Muslims in America – What Comes After Resistance?

The American Muslim community is currently embroiled in a struggle against the injustices being perpetrated by the Trump administration. As to whether these actions are truly injust or simply a matter of selective outrage, fueled by a model minority narrative, remains to be seen. But one question which hovers over American Muslims is what is their fate, post-resistance?

In reading Daniel L. Fountain’s Slavery, Civil War and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity 1830-1870, one is inspired to, drawing upon the religious history of black folks in America, ask the question: will American Muslims adopt the world-views, mores, and religion[s] of their “masters”? By this I mean to compare the history of African Americans and their conversion to Christianity to American Muslims and their future conversion to liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism. In order to make this inquiry clear we must look at why and how Africans and their progeny converted to Christianity.

Anecdotal historical accounts of African religious life in antebellum America feeds us a narrative in which African slaves and their progeny converted to Christianity during their tenure as slaves. From this perspective we are left with the assumption that Christianity played a major role in the lives of slaves. However, recent scholarship gives a more convincing insight into the reality that Christianity did not come to play a significant role in the majority of African American lives until after emancipation. According to Fountain (amongst others),

“more than 60 percent of the slaves surveyed indicated that they were not Christians while enslaved (emphasis mine)1.”

My point being here is to challenge the notion that Christianity was a form of slave resistance. Instead, I argue that, since Christianity did not gain significant ground amongst African Americans until post-emancipation, it was more a means of assimilation than resistance. Fountain quotes nineteenth century physician and all around social agitator, Thomas Low Nichol, as saying,

“[t]he Southern people are eminently religious, and their negroes follow their example (emphasis mine)2.”

Whereas in the nineteenth century, the religion of America — and those who stood in position to impart “freedom” to slaves — was Christianity, the religions of America today are increasingly liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism, and thus, my concern is, will American Muslims embrace the religions of those who stand ready yet again to impart “freedom” to American Muslims? While some have balked at the heavy-handed tone in a recent article penned to American Muslim activists, I am equally concerned about the temptation for American Muslims to go down the same road as their previous American brethren did. In fact, as Fountain argues, it was,

“the expectation and delivery of freedom [being] the leading factor for African American conversion to Christianity3.”

The question remains: have the descendants of African slaves gained freedom and have their expectations been met? Many would argue that true freedom, the ability for self-determination, has not arrived yet. And likewise, in light of liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism (what I will term here as scientism), can these philosophies fulfill their promises to American Muslims4? For it is precisely the same gambit, the same offer, and the same temptation, I see American Muslims engaged in both in terms of embracing liberalism and the like, but also in an articulation of Islam that is pitched as resistance, and nothing more. If, quoting Fountain again, “under slavery, Christianity … did not meet most slaves’ needs … most did not convert”5 then what of an Islam that does not meet Muslims needs, particularly as Americans? It is here I believe most of the hard work needs to be done and thus should be the primary focus of scholars, for it is also the reason why so many Muslims, particularly the youth, look for truth-claims (even false ones) elsewhere6.

Resources 

1. Fountain, Daniel L. Slavery, Civil War and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity 1830-1870. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. Pg. ix.

2. Ibid., 7.

3. Ibid., 5.

4. Jay Tolson, in the Fall 2016 edition of The Hedgehog Review, writes, “scientists began to wonder uneasily about whether scientific progress was compatible with scientific truth”. Tolson, Jay. “From the Editor”. The Hedgehog Review. http://iasc-culture.org/THR/index.php.

5. Fountain, 5.

6. Manley, Marc. “Between Political Theories and Truth-Claims: American Muslims and Liberalism”. Marc Manley – Imam At Large. www.marcmanley.com, 21 Jan. 2017.

What’s Good For The Goose…?

…Seems to not be equally as good for the gander when applied to American-Muslim scholarship. I have, over the last twenty-plus years, noticed a tendency for Muslims to foster a number of bewildering exceptions when it comes to America, the latest being as it relates to American-Muslim scholarship.  Case in point was a recent Facebook discussion about a noted American-Muslim scholar. The poster had stated that, “with a brother like this that’s within our mist there is no need to call 10,000 miles to ask a question.” The conversation that ensued highlighted a number of intriguing and disturbing conclusions about the veracity and authority of American-Muslim scholarship. I want to make clear, for the record, that I am not singling out these people as a means of retaliation but rather the incident brought back to my mind something I’ve wanted to write about for sometime. This was just an opportunity to do so.

