A Man in the Clouds and Other Theological Misconceptions

Big Bang defies laws of physicsI remember one day, while sitting on my lunch break back when I worked in IT at UPenn, I happened to sit near a guy, non-Muslim, who oversaw me reading my Qur’an and we struck up a conversation. In summary, he stated he wasn’t religious because he didn’t, “believe in a man up there in the clouds”. I replied that while I did believe in God I also rejected the notion of the Creator being “a man in the clouds” or a man at all. we must never forget that some people are much closer to Islam than they even know. Their rejection of God being a man is in many ways a confirmation of half the shahadah (Testimony of Faith). They need only confirm illa’Allah (no deity except God!) and of course Muhammad is His messenger.

Dr. Shadee Elmasry posted something on his Twitter feed that reminded me not only of that conversation but also the important need for Muslims to precisely articulate what Islam professes, and simply because we believe in God or the Creator in no way implies we believe as others do. We must struggle to combat the straw-man argument that “all religions are the same”. Indeed they are not.

Can A Humanist Sustainability Work?

Edward Humes Garbology is a fascinating read. In it, he points to numerous challenges plaguing modern man, namely the issue of waste and how it not only degrades the natural environment but actually cases harm to humans. I know many secular humanists who hold to the notion that, to quote Matt Damon’s botanist, Mark Watney, “I’m gonna have to have to science the shit out of this”.

But what’s most striking is that it’s science, or perhaps more accurately, scientism, that got us into this issue in the first place. I make the designation of scientism, in that it is precisely that humanist strain of science which has sought to divorce itself from religious and spiritual ethics. Humanism, according to dictionary definition is “a system of thought criticized as being centered on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the unintegrated and conditioned nature of the individual”. It is specifically this “autonomous self”, detached from the natural world — through its “rational” mechanics — which gives license to itself to treat the world as mere objects, having no sign or significance beyond their molecules and atoms.

So how, precisely, are we going to science the feces out of our conundrum when the malady points to a much deeper diagnosis: schizophrenic god-complex. Schizophrenia in that modern man is caught between expelling God and attempting to be God himself. Thus far, the “science-ing the shit out of this” theory doesn’t seem to hold water.

American Muslims and the Need To Be on the Right Side of Society

Daniel Haqiqatjou, of the Yaqeen Institute, brings to light an important topic challenging American Muslims: the pressure many feel to be on the “right side” of a whole cadre of subjects ranging from Darwinism and eurocentric science to homosexuality. Paraphrasing Marwa Elshakry1 from her Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950, Haqiqatjou says,

“…accepting Darwinism was due less to a careful intellectual assessment of the theory and more to Muslim intellectuals, politicians, and elites simply signaling their social and political alignment with modernization, secularization, and Europeanization. Likewise, the rejection of Darwinism by traditional Muslim scholars and their students was at times a marker of their general opposition to colonialism and its cultural and religious impact on Muslim society.”

What’s important to note here is that while Haqiqatjou’s article speaks to the question of will American Muslims adopt Darwinism wholesale or not, the phenomenon he outlines is even more critically important. The bigger question is not the embracing Darwinism “inevitable”, but more urgently, is the abandoning of an independent skepticism — regarding all that is western and its implied bias that that which is western is inately better — inevitable? Will Muslims, due to pressure from their society as well as a collapse of a relevantless leadership in the face of these challenges, relinquish the ability to think on their own? If this happens, the question not only becomes “how will Muslims thrive in the West”, but also how can they contrinute to it as Muslims, with any sort of Muslim genius, if intellectually Muslims cast themselves into the dustbin of bygone ideas?

You can read Haqiqatjou’s article here.

Notes

1. Elshakry, Marwa. Reading Darwin in Arabic: 1860-1950. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Muslims in America – What Comes After Resistance?

The American Muslim community is currently embroiled in a struggle against the injustices being perpetrated by the Trump administration. As to whether these actions are truly injust or simply a matter of selective outrage, fueled by a model minority narrative, remains to be seen. But one question which hovers over American Muslims is what is their fate, post-resistance?

