Impetuous

Raining in South Philly

خلق الإنسان من عجل سأوريكم ءاياتي فلا تستعجلون

“The human being was created from haste; I will show you My Signs, so do not be impetuous.” [Qur’an, The Prophets {21}, verse 37].

It wasn’t raining when I left the house but it sure was raining now. That little voice in the back of my head said, check the Weather Channel; see what the weather’s going to be like today. But I was short on time, as I am every morning. I try and delay my exit from my house down to the last second because like every other hard working American, I didn’t really feel like going to work just yet. And neither did my umbrella.

“Do not be impetuous”. Continue reading “Impetuous”

Paying the Price For Our Lack of Vision

I’ve been resisting writing and posting during Ramadan but I opted to put out one small post. I pray everyone’s Ramadan is rewarding, redeeming, and fulfilling.

One of the most memorable lines from the Star Wars franchise was Emperor Palpatine’s cruel admonishment of Luke when he cackled, “you shall pay the price for your lack of vision!” This chastisement was swiftly followed by searing bolts of blue lightening. If it weren’t for the timely intervention of Luke’s at-one-time sinister father, Darth Vader, Luke may have met a very unfortunate fate.  In what has also become now a cruel twist of fate, American Muslims are now paying their own price for lack of vision, as the United States now increasingly turns on Muslims, demonizing and terrorizing them, not unlike this recent incident in New York, where a mosque was attacked by a small pack of marauding teens. Similarly to Luke’s blunder, American Muslims simply did not adequately prepare, in this case, for life in America. Where is our Darth Vader in our time of despair?

Sadly, Islam in American, in its heretical inception—referred to as the First Resurrection via The Nation of Islam—did a far better job of indigenizing Islam.  The Second Resurrection [Islam 2.0?], consisted of both immigrant Muslims and new orthodox converts, who were initially unconcerned with the dominant culture’s views of Islam, and thus chose to either live anonymous lives in their new found homes—vis-a-vie through the door of whiteness—or in the case of Blackamerican Muslims, chose to live new lives that had little to do with the existential realities as colored folks living in a post-Jim Crow America. Both groups lived in a fantasy; a bubble.  Of particular interest to immigrant Muslims, whiteness has been the gateway that many if not most immigrants have successfully integrated into the American social landscape.  This created a dichotomy in American Islam in which immigrant Muslims increasingly turned a blind eye to the underside of assimilation: whiteness, and all of the unearned privilidges it entails. Blackamerican Muslims, having no such option, opted to simply limp along, paroting their immigrant counterparts without the Players Club incentives. Much to the dismay of [immigrant] Muslims, the 9/11 attacks did away with any hopes of Muslims being considered white/American, and thus we arrive back at our “price” for “lack of vision”. In another twist of ironic fate, blackness and its legacy of civil rights engagement [i.e., its holy protest against white domination and supremacy] seems to be the last bastion of hope for both communities. It is the only social modality that is seen and recognized as viably America: out of immigrant and indigenous Muslims, it’s the only one that’s socially acceptable, if not preferred. Perhaps if immigrant Muslims had not uncritically flocked to the banner of whiteness [I can hear Admiral Akbar shouting now, “it’s a trap” – or “it’s a twap”, however you prefer your phonetics] and Blackamerican Muslims had not been so quick to abondon blackness, we might very well be in a completely different situation today.

The Nation of Islam, and subsequently its splinter group, led by the courageous Warith Deen Muhammad, charted a vision of Islam [by Islam here, I mean as it was socially expressed by the NOI, and not by the normal rigors of classical Muslim theology] that sought to place the cares, concerns, and proclivities of [Black] American Muslims at the heart of its agenda.  And while the WD movement has also fallen on hard times, it still alludes to the crux of the current social predicament.

In many ways, Muslims in America were afforded a tremendous blessing post-9/11. Public sentiment towards Muslims was somewhat tarnished but by and large, the cloud of negative perceptions of Islam were held at bay, only occasionally making their way in to the public arena.  In fact, there was a notable calling amongst non-Muslims that the 9/11 attacks were perpetuated by a few terribly misguided souls and that Muslims and Islam were not to blame.  American Muslims, instead of capitalizing on this opportunity to push forward efforts to indigenize [not assimilate] themselves to their social, cultural and political landscapes, simply rested on their laurels.  Both sides of the indigenous/immigrant isle have been equally to blame.  Native-born Muslims still continued to favor a brand of Islam that was more about cultural acting than getting down to brass tax and most immigrant Muslims were so devastated at the quandary of being abandoned on the doorstep of whiteness that most of the efforts out of that community have been mostly assimilationist at best, if not simply down-right floundering.  So again, where is our Darth Vader in our time of need?