What struck me foremost was the assumption that American-Muslim scholars, while being adept in the social sciences or perhaps even descriptive theology, they are presumed deficient in matters related to jurisprudence (fiqh). The scholar in question mentioned in the Facebook post is a noted scholar with more than 30 years in the field of Islamic studies. I am curious as to what would provoke such a response? What would justify such an assumption? There seemed little evidence to support this claim and scant evidence was provided. Instead, this accusation seemed more of “a hunch,” based on the non-over-seas-ness of American-Muslim scholars.

To be sure, no one scholar, American or foreign, will have an answer, or more importantly a solution for every problem. Any scholar worth his or her salt will confess to have strengths and weakness. Areas of familiarity and areas where they are not one hundred percent confident. But what is striking here is that when American-Muslims wish to assert that there are qualified American scholars (plural here, not just one exceptional person), there flaws are accentuated whereas the reverse is not done so with scholars overseas. There is no litmus test for many (though not all) brown- or olive-skinned foreign-born, foreign-educated and foreign-minded scholars who have also, curiously enough, not demonstrated any credentials to speak on matters pertaining to Islam in general (beyond them being called “shaykh”) and Islam in America in particular. I feel that either we should be fair and allow American-Muslim scholars the same leniency as their over-seas counterparts, placing the same faith in their hues or complexions, their titles, be it “shaykh”, “imam”, or even just “professor”, or come down just as hard on those scholars overseas for their lack of credentials as we are on our own home-grown scholars.

In the end, I am reminded of what the great 19th-/20th-Century thinker, W. E. B. DuBois, spoke of on the nature of double-consciousness, as is so clearly articulated in this double-standard:

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

And God knows best.

40 American Hadith – Hadith #2

Narrated by Abu Sa’id al-Khudri from Imam al-Suyuti’s al-Jami’ al-Saghir:

من حفظ على أمتي أربعين حديثا من سنتي أدخلته يوم القيامة في شفاعتي

“Whoever preserves forty hadith for my Ummah from my Sunnah, I will intercede for him on the Day of Judgment.”

The American Forty Hadith Project is a new effort to make Muslim scholarship not only available to the American Muslim (and non-Muslim) public, but to also make it speak to their reality. I hope to have this in a book format shortly so in the meantime, enjoy these podcasts:

Hadith #2

إن الدين النصيحة إن الدين النصيحة إن الدين النصيحة, قالوا لمن يا رسول الله؟ لله وكتابه ورسوله و أئمة المؤمنين وعامتهم و أئمة المسلمين وعامتهم

“Tamim al-Dari, may God be pleased with him, related, ‘al-Din is al-Nasihah [repeated three times].’ ‘In regards to whom O’ Messenger of God?’ ‘To God, to His Book, His Messenger, the leaders of the Believers and the rank-and-file as well as the leaders of the Muslims and the rank-and-file.'”

Recorded in Sunan Abu Dawud, #4944.

40 American Hadith – Hadith #1

Narrated by Abu Sa’id al-Khudri from Imam al-Suyuti’s al-Jami’ al-Saghir:

من حفظ على أمتي أربعين حديثا من سنتي أدخلته يوم القيامة في شفاعتي

“Whoever preserves forty hadith for my Ummah from my Sunnah, I will intercede for him on the Day of Judgment.”

The American Forty Hadith Project is a new effort to make Muslim scholarship not only available to the American Muslim (and non-Muslim) public, but to also make it speak to their reality. I hope to have this in a book format shortly so in the meantime, enjoy these podcasts:

Hadith #1

سألت عائشة رضي الله عنها ما كان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يصنع في بيته؟ قالت كان يكون في مهنة أهله تعني خدمة أهله. فإذا حضرت الصلاة خرج إلى الصلاة

“A’isha, may God be pleased with her, was asked, ‘In what way was the Prophet, may God send peace and blessings upon him, productive in his house?’ She replied, ‘He used to work for his family, meaning, he used to be in the service of his family. When the time for prayer came in, he would leave for prayer.'”

Recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari, #676.