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.

Khatm Reflections #1: Juz’ 24

It has been many months since I have posted anything on my site besides an occasional khutbah. The reason mainly being that so much of what I am inclined to speak about would have a negative bent (this years khutbah at the Eid al-‘Adha prayer is an example; I may still address it). Having been pushed somewhat reluctantly into a leadership position, I feel it’s important to stay positive even when so much of what you see wants to make you sigh and weep. So to combat that I have decided to offer up some reflections from my Qur’an reading circle, a khatm, where each of us reads a juz’/30th of the Qur’an every month. These reflections, I hope, are intended to be somewhere between anecdotal and aphoristic. They are not intended to be scholarly. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I (will) enjoy writing them, God willing.

بِسْمِ الله الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

“Who could do greater wrong than those who lie about God and deny the truth when it comes to them? Do the Rejectors not have a dwelling place in Hell?”

فَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّن كَذَبَ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ وَكَذَّبَ بِٱلصِّدْقِ إِذْ جَآءَهُۥٓ ۚ أَلَيْسَ فِى جَهَنَّمَ مَثْوًۭى لِّلْكَٰفِرِينَ

“He who brings the truth and those who confirm it – those are the people who have taqwa.”

وَٱلَّذِى جَآءَ بِٱلصِّدْقِ وَصَدَّقَ بِهِۦٓ ۙ أُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُتَّقُونَ

Qur’an, 39: 32-33.

This reminds me here of the modern use of the word “kafir” by Muslims (and non-Muslims as well). It seems to have lost its lexical and contextual meaning (i.e., that of “rejecting” or “covering”, in this case revelation sent by God, and contextually it was sent to the same basic population: Arabs). Instead of referring to those who reject God’s Truth, kafir has now come to be a proxy word for western, white, Christian, non-Muslim. I wrote a piece on this last year entitled Mu’min and Kafir – Negotiating Shared Space, in which I quote Dr. Sherman Jackson saying:

“[The] dehumanized Post-Colonial Muslim, on the other hand, tends to objectify his target and view him as a thing to be conquered, dismantled, and controlled. In contradistinction to his premodern predecessors, he transforms the category “kafir” [i.e., “non-Muslim] into a reference to an almost subhuman species who is inherently and utterly different from Muslims, not only religiously but culturally, ethnically, and civilizationally as well” [Islam and the Blackamerican 94—see footnote #72 below]

I say all this because while kafir is misused, it has also created an opposite reaction: there aren’t any kafirs at all; no rejectors of God’s message. I have seen this expressed in a number of young and liberal—minded Muslims who, not faulting them necessarily, feel uncomfortable with the divisive use of the word: it’s too all-encompassing—have flocked to the other extreme to nullify any possible existence of a kafir existing at all (this reminds me of Günter Grass when he spoke of how many Germans feel uncomfortable speaking about their families’ involvement in Nazi-era Germany and hence the extermination of the Jews: everybody’s parents or grandparents were in the resistance). Clearly, from God’s own words, there are indeed people who do reject Revelation and that some of them will reside in hell. Like Sgt. Joe Friday says: “just the facts, ma’am.”

What I want to highlight here, or at least what stood out for me was the message in the second verse: “He who brings the truth and those who confirm it – those are the people who have taqwa (for a more in-depth definition of taqwa see the Glossary as well as this khutbah). (39: 33)”. I ask myself: “Self: did you bring the truth with you today when you went to work?” “Self: did you confirm the truth at home with your wife and daughter?” Facetiousness aside, my take away here is not so much what others reject, but what I confirm. I see this quandary manifested in the Muslim community (yes, particularly here in Philadelphia) where Muslims stand at-the-ready to protest society but they themselves do not bring the truth nor can it be seen to be confirmed in their families and communities (by the way, I include myself in “they”). It is typical for Muslims to squabble over theology (‘aqidah) while doing very little to actually bring about divine wisdom. Amjad Tarsin, the new chaplain at Toronto University (may God make him successful in his charge) said it best recently:

For a Muslim, basic understanding and belief in God’s Oneness (tawhid) should be a given, not a topic of endless discussion and contention.

