Humiliated Psychologies and the Failure of Modern Manhood

The media is awash with Simple Simon explanations of the ongoing crisis with ISIS and its bewildering (or so it seems) recruitment strategy. In a nutshell, these pundits assert that Islam is violent and young Western Muslims are being radicalized, by which they ship themselves off to fight for the new Caliphate. It is, in essence, a re-hashing of the “they hate us for our freedoms” rhetoric we’ve heard at the inception of the War on Terror. But this is shortsighted and false. The primary recruiting tool for ‪ISIS‬ is not radicalized ideology but is in fact humiliated psychologies. The humiliated soul will crave violence and aggrandizement.

When we examine non-Muslim public acts of violence, from the Columbine massacre to the Isla Vista/Santa Barbara shootings, even white supremacist and right-wing murderer Anders Breivik, we can see patterns emerge of abused and humiliated psychologies. And in fact, what is interesting about all of these three cases, is that whether or not the slights were perceived (in the case of 22-year-old Elliot Rodger) or legitimate cases of bullying (as appears to be the case with 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold) and low self-esteem (Breivik) run as a common thread between then. This premise has been supported in the writings of numerous psychiatrists (I recommend taking a look James Gilligan’s Violence as one example). All three cases here sought to commit tremendous acts of violence, with little to no regard to any form of life. In fact, they were indiscriminate in their killings, making no distinction between those who directly humiliated them and those who were innocent victims. We are in fact seeing the same psychology play itself out with young Western Muslims, particularly men (as we see in America, public acts of violence are overwhelmingly perpetrated by young males), who feel diminished, humiliated, targeted (perceived or otherwise) and emasculated (interestingly enough, there is some congruence with profiles of serial murderers who also felt slighted or abused). ISIS provides, like a shot of adrenaline to the arm, an instant boost to self-worth. Sadly, like their non-Muslims counterparts, they too kill, indiscriminately. Currently, Alan Henning, who is reported to have gone to Syria to “deliver food and water to people affected by the Middle Eastern country’s devastating civil war”, is slated to be next in line to be executed. That these young men would execute a person who has traveled to air their fellow Muslims only further illustrates for us the scope to which this humiliated psychology informs all of their actions: the whole world is to be punished for their slights. Like Rodger, Breivik, Harris and Klebold, no one is innocent.

To the extent that young men need to feel powerful is highly misunderstood in the West, if not completely ignored. The Muslim community in someways is doubly at risk. Men are often expected to be “the maintainers of women (Qur’an, 4: 34)”, and yet, there is a troubling trend of Muslims (particularly immigrant Muslims) to infantilize their children by forcing them to delay marriage until they have the house, car, executive job, etc. In my opinion, this has created a psychology of perpetual adolescence, by which young men and women (men the focus here) continue to live teen-age’esque lives, well into their late twenties, if not thirties. Many are still at home with their parents. These young men long for a sense of self, purpose and gravity in their lives. Add to this the alienation that many of them face due to the inability to one, assimilate into whiteness, and two, indigenize themselves to their new-found (or their parents’ new-found) home. Many of these young men I’ve spoken to have tales of loneliness, frustration, and depression brought upon by hostile racist environments. None of this is said to condone the brutal and heinous acts of ISIS, but it does allow us the ability to understand just why some young Muslim men might be attracted to violence in ways that are not so different from their western non-Muslim counterparts.