Simply put, it is my belief that if Muslims do not solve this issue [if it is already not too late], then Islam will suffer a fate worse than persecution: irrelevancy.  And by issue, I mean to address what is at the heart of mainstream America’s growing resentment towards Islam. I believe this to be mainly aesthetic: people simply do not like the way Islam looks and feels as a result of not knowing what Islam’s story is, or more precisely, what the American Muslims’ story is. And American Muslims have failed in telling their own story because they have yet to craft one. Narrative is crucial to survival in America; if you don’t have one, you don’t belong. Perhaps it’s not too late to stop, reflect, and take stock of our condition, our situation.  Let us look at examples from our common cultural past that have succeeded: the Nation of Islam as well as the American Jewish community, who have critically understood the necessity of story and narrative as a primary means of not only survival but also of flourishing. To delay any longer would be akin to another favorite Star Wars quote: “almost there … almost there …” – and we all know what happened next after that.

Cross posted on Tumblr.

The Best Is Yet To Come

2342 Broadway, San Francisco

The Dunyā [الدنيا]: this word would have to list very high on words that are both emotionally charged and misunderstood by Muslims. This is partially due to its ambiguity, its meaning depending on the context: to be or draw close to something; to be vile or base; and of course, its common understanding [which is valid] to be that of this world or mundane, temporal life. Without a doubt, Dunyā is a location, a place, and yet the nuanced perspective that the Qur’ān has on This Life seldom gets articulated.

While coming across an online article today, I was reminded of how the Qur’ān speaks to mankind’s deep-seated desires: we love beautiful homes and many of us fantasize about “dream homes”. I have been privy to such conversations where people have been reproached for their apparent materialism, and yet, something about that desire speaks to a core characteristic of Banī Adam. The Qur’ānic passage came to mind my immediately:

وجوه يومئذ ناعمة لسعيها راضية في جنة عالية لا تسمع فيها لغية فيها عين جارية فيها سرر مرفوعة وأكواب موضوعة ونمارق مصفوفة وزرابي مبثوثة

“Faces on That Day will be radiant, happy with their efforts, in a elevated garden, within they will hear no harsh speech.  Inside is a gushing spring, raised couches, set goblets, lined cushions, and spread out carpets.” [Qur’ān, 88: 8-16]

How funny it is that God would speak to the human being about rugs, couches, and goblets? As to whether the designers were trying to accomplish this, I cannot say, but it did remind [ذكر] me about The Next Life [الآخرة], where our deep-rooted human desires can be fulfilled. It also reminds me that the Dunya is filled with opportunity. Opportunity for us to strive towards seeking God’s pleasure, God’s reward, and endeavoring to extrapolate what reminders of The Life To Come as we can from This Existence.

Our conversations about this life must embrace the nuance and richness of the Qur’ānic narrative:

فمن الناس من يقول ربنا ءاتنا في الدنيا وما له في الآخرة من خلق

“And from amongst men are those who say, ‘O’ our Lord, give us good in this life’. They will have no share in the Next Life.” [Qur’ān, 2: 200]

If the above āyah were read in and of its self, we would be short changing ourselves of the big picture:

ومنهم من يقول ربنا ءاتنا في الدنيا حسنة وفي الآخرة حسنة وقنا عذاب النار ألئك لهم نصيب مما كسبوا والله سريع الحساب

“And from them are those who say, ‘O our Lord, give us good in This Life and The Next, and save us from the torment of the Fire’. For them is a just share fromwhat they have hearned. God is Swift in Reckoning.” [Qur’ān, 2: 201-202]

The Dunyā is where we can seek God’s bounty, God’s mercy, God’s favor.  It is where we build the foundation for our proverbial castles in the sky.  It is where we put our mettle to the test.  It is where we enjoin the good, forbid the evil, make our pilgrimages, our friendships.  It is where we acquire the correct knowledge, master the correct deeds. It is our layover, our way-station towards, God willing, a better, a purer, a more real existence.  So for now, I will look and dream at “dream houses”.  Not as a materialist, coveting the illusory nature of this world, but in wonder and amazement: if this is what man can do, I stand in awe and inticipation of what the Creator of the seven heavens has in store for me.

And Do Not Let The Deluder Delude You Concerning God

يأيها الناس اتقوا ربكم واخشوا يوما لا يجزي والد عن ولده ولا مولود هوجاز عن والده شيئا ان وعد الله حق فلا تغرنكم الحيوة الدنيا ولا يغرنكم بالله الفرور

“Mankind! have taqwa of your Lord and fear a day when no father will be able to atone for his son, or son for his father, in any way. Allah’s promise is true. So do not let the life of this world delude you and do not let the Deluder delude you concerning God.” [Qur’ān: Luqmān (31): 33]

I was remined of this āyah and so many more in this short but insightful piece by Chris Hedges:

The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears or John Edwards, enthralls the country … despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.

The virtues that sustain a nation-state and build community, from honesty to self-sacrifice to transparency to sharing, are ridiculed each night on television as rubes stupid enough to cling to this antiquated behavior are voted off reality shows. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame, cheered on by millions of viewers, elect to “disappear” the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show America’s Next Top Model, a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities that can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.

You may continue reading the article here.

"Eat from that which is Good" – Chocolate Cupcakes Cross Examined

chocolate cupcakes

On May 21st, I gave a khutbah at the University of Pennsylvania in which I talked about food as it relates to Muslims but examining the Qur’ānic imperative:

كلوا من الطيبات واعملوا صالحا

“Eat from that which is good and perform righteous acts.” Qur’an, 7: 100.

This statement crossed my mind again that day as I stopped in at a 7-Eleven to get a sports drink. Across the cooler, laying inconspicuously, was an attractive looking package [for a junk food addict that is], which read on the front: “Chocolate Cupcakes: rich, chocolaty goodness — mouthwatering chocolate cake covered with chocolate frosting”.

At the same time, a recent converstaion I had with a close friend of mine, in which we discussed the modern woes of food production as well as the absence of any critical Muslim dialog and involvement in it, entered my head.  In the conversation, the brother asked me to watch a video entitled, “Food Inc.“.  The video, which can be seen on Youtube, lays out and illustrates a reality about food production that should of interest to Muslims, especially given the above imperative. During our conversation, I became aware of my own lack of congnisance regarding the subject and have thus endeavored to make myself more aware of its importance.  But in doing so, my desire was to take the conversation about “healthy food” away from the fringe, where it is perceived to be the property and proclivity of vegans, vegetarians and other minority groups who are conscious, and steer it towards the mainstream of the typical Muslim.  In essence, it is my hope that we can have a communal conversation and perhaps even change of action, regarding food, that goes beyond the halāl/non-halāl dichotomy. I also saw it as a missed opportunity that Muslims could have in terms of da’wah and dialog with the broader American public.

But back to our story … So there I was, in a spot we’ve all been at, at some time or another.  Tempted by some sweet delicacy.  And as my hand reached for its cellophane wrapper, brother Muhammad’s voice and conversation entered my head, and I recalled the verse I had recited from the minbar again: “Eat from that which is good and perform righteous deeds“.  And as I did, I glanced down at the ingredients and I must say, it was startling.  Not only for its sheer incomprehensibility and daunting chemical vocabulary, but also at some of the ingredients themselves—my concsiousness made aware from Food Inc.—a few of them stood out, for which I have highlighted.  This is a far cry from the chocolate cupcakes my mother made me as a child!

Sugar,water, corn syrup, enriched unbleached flour and bleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, palm oil, eggs, cocoa (natural and processed with alkali), contains 2% or less of the following: modified food starch, dextrose, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), cornstarch, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, mono- and diglycerides, chocolate liquor [say what?!], salt, calcium sulfate, methylcellulose, agar, soy lecithin, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, cellulose gum, polysorbate 60 [what happened to the other 59?], guar gum, titanium dioxide (color – titanium for color? C’m on!), artificial flavors, lactic acid, sorbitan monostearate, sodium hexametaphosphate, annatto (color), citric acid, xanthan gum, caramel color, preserved with potassium sorbate, sodium propionate, and sodium benzoate.

In light of the above verse and this laundry list of chemical agents, it is high time for Muslims to have a voice in the public discourse on health.  We have our own long tradition of health-related eating practices [both Qur’anic, Prophetic and from the Tradition].  One can walk into any hospital and find a large number of Muslim doctors but how many Muslim public health officials do we have?  I am reminded of Dr. Jackson’s talk on the “quietism” on behalf of Muslims when it comes to race.  I would indeed agree, though I would push it further and contest that Muslims are “quite” on the vast majority of topics that are of interest to the society that they live in as a whole.  How can we remain quiet in the face of not only racial injustice, but of practices on the part of the food industry that have the potential to affect us all?

Food for thought.

Extra Links

  • Halal Scanner: www.halalscanner.com/
  • Halal and kosher food safer?: Scientist Live [is it really? And does halal necesarrily equate “tayyib”/”good”?]
  • American Halal Association: americanhalalassociation.com/