The following khutbah was delivered at Middle Ground Muslim Center on January 1st, 2016.
“The ‘aqidah (theology) of modernity has changed to make the ‘abd (the slave/worshipper) the Rabb (Lord) and the Rabb the ‘abd.”
The following is an account from one of the many counseling sessions I do in my role as imam. In this session we discussed some questions regarding qadr (often translated/understood as “predestination” but whose root is much closer to “measuring”) and God’s omnipotence, particularly in the face of human tragedy. The results from the session were found to be useful for this particular person and per their suggestion and permission, I’m reposting here.
Omnipotence as we often imagine it, as fragile and limited beings, is akin to a driver who has a stifling set of hands on the wheel and as thus, doesn’t let anyone else drive or participate.
Let us imagine another type of omnipotence: your child (4-years old) invites friends over to your house to play. In the process of playing they make a mess, spill pop (soda for Midwesterners), drop food on the floor, maybe even break a plate. Oh, and they also get into a fight. But is any of this out of your jurisdiction or control as a parent? No. Why? Because you have the power to clean it up and resolve their disputes. Likewise, even in the face of terrible tragedy, God has the capacity to take account (qadr) and to set affairs straight: reward or punishment as well as mete out justice and give recompense.
It is strange sometimes that we are unwilling to apply the same findings about the natural laws of the universe to other problem sets. Perhaps this is the failed results of attempting to divide life into sacred and profane realms. For instance we find all objects have mass, density, and gravitational pull. The larger, more dense an object is, the greater its gravitational pull. Likewise, the gravity of a group of 4-year olds playing, making a mess, breaking a plate and bickering over toys is trivial. But in the minds of those children, it is grave indeed. Thus, a parent is the suitable judge to arbitrate and adjudicate this scenario. Scaled up, one may understand who God is, what life is all about, how to process and compartmentalize life’s joys and sorrows, and ultimately know that nothing is outside of God’s capacity to arbitrate and adjudicate. As God says in the Qur’an, chapter 57, verses 1-2:
سَبَّحَ لِلَّهِ ما فِي السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ وَهُوَ العَزيزُ الحَكيمُ
لَهُ مُلكُ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ يُحيي وَيُميتُ ۖ وَهُوَ عَلىٰ كُلِّ شَيءٍ قَديرٌ
“Whatever is within the heavens and the earth reflects the glory of God, and He is the Powerful and the Wise.  To Him belongs the control of the heavens and the earth. He alone grants life, He alone grants death, for He has power [qadr/qadir] over all things. ”
Over the years [16 of them for me now] I have seen a disparagingly absence of manners amongst the Muslims. We have no couth in how we talk, critique and debate one another. In a recent post I came across, I felt compelled to write a little piece. My apologies if it seems to border on the polemical but I felt it needed saying anyway.
So here we have it. Muslim vs. Muslim in a virtual cage match. I have observed many of these volleys and have tried to put it to pen and pixel. It’s not an easy task. But, here ‘goes.
I think one aspect that some of the critics of Eteraz miss or don’t even look at is why does Eteraz say that things that he does. Why do “liberal Muslims” say the things they do. To be sure, there are some who may have fallen into the trap of post-Enlightenment religious thinking and that is to make religion subservient to personal desires – in other words, jettison whatever is inconvenient or doesn’t reinforce our ill-perceived independence of God.
But Muslims today are under tremendous pressures from the dominant society to author and practice a version of Islam that caters to their fears, prejudices and proclivities and not towards what Muslims think is pleasing to God. As Muslims, we should be very much cognizant of this and take this into account when we have truck with our fellow brothers and sisters.
Before I continue, I should point out that I have not agreed with everything that Ali Eteraz has written. In truth, I have not read many of his posts in a while as I feel out of touch with what it was he was writing – but to say that he’s not entitled to write it, well, I think we have to tolerate and debate in a way that would uphold the ethics and standards of our Beloved Example. Simply trashing Ali Eteraz and making comparisons between him and Shaytan is in my opinion, ridiculous, unwarranted and uncouth.
But the critique doesn’t stop there. Above all, and I have seen this everywhere, there is absolutely NO LOVE BETWEEN THE MUSLIMS! The last two times I saw Dr. Sherman Jackson, he spoke about the woeful absence of love in the Muslim community. I couldn’t agree more. I have read here and in other places the critiques on Ali [and I believe many of them are warranted at least in the spirit of debate] but I have not seen one person offer to help him [if he is so satanically misguided], take the time out to correct his conduct or – aqueedah or what ever it is that many of his critics feel is awry. This type of mean-spirited, name bashing is NOT THE SUNNAH and is NOT OF THE CHARACTER OF THE PROPHET! I would love to have the opportunity to sit down with Ali Eteraz and discuss some of his points and maybe exchange a few words and see where he’s coming from. But I will not trash the man’s name publicly like so and NEITHER SHOULD ANY OF YOU! This goes not simply for Ali Eteraz, but for the correspondences I see all over the blogosphere.
