An Unhealthy Obsession With Knowledge

al-Hamdu lillah, this summer marks my 15th year as a Muslim. Where does the time go? I look back fondly now at my early days as a Muslim when ever encounter with another Muslim was filled with the excitement for something “new, fresh and unseen before”. Back then, the spirit seems a bit different than it does today. Many of us were simply after a system of morality and piety that we could feel good about. But as Bob Dylan put it, “The times they is ‘a changin'” – or in my case, changed.

Living in West Philadelphia, in Philadelphia at large, which last year, who’s murder rate topped four hundred, leading the nation, grounds one in reality. And that reality spells out to me that the majority of perpetrators and victims of those aforementioned crimes were of Black descent. So for me, the question begs the perennial answer, “when are the Muslims [and here I am talking to Blackamerican Muslims] going to address the situations that they live in and begin to use or at least steer Islam towards a direction where it can be used as a means of addressing these issues. In frank terms, what’s the point in having morality if it has no impact on your daily existence, if it in no way combats the evils that plague your environment? Fifteen years in to this enterprise and I’m still waiting for an answer.

I no way should this critique be taken as high-handed. As I stated, I live and work in this environment – I have a vested interest in its success. And in my opinion, I see great potential for Islam to not only have a positive impact on the lives of the Blackamerican Muslims who live here but in the greater non-Muslim populace as well. For those who initially might think such an exerted influence might be some sort of Utopian daydreaming, one need only look around at Black Culture in Philadelphia and see the lasting and continuing influence that Islam has on the Black conscious here – albeit mostly in fashion and perhaps a sort of protestant, protest attitude. The question is – why is this influence limited to such things as fashion? Is this the best thing that Islam has to offer [Dickies, ‘Tims, long beards, head scarves and the like?]?

I have written before that simply taking shahadah in no way connotes leaving one’s demographics. If you live in environment were violence is king; where drug trafficking and addiction is king; where homelessness is a concern; where teen pregnancy is a concern; where education [or lack there of] and economic prospects [or lack there of] is an issue, then recognizing Allah as your Lord and Master will not “magic wand” any of the above crises away. But instead of addressing any of these issues, I see an almost OCD-like condition amongst Muslims in their “pursuit of knowledge”. I cannot count the number of fliers and emails I have received inviting members of the community to come and “master the sciences of Hadith” or “mastering usul al-fiqh“. Make no mistake, these areas of knowledge are important and they have their place. But I find it hard to justify this type of “educational system” in light of a severe lack of real-life, secular education. Are the mastering of these sciences in anyway crucial to the survival of these communities? If one does not possess an education or a job [often the two go hand-in-hand] then in what way is mastering the science of Hadith going to serve your worldly purpose? There seems to be two factors at work here: [1] the misplaced emphasis cum desire on such knowledge and [2] the misplaced emphasis cum propagation of such studies. There needs to a be greater awareness on the part of the community to look critically at itself and deal with what’s most important. Likewise, the religious leaders also need to reassess what it is they’re teaching – is it of immediate, pertinent value? Unless the vast majority of people who plan to attend such classes and seminars are planning an academic career in Islamic Studies [which being that many have not gone beyond a high school education if that] then again, how is this justified? Instead, could we have a simple return to morality and piety?

This past fifteen years of “research” has shown me that the vast amounts of knowledge soaked up by these communities have done little to nothing at alleviating the above mentioned maladies. Rather, knowledge is used either as a blunt weapon, wielded against other “lesser informed” members of the community, to bludgeon people into submissiveness and conformity. Issues such as rape, domestic violence, or even just simple social responsibility [i.e., getting and maintaining a job and providing for one’s family] go conveniently unaddressed. Knowledge, as it is currently perceived, cannot be seen “‘fore the trees”. It amazes me how Muslims seem to both neglect and miss the simple yet profound piety of the Prophet Muhammad. “Sunnah” becomes a stun gun word, meant to shock and threaten the unaware that they might be rejecting the way of the Prophet. The Prophet’s example of manhood is also carelessly overlooked. Instead, such popular examples of ‘Umar ibn al Khattab are used. For in modern, hyper-masculine Black culture, the “imagined” ‘Umar, who told the leaders of Quraysh, “O Quraysh, if any of you wants his mother to lose a son, his wife to become a widow, and his children to become orphans, then let him meet me tomorrow after Fajr prayers behind this valley because I am migrating!” has captured the imagination of many Muslim men. This type of “John Wayne” persona finds a greater appeal in current times [curious, that other aspects of ‘Umar’s character, such as caring for the poor during his rule as Khalifa are systematically ignored] and yet, the Prophet Muhammad, who was neither overly aggressive nor large and imposing, like ‘Umar, was never seen by his enemies as a coward or, in modern parlance, a “chump”. So why is it that the Prophet is not looked to as an example for manhood? There is a great deal in all this psychology that warrants further examination and adjustment.

In a time when so many suffer from ills that could be combated with simple acts of piety and morality, it continues to baffle and disappoint. Not unlike those who long for knowledge, I too thirst for the ‘ilm – just I’m tired of being wait listed for Islam 201.

And God knows best.

So Why Did You Become Muslim?

