This post may indelibly put me on the other side of some folks’ proverbial tracks but I feel that we are approaching a cross roads in America of which, if it goes unchallenged, we Muslims may find ourselves sailing down some very murky waters. To be blunt, this is about a post that Imam Suhaib Webb regarding Nicki Minaj. A critique which involved the morality (or lack thereof) of her image, in particular in reference to her new video Anaconda. Apparently, we have a double-standard in our community (by “our community” I am doubly referring to the black community and to the Muslim community) that wishes to marginalize whites to the role of sympathizer, not of critic. So long as whites sympathize with the social plights of blacks, Muslims, or other socially disparaged groups, their voices are welcome. However, should they begin to bring up issues that confront our (i.e., black folks, etc.) morality, or lack thereof, their voices are often ridiculed and silenced. I have an issue with this both as a black person and as a Muslim.
Without a doubt, white supremacy is a major issue and its presence (not legacy!) is still very much here with us today. But what is often missing from the overall narrative regarding white supremacy is the acknowledgement that some of the the most devastating critiques leveled at white supremacy have come from the pens of white authors and academics. Names such as Richard Dyer (White), Tim Wise (White Like Me) and Allan G. Johnson (Privilege, Power, and Difference) are just a few such examples. We need not, in an attempt to protect our dignity as non-whites, debar whites in participating in the overall critique of white supremacy. To do so would be, least of all, a double standard.
The second tract that I have major concerns on is the issue of morality. As a Muslim, no less an imam, I have an obligation to speak to the realities of the world I live in. And while Nikki Minaj is not the singular focus of any cultural critique I might have, undoubtedly she, and her ilk, would be a part of it. As a black father of a black daughter, I am deeply disturbed by the hyper sexualization of society. Undoubtedly black women have been the targets of such sexualization, undeniably at the hands of black perpetrators. Our collective silence on this is disturbing; our outrage at a white critic, juvenile. And while some would argue that a woman has a right to express herself however she likes, the right does not insulate her from public critique. To be frank, I appreciate those arguments on the one hand from non-Muslims. I am, however, deeply disturbed by Muslims who would object to another Muslim critiquing such behavior which is so obviously unacceptable (by Muslim and non-Muslim standards alike). Indeed, it has been my thought that the next wave of “extremism” to confront Muslims in America will not be in the form of violent outbursts or rhetoric, but will actually be the co-opting, adaption and condoning of post-modern liberalism, which can have little congruence with any modern faith tradition with still appreciates its pre-modern sensibilities.
To return to the issue of the original post, I find it very troublesome that we cannot confront the truth of a critique leveled against us simply because it comes from a white (male) voice. In all honestly, I am in complete agreement with Imam Suhaib’s assessment of Minaj’s video; I would stretch the critique further to her as an artist and ultimately, to her industry as a whole. If what Dr. Sherman Jackson recently said has any merit, regarding the current apathetic stance religion has towards “cool” and “sexy”, then we will need all hands on deck; all voices must be heard. For it is not the objective of this author, nor of the enterprise of Islam itself, to condemn sexual expression. Rather, Islam simply states such expressions are best relegated to the bedroom, where one may indulge one’s “inner freak” to one’s heart’s content, so long as it falls within the boundaries God Almighty has laid out. But that is another story for another day!
(Below are screenshots from Imam Suhaib’s original post)
It is with great honor and privilege that I announce my acceptance of the position as Religious Director at the Islamic Center of Inland Empire, in southern California. The warmth and hospitality shown to myself and my family by the Rancho community has been truly inspiring and I eagerly look forward to serving the community in this capacity and all of the great things we can do together, God willing.
For the past fifteen years, I have worked as a professional in the information technology sector. In addition, I have been involved in the creation and implementation of two Muslim chaplaincies, at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University respectively. Through nearly a decade that Philadelphia has been my home, I have been blessed to make the acquaintance of so many wonderful individuals. It also gave me a chance to serve my community with dignity, at a time when Muslims in America face daunting challenges. It is my intention to bring the breadth of these experiences to the new task at hand at ICIE. My departure from Philadelphia will be bittersweet, a city whose inhabitants, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have had such a lasting impression upon me. For all of you I am truly grateful.
I wish to thank a few individuals and organizations who’ve made this journey (a) tenable and (b) possible:
- The Quba Masjid community: Imams Anwar and Anas Muhaimin: simply put, you both put me on a path and inspired me through quiet leadership and resolve. I am in your debt.
- The Reverend Charles L. Howard, Ph.D.: as UPenn’s chaplain, you were willing to take a chance and believe in an unknown. I am grateful for that opportunity. I will miss our very candid and “keepin’ it real!” conversations. God bless.
