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,

55 Replies to “Scourge of Secular Capitalist Islam – A Response”

  1. I think pretending there aren’t any real issues with the American Islam project which is actively trying to ‘force the issue’ when it comes to integration of the Western cultural paradigm with Islam is short sighted. Offering broad questions doesn’t help when there are specific real concerns in terms of what a persons actual lifestyle is.

    What was Egypt’s transition like? Not sure… but I don’t think it was like what is being attempted today. Which Islamic principles were being sacrificed?

    Regardless these communities have 1400 years of transition on us, as Americans. We should reflect on what we have to learn from the lands of direct Quranic reference and traditional reference, especially those which have been specifically blessed by the Holy Prophet.

    Islam can be quite young in America, indeed. But it could also be a common combination: young and arrogant.

    Examining why we are jealous and in competition with the the Bentley’s of the Arabs rather than being sad for them is probably a good place to start.

  2. I’d also add that there is nothing to stop Eastern Muslims from adopting the ‘American Islam’ project in their own unique way. The existence of a cultural hegemony dictates that this would be the case.

  3. @Yursil.

    Man, it’s tough getting this retirement thing started.

    Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.

    All humor aside, I find this stance highly problematic and shortsighted in its criticism. It seems to me that there is a double standard held aloft by certain groups of Muslims who seem to hold that “eastern” countries are somehow innately Islamic while “western” ones are incontrovertibley corrupt. The byproduct of all this nay-saying is that Muslims in America are never seen [and are encouraged to never see themselves] as bona fide Muslims. Their Islam is considered illegitimate and bastardized. Any hope that Muslims in “the West” have of being legitimate must always involve the appeasement of abstract “eastern” values. This dynamic can only seek to put American-born Muslims at a serious psychological disadvantage: they can never be “real” Muslims, at most, they can ape their eastern counterparts and live a half-life as confused and self-loathing individuals. Those Muslims who voice this opinion tend to be those who are either abroad or who have gone abroad and have been mentally colonized. They refuse to see Islam in America as anything other than a “project”. This derogative and subjective nomenclature only provides further proof of their complete dis-attachment from the reality that Muslims in America face [especially indigenous] as well as the lack of personal capital they have invested in the success of Islam in America [they are content to nay-say – never to actually get up off their duffs and contribute anything]. One of the big questions that hangs over my head is for those who espouse this rhetoric, what are you doing here? Why has your ship not sailed to Imagine Arabia or whatever mythic kingdom of Islamic utopia you can imagine? In fact, from your own condemnations, I feel it would be best if you left and let those of us whose future lies here, get to the work and task at hand. Take to your greener pastures, because some of us have real work to get done. I have been to the Muslim World and I will say this: it’s nice to visit, but they got so many problems, I know there is no place for me there. I hold that the Creator does not make mistakes and that Islam in America is not here by happen stance. In other words, I don’t believe God is into making “projects”. However, I do believe that Islam in America can succeed if the Muslims can come together, cooperate and put aside petty squabbling in exchange for real work. If that is not the call for you, then I suggest you pack your bags for the next direct flight from JFK to Jeddah.

  4. @Br. Yursil: No one is saying that American Muslims don’t have issues: the question is, how are they going to be addressed? Are we going to sit back, criticize and hope that people change, or are we going to involve ourselves with the people, give them our wholehearted support in their efforts to change, and thus slowly transform them? It seems to be that the latter is closer to the Sunna of the Blessed Prophet.

  5. Why are we talking about countries rather than the historical tradition of Islam within these places?

    Because historical tradition works within a very important construct: history. And if there is to be any development of the traditions of Islam, be they legal, spiritual, or scholastic, then that can only take place if it is done through an American genesis, not simply a replanting of foreign-born concepts. The mentalities like this can only result in the sharecropping of American Muslims: American Muslims that sow crops for some other Muslim’s reality. At the end of the season, they are ultimately repeating for someone else’s benefit.

    It is more than slightly derogatory to hold that any critic of “American Islam” has lacked in personal capital towards working for Allah’s sake in America

    When those critics constrict more than they open, then yes. Much of all this denial of American culture comes from a deep rooted psychosis on the part of certain Muslims who are incapable of ever seeing Islam in America retain any of its American-ness.

    Your claim is that my rebuttal creates “blinders”. To this you add:

    I’m not sorry I didn’t contribute to Outlandish’s ticket sales; Karachi [ran] low on flowers recently because everyone was celebrating Valentines day

    So, if I am reading this correct, Muslims in so-called Muslim countries are only at fault because they have adopted American cultural values or practices? If Pakistanis had adopted Shams an-Nasim, would this make it some how better even the holiday is derived from pre-Islamic, pagan roots?

    I see very little from your camp that ever affirms that which is America as being legitimate. Instead, Muslims are encouraged to doubt and loathe the very backgrounds in which they come from. While you may be born here that in no way mandates that your imagination is rooted here.

    it effectively relegates you to a ‘go back to where you came from

    Well, yes, to be quite frank, and this was directed at Muslims who’ve gone abroad and now feel they are in a position to lambast Islam in America from some higher or more pious vantage point. My response is if you’re off the island, you don’t get a vote.

    Is American Islam a project? It certainly seems so

    Again, to me this is nothing other than elitism masked in religious robes. In what way is it a project? The very nature of this language suggests that Islam in America is not just that: Islam, but rather it is a pet project, a concoction, a phase, a chic trend. What right have you to call my life as a Muslim here “a project”? What right do you have to call the struggles that al-Hajj Malik Shabbaz Malcolm X, a project? What right do you have to dismis the sacrifices and the struggles of indigenous Muslims, who are working to make Islam a reality here, to make an Islam here that can stand with equal dignity along side any other historical representation of Islam?

    just a post or two below this, you yourself are taking on the Ali Eteraz’s of the world in terms of those who believe that aspects of American society such as valentines day are not beneficial for the Muslim community

    You are right, but the scope of my criticism allows me to critic without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I cannot say the same about the post to which this article refers to.

    Jazakallahu khayran for your comments and feedback.

  6. @Buzz – salaams and my apologies for yesterday’s misunderstanding. I think I got my signals crossed on what you had said.

    One thing that bears consideration is whether the Ummah, the World Muslim Community are a group of individuals or individuals who make up a group.

    Good point and absolutely true. This warrants special consideration in light of how people identify in modernity. People are more apt to think and act as individuals, which no thought or consciousness of any attachment to the group. While I am not member of any tariqah, this is something that groups like the Naqshabandi, the Qadiri, and other turuq do quite well: them emphasize being part of a whole. Perhaps Yursil can elaborate more of his experiences on that.

  7. I think you are basically correct Marc and I appreciate you planting your flag and saying “Muslim, American and here to stay.” Goddamn right!

    One thing that bears consideration is whether the Ummah, the World Muslim Community are a group of individuals or individuals who make up a group. The point is in the emphasis.

    Contemporary Islam seems to always be focused on the group. We don’t concern ourselves so much with the strength of the Believer. We always do a health check on the Ummah. The American Ummah, the Pakistani, Arab Ummah. Splinter and divide. Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Deobandi, Wahhabi, Talibani.

    I don’t think that is what the Holy Prophet had in mind. Ghadir Khum.

    Instead of focusing on politics, we should help every sister and brother in our world community and put the politics aside for the moment.

    No worries. It will all probably still be effed up when we get back to it.

  8. Bismillah
    Alaykumsalam,

    “It seems to me that there is a double standard held aloft by certain groups of Muslims who seem to hold that “eastern” countries are somehow innately Islamic while “western” ones are incontrovertibley corrupt.”

    Why are we talking about countries rather than the historical tradition of Islam within these places? Is cultural hegemony affecting, say, Egypt? Of course. Is Turkey a secularist state with an atheistic military itching to take over? Of course. Did Karachi run low on flowers recently because everyone was celebrating Valentines day? Yup. Is any place perfect? No.

    More importantly: Is ‘American Islam’ something other than Islam in America? Yes.

    “This derogative and subjective nomenclature only provides further proof of their complete dis-attachment from the reality that Muslims in America face [especially indigenous] as well as the lack of personal capital they have invested in the success of Islam in America [they are content to nay-say – never to actually get up off their duffs and contribute anything].”

    I think the reverse applies as well. It is more than slightly derogatory to hold that any critic of “American Islam” has lacked in personal capital towards working for Allah’s sake in America.

    One, it creates blinders in what is considered ‘success’ of Islam in America. No.. I’m not sorry I didn’t contribute to Outlandish’s ticket sales. I’ve done other things.

    Two, it negates the personal contribution of people such as my self, who devote time energy and money towards supporting what I view as good in America, for the sake of Islam.

    Three, it effectively relegates you to a ‘go back to where you came from’ position, which you entertain later on in your comment. No. Actually, I am from here, I was born here, I lived here, and I am doing my part talking about whats going on here, and also *doing* things on the ground here.

    At the same time, I don’t agree with what *everyone* is possibly doing here. Is there a problem with that?

    Is American Islam a project? It certainly seems so, when its been discussed by think tanks and the money involved is literally in the millions funding seminaries and conferences, books and tapes.

    I find it interesting that just a post or two below this, you yourself are taking on the Ali Eteraz’s of the world in terms of those who believe that aspects of American society such as valentines day are not beneficial for the Muslim community.

    In fact you said: “Is it not conceivable or permissible that a scholar of Islam might stand against certain practices that s/he may deem unhealthy for Muslims?”

    So? Is it not inconceivable that a ‘larger’ aspect of Islam in America is deserving of such criticism?

