Muslim Development Course

The objective of this course is to encourage the development of Muslim thought, action, and behavior, both individual and social, in such a way that it reflects a deeper and more personal understanding, ownership, and embodiment of the divine principles found in the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him.

This course will examine the current conditions of Muslims – most immediately of those living in the Philadelphia area (though the principles may be applied to any) – with the aim of looking critically at our current condition and how we might apply the Qur’an and Sunnah in our lives by actively engaging in its historical realities and processes. Such topics will include, but are not limited to: the life of the Prophet [s] – a.k.a., the sīrah up to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah; the early Qur’anic Revelation (Makkan period): the cultural context as well as its audience; pre-Islamic life in the Hijāz (the jāhiliyyah): what was pre-Islam Arabia like? How did pre-Islamic Arabs think?; the language of the Qur’an: its history, its audience, its changes – how do we as an English speaking audience conceive of its meaning?; the socio-political order of Makkah and Madinah: what lessons are there for us today, both personal and collectively? Through engaging in a dialog with the collective of Muslim Revelation, history, thought, and language, we can better understand ourselves and, God willing, have a deeper commitment to the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.

The class is slated to start February 21st at the Quba Instituate. If you would like to sign up for this course, you may contact the Quba Institute or stay tuned for more details.

Islam and Avoiding Double-Consciousness in America

First Khutbah – Main Points

Opening from the Qur’an:

إنا فتحنا لك فتحا مبينا
لّيغفرَ لك الله ما تقدم من ذنبك و ما تأخر و يتمَ نعمته عليك و يهديَك صراطا مستقيما
و ينصُرَك الله نصرا عزيزا

“Without a doubt, we have granted you [Muhammad] the clear, manifest victory. In order that Allah might forgive you for what you have done regarding your sin, as well as pardoning any later ones, and complete His favor upon you and guide you to a straight path. And so that Allah may help you with a great assistance.” [Q: 48: 1‐3]

There has been much written about this verse, and a great deal of popular opinion agrees that it refers to the Conquest of Makkah. But one of the Prophet’s [s] Companions, ‘Ubad Ibn Samit, disagrees. ‘Ubad states:

“I know you think this ayah refers to the Conquest of Makkah – but you are wrong. It is about the victory
of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah.”

‘Ubad’s remarks take us back in time to the historical landscape of 7th Century Arabia, to a time when Islam had yet to sink in its roots. In other words, Islam was yet to be seen as a bona fide Arabian religion.

In some ways, we can see that many of the struggles that the Muslims faced during that period could be held to the fact that they had yet to carve out a niche or establish themselves with a sense of belonging. This is not dissimilar to our struggle today. The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah did just that for many reasons but I will mark just three:

  1. Instituted a 10-year truce between Quraysh and the Muslims
  2. All Arabs in the region became “free agents” – they were free to choose their religious affiliation without fear of reprisal, but most importantly, without fear of losing their cultural identity [i.e., their Arab’ness].
  3. The Muslims, though not that year, would be permitted to return the following year and perform their Hajj at the Ka’abah. This is a crucial turning point in the growth, development and establishment of Islam in Arabia. For without a seat at the Ka’abah so to speak, you truly did not belong. This had the affect of establishing Islam as a bona fide Arabia religion. And for those who have that whole clash of civilizations notion about Islam, in that it must dominate
    everything around it, Islam was coming to the Ka’abah not as the exclusive religion in Arabia, but one amongst many.

This had the effect of breaking down social and psychological barriers between being an Arab, and being a Muslim. There is a great deal of wisdom for us to take from this – not just simply learning these facts as history lessons. We need to break down these same barriers of American and Muslim. We must remove the space and join the words, even if only with a hyphen [see Greco‐Roman].

This juncture illustrates to me the importance of establishing a Muslim habit in America. Let me define what I mean by habit, borrowing from the French author, Marcel Proust:

“Habit! That skillful but very slow housekeeper who begins by letting our mind suffer for weeks in temporary arrangement; but whom we are nevertheless truly happy to discover, for without habit our mind, reduced to no more than its own resources, would be powerless to make a lodging habitable.” [Swann’s Way].

Without establishing this sense of Muslim habit, I believe Muslims will continue to suffer and fall prey to a variety of maladies, not the least of which is already prevalent in our community: Double-Consciousness.

One of the erudite scholars of the last century, W. E. B. DuBois spoke on the nature of double-consciousness as thus:

“…the measuring of one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

Muslims have been looking at themselves from another one’s eyes for quite some time now. We see it manifest quite often nowadays in so‐called Muslim reformers, who, incapable of seeing themselves for who they are, proffer up an articulation of Islam that is not, at its center, an attempt to please God, but a vain attempt to appease the dominant culture.

