From Moses to Malcolm – Islam in America, A Khutbah

Moses was the adopted son of Egypt and Pharaoh. Malcolm too was an adopted son of sorts. Both spoke truth to power. There are many figures of justice throughout the Qur’an and in Muslim history: Moses, Jesus, Abraham, Dhu’l Qarnayn, Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, Umar bin al-Khattab, Nana Asmau, Muhammad ‘Ali, and El Hajj Malcolm Shabbaz, just to name a few.

One of the issues that challenge religious communities in America as it relates to relevance and speaking truth to power is the privatization of religion (secularity/post-secularity). In this process of privatization, I feel we have taken the story, life and today, anniversary of the death of Malcolm Shabbaz, from the perspective of privatized religion. So the question is:

Do we celebrate Malcolm’s “coolness” or do we actually intimately relate to the issues he sought to address?

What did he stand for? Do we really love Malcolm, or have we used his story and history as a repository to write our own, for as God’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم tells us, love has conditions:

قَالَ رَجُلٌ لِلنَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهِ إِنِّي لأُحِبُّكَ ‏.‏ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ انْظُرْ مَاذَا تَقُولُ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ وَاللَّهِ إِنِّي لأُحِبُّكَ ‏.‏ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ انْظُرْ مَاذَا تَقُولُ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ وَاللَّهِ إِنِّي لأُحِبُّكَ ‏.‏ ثَلاَثَ مَرَّاتٍ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ إِنْ كُنْتَ تُحِبُّنِي فَأَعِدَّ لِلْفَقْرِ تِجْفَافًا فَإِنَّ الْفَقْرَ أَسْرَعُ إِلَى مَنْ يُحِبُّنِي مِنَ السَّيْلِ إِلَى مُنْتَهَاهُ

A man said to the Prophet (s.a.w): “O’ Messenger of God, I swear to God that I  truly love you!” So the Prophet said: “Consider what you’re saying.” To this the man replied, “I swear to God that I  truly love you!” Three times this was repeated. He said, “If you do indeed love me, then prepare yourself for poverty, for indeed poverty comes faster upon whoever loves me than does the flood to its destination.” — Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, 2350.

While this hadith is rated as weak it does show that standing up for the truth, for la ilahi illa’Allah, will not come without its trials and tests. This was abundantly clear in the life of Malcolm, how ultimately paid for justice with his life, may God have mercy on him.

Another parallel between Malcolm’s life and the Qur’an is the story of Abraham and his people:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا إِبْرَاهِيمَ رُشْدَهُ مِنْ قَبْلُ وَكُنَّا بِهِ عَالِمِينَ

إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ مَا هَٰذِهِ التَّمَاثِيلُ الَّتِي أَنْتُمْ لَهَا عَاكِفُونَ

قَالُوا وَجَدْنَا آبَاءَنَا لَهَا عَابِدِينَ

قَالَ لَقَدْ كُنْتُمْ أَنْتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُمْ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ

قَالُوا أَجِئْتَنَا بِالْحَقِّ أَمْ أَنْتَ مِنَ اللَّاعِبِينَ

قَالَ بَلْ رَبُّكُمْ رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ الَّذِي فَطَرَهُنَّ وَأَنَا عَلَىٰ ذَٰلِكُمْ مِنَ الشَّاهِدِينَ

“We gave Ibrahim his right guidance early on, and We had complete knowledge of him. When he said to his father and his people, ‘What are these statues you are clinging to?’ they said, ‘We found our fathers worshipping them.’ He said, ‘You and your fathers are clearly misguided.’ They said, ‘Have you brought us the truth or are you playing games?’ He said, ‘Far from it! Your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, He who brought them into being. I am one of those who bear witness to that.” Qur’an, 21: 51-57.

It took a look of courage for Abraham to address his people on what they were wrongly “clutching on to”. Likewise, Malcolm addressed America, as one of its own, that they too were clutching on to the system of anti-black racism and violence, a system much akin to idolatry, for no other reason than they “found their forefathers doing so”.

This and more is addressed in the khutbah. I pray we can reflect, change and benefit from the examples of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, Moses, Jesus, Abraham and even the likes of our brother, Malcolm.

And with God is all success.

Chaplain Chats – Nana Asma’u bint Uthman dan Fodio

The following are notes from the lecture that I gave on Nana Asma’u bint Uthman dan Fodiyo, as part of the Chaplain Chats at the University of Pennsylvania on November 17th, 2011. See below for the audio. Many thanks to my wife, without whom I could not have acquired so much great data in a short amount of time.

Nana Asma’u bint Shehu Usman dan Fodiyo, Arabic: نانا أسماء بنت عثمان فودي‎; [1793–1864] and was named after Asma bint Abi Bakr, Abu Bakr’s daughter.

Nigeria:

  • Ruled by Hausa states.
  • Islam entered around 10th Century, with mainly just rulers embracing Islam. Islam was mixed with pagan rituals. Majority of populace was not Muslim at this time.
  • Muslims brought with them written language: facilitated state-building, prestige, etc.
  • Hausa rulers participated in Atlantic slave trade. Heavily taxed population creating discord.
  • Fulani Jihads: Hausa backed the Fulani jihads b/c of exploitation, etc.
    • Led by her father [founder of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809]. Fulani scholar. Learned from Taureg. Gained mass popularity and attracted large number of students. Became a threat to Hausa rulers. Critiqued state power/excesses. Advocated a return to a Prophetic/religious/spiritual model.
    • Made hijