hijjah [the month of Hajj]. ‘Umrah consists of two major rituals, tawaf and saa’iy, follow by halq [complete cutting/shaving of hair – for men] or taqsiyr [partial trimming – for men/women]. ‘Umrah is performed in an item of clothing called an ihram. Ihram is also the name for the state that the mu’atamir [‘Umrah pilgrim] is in until the ‘Umrah ritual is completed. The garment [for men] consists of two white, seamless sheets of cotton, one wrapped around the waist and the other over the shoulders. Again, the mu’atamir remains in the state of ihram until s/he cuts the hair.

My days of practicing putting my ihram on and walking around the house paid off and before I knew it, I was headed off to the Haram, ready to perform my first ‘Umrah. I was accompanied by several members of our group, including Shaykh Muhammad Ninowy. We had waited until after the final evening prayer to go, hoping the crowds would be a little less and the heat a bit lower. We were granted one of our requests – it was only about 98 degrees instead of 109 but the crowd was still going strong. So lining up at the corner of the Black Stone, I raised my right hand, saluted the Ka’abah and said, “bismillah. Allahu akhbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar [in the name of God. God is great, God is great, God is great]”. The first three times around the Ka’abah [making tawaf] the pace is sped up a bit by men, followed by four units at a regular walking speed. During the counter-clockwise navigation of the Ka’abah, one offers up prayers and supplications for oneself, one’s family, one’s loved ones, friends, the Prophet Muhammad [s], all the Prophets, all Muslims worldwide, all of humanity, and so forth. Other various prayers are offered up as well. It is a truly magical thing. Surrounded by thousands of people you do not know from Adam, and yet you find yourself smiling at them. Smiles are returned. Greetings are exchanged [as-Salaamu ‘alaykum, peace be unto you] and your thoughts glide upward to the Most High. We started as a group but by the first round of tawaf we were separated and all of us interspersed into the greater crowd. Over and over, we circle the Ka’abah, all thoughts on God. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more selfless moment in my life. I pray I can return for many more.

Once our seven units of tawaf were completed we offered two units of prayer at the station of Ibrahim [Abraham]. The many rituals of ‘Umrah and Hajj are symbolic representations of what Abraham and his wife Hagar did. For instance, saa’iy, the seven units of walking between the hills of Safaa and Marwa represent the anxious search of Hagar of water until God revealed to her the location of the Zamzam well. We left the station of Ibrahim and proceeded to saa’iy.

It was unclear if the current conditions at saa’iy are temporary or permanent. Saa’iy used to be open-aired but now is enclosed. This created two issues. One, the effects of the heat are intensified as the heat has nowhere to go. It was the only place in Saudi that I felt humidity. And two, it makes it more difficult to discern the localities of the small hills of Safaa and Marwa. I can only hope these are temporary measure due to construction on the Mosque.

The crowds were tight in here as well, as with the area being enclosed, there was nowhere for the crowds to spill over to. There are two main paths, one leading to Marwah and the other back to Safaa, with a small path in between the two to allow for the disabled in wheelchairs to make saa’iy as well. Again, one starts off by making supplications and the sets off between the two hills. Some people stop at intervals and have a small cup of Zamzam water before carrying on. At the completion of the said seven units, the rituals of ‘Umrah are now completed, with only the hair cutting remaining. Despite only walking, we were all fairly exhausted from the effort and headed back to the hotel for a shower and hair trimming.

The barber in the hotel was a curious fellow from Egypt. I believe he was from Aswan and perhaps of Sudanese heritage. He took a lot of pride in not only shaving heads but giving us a hard time about politics and religion. He kept us laughing for the better part of an hour, after which most people in the group had their heads shaved. I opted for a simple cutting of a few locks. And with the hair cutting completed, we finished our ‘Umrah and resumed our normal affairs, taking off our ihrams until the next time.

We remained in Makkah for a few more days, attending classes and recovering from the efforts of ‘Umrah. I had a chance to go out and get to know the city a bit. Zayd and myself took an excursion one day which resulted in a very funny incident.

