Islam in a Global Perspective: What Makes Islam Work?

The following is a lecture I gave at the University of Pennsylvania for UPenn’s MSA. This talk kicked off the Chaplain Chats for the Spring 2012 term.

For more on Islam and culture see my lecture Lecture on the Accommodation of Local Customs in Islamic Law at the Ella Collins 2012 Winter Retreat.

Taking Our Rightful Place of Leadership In the Muslim World

In the last several years, I have had conversations with a number of leading Muslim scholars—American and foreign—who recognize and advocate the ascension of American Muslims to the role of leadership in the Muslim world. I concur with this observation, not out of heedless pride or nationalism, but because I believe American Muslims are in a unique place to affect real change in the Muslim world; a world that now includes the United States. I will list a few reasons why I agree with their opinions: American foreign policy and how it impacts Muslims around the world; American domestic policy and how it impacts the lives of Americans at home; educating and interacting with the broader American public to not simply state but demonstrate the willingness on the part of Muslims in American to engage the society and invest their human, intellectual and creative capital in the society. These are but a few reasons I believe that American Muslims have the greatest chance of affecting American geopolitical strategies which have the potential to impact the lives of Muslims abroad and at home. What I have written here is more than a laundry list: it is a clarion call to American Muslims to take up the role of leadership that has been foisted upon us and make the most of this boon. In fact, it can be argued that if we do not take up this baton, that it will not only be our children here in America who will suffer, but the Ummah as a whole. I leave this small bread crumb trail with some thoughts of Ebrahim Moosa of Duke University, in a 2006 review of Vartan Gregorian’s book, Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith:

“Today, America is undoubtedly equipped with the best resources in the West to study Islam in terms of the range of scholarship, universities, and research cohorts it can boast, even though more is always welcome. And yet ironically, its public discourses and public policy communities—let alone government—display the most anemic symptoms when it comes to knowledge about Islam and Muslim societies.”

African American Muslims and Their Social Purgatory

Hat tip to Khalifa for passing this on. And while we may be occupied with more-than-earthly matters today, perhaps we can take a look at this over the next couple of days and reflect upon it. I have a few thoughts of my own I will share on it shortly.

“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary. ….History shows that it does not matter who is in power…those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.” – Dr. Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro.

Let me say from the outset that if you’re faint of heart or easily ruffled, pardon my having included you on this note. One would think that in quoting a social commentary from 1933 that its ideas would be anachronistic or at least irrelevant by 2010, but I find that as an African American Muslim its words ring disturbingly poignant and applicable. Between the Muslim world and America, and between history and orthodoxy, African American Muslims are in a social purgatory of agenda and mission…of identity and relevancy..and between citizenship and complacency.

Let me clarify my use of the term purgatory. Social Purgatory: Living effectively in no sphere of mainstream society whether religious/spiritual, professional, economic, or cultural. .. And belonging neither comfortably or whole-heartedly to the African American community or the broader Muslim community. We stand on the fence at a time of key transition. Imam W.D. Mohammed (rahmah of Allah be upon him) has passed away. Imam Jamil is likely to die in prison, we had to scrape to raise funds for Imam Siraj’s health care, and many of us are an arm-span from FBI watch-lists or already on it. Every time a domestic attack occurs we pray that it isn’t a Muslim. Then we pray that it isn’t an African American Muslim. And then we deliver our “that has nothing to do with Islam” speech on cue. That, my brothers and sisters, is something of a purgatory in itself.

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye or merely a snide comment to the pathologies that exist among us. The dogmas and isms that we tolerate… No, this is the chasm through which opponents readily attack and before that, these are the anchors that narrow our Islam. These pathologies are too many and complex to elucidate here, but suffice it to say they range from misapplication of polygamy to dysfunctional views of our very American-ness and citizenship. We constantly frame our troubles as being from without. Well my motivation in writing this is that I believe quite the opposite. They are from within. Continue reading “African American Muslims and Their Social Purgatory”

Islam in Global Perspective

I had the pleasure of being invited to Dr. Zain Abdullah’s course, Islam in Global Perspective, at Temple University. The course was welcoming a selection of Fulbright scholars from abroad to discussed a number of issues such as what is Islam to Muslims, how do Muslims relate and form identities in a global cultural context and how is Islam experienced [symbolism] by Muslims, to name a few. Two of the books being discussed in the class were Mehran Kamrava’s The New Voices of Islam: Rethinking Politics and Modernity and Mark Levine’s Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam, a book that deals with religious/cultural permissibility, the impact of globalized values and its influence [Egypt was discussed in tonight’s session] on Muslims. Afterwords, there was a very pleasant reception where I had the chance to engage a few of the visiting scholars and exchange thoughts and ideas. Many thanks to Dr. Abdullah for inviting me. A few images from the exchange.

I will try and upload these images again.