Second Khutbah – Main Points

Many such attempts are made when Muslims are faced with such daunting arguments, based on the theory of “universal values”. This has proven troublesome indeed to many pundits, who do not have the training or familiarity of what Islam is trying to get at objectively with the human being. So we ask:

  • How will Muslims deal with this?
  • How will they handle the pressure to produce an articulation of Islam that will be pleasing first and
    foremost to God, and concurrently, though secondly, accommodating the demands of the American
    social, political and moral landscape?

This leaves Muslims on a very precarious precipice: that of secularism and positivism. In fact, if Muslims are not careful, I fear we will either turn 9/11 or have it turned upon us as a sort of secular holiday, where our reflection on the nature of the event is only seen in a “worldly” context – mainly to appease the dominant cultures stance of Muslims [as well as our own psychological insecurities], especially psychologically.

Even the Prophet [s] had to face this difficult task:

و لو لآ أن ثبتناك لقد آِدتّ ترآن إليهم شيئا قليلا

“And if we had not made you firm, you would have leaned towards them a little.” [Q: 17:74]

The idea of standing firm here is not the one for the sake of being obstinate or dominant, but because ultimately, there are some aspects of Islam that are immutable. Like a tree, whose roots must remain firmly planted for the life‐sake of the tree, its branches are free to grow where they need to in order to perform their function. However, they always are attached to the life giving roots of the tree. This is akin to how the Shari’ah operates.

In any event, both ideologies are currently running wild in our midst. And the demands that both of these constructs place on Muslims is thus:

any knowledge, gained or inherited, must pass through the sieve of secularism or positivism, including such spheres as legal, logical, and scientific, whereupon only if Islam’s transcendent values can be brought down and in line with the latter, can the position that Islam holds be deemed valid [i.e., universal, scientific, etc.].

This is killing us, intellectually speaking. First and foremost because this kind of rhetoric is at its heart a true bid’ah, as it seeks to compete and oust the Sunnah and the Shari’ah. And the proof is in the pudding: how many Muslims, especially those coming from ethnic Muslim backgrounds, pursue anything other than law, medicine or some type of science? What we could call the humanities in the West, are left to the dregs of academic and intellectually inferior students. How can we run a community when the best and brightest only student chemistry, law, and medicine?

We have stunted our growth, have cut ourselves off and made ourselves very remote from the world. What was once a major study for Muslims, cosmology, has been reduced to a horizontal plane: the Cosmos is a horizontal one. We never look up, or worse yet, inwards. Forever gazing out, we cannot see the forest for the trees.

We must re‐attach ourselves to the Sacred – to Allah, to His Book, to His Prophet [s], learning his ways, his wont, his attitude, not simply a loose collection of ahadith to be branded about like a blunt instrument.

As for the phenomenon of 9/11, keep the following statement of Allah’s close at hand and reflect on its meaning:

ألآ تزر وازرة وزرَ أخرى

“No one can bear another’s load” [Q: 53:38‐39]

None of us can be held responsible for the actions of others. And here I am explicitly speaking to the malevolent force of communal guilt that has been hanging around the neck of many Muslims who feel, despite having had no hand in it, that they, via proxy of sharing the same religion, are guilty and culpable of the crime. And while I feel we are not guilty of 9/11, we are guilty of not doing our job, of acting in accordance with what we believe and what we know as it relates to our condition and mission as Muslims here in America. Allah admonished the Believers for precisely this point:

يأيها الذين ءامنوا لم تقولون ما لا تفعلون

“O’ you of secure faith, why do you say that which you do not do?” [Q: 61:2]

It is not enough to profess faith to be doing the right and responsible thing, but it is that our actions fall in line with what we believe.

حاسبوا أنقسكم قبل أن تحاسبوا
وزنوا أعمالكم قبل أن توزن عليكم

“Take account of yourselves before you are held to account. Weigh your deeds before they are weighed
for you.” [al-Tirmidhī’s al‐Qiyamah]

Closing du’ah:

اللهم، نسألك العِصمة في الحرآات و السكنات،
والكلمات والإرادات والخطرات
من الشكوك والظنون،
والأوهام الساترة للقلوب.
ربنا، أُنصُرنا، فإنك خير الناصرين،
وافتح لنا، فإنك خير الفاتحين،
واغفر لنا، فإنك خير الغافرين،
وارحمنا، فإنك خير الراحمين،
وارزُقنا، فإنك خير الرازقين،
وصلواتك وسلامك وتحياتك ورحمتك وبرآاتك
على سيدنا محمد
آمين

“O’ Allah!, we ask of you your protection, in both motion and rest,
In words, desires, and thoughts,
from doubts and speculative thoughts,
and in self‐delusion that veils the hearts.
Our Lord, help us, for you are the Best of helpers,
Open our minds and hearts, for you are the Best of openers,
Forgive us our sins, for you are the Best of forgivers,
Have mercy on us, for you are the Best of the merciful,
Provide for us, for you are the Best of providers.
And may your prayers, peace, glad tidings, and blessings
be upon our master, Muhammad.