One of the most common questions put to me is, “so what was it about Islam that made you convert?” It is interesting on how the demographics of this inquiry break down. Overwhelmingly, the vast majority of those who seem [and this is putting it “politically correct”] puzzled are of a Whiteamerican background. Today’s interlocutor was a white woman, raised in Minnesota, who has had very little to no real world experience with Muslims. Instead, as admitted by her, she’s only informed by popular media.

Our conversation started out on another track but ended up on her realization that I was a Muslim [a fact, that she stated, she “never knew about me before”]. She followed up her new found view of me by asking why I became a Muslim. It was phrased as, “what was it about Islam that made you want to be a Muslim?” I replied that it was not a mere single item but yet the amalgamation of my 19 years as a human being, my rearing from my parents, who being moral people, led me to be attracted to the moral teachings of Islam and so and so forth. She became irked, stating that I was “dodging the question”, which I in turn asking what that question was. Instead of clarifying her point, she instead asked why so many Muslims adhere to extremist views! I asked her what she meant by this, where she added that in the Middle East, so many Muslims are willing to blow themselves up with innumerable innocent people. She found that a “curious morality”. I asked her, keeping in line with her apparent way of thinking, what she thought of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, or Timothy McVeigh? She quipped that despite these groups or these individuals partaking in violent behavior or association with violent groups, “it didn’t measure with the numbers of peoples hailing from the Muslims world”. She pointed to Iraq as well as the 9/11 attacks on New York City. When I then questioned her about the atrocities committed by Christians against the indigenous peoples of the Americans [North, Central, South and the Carribean] as well as the countless millions who were slaughtered in the Atlantic slave trade as well as the numbers of Germans [who were not all Nazis], who were white and of Christian backgrounds, who supported the extermination of millions of Jews, she again appealed that the still didn’t compare the barbarity of the Muslim world.

Our conversation took a turn toward the heated as I fed her back her words, leaving her perplexed, that essentially, whenever someone white or European, who was also a Christian, performed some heinous act, that it was an unfortunate event, somewhere far off in History, that was made “alright” by the kindly efforts of the Europeans to accommodate these groups in the aftermath [Civil Rights, Black History Month, Latino Heritage Month, etc.]. That it is somehow valid for millions of brown-skinned people to be murdered, subjugated and wiped out, all in the name of Progress – that their actions were accidental, unfortunate but somehow justifiable and ultimately redeemable. Yet, when similar actions [even if they were to a far lesser extent or intensity] on the part of Muslims, it was precisely their Islam that informed them, with no chance of being just “fallibly human”.

I am sharing this because these conversations are becoming more frequent, at least as far as me being the target/participant. Muslims are going to have to find a way to not simply counter these attacks or measures but find a way to “deal with them”. This will prove to be extremely difficult when the other half of the conversation believes they never evolved out a history.

And God knows best

The Hating Game

If Islam failed to find a mooring to ground itself in this version of Modernity or Post-Modernity, the phenomenon of 9/11 certainly has done so for it. The offshoot from this grounding has been the creation of a new class of “intellectuals” and pundits, all claiming from various angles to be experts on Islam. The dominate culture and media engine then picks and chooses its star players like selecting sides at a salad bar. The preferred choices seem to rank with “Progressive Muslims”, liberal Muslims, and the great crowd pleaser, the Apostates. Interestingly enough, these three groups share some interesting characteristics, primarily, that many do not “practice” Islam [it is instead a social club or cultural experience] and are often detached and aloof from the very communities they either berate or in some form of pity, attempt to “reform”.

The other day, I was sent a link from a popular Muslim critic and “reformer”, Ali Eteraz, informing me he had written a piece on Noam Chomsky and the linguist’s lack of sufficient dissent. I am familiar with Ali and have been in correspondence with him, off and on, over the past couple of years. So in the spirit of his article and critique of Noam and “those who invoke him”, I too shall offer a reprisal of Ali’s post and offer some insights as well as possible alternatives. Continue reading “The Hating Game”

More Thoughts On the Exclusivity of Whiteness

A few posts back I wrote on the barrier presented to immigrant Muslims (all non-whites for that matter) – the barrier to whiteness. Here are some interesting words by one of our founding fathers, Mr. Benjamin Franklin:

In 1751, Ben Franklin wanted to know why Pennsylvania, “founded by English, (should) become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs anymore than they can aquire our complexion? The number of purley white people in the world is proportionably very small,” he lamented in this essay on human population.

Franklin continued stating,

“All Africa is black or tawny; Asia chiefly tawny; America (exclusive of the newcomers (that is, the English) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who, with the English, make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth. I could wish their numbers were increased.” [Frye 40].

Some of you may indeed be surprised to see Franklin’s expulsion of almost every other group of Europeans from the fold of “Whiteness”. So with this as a proto-concept of the Whiteamerican, how could this shape or influence the debate on the racialization of immigrants into the greater American society? Personally, I found it easy for myself to substitute German for Muslim or even Mexican in his statement above. Food for thought. And God knows best.

Source: Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color : European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. Print.

Striking Stats

I was doing a bit of research on the Web for the demographics of pornographic downloads by country and this is what I came up with:

Keyword “sex”
1. Pakistan
2. India
3. Egypt
4. Turkey
5. Algeria
6. Morocco
7. Indonesia
8. Vietnam
9. Iran
10. Croatia

Eight out of the top ten countries are “Muslim countries”. Perhaps something is out of wack with the “Muslim World”?