In the end, it seems to be more about affirming ones own values, morals, ideals than having to have the materialize in the public and political domains.

“They will have anything they wish for with their Lord. That is the recompense of the good-doers. So that God may refuse to accept (incidentally, this is the same root as “kafir“) from them the worst of what they did and pay them their wages for the best of what they did. Is God not enough for His slave? Yet they try to scare you with others apart from Him. If God misguides someone, he has no guide, and if God guides someone, he cannot be misguided. Is God not Almighty, Exactor of Revenge?” Qur’an, 39: 34-37.

لَهُم مَّا يَشَآءُونَ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ جَزَآءُ ٱلْمُحْسِنِينَ

لِيُكَفِّرَ ٱللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ أَسْوَأَ ٱلَّذِى عَمِلُوا۟ وَيَجْزِيَهُمْ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ ٱلَّذِى كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ

أَلَيْسَ ٱللَّهُ بِكَافٍ عَبْدَهُۥ ۖ وَيُخَوِّفُونَكَ بِٱلَّذِينَ مِن دُونِهِۦ ۚ وَمَن يُضْلِلِ ٱللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُۥ مِنْ هَادٍۢ

وَمَن يَهْدِ ٱللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُۥ مِن مُّضِلٍّ ۗ أَلَيْسَ ٱللَّهُ بِعَزِيزٍۢ ذِى ٱنتِقَامٍۢ

I am left to wonder just how much of it is genuine desire for God and The Messenger, and how much of it is cowardice that we bicker so much amongst ourselves and why we seem to offer such little to public discourses on major and important topics. Perhaps “they have scared us with others apart from Him.” But in case anyone feels this is some liberal, suit-and-tie wearing philosophy, God commands us directly in the Qur’an to focus on production instead of protest:

“Say: ‘My people, do as you think best; that is what I am doing. You will soon know.” Qur’an 39: 39.

قُلْ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْمَلُوا۟ عَلَىٰ مَكَانَتِكُمْ إِنِّى عَٰمِلٌۭ ۖ فَسَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ

And God knows best.

Mu’min and Kafir – Negotiating Shared Space

In continuing with the theme of religious literacy (or in the immediate case, illiteracy), another important component in this issue I wish to touch upon is the shared space between Muslims and non-Muslims. To be frank, Muslims in America are long overdue for an overhauling of how they conceptualize and approach the very possibilities of Muslim/non-Muslim engagement. Part of this was addressed in a recent series of khutbahs, Da’wah & Fraternity in Islam, as well as in the previous post, Tackling Religious Literacy: Lexical Empiricism. For this article, I will examine the word kafir, its uses in pre-modern and early modern sources, as well as highlight one example from ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin ‘Awf, a Companion of the Prophet ﷺ and his struggle to negotiate his own shared reality as a believer.

To say that the post-colonial period is still haunting Muslim thought to this very day would be a feat in understatement. One of the debilitating byproducts of colonization is that the colonized lose sight of dimension: What I would call the dementia of colonization. This disease renders its victims incapable of recognizing three dimensions or space. Like physical dementia, this version “affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior”. In this condition, all objects within an individual’s frame are compressed into one-dimensional objects, stripped of any human characteristics the victim might be capable of sympathizing with. For Muslims today this has resulted in the word kafir being de-contextualized, from where it once stood to demarcate the boundary of belief and disbelief, to one in which kafir is hurled about with impunity. Dr. Sherman Jackson, in his invaluable work Islam and the Blackamerican, gives an elegant breakdown of this malady:

“(The) dehumanized Post-Colonial Muslim, on the other hand, tends to objectify his target and view him as a thing to be conquered, dismantled, and controlled. In contradistinction to his premodern predecessors, he transforms the category “kafir” (i.e., “non-Muslim) into a reference to an almost subhuman species who is inherently and utterly different from Muslims, not only religiously but culturally, ethnically, and civilizationally as well.” Islam and the Blackamerican, pg. 94. (see footnote #72 below)

As we can see here, kafir is a word that clearly, in its modern use, indicates more than the boundary of belief and non-belief. Its contemporary use is more often implemented to draw the line on what has and does not have human value. And while Dr. Jackson’s observation reveals the genealogy of the word, it would be unfair to lay this change solely at the feet of post-colonial immigrant Muslims. Its use amongst Blackamerican Muslims has also been a code word for “white”, itself an epithet of sorts. In both uses, kafir comes to connote an feeling of anti-establishment. But how is all of this important to the article at hand? I will tie this into the story of ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin ‘Awf and his relationship with Ummayah Bin Khalaf, one of the major opponents of Islam at the time of the Prophet ﷺ.

