#MiddleGroundPodcast – Sha’ban and Bid’ah: Islam Isn’t Sorcery


[Direct download]

Al-Shatibi, the author of a two-volume book entitled al-I’tisam الاعتصام (Holding Fast), has been hailed by many as the best book ever written on the subject of bid’ah: “unsanctioned innovation in religious matters”. In this work, al-Shatibi gives the following definition for bid’ah:

البدعة طريقة مخترعة في الدين تضاهي الشرعية يقصد بالسلوك عليها ما يقصد بالطريقة الشرعية

“A concocted manner of proceeding in religion that mimics the scripturally mandated way, with the aim of achieving through this concocted way that which should only be sought through the scripturally mandated way.”

According to Dr. Sherman Jackson,

bid’ah” is not simply committing an act that the Prophet did not commit or failing to commit an act that the Prophet actually did. Bid’a is, rather, committing or avoiding such actions as a means of making up one’s own way to God. In other words, the real issue is not whether an act is committed or not; the real issue is the religious value that one attributes to the commission or non-commission of an act“.

The reason why innovation becomes an issue is because people will leave off what was legislated for them* in favor of what is not legislated. In doing so they put themselves in the position of being a prophet or a messenger. We now have people who live recklessly and then attempt to turn religion in general, and Islam in particular, into a kind of magic or sorcery. What was magic’s use or intent? To either gain the gods’ favor, overcome them, or the natural world (which was in most mythologies created by the gods or inhabited by them).

Many of these attempts are “practical” in that they wish to supplant that which would require discipline for something else that “fits their schedule”. “Praying every day in impractical”, in this way of thinking. “I prefer to get it out the way or have it done on my time”.

قُل لِلَّهِ الشَّفاعَةُ جَميعًا ۖ لَهُ مُلكُ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ ثُمَّ إِلَيهِ تُرجَعونَ

“Say to them,’It’s God’s exclusive right to choose someone to be an intercessor, for the control of the heavens and the earth belongs to Him, and then you’re all going to go back to Him’.”Qur’an, 39: 44

So a person will drink, fornicate, cheat, and even murder, and then think all of this can be mitigated on one special night.

Background on the verses 53 through 59 of Surah al-Zumar (#39)

There were some Makkans who wanted to accept Islam, but they had indulged in very wicked behavior in their lives before, having murdered people, committed adultery, theft and other crimes. They felt that their sins were too enormous for God to forgive merely by their accepting Islam. “How can we become Muslims when we did all that?” one of them even asked. Just after the Muslims migrated to Madinah, the concerns of such sympathetic but despairing Makkans were discussed by many. These verses were revealed, and ‘Umar ibn al Khattab, who knew how to write, wrote them on a paper and sent it secretly back to Makkah. The first person who read it was a man named Hisham who said in later days, “I took it and went to a place named Thitawa, and I asked God to make me understand it. When I realized it was for us, I returned to where my mount was tethered and resolved to follow the Prophet.” Many others also joined Islam and made their way to Madinah.

قُل يا عِبادِيَ الَّذينَ أَسرَفوا عَلىٰ أَنفُسِهِم لا تَقنَطوا مِن رَحمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغفِرُ الذُّنوبَ جَميعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الغَفورُ الرَّحيمُ

وَأَنيبوا إِلىٰ رَبِّكُم وَأَسلِموا لَهُ مِن قَبلِ أَن يَأتِيَكُمُ العَذابُ ثُمَّ لا تُنصَرونَ

وَاتَّبِعوا أَحسَنَ ما أُنزِلَ إِلَيكُم مِن رَبِّكُم مِن قَبلِ أَن يَأتِيَكُمُ العَذابُ بَغتَةً وَأَنتُم لا تَشعُرونَ

أَن تَقولَ نَفسٌ يا حَسرَتا عَلىٰ ما فَرَّطتُ في جَنبِ اللَّهِ وَإِن كُنتُ لَمِنَ السّاخِرينَ

أَو تَقولَ لَو أَنَّ اللَّهَ هَداني لَكُنتُ مِنَ المُتَّقينَ

أَو تَقولَ حينَ تَرَى العَذابَ لَو أَنَّ لي كَرَّةً فَأَكونَ مِنَ المُحسِنينَ

بَلىٰ قَد جاءَتكَ آياتي فَكَذَّبتَ بِها وَاستَكبَرتَ وَكُنتَ مِنَ الكافِرينَ

“[Muhammad – Tell the people that I, Myself, have said, ‘All My servants who have acted excessively against their own souls! Don’t lose hope of God’s mercy, for God can forgive all sins. He truly is the Forgiving and the Merciful!’

‘Turn towards your Lord and surrender to Him before the punishment overwhelms you, for then you’ll have no one to help you.’

‘Follow the best of what’s being revealed to you from your Lord before the punishment overwhelms you all of a sudden without your even realizing what’s happening.’

‘For then your soul will cry out, “I’m doomed! I neglected my duty to God, and I scoffed!”

‘Or it might cry out, “If only God had guided me, I would surely have been one of the mindful.”

‘Or it might cry out, the moment it sees the punishment approaching, “If only I had a second chance, I would surely be with those who are good’.

‘“But no! My signs came to you, and you denied them! You were arrogant, and you tried to cover the truth that was all around you’.”Qur’an, 39: 53-59

Notes

*What do we mean by “legislated”? In specific, that which Allah will judge a person by, and that which may forfeit a person’s entrance to the Garden.