Bartering is how things get done in Makkah. You barter for just about everything and anything. Prices are not what they seem and unless you just want to get taken for a ride, you’d better learn to barter. A little Arabic under your belt wouldn’t hurt either, as was the case with Zayd. While walking in a predominantly Bengali section of Makkah, Zayd [who, for the context of this story, is a white-American convert with a slightly Southern accent] needed to new AA batteries for his GPS tracking device [p.s.  just for the record. If you don’t want to be treated like a tourist and gouged on prices, put away the shinny GPS device and just get lost like the rest of us!]. Upon entering what looked like to be a promising little shop, the owner spotted his rent for the day and offered Zayd two AA batteries for the sum of 75 riyals! That’s about twenty American dollars. The man feigned speaking English of course and thus Zayd came back, requesting some assistance. I lent my swarthy appearance to the task and when I inquired about two AA batteries the negotiating started at 10 riyals, and the end of which the man was widdled down to three [about 80 cents]! Again, unless you want to spend all your hard earned cash on AA batteries, put away any all possible traces of American-ness.

In addition to classes we also took a tour around Makkah, visiting a number of significant historical sites from the grave of Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with her, the Prophet’s [s] wife, other graves of the Companions of the Prophet, may God be pleased with them, to some of the sites that the Prophet [s] used to frequent before his call to Prophethood. Caves and mountain sites where he [s] would go into spiritual retreat and meditate and pray. The shuyukh [plural of shaykh] provided us with a bounty of commentary on each and every place we went, enriching the experience and making it all come alive. May Allah reward them for the time and effort. It was these tours, combined with the classes, which really made the experience of going with the Madinah Institute extremely worthwhile. I commend them and ask Allah to reward them for their efforts in organizing such a wonderful trip.

From Makkah we journeyed approximately 5 hours through the desert to Madinah, also knows as al-Madinatul Munawwarah [The City of Light/The Enlightened City] and Madinatun Nabiyy [The City of the Prophet]. In pre-Islamic times it was known as Yathrib. Our stay was first at the Movenpick hotel followed by the Hilton. Both accommodations were quite splendid. Another small tip – befriend the Egyptian guy that cleans your room. If you get him to like you [which means trying to converse with him in a face-paced, half-intelligible Egyptian slang about soccer and Hajj, where your family is from and whether or not you’re married as well as leaving him about 10 or so riyals a day], you’ll want for nothing. At least that’s at the Movenpick. At the Hilton you can just speak English with the Bengali staff. They’re very gracious.

Madinah. The City of the Prophet. From the first moment one steps into Madinah, you can feel the tranquility of the place. A completely different vibe underpins Madinah versus Makkah. The hustle and bustle of Makkah is replaced with a much more toned down pace of life. Even the weather is tamer, despite it supposedly being warmer. A gentle breeze always seems to be blowing in Madinah. It is the place from one’s initial contact; you know you never want to leave it.

The rhythm of our stay in Madinah was more calculated, with classes being interspersed between prayer times. Less time was spent at the suwq [market], as was the case in Makkah, as in Madinah it seemed. We all really just wanted to spend time at the Prophet’s [s] Mosque, making Visitation to him, spending time in the Rawdah [a small section of the Mosque adjacent to the Prophet’s [s] house, which is considered by Muslims to be a part of the Jannah [Paradise]. I myself spent a lot time here, reading Qur’an one afternoon with El-Amin, a wonderful American brother I met on this trip, as well as making dhikr, making du’ah [supplication] for family and loved ones or just simply sitting there with the soothing thought that one is in the presence of the Best of Creation. Again, Madinah is a place of the heart and one longs to extend one’s stay here.

If one has the time and the resources, Madinah is a treasure trove of Muslim history, with many masaajid [mosques] and other places of interest. Many are within walking distance of the Prophet’s [s] Mosque. Unfortunately, I was unaware of this until after our trip. God willing, I will return again next year and frequent some of these places, hoping to photograph some of them. My intention to photograph them is not simply for the sake of tourism, but rather to preserve some memory of them as the Saudi government is studiously knocking down many important historical and religious sites. I can only hope that they will see that modernization can accommodate the past and put a stop to this. Amin.

Like in Makkah, the Madinah Institute also set up tours of Madinah. Several places were visited including amongst them the Masjid Qiblatayn [the mosque of two directions of prayer, where the initial qiblah of Jerusalem as moved to the Ka’abah in Makkah], Masjid Quba, the first mosque established in Madinah, as well as a number of other smaller and far well less know sites like the grove of date palm trees near Quba where there is a sweet-tasting well/spring, called Adhq [from dhawq, which means to taste], a place frequented by the Prophet Muhammad [s]. The grove was owned by Kulthum ibn Hadm, from Bani Amr ibn Awf. The Prophet’ [s], on the Hijrah [the Migration from Makkah to Madinah], stopped and rested in this palm grove area. We also visited the site of Uhud, where many Muslims were martyred. The Prophet’s [s] uncle, Hamzah, may Allah be pleased with him, is also buried there. Again, the efforts of the shuyukh in instructing us really made these legs of the trip so much more informative.

From here, I will conclude with just a few points. I have only scratched the surface of what this trip was and the more I think of it, I will not be able to adequately write about it. Perhaps, through a more personal correspondence with some of you, I can share a more intimate account. But in the end, it was a journey of the heart and thus, can only be truly articulated by the heart. My recommendation? Visit it for yourself. Taste it [dhawq] for yourself and then you will truly know what it means to visit the House of God. What it means to be in the presence of the Mercy to All the Worlds. Again, I prefaced my post that this would be written in the spirit of what I felt, not in my usual academic prose or interfaith dialect. I love Makkah. I love the House of God. And I love the Prophet. I pray I am invited again by its Host, to lay prostrate, open and completely human, as I have only felt in the Divine Presence of the Haramayn [The Two Harams of Makkah and Madinah].

My heartfelt thanks to the Madinah Institute for making this possible. To Shaykh Mohsin Al-Najjar for being patient with me and all of my questions. To Shaykh Ninowy to tolerating my clumsy Arabic with a kind smile [na’am, sidi, na’am, he would often say!!]. To Shaykh Muhammad Ali Ben Saddek Al-Ghumari. I treasure the time I had to speak with you. I apologize that my French was not better! Perhaps I can visit you in Fez, God willing. To British crew: I could not have bad better roommates than you sorry blokes [how’s my Cockney coming along?]!! I had the best time with Majid and Arfan [p.s. next time I look like I’m sleepy: wake me up. I won’t mind!! ]. To Asim – our time was short but I look forward to more. For Sajad and Esa: you guys were just excellent company. I really want to put together a trip to England to visit all of you. Faisal – I am counting on you to take me out for fish n’ chips when I come. And for all the others, brothers and sisters alike, you made this trip what it was. I hope we can all meet again under such favorable locations and spirit. But most of all to the Atiya family. Without whom, none of this would have come together and especially Moutasem, who’s tireless, selfless work made all of us just glide on rails the whole time we were there. May Allah reward you in it and increase you in that reward. Until the next episode, my heart will lay somewhere over the Atlantic, longing for Madinah.

The Sacred

Today’s world is a cynical world. How often do we see the deepest, the most egregious problems dealt with a cynical hand? I heard once from a modern scholar that the only people in today’s society that have the power to critique are the comedians. But they loose their impact because they trivialize the issue by making a jest of it (whether or not that make a jest of it).

I recently gave a talk at Rutgers University, to a group of students who were taking a class on spiritual autobiography. Like many people I’ve talked to this year in regards to Islam, “why did the Muslims react the way in which they did towards the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad” has been been one of the more popular questions. My answer has been long coming to me – but the answer I gave that day and the one I’ll give again today is because of The Sacred. I will outline what I mean by sacred so that one will not conflate my words to mean that I condone actions of violence. I most certainly do not. But in an effort to break away from the certain perspectives (Orientalist, Islamophobes…) that these violent reactions are a result of the Eastern Mind or something inherent in Islam and instead, people’s (misguided, and I’ll get to that as well) frustrations towards The Sacred being violated. For many people who had issue with the cartoons (myself included), we were told that Freedom of Speech trumped our concepts of The Sacred. Being able to say whatever comes to one’s mind supersedes that of moral, ethical and public judgment. With this reckless abandonment of wisdom as a system, then there will always be people who will lash out (hopefully in a proverbial way) against having that which they hold as Sacred, trampled underneath someone else’s belief system. The final part of this short essay is the re-examination of what is and isn’t Sacred for Muslims, or if I may be so bold, what aught to be Sacred and the re-prioritization of The Sacred for Muslims based on what the Prophet and his companions held as Sacred, as a guide for Muslims living in this “Western” part of the world.