  9. AA- Marc,

    I appreciate the effort you put in writing out a response to my original post. I’m working on a response to your response, but I just wanted to interject with a few quick thoughts.

    You seem to have defensively concluded that any critique of Muslims in America is grounded solely on the call to delegitimize American Islam. As if to say that anyone calling for an alternative perspective on how Muslims in America are creating their identity is seditiously trying to pull out the rug from under American Muslims.

    While I understand where your concerns are arising from, I believe you are misdirecting your anger and frustration.

    Yes, there is a vicious trend found in the Muslim world (as well as among many immigrant Muslims in America) questioning the legitimacy of the American Muslim, particularly the indigenous Muslims. But it is unfortunate that based solely on my choosing to move to Saudi Arabia you feel it warranted to include me in that group, overlooking the first 30 years of my life, during which I busied myself for the same cause you are so vigorously defending.

    Of course one can be American and Muslim. Did I suggest otherwise? I smell a strawman.

    When have I ever stated that a thowb and shmagh makes one a better Muslim? C’mon bro, I think you know me a bit better than that.

    Instead of getting caught up in my usage of the term ‘project’ or where I have chosen to lay my head or what cars Saudis drive, I humbly suggest we address the points of substance in my post. And if you simply must insist that all my years of struggling for Islam in America are voided since I’m “off the island”, then maybe we can discuss Yursil’s Suburban Capitalist Islam critique, since he hasn’t “lost his vote”. 🙂

    With respect,
    Naeem

  10. “What right have you to call my life as a Muslim here “a project”? What right do you have to call the struggles that al-Hajj Malik Shabbaz Malcolm X, a project?”

    Well let’s see, I haven’t called your life anything.

    Are you “American Islam”? Really? I don’t consider Hajji Malik a part of that project. What would he have thought of Islam, Live, at the Apollo theater! lol… you got to be kidding me.

    I’m talking about the concerted and directed effort of American Media, think tanks such as the Rand Institute, and specific Muslims who benefit financially from this hegemonic incursion of secular capitalism into Islam, in undermining the core messages of Islamic teachings. All in order to conform to American Ideals while claiming to be propogating Islam.

    I don’t know a better way to say it…

    “American Islam” IS NOT ALL OF ISLAM THAT HAS BEEN AND IS BEING PRACTICED IN AMERICA.

    If you really are someone who buys into that message, then you need to be reminded: US AMERICAN MUSLIMS WHO DISAGREE WITH YOU, WE’RE HERE TO STAY!

  11. Well let’s see, I haven’t called your life anything

    When one uses the label “project” to refer to Islam in America, and I am an American Muslim, then that does refer to me. Now, when I was saying “you”, I was not talking to just you, Yursil, but it was a matter of prose and writing style. I was referring to the argument. *deep breath*

    I’m talking about the concerted and directed effort of American Media, think tanks such as the Rand Institute

    I have tried to make my point clear: I don’t necessarily disagree with you in spirit or content of your premise. It is in its scope and application that I differ. I hope makes my position more clear to you. We are not in such staunch disagreement as we are the methodological approach.

  12. So when I use a common term used to reference the designed and promoted cultural insurgency on Islam, coming from the general American cultural hegemony (which is actually in full force all over the world including in non-Muslim countries)… *that* refers to you specifically and Haji Malik Malcolm X, but when you say ‘you’ you aren’t talking to me. Right, right, got it.

    I don’t think you do. I am saying that I did not believe you were intending to target me in specific or do character assisination but as I am an American Muslim, I am a part of a general group you’re talking about and thus, I might have something to say about that.

    Go it? Damn, retirement’s harder than working,

  13. @Ilyas.

    as-Salaamu ‘alaykum and thanks for the thoughtful response.

    I am appalled at most of what passes as American Islam

    That’s some pretty strong language. “Appalled”? You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but that seems to be a little intolerant of American Muslims given that one, Islam hasn’t been here very long and is still developing, and two, I guess I would ask, what are you expectations?

    Rather, one sees mostly distraction, consumerism and entertainment (most of it inauthentic and talentless)

    Could you provide a few examples? I am not clear as to what you’re talking about [not being facetious here]. Also, have you been to a Muslim country? I believe you said no. Well, I can say that Muslims all over the world are distracted, consume, and entertain themselves. This is nothing unique to the American context.

    Perhaps, but those people were ulema and awliya

    If they were indeed ulema or awliya, we wouldn’t be using “perhaps”. I think we’d be a bit more confident in our conclusion. Second, even if they were ulema or awliay that in no way means that we must dress like them. In fact, in my experience and the experience of many other America Muslims has been that this choice to follow other foreign-born Muslims has been uncritical and mainly due to aesthetics. The adoption of an aesthetic at the detriment of their own cultural aesthetic. As bad as everyone seems to keep labeling America, I do not believe American culture to be more decadent or ignorant than that of the 7th century Arabs, who after having embraced Islam, did so whilst preserving their cultural heritage which was not Islamic [I really don’t like using that word, either]! They stopped worshiping idols but they never stopped being Arabs and in fact, Islam did not take hold in Arabia until it was officially recognized by the cultural powers that were, namely the Quraysh. This is a crucial yet seldom examined aspect of Islam that most writers and thinkers, ulema and awliya alike, talk about in modern times.

    Do they speak of gnosis, experiential Love, a total submission that can only be hinted at in poetry? Or are they mainly cleaned up radio tunes sung by paid entertainers?

    How long did it take the Arabs to come around to Islam? Even with the infallible example of the Prophet, they still fought him. People today only have you, myself, and the rest of us as an example. Let us not get so caught up in the hype of defaming that we forget to indict ourselves as well. Muslim leadership has played a major role in shaping how Islam has developed in America – a role that has not always done what it should have. This goes back to my statement above about being critically responsible.

    The problem, in addition to the fact that most such endeavors are second-rate, is that the whole movement is forced and artificial.

    How so? What have you done to make it better or is it that it simply cannot be made better but America, at some basic root level, is incompatible with Islam, and therefore, the only hope of making it first-rate is to adapt some foreign-born mentality that is “just Islamic”.

    In the end, there’s nothing wrong with indigenous American Islam as a concept. But what we’ve seen so far leaves a lot to be desired

    You mentioned the development of Islam in counties like Malaysia and yet, how long has Malaysia had to develop as a Muslim country? Compare that with how long Islam has been in America? And since you have not traveled abroad, I would not be so quick to conclude that Malaysia is an “Islamic country” with a tinge of Malay-ness. Malaysia is nothing like Morocco, which is nothing like Saudia Arabia and the list can go on. Again: scope and nuance. This is what’s lacking in this argument.

  14. @Yursil. In your article [part 1 and 2]you wrote:

    Everyone knows someone who has left faith at some seminars doorstep

    Again, it is the scope here. I think many of us have known people who have left the faith at several doorsteps: seminars, tariqahs, salafi masajid, etc. In reading your article, it seems that the problem can only be solved if those Muslims are no longer suburban or capitalist. I have heard this critique before from other Muslim writers who wanted to lay the fault of American Islam at the feet of suburbia. If the only way that suburban Muslims can redeem themselves is by not being suburban then is there any hope of their salvation? And it’s here, to this point, that I would like to draw attention. Wording like this has a way of denying people their right to salvation. It leads to what I called Muslim sharecropping earlier and its effects can hardly be better seen than what has happened in the Blackamerican community: for the last thirty to forty years, we, as black folks, have been sharecropping someone else’s Islam. We sing someone else’s songs, we work someone else’s fields, and when we dare to have any claim of ownership over it, the proverbial plantation owners are quick to remind us that it is their fields, not ours, we are ploughing. Similarly, I would caution against the heavy-handedness that I see in critiques like this. I have in no way implied that Muslims from any community are beyond reproach and in fact, some of your observations Yursil are quite astute. I just object to the lack of nuance in your critique, not the act of you critiquing.

    @Naeem

    You seem to have defensively concluded that any critique of Muslims in America is grounded solely on the call to delegitimize American Islam

    Not so, Naeem. Again, I think you are misunderstanding me when I am responding to your article. I have repeated it often throughout my comments here but it seems to not be heard: I object to the un-nuanced scope of the critique, not the critique or the criticizer himself. Here’s one example:

    Maybe it’s the post 9-11 lulling that saw so many Muslims tone down their stance against American’s secular hedonistic ways and imperialistic aspirations out of fear of sounding unpatriotic

    Why is it that Muslims in American have fallen into a lull? Are Muslims wrong for feeling abashed or even scared to voice an opinion that may run against popular sentiment? Do American Muslims even have the tools to engage this very serious issue? Can American Muslims voice their opinions about American in way that are also nuanced instead of painting the entire scene with broad brush strokes. Saying that all of America is secular, hedonistic, and imperialistic, does a real disservice to those voices in America that may be secular but not hedonistic nor imperialistic. Likewise, there are voices in America that are neither secular, hedonistic nor imperialistic which are also not Muslim. When we speak in such capacious terms, we are potentially silencing other sympathetic voices in such a way that it resembles the very same problem the article is talking about: “Muslims tone down their stance …. out of fear of sounding unpatriotic”. Essentially, we have a created a circular argument to which we have only ensnared ourselves.

