Muslims, Modernity and America: The Problems of Meaning

During the 2018 Blackamerican Muslim Conference there were a few instances when modernity, liberalsim, and progressivism—amongst other ideals—were evoked and discussed. Often these philosophies are discussed in relation to the so-called immigrant Muslim community and how it affects them. But these philosophies and value systems impact the Blackamerican Muslim community as well. As I mentioned in my last post, my hope is to delve a little deeper into these topics so as to raise our literacy on the forces acting upon us. I found Steven Seidman’s phrase, “problems of meaning” aptly titled and insightful. In short, Seidman defines the “problems of meaning” as,

“a pervasive uncertainty regarding ultimate beliefs and values, confusing images of self, society and nature, and the ceaseless conflict over the ends, rules, and norms in terms of which personal and collective life is organized and legitimated.”

In the Sunday session on liberalism, Dr. Sherman Jackson astutely pointed out that liberalism, a child of the European Enlightenment, came about as a reaction to a particular experience that Europe had with religion. Similarly, Seidman states,

“The great transformation of European societies issued forth problems of meaning as established cultural frameworks securing identity, moral order, and purposeful existence were disrupted.”

It is clear that if one were to summarize the problems which face the Blackamerican Muslim community, those topping the list would undoubtedly include “a pervasive uncertainty regarding ultimate beliefs and values” as well as “confusing images of self” as to what a Muslim ought to be and look like from a Blackamerican Muslim point of view. In other words it is not that our challenges as Blackamerican Muslims living in America are legion, but that they are layered and obscured from vision.

One example of a layered problem, or as Seidman labels it, problems of meaning is the doubly shifting sands of Blackamerican Muslim pursuits of “identity, moral order, and purposeful existence”. I say doubly shifting because what effects white America inevitably black America or as the Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker quoted, “when downtown catches a cold, Harlem gets pneumonia”. Blackamerican Muslims must try to forge an identity, establish moral order and carve out a dignified existence amidst an ever-changing social landscape, one which we exert little overt control. For me this is why it’s even more crucial that Blackamerican Muslims come to familiarize themselves with these philosophical, intellectual and cultural forces that routinely produce regimes of “pervasive uncertainty regarding ultimate belief”. For it is certainly this which is currently decimating the ranks of those who followed revealed religion: Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike.

Seidman, Steven. “Modernity And The Problem Of Meaning: The Durkheimian Tradition”. Sociological Analysis, vol. 46, no. 2, Summer 1985, pp. 109-130.

The Here-After: An Inconveniencing Truth

In our discussion group at Middle Ground, lately we have discussed one the maladies plaguing modern western civilization, namely the selfish pursuit of happiness. In reflecting on how this has influenced modern attitudes towards belief — and doubly so religion — we were reminded of a quote from the 20th century Polish poet, Stanisław Lec,

“Pity that the only way to paradise is in a hearse.”1

Notes

1. Márquez, Jesús Silva-Herzog. Trans. Tanya Huntington. The Idiocy Of Perfection. Houston, Literal Publishing, 2017.

#MiddleGroundPodcast – Meaning Is What Makes Us Truly Alive


[Direct download]

We come into the world with our eyes closed.

We have to open our eyes to find meaning and purpose, not just happiness.

All worldly happiness has limits and limitations.

ثُمَّ سَوّاهُ وَنَفَخَ فيهِ مِن روحِهِ ۖ وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمعَ وَالأَبصارَ وَالأَفئِدَةَ ۚ قَليلًا ما تَشكُرونَ

“Then He constructs each person in their mother’s womb, then breathes into him something of His spirit. Then He endows you all with faculties of awareness: hearing, sight and feeling.Yet, for all of these gifts, you’re hardly thankful at all!”Qur’an, 32: 9

قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ أَنَا عِنْدَ ظَنِّ عَبْدِي بِي وَأَنَا مَعَهُ حَيْثُ يَذْكُرُنِي

وَاللَّهِ الَلَّهُ أَفْرَحُ بِتَوْبَةِ عَبْدِهِ مِنْ أَحَدِكُمْ يَجِدُ ضَالَّتَهُ بِالْفَلاَةِ

وَمَنْ تَقَرَّبَ إِلَىَّ شِبْرًا تَقَرَّبْتُ إِلَيْهِ ذِرَاعًا

وَمَنْ تَقَرَّبَ إِلَىَّ ذِرَاعًا تَقَرَّبْتُ إِلَيْهِ بَاعًا

وَإِذَا أَقْبَلَ إِلَىَّ يَمْشِي أَقْبَلْتُ إِلَيْهِ أُهَرْوِلُ

“Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, said:

‘I am as My servant thinks of Me to him. And I am with him as he remembers Me.’

The Prophet further said:

‘By Allah, Allah is more pleased with the repentance of His servant than were one of you were to finding that which he holds most precious (the object of his search) in a waterless desert.’

God continues saying, ‘When he draws near Me by the span of his hand I draw near him by the length of a cubit.’

‘And when he draws near Me by the length of a cubit I draw near him by the length of a fathom.’

‘And when he draws near Me walking I draw close to him hurriedly’.” — Sahih Muslim, #2675

For other khutbahs and podcasts, see the Middle Ground Podcast.

Unapologetic: Good For God’s Sake

In a recent appearance on the Steve Harvey Show, Ibn Ali Miller, the brother who chose to interview between street youths fighting, demonstrates the importance of being grounded in being Muslim. I say this not because brother Ali chose to wear a thawb, or traditional Middle Eastern garb — this has nothing to do with Islam, per se (though it obviously means something to him as a Muslim!) — but because he’s so comfortable in being Muslim he’s not concerned about how this appears to others. For our Muslim youth today, what we need are not only Muslim leaders who can exude confidence, but regular ol’ uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, etc., who are humble and confident. May Allah continue to bless brother Ibn Ali Miller to be an example to us all. Amin.

“I’m not a TV guy. This is not for me. I do you, Steve … I’ll be honest, I did you because of what you do off camera: Because you care about young black men in America”Ibn Ali Miller speaking to Steve Harvey