If You Build It … Who Did You Build It For?

Food for thought on youth groups and so-called youth ministry from Mark Oestreicher in his Youth Ministry 3.0:

“I was a true believer in ‘If you build it, they will come.’ It sounds wonderful in a world consumed by marketing our niches to get the desired outcome. The problem is that it doesn’t work. I realize now that the ‘If you’ was all me—not God. God is missing in the Field of Dreams I build. By grace God showed up in the stuff I built, but now I see that what God built is the only thing that’s made any lasting impact.” — Jerry Watts

Have We Traded Our Bedrock Convictions For The Shifting Sands Of Values?

“The social and cultural conditions that make character possible are no longer present and no amount of political rhetoric, legal maneuvering, educational policy making, or money can change that reality.” — James Davison Hunter from The Death of Character

While Hunter makes an interesting observation, I do believe the one thing that he left off his list which can restore character is religion, specifically Islam. I mean this in no cheap or reductionist way. I mean a religious and spiritual practice that returns us to silence. The silence we so desperately need as individuals but also the communal silence by which we, by standing together in ranks for prayer, tune out the world and tune in to the Oneness of The Creator. This, I still believe, can achieve that elusive goal of restoring character.

I do concur with Hunter’s conclusion that “character is formed in relation to conviction and is manifest in the capacity to abide by those convictions even in, especially in, the face of temptation.” This speaks to heart of many of the struggles I witness in Muslim youth. They have hearts but have not been spiritually trained to have conviction. And by barring them from sharing in the vision of our community they have been given little opportunity to develop religious and spiritual conviction. It’s as if they know what Islam is gesturing but they do not know what it’s saying. Out of a misplaced sense of love and lack of trust — that it is God who makes a believer — we have stifled this all important aspect of Muslim development. This is akin to my statement of sucking all of the oxygen out of a room:

Another way to think about the challenges we face is how we’ve supplanted creeds with values. This has been concurrent with the secularization of the Muslim mind. As Hunter puts it, “Values are truths that have been deprived of their commanding character. Many of us, not only youth, have been inculcated into internalizing Islam, not as a fundamental truth claim, one which places demands on us, but merely as a set of “values” which can be altered, rearranged, or even deleted, depending on what our social circumstances demand of us or what we desire (demand!) from society. Or as Bo Burlingham quoted in his book Small Giants, “mediocrity is our greatest competition”.

To better understand the dilemma of values, I quote Hunter again: “the very word ‘value’ signifies the reduction of truth to utility, taboo to fashion, conviction to mere preference; all provisional, all exchangeable”. And therefore we must also ask ourselves: “what is conviction”? It is, as Hunter explains: “the commitment to truths made sacred”. Likewise, what is its absence. Again, Hunter: “There is nothing there (values) that one need believe, commanding and demanding its due, for ‘truth’ is but a matter of taste and temperament”. This elegantly echoes the Qur’anic verse,

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

“Fighting (in the cause of God) is a duty laid down upon you, even though it might be unpleasant for you. However, you may hate something that’s good for you and love something that’s bad for you. God knows, and you don’t know.”Qur’an 2: 217

Keepin’ It One Hunned – Challenges Facing the Continuity of the American Muslim Community

The following are some audio clips from conversations we have at Middle Ground Muslim Center often after our Understanding Islam class.

“We all want our du’ah answered.”


[Direct download]

مَا مِنْ دَاعٍ يَدْعُو إِلاَّ كَانَ بَيْنَ إِحْدَى ثَلاَثٍ إِمَّا أَنْ يُسْتَجَابَ لَهُ وَإِمَّا أَنْ يُدَّخَرَ لَهُ وَإِمَّا أَنْ يُكَفَّرَ عَنْهُ

Yahya related to me from Malik that Zayd ibn Aslam used to say, “No one makes du’ah without one of three things happening: either it is answered, it is stored up for him, or wrong actions are atoned for by it”. [al-Muwatta’]

The concerns of converts. How to reconcile ultimate justice?


[Direct download]

وَنَضَعُ المَوازينَ القِسطَ لِيَومِ القِيامَةِ فَلا تُظلَمُ نَفسٌ شَيئًا ۖ وَإِن كانَ مِثقالَ حَبَّةٍ مِن خَردَلٍ أَتَينا بِها ۗ وَكَفىٰ بِنا حاسِبينَ

“We will set up the Just Balance on the Day of Rising and no self will be wronged in any way. Even if it is no more than the weight of a grain of mustard-seed, We will produce it. We are sufficient as a Reckoner.” Qur’an, 21: 47

The concerns of converts. How to reconcile ultimate justice?


[Direct download]

لا يكن تأخر العطاء مع الإلحاح في الدعاء موجبا ليأسك، فهو ضمن لك الإجابة فيما يختاره لك لا فيما تختاره لنفسك

“If, in spite of persistent supplication (du’ah), there is delay in the timing of the Gift, do not allow yourself to despair, for He has guaranteed you a response in what He chooses for you—not in what you choose for yourself—at the time He desires, not the time you desire.” Ibn ‘Ata’Allah, al-Hikam #6


[Direct download]

“Hypocrisy, or the perception of hypocrisy, will fully undermine the confidence of a Muslim child in the choice of Islam.”

Further reading: “The Impact of Liberalism, Secularism and Atheism On The American Mosque” from ALIM.

Are We Dropping the Baton?

Much of social media can be a slosh of one-liners: a blur of detached quotes and images. Total chaos. But once in a while a post comes along that does make you stop and reflect. The Islam & the Third Resurrection Facebook group posited the following question:

“Why does it seem like the majority of all the black American Muslims are 55 and up? Why weren`t they able to successfully pass Islam on to their children?”

This is a prescient question, one deserving our undivided attention. And while not wanting to universalize, this also reflects a comment I made during my interview with sister Heather Laird when asked about the differences, if any, between the challenges facing the Blackamerican/indigenous American-Muslim community and the immigrant community:

“It’s like a different album cover but the songs are still the same.”

This question cannot be answered in any single, simple term. It’s as complicated as the folks who made the problem itself. I tried to address some of this in the interview (timeline about 16:00) but if I were to begin an attempt to answer this question, it would be an accusation against the older generation that they thought “it was all about them”. They largely built nothing for succeeding generations: very few institutions by Blackamerican Muslims (masajid, schools, other spaces) and dysfunctional mosques and schools by immigrants. In both cases, the few places that were built were devoid of any purpose and back by little if any human capital.

Additionally, these two communities have stifled any and all creativity in their children. As a result, Islam was mainly reduced to a reactionary theology, devoid of real character building, absent of moral conviction, that painted God as little more than a great big cop in the sky, ready to punish anyone who drove 65 in a 55 mph zone, with their pants too long, their beards too short, and the hijabs not wrapped tight enough (or absent all together!). Our inclination to protest (something present in both the Blackamerican experience as well as the immigrant one) has gotten the better of us: we protest to the point that we even proverbially picketed our children. And with all of the alluring secular options to just bounce out and live lives as “good people”, they were failed to be led to see how, in any way, that religion adds value to life.

So let us ask God for guidance, to come to our senses, and try to right the ship before it’s too late for us all.