    I would also encourage you to not conflate my rebuttal and response to your article with anger. I am not angry at you, Naeem. We have differed on opinions before but I am not angry at you. I just disagree with what you wrote.

    it is unfortunate that based solely on my choosing to move to Saudi Arabia you feel it warranted to include me in that group

    I have included you in my critique, in that it seems you discount much of that 30-year experience when you look across the pond at America and make judgments. While your argument has sound principles in it, I cannot agree with its breadth unless you specify and zero in on some specific targets. Otherwise you will have the tendency to paint everything the same color. Myself as well as a number of other academics feel that nuance and scope are two factors that hamper the discussion of Islam, both amongst Muslims as well as in Muslim non-Muslim dialogs.

    I think you will also find yourself guilty of defensive postureing. I never said that you “stated that a thowb and shmagh makes one a better Muslim”. What I did was speak to the influence that arguments like yours have. You may not have said that, but ask yourself, why do so many American Muslims, when they adopt Islam, exchange their suits for thobes and their fedoras for shmagh? And we cannot deny that their donning of this apparel is laced with an imagined and adopted religiosity. You, Naeem, may have not said it makes one a better Muslim, but I do feel arguments like these have contributed to the cultural colonization of indigenous Muslims.

    Instead of getting caught up in my usage of the term ‘project’ or where I have chosen to lay my head or what cars Saudis drive, I humbly suggest we address the points of substance in my post

    I believe I have done just that. I addressed your points, line item by line item. Where you claim I have created a straw man, your attempt to diffuse my critique against your wording also has the smell of hay about it. As a writer who was analyzing and critiquing, word-choice is extremely important. I also felt that it alluded to an unspoken stance that many Muslims feel about Islam in America: as a “project”, it is not real; it is synthetic, lacks authenticity, and therefore deserves to be condemned as the illegitimate child that it is.

  15. Salaam ‘alaikum,

    First things first:
    I’m an American Muslim, born and raised. I’ve been Muslim for 17 years. I haven’t studied or lived abroad. None of my blood relatives are Muslims. My wife’s parents are American Muslims who converted in the 70’s, making her a 2nd generation, 100% indigenous Muslim.
    I work for my local State government. I went to inner city public schoolsand a suburban local college. Most people I know and all of my family still call me Alex. The only language I speak well other than English is Spanish (America’s unofficial second language, btw). There is no other country for me to move to nor do I have any desire to do so.

    In short, I am as American as a Muslim can be.

    That said; I am appalled at most of what passes as American Islam. I think Yursil was right when he labeled it Suburban Capitalist Islam. One finds almost nothing of the many unique and wonderful things about the American tradition (like innovation, work ethic and creativity) in what is called American Islam. Rather, one sees mostly distraction, consumerism and entertainment (most of it inauthentic and talentless). This is problematic but expected when people take the shallow nativist approach that many propoents of “American” Islam have.
    Some of what you yourself wrote is suggestive of that trend:
    Leaving aside the “go back to where you belong” stuff; you also write, for instance, that we sing the songs of “other people”. Perhaps, but those people were ulema and awliya. The American alternatives are the songs of whom, exactly? People whose entire lives are a source of guidance for the believer? Do they speak of gnosis, experiential Love, a total submission that can only be hinted at in poetry? Or are they mainly cleaned up radio tunes sung by paid entertainers?
    How, then are they preferable? Simply because they’re written in English?
    It seems to me that this mistake is illustrative of why there is a disagreement here. It may also explain why some people see American Islam as a “project”.

    From what I can tell, there are a lot of people who believe that American Muslims *should* have their own indigenous Muslim culture, even if one has not yet developed organically. And so they plan, sponsor, promote, support, encourage and nurture almost any project (Allah Made Me Funny, Zaytuna College, Baba Ali, New Muslim Cool, myriad designers of ‘modest, western’ clothing, etc) that promises to further the development of that culture. The problem, in addition to the fact that most such endeavors are second-rate, is that the whole movement is forced and artificial. If indigenous American Islam develops (and it will someday, inshaAllah), it will be spontaneous and natural. AND it will likely borrow heavily from eastern cultures, in terms of dress, vocabulary, values and aesthetics. That’s how it was in Malaysia, Africa, India, etc. And with the wide availability of information today, coupled with the number, breadth and depth of Muslim cultures with which we are in contact, that borrowing will probably be even more pronounced, walhamdulillah. It will be unique and local, but it will be Muslim, with an American tinge, not the other way around.

    In the end, there’s nothing wrong with indigenous American Islam as a concept. But what we’ve seen so far leaves a lot to be desired. And there’s also nothing wrong with saying so.
    Allahu t’ala wa rasuluhu ‘alam.

    Wasalaam ‘alaikum

  16. When one uses the label “project” to refer to Islam in America, and I am an American Muslim, then that does refer to me. Now, when I was saying “you”, I was not talking to just you, Yursil, but it was a matter of prose and writing style. I was referring to the argument. *deep breath*

    So when I use a common term used to reference the designed and promoted cultural insurgency on Islam, coming from the general American cultural hegemony (which is actually in full force all over the world including in non-Muslim countries)… *that* refers to you specifically and Haji Malik Malcolm X, but when you say ‘you’ you aren’t talking to me. Right, right, got it.

  17. What was Egypt’s transition like? Not sure… but I don’t think it was like what is being attempted today. Which Islamic principles were being sacrificed?

    Stances like Yursil’s are why I went into history. Most of us have woeful knowledge about the ways that Islam developed in Egypt, in Anatolia, or Malaysia. If you study the history of Muslim societies without romanticizing our past, you will find a number of things far more unsavory than what we see in American Muslim communities. During the slow Islamization of much of the Middle East, you had numerous Islamic principles sacrificed. The Umayyads made Muslim non-Arabs pay jizyah. And the 300 years it took for Muslims to pacify North Africa was not so pretty. During that time, the export of Berber girls, Muslim or not, was a big boon. So much so, the Berbers started going beyond the Sahara to trade in slaves to ease the pressure off themselves. Thus, the Muslim penetration in many places in West Africa was often linked to the slave trade. For centuries, North Africa was not even Sunni Muslims and there were numerous heresies. Egypt was ruled by Shi’ites until 1171. To this day in Egypt their ascetic, saint worship practices, and even gravesite visiting practices reflect pre-Islamic traditions. That is why you see some Sufis in Egypt still practicing walling themselves in during their khalwa [cells]. Charistian Monks used to do that in their monastic traditions for centuries. As Marc pointed out, Egyptians still celebrate Shams-i-Neseem, a practice which dates back to the Pharaonic period.

    In Morocco, you will witness superstition to the next level. Anybody heard of Khamsa khamsain? Those that are not superstitious and have purified their Islam of folk religious practices still value their local scholarship, traditions, and modes dress. I know a number of Moroccans who resent the influence of groups like Tablighi Jamaat or Salafis from the gulf telling them their adhan has to be called a certain way, or their script should be a written a certain way, or that they must pray a certain way. Just because you have questionable practices in Sufi orders like the Hamadsha and Gnawa, does not mean that Islam in Morocco is a “failed project.” Yet, there are still American Muslims who see the Islam in Egypt and Morocco as more authentic than what people are trying to do here.

    I find it ironic to criticize American Muslim for consumerism, when in many places in the Muslim world people there is an odd mix of piety and conspicuous consumption. I’ve interacted with numerous elites from the Muslim countries and their materialism outmatched the materialism that I’ve seen in affluent Muslim American communities. When I was in Kuwait, Egypt, and Morocco, even though I saw many things that were contradictory to Islamic teachings, I didn’t go and tell people how to live their lives. In every place I’ve been I’ve seen a mix of local customs and beliefs influence their interpretations of Islam. I was left with many unsavory experiences, but yet I did not consider their Islam “a failed project.” Each Muslim society or community is embedded with its own cultural logic and contradictions.

    Currently, I work within an inner-city Muslims community. These Muslims are struggling to live dignified lives, trying to not lose their children in this violent environment. When I’m counseling my students to go to college, I’m also telling them to get involved and build a Muslim student community. I’m not discouraging them from improving their lives through education. That’s why I think some of these statements are dangerous. People have not seen how these attitudes have been destructive for young Black Americans who think that if they go to college or work in corporate America that they will sacrifice their deen.

    We also need to find ways to address these issues without alienating the people we seek to influence. These broad sweeping critiques do not acknowledge the sincere efforts of Muslims working to establish Islam in America. Nor are there attempts to discern the varieties of expression of Islam in America. Unlike some of our friends who are armchair quarterbacking, there are others who have had a deep impact on the lives of others. They are giving dawah, living the dawah, and working on creating and building institutions. It is easy to take pot shots and doubt the sincerity of others. But none of us knows what is in the hearts of others. We don’t really know what is in our own hearts; Allah will reveal that to us and we will have to reckon with our own ill intentions (if there are any) some day.

  18. AA- M&M (see what I did there? Cute eh?)

    Yursil stole one of the points I’m working on in my response, namely that when Muslims entered these ‘Muslim’ lands, they entered with confidence and a booming self-esteem – in stark contrast with the inferiority complex so apparent amongst Muslims all over the world in this day and age.

    Second, the point that sister Margari brings about numerous instances throughout history where Muslims ‘sacrificed Islamic principle’ are in fact examples of them committing unIslamic (or questionable) acts. They key is they never attempted to incorporate those practices into a new flavor of Islam.

    Can the same be said for American Islam where we find secularization of the Shariah, American democracy made compatible with Islam, blind acceptance of ‘Islamic’ banking and ‘Islamic’ entertainment?

    In an established environment where Islam is more entrenched with a rich tradition, such trends may be weathered (like similar calls for democracy in Muslim majority states), but in an American Islam which is clearly in its infancy, such thoughts and principles will become cemented in the permanent foundation of Islam in America.