Before we can clear the deck for me to leap into this topic I’d like to clarify a few short topics. In a recent interview I was quoted as being a “progressive Muslim”. In today’s world of headlines and sound-bites, one little word, one little phrase can pigeonhole a person. To state it for the record, I never used this word “progressive” to describe myself or any of my ideologies. Islam in the 20th century has a seen a vast array of movements: Reformists. Traditionalists. Jihadists. And yes, Progressives. While it is not the focus of this post to target any of those groups or to even say that they are not legitimate, I will say that I am not a reformist, a traditionalist, a jihadist or a progressive. Now that isn’t to say that I may not share specific sentiments with some of these groups but I do not want my labeling as a Progressive to be conflated as consensual.

The most sacred thing for Muslims is God. That is a simple fact. And it is not just simply that there is a god but that there is no god except God (La ilaha illallah). This simple phrase, known as the Testimony of Faith (al-Shahadah) is the foundation of Muslim theology and belief. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, one of the key aspects of his mission was to reintroduce Monotheism back to the world. The majority of the Arabs living in the Arabian peninsula during the time of the Prophet had slipped into idol worship, despite many of them being descendants of great prophets of God themselves (Abraham, Jonah, Shu’aib to name a few). The center of interest in Makkah was the Ka’bah, the house that Abraham built as a place of worship. And while the Qur’an was revealed throughout the 23 years of the Prophet’s stay in Arabia, it dealt theologically with Sacred Ideologies, chief amongst them was not ascribing partners or association with God. God admonishes those that say God is three or that Jesus the son of Mary, the Messiah, is God himself [Q 5: 72-75]. I state this here not polemically – that is not the point of my argument. But rather to reinforce what is sacred to Muslims. God is the most sacred – one of God’s names is al-Quddus, or The Holy or The Sacred. So with this understanding, why is it that Muslims aren’t jumping off at every Christian for wearing a cross on their necks or building churches that have Jesus on the cross, worshipped as God or the son of God? Because of another sacred source for Muslims – the Sunnah.

That the Prophet Muhammad is sacred for Muslims goes without saying. His life is a holy example for all Muslims in terms of morals, permissible actions and so forth. Many rulings for Shari’ah or Islamic Law, comes from his life. But if we were to examine the Prophet’s life and look at what he considered sacred, would it coincide with what Muslims hold as sacred?

To take the example from above, referring to Christians and their theological stance that they proclaim Jesus the son of Mary is the Son of God, this would contradict the teachings that the Prophet was preaching. And yet, while going against the grain of God’s theological bounds, the Prophet never proclaimed the life of the Christians forfeit. No churches were burned down on his order. No representatives of Christianity were assassinated. To take it a step further, the pagans were not indiscriminately slaughtered. Their idols were not even allowed to be desecrated. Why? Because the Prophet knew that Jesus was holy, sacred to the Christians even while he believed it wrong! The pagan Arabs (who, on a scale, ranked much lower than Jews or Christians because they were people who had received Divine Revelation) were still treated with respect and treaties were signed with them. If Muslims would but take the time to study their own “traditions”, we might see that that which we hold as sacred and that which the Prophet held as sacred are not one and the same. And further, even when something this is sacred to us is violated, are actions are woefully unacceptable.

Our modern age is one of false universals and failed utopian ideologies. And while the Muslims are not alone in perpetuating such rhetoric, ironically, they are just as guilty as their Western counterparts which they blame of the same crime. Often wrapped in the guise of “tradition”, this one-size fits all mentality has and is causing grave harm to Muslim communities across the globe and I have personally seen its insidious affects in my 14-year career as a Muslim. For those who call for an Islamic state to be raised in America I say that you would have to obtain the rights from Roberta Flack for its national anthem, for surely this is “killing us softly”.