Amin.

Now That The Sugar High Is Gone

 

– and other collected thoughts on the MANA conference.

So, here we are, a full week after the successful MANA conference and we’re already starting to see the mud slinging around the Muslim blogosphere. I was beginning to think real change had in fact come from this conference. But don’t mistake my sarcasm for critiquing MANA. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In fact, I would like to again extend my thanks to MANA for hosting their first conference. God willing, this is just the first of many more successful conferences.

So what should we expect from a conference such as this MANA conference? Should we emerge from it to find the streets paved with gold? Or as Conan so once eloquently put it:  “to hear the lamentations of the women”? Perhaps – or perhaps not. I will have to say in defense of MANA I certainly encountered many happy and motivated faces of those who attended the various workshops. And while I didn’t attend any myself I have it on good account that they were well constructed and of value.

It is precisely that last word, value, that keeps bouncing around and around inside my head as I ponder our current condition. If we do not value ourselves then I think very little will change. And from what Dr. Jackson had to say during his speech, that seemed to be one of his underpinning points – we as Blackamerican Muslims are in a unique vantage point, one where Allah has chosen us to be in this spot, this place, and this time, as the receptacles and carriers of Islam to this part of the world at this point in Time and History. So the enduring question is: what we gon’ do?

But to bring us back to the opening point, I’ll speak about some reactions I’ve observed about the conference. One in particular criticism smacks of one of the very issues the conference sought to address: disengagement. Disengagement is the word best word I’ve been able to find to describe the current mood of many Muslims around the country. Instead of seeing Islam as a system of access, it’s been co-opted as an illegitimate excuse to not participate. To help render my point perhaps such colloquialisms will sound familiar:

“Naw, akh. I quit my kafir job – it was too much dunya.”

“I dropped out of college to get a real education in the deen.”

And the perennial crowd pleaser

“I’m going overseas to study in Yemen or Syria so I can get that haqq.”

These should all be familiar to many of us. And while they might produce a giggle or two out of some of us, I believe they speak to an undercurrent in the Blackamerican Muslim pathology that continues to hinder and plague many of our communities from emerging out of the quagmire and starting to produce and participate. In fact, my biggest criticism of these folks is that that is all they do! Arm chair criticisms seldom produce anything and are for the sole benefit for lazy Negroes to sluff off, if you can pardon my French. It is not my aim to take potshots at my fellow Muslims but I do believe we have to starting calling figs, figs. In a conversation with a close friend of mine today, we both lamented at the criticisms that were leveled at the conference, specifically in reference to MANA inviting members of the Nation of Islam to the conference. The meat and potatoes of their argument rests in the fact that these people do not have the correct ‘aqueedah and therefore we should just toss the baby out with the bathwater [again?]. How dangerous and slanderous is this. MANA is the only organization that I’ve seen that has taken serious steps to extend the Nation an olive branch to try and bridge the gap in terms of dogma, but also to say, “hey, we as Blackamerican Muslims wish to express our solidarity with our fellow Black brothers and sisters and that we’d like to address the various maladies that attacking our communities”. Please note this: I am not a member of MANA. Nor do I speak for them. Rather, this is how I interpreted their gesture. But to dive in a bit further about this notion of correct ‘aqueedah, let’s ask our selves: “Hmm”, what would Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم do?”

Despite the efforts of many a pundit on the left and right, from within and without Islam, Islam is not an ahistorical process or entity. It’s inception was born and lived out in the context of 7th Century Arabia. Its characters and actors were real human beings who lived through a lot of real History. Yet, Muslims themselves tend to be woefully ignorant of this fact. The cultural and historical setting of 7th Century must be fully appreciated to fully comprehend all that was going on to understand Islam itself. Alas, this appreciation has been misapplied to a crude mimicking at best. In other words, the setting of Muhammad’s 7th Century Arabia is routinely ignored and instead we have Muslims [Blackamerican in the case of this article] in the 21st Century trying to live like Bedouins, having completely missed the examples that God has tried to lay out for us. Examples? Dress code is interpreted to mean one must wear thobes, robes, and turbans to be “authentically Muslim” – for those of us of opt to done a suit are condemned for imitating the kafir. Moral rectitude? Honesty? Had work? These have fallen by the way side or are totally ignored all together. How else can you explain large populations of Muslims that live complacent lives in areas that are dominated by poverty, crime, and drugs. And let’s not even toss in the Muslims who are participants in the above activities.

