#MiddleGroundPodcast – Netflix’s Iron Fist – Converts and Authenticity


[Direct download]

In this episode, Imam Marc discusses Netflix’s new series, Iron Fist, and relates it to the struggles of Muslims converts and their challenges of authenticity.

Importance of Community – Narrative & Experience – A Khutbah

The following khutbah was delivered Friday, February 5th, 2016, at Middle Ground Muslim Center.


[Direct download]

مَا مِنْ ثَلاَثَةٍ فِي قَرْيَةٍ وَلاَ بَدْوٍ لاَ تُقَامُ فِيهِمُ الصَّلاَةُ إِلاَّ قَدِ اسْتَحْوَذَ عَلَيْهِمُ الشَّيْطَانُ فَعَلَيْكَ بِالْجَمَاعَةِ فَإِنَّمَا يَأْكُلُ الذِّئْبُ الْقَاصِيَةَ

“I [Abu al-Darda’] heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say, ‘If there are three men in a village or in the desert among whom prayer is not offered in congregation, Shaytan [Satan] has mastery over them. So observe prayer in congregation, for the wolf eats only the straggling animal’.” Sunan Abu Dawud, 547.

Aesthetic Islam

For some, the decision to become Muslim is political. For others, trendy. But trends come and go, and when people pursue an aesthetic rather than the beliefs that ground it, these folks are often the first to move on to the next thing. The main issue is not these political or aesthetic choices — human beings make them all the time — but rather what are we, the current community, building to help those who choose Islam as their way of life and become function, operational and just plain normal?

No Growth – No Surprise

Squeaky wheels gets the grease. There are some in our community who are attention seekers. They want a lot of attention and we obliged them. Perhaps if we work actively to steer our converts (so they can move beyond conversion into “being” Muslim) and other members of our community towards operationalizing their Islam, we could nip all of this in the bud. It’s no coincidence that some can rise to popularity in this age of social media and blogs (I myself have a well-read blog). It provides an (unhealthy for some) outlet for those who struggle with narcissism (a disease of our age).

For those of us who personally know converts who leave Islam, you’ll often see there was no progression, no growth of who they were as a person (not only as a Muslim) during their stint in Islam. I hold us a community (fard kifayah?) partially to blame: we have no expectations on ourselves other than beards, hijabs, and bummery (yes, that’s a word). This is also where, again for those of us who do know these converts, we should be challenging them by asking, “why did you spend x-number of years jumping from lily pad to lily pad instead of learning how to swim in the big pond?” What do I mean? Salafism, Sufism, progressivism, this ‘ism and that ‘ism. Some even claim that Islam, vis-a-vie, Muslims, are incapable of competing in the marketplace of ideas. How ironic that in making this statement (which in to some degree may actually hold a bit of validity) thet indict themselves! Obviously is you spend your life committed to the Cult of Personality and not to establishing a relationship with God and His Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم then you can’t expect blood from a turnip. This ordeal is bigger than any one personality; I see the same issue happening now with the UnMosqued people (which is interestingly enough, also taking place online via social media. Just go on Twitter and look for the hash-tag #unmosqued – also see #remosqued). People are whining and complaining about the predicament of our mosques (some true – some maybe not so much) but that’s it. It only amounts to complaints. Folks are unwilling to be that change they want to see in their mosques and communities. Case in point, I was just asked by a young Muslim this morning:

“Why did you want to become an Imam and grow closer and become an important part of your Muslim community? This MSA is my first ever Muslim community and I just can’t help be feel that maybe I just wasted my time by joining it.”

I am not chiding this person but as you can see, many struggle with seeing validity in their lives and the easiest and most convenient target for their frustrations is the Muslim community (an abstraction). My reply was:

“In short, because I like people, because if I don’t, who will. Because I have the necessary skills and talents, in sha’Allah. And because I don’t see it as a waste of time.”

For every commentator on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, we should be asking critical questions, not simply refuting this or that particular person’s misguided reasons for leaving Islam. What can we do, right now, today, tomorrow, this month, this year, to make our community a beacon of light and hope, where folks (myself included!!) can be rehabilitated, where we can help reinforce our children’s love of Islam (and themselves!). Where Islam becomes a lived-in reality, a way of life, not simply a collection of do’s and don’ts (we need more do’s!!).