In the nearly two decades I have worked in the Muslim community as an educator, adviser, and casual observer, one note that strikes me significantly is the need for a new fiqh. By fiqh I mean a new comprehensive understanding of Islam particularly as it relates to the daily existence of Muslims in America, not a necessarily a new school of jurisprudence. This of course may set many on edge who feel that their commitment to a legitimate and authentic expression of Islam is jeopardized by such utterances. And yet, I continue to watch American Muslims flounder under a practice of Islam that is detrimental to the healthy development and prosperity of Muslims in this part of the world. To be precise, what I am talking about here is the relational dynamic between Muslims and non-Muslims, particularly in relation to familial and fraternal social ties. Unlike many parts of the historical Muslim world, Muslims in America, particularly indigenous Muslims, have families where they may themselves to be the minority if not the only Muslim in their family. The demands that are put on Muslims here to navigate these sometimes-murky-waters are made even more perilous with a fiqh/comprehension of Islam that is antithetical and unresponsive to their needs. Such Qur’anic versus as the following are often conjured up to support this self-imposed exile:

يأيها الذين ءامنوا لا تتخذوا اليهود و النصرى أولياء بعضهم أولياء بعض و من يتولهم منكم فإنه منهم إن الله لا يهدى القوم الظلمين

”You who have iman! do not take the Jews and Christians as your friends; they are the friends of one another. Any of you who takes them as friends is one of them. Allah does not guide wrongdoing people.” Qur’an 5: 51 — Aisha Bewley translation

”O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily God guideth not a people unjust.” Qur’an 5: 51 — Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation

I have purposely chosen to show two of the most common translations here as they are representational of the dominant view on the contemporary meaning of this verse. Of main interest here is the plural, awliya’/أولياء; its singular being wali/ولي. Ali and Bewley translate awliya’ as “friends”. While I consider Ali and Bewley to be fine translators, I do question the choice of wording here. I find considerable evidence to support changing “friends” for “guardians as a translation for awliya’, especially given its Madinan context (where the verse was revealed). What is missing here, which interestingly enough, Muhammad Asad’s translation seems to find, is the call for political independence and responsibility on the part of the growing Muslim population in Madinah. Asad’s translation breaks ranks with Ali and Bewley, hinting at the contextual meaning, not solely the lexical one:

ولي الوالي البلد

ولي الرجل البيع

“The wali is the patron of the state/country.” Walia al-Wali al-Balad.

“The man secures the transaction,” Wali al-Rajul al-Bay’. — Mukhtar al-Sihah, pg. 306

From these sources, I feel there is more than enough evidence to support a revisiting of the definition of awliya’/wali as “friend”.  Not from the position of wanting other than what God has intended, but precisely because the current entrenched methods and approaches Muslims are currently engaged in are in contradiction to this Divine edict. But finally, to bring it back to the story of ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin ‘Awf and Ummayah Bin Khalaf, we’ll examine a hadith that recounts their relationship in a way that will, I hope, help to illustrate how tenuous this endeavor was, and still is.