  19. To this day in Egypt their ascetic, saint worship practices, and even gravesite visiting practices reflect pre-Islamic traditions.

    This is why a firm understanding of Islamic spirituality is necessary *before* entering into history. It is quite easy to dismiss it all as some pre-Islamic religion, when for some reason its exactly the same everywhere, including India, explained and justified through Islamic sciences.

    That is why you see some Sufis in Egypt still practicing walling themselves in during their khalwa

    Khalwat is something practiced worldwide by Sufis. Did they all share the same pre-Islamic religion?

    These broad sweeping critiques do not acknowledge the sincere efforts of Muslims working to establish Islam in America.

    A little humility might be necessary to get us to understand that Islam doesn’t need *us* to establish anything anywhere.


    @Marc & Margari

    We keep clearly not being able to talk about the same subject, and there is a lot of selective reading going on. Both of you have brought up pre-Islamic holidays in various countries. Celebrating a pre-Islamic holidays within these countries has its own discussion, but its ironic that the discussion over Valentines day, only a few blog posts ago, ended up with Marc defending the right to discuss abandoning it in the Islamic context.

    Why is it legitimate to debate and consider certain American holidays as potentially trashable and others not?

    More importantly, lets talk about practical realities. Are multi million dollar conferences, boy bands, fashion shows, comedians, movies, Islam-o-tainment all more vital or more *American* than discussing whether Muslims should celebrate Valentines Day or Mothers Day?

    I’d argue the latter is a part of a real Americanized Islamic culture (especially if we went back to Anna Marie Jarvis’s roots and her own opinion against the holidays commercialization), since it promotes us to do good and falls in line with Islamic principles.

    At the same time, is discussing the awkward use of Muslim funds in forced proud exclamations of ‘look, we have our own N-sync’ anti-American?

    Don’t be fooled by thinking ‘American Islam Project’ means you or me or Haji Malcolm (rah), its always meant the *forced* cultural assimilation of Muslims. All the reactions of which I think Haji would agree with us on.

    This is what history has not seen before. Islam came to Egypt, Morroco, etc, yet it came with authority. It has no need to sell the public on how similar they were, it was, by nature of their civilization and conquest, clearly expressed how much *better* they were. There was a lot to be adopted before they started considering what didn’t fit into Islam from their past.

    This term “American Islam”, like it or not, has been used in texts by large thinktanks and authors.. In quotes it has always meant the overtures used by Non-Muslims and Muslims in promoting the idea that Muslims are completely similar in all respects to regular Americans. It has always been a term more about Islam *as America, rather than Islam *in America. If you haven’t read those works, then I suggest you do, before getting upset at the fact that I’m responding to their use of the term.

  20. Salaam alaikum,

    This is why a firm understanding of Islamic spirituality is necessary *before* entering into history.

    Yursil, I think this statement is a bit presumptuous. You do not have any knowledge of my spiritual training or orientation, for that matter. And my understanding of spirituality do not belie the reality of Muslims behaving badly throughout our 1400 year history. As I stated, the corruption that can be found in every Muslim community and society do not make their Islam a failed project.

    Also, Yursil, provide me examples in various societies where members of an order actually brick and mortar themselves in tiny cells. I’m sorry, but I have not seen this practice in Morocco, nor have I heard of it happening amongst Sufis in West Africa. Christian monks do it to this day in Egypt, as do their Muslim counterparts in one particular Sufi order. Within various locales and through time, Sufi orders have often merged local beliefs and practices with Islamic institutions. That is why in India, there are some shrines that pre-dated Islam that are still visited by Muslims and Hindus. Practices such as going to oracles, divination, possession, etc. are not something that I find in accordance with Islam.

    You also accuse us of doing selective reading. But you seem to have misread things yourself. Provide me an exact quote from either of our blogs where we defend pagan holidays. I’d appreciate it if you provide proof. If I have said anything wrong, then I will concede and acknowledge my fault.

    I’d also like to point out that nasheed bands are common in the Middle East. When I lived in Kuwait, one of the people we shared a floor with was a member of Ahbab al Mustapha. They are Yemeni, have never been in the US, but are very popular in Yemen and the Gulf. There were countless CDs of nasheed groups. When I was in the Middle East there were also numerous Muslim entertainment shows and programs. We may not be aware of them because of our language limitations. An example of a phenomena that has little to do with American hegemony, but is a curious mix of technology, leisure, commodification, and secularization of religious practice is the Ramadan serials. I’ve also seen advertisements for the Axis of Evil comedy tour in Egypt and the Gulf. As far as Islamic banking goes, numerous Egyptians have been ripped off by so called Islamic banking and investment scams. I don’t understand how American Muslims are a target of such disdain, when there are so many parralels in behavior all over.

  21. Don’t be fooled by thinking ‘American Islam Project’ means you or me or Haji Malcolm (rah), its always meant the *forced* cultural assimilation of Muslims. All the reactions of which I think Haji would agree with us on.

    This term “American Islam”, like it or not, has been used in texts by large thinktanks and authors..

    As-salaamu ‘alaykum Yursil. Marc was pretty clear when he said the problem he had with yours and Naeem’s critic is that it lacked nuance and scope. And he even said that some of your observations were astute. But maybe you are more interested in politicizing your argument so you can attack what you call the “American Islam Project”? Politicizing necessarily involves turning grey into black and white. It involves reductionism and essentializing, which is plain obvious from what I’ve quoted from you. As already mentioned, such discourse can be extremely damaging. And I’ve met radicals from the UK (the Muhajiroun if you’ve heard of them) who have a black and white understanding in their understanding of the Islam and the West… and they’re pretty messed up from what I’ve seen.

  22. Salam alaykum everyone,

    After reading all these comments, I can say that the “Suburban Capitalist Muslim” thread has successfully *provoked* us.

    To what end, though, we should ask?

    In the undercurrents of many of these exchanges, to me, it appears that tempers are flared. Personal attacks are made, disclaimers are issued in various names, and trenches are dug for more argumentation – to defend what is held dear, or to attack what we may fear.

    And this is understandable. I think everyone who’s contributed or blogged on this, is blessed with some care for the legacy of Islam, that all Muslims MUST carry. The vigorous debates that took place so far, are a reflection of our differences, on HOW that immense responsibility should be carried.

    To what end has this observation of Suburban Capitalist Islam, provoked us? Can we draw lessons from it? Can we stomach such open criticism, or will we find reasons to dismiss it? Are our biases, insurmountable wherever we stand?

    We should realize that understanding Islamic history, truly, means understanding it on its *own terms*. If it were not for His immense grace, the blood and toil of those who lived, and *continue living*, to keep Allah and His Prophet at the highest summit, Islam would never reach to us. This is not a mere slogan, an abstract idea, doctrine, or an expressive turn of words. It is simply, how Haqq, is reaching to us.

    Western history, and historiography, expresses itself on its own terms, and to those it has colonized – and whom it continues to conquer and speak for. It does so, with its fundamental agendas intact and, by virtue of geopolitical and cultural might, assumes itself to be the “intellectual Greenwich meridian” and arbiter of what can pass as authentic history, and what should be questioned. So after a few undergraduate, or graduate classes (or degrees) in Islamic history, one will gain the “dispassionate” bent of mind, to criticize aspects of Muslim legacies with whatever authority has been granted, by those who taught them. Who, for the sake of “objectivity”, have to be secular/nonMuslim!

    Now, I think when calls are made for “scope and nuance” in assertions made, when patronizing gestures are offered in the way of “accepting” a view contrary to one’s own, it is just interpersonal diplomacy on display. It’s saying, ‘hey you might have a point pal, but say it in a way that doesn’t attack me so deeply.’

    If something is meant to wake you up, or jolt your complacenies, there is no place for scope and nuance. At the heart of decrying what American (ie. globalized/modern) Islam has slumbered itself into, is the prophecy of our Beloved, Chosen One , who is saying, that our numbers as Muslims will be many, but other nations will carve us like a meat dish, because of love of dunya, and fearing death.

    Over a decade ago, multicultural discourse in America asked which was more ideal – the notion of America being a melting pot (where identities are assimiliated into one mix), or a salad bowl (where the ‘contents’ still retain their basic character, yet stick together). As Muslims, do we love our “sense of self,” in our attempts to forge what is being paraded as “an authentic Muslim-American” identity? We may love Malik Shabazz (rh), and claim him as a symbol of bona-fide, American Islam, forgetting that even today, many Americans have trouble accepting Martin Luther King day, as “their own” holiday.

    Yursil makes a key point, here:

    “Don’t be fooled by thinking ‘American Islam Project’ means you or me or Haji Malcolm (rah), its always meant the *forced* cultural assimilation of Muslims. All the reactions of which I think Haji would agree with us on.

    This is what history has not seen before. Islam came to Egypt, Morroco, etc, yet it came with authority. It has no need to sell the public on how similar they were, it was, by nature of their civilization and conquest, clearly expressed how much *better* they were”

    This raises the question, of how Islam can come *with authority* to America. Understanding how it did centuries ago, in other lands, and from whose hands it came, will help us to see, that holy Prophet did not leave the ummah without his inheritors.
    Will we run to them, sit patiently to heed them, and be with them, as commanded in the Qur’an? Or do we love, and live, for what we think, is right for our time and context?