But this disconnection goes beyond wardrobe selection. The Prophet himself is severely misunderstood. Muslim education is sorely lacking in providing Muslims an accurate, historical account for his life. In a recent criticism, one Muslim found fault with MANA for having Akbar Muhammad on the panel discussion. The brother’s criticism was thus:

I think to myself: What the heck is a man that OPENLY says that Fard Muhammad is his god who appeared in Detroit in the 1930’s (for those wanting proof of their current beliefs it is here) and that a “Messenger” came after Muhammad ibn Abdullah (pbuh), doing here on a panel for Muslims that believe in tawheed and the finality of Prophethood and Messengership?

The brother continued:

This was a tragic and completely avoidable sore point of the MANA Conference Weekend. I must also admit that I was appalled and saddened that Imam Siraj referred to Elijah as Honorable. It was all very disappointing and I was hurt to witness this spectacle.

And more:

If we return to the days wherein we lacked clarity regarding tawheed and shirk, we will certainly accomplish nothing even if we solve the many undeniable social problems plaguing us.

Plus:

Sadly, in the end, Siraj lent legitimacy to an irrelevant and illegitimate (not to mention weird) movement.

And concluding with:

Finally, I can only imagine how alienated white Muslims must have felt with the invitation of a man who believes that whites were created in a laboratory by a big headed scientist.

Taking it back to my point about the historical Muhammad [pbuh], how can we explain the Prophet’s behavior in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah or his invitation that extended to the Quraysh? Indeed, it is an incontrovertible truth that the Prophet’s Message could not have been delivered without the aid and help of shirk-committing, idol-worshipping, kafir Makkans! Yes!, indeed the Prophet collaborated with these “kafirs” on numerous occasions – his flight from Makkah was aided by a boding, idol-worshiping Makkan! And of course there’s the Prophet inviting the idol-worshipping Arabs even when Islam was in a position of power and authority. Never did the Prophet ever make is Message “an Islam thang”. When one steps back and looks at the Prophet as a man, as a human being, one theme that runs through is life is that he was a man who was truly troubled about his people and loved his people and wanted the best for his people. Now if the Prophet could engage in this, and he most certainly had the “correct ‘aqueedah” [for if the Prophet ain’t got it, who do?], then why can’t we do the same? As Blackamerican Muslims, we should feel free to invite, engage and work with members of our community, even if they don’t have the “correct” ‘aqueedah. In my opinion, this is just plain niggardly. And as my friend poignantly pointed out, “what have you done to help out your fellow man/neighbor” in comparison to what the Nation has done? ‘Aqueedah or not, Akbar Muhammad is someone who cares about the plight of Blacks – can you say the same? This isn’t poker and all deeds are cards on the table – no bluffing.

The bewilderment continues as I examine the brother’s post. Imam Siraj’s use of the title, “Honorable”, seems to be a point of contention. But when was the Prophet ever ungracious, even to people that killed his loved ones, slandered his wives, and tried to take his life? Never! If I address the Pope as his Holiness, does this mean that I recognize him as divine or that I believe Jesus is the son of God? This 3rd grade analysis has got to go! And I don’t know how this in any implicates any of the MANA members in condoning shirk. As a member of an interfaith counsel, if I sit and talk with a bishop about improving Christian-Muslim relations, does this mean I’ve condoned the Trinity? More holes than Swiss cheese. Siraj’s engaging Akbar in no way compromises his tawheed or Islam. And since when did a Black conference worry about alienating [just] white folks? I suppose that a Chinese, Japanese, or Mexican Muslim might be equally uncomfortable but I guess those are just throw away groups [?]. And why is it that we as Black folks cannot engage on a subject that might have great benefit for our community without being labeled as nationalists or abandoning our religion?

But let me temper my ending words here; I do not wish the brother any ill will. Indeed, it is my hope we can find common ground. And we need not look any further than our Prophet’s sunnah for the example of finding common ground? If there’s one message that I came away with from the conference it is this: we’ve got a lot more work to do. The road continues down the bend. No rest for the weary. I pray God grants us a beneficial understanding of our noble master and Prophet and that his Message was not in vain – that it sinks into our hearts and minds and allows us to partake in greater engagement and like him, knock down all barriers and return all of our hopes, fears, likes and dislikes to God and not resting them on the proclivities of any other.

And God knows best.