In the story of Revelatory Islam (i.e., Islam at the time of the Prophet ﷺ), there were few greater opponents of Islam than Ummayah Bin Khalaf.  Know as the master of Bilal Ibn Ribah, Ummayah’s name is famous as one of the staunchest opponents of monotheism.  Before the advent of Islam however, Ummayah had developed a friendship with ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin ‘Awf. This friendship of theirs became strained and was put to the test upon the conversion of ‘Abd al-Rahman, whose name before his conversion was ‘Abdu ‘Amr (lit. “the slave of ‘Amr”). Eventually, ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin ‘Awf migrated to Madinah to join the Prophet ﷺ. Despite ‘Abd al-Rahman’s growing commitment to Islam, the two men still tried to maintain civility and even entered into a pact with one another:

كاتبت أمية بن خلف كتابا ، بأن يحفظني في صاغيتي بمكة ، وأحفظه في صاغيته بالمدينة

“I entered into an agreement with Umayyah Bin Khalaf, where Umayyah would protect my affairs (property and family) in Makkah and I would do the same for his in Madinah.” Narrated by ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin ‘Awf, related in Sahih al-Bukhari #2301

At the time of drafting up this agreement, ‘Abd al-Rahman’s “Muslim name” was mentioned in the document (not ‘Abdu ‘Amr), Umayyah protested, saying,

فلما ذكرت الرحمن ، قال : لا أعرف الرحمن ، كاتبني باسمك الذي كان في الجاهلية ، فكاتبته : عبد عمرو

“I do not know al-Rahman” and requested that the pre-Islamic name ‘Abdu ‘Amr should be used, to which ‘Abd al-Rahman yielded.”

Sometime later, during the Battle of Badr, Umayyah was captured by his old friend ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin ‘Awf. Even though the two men found themselves on two opposite sides of a battle, ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin ‘Awf attempted to intervene on behalf of his old friend (who, as no small crime, had persecuted other Muslims, Bilal in specific, whom he tried to force a recanting of his testimony of “no god but God” by crushing Bilal underneath a rock). Even to the very end, when a group of Muslims led by Bilal himself, sought revenge, ‘Abd al-Rahman protested on Umayyah’s behalf, going so far as to try and shield Umayyah’s body with his own.

So what can we deduce from this? Was ‘Abd al-Rahman disobeying God’s commands by maintaining his friendship with a polytheist? Or did ‘Abd al-Rahman perhaps understand the above verse and its counterparts in a different framework than we commonly do today. Surely, there is little argument concerning ‘Abd al-Rahman’s qualifications as a pious and learned Muslim: He was amongst the first converts to Islam and thus spent considerable time with the Prophet ﷺ; ‘Abd al-Rahman is agreed to be amongst the Ten Who Are Promised Paradise/العشرة المبشرون بالجنة; ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab chose him to be on council of Shura to choose the Khalifah after his death. To say that ‘Abd al-Rahman was a pious and intelligent Muslim, one who lived at the time of the Prophet ﷺ, during the time of Revelation, who lived in direct presence of the only living infallible interpretation of Islam ﷺ and was not chastised for “becoming one of them”, Muslims cannot continue to perpetrate social and cultural disengagement in the name of piety and religiosity. ‘Abd al-Rahman Bin ‘Awf was a man, God be pleased with him, who still loved and cared for his friend, despite their theological differences, and even put his life and potentially political standing on the line.

The question that must be asked is, do Muslims not owe it to themselves to examine, re-examine, and change their tactics if they wish to please both God and country. To remain ensconced in a protest spirit, one that seeks to enthrall us as much as set us free, without any principles attached to it, can only spell future doom for Muslims in America if major steps are not taken to educate themselves on the rich, nuanced, and complex narrative of Islam.

Sources

1. Footnote #72: Premodern and even early modern jurists spoke quite casually of the “non-Muslim wife” (al-zawjah al-kafirah), the “non-Muslim mother” (al-umm al-kafirah), and “non-Muslim parents” (al-walidan al-karifan) as human beings worthy of respect as such. For example, in Bulgat al-salik li agrab al-masalik ila madhhab al-imam Malik 2 vols. (Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, n.d.) (an authoritative Maliki text still used on the graduate level at al-Azhar seminary today), after indicating that a Muslim must be good to his parents regardless of their religion, al-Dardir (d. 1201/1786) writes, “and he should guide the blind parent, even if he or she is a kafir, to church, and deliver him or her thereto and provide him or her with money to spend during their holidays” (2: 523). Also, the Maliki and Hanafi schools unanimously agree that a non-Muslim mother (umm kafirah) had a primary right to custody of her Muslim children in cases of divorce from a Muslim husband, assuming she would not attempt to steer the children away from Islam. For more on this point see my “Kramer versus Kramer in a Tenth/Sixteenth Century Egyptian Court: Post-Formative Jurisprudence between Exigency and Law,” Islamic Law and Society 8, no. 1 (2001): 33-36. It should be noted that the Maliki school bore the brunt of the atrocities inflicted by the Christians upon the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain and Sicily and the Hanafi school bore the brunt of the Mongol invasions. Still, these views on non-Muslim relatives remain standard in the Maliki and Hanafi schools right down to the present day. On another note, the tendency of certain Muslim “liberals” to deny essentially that anyone is a kafir reflects their subscription to this same notion of kafir being some sort of subhuman species. (Islam and the Blackamerican, 212)