  23. To Khalwat’ means(solitary retreat) to be freed from every worldly thing, which occupy or will occupy mind, in an isolated place and prefer being there to everywhere else. … Another definition of ‘ khalwat’ is , ‘to be completely alone’ or ‘in order to speak silently to one’s inner being secluding oneself from everybody else .
    …’ Khalwat ‘ is a widespread practice among every Sufi Order.

    http://www.halveti.org/Tasavvuf.asp?cid=6&sid=21

    So whether they make their own small rooms and wall themselves in, or use an existing room and close the door, is really besides the point. The issue is that the practice of Khalwa itself is not isolated to Christian monks, but a widespread Sufi practice in its own right with its own variations of practice.

    You also accuse us of doing selective reading. But you seem to have misread things yourself. Provide me an exact quote from either of our blogs where we defend pagan holidays. I’d appreciate it if you provide proof. If I have said anything wrong, then I will concede and acknowledge my fault.

    Perfect example of the misreading. It allows you to set up strawmans to tear down. What makes you think I said anything about you defending pagan holidays?

    In fact, what I said is that it was ironic that Marc defended the right to criticize an American cultural holiday within the Islamic context. So the contradiction here is that Marc has said:

    “Is it not conceivable or permissible that a scholar of Islam might stand against certain practices that s/he may deem unhealthy for Muslims?”

    Yet, when we have people incorporating unhealthy practices into Islam (consumerism, pale imitation of non-Muslim arts, lifestyles, etc) and calling it “American Islam”, you are criticizing the ‘nuance and scope’ of the argument from people who share criticism about this form of ‘forced assimilation’… The criticism is enough to produce an outright xenophobic reaction from at least Marc.

    If you ask me, the latter statements are lacking nuance and scope in a much more blatant way.

    Another example of the misreading:

    If they were indeed ulema or awliya, we wouldn’t be using “perhaps”.

    It was clear Ilyas suffixed the ‘Perhaps’ with a comma, thereby indicating he was referring to the sentence:

    “Leaving aside the “go back to where you belong” stuff; you also write, for instance, that we sing the songs of “other people”.”

    In other words, “Perhaps we sing the songs of other people, but those people were ulema and awliya.”

    It is misreadings like this that have filled this discussion.

    So I don’t know if we are just being careless in general or what, but its constantly effecting how we interpret each others messages.

  24. Bismillah
    Alaykumsalam Omar (& Margari , forgot to write my return salaams earlier)

    Marc was pretty clear when he said the problem he had with yours and Naeem’s critic is that it lacked nuance and scope. And he even said that some of your observations were astute. But maybe you are more interested in politicizing your argument so you can attack what you call the “American Islam Project”?

    At the same time such a stance (about criticizing our ‘nuance and scope’ rather than the actual points) was followed up with xenophobic statements and the idea that some of us are ‘armchair quarterbacking’, not contributing to Islam on the ground, etc. This is nuance?

    So while he agreed with some of our observations the nuance and scope was worthy of this follow up?

    One of the big questions that hangs over my head is for those who espouse this rhetoric, what are you doing here?

    What this does is attempt to discredit as ‘external’ any critique of American capitalist values that are being forced fed into an establishing Islam in America (backed up by ISNA, MYNA, MAS, etc).

    Further there has been this constant conflagration of the issue of overseas Muslim behavior vs the origin of overseas Muslim behavior. Consumerism and capitalism is not, as far as I know, unique to America, but it *has* been exported globally from America and the West in general.

    So when we criticize the folks who are trying to encourage this same exporting of un-Islamic values right into ‘Islam’ whether it is here or there, we are talking about it under the context of whose values they are really.

    It wouldn’t be honest to call such weaknesses ‘Turkish’ or ‘Saudi’ or ‘Moroccan’, because they didn’t invent the commercialism we see today, they adopted it as an ideal through inferiority complexes and neo-colonial policies of debt, trade and export of cultural products. Yet Marc and Margari keep insisting on saying things like, “When I was in the Middle East there were also numerous Muslim entertainment shows and programs.” or “Tell me where the vast majority of Muslim countries are not attempting to do the very same? ”

    So, do we criticize the colonies or the colonizer? I chose to address that society where I live and whose fundamental principles allowed for this capitalist culture to progress and envelope the whole world and even encroach on our religion.

  25. Walaikum salaam Yursil

    Would you say that Amr Khaled is a product of American Imperialism, or rather an export of the American Muslim project? If so, please provide some evidence. I’d like to follow your logic on that.

    I see the nasheed groups, stand-up comedy, and even community centers as something more related with a Muslim identity. Not everything that American Muslims do is Islamic. I want to point out that I was focusing on the actual practice using brick and mortar to wall themselves in tiny cells, which comes from pre-Islamic practices, not khalwah in and of itself. Let me take some more extreme examples of pre-Islamic borrowing: self mortification and spirit worship. The Hamadshas practice self mortification in Morocco. Now, just because some Kurdish dervishes practice self mortification, should we validate this practice? Then, let us think about other insertions of folk religion into Muslim religious practices. Really close to the shrine of Sidi Hamdush, there’s also a highly questionable oracle linked to Aisha Qandisha. The practices of exorcising the jinn through sacrifices and going to the oracle parallel many practices within Yoruba animism. Similarly, you find the all night seances in the Gnawa feature possession, dancing, and mixing between men and women in their ecstatic dancing. Going to an oracle and calling upon Aisha or some jinn is evidence of borrowing pre-Islamic practices that entail shirk. But yet, is Islam a failed project in Morocco? There are Muslims who do practice Islam and avoid these practices.

    Similarly, many American Muslims are ambivalent about Muslim entertainment. Many participate or let their children participate in it because they prefer that their children go to a Sami Yusuf concert rather than see Akon. The issue is the spectrum of religious practice. Do we afford a space for those who are struggling with their faith and identity? Whose imagination are the organizers of these entertainment events and mega-mosques trying to capture? I agree we should also examine whether some practices and orientations are good for the development of Islam in America or community life.

    Timur,

    So after a few undergraduate, or graduate classes (or degrees) in Islamic history, one will gain the “dispassionate” bent of mind, to criticize aspects of Muslim legacies with whatever authority has been granted, by those who taught them. Who, for the sake of “objectivity”, have to be secular/nonMuslim!

    So, let me get this right: our 1400 year history is beyond reproach because it was all masha’Allah. Also, I find it cute how you minimize my research. I’ve taken more than a few undergraduate and graduate courses. My experience was not limited to some superficial classroom experience. I’ve been studying our religion both in and out of academia for 16 years. My western training afforded me research methodologies and an opportunity to travel abroad, dig into archives, and work with traditional scholars. Further, my graduate experience went beyond the MA. I decided not to continue the PhD portion upon my return from Kuwait and Egypt. And finally, my understanding of the historical evidence is not dispassionate. Much of my research dealt with the trauma of colonialism on traditional structures. Throughout my endeavor, I have consulted with various shuyukh who supported my project because they acknowledged the importance of our history. It is funny how Ibn Khaldun is known for his sociological theory, but the Muqaddimah was an introduction to a major historical text. Muslims aren’t known for writing great history books. Insha’Allah we can change.

    But if we take Islamic history for its own sake and argue that it should not be held to that much scrutiny, then why is that okay to do so for American Muslims? I argue that we should not do either. We should be very specific in our charges of where Muslim go wrong and then draw lessons from it so that we can forge a better future. I have not problem with critiquing things such as the boy bands or stand up acts. But to label this all American Islam, I have some contention. American Islam is very diverse. For example, we live in Philadelphia, a major Salafi center, where a boy band would likely get chased out of town. A stand-up comedy act is not something Islamic. It is something that Muslims do.

    Materialism is a huge problem within some American Muslim communities. Dr. Jamillah Carter pointed out that American Muslims have failed to establish the pillar of zakat in America. We do not practice it correctly. There is no bait al-mal or centralized place where you can give. Many Muslims are tight fisted about giving and that relates to faith. They are afraid that Allah will not provide for them. Looking back to the lives of the Sahabi, you will see that some were rich and some were poor. But the wealthy Muslims gave generously and supported their brothers. I find it troubling how many of the affluent communities do little to help their less fortunate brethren. At the same time, Marc and I have pointed out the dangers of putting forward poverty as a religious ideal. Philadelphia Muslims are influenced by an ideology of rejecting the broader society. Now there is an epidemic of young men who cannot support their families. Working within communities, you see the real world damage that certain ideas can cause. This past weekend, I sat on three panels where I was asked to weigh in on the history of Islam in America, Muslim identity in America, and the portrait of American Muslim women. I sat with imams, community leaders, scholars, and counselors who work tirelessly in the community. And all came to the assessment that the Black American Muslim community is disenfranchised. It is not self reliant because along the way it gave up certain endeavors, such as Entrepreneurship and education, to seek this piety through poverty. Before, they had awqaf. Now they can barely keep the lights on. Before, Muslims had some of the cleanest stores, bakeries, healthy food options. Now, the people are exploited economically in subpar stores and markets. Muslims used to be seen as relevant in this city, making a positive impact. Now, we are just an insular community and they make fun of all the niqabas by calling them ninjas.

  26. As-Salaamu ‘alaykum all. Ya’ll ain’t really feelin’ my retirement, huh?

    In fact, what I said is that it was ironic that Marc defended the right to criticize an American cultural holiday within the Islamic context

    Yursil, above you accused us of not doing close reading but I believe it is you who have not read closely and have instead injected into my argument what you have wanted to see. I believe brother Omar raises a valid point when he said you are politicizing your argument.