So what are some other things that the Prophet held as sacred? Human life would most certainly rank high on his list. Caring for the poor. Visiting the sick and caring for the old. As Muslims, where do these categories rank on our lists? This is where Muslims fail in my opinion. As a group that believes it should uphold high moral standards, how are we caring for the poor? How many Muslim organizations have we developed that care for old and sick people in our neighborhoods, regardless of race, creed or religion? How many Muslim organizations have we built that care for the poor? Are we involved in urban development? Big brother, big sister organizations? I’m sure I will receive many emails confirming that we do partake in such actions. And while there may be a few why are they absent from the public spot light?

As it stands now, Muslims are not known as a group that participate in the greater society (and yet we want people to sympathize with us when we have problems). At a recent meeting between myself and other fellow bloggers, astonishment would be the word that would best describe the reactions of others when they found out that I was a Muslim and that I desired to participate in society. This is not a PR statement for myself but rather a reflection on the status of Muslims in society. If Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man today he’d have to re-title it Invisible People.

So in the end I believe we as Muslims are in need of a serious revamping of what is and isn’t Sacred to us. We need to seriously reevaluate what is important to us and what isn’t. The military developed a term called triage – we need to stop the bleeding and then reexamine what we’re about. I believe this reexamination starts with the basics – Qur’an and Sunnah. It may surprise you that I would choose such a sloganized answer but none the less, I do believe the answer lies there in. By Qur’an, I mean we should actually spend time reading it. Many of us do not. We rely on regurgitated quotes from people who have little formal training and short intellects. The Sunnah of the Prophet is also do for a serious reexamination. What did he say? What did he do? How was he both simultaneously stern and flexible? How could he proclaim no god but God and yet make concessions with idolators? Muhammad was a complex man – revisiting his life and his prophethood will no doubt turn up many unknown gems for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is a topic which deserves deeper introspection – an introspection that cannot fully be dealt with in a small post as it is here. Rather, it is my hope that we may ponder this questions, these situations and feel moved to do something about it. And in the words of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, “Allah and His Messenger know best”.

The Seerah With Dr. Sherman Jackson – Seeing Love In Action

I am so tired right now but I had to put this down on pen and paper (or pixel and electrons if you will). I will comment at greater length as to the details of Dr. Jackson’s two-day session at NYU (especially as I’ve only seen one day so far) but I’d like to speak on Dr. Jackson as a whole and what he means to me.

I know I’ve written an awful lot about Dr. Jackson here and even he may think my words are misplaced but I will say that we, meaning American Muslims, are so blessed, so fortunate to have someone like him that I want to take a moment to personally thank him.

The session I spoke of is the two-day session on the Seerah of the Prophet: The Makkan Period. Never before have I had the biography of the Prophet laid out before me. One of several epiphanies that I had during this course is that there needs to be a serious, scholarly re-working of the Muslims understanding of the Prophet. By this I mean we need to have the language and the method in which the Prophet is presented to us re-tooled to fit the times in which we live. For many of us (and myself until recent) I believe/d the Prophet is/has been made into an unhuman figure. What do I mean by unhuman (not inhuman!)? I mean that we often hear ourselves quoting the fact that the Prophet never made a mistake even though we have Qur’anic proof that he did:

He frowned and turned his back when the blind man came towards him. How could you tell? He might have sought to purify himself. He might have been forewarned, and might have profited from Our warning. But to the wealthy man you were all attention: although the fault would not be yours (the Prophet) if he remained uncleansed.{Qur’an: 80 v.1-5}

This is not some play at words – the Prophet was a real person, a real human being. He did make a mistake. The difference is that God never allowed the Prophet to perpetuate a mistake or more clearly, what ever mistakes the Prophet may have committed would be/were corrected before his death. This, in my opinion, is a more correct way to look at the عصمة (‘ismah) or infallibility of the Prophet.

As Muslims, we need to ask ourselves, why do we have these perceptions? Should we have them? And how can we begin a process of (as Yoda put it so eloquently), “unlearning what we have learned.” For me, I see many Muslims are afraid to tackle these issues. Some thing by looking at the Prophet in this light, it opens the door of capitulating to the Orientalist or Islamaphobes perception of the Prophet. But, as per Dr. Jackson’s advice, instead of worrying how others outside of our religious fold define the Prophet, perhaps we should concentrate on how we define him. If we remove our desire for outside validation, then perhaps so many of our phobias will fall away.