2. “Who Are the Disbelievers?” (PDF) by Hamza Yusuf in Season’s. Hat tip to the Deenport folks.

3. كاتبت أمية بن خلف كتابا ، بأن يحفظني في صاغيتي بمكة ، وأحفظه في صاغيته بالمدينة ، فلما ذكرت الرحمن ، قال : لا أعرف الرحمن ، كاتبني باسمك الذي كان في الجاهلية ، فكاتبته : عبد عمرو ، فلما كان في يوم بدر ، خرجت إلى جبل لأحرزه حين نام الناس ، فأبصره بلال ، فخرج حتى وقف على مجلس من الأنصار ، فقال : أمية بن خلف ، لا نجوت إن نجا أمية ، فخرج معه فريق من الأنصار في آثارنا ، فلما خشيت أن يلحقونا ، خلفت لهم ابنه لأشغلهم فقتلوه ، ثم أبوا حتى يتبعونا ، وكان رجلا ثقيلا ، فلما أدركونا ، قلت له : ابرك فبرك ، فألقيت عليه نفسي لأمنعه ، فتخللوه بالسيوف من تحتي حتى قتلوه ، وأصاب أحدهم رجلي بسيفه ، وكان عبد الرحمن بن عوف يرينا ذلك الأثر في ظهر قدمه

“I entered into an agreement written with Umayyah Bin Khalaf, where Umayyah would protect my affairs (property and family) in Makkah and I would do the same for his in Madinah. When I mentioned the word ‘al-Rahman’ in the documents, Umayyah said, ‘I do not know al-Rahman. Write down your name from the Jahiliyyah (Pre-lslamic Period of Ignorance).’ So, I wrote my name, ‘Abdu ‘Amr. On the day Badr, when all the people were asleep, I went up the hill to protect him. Bilal saw him and went to a gathering of Ansar and said, ‘Here is Umayyah Bin Khalaf! Woe to me if he escapes!’ So, a group of Ansar went out with Bilal to follow both of us. Being afraid that they would catch us, I left Umayyah’s son for them to keep them busy but the Ansar killed his son and insisted on following us. Umayyah was a fat man, and when they approached us, I told him to kneel down, and he knelt, and I laid myself on him to protect him, but the Ansar killed him by passing their swords underneath me, and one of them injured my foot with his sword.” (The sub narrator said, ” ‘Abd al-Rahman used to show us the trace of the wound on the back of his foot.”) Narrated by ‘Abdur-Rahman Bin ‘Awf, related in Sahih al-Bukhari 2301.

Da’wah & Fraternity in Islam

Among some of the most daunting challenges facing Muslims today is the challenge of religious literacy. While Muslims in America by and large excel at secular literacy, as a community, we are still laboring under the weight of a holistic understanding of Islam. Some of these malfeasance can be seen in the protest spirit Muslims exhibit [in America and globally]. The first half of the Shahadah [Testimony of Faith] has been truncated from “there is no god but God”/لا إله إلا الله to something dangerously close to “there is no god”/لا إله. What I mean here is not to suggest that Muslims are practicing atheism, but rather that we have let our protest spirit runway wild on us. For the most part, our protest [from American culture to foreign policy, etc.] is seldom passed on principal, but instead, based on something more mundane, such as politics, ideology, and aesthetics. So the topic at hand is da’wah, or the calling to God. The question at hand here is how can Muslims be successful at calling to God if there is no love, no fraternity between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors? This is further complicated by the fact that many indigenous American Muslims are either encouraged to feel a cultural disconnect in the guise of religiosity. Not only is this not in Muslim’s [nor Islam’s] best interest in America, it in fact contradicts the very nuanced  argument that God puts forth in the Qur’ān regarding this very same dilemma. Let us examine a few Qur’ānic verses that speak to brotherhood in the context of believers and non-believers:

وَاعْتَصِمُوا۟ بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًۭا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا۟ ۚ وَاذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَآءًۭ فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِۦٓ إِخْوَٰنًۭا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلنَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

“Hold fast to the rope of God all together, and do not separate. Remember God’s blessing to you when you were enemies and God joined your hearts together so that you became brothers by God’s blessing. You were on the very brink of a pit of the Fire and God rescued you from it. In this way God makes God’s Signs clear to you, so that hopefully you will be guided.” [Qur’ān Āl-‘Imrān (3):103]

لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِۦ فَقَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥٓ إِنِّىٓ أَخَافُ عَلَيْكُمْ عَذَابَ يَوْمٍ عَظِيمٍۢ

“We sent Noah to his people and he said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. I fear for you the punishment of a dreadful Day’.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):59]

أَوَعَجِبْتُمْ أَن جَآءَكُمْ ذِكْرٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ عَلَىٰ رَجُلٍۢ مِّنكُمْ لِيُنذِرَكُمْ وَلِتَتَّقُوا۟ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

“Or are you astonished that a reminder should come to you from your Lord by way of a man among you, to warn you and make you have taqwā so that hopefully you will gain mercy?’” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):63]

وَإِلَىٰ عَادٍ أَخَاهُمْ هُودًۭا ۗ قَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥٓ ۚ أَفَلَا تَتَّقُونَ

“And to ‘Ād We sent their brother Hūd, who said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. So will you not have taqwā?’” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):65]

وَإِلَىٰ ثَمُودَ أَخَاهُمْ صَٰلِحًۭا

“And to Thamūd We sent their brother Sāliḥ” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):73]

وَلُوطًا إِذْ قَالَ لِقَوْمِهِۦٓ أَتَأْتُونَ ٱلْفَٰحِشَةَ مَا سَبَقَكُم بِهَا مِنْ أَحَدٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلْعَٰلَمِينَ

“And Lot, when he said to his people, ‘Do you commit an obscenity not perpetrated before you by anyone in all the worlds?.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):80]

وَإِلَىٰ مَدْيَنَ أَخَاهُمْ شُعَيْبًۭا ۗ قَالَ يَٰقَوْمِ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُۥ ۖ قَدْ جَآءَتْكُم بَيِّنَةٌۭ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَأَوْفُوا۟ ٱلْكَيْلَ وَٱلْمِيزَانَ وَلَا تَبْخَسُوا۟ ٱلنَّاسَ أَشْيَآءَهُمْ وَلَا تُفْسِدُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ بَعْدَ إِصْلَٰحِهَا ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌۭ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

“And to Madyān We sent their brother Shu‘ayb who said, ‘My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. A Clear Sign has come to you from your Lord. Give full measure and full weight. Do not diminish people’s goods. Do not cause corruption in the land after it has been put right. That is better for you if you are Mu’minūn.” [Qur’ān al-A’rāf (7):85]

وَءَاتِ ذَا ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ حَقَّهُۥ وَٱلْمِسْكِينَ وَٱبْنَ ٱلسَّبِيلِ وَلَا تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِيرًا ﴿٦٢﴾ إِنَّ ٱلْمُبَذِّرِينَ كَانُوٓا۟ إِخْوَٰنَ ٱلشَّيَٰطِينِ ۖ وَكَانَ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنُ لِرَبِّهِۦ كَفُورًۭا