    I did not defend the condemnation of Valentine’s Day or any other holiday. What I did was write a piece defending Muslim scholarship and the role and place and authority of Muslim scholars and Muslim scholarship! In that piece, I used Ali Eteraz snide commentary about the Muslim judge in the Gulf who ruled against Valentine’s Day as an example to demonstrate this self-loathing tendency amongst some of our pundits. If you would have paid close attention, you might have seen that I mentioned nothing of my personal opinion about holidays, but was addressing the hostility that exists within the Muslim community coming from certain individuals who have chosen to sacrifice the rank and dignity of Muslim scholar/ship in the name of advancing their careers. There was no contradiction, only a lack of attention to detail on your part.

    I have also noticed the tendency of you to be incapable of withstanding any of my criticisms of Sufi orders. Both you and Naeem have leveled accusations at me, claiming I am unfit to withstand any criticism directed at American Muslims. This could not be farther from the truth, and to evoke brother Omar’s comments again, I ceded that some of your observations held value but they often, due to their un-nuanced and Manichaean tendencies, fell into abstract, heavy-handed denunciations that had little to no chance of addressing those points nor affecting any positive change. What we were left with was an aesthetic address that was brusque in nature, and most likely would have the opposite intended effect. My wife gave you a number of solid points to consider, points backed up from years of scholarship: Margari has a Master’s degree in Islamic history. I would think that something of what she would have to say would be valid even if it meant addressing something questionable about practices found in Sufi orders.

    You should know well enough by now that neither one of us are raving hardliners who put all Sufis in the same box. Nonetheless, both she and I, and more rightly her, as she has also traveled and lived in Muslim countries where she has been able to observe some of these practices first hand, have studied that some of the practices that Sufis engage in, not all of them have 100% pure Muslim origins. This observation is not a condemnation – it is not passing judgment as to the illegitimacy of these practices. It merely brings to light that they are not as “pure” as the typical discourse has led us to believe.

    My arguments have been far more nuanced than yours for a couple reasons: one, the premise of my rebuttal is not to do away with your argument, but to adjust the scope to which it is applied (or really, to give it some scope). In each case I have outlined the points of my argument and why I disagree with them. Two, my argument sought a middle ground with yours. As I put it earlier, I thought some of your observations were worthy of consideration so long as they were scaled back and were willing to give some ground. Yes, I believe they were quite nuanced.

    I leave this with brother Omar’s point: if you are, “more interested in politicizing your argument so you can attack what you call the ‘American Islam Project’”, which is a stand-in-word for American Muslims, then we will continue to have a stalemate. How ironic was it that I spent the last two days at a Warith Deen Muhammad masjid (The Philadelphia Masjid) at a symposium discussing Islam in America? How well do you think your thoughts would have been received amongst a majority Blackamerican Muslim audience? A predominantly black middle-class audience? Would your statements about the Dunya, secularism (which, by the way is not synonymous with atheism), consumerism, and more, would have been received with open arms? Ironically, it may have been by some constituents who’ve been so colonized by foreign models of Islam, it has rendered them almost incapable of thinking and acting for their best self-interests. As Dr. Amir al-Islam put it: they’re looking for a passport out of blackness. But there would have also been a faction who would have rejected this notion, not because it is devoid of any truth, but because it leaves no room for retaining any of the original elements.

    You bring up an excellent point: “Should Muslims in America be wary of consumerism”? Well, I would prefer the term hyper-consumerism, to put it into context, but yes. As one of our panelists last night said (referring to black folk): we buy what we want, but we beg for what we need. This kind of commentary supports the spirit of what you said, Yursil/Naeem, but, it also leaves room for black folks to still buy nice things, so long as they are not putting their priorities out of place. Another point, which I am sure never entered your mind, is that while your advice sounds great, how would it be relevant to a people who were historically and categorically denied the right to a dignified existence in their own homeland? I assume you meant for your remarks to apply equally to all audiences – after all, it’s “Islamic”. But in offering an un-nuanced panacea to cure all of the patient’s illnesses when the prescription might call for different cures for different maladies only further demonstrates a very important point: not all cures require the same medicine. And part of this malpractice is due to the nomenclature itself. “Islamic” this and “Islamic” that. Everything that Muslims deal with now are made “Islamic”: art, literature, clothes, architecture, law, etc. Oddly enough, the term Islamic is relatively new, canonized by Orientalists who, in their un-nuanced and ahistorical perspectives on Muslims, made practically anything and everything Muslims did, “Islamic”. This term has now found its way into the minds and tongues of modern Muslims, while despite the claims of many who claim to be anti-Western in their stances, have adopted hook, line, and sinker, the “universalisms”, as Dr. Sherman Jackson puts it, of the modern West. Hence, any time Muslims in modern times wish to make a statement about a truth-value that is connected with the Muslims, they deem it either Islamic or un-Islamic. Let me quote a passage for you:

    Both of these tendencies (the use of bid’ah {innovation} and “Islamic”) go beyond the simple preference for institutions that are based on scripture and or authentic Tradition, a preference shared by all committed Muslims. These tendencies are, rather, mechanisms for converting the choices and preferences (including imported choices and preferences!) of the contemporary Muslim world into normative if not binding religious institutions for Muslims everywhere. At bottom, both of these conversion mechanisms mask a deep and abiding obsession with issues of identity, according to which the compromising or shedding of an Eastern identity (or the taking on or retaining of a Western one) is equated with a loss or compromise of religion. – Jackson, Sherman. (2005). Islam and the Blackamerican. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA. 84.

    My point in quoting this here is that I have seen the destructive forces enacted by other Muslims upon the psyche of indigenous Muslims; acts more rooted in their own insecurities about their identity as Muslims living in the modern world than in timeless Muslim proclivities. Instead of dealing with their own insecurities, they lash out at other Muslims in a totalizing fashion to shore up the crumbling foundations of their own mental houses. When I hear you and Naeem talking about Dunya and consumerism or suburbia and “the American Dream”, I am reminded of Dr. Jackson’s above passage in which it seems more like your inability to cope with being a Westerner, than anything else. Hence, the dialog is no longer a dialog but rather a means of protecting one’s identity. The downside of this has been the tearing down of black identity that leaves little to no room of any of its Western black heritage to survive intact (to be clear, I am not blaming either of you solely for the downfall of black identity in Islam but rather contributing to an argument that has added to it). In fact, I feel compelled to quote Dr. Jackson yet again when it comes to the term “Islamic”:

    Prior to modern times, the term “Islamic” (Islami in Arabic) was almost never used to define the provenance, status, or substance of things. There was no such thing as “Islamic art” (fann islami), “Islamic economics” (iqtisad islami), or even “Islamic law” (fiqh islami). To be sure, there were anomalies, such as the famed al-Ghazali’s referring to Ibn Sina and al-Farabi as “Islamic philosophers” (al-mutafalsifah al-islamiyin). This, however, was clearly an anomaly and the exception that proved the rule. For the very men to whom al-Ghazali refers as “Islamic” are precisely the men he condemned as infidels. “Islamic,” in other words, had no clear descriptive nor prescriptive power but was used as a throwaway for those who in one way or another associated themselves with Islam. Jackson, Sherman. (2005). Islam and the Blackamerican. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA. 154-155.

    The use of “Islamic” or “un-Islamic” (or any broad brush stroked argument as above) has far reaching consequences for Muslim-to-Muslim dialog, to speak nothing of Muslim to non-Muslim discourse. The misuse and misapplication of this neologism has encourage irresponsible actions on the parts of Blackamerican Muslims, who now under religious pressure (after all, when it’s termed “Islamic,” how does one refute this?) to conform to their religious sensibilities, have abandoned their heritage whilst still living in their societal context. The result has been a cultural-religio-ethnic dereliction of duty en masse. Too many Blackamerican Muslim men, out of fear of the Dunya have forgone higher education and economic stability all in the name of God (fi sabilillah). This was precisely one of the themes that the two-day symposium discussed. So as you can see, it is a topic that has consequences that travel beyond your initial radar. Within our argument here, none of your reactions to what I wrote, my wife Margari wrote, or brother Omar wrote, came remotely close to the attention to detail as to what I have laid out here. A reassessment of the situation would see yourselves standing in glass houses with a handful of rocks.

  27. Now, I think when calls are made for “scope and nuance” in assertions made, when patronizing gestures are offered in the way of “accepting” a view contrary to one’s own, it is just interpersonal diplomacy on display.

    If something is meant to wake you up, or jolt your complacenies, there is no place for scope and nuance.

    As-salaamu ‘alaykum Timur. It’s a big thing, I believe, to accuse somebody of compromising truth. At the very least you should assume that Marc cares about truth as much as you do and his was not some sort of “interpersonal diplomacy on display.” And nobody is being “complacent” or saying that hyper-consumerism is acceptable. Now that’s distorting the truth.

  28. What a wonderful back ‘n’ forth! You just don’t see this kind of discussion taking place too often. Once again, Naeem has watered the seeds of thought that has sprouted introspection of this depth. Kudos to one and all for such deep thinking. Especially the Americans…You, maybe better than most, know how rare that is in the USA. I write alot about the above mentioned issues regarding America on my blog, http://www.vulgariangoulash.blogspot.com that you might be interested in reading (be forewarned that profanity is used here-and-there).

    But, now I’m requesting that y’all go listen to one of my songs, “Call To Prayer” and give me your thoughts on it: http://www.myspace.com/stevenlancemusic (you can email me at slfornal@hvi.net)

    Can you “feel it” as Muslims? Or, does it turn you off? Is it somehow offensive? It would really help to get some perspective from individuals that engage in such considered thinking.