In reading Daniel L. Fountain’s Slavery, Civil War and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity 1830-1870, one is inspired to, drawing upon the religious history of black folks in America, ask the question: will American Muslims adopt the world-views, mores, and religion[s] of their “masters”? By this I mean to compare the history of African Americans and their conversion to Christianity to American Muslims and their future conversion to liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism. In order to make this inquiry clear we must look at why and how Africans and their progeny converted to Christianity.

Anecdotal historical accounts of African religious life in antebellum America feeds us a narrative in which African slaves and their progeny converted to Christianity during their tenure as slaves. From this perspective we are left with the assumption that Christianity played a major role in the lives of slaves. However, recent scholarship gives a more convincing insight into the reality that Christianity did not come to play a significant role in the majority of African American lives until after emancipation. According to Fountain (amongst others),

“more than 60 percent of the slaves surveyed indicated that they were not Christians while enslaved (emphasis mine)1.”

My point being here is to challenge the notion that Christianity was a form of slave resistance. Instead, I argue that, since Christianity did not gain significant ground amongst African Americans until post-emancipation, it was more a means of assimilation than resistance. Fountain quotes nineteenth century physician and all around social agitator, Thomas Low Nichol, as saying,

“[t]he Southern people are eminently religious, and their negroes follow their example (emphasis mine)2.”

Whereas in the nineteenth century, the religion of America — and those who stood in position to impart “freedom” to slaves — was Christianity, the religions of America today are increasingly liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism, and thus, my concern is, will American Muslims embrace the religions of those who stand ready yet again to impart “freedom” to American Muslims? While some have balked at the heavy-handed tone in a recent article penned to American Muslim activists, I am equally concerned about the temptation for American Muslims to go down the same road as their previous American brethren did. In fact, as Fountain argues, it was,

“the expectation and delivery of freedom [being] the leading factor for African American conversion to Christianity3.”

The question remains: have the descendants of African slaves gained freedom and have their expectations been met? Many would argue that true freedom, the ability for self-determination, has not arrived yet. And likewise, in light of liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism (what I will term here as scientism), can these philosophies fulfill their promises to American Muslims4? For it is precisely the same gambit, the same offer, and the same temptation, I see American Muslims engaged in both in terms of embracing liberalism and the like, but also in an articulation of Islam that is pitched as resistance, and nothing more. If, quoting Fountain again, “under slavery, Christianity … did not meet most slaves’ needs … most did not convert”5 then what of an Islam that does not meet Muslims needs, particularly as Americans? It is here I believe most of the hard work needs to be done and thus should be the primary focus of scholars, for it is also the reason why so many Muslims, particularly the youth, look for truth-claims (even false ones) elsewhere6.

Resources 

1. Fountain, Daniel L. Slavery, Civil War and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity 1830-1870. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. Pg. ix.

2. Ibid., 7.

3. Ibid., 5.

4. Jay Tolson, in the Fall 2016 edition of The Hedgehog Review, writes, “scientists began to wonder uneasily about whether scientific progress was compatible with scientific truth”. Tolson, Jay. “From the Editor”. The Hedgehog Review. http://iasc-culture.org/THR/index.php.

5. Fountain, 5.

6. Manley, Marc. “Between Political Theories and Truth-Claims: American Muslims and Liberalism”. Marc Manley – Imam At Large. www.marcmanley.com, 21 Jan. 2017.

Scientism and the Promise of Prosperity For All

The modern world prides itself on its scientific and technological advance, in particular the advances which have garnered some in the west great wealth and prosperity. But central to the core of scientific tenets is the claim that in order for a thing to be scientifically true it must also be replicable. The question to be asked then is: why has science not shown itself to have bequeathed to poor black and brown populations, in the Americas for example, that which it has done to its whiter and wealthier populations? In other words, science’s prophecy of prosperity for all has not come to pass. In fact, when factoring in modern science’s collusion with capitalism, science seems that it should have no other choice other than but retreat from the one-stop-shop that it’s presented itself as, in modernity, for what is good, beneficial, and true. Clearly, something other (some other knowledge- or truth-claim) than exclusively science is needed in order to bring dignity and prosperity to these groups and others.