Am I saying that none of us have the right to have a disagreement with Ali Eteraz? No. But it should be done in the best way.
We need the love. We need to get it back. And we need to get it back NOW.
And God knows best…
– and other collected thoughts on the MANA conference.
So, here we are, a full week after the successful MANA conference and we’re already starting to see the mud slinging around the Muslim blogosphere. I was beginning to think real change had in fact come from this conference. But don’t mistake my sarcasm for critiquing MANA. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In fact, I would like to again extend my thanks to MANA for hosting their first conference. God willing, this is just the first of many more successful conferences.
So what should we expect from a conference such as this MANA conference? Should we emerge from it to find the streets paved with gold? Or as Conan so once eloquently put it: “to hear the lamentations of the women”? Perhaps – or perhaps not. I will have to say in defense of MANA I certainly encountered many happy and motivated faces of those who attended the various workshops. And while I didn’t attend any myself I have it on good account that they were well constructed and of value.
It is precisely that last word, value, that keeps bouncing around and around inside my head as I ponder our current condition. If we do not value ourselves then I think very little will change. And from what Dr. Jackson had to say during his speech, that seemed to be one of his underpinning points – we as Blackamerican Muslims are in a unique vantage point, one where Allah has chosen us to be in this spot, this place, and this time, as the receptacles and carriers of Islam to this part of the world at this point in Time and History. So the enduring question is: what we gon’ do?
But to bring us back to the opening point, I’ll speak about some reactions I’ve observed about the conference. One in particular criticism smacks of one of the very issues the conference sought to address: disengagement. Disengagement is the word best word I’ve been able to find to describe the current mood of many Muslims around the country. Instead of seeing Islam as a system of access, it’s been co-opted as an illegitimate excuse to not participate. To help render my point perhaps such colloquialisms will sound familiar:
“Naw, akh. I quit my kafir job – it was too much dunya.”
“I dropped out of college to get a real education in the deen.”
And the perennial crowd pleaser
“I’m going overseas to study in Yemen or Syria so I can get that haqq.”
These should all be familiar to many of us. And while they might produce a giggle or two out of some of us, I believe they speak to an undercurrent in the Blackamerican Muslim pathology that continues to hinder and plague many of our communities from emerging out of the quagmire and starting to produce and participate. In fact, my biggest criticism of these folks is that that is all they do! Arm chair criticisms seldom produce anything and are for the sole benefit for lazy Negroes to sluff off, if you can pardon my French. It is not my aim to take potshots at my fellow Muslims but I do believe we have to starting calling figs, figs. In a conversation with a close friend of mine today, we both lamented at the criticisms that were leveled at the conference, specifically in reference to MANA inviting members of the Nation of Islam to the conference. The meat and potatoes of their argument rests in the fact that these people do not have the correct ‘aqueedah and therefore we should just toss the baby out with the bathwater [again?]. How dangerous and slanderous is this. MANA is the only organization that I’ve seen that has taken serious steps to extend the Nation an olive branch to try and bridge the gap in terms of dogma, but also to say, “hey, we as Blackamerican Muslims wish to express our solidarity with our fellow Black brothers and sisters and that we’d like to address the various maladies that attacking our communities”. Please note this: I am not a member of MANA. Nor do I speak for them. Rather, this is how I interpreted their gesture. But to dive in a bit further about this notion of correct ‘aqueedah, let’s ask our selves: “Hmm”, what would Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم do?”
Despite the efforts of many a pundit on the left and right, from within and without Islam, Islam is not an ahistorical process or entity. It’s inception was born and lived out in the context of 7th Century Arabia. Its characters and actors were real human beings who lived through a lot of real History. Yet, Muslims themselves tend to be woefully ignorant of this fact. The cultural and historical setting of 7th Century must be fully appreciated to fully comprehend all that was going on to understand Islam itself. Alas, this appreciation has been misapplied to a crude mimicking at best. In other words, the setting of Muhammad’s 7th Century Arabia is routinely ignored and instead we have Muslims [Blackamerican in the case of this article] in the 21st Century trying to live like Bedouins, having completely missed the examples that God has tried to lay out for us. Examples? Dress code is interpreted to mean one must wear thobes, robes, and turbans to be “authentically Muslim” – for those of us of opt to done a suit are condemned for imitating the kafir. Moral rectitude? Honesty? Had work? These have fallen by the way side or are totally ignored all together. How else can you explain large populations of Muslims that live complacent lives in areas that are dominated by poverty, crime, and drugs. And let’s not even toss in the Muslims who are participants in the above activities.