Clearly, there is a theme running between these verses that God is calling our attention to. One, is the method and function of Prophecy itself: All of the above Prophets are referred to as “brother”/أخ. Either God refers to them as their brother, in the case in Sūrah al-A’rāf (7):85:“And to Madyān We sent their brother Shu‘ayb…”, or God refers to them as one of their people: “We sent Noah to his people…”, in Sūrah al-A’rāf (7):59. The point here is that Prophecy/Prophethood, and by extension, Islam!, always operated in a context where it was familiar and known. Noah, Lot, Shu’ayb and all of the other Prophets [peace and blessings on all of them] were known and knew their peoples. This means that believer/مؤمن and non-believer/كافر operated in a mutual context where the Prophets had an emotional [and likely, cultural] attachment to their people. Without this connection, the message of Islam, the Oneness of God, would have been alienated and marginalized. What is worth mentioning here is that despite the apparent familiarity that these Prophet’s had with their respective peoples, the message was still rejected by some. Believe, faith, and non-belief is far more complicated than we often wish to admit and recognize. But if we are to make ourselves understood and deliver the message of Islam clearly and effectively, then we must address the rift many of us feel [and feel we have to feel] towards our current cultural context. To be sure, this is not some new-fangled ideology, but in fact, keeping with God’s sunnan, God’s intended way, for religion to be preached and carried out.

So why is it, if the message of Islam that was preached by the Prophets and Messengers of God to various peoples was always done through the medium of the familiar, that we as Muslism today, act in contradiction to this? In my nearly twenty years of observation, I feel it has something to do with ideas. A small quote here from Chris Nolan’s Inception, points to the power of persuasion that ideas have:

“What is the most resistant parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient; highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold in the brain, it is almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood, that sticks.” [Dom Cobb – Inception]

Moreover, we can see that brotherhood is a God-given cure to the stinginess and miserliness we see prevalent in our culture today:

“Give your relatives their due, and the very poor and travellers but do not squander what you have. Squanderers are brothers to the shaytans, and Shaytan was ungrateful to his Lord.” [Qur’ān al-Isrā (17):27]

Brotherhood is not some secular means of feeling good, it is also an extension of worship/عبادة and is a  means of showing gratitude to God.

So let us remember God, remember God’s beloved Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلمand all of God’s Prophets and Messengers, peace be upon all of them, and have it serve as a reminder of how we treat each other, how we treat our neighbors, and how we treat our Islam, that we approach it with humility, dignity, and a sense of awe regarding the mantle we have had bestowed on us from God’s mercy. Amin.

ربنا اغفر لنا ولإخوننا الذين سبقونا بالإيمان و لا تجعل في قلوبنا غلا للذين ءامنوا ربنا إنك رؤوف رحيم

“‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in imān and do not put any rancor in our hearts towards those who have imān. Our Lord, You are All-Gentle, Most Merciful’.” [Qur’ān al-Ḥashr (59):10]

Additional Sources

Why Polemics Are A Waste Of Time

A Muslim recently brought to my attention a disturbing video (the link has since disappeared off of the person’s web site) of a Muslim openly bashing and berating a group of Nation of Islam men standing on a street corner in the UK. I watched the video with a sense of shock and disgust. The antagonist obviously had only one thing in mind – to act or perform for his audience and to denounce the “kafirs“, as he termed them, for all to see. Chalk up another victory for Islam.

My frustration and anger do not stop at the video. On the site that’s posting the video, the brother describes the NOI brothers as, “nuts”. I am curious to examine the potential reasons behind this NOI bashing in an attempt to find some validation for it.

Let me start my vent with a short statement: polemics is a waste of time. I have yet to ever see any good come of it. Nor should healthy dialog and debate be mistaken for polemics and especially visa versa. Is is because they claim Islam that they deserve such a scathing public display? For me, it is a real shame that Muslims today [with special emphasis placed on Blackamerican Muslims] cannot find the room to find a dialog with the Nation. They are simply stripped of any value and tossed aside. How utterly ignorant and shortsighted this is [not to mention thankless – we would not have had a Malcolm X without the Nation!].

