Scourge of Secular Capitalist Islam – A Response

Brother Naeem wrote a passionate post over at his blog. As my comments were too long, I decided to write them here.

as-Salaamu ‘alaykum, Naeem. I can see that you are indeed struggling to reconcile some issues that are very near and dear to you. Let me provide a bit of food for thought.

I am often disheartened when I hear Muslims giving such harsh criticisms of American Muslims, or as you have put it, “the whole American Muslim project”. I believe part of this interpretation of realities comes from an uncritical and unrealistic examination of Muslim history. Let me elaborate. It seems that when God chose Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, or any other country, to enter into Islam, its non-Muslim history has somehow become lost and inconsequential in the shuffle. It is very easy and convenient to think of Egypt as a Muslim country now, but what was Egypt’s transition like, from a non-Muslim polity to a Muslim one? What struggles did Egypt have to go through to negotiate this transformation? Even to this day, there are folk holidays still in practice such as Shams an-Nasim. To be direct, it seems to me that when Muslims look upon the enterprise of Islam in America it’s always viewed as accidental or incidental. Never it is look at as the qadr of Allah: it’s never seen as quintessential. Perhaps if we were to have patience and a more realistic view of the situation, we would see that Islam in America is very young when compared to other pockets of Islam around the world. It has also grown and developed in a highly unique way, very different than how Islam developed in Senegal or Malaysia. Yet, we seek to uphold a paradigm of success based on Saudi Arabia or some other imaginary location that embodies a supposed timeless Islamicity. Not only is this position not fair to Islam in America, it is even detrimental to the growth and development of Islam in America.

While the article’s observation is critical, I feel it lacks a “critical responsibility” as one scholar put it. It is very easy to say “no” or “nay”, but it takes foresight, forbearance, and a certain amount of emotional commitment to the cause to say “yea”. Perhaps you have been in Saudi Arabia too long; it is your new home. When one has been absent for so long, fondness fades from the heart. This is not to say that there is nothing to be critical about when it comes to American foreign policy, culture, or politics, and yet, just about every other Muslim polity has been and is guilty of the very same things you condemn America for:

“Maybe it’s the unquestioning adoption of capitalistic maxims which finds American Muslims enslaved by their struggles for better jobs, bigger homes, and nicer cars; Maybe it’s the callous attitude of American Muslims striving for the American dream while participating in a system that is ravaging the entire world, politically, militarily, economically, and environmentally”.

Tell me where the vast majority of Muslim countries are not attempting to do the very same? What are the political policies of most so-called Muslim countries? What are their environmental standards [if they have any at all] and practices? Not only do I disagree with the above statements but I find them to be blunt generalities, wielded to obtuse effect. “Maybe it’s the callous attitude of American Muslims striving for the American dream”. Where do you derive your justification for branding all American Muslims as callous? I ask where and how because you give no distinction; no nuance to your accusation. What seems to be at place here is a misappropriation of observations. What else do you expect Muslims in America to do? Should they sit around and wait for the Qiyamah? Are we not entitled to earn economically sound and viable livings, doing the best we can to navigate our existential reality? It seems like when our Gulf cousins are driving Bentleys and Land Rovers, so long as they have a white thobe and shamagh, they’re keeping it Islamically “real”. What would you have American Muslims do? Make hijrah? Drop out of their karif schools? Quit their kafir jobs? How will you support us? Can we all move to Halal Arabia? The issue at hand here is not Secular Capitalist Islam, Suburban Capitalist Islam, or any other chic neologism, but rather that there remains a strain of Muslim thought that is engaged at denouncing the validity of Islam in American while they have obviously chosen to put their stock in other ventures by either moving abroad or staying here but checking out. My advice would be this: if you’re happy in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or Utopia-bad, then check your uncritical advice until you’re willing to put up some of your own personal capital.

Enough with all the dear Abbey letters,