But this disconnection goes beyond wardrobe selection. The Prophet himself is severely misunderstood. Muslim education is sorely lacking in providing Muslims an accurate, historical account for his life. In a recent criticism, one Muslim found fault with MANA for having Akbar Muhammad on the panel discussion. The brother’s criticism was thus:
I think to myself: What the heck is a man that OPENLY says that Fard Muhammad is his god who appeared in Detroit in the 1930’s (for those wanting proof of their current beliefs it is here) and that a “Messenger” came after Muhammad ibn Abdullah (pbuh), doing here on a panel for Muslims that believe in tawheed and the finality of Prophethood and Messengership?
The brother continued:
This was a tragic and completely avoidable sore point of the MANA Conference Weekend. I must also admit that I was appalled and saddened that Imam Siraj referred to Elijah as Honorable. It was all very disappointing and I was hurt to witness this spectacle.
If we return to the days wherein we lacked clarity regarding tawheed and shirk, we will certainly accomplish nothing even if we solve the many undeniable social problems plaguing us.
Sadly, in the end, Siraj lent legitimacy to an irrelevant and illegitimate (not to mention weird) movement.
And concluding with:
Finally, I can only imagine how alienated white Muslims must have felt with the invitation of a man who believes that whites were created in a laboratory by a big headed scientist.
Taking it back to my point about the historical Muhammad [pbuh], how can we explain the Prophet’s behavior in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah or his invitation that extended to the Quraysh? Indeed, it is an incontrovertible truth that the Prophet’s Message could not have been delivered without the aid and help of shirk-committing, idol-worshipping, kafir Makkans! Yes!, indeed the Prophet collaborated with these “kafirs” on numerous occasions – his flight from Makkah was aided by a boding, idol-worshiping Makkan! And of course there’s the Prophet inviting the idol-worshipping Arabs even when Islam was in a position of power and authority. Never did the Prophet ever make is Message “an Islam thang”. When one steps back and looks at the Prophet as a man, as a human being, one theme that runs through is life is that he was a man who was truly troubled about his people and loved his people and wanted the best for his people. Now if the Prophet could engage in this, and he most certainly had the “correct ‘aqueedah” [for if the Prophet ain’t got it, who do?], then why can’t we do the same? As Blackamerican Muslims, we should feel free to invite, engage and work with members of our community, even if they don’t have the “correct” ‘aqueedah. In my opinion, this is just plain niggardly. And as my friend poignantly pointed out, “what have you done to help out your fellow man/neighbor” in comparison to what the Nation has done? ‘Aqueedah or not, Akbar Muhammad is someone who cares about the plight of Blacks – can you say the same? This isn’t poker and all deeds are cards on the table – no bluffing.
The bewilderment continues as I examine the brother’s post. Imam Siraj’s use of the title, “Honorable”, seems to be a point of contention. But when was the Prophet ever ungracious, even to people that killed his loved ones, slandered his wives, and tried to take his life? Never! If I address the Pope as his Holiness, does this mean that I recognize him as divine or that I believe Jesus is the son of God? This 3rd grade analysis has got to go! And I don’t know how this in any implicates any of the MANA members in condoning shirk. As a member of an interfaith counsel, if I sit and talk with a bishop about improving Christian-Muslim relations, does this mean I’ve condoned the Trinity? More holes than Swiss cheese. Siraj’s engaging Akbar in no way compromises his tawheed or Islam. And since when did a Black conference worry about alienating [just] white folks? I suppose that a Chinese, Japanese, or Mexican Muslim might be equally uncomfortable but I guess those are just throw away groups [?]. And why is it that we as Black folks cannot engage on a subject that might have great benefit for our community without being labeled as nationalists or abandoning our religion?
But let me temper my ending words here; I do not wish the brother any ill will. Indeed, it is my hope we can find common ground. And we need not look any further than our Prophet’s sunnah for the example of finding common ground? If there’s one message that I came away with from the conference it is this: we’ve got a lot more work to do. The road continues down the bend. No rest for the weary. I pray God grants us a beneficial understanding of our noble master and Prophet and that his Message was not in vain – that it sinks into our hearts and minds and allows us to partake in greater engagement and like him, knock down all barriers and return all of our hopes, fears, likes and dislikes to God and not resting them on the proclivities of any other.
And God knows best.