It was this and more that Dr. Jackson brought to us. The Prophet came alive for us. Though we could never walk in his shoes, we certainly could empathize with him. The Prophet was a man who loved his people: idolators, Jews, Christians, Muslims, all of them. And he showed this love in how he carried out his prophethood.

The Prophet was also a man who also experienced deep sorrow. Never wanting the mantle of prophethood, Khadijah, his first wife and if I may be so bold, his big love of his life, was his rock and corner stone when his received Revelation. Khadijah was the first Muslim. And when she died, the sorrow that he must have felt was immense. I could only imagine what it must have been like. A message delivered to you in which no one else is aware of. And the only person who trusts and believes you, who bares your children and comforts you, is one day taken from you (all the while, hostility is growing towards you and your movement and there’s no backing out of it – how do you back out of delivering God’s message?). When Dr. Jackson said that the Prophet had to come home to a lonely home after 25 years of marriage, the deep sorrow the Prophet felt at Khadijah’s death, overwhelmed me. As I sat and pondered these thoughts on the bus back to Philadelphia that evening, I started to weep. I imagined being in love and having that great love taken from you. Coming home and not having that person be there. I thought of my father and what it would mean for him to come home and not have my mother there and I just kept crying.

I’ve often heard stories of Muslims weeping when they thought of the Prophet and until then, I could not conceptualize it (also, added to the fact that men do not cry comfortably about anything in our culture!). But that night, for the first time in the nearly 15 years I’ve been Muslim, I grasped the humanity of the Prophet, what his Message was, the sacrifices he gave and then could fully understand the meaning behind صلى الله عليه وسلم (May God send peace and blessings upon the Prophet). For this, I am eternally grateful to Dr. Jackson.

I will put up shortly some notes from Dr. Jackson’s lecture there. It’s still in a distillation process for me. So be patient and stay tuned.

Apology Theory – The Cycle of Inferiority

You know, it’s tempting to give in to the various conspiracy theories out there. I mean, when you look at events that are unfolding before us these days, it really seems as if this is so scripted, so purposeful, that it’s just gotta be a conspiracy.

I’m gonna warn you right now – this post may ramble a bit, but, like any chase worth the take, just try and stay with me.

I was leaving class yesterday evening when I picked up a copy of the Financial Times and on its cover was a picture of Iranian Muslims signing up to volunteer themselves as suicide bombers in the event of a U.S. or U.K. attack. My first reaction is, “God damn. Here we go.” Is this for real? It’s as if we’re caught in some really bad Apocalyptic, Orwellian B-movie countdown sequence. The U.S. continually threatens Iran; Iran makes these insane, chest thumping reactions which seamlessly seem to fit and play into the rhetoric of the Islamophobes here in the West. [Ding]. That’s where the light goes on that says, “Don’t let ’em fool you, brother, it’s a conspiracy.” Conspiracy? How, you may ask. Well, am I the only one that wonders how does some one like Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, come into power and precisely at the right moment? It’s as if someone in either the White House or some D.C. think tank said, “Enter stage left, Mr. Ahmadinejad.” I feel that if I look close enough, I can see the markers on the ground so he doesn’t step out of focus for the camera man. The Greeks couldn’t have written a better Comedy/Tragedy (well, yes, actually, they could have). But on a serious note, this is disturbing and I will try to illustrate why I think so.

Islam is on the defense. There can be no doubt about this. Muslim scholars and intellectuals have been in a virtual horse race since 9/11 to preach an almost Ghandi-like message to the world that Islam is “a religion of peace”. “Islam means peace”. “Muslims are peaceful people and the vast majority simply want to live out their lives in a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, be the Christians, Jews, or other”. And while this may certainly be the case for large numbers of Muslims here in the West and across the world, there are consequences for this rhetoric. I will try to lay out a few in the following paragraphs.

To begin, I am not trying to ignite a debate on the “meaning of Islam”. To be reductionist if I may, Islam means many different things to many different people – and many of these people (present company included) may indeed be entitled to their interpretations. So for the sake of this post, I will accept a person’s definition that Islam is a religion of peace. What I’d like to do is examine the potential externalities of such an outlook. For more information on permissibility in Islam, I highly recommend Dr. Sherman Jackson’s article, From Prophetic Actions To Constitutional Theory.

