Morality and Liberalism – A Challenge To Moral Orthodoxy

This post may indelibly put me on the other side of some folks’ proverbial tracks but I feel that we are approaching a cross roads in America of which, if it goes unchallenged, we Muslims may find ourselves sailing down some very murky waters. To be blunt, this is about a post that Imam Suhaib Webb regarding Nicki Minaj. A critique which involved the morality (or lack thereof) of her image, in particular in reference to her new video Anaconda. Apparently, we have a double-standard in our community (by “our community” I am doubly referring to the black community and to the Muslim community) that wishes to marginalize whites to the role of sympathizer, not of critic. So long as whites sympathize with the social plights of blacks, Muslims, or other socially disparaged groups, their voices are welcome. However, should they begin to bring up issues that confront our (i.e., black folks, etc.) morality, or lack thereof, their voices are often ridiculed and silenced. I have an issue with this both as a black person and as a Muslim.

Without a doubt, white supremacy is a major issue and its presence (not legacy!) is still very much here with us today. But what is often missing from the overall narrative regarding white supremacy is the acknowledgement that some of the the most devastating critiques leveled at white supremacy have come from the pens of white authors and academics. Names such as Richard Dyer (White), Tim Wise (White Like Me) and Allan G. Johnson (Privilege, Power, and Difference) are just a few such examples. We need not, in an attempt to protect our dignity as non-whites, debar whites in participating in the overall critique of white supremacy. To do so would be, least of all, a double standard.

The second tract that I have major concerns on is the issue of morality. As a Muslim, no less an imam, I have an obligation to speak to the realities of the world I live in. And while Nikki Minaj is not the singular focus of any cultural critique I might have, undoubtedly she, and her ilk, would be a part of it. As a black father of a black daughter, I am deeply disturbed by the hyper sexualization of society. Undoubtedly black women have been the targets of such sexualization, undeniably at the hands of black perpetrators. Our collective silence on this is disturbing; our outrage at a white critic, juvenile. And while some would argue that a woman has a right to express herself however she likes, the right does not insulate her from public critique. To be frank, I appreciate those arguments on the one hand from non-Muslims. I am, however, deeply disturbed by Muslims who would object to another Muslim critiquing such behavior which is so obviously unacceptable (by Muslim and non-Muslim standards alike). Indeed, it has been my thought that the next wave of “extremism” to confront Muslims in America will not be in the form of violent outbursts or rhetoric, but will actually be the co-opting, adaption and condoning of post-modern liberalism, which can have little congruence with any modern faith tradition with still appreciates its pre-modern sensibilities.

To return to the issue of the original post, I find it very troublesome that we cannot confront the truth of a critique leveled against us simply because it comes from a white (male) voice. In all honestly, I am in complete agreement with Imam Suhaib’s assessment of Minaj’s video; I would stretch the critique further to her as an artist and ultimately, to her industry as a whole. If what Dr. Sherman Jackson recently said has any merit, regarding the current apathetic stance religion has towards “cool” and “sexy”, then we will need all hands on deck; all voices must be heard. For it is not the objective of this author, nor of the enterprise of Islam itself, to condemn sexual expression. Rather, Islam simply states such expressions are best relegated to the bedroom, where one may indulge one’s “inner freak” to one’s heart’s content, so long as it falls within the boundaries God Almighty has laid out. But that is another story for another day!

(Below are screenshots from Imam Suhaib’s original post)

Suhaib Webb on Nicki Minaj
Suhaib Webb on Nicki Minaj

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Lecture on the Accommodation of Local Customs in Islamic Law

The following are some notes (the audio is at the bottom of this post) from my lecture on ‘Urf/عرف (customary and cultural practices that wish to have legal consideration and or application, but from which there is no precedent in the Qur’an, Sunnah, and no definite dalil is offered), what scholars term as local custom, and its consideration into the decision-making process of not only Muslim jurists (which is what Dr. Adil Qawtah’s book deals with) but also for everyday Muslims. During the 2012 Ella Collins Winter Retreat, the audience fielded a number of really great questions. What was underpinning many of these questions (my guess this yearning may even be unbeknownst to the questioner themselves) was a need to see if and to what extent could accommodations be made for local cultures and customs, to some extent or another.

The text that I used is by Dr. Adil bin ‘Abd al-Qadir Qawtah of King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia entitled “The Effects of Local Custom Along with Its Modern Applications in Understanding [Islamic] Financial Transactions”/أثر العرف وتطبيقاته المعاصرة في فقه المعاملات المالية. As I explained during the lecture, while my topic is not actually on financial transactions, one will often find in books that the introduction is the most critical part to read. Aside from telling you what the author’s aims and objectives are, in doing so, they frequently give concise and beneficial explanations of heady and difficult concepts. In Dr. Qawtah’s introduction, he defines a number of important fiqh points as it relates to local cultures and customs (hereafter referred to as ‘Urf: see definition above) and in the general sense of usul al-fiqh. I felt such a short and concise primer may prove beneficial in introduction Muslims to the mechanics of how Muslim thought (a.k.a., usul) works. I also hoped it would demonstrate that when American Muslim scholars delve into the very same tradition, texts and sources, and extrapolate from them new meanings for a new context, they will see that this endeavor is not a betrayal of Islam or its intellectual history, but in fact a bold and daring attempt to uphold it. Below are a few takeaways from the Introduction:

أهمية ” العرف ” وحاجة الفقيه إلى اعتباره

Under the heading of “The Importance of ” ‘Urf ” and the Necessity of the Jurist in Considering It”:

يمكن تقسيم أنحاء أهمية العرف وحاجة الفقيه إلى لحظها وإدراكها إلى الإنحاء الأربعة التالية

One can classify the importance of ‘Urf as well as the jurist’s need to consider its application into how it is perceived and recognized, into the following four parts:

  1. حاجة الفقيه إلى العرف في فهم نصوص الشريعة نفسها/The obligation upon the jurist towards ‘Urf to comprehend the texts of al-Shari’ah in and of itself.
  2. حاجة الفقيه إلى العرف حال تعامله مع المدونات و الكتب الفقهية/The obligation upon the jurist towards ‘Urf to be competent with the canon of legal rulings and books of jurisprudence in case the circumstance has been previously dealt with in.
  3. حاجة الفقيه إلى العرف لفهم الواقع وتحقيق المناط وتنزيل الأحكام على الحوادث/The obligation upon the jurist towards ‘Urf to comprehend the situation at hand, to ascertain the objective of the rule (i.e., the point upon which the hukm/ruling is formed from*), and, to phrase it metaphorically, ‘pull the case books off the shelves’ in order to adequately address real circumstances.
  4. حاجة الفقيه إلى العرف لمعرفة الناس/The obligation upon the jurist towards ‘Urf to have an intimate understanding of the people in question.1

ومن معرفة الواقع – المحكوم فيه والمسؤول عنه – الذ يشترط القاضي والمفتي – معرفة الناس: معرفة أحوالهم وأعرافهم وعوائدهم وأنواع تصرفاتهم و سنن معايشهم وطرائق سلوكهم الاجتماعي: من نكاح وعشرة وطلاق

“And regarding having an intimate understanding of circumstance: this relates to the what will receive the judgment as well as its responsible party – which both judge and jurist will then stipulate – is precisely having intimate knowledge of people: their various conditions, customs, habits, modes of conduct, lifestyles, way in which their societies developed, including but not exclusive to: how they marry, form companionship, and divorce.”2

* To illustrate this, the word “manat/مناط” means a frame of reference or reference-point . In the context of usul al-fiqh, it is evoked in matters pertaining to the permissibility of a particular substance or situation. To help illustrate this point, take wine for example. There is total agreement that it is impermissible because of its intoxicating nature. This feature of wine would be known as al-manat in usul. Now, tahqiq al-manat means that when a jurist deals with making a legal ruling/fatwa pertaining to a new kind of drink that is not wine, he is obliged/حاجة الفقيه إلى to make sure that al-manat is fulfilled (the almost literal meaning of “tahqiq”), or this new drink is intoxicating before giving a fatwa. That is to say, the act of making sure (tahqiq) that the new drinks are as intoxicating as wine is the meaning of tahqiq al-manat.

The reason I wanted to do my class on ‘Urf was because we had touched on this during a session on Saturday in which we posed the following scenario: a person wishes to become Muslim but they own a house dog. Most opinions in the Four Schools limit owning animals to outside the home as work dogs. However, there is an opinion in the Maliki school in which a dispensation was given to domesticated dogs versus wild dogs. What the paneled had offered up was in summary: should we debar a person from entering Islam, or at the very least, make it difficult for them, if they happen to own a dog to which they are heavily and emotionally attached, knowing there is a dispensation for this? Or shall we take the harshest and least lenient ruling as means of demonstrating “superior piety”. What Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda noted was that while this situation may warrant the taking of an easier way, it should not be mistaken as carte blanche (I love you Imam Suhaib!) to simply “let the dogs out!”. In essence, we should look for ways in which to accommodate circumstance yet be wary of crafting opinions that are at their heart, nothing other than letting people follow their passions blindly.

But perhaps most important here, Dr. Qawtah reminds us of the following:

وذلك أن الفقيه لا يجتهد في فراغ

“The jurist does not operate in a vacuum.”

And God knows best.

Footnotes

1. 21.
2. 24.

I would also encourage reading Dr. ‘Umar Faruq ‘Abd-Allah’s Islam and the Cultural Imperative.

A Portrait of the Prophet: Reflections on the Messenger of Allah

Verily, I have left amongst you the book of Allah and the example of His Messenger. If you hold fast to it, you shall never go astray.

From the farewell sermon of the Prophet

We may have heard about the example of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) before, but have we? If his life is just a story to us, and nothing more, then we have not truly heard it. If our eyes do not shed tears pondering over his beautiful character, then we do not truly know him. If our moral character is not a reflection of his Sunnah then there is more that we need to learn.

Join Al-Madina Institute in “A Portrait of the Prophet: Reflections on the Messenger of Allah“, a one-day conference devoted to reinvigorating our lives by contemplating on the light and mercy of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم).

Emphasizing the relevance this contemplation has in our own personal journey towards our Creator, “A Portrait of the Prophet” will focus on internalizing the Prophetic message and applying it to our everyday life, while cultivating the immense love for the Messenger that is necessary for its proper application.

Develop a better focus in your life by gaining a better picture of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) in Al-Madina Institute’s “A Portrait of the Prophet”, with Imam Suhaib Webb, Imam Khalil Abdur-Rashid, Shaykha Reima Yousef, Ustadh Moutasem Atiya, and myself.

The event will be held at New Brunswick Islamic Center, 1330 Livingston Ave, North Brunswick, NJ 08902 on November 3rd from 10am to 8pm.

For more information and how to sign up, click here.

UPDATE: Sadly, this event has been canceled due to hurricane Sandy. Keep tuned to the al-Madinah Institute’s website for future events.