While other Muslims seem to enjoy the ability to foster care, concern and dialog about their own people, regardless of religious affiliation [the Palestinians come to mind], the same room is not afforded to Blackamerican Muslims who wish to address the Nation. In fact, Blackamerican orthodox/Sunni Muslims in my opinion, tend to be the biggest offenders. Why? Have we forgotten the contribution that the Nation of Islam has made to Islam being a viable and tangible mode of Americana for blacks in this country? I would hope no one out there would be absurd enough to forget that blacks in America [for the time being] have the capacity to move from Christianity to Islam without sacrificing neither their Americanness nor their blackness. This shift has been greatly made by the efforts of the Nation. This simply cannot be emphasized enough. The sooner we all come to openly recognize this and appreciate the reality of this, the sooner I believe we can repair a rift between the Nation and other orthodox/Sunni Blackamerican Muslims.

The gentleman in the video seemed to frame his arguments against the Nation around three central points: that they’re kafirs. That they murdered Malcolm X. And that their theology isn’t “true” Islam. I shall attempt to look at each of these critical points.

Before analyzing the brother’s takfir [calling them kafirs], we must examine this word kafir and see what type of value is placed on this word now and if so, how does that value compare to previous historical values that have been used by Muslims in the past.

Undoubtedly, in the Modern context, kafir is a dirty word, akin to calling somebody a son-of-a-bitch [or in reality, much worse – so use your imagination]. But beyond ethical values, the word is also used to strip someone or a whole group of people, of their humanity. If one is a kafir, in this sense, then one isn’t even fully human. And historically, we have seen the darker side of humanity when one group of people imagines the other without human value. But in pre-Modern times, kafir was used to simply denote a person who fell outside the religious fold of Islam. Not whether or not they had value as a person or a human being. And while it’s not within the scope of this post to do so, there are numerous sources that will support my opinion here including Prophetic ones. For further reading, research some of Dr. Sherman Jackson’s work on this term, kafir.

As for the murder of Malcolm X, this is not in repute nor dispute. Rather, what is important, in the immediate case, is that were any of the brother’s in the park personally responsible for brother Malcolm’s murder. Communal guilt is not a practice that can be legitimized in the religion of Muhammad of Arabia and I find no reason to instigate that bid’ah. Conversely, Usama bin Laden and his cohorts were responsible for the mass murder of some 2, 998 people. And yet we as Muslims, worldwide, have been clamoring against precisely the same thing – communal guilt. That we are guilty by religious association, for the deaths of those 2, 998 people [God rest their souls]. I have no doubt, that if put to the question, Mr. Abdur-Raheem Green, would agree that he in no was is responsible for the actions of the nineteen hijackers despite his religious affiliation with them. So why then are the NOI brothers held in duplicitous guilt? I can find no facts that support this presupposition and move to have the case dismissed.

Mr. Green’s final point, that their Islam isn’t “real” Islam, again, is a dog barking up a wrong tree. I don’t think any moderately educated orthodox/Sunni Muslim [in his/her religious tradition] could condone the Nation of Islam’s theology as valid according the strictures of the religion that Muhammad of Arabia brought. The fact is besides the point and ties back to the misplaced value and making takfir on them. Nation of Islam or not, kafir or not, does not give one the reason to chide these people. But let me further my case with some Sunnah.

Any orthodox/Sunni Muslim worth his or her salt knows that the Prophet loved his people. Religious affiliations aside, he loved his people. It is apparent in his actions and most evident in the love of his uncle, who is recorded in more than one authentic narration, died in a state of kufr [disbelieve]. If one were to give the life of the Prophet a thorough, detailed study, you will find a man who was deeply troubled about and for his people. That throughout his Prophethood, he dearly wanted to make concessions to make Islam more attractive for Makkans/Arabians. Which is why Allah shows to us in the Qur’an that He had to strengthen the Prophet’s resolve or he was have conceded more to them than was proper. That is the real Muhammad, Mr. Green. That is your real Prophet, of which your actions show you are woefully ignorant of. And to toss gasoline on a fire, Mr. Green actually proceed to yell out verses of the Qur’an, in Arabic, of which his target audience was most likely ignorant of. In my opinion, this is akin to shouting fire in a burning house full of deaf people. It does no one any good and saves no lives. What would you do, Mr. Green? Keep shouting at those poor, miserable deaf bastards until the house falls down on them or learn to communicate with them and try to save some lives?

Nuts? Only nuts I’ve seen lately were in the snack isle. But I have seen some crazy stuff on the Internet lately.

And God knows best.