If one says that Islam is a religion of peace, then this would, to many people, mean that the objective of the religion is to establish peace versus peace being a side effect of the practice of Islam. We must also look at when such slogans are used. While I do not proclaim to be a historical scholar in any fashion, when Islam did exist in a state of peace with its neighbors (say, Muslim Spain for example – I am simplifying for the sake of argument) there are not any identifiable records that Muslims went around to their Jewish and Christian neighbors and said, “Islam is a religion of peace”. The fact was that for the most part during that epoch of when Muslims ruled Spain, Muslim, Jew and Christian coexisted without significant strife until much later (the Inquisition and expulsion of Muslims). So my question and counter argument is that if Islam’s mission statement, as it were, was that of a religion of peace, why did we not see or hear it then?

Well, we are most certainly hearing it now. And I believe that it is out of a reaction to specific events in modernity and because of generalized events in history that Muslims feel that Islam is peaceful, that Muslims wish to live in peace and that the rug has been yanked out from many of us and all we wanna do is set the rug back in place. The only problem with trying to put the rug back in place is that the place in which it used to fit has changed in shape and dimension. Perhaps the rug no longer belongs there or we’re told that it no longer belongs there.

Like other peoples throughout history, Muslims now suffer at their (our/mine) own ignorance. Muslims have become emotionally reactionary and anti-intellectual despite long traditions that would counter the latter. So how do Muslims justify sloganizing Islam as a religion of peace and perhaps more importantly, what happens when one gets his foot caught in the bear trap of apology? The Muslims, like any good animal caught in such a trap, must do one of two things: moan horribly about one’s wound until infection and disease bring about a painful death. Or bite off the crippling limb to escape the confines and inevitable death of the trap (a potential third option is to wait for someone to come along and free you, indebting them to you; some would say this is the current situation – you decide). As it stands currently, gangrene is setting in. But while the disease threatens to lay the animal low, a small contingent seeks to triage the caught limb and apply a tourniquet in preparation for amputation.

Apology in the modern sense (not in the classic Greek sense) is a defensive position. And once one starts apologizing, it is hard to gain back ground – to regain respect, because one will inevitably be seen as inferior to the one whom you attempt to apologize. It also has the potential to be cyclical – once it starts it’s hard to stop. In my humble opinion, if Muslims are to regain footing in the public arena, they (we) must stop apologizing for the misgivings of small minorities that have been given undue authority to speak for the Muslims as a whole. And devil’s in the details. No other religious majority group in the West (i.e., Christians and Jews) are taken to task when extremist minority groups decide to act upon interpretations they come to (which their majority co-religionists do not share) and do something that is considered abominable (many groups come to mind here: the IRA, the Basque separatists, and Israeli settlers come to mind). Neither British Protestants, Irish Catholics, Spanish separatists or Israelis would call these other groups “extremists” because of the actions of a few Irish, British, Spanish or Israeli participants. And yet, when a group of Muslims acts on their own, all Muslims are communally held responsible for their actions and therefore can even be held legally responsible, vis-a-vie Guantanamo Bay. Muslims, regardless of their lack of affiliation with any known terror groups, are being held in detention, without rights or access to due legal process, simply because they’re Muslim (the travesty continues that many of the Muslims in Guantanamo have been proven innocent but have yet to be released as in the case of two Chinese Muslims that were acquitted of any involvement in terrorist activities and yet remain detained permanently).

I had mentioned that the practice of apology by the Muslims has engendered the perception of inferiority. This is especially true in our modern context. Recent polls have shown us that roughly 50% of Americans have a negative view of Islam, post 9/11. Talk radio and entertainment news shows (not by any means true or accurate) consistently mock Muslims and Islamic traditions. The satirical caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) could well be used as further proof that Islam suffers from an inferiority complex (as well as the reactions of Muslims to the cartoons) in the public arena.