Ultimately, this lays bare the inadequacies of our community. We are in desperate need of a new model for manhood as well as an uplifting theology. A model that allows for men to be strong without feeling the only means of expressing that strength is through violence. As a believing and practicing Muslim, my first preference is to look to the life of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and examine in which ways was he strong without needing to be violent. And for the Simple Simon journalists, pundits, and Muslim liberals, who wish to point the finger at Islam, at the Qur’an in particular, to show that it is the source of inspiration for all this violence, I say to them, conflict is not the same as violence. It is human nature to have conflict. Some of those conflicts will be physical, others rhetorical. For the Qur’an not only gave license to those believers, who were being persecuted, to defend themselves and take action, it equally gave license for non-violent conflict resolution, as in the verse: “Tell those who believe that they should forgive those who feel no fear about the Days of God [lit. ayyam Allah], when He will repay people according to what they earned” (Qur’an, 45: 14)”. The Qur’an was sent as guidance, to deal with every nuance of the human experience; the good and the bad. It is now only my supreme hope that we can have a better appreciation of the psychologies of our young men and women and work to build a better apparatus to deal with what troubles them so we can get down to the business of helping people heal, and not aiding them in harming themselves, or anyone else.

A False Dichotomy of the Role of Reason in Muslim Traditionalism vs. Rationalism?

In his On the Bounds of Theological Tolerance in Islam, Dr. Sherman Jackson states:

Directly related to the relationship between theology and history is the relationship between what Islamicists have termed Traditionalism and Rationalism, the two main approaches to theology in Islam. To date, modern scholarship has been unanimous in its depiction of the basic distinction between these two approaches as residing in their differential relationship to reason. My contention, however, is that it is primarily history that divides these two approaches and that Traditionalism is no more devoid of the use of reason than Rationalism is of a reliance on tradition. As such, these two approaches are better understood as different traditions of reason.

If our community were able to digest and adopt such an (mutual) understanding, we just might be able to move beyond the man-made and self-imposed theological roadblocks impeding a healthy spiritual development so very needed by Muslims (and the world!) today.

Keepin’ It One Hunned

I want to keep it “one hunned”, as the young folks say today. Young Muslims — and here I mean The Next Wave (second generation immigrant, Blackamerican Muslims, converts), whine and moan and groan about the State of the Ummah, yet have not sacrificed even a modicum in comparison to their folk’s generation (or their grandparents in some cases). All the while, especially inner city Muslim communities, wallow in urban blight and decay. As a Blackamerican Muslim, I have been frustrated by my treatment in the broader (immigrant) Muslim community but that is only half the story. In truth I have also experienced incredible kindness and generosity often outstripping what I have experienced at the hands of my own Blackamerican Muslim counterparts. All too often now, we Blackamerican Muslims scoff at our immigrant brothers and sisters (I say “we” because I myself have been a part of this) about how they came here for “Dunya” (worldly means). In my opinion, this has been a very short-sited explanation of how Allah, the Majestic!, moves people around as well as some measure of hasad (envy) on our parts to be sure. As the Book says, “they have a plan, and I have a plan”. Indeed, some immigrant Muslims did come here for worldly gain (which is not in and of itself blameworthy) but they also helped to establish Muslim communities. Communities many of us have benefited from day one. I cringe to think of where we would even pray (in the streets?) if it were not for the establishment of many of these communities. Were they perfect? No. Should they have done things differently? Certainly. However, if we look at their histories, and had we lived those same histories, we might, (ironically) have done the same things they did!

What we need now is not another documentary about the State of the Ummah, but a way forward that benefits the maximum amount of people. This will mean starting small, verses attempting to build mega-mosques. In fact, some of the most successful organizations we see in front us today, from AlMaghrib Institute, to Zaytuna, to Ta’leef, for example, all started as small organizations often held together by nothing other than the close bonds of Muslims who, in addition to believing in God, believed in one another. This is why I want to present the following rubric as a way, a suggestion, for small groups of disenfranchised believers to channel that frustration into action.

A Way Forward

Community-Budget

I have laid out in the above image a rubric which demonstrates the amount of capital that can be raised by groups of various sizes and capacities to contribute to a central fund. As you can see, even a group as small as ten people — at four to five dollars a day — could rent a location allowing them create their own spaces (see Dr. Jackson’s definition of third spaces) for their own uses. The numbers obviously grow as does the number of participants. The reason I find this rubric informative is that it illustrates that great numbers of people are not needed to effect change, or at the very least, start. Instead, it is a matter of determination and trust that allows small but efficient groups to grow and be successful.