- Adnan Zulfiqar: I could not have asked for a better confidant and supporter. My only regret is how little time we had with each other. Come and visit sunny SoCal, ock!
- Mohsin Ali: your quiet support and character have and continue to be a confidence booster for me. Jazak’Allahu khayran.
- Wasim Rahman: who knew where this would go when you invited me to your wedding! May Allah bless you and your family always.
- Abdul-Kareem al-Amry: I am grateful to God for having met you (in a Starbucks of all places!). Your religious knowledge and willingness to help and engage me to make me a better Muslim and a better leader is a debt I cannot repay! Thank you.
- The collective of the Drexel and UPenn Muslim Student Organizations, for whom I will truly miss! I cut my teeth as a khatib on these two campuses. You are a wonderful group of young Muslims – may Allah bless your paths always.
- Imam Suhaib Webb: if there was a brother from another mother, you’d be it. In addition for being a coach in my corner, you are also a real inspiration for me and I will continue to draw upon your support and example.
- Dr. Sherman Jackson: it is no secret that you have been one of the most influential forces in my adult life. Now is not the time or forum, but only I say thank you and may Allah reward you for your selfless support.
- Dr. Ali Suleiman Ali: in the words of my mentor, Dr. Jackson, “Shaykh Ali is shaykh.” My first Qur’an teacher, I hope I can be half the teacher you’ve been.
- Dr. Mukhtar Curtis: your encouragment has been a source of strength. Jazaka’Allah, shaykh.
- Khidr Naeem: simply put, you are family. You have been a rock in my life and I pray that Allah will continue to bless you and your family. Amin.
- Dr. Muhammad Khalifa: I thank you for your genuine brotherhood. Come visit!
- Rashid Abdur-Raheem: you and your father were the first to teach me how to pray (and I taught you how to drive a stick!). I am eternally grateful.
- Shakeer Bakari: you and I have proven that you can take a brother out of Detroit, but you can’t take the “D” out of a brother! God bless.
- Malik Shaw: another kindred Detroit spirit. I am in your debt for your selfless brotherhood and constant encouragement.
- Dr. Jerry Hionis: sadly, we’ve had little time together but you’ve been a good brother and an even better friend. “Darmok, and Jalad … on the ocean.”
- Moutasem Atiya: you continue to show me what brotherhood, based on the Sunnah of Our Beloved, is all about. Jazak’Allah.
And of course last, but not least, my family: my wife, Margari, who simply put, is the one who has allowed me to do this. She’s the one who has put up with a grumpy, tired, travel worn husband. My Allah reward you for making me a better man. My daughter, Ziyan, who despite not quite being three, is a major inspiration for why I am doing this: the future of Islam in America. To my parents, who’ve given me unconditional love for over forty years. I will always be a momma’s boy! To my brothers, who I know from time to time look at their little brother with a healthy dose of suspicion!, I thank you both for your love and support. And of course all praise belongs to God – Allah in the Arabic language, the Fashioner of the Heavens and the Earth. There is no god but You!, and Muhammad is your slave and Messenger.
I look forward to seeing you all in sunny southern California.
Last evening, I had the pleasure of finally meeting up with an acquaintance (whom now I can call friend), a fellow wayfarer in the doldrums of Philadelphia, and discussed all manner of things Muslim: morality, politics, family life (although I’m sad to say we didn’t make mention of Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans’ 3 M’s: music, moons, and meat!). And in our conversations we spoke on the need for American-Muslims to seriously engage middle America, and by that I mean the middle-class. We both lamented that for far too long, particularly amongst Blackamerican Muslims, there has been the tendency to only focus on inner city (what some call ‘hood) in terms of da’wah. The result, we felt, is an Islam that tends to patronize the ugly side of Blackamerican culture instead of, as Imam Suhaib Webb as stated, “polishing it”. While this is not unique to Blackamericans, I do feel its worth discussing. The result of this myopic focus has engendered a number of tragic results. A few them being:
- lack of spiritual growth on the part of Blackamerican Muslims: immoral behavior is often given a pass due to the expressed interest of large numbers of Blackamericans in Islam. In addition, due to the desire of many Blackamericans desire to escape the realities of black urban life in America, their Islam in many ways becomes escapist or even performance art, not a focus on a God-pleasing life. In this way, Islam is subsumed under Blackamerican culture, right or wrong, instead of negotiating it.