    Thanks for the provocative morning (for me) thoughts…

    Steven Lance

  29. As-Salaamu ‘alaykum to all and many thanks. It has been, as Steven pointed out, a rare discussion and I give kudos as well to all who posted, read, or linked to, in order to contribute to the topic at hand. I will try now and give what I feel will be a final statement of sorts that will be as much a response to the many comments as well as a summary of what I feel about this whole deliberation.

    Muslim thought in the modern age suffers from a plethora of delusions, ranging from its commitment to un-nuanced universalisms, misappropriation of imaginative and human capital, as well as a thorough lack of understanding Muslim history in its entirety, ranging from the formative years (Revelation, the Prophetic life, as well as the following two to three hundred years) to the various Muslim dynasties (‘Abbāsid, ‘Umayyid, Safavid, Fātimid, Ottoman, and more) in how they shaped Muslim thought and development, all the way up to the “modern” period where many parts of the Muslim world were colonized by Europe and more important, post-Enlightenment, European thought. I find it curious that in many ways, modern Muslim universalists (I prefer this over Islamists as that word has been stripped of any contextual meaning), despite their professed distain for all things innately Western, could not be more Western if they tried. The majority of modern Muslims groups fall into this category: Salafis, Sufis, and even what I would call neo-Traditionalists. These groups, while often diametrically opposed to one another (especially the first two), share a number of common traits: they have a dramatic tendency to see the world in complete abstractness. Even those Muslims who do not profess fealty to any of the above three groups more often than not speak in the same universalist language. I have laid out in the post and in my comments why such parlance is counterintuitive to Muslim-Muslim and Muslim non-Muslim dialog. I shall attempt to do so again, with all possible brevity.

    I would like to preface my exposition with an opening statement. In my estimation, the cause behind this universalist worldview has more to do with a lack of self-awareness on the part of modern Muslims as well as a deficiency in self-esteem that stems from the same affliction. As was mentioned above, many of these universalist Muslims harbor a deep mistrust of the West, a mistrust that is not solely based on personal experience but rather the imagined sufferings their host group. Add to this the tendency for Muslims who hail from the historic Muslim world – vicariously, ethnically, or even geographically – who see their proclivities as ontological truths instead of personal experiences and thus, hold the rest of the Muslim world to their views. For those other Muslims who also hail from the historical Muslim world, they are able to offset and counter this hegemonic intrusion by way of their won historic Muslimness. But for those Muslims who did not originate in the historic Muslim world, the challenge to critically examine these inclinations often goes unchecked. Indeed, any attempt to challenge these personal justifications masked in religious garb, is met with shock, disdain, and heckling. To be frank, Blackamerican Muslims were simply not equipped with the specific intellectual scaffolding to deal with Muslims who originated from traditional Muslim lands. The result was a complete cultural and psychological takeover that amounted to cultural colonialism. Blackness, where once it had been a passport to Islam, was now cast in a new light, where it was deemed innately problematic, and even detrimental to an authentic expression of Islam. It should be noted here that this paradigm shift in the aesthetic value of blackness has as much to do with black folks as it does with immigrant Muslims. For those who would disagree I would strongly suggest taking a look at Dr. Sherman Jackson’s book Islam and the Blackamerican for further information.

    I would like to continue for a moment on this tract and illuminate the many conversations I’ve had over the years with numerous Muslims, Salafi, Sufi, Traditionalist, or otherwise, on the subject of race. In summary, I have heard from all three groups and more, that Islam is not concerned about race. There is no race in Islam. “Race is a man-made construct.” What these universalist groups do not grasp is that race has and continues to play a significant role in the development of Islam. Muslim history has shown conclusively that Islam would not have take off in the Hijāz without validating itself as a valid racial/ethnic expression. When Quraysh chastised the Prophet Muhammad [s], they did so on the grounds that he [s] brought something into their midst that did not belong. He separates father from son. He is changing the practices of our forefathers. Allah, in all of His Infinite Wisdom, settled this issue by having the Prophet [s] adjudicate an accord with the pagan tribes such that Islam could then be seen as a bona fide Arabian religion.

    Prior to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Islam was seen as a non-Arab religion! Hence, only those practitioners who had the deepest of religious convictions were willing to face persecution and the hardship of committing cultural and ethnic apostasy (as was the case in the early Makkan period). Only when the treaty was brokered did the numbers of Muslims swell in the Arabian Peninsula. Compare and contrast this to the American context: why do Blackamerican Muslims accept Islam in far higher numbers than do Whiteamericans, Asianamericans, or Latinoamericans? One could look to a number of complicated explanations but a simple one will suffice best: because Islam does not invalidate one’s blackness (and hence Americaness), yet the same cannot be said for the other three groups. For many Whiteamericans, they feel Islam is antithetical to their whiteness. The same can be said of Asianamericans and Latinoamericans. Where Blackamericans, mainly through the proto-Muslim groups such as the Nation of Islam, The Moorish Science Temple, and others, had a racial-historical connection and experience that allowed for Blackamericans to see themselves as validly black, and validly Muslim. The same cannot be said for any other group.

    To say that race is a quintessential American issue would be an exercise in redundancy. America’s unique history with race, or more specifically its history with whiteness and how it was defined by how it was not black, is undeniably problematic. Typical universalist rebuttals to the problem at hand has simply been to view race as the problem instead of the victim. Muslim universalists strive to achieve non-racial identities, despite the fact that their religious understandings of the religion are so intertwined that at times, it is difficult to determine what is cultural practice and which practices are based on Revelatory sources. In a recent conversation I overhead, a Muslim stated that she was not black or white, but that she was “just Muslim”. Indeed, her advice to other American Muslims was, “just be Muslim”. Arguments such as these are demonstrative of the universalist and abstractionist notions held by many Muslims in modernity. The conversation went further where she stated she was, “self-made”. I found this conversation intriguing as it conjured up a recent discussion I had with Dr. Jackson in which many Muslims, while professing that God is the god of nature, is not in fact (according to their tacit articulation), the god of human history. All actions man-made lie outside the domain of God’s sovereignty. Of the four main schools of thought, only one held to this minority opinion: the Mu’tazilites. They held that God was not the sovereign of human history. For the other three remaining schools, the Maturidites, the ‘Ash’arites, and the Traditionalists (as in Ibn Taymiyyah), they all held that Allah was the god of nature and human history. And as race, like anything else man-made, developed in the conduit of human history, it has been and is shaped by His Decree [إرادة كونية]. Ironically, given that the Salafis [who would claim Ibn Taymiyyah], the Sufis [who would claim the ‘Ash’arites], and the neo-Traditionalists [who would also claim either Ibn Taymiyyah or the ‘Ash’arites], I find it hard if not theologically problematic to hold to these claims of false-universals, abstractions, and denial of the legitimacy of race as an important construct in the role human development. To deny race is to deny the important role it played in Islam’s development and its place within God’s jurisdiction.

    In conclusion, until modern Muslims become aware of just how modern they are – all claims to tradition aside – they will continue to be rendered immobile and irrelevant in modernity. They will continue to fall prey to the pitfalls and diversions of modernity. In essence, Muslims in modernity will become increasingly more modern, not traditional (if that truly is their goal), the more they adhere to (false) universalisms, if they continue to heedlessly plod down this path. I do agree that the way out is the Tradition: namely the wont of the Prophet [s], his Sunnah, and of course, the Book of Allah. But if these traditions are not engaged, engineered, and practiced in context, rooted in historical realities [history means now, not just the past!], then we will remain mired in a quagmire of our own making. And lastly, do not think these issues of false universalisms and abstractions are restricted to the American context. They are the problems that have hamstrung Muslims globally for the last two hundred-plus years [I would argue that false universalisms and abstractions are two of the main axioms that modernity spins on]. There is no safe zone, no sanctuary, no asylum from modernity. Either we as Muslims will succeed in resurrecting our tradition or our puppet show will come to a close.

  30. AA-

    Marc, from what I was able to decipher from your last comment (smile), I do believe we have more in common than it seems. The struggle of BlackAmericans to carve their own space as Muslims and Americans and Blacks is not necessarily within the scope of my critique, although I will maintain my concerns of an infant Muslim community establishing its identity in an environment extremely hostile to Islamic values. The compromises, instead of being seen as temporary lapses, most likely will be carried on into adulthood and become part of its character.

    Now, go back to retirement and busy yourself with real world issues. 🙂

  31. I find it curious that in many ways, modern Muslim universalists (I prefer this over Islamists as that word has been stripped of any contextual meaning), despite their professed distain for all things innately Western, could not be more Western if they tried.

    As-salaamu ‘alaykum Marc. Have you ever read Maryam Jameelah’s An Appraisal of Some Aspects of Maulana Sayyid Ala Maudoodi’s Life and Thought? I think you’ll enjoy it. I’ll e-mail it to you if you don’t have a copy.

  32. @Omar, و عليكم السلام
    I have not read her article. If you don’t mind sending it, I would be interested to check it out.

    Jazakallah,

  33. I think I know what you are thinking

    You have absolutely no idea what I am writing about. In fact, I question your legitimacy as a real person. Your comments have something of a “troll” effect to them. However, I will indulge your accusations for the moment and ask you to substantiate your claims that I stated that Hamza Yusef or any other Whiteamerican Muslim was, “a wanna be”. You may have a look if you wish, but you will not find it there. That is merely slander.

