If there is one word that comes to mind in regards to the America Muslim condition, it’s synthesize. We have for us a couple of different definitions:
To form (a material or abstract entity) by combining parts or elements.
To combine (constituent elements) into a single or unified entity.
The combining parts are the various cultures and histories that Muslims either bring with them here or more significantly, the history they and their ancestors have already lived out on this soil. To detach wholly from one’s history is impractical, detrimental and perhaps not entirely possible. Instead, an amalgamation should be sought that will both validate the new found religious and spiritual teachings while grounded not only in the realities of one’s past, but most importantly in one’s present.
The consequence of this lack of synthesis is a communal car wreck that leaves both individuals and communities stranded in a ditch, at best wounded and at worst, [spiritually] dying. And laying face down in a ditch, angry, confused and fed up is a common condition for many Muslims I have encountered in my wanderings. Stuck in the proverbial mud, one cannot see in front or behind. As the Qur’an says, “Summun, bukmun, ‘umyun, fa hum laa yarji’uwn: deaf, dumb and blind, as for them, they will not return.”
The current generation of Muslims could easily be labeled a generation “X”, due the fact that many are lost. Ethnic/immigrant Muslims struggle to navigate the torrid waters of the American cultural landscape – many loose themselves in the rapids, capitulating to these uncharted waters. Upon resurfacing, any vestiges of Islam have been stripped from them. In hopes of appeasing the dominant culture (and thereby gaining access to acceptance and all the fruits of being a “true American”) the immigrant/ethnic Muslim unconditionally surrenders his or her Islam, disarmed, dismantled and completely dysfunctional, both as an American and as Muslim, for the dominant culture is not so easy to accept them as equals whilst mired in a defensive stance.
In contradistinction, indigenous Muslims (and here I am speaking about Blackamerican Muslims in specific) have attempted to jettison their over 400 year history as bona fide Westerners in favor of a doppelganger-identity, donning thobes in favor of Abercrombie & Fitch. Instead of using Islam as a vehicle for moral or ethical reformation, Islam is used to validate a protest against the legacy of a White Supremest value system. Left holding the bag of post 60’s social reforms, many Blackamericans never experienced the grandiose promises that America offered. That, combined with a pop culture which embraces hyper-individualism and a nihilistic outlook, Islam offered a safe haven to many blacks trying to find a safe port in a storm. But the high moral values that Islam embraces and encourages were never internalized, at best only to be used as blunt theological instruments to compel fellow coreligionists into submission of their supposed orthodoxical, utopian interpretations of Islam which ever points to its glorious past, not towards an auspicious future. In the end, both parties, in quest of an ever elusive acceptance and validation, lay face down in the mud.
So where to from here? The psychoanalyzing was the easy part. How does real change get implemented and what’s the time table? These are the questions that I’ve heard Dr. Sherman Jackson ask at his various lectures. And while not offering any simple 1-2-3 step solutions, he has laid down some questions we as Muslims ought to ask, tackle and wrangle with. Out of those, two primary ones come to mind: sex and education. Starting with the second one first, education is more of a problem for the Blackamerican community than it is for ethnic/immigrant Muslims. This is not just simply getting an education (though that is important as well) but rather the process of placing value on obtaining an education. This should entail both a secular as well as religious one. But for both the ethnical/immigrant and Blackamerican Muslims, this means serious reforms in how Islamic schools are operated. High standards of qualification will be required of all staff just as in any other educational institution. The same standards must be appointed for student academic standards or Muslim parents will be face with “no child left a deen” syndrome.
The other issue is sex. For this, it is pretty simple and straightforward. The American cultural landscape is unabashedly more promiscuous than ever and if Muslims are to navigate this obstacle course then Islam is going to have to eroticize man/woman relationships. I am not talking about caving in to wanton sexual deviancy but that, in the parlance of our times, Islam in America is going to have to accommodate Muslims, “getting their mac on.” Victorian or puritanical principles are lost on this new generation that has been exposed to gratuitous quantities of sex. And a synthesis of this new milieu with the moral principles of Islam will have to combine and even collide in the way atoms are forced to collide, producing a new dynamic. Without grappling with the above two topics, the future is Islam awaits a grim half-life, neither thriving or growing, subservient and trodden under the feet of the dominant culture. Muslims will have to decide which side of the smithy they want to reside in – the anvil or the hammer.
Having said all of the above, it still leaves the question of timeline unanswered. According to Dr. Jackson, whatever actions Muslims take, in terms of social, political and cultural/religious over the next twenty five to fifty years will dictate how Islam will function in the United States for the next two to three hundred years. We are living in a critical time where Muslims must simultaneously combat hostilities from the dominant culture, which seek to cloak their own bigotry in the name of righteousness and freedom of speech, as a justification for committing acts of brutalities against Muslims as well as the internal struggle for critical definition of what is and what isn’t Islam in the American public square. Indeed, still laying face down the mud, Muslims are currently caught between the hammer and the anvil, shaped into whatever fashion the blacksmith chooses. Success lies in Muslims having the fortitude to grasp the hammer and place themselves on the anvil, shaping themselves as they see fit.
“For without a doubt, with hardship comes ease, with hardship comes ease” [Q 94: 5-6].