Socially Irrelevant [?] – American Muslims & Race

The continued floundering state of American Muslims’ stance towards race is at once unsettling, disappointing and personally frustrating. To complicate matters, both immigrant and indigenous Muslims seem to be equally guilty of what Professor Sherman Jackson calls, “racial agnosia”. Much to my dismay, I continue to hear the mantra, “Islam does not do race” from the mouths of American Muslims. And while Islam may not, “do race”, in that it does not support a hierarchy of racial preference, it most certainly does “do reality”. Without a doubt, regardless of whether certain individuals perceive race-based thinking to be right or not, race is an integral part of the social landscape of America. By Muslims choosing to not recognize and come to grips with the historical and social forces that have shaped race in America, they will have little chance of abolishing the system they claim to oppose. For indigenous Muslims [and here I am placing more emphasis on Blackamerican Muslim, though not to the exclusion of other groups], they will only further ostracize themselves from their social counterparts, giving the impression that Islam is disinterested in social justice.

In one of Professor Jackson’s recent talks, he underlined a crucial element to the system of racism, specifically its white supremacist manifestation. This value system, at its core, is akin to what Muslim theology calls shirk, or the association of power and authority [not only partnership] with God. Jackson lays bare the role and function a value system such as white supremacy has at its apex; said values have been elevated in to quasi-ahistorical rankings. In other words, the values and proclivities, the likes and dislikes of whites [American or European] are no longer held to be those of a specific people from a specific time and place, but rather have been foisted “beyond history”, attempting to compete with the same place, as traditional theology sees it, Revelation comes from. In this manner of understanding, racism in general and white supremacy in specific represent a real challenge to Islamic theology, which is vehemently opposed to any form of idolatry, be it wood, stone, or man-made.

As I mentioned above, this ideology is not only peddled by foreign-born or foreign-imagined Muslims—who either refuse or claim to be incapable of seeing race [a short visit to the Middle East and South East Asia will reveal this to be overwhelmingly false]—but has been imbibed by a great many Blackamerican Muslims, who, in their desire to escape the “problem of Blackness”, have abandoned social stances that make them strangers within their own ranks. In conversations with other Blackamerican Christians, many view Blackamerican Muslims to be either out of touch with the social plight of today’s African-Americans, or even hostile towards any rhetoric that seeks to address racism. Where once upon a time—such notable Muslims as Malcolm X come to mind—Black Muslims were synonymous with the social and emotional struggles of other Blackamericans. Today’s Blackamerican Muslims, particularly those in urban settings, no longer seem to use Islam as a vehicle to lift themselves out of their social quagmires, instead being content to adopt Islam as a nouveau identité, whereby one can aspire to alternatives modes of validation and self aggrandizement, vis-a-vis, a new name, a new mode of dress, and especially any time spent “overseas”. The stances of these indigenous Muslims are bolstered from foreign-born voices, imbued with religious authority based on no other grounds than their proximity to so-called “Muslim lands”, who claim Islam is a religion that is free of race, that it simply, “does not do race”. What these two parties fail to realize is how crucial race is to the American story, the American narrative, and the collective psyche.

In a recent interview at The Immanent Frame, Nathan Schneider interviewed Muslim pundit, Reza Aslan. In it, Aslan articulates something crucial to the American social project: social narratives. Aslan says,

“Why is it that the vast majority of Americans are so pro-Israel? It’s because they have fully absorbed the Jewish narrative in a way that they haven’t when it comes to the Palestinian narrative. The story of Israel is a good story. It’s a compelling story. And it’s one that Americans get. But they haven’t had an opportunity to hear, let alone absorb, the Palestinian narrative.”

Narrative is everything in America. Without it, no one knows who you are; no one cares who you are. And in fact, without a narrative, the dominant culture will turn on the offending group as white blood cells do on an infection, treating the invasion as something that must be expelled. While American Jews are not completely safe from racist attacks [a la Mel Gibson], they have mastered the art of narration. American Muslims could learn a great deal from their religious counterparts. Given that Blackamericans are an intricate part of the American narrative, to cast aside this narrative in favor of an abstractionist approach to race is akin to committing social suicide.

Above all, American Muslims’ agnosia of the racial climate will only continue to beleaguer Muslims’ attempts at endearing themselves to the rest of American society, to say anything of contributing to it. This task should not be seen as something for “Black Muslims to deal with”, while immigrant Muslims continue to reap the benefits of a racially biased system: why else do Muslims that hail from the Middle East and South-East Asia, despite their swarthy skin tones, claim “white” on that little check box? How else would one explain the racist tendencies amongst immigrant Muslims towards Blacks if indeed their religion “did not do race”? In parting, consider this small factoid, provided by NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous, when interviewed on Roland S. Martin’s, Washington Watch:

“White people are 65% of the crack [cocaine] users in this country. Black people are 85% of people busted for using crack.”

If Muslims, immigrant or indigenous, are to remain relevant to America, they are going to have to have their eyes examined and their heads checked. They must confront the myth that whiteness is omni-benevolent, omni-wholesome, and omni-pure or risk becoming a marginalized, hostile foreign entity that must be treated like an invasive disease, to be expelled at all costs.

Extra Links

  • White Supremacy—The Beginning of Modern Shirk?: an audio lecture by Professor Sherman Jackson.
  • More Thoughts On the Exclucivity of Whiteness: how did the Founding Fathers conceive of whiteness?
  • Religion Gone Global — an interview with Reza Aslan at The Immanent Frame.