    Another observation:

    If America is ever truly going to be post-racial as it strives

    Your assumption here is astounding and only makes my case that Muslims in modernity have fallen prey to the tendency of making grand, sweeping abstractions. Just who is it in America that you imagine is “striving” towards a post-racial America? There has been a strain of thought in the media that post-Obama election, America is trying to de-racialize, but if you knew anything at all about race in America you would know that many of us – black, white, Asian or otherwise – have no interest in “moving beyond race” because we do not view race as the issue. Not only is your observation completely off-base, it is thoroughly offensive. In other words, America is not a monolith.

    I am not sure where you conjured up Shaykh Hamza Yusef’s name from but he was not mentioned in my article. I know Shaykh Hamza personally and have had several private discussions with him on a variety of topics. I say this not to add any credence to myself but to demonstrate how completely out-of-wack your words are.

    I think you think Islam is a sanctuary for Black people against white oppression

    Apparently you think a lot of things. Unfortunately, very little of it, as it pertains to my article, has any validity. In fact, you have miraculously articulated what I was saying above, only you reversed it. It is blackness in the American context that is a safe haven for Islam. I am confident you probably won’t understand this but I state it for posterity sake. If you don’t get this by now, I highly recommend you stop reading this post. It is simply a waste of your time.

    America is a snapshot of the whole world

    False. Universals. Abstractionist theory in work as we speak. What could more hegemonic than that statement: he American context is just the same as any other context.

    I am white, I am around white muslims all day long and you have no black claim on the Islam franchise

    Not only do you reveal your lack of understanding of the conversation, you reveal that you may indeed still harbor some racist tendencies yourself. Huh…

    I pray that Allah makes us the people of understanding and removes the compounded ignorance that plagues us. Amin.

  34. “For many Whiteamericans, they feel Islam is antithetical to their whiteness.”

    Racist? Certainly a superficial analysis if not a swipe at Islam being about color as much as connecting with the Divine.

    Don’t mean to drag you from your retirement but I have a small bone to pick on this one and the whole race thing in general. If America is ever truly going to be post-racial as it strives (and succeeds in some cases among high school age kids I have seen) to be, than all communities are going to have to look past overt racism. And yes, that even includes Blacks.

    Black people from other countries in Europe and around the world were SHOCKED when we elected Barack Obama. Think what you want of the man, it makes no difference here since I am only saying that most of America can get past race as much as any country in the world can.

    Next is Islam and race. Tell Hamza Yusef he is a wanna be. He must not know that some skin colors are more natively Islamic. It is absurd.

    I think I know what you are thinking. I think you think Islam is a sanctuary for Black people against white oppression. It isn’t. Lots of Arabs despise Africans. And America is a snapshot of the whole world. We have no monoculture like an Arab emirate. America will never have a khaliphate as long as it retains its “American-ness.” That would be antithetical.

    In any case, I am white, I am around white muslims all day long and you have no black claim on the Islam franchise.

    Sorry.

  35. Marc

    You never addressed the question as stated and just went off on your high horse and had an obtuse wigout.

    Perhaps it is good that you are not blogging anymore.

    I will give you one example of how bipolar you are and leave it at that.

    YOU SAID: “For many Whiteamericans, they feel Islam is antithetical to their whiteness.”

    You never addressed this in the above because it is outrageous and absurd. So you look for ways to divert the issue.

    I SAID: Someone alert Hamza Yusef (who you know personally, ewwww, BFD) that Islam is antithetical to whiteness.

    I was merely an example. The fact that you cannot read it as such means you are are unbalanced and need to sort your feelings out before you attempt to lead others or start vicious attacks against others like Eteraz and post their emails, presumably, so people can contact him or others who have earned your “righteous indignation” and attack these people at your bidding.

    Sir, you are a mess.

    Retirement could not come too soon.
    Play scholar all you want.
    You are a complete wiggout.

  36. Imagine I said, “For many blacks, christianity is antithetical to their blackness.”
    Racist. You’d never stand for it, ridiculous. You should erase this comment as well.

  37. Can you read? Did you read what I wrote? I don’t think so. You showed up to this blog post with what you wanted to write already in mind. I just happened to be an easy target for your insecurities. Perhaps you should pick articles and arguments you have the capacity to understand before you lash out. I will try once again, God knows why, to explain it to you.

    There are two variables here:

    • How Islam is.
    • How Islam is perceived.

    My comment about whiteness addresses this issue in a social, historical context. Let me explain before you start breathin’ heavy.

    As a Divine Reality, as you pointed out, Islam is a message, a way of life, for all people, regardless of their skin color, language, etc. There is a difference, however, in terms of how that is played out on the ground from place to place. That was what I spoke of earlier when I drew a comparison between the reactions of the Quraysh to the message of Islam and those of the dominant cultural in America [white America]. Because Islam was not grounded in their social historical reality, they rejected it. And their methods of rejection were precisely in the language of it not being Arab! Remember, we’re talking about a jāhilī aesthetic here. Much in the same manner, Whiteamericans, as it has been observed not only by myself but by other Muslim scholars and social scientists, reject Islam not because they object to its message exclusively, but mainly, they object to its messenger [little “m”, not Messenger of God], objections that are rooted in their cultural and racial understanding of what they perceive Islam to be. If you wish, you may even think of it like this: many non-Blackamericans have issues with Islam because they feel they are committing not only racial apostasy, but civilizational apostasy as well. I never said that there was any credence or truth to this, at least on an ultimate reality. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the reasons why certain groups of people categorically reject Islam in the modern age, and why others may remain open to it. Being that Whiteamericans have no historical niche in Islam, this goes a long way to explaining how they think about Islam. It also gives us Muslims a tremendous amount of food for thought such that we may try and re-think our approach to how we are presenting Islam to the broader social audience. Where you have come to the conclusion that I am secretly [or not so secret now!] a black nationalist, you could not be father from the truth.

    Imagine I said, “For many blacks, christianity is antithetical to their blackness.”
    Racist. You’d never stand for it, ridiculous

    By having to say “if”, then yes, essentially it is ridiculous. However, if one did not have to say “if”, as is the historical case with whiteness [the American construct not all peoples of European descent], then it is not ridiculous. You are not paying close attention to the details here. I have drawn our attention to the fact that black folks in American have a history with Islam [this is a very simple summary of the complicated historical way in which that unfolded] and white folks don’t. This isn’t a knock against Whiteamericans, just a matter of how history unfolded. And remember – I am not saying that Whiteamericans are correct in these assumptions, but stating it is how they perceive Islam that is just as important as to how Islam “really is”.

    Another theme, not only of this article, but of this entire blog, was to find ways to articulate Islam to the American public, new creative ways of interacting with them and presenting Islam to America in a responsible and truth fashion. That is why I objected to the heavy-handed language of Naeem’s and Yursil’s posts because I felt it only had the potential to keep stale arguments afloat at a time when Muslims are in desperate need of ways to not just condemn America, but to find a way to make use of some of its good qualities as well. Now let me make this one thing very clear: my writings, which have often taken a focus on Islam in the Blackamerican community, have done so because I am concerned about the American Muslim community, black, white, or other. As I said above, blackness has served as a sanctuary for Islam in the American context. Many American scholars from Dr. Ameenah McCloud, Dr. Amir al-Islam, to Dr. Sherman Jackson, have all spoken on this topic. And being that black folks are the only indigenous American group who have embraced Islam to some significance [some statistics say roughly 8%-12% of Blackamericans are Muslim], then to protect the legacy and authenticity of Islam in its black expression is to protect Islam in American in the broader context for all Muslims. I want to see Islam succeed in the black community for two reasons:

    • I am black and I love my people and I believe Islam has the answers for what plagues them.
    • I want Islam to succeed in American, to appeal to all Americans, so that Muslims can live in this society without fear of repression or discrimination.

    Just like how the Prophet [s] saw that if Islam was going to succeed in Arabia, he would have to find creative ways to create psychological spaces such that the barriers that stood between his people and ultimate salvation, barriers rooted in culture, race, and history, could be broken down.

    By Allah, my heart is lifted when I go to the masjid and I see Americans of all stripes coming into Islam. In the last few months I have met young Whiteamericans, Chineseamericans, as well as Blackamericans enter into Islam. This gives me hope that the message can indeed get out to the people. And I ask Allah to make Islam successful in this land. But I will not and cannot ignore the reality and the way in which Allah has chosen to present Islam to the American people. If it is His hukm that Blackamericans should be the doorway through which Islam might be presented to the broader public, then al-Hamdulillah. I am not so foolish to conflate this to raising black folks to some “chosen people” status. Rather, it is being critically responsible to recognize how Allah is working and make the best use of that.

    “Which of the two favors of your Lord will you deny?”

    I hope, I sincerely hope, you can see the points I raised here and find the real meanings in them.

  38. “For many blacks, christianity is antithetical to their blackness”

    I would not think this is a racist statement. Well, I don’t know if “many” is the right word, but a number of NGE, afrocentric, atheist/leftist etc Blackamericans have expressed this point of view. I don’t want to cause offense so I will refrain from quoting the hiphop lyrics that come to mind.

  39. When I wrote that I was thinking of Dead Prez’ “Assassination” and I didn’t want to swear on your blog (haha) but the idea that “blackness” as antithetical to Christianity is also there in Brand Nubian’s “Ain’t No Mystery,” KMD’s “Preacher Porkchop”, and NGE-influenced hiphop more generally. In my slice of New York in the early to mid 90s, I would say that this was even the prevailing view among Blackamericans, and it also led some people toward Islam. Anyway, I suspect “Buzz Kill” is much younger so this ancient history may be unfamiliar to him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.