- it has ignored the realities of this particular demographic and, to be frank, has not been realistic about the challenges those coming out of this experience will face. To speak from experience, one of the major factors that allowed myself and my two older brothers to avoid the trappings of urban black life was a solid, two-parent house hold. This is something that many Blackamerican urban families are lacking. Not only this, but there has been a discernible lack of focus on building family in many urban Blackamerican centers. As my friend and I observed, community in the modern American-Muslim vernacular has been rendered a mostly abstract concept: it has as of yet to take a recognizable form and thus, to date, has frustrated many a Muslim’s attempt to be a part of one. Personally, my thought is that this is because most of the rhetoric that is espoused by American-Muslims tends to go in one of two directions: the aforementioned abstract community and the individual. The latter tends to produce, with all possible respect, things like UnMosqued, where the opinion of the individual is elevated beyond mere concerns to dictating policies. Instead, I believe the most important building block for the community is not the individual, but the family. By accentuating the family (encouraging stable marriages, nurturing children, limiting childhood to children versus extended adolescence, etc.), Islam may in fact be able to deal with the systemic challenges facing Black-(and others)-Americans.
- this myopic focus has also created a false essentialism between blackness and poverty. That to be truly black is to be truly poor (again with ‘hood as the vernacular). The result, with the above observations in mind, has also systematically ignored the Blackamerican middle-class. God’s Messenger said, “The best from amongst you in pre-Islamic times (jahiliyyah) are the best amongst you in Islam if they comprehend it*” (agreed upon).
- it has also completed ignored the 700-lbs. gorilla in the room which is white America, in particular middle-class white America. This will, I believe, necessitate Whiteamerican Muslims (convert or otherwise and yes, there are Whiteamerican Muslims who are born Muslim!) to take a prominent role in addressing white America.
I know this will seem an odd recipe to many but I feel, when we look at America, one of the greatest aspects of Islam that will provide Americans with a foothold to begin grasping what Islam is all about, is its intrinsically middle-class values. When I say middle-class here I am referring to those American values which prioritize the family, security, and safety. Solid middle-class morals and ethics which have a strong, if not always properly executed, attachment to helping the poor and the less fortunate. Another good friend of mine, Malik Shaw, and I have often lamented about the state of Blackamerica and the number of children who are casually born out of wedlock and that, once upon a time not so long again, this was unacceptable to middle-class America, black or white. Let me be clear: I am well aware of many of the issues of modern middle-class life, which has wondered from its center and is slowly being solely concerned with procuring a life of no inconveniences (spiritual as well as existential). That being true, I still believe that articulating Islam in this vein to middle-class America: white, black, Latino, Asian, etc., will prove, God-willing, a more efficacious method of calling people to God. I will end and summarize with a quote from ‘Abdal Hakim Murad, from a talk he delivered entitled The Way Forward:
“We can curl up in a prickly ball, like a frightened hedge hog, and curse and damn everything around us, because it happens not to know ‘la ilaha ill’Allah‘, or we can start to activate the Prophetic capacity, which says that ‘laysa sawa’ ‘, ‘they are not all the same’ [Qur’an, 3: 113]. There are amongst the Ahl al-Kitab, the People of the Book, upright people.”
لَيْسُوا سَوَاءً ۗ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ أُمَّةٌ قَائِمَةٌ يَتْلُونَ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ آنَاءَ اللَّيْلِ وَهُمْ يَسْجُدُونَ
“They are not all the same. There is a community among the People of the Book who are upright. They recite God’s signs throughout the night, and they prostrate.”
And God knows best.
*Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was asked, “Who are the most honorable of the people?” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “The most honorable of them in God’s sight are those who protect themselves from His chastisement. They said, “We’re not asking you concerning that,” to which he said, “Then the most honorable of the people is Joseph, God’s prophet, the son of God’s prophet, the son of God’s prophet, the son of God’s friend (khalil, Abraham).” They said, “We do not ask you about that either.” The Prophet said, “Do you ask about the virtues of the Arabs?” They said, “Yes.” He said, “Those who were the best amongst you in the pre-lslamic time are the best amongst you in Islam, if they comprehend.
قَالَ سُئِلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَىُّ النَّاسِ أَكْرَمُ قَالَ ” أَكْرَمُهُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاهُمْ ”. قَالُوا لَيْسَ عَنْ هَذَا نَسْأَلُكَ. قَالَ ” فَأَكْرَمُ النَّاسِ يُوسُفُ نَبِيُّ اللَّهِ ابْنُ نَبِيِّ اللَّهِ ابْنِ نَبِيِّ اللَّهِ ابْنِ خَلِيلِ اللَّهِ ”. قَالُوا لَيْسَ عَنْ هَذَا نَسْأَلُكَ. قَالَ ” فَعَنْ مَعَادِنِ الْعَرَبِ تَسْأَلُونِي ”. قَالُوا نَعَمْ. قَالَ ” فَخِيَارُكُمْ فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ خِيَارُكُمْ فِي الإِسْلاَمِ إِذَا فَقِهُوا ”. تَابَعَهُ أَبُو أُسَامَةَ عَنْ عُبَيْدِ اللَّهِ.