In a closing observation, I want to say this about converts, who often look for validation and a sense of belonging. For some, this is sought in the Black community (for others with Arabs or South Asian community). This is why for some, even in their demeanor, they attempted to co-opt Black vernacular, body language, urban modes of dress and even derogatory aspects of Black urban behavior. In essence, they seek acceptance from and by African-Americans. This is often the base because their his whiteness is perceived as an immutable barrier to BEING black. Why else do so many feel so comfortable in weighing in on issues with in the black community such as black masculinity. What is not addressed is they own perception of whiteness and how its seen as emasculation personified (look at the critiques of Nuh Ha Meem Keller, Hamza Yusuf, Joe Bradford and others by white converts). Some pursue their Islam through Salafism in its urban, Blackamerican form, not Arab or Desi Salafis (for they do exist in abundance). And even when Salafism “disappointed” them, their next “lily pad” they jump to is often Sufism (the sign of an imbalanced mind – this is nothing to do with those groups in particular); but not just any expression of Sufism (Naqshbandi, Qadiri, Shadhili) but the tariqah which is predominantly black: the Tijani Order. The issue here is seeking acceptance from personalities and groups of people: African-Americans in this case here, instead of dealing with their obvious identity crises and (erroneous) misgivings of being white (which for many white converts, they seem to feel — and indeed may be encouraged to feel — is in jeopardy of discrediting the authenticity of their Islam) has more to do with their apostasy than anything else in my opinion. You’ll notice that theology (tawhid) is often left out of the discussion and the reason being is that for many new converts, theology may not play a major role in the decision to convert (I know it didn’t in mine — I had no idea what tawhid was when I became Muslim. All I knew was my best friend since I was 5 years old became a Muslims, so I became a Muslim — the important part is that I eventually grew as a person which allowed me to grow in my Islam). The major reasons initially may fade over time (boyfriend, girlfriend, marriage, etc.) and if people grow in themselves then such things as tawhid, Sunnah, etc. may become the defining points in why they stay Muslims.

Food for thought.

The Journey Within – M.E.C.C.A. Center’s Annual Outreach Dinner

The journey to Islam is different for each person: for some it takes many years, for others it’s like finding a lost side of yourself that’s been there all along. Either way, as converts, we often hail from families who are not Muslim, perhaps even not religious. For this reason it is important that we as converts foster an environment that is open and welcoming to our families so we do not alienate them from our faith. This is not solely for their betterment, but also for ours. Here are some key points to think about:

Identity

It is important to develop a healthy identity as a Muslim that makes full use of our past instead of jettisoning it in favor of a new “make believe” identity. This is especially important for converts who marry into “legacy” Muslim families, whose ideas and notions of being Muslim may do little in terms of helping the new convert solidify themselves as to who they are in the many worlds they will inhabit and the many hats they will wear.

Support

It is key to have a support network. One thing that can aid this process the most is having people who love you in your life support you.

We often think of the brothers and sisters at the mosque as our support network [which they can be] but we should make every effort to include our families such that they can also be support networks for us as well.

Something to consider: “God structured the Revelatory Period such that Islam’s survival and success hinged partially on non-Muslim familial relationships.

Confirm What Came Before You

One of the main Qur’anic motifs is the idea that Islam/Qur’an, “confirms what comes before it.” Not only is this important scripturally, but also that we work to see our whole lives, even our time before Islam, as productive and meaningful. We should not see our present embracing of Islam as merely opposition to our “previous lives”. This will help to bolster our self-confidence, inclusion of our families, and even help to propel our growth and appreciation of our Islam in a whole new light.

Growth and Pacing

As time passes, we should take efforts to ensure we’re growing as Muslims, at a maintainable pace.

  • Pursuit of Islamic studies should be balanced with recreation and relaxation.
  • Outward expressions of the religion should keep pace or be even be outpaced by inward observance. The consequence can range from ostentation to hypocrisy or even both.
  • Names change: is this really necessary or even wise? It’s one thing for our children but another for us.
  • Realize that our children will not be converts and will have an entirely different experience as a Muslim.

As we grow, we should do our best to include our families in this so that our Islam is seen as a holistic way of life; lead by example!

رب اغفر لي ولولدى ولمن دخل بيتى مؤمنا وللمؤمنين والمؤمنت ولا تزدالظلمين إلا تبارا

“My Lord! forgive me and my parents and all who enter my house as mu’minun, and all the men and women of the mu’minun. But do not increase the wrongdoers except in ruin!” – Qur’an, 71: 28.