#MiddleGroundPodcast – Those Who Have No Hope In Meeting Us

A short excerpt from Fajr Club, a weekly event/class at Middle Ground on the weekends. Here, I discuss a segment from the tenth chapter of the Qur’an, Surah Yunus.

إِنَّ الَّذينَ لا يَرجونَ لِقاءَنا وَرَضوا بِالحَياةِ الدُّنيا وَاطمَأَنّوا بِها وَالَّذينَ هُم عَن آياتِنا غافِلونَ أُولٰئِكَ مَأواهُمُ النّارُ بِما كانوا يَكسِبونَ

“As for those who do not expect to meet Us and are content with the life of the dunya/wordly life and at rest in it, and those who are heedless of Our Signs their shelter will be the Fire because of what they earned.”Qur’an, 10: 7

Can A Humanist Sustainability Work?

Edward Humes Garbology is a fascinating read. In it, he points to numerous challenges plaguing modern man, namely the issue of waste and how it not only degrades the natural environment but actually cases harm to humans. I know many secular humanists who hold to the notion that, to quote Matt Damon’s botanist, Mark Watney, “I’m gonna have to have to science the shit out of this”.

But what’s most striking is that it’s science, or perhaps more accurately, scientism, that got us into this issue in the first place. I make the designation of scientism, in that it is precisely that humanist strain of science which has sought to divorce itself from religious and spiritual ethics. Humanism, according to dictionary definition is “a system of thought criticized as being centered on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the unintegrated and conditioned nature of the individual”. It is specifically this “autonomous self”, detached from the natural world — through its “rational” mechanics — which gives license to itself to treat the world as mere objects, having no sign or significance beyond their molecules and atoms.

So how, precisely, are we going to science the feces out of our conundrum when the malady points to a much deeper diagnosis: schizophrenic god-complex. Schizophrenia in that modern man is caught between expelling God and attempting to be God himself. Thus far, the “science-ing the shit out of this” theory doesn’t seem to hold water.

The Vacuum of Choosing Happiness Over Meaning

“Mankind does not strive for happiness; only the Englishman does.”Friedrich Nietzsche

In the episode of the Middle Ground Podcast, A Return To Meaning, I discussed the quandary of modern humans and their shortsighted tendency to prioritize happiness over meaning. What’s intriguing about this topic is that Nietzsche, one of the West’s most influential philosophers, is sadly only know for his statement, “God is dead”. But even in this it is most telling that in an age of truncated statements, most of those who cheer Nietzsche’s statement do so without having read what his commentary on the statement was, namely that once religion/belief in God was removed, mankind would spiral off into despair, a result of meaning no longer being a pursuit1. Where once a believer could contrast his life on earth to a life in the Here-After, now we are left with contrasting our lives with objects: How we possess them (always needing the latest gadget, for example) and how many of them we possess. In a further turn of irony, Nietzsche, an atheist, turned to his “Übermensch” theory as a way for modern man to make his own values to establish meaning. The problem with Nietzsche’s Übermensch was that he felt it was out of reach; it was in a way a kind of utopia, the place which literally “does not exist”. In many ways Nietzsche, in his attempt to resolve the gaze of abyss2, created a perspective that drew upon a religious cosmology. There seems to be no escaping religion — even if only in the realm of imagination — for the atheist.

Nietzsche’s prescient insight into the challenges we face today should leave modern Muslims with much to contemplate. As I mentioned in the podcast, some of this can be seen in how increasing numbers of Muslims are prioritizing emotions (chiefly, happiness) over meaning, leading many to feel a loss of faith. For the one who pursue happiness, they may find themselves incessantly departing but never arriving. For according to Nietzsche, meaning is what we really long for.

Notes

1. Hendricks, Scotty. “‘God is Dead’: What Nietzsche Really Meant”. Big Think, 12 Aug. 2016, http://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/what-nietzsche-really-meant-by-god-is-dead.

2. Aphorism #146. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Trans. Ian Johnston. Beyond Good And Evil: Prelude To A Philosophy Of The Future. Arlington, Richer Resources Publications, 2009.

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.

Conflating the Conservative Movement & The Republican Party

I have said several times since the candidacy of Donald Trump seemed a viable option, it would be important for American Muslims—and Americans in general—to understand the difference between these two entities, conservatives and the GOP, both in terms of their structures and objectives.

Lee Edwards, noted conservative author, wrote the following in the winter 2017 edition of National Affairs,

“The modern conservative movement is an intellectual movement founded some 60 years ago on ideas drawn from American history and articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Its founders include intellectuals like F. A. Hayek, Russell Kirk, and William F. Buckley, Jr. The Republican Party is a 160-year-old political party dedicated to winning elections often, but not always, based upon ideals of limited government and free enterprise. Its heroes are Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, and Ronald Reagan.”

Lee’s distinction is important if American Muslims are going to (a) differentiate between these two so they might (b) find some common ground to understand and potentially work with conservatives. While not a card carrying conservative myself, I can find ample congruence between my Islam and my blackness with some of the writings of Kirk, for example. Liberalism, the counterpart to Lee’s conservative movement, provides a number of structural and objective challenges itself to Muslim morals and ethics that I feel Muslims have not adequately responded to. To go further, given the current climate off anti-Muslim bigotry (amidst a broader proto-fascist bigotry we see developing within Trump’s administration), the Left will most probably court further recruits from amongst American Muslims, further indoctrinating them in totalitarian liberal philosophies that are not simply against their religious principles, but in fact threaten the very continuity of Islam in America due to three primary factors: liberalism (a given), secularism, and scientific atheism.

These reflections here may seem disconcerting, even inappropriate, particularly from the perspective of immigrant Muslims who now feel that they are the targets of the Trump administration. But it is precisely the selective outrage and respectability politics many non-Blackamerican Muslims are currently perpetuating that I want to address. It is in my opinion that the Republican Party, vs. intellectual American conservatives, who are vehemently opposed to Islam and Muslims, for precisely the reasons Lee articulates: bigotry, especially on the white Right, wins elections. That is not to say that there is also not a strain of white supremacy or eurocentrism in the oeuvre of conservative thinkers, but I do feel there is more potential for reaching mutual understanding and recognition on one caveat: American Muslims are successful at de-centering the narrative of Islam from one focused on immigration and foreignness to a genuine commitment to American realities and the future of America’s wellbeing. I believe this can best be done by articulating this re-centering on dealing with two enduring American problems: racism (the legacy and continued impact of white supremacy and American public policy, especially on people of color) and poverty.

With a newfound sense of purpose, American Muslims may actually find allies amongst the conservative movement. I do not pretend that this will be simple or expedient. It will require, first and foremost, an engagement of the American conservative intellectual tradition by American Muslim leaders and scholars. And it will need to impart upon rank-and-file Muslims a sense of bone fide Muslimness as Americans! Like any partnership, if Muslim Prophetic history is to serve as guide, such a cooperation must be based on religious principles that will deliver more than simple accommodation or tolerance: it has to deliver American Muslims a deep and enduring sense of satisfaction in their lives here, for generations to come, and for the Next Life.