In a recent post on Facebook, I came across an engaging “rant” (I use rant here not as as criticism, but as praise) from a good acquaintance of mine. His words rang true to me and yet, while I felt his frustration, understandably so, I also felt that this story is somewhat more complicated than simply labeling “them”, Muslim religious leadership, as not caring. Don’t get me wrong, as a religious leader, I find our current apathy and predicament equally vexing and frustrating. But before we can proceed, I feel we first must ask ourselves to whom are we addressing here. Are we talking about immigrant imams or indigenous? For immigrant imams (or imams of immigrants), whether we like it or not, they have lived an alternative history from us. Their focus was never on America or “us”. It would be inefficient and perhaps even absurd to expect them to have the same level of empathy towards Americans in general and towards blacks in specific. And for the record, Muslim immigrants are not unique in this. What tends to offend us (i.e., blackamerican or whiteamerican Muslims) is that we expect them to have the same emotional religious notions as we do. We see the injustice inflicted by officer Darren Wilson as a universal injustice, in the same manner some Muslims see the Palestinian cause as equally universal. And while they both may indeed have rightful claims to universal injustice, the propagators of this cry for justice have lived very different realities. One aspect of these divergent histories is that many immigrant Muslims (and again, immigrants in general) still labor under the weight of unpacked baggage. What’s missing here, in my opinion, is not the indictment of their apathy, but the indictment of ourselves, indigenous Muslims, who have embraced the faith, and plied little to no pressure to our fellow brothers and sisters to awaken out of their slumber. We placed, by and large, no real demands on them to address our needs. In fact, and here’s where things may get ugly and offend some of “us”, is that many of “us” were complicit in our own indoctrination in their religious world views. We equally participated in this form of escapism, vis-a-vie Islam. We (those who have awakened) must come to terms that as a result of this complicity, any change that may come, will not come easily, or — God knows best — soon.
So for me, the question is which religious rulers?
If we come to agreement on our above conclusion, the problem then cannot simply be chocked up to “(poor) leadership” alone. The rank and file Muslim also shares a healthy dollop of blame. Far too many of “us” have contented ourselves to reduce religious leadership and spiritual guidance and its current manifestation to a kind of “performance art“1. This has only exacerbated the “Sage on Stage” platform we have with us today. Believe me when I say that many of us are dying to do culturally-relevant religious teaching. However, when those of us in positions of religious leadership attempt to do relevant material, we are often branded as “modernist“, not by other religious leaders, but by the typical Ahmad and Mariam. When we attempt to elevate the discourse beyond regurgitation, we’re castigated as non-traditionalists.
So let us all bow our heads in shame and implore our Lord for guidance and forgiveness, for we are all culpable. And then think anew, on how one can best serve that change that so desperately needs to happen. I make no claims to prognostication, but I do not feel that success will come in abandonment, no matter how tempting it may be. Instead, I believe we must work with the system, either to change it via our voice, our presence, our pocketbook, or even ourselves, by stepping into roles of religious leadership itself.
And Allah knows best.
How shameful is it that Kobe Bryant, Josh Groban, LeBron James, Katy Perry, Cher, Pharrell Williams, and others have more to say about Ferguson and the Grand Jury decision than our own religious scholars! This is part of the reason why I have largely abandoned these individuals. I know enough of the rules. I don’t need to kiss your hand, spin around or bob back and forth singing words I can’t even understand. How are you going to remain RELEVANT in people’s lives if you can’t even muster a 160 character statement about why my humanity matters? I don’t want to hear your 1,000th lecture about how glorious we were 14 centuries ago. Shout from the rafters about how glorious I AM, WE ARE, WE SHOULD BE. A basketball player and a Vegas singer have more to say about this than someone who takes spiritual pride in having slept on sand and drinking dirty water from Goat guts? This is why your houses are empty of the young. LeBron shows he cares more about them than you! – Dasham Brooks
1. Dr. Muneer Fareed on “spirituality”: “(Modern spiritual practices have prompted) a slow, yet irreversible move away from a spirituality that (is) theocentric towards one that is increasingly homocentric.” ~ “Aesthetic spirituality differs from religious spirituality in two significant ways: it emphasizes beauty rather than truth, and more importantly, replaces traditional forms of devotion with a philosophy that plays out in the public forum not as worship, but as art.” You can read the rest of Dr. Fareed’s article, Spirituality Without God, here.
The recent ABC exposé on Islam in America has enraged many Blackamerican Muslims. Their anger is rooted in their legacy as American Muslims yet their story and participation in the community of American Muslims was categorically denied by the program and its participants. The blame, as I have observed in arenas such as Facebook and via private e-mail, seems to fall on either the media outlet, with claims of racial bias on the part of ABC, to the participating Muslim organization, CAIR, the Counsel on American Islamic Relations. As was expressed to me, much of the anger towards CAIR was rooted in a sense of betrayal. Several Blackamerican Muslims wrote comments relating to the program:
The immigrant leaders believe they own Islam in America and we the “African Americans” are just the poor of the religion.
We have to tell our own story and do our own documentaries. No one cares about us or our story and contributions to America and Islam, if we don’t. I am always disappointed at programs like that, but never surprised.
African Americans need 2 tell they own story we need 2 stop depending on these people 2 tell our story…we must do our own reports…documentaries..
Bottomline, you cannot do a documentary on Islam in American without interviewing the African American.
The the question need be asked what would the reaction be if we told the Story of America and omitted Christopher Columbus, George Washington or Thomas Jefferson??? It’s not about whining it’s about telling the truth and presenting it accurately. If ABC came to CAIR then CAIR had a responsibility to make sure they aired a fair an accurate depiction.
The majority of the world does not even know that we have been here…
So none of those “so-called” scholars said to to the ABC execs you must include African American Muslims in order to have a complete picture of Islam in America?
They (the Muslim consultants and don’t believe for one second there weren’t do…zens) didn’t see how by not doing so it perpetuates another falsehood about Muslims in America being immigrants or the children of immigrants?
Wasn’t the program’s intent to dispel falsehoods about Muslims in America? It’s frankly insulting!!!!!
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and all the rest should absolutely refuse to do these exposes on Islam when they delete African American Muslims the way ABC did! Shame on them & ABC.
As can be seen here, the anger and frustration runs the gamut. The question remains: how will CAIR address this issue and how will Blackamerican Muslims seek to engage, and if possible, reprimand CAIR for their systematic dismissal on the public stage?
But perhaps more important than all of this is the lesson to be learned here: it has been high time for Blackamerican Muslims to take their rightful place in leadership of Islam in America. I do not believe this to be the case out of some misguided sense of racial pride or nationalism, but in actuality, rooted in a form of pragmatism: Blackamericans are one of only two possible racial categories in the United States that are seen as unassailably American. And being that Blackamericans comprise the only racial/ethnic group in America that have embraced Islam in significant numbers, it only makes sense to help foster and develop Blackamerican Muslim leadership. To do otherwise or to work towards the opposite goal [which in many ways is precisely what CAIR helped to do in the program], resulting in a dereliction of duty and jeopardizing the future of indigenizing Islam in American.
Part of this maturation process will involve Blackamerican Muslims seeing themselves as key players, actors, and inheritors of God’s religion. Not unlike their Blackamerican Christian counterparts, Blackamerican Muslims are in desperate need to reevaluate precisely what Islam it is that they have been given, what Islam they are perpetuating and determining if its core trajectory is in line with what is most socially and religiously responsible. To make my point a bit clearer, let me quote the great history and religious scholar, Vincent Harding:
Every [sic] since the children of Africa were brought to this country and came in touch with the Christian religion, we had to figure out some way to come to terms with what white Christians were teaching about religion and what they were doing in their social, economic, and political lives. It was clear to many African Americans at the very outset that the Christianity they were being taught could not be accepted on the terms that slave owners were presenting it because slavery itself was a contradiction to Jesus’ call to love each other as we love ourselves.
The above quote, taken from an interview Harding gave earlier this year, Harding illustrates the need that Antebellum and post-Antebellum Blacks had when analyzing the brand of Christianity that the dominant power structure was preaching; its core values and preconceived notions ran contradictory to the existential realities of Blacks and their quest for a God-given, dignified existence. Similarly, Harding also spoke of historical romanticism, in his famous 1967 article, Black Power and the American Christ:
As is so often the case with reminiscences, the nostalgia may grow more out of a sense of frustration and powerlessness than out of any true appreciation of the meaning of the past.
Harding’s point here rings home with the plight of modern Blackamerican Muslims, who in my opinion, suffer from a case of historical and cultural romanticism: by proxy of Muslims who hailed from the historical Muslims world, Blackamerican Muslims uncritically accepted, and indeed perpetuated, the brand of Islam that foreign-born Muslims brought with them to America. And in this process, Blackamerican Muslims have romanticized the entire narrative of foreign-born Muslims as being quintessentially “good” [even if they happen to accidentally be “bad”]; romanticizing of both culture and temporality [the use of the term “Islamic” to describe anything and everything Muslims “over there” do; the past is presumed to be wholly better than the present, therefore all one can hope to achieve is a pantomiming of the past]. This modality of thinking has resulted in Blackamerican Muslims largely being cast in bit parts in the broader act that is Islam in America. And not unlike Black actors in Hollywood, Blackamerican Muslims have had little say over the kinds of parts they will play. Further, any rhetoric that is deemed “too black”, will be ridiculed, its critique dressed in religious garb, and passed off as religiously authentic. In this fashion, Blackamerican Muslims can only expect to continue to play bit parts in others plays so long as they continue to relinquish their creative rights – the rights to writing, publishing, and determination – as bona fide Muslims. I leave you with one final quote from Harding:
But as the reminiscences continue a veil seems to descend between then and now. The tellers of the old tales label the veil Black Power, and pronounce ritual curses on Stokely Carmichael and Floyd McKissick and their followers.
The trouble with these meetings is that they are indeed becoming ritual, cultic acts of memory that blind us to creative possibilities. Because that “veil” may be a wall, not primarily for separating but for writing on – both sides of it. Or it may be a great sheet “let down from heaven”; or a curtain before the next act can begin. Most of us appear totally incapable of realizing that there may be more light in blackness than we have yet begun to glimpse.
And God knows best.
- The Black Power Revolt – A Collection of Essays. Ed. Floyd B. Barbour.
- 20/20 – What Is Islam? Questions and Answers.
- Overcoming Historical Romanticism.
- Black Power and the American Christ, by Vincent Harding.