At first blush this may seem divisive: a call to split the community and fracture its unity. I would counter that there a number of Muslims who equally pollinate between AlMaghrib, Zaytuna, and Ta’leef, just to mention a few. But what is great about these institutions is that they all serve different demographics; no single one serves the entire community. Smaller local homegrown organizations are much more adaptable and scalable to meet the needs of local communities.

In summary, and to return to my initial critique, this generation of Muslims will need to rise up, not only to face the challenges that are in front of them, but rise up and give thanks for what came before them. In this I equally indict myself. We’ve all been the benefactors of communities and mosques built by those who came before us all the while contributing very little of nothing at all. And in particular, to my fellow Blackamerican Muslims, we truly have no excuse as to why we are not community builders. It is for no other reason than we have conflated cynicism and our protest spirit with pietistic indifference. Most of us have no qualms with giving Mr. Comcast and Mrs. Verizon $100 — $200 dollars a month, Mr. Dunkin Donuts $30 — $50 a month, all the while crying and complaining about materialistic immigrant Muslims and their racist communities, simultaneously refusing to donate to causes that have a black face on them. Our success (and Allah!) will demand a much higher level of engagement that we have thus far been willing to give.

The time is upon us to build. I continue to be astounded at the inability for Muslims in America and American Muslims (there’s a difference) to see providence in our being here. Nowhere else in Muslim history have we seen the meeting of two auspicious histories converging on the same spot: the emigration of large numbers of Muslims from the historic Muslim world to America at the same time the single largest mass-conversion to Islam in the western hemisphere (may God have mercy on Imam Warith Deen Mohammed!). Both of these events unfolding as America’s traditional religious and moral values begin to waver and crumble. For what else is it that the Qur’an says about our Book (and vise-a-vie, ourselves):

وَإِذْ قَالَ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ إِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيَّ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَمُبَشِّرًا بِرَسُولٍ يَأْتِي مِنْ بَعْدِي اسْمُهُ أَحْمَدُ

“And when ‘Isa son of Maryam said, ‘Tribe of Israel, I am the Messenger of God to you, confirming the Torah which came before me and giving you the good news of a Messenger after me whose name is Ahmad’.”Qur’an 61: 6.

Like Jesus the son of Mary (peace and blessings upon them both), who was sent as a reformer to the Tribe of Israel, so too is Islam: that which confirms which is true that came before it. America, by the mid-60’s, had forgotten what was morally true from its own tradition: sexual immorality, usury, crime and violence, etc. We must come to see our being here greater than some materialistic drive, but rather, as one’s ‘aqidah should confirm, part of God’s Divine Plan to remind and revive, not destroy and ridicule. Our mission here, indeed our very lives, should not about grabbing and acquiring political power (though we should have a political voice, a conversation for another time) but rather about reminding America about what is ultimately good (God, first and foremost) and what is right. I see this whole scenario unfolding before our eyes as perfect timing, only as God could do it!, that the one community that is supposed to be witnesses over humanity (just as our Messenger is a witness over us!) would be brought, through fantastic historic forces, to America just at the moment when things look dark.

So take a moment and reflect on these words. Find, God willing, if you can, ten like-minded people in your community, and plant the seeds for something good and wholesome to grow. Gone is the time for being unmosqued. Now is the time for re-mosqued, for asserting oneself, with all proper etiquette, and with a willingness to get one’s hands dirty, all fi sabil’Allah (in the way of God).

Religious Dispatches – More Than A “Sin” Problem

In a recent Huffington Post interview, Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate and Arkansas governor, said the following concerning the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut:

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

Huckabee also added:

“We don’t have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem,” Huckabee said on Fox News.

The reason I am addressing Huckabee’s words here is because I have heard very similar utterances from Muslims concerning the shooting. I address that and more in the video. Also have a listen to this podcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Michael Enright..