Preservation of Reason – Moving Beyond Lexical Empiricism

“To the extent that regimes of normalized domination exist, clearly the preservation of ‘reason,’ [حفظ العقل] or ‘the ability to know,’ would have to go beyond the mere proscription of drugs and alcohol. For the ability to know is clearly affected by more than the essentially private acts of self-administered corruption of the mind. Indeed, regimes of normalized domination corrupt reason on a far grander scale and provide in many instances the very incentives for drug and alcohol abuse. In this context, hifz al-‘aql, if it is to be effective, would have to deal not simply with individuals but with political, social, cultural, educational, and economic institutions.” Sherman Jackson.

One of the great developments of Muslim thought has certainly been the system of classification known as maqasid al-Shari’ah, or roughly translated as the “broader aims and objectives of divinely-inspired law.” While not without its  contentions and controversies, it nonetheless has persevered to the present day and still manages to inform Muslim thought to a great extent. In the above quote from Sherman Jackson’s Literalism, Empiricism, and Induction, Dr. Jackson points out a key insight into the issues that challenge, and perhaps even plague, modern Muslims. Having been coerced into accepting textually- or scriptural-based rulings on a Muslims ability to navigate and understand their environment, this tendency has left many Muslims defenseless and agent-less against systems of “normalized domination.” It is no wonder that Muslim youth and those new to the religion continue to struggle in carving out dignified existences as Muslims. Their failures to do so are often chocked up to living in “kafir” societies and the like. Seldom are these conditions examined whereupon Muslims themselves may actually be the culprits as to why they fail to get their Islam up off the ground (not to speak of the centuries-long failures of Muslim societies and states to provide any real alternative to the Western status quo).

It’s this and other urgent subjects I hope to bring to light and discuss at the 2012 Winter Retreat in Boston: Divine Remedies, Islam’s Answers to Contemporary Issues. Register today.

Muslims Selling Alcohol To Muslims – The Blow Up

I know it seems shocking to many Muslims, especially those who are “new” to the religion that there are Muslims who would sell liquor to other Muslims or even sell liquor at all, but it’s true. I went through this shocking revelation myself not long after I had taken shahadah. “How could another Muslim selling alcohol when s/he knows it’s haram?” The question is not why would they (though, fairly, it is a good question) but rather, why do we put them, meaning foreign or ethnic Muslims, on such high pedestals? We, as American Muslims, and here I speak for those like me, converts, have had a long history of putting “ethnic” Muslims on very high pedestals – expecting great things from them, when in fact, they’re not better or worse than any of us. The decisions that led them down the road to come to America, to hide out, or perhaps “sell out”, is akin to what led us, American Muslims, to Islam. We all wanted a better life. But before I white wash this too much, let me get down to the nitty gritty.

In an article I recently read on MSN, it spoke of Muslim on Muslim violence over the selling of alcohol in Muslims neighborhoods. Specifically, Muslims attacking, vandalizing and striking out against other Muslims who are selling liquor in their neighborhoods. As I mentioned above, this is not a new phenomenon. In my thirteen going on fourteen years of being Muslim, I have prayed, sat next to and eaten with Muslims who have or still do sell liquor. We pray at the same masajid (mosques). We attend the same janaza’ (funerals). We live and die with one another each day. As a matter of fact, many of the buildings that were used as masajid were funded by Muslims who sold liquor – they were the only Muslims with money; without them, many of the masajid may have closed down. I am by no means defending these people. Just looking at the story from all sides.

Being from Detroit, I am all too familiar with a liquor store on every corner and a church on the other. You can buy alcohol in most stores for cheaper than one could by any kind of food item. And if one does that math, it is a profitable enterprise, albeit at the cost of a community’s life. Black people in urban areas are surrounded by poison. Cigarettes. Alcohol. Fast food (should check cashing be thrown into this sycophantic group as well?). And that’s the legal stuff. Not to mention drugs and prostitution. So when you have a group of people who come into these areas only to siphon off what little remains in terms of resources, yes, it is enraging. In the article, it states, “West Oakland, a predominantly black and poor section of the city where the vandalism took place, has 69 stores selling alcohol, 28 above the maximum number acceptable under a state standard that prescribes no more than one store for every 2,500 residents, according to anti-poverty group Urban Strategies Council.” The anger of black peoples in these areas should be easily understood. Easy access to drugs and alcohol exacerbates an already epidemic problem of violence and abuse in our urban areas. So for many blacks, not just Muslims who are black, these foreigners are looked at as parasitic. But toss religion on the flames and it’s a whole new fire.

Our contention with them is and should be a moral one. As moral people, we have every right to say, “this is wrong”. “We do not want these kinds of poisons in our neighborhoods”. We must take our cause to the source, in a moral and legal way. Vigilantism will solve nothing. The young men, in the aforementioned article, attacked a storeowner with lead pipes, destroying property in his store. This will do nothing to detour the man from selling liquor. Worse comes to worse, he’ll just pick up stakes and move his shop and start over somewhere else. And while his insurance covers his damage the young men will be arrested and face possible jail time. More black youths in the penal system. A loose-loose situation.

My advice would be to work the legal channels. Boycott his stores. Try educating your people and your neighborhoods on the ills and the effects of alcohol. In other words, try some da’awah. Da’awah should not just entail Fire and Brimstone speeches about the Hellfire and Wrath of God, but “inviting to the good and forbidding of the evil”. I feel their anger and frustration but going about it in a violent way will solve nothing. Wa Allahu ‘alim.