The way that I see an apologetic stance driving an inferiority complex is simple (for the sake of this post): parties that are indentured or indebted to another are put in a stance of inferiority. This debt allows the superior party to not only subjugate the former but it leaves the potential for the latter to remake or re-determine the former’s worth and value. Such is the case with Islam in the West. By being put on the defense (I believe this is in effort to seek peer-level recognition from their Christian, Jewish or non-Muslim Western counterparts), Muslims are subjected to ridicule they would normally not have to accept. But precisely because they are open to apology, non-Muslim thought process is allowed to come in the fold and out of context, dissect, examine, ridicule or even condemn Muslims on theological, secular and humanitarian levels. Classic examples that come to mind of this is that “Islam is an evil religion”. “Islam seeks to dominate the entire world and subject all non-Muslims to horrific, blasphemous deaths”. “Islam is a system and modality of oppression, especially for women.” All of these should sound familiar. It is my belief that these criticisms come partly from the Muslims allowing themselves, in misguided or misplaced hope of gaining favor from their Western counterparts, to fall into a tar pit of apology.

A second consequence of the apologists is the enraging of the radicals and extremists. For those who are disenfranchised, in many ways, the Muslim who apologizes and explains away the ills of his or her religion ignites the ire in these groups almost to a further extent that does the West. The apologists are seen as both corroborators, conspirators and innovators (bid’ah/بدعة) of the religion. In a sort of Manichean way, any Muslim who seeks to “water down” the religion in trade for gaining forgiveness, respect or other from the infidel, is seen as someone who is corrupting the religion. This then gives rise to the call for the “true believers” to rise up and defend Islam from both without and within.

Not to toss the Salafis in to this conversation for no good reason, but they are an example of a group in which I have had first-hand experience listening to their rhetoric in which various groups of Muslims who have tried to at once condemn violence committed by Muslims or even just defend wearing of headscarves by women (hijab), and who through various means are seen as “selling out” (shaving of the beard, not adopting the Middle-Eastern style of dress code, etc.) are described as hypocrites, innovators and it is then incumbent upon the “real Muslims” to take up this charge to rite their wrongs. I am not saying that all or any Salafi groups here in the States have gone to the extremes that either the 9/11 hijackers did or what is happening in Iran with suicide bomber volunteers, but is does present the possibilities of a slippery slope.

So with the issue of apology tackled, I will now examine the other options I spoke of: triage, amputation and rehabilitation.

Using the word triage may seem a bit dramatic but in many ways the Muslim world, in its various locales and manifestations, is like a body that has suffered trauma. Some of that trauma is akin to the blunt trauma of colonialism. Other trauma can be more subtlety diagnosed as psychological. Either way, I find the medical analogy applicative so bear with me.

As with any medical condition, the symptoms must be analyzed so that they cannot just be treated but will hopefully lead to the cause of the problem so that the appropriate diagnosis and treatment can be made. In the case of the Muslims, this is as varied as disease is, depending on when and where the Muslims are. For this post, we will deal with Muslims in the States.

To make a concise summary for the sake of argument, Muslims here are caught between two competing histories. The history of the West (especially for indigenous converts) and the history of Islam in the East. For indigenous Western Muslims, we are often told that our innate Westerness is some how inferior and inherently unIslamic. Much of this opinion is informed by peoples who have generationally suffered at the hands of colonization and radical nationalist movements in their native countries. In a manner, this superior/inferior dialog between Muslims in America leads to its own form of apology on behalf of American Muslims (to their foreign Muslims coreligionists), but this is for another topic.

To say that the challenge facing Muslims here in the West is the reconciliation of these two histories is to make a grand understatement. Muslims in America must find a way of having that all-important conversation with the Sacred Tradition if they are to have a legitimate legacy here in the West (see Dr. Sherman Jackson’s speech at the Western Knight Center For Specialized Journalism – watch the video). Potentially, out of that conversation come a sense of self, so affirmed, that theoretically, never again would Western Muslims need find themselves delivering apologetic hand-outs (and simultaneously quelling the ire of the extremists).

This process of having a dialog with the Sacred History is what I would term the rehabilitation period. It is where the Muslims here in the West could heal and recoup from the effort that it will have taken them to reach this lofty, but not unobtainable, goal. This process will require both academic and intellectual endeavors as well as grass roots application of those endeavors. But above all, it will take honesty. Muslims in America will need to be honest with themselves in order to have and benefit from the dialog. And in addition, in order to have that dialog, Muslims will need to stop apologizing, so that they may hear what that Sacred History is saying. And like any other dialog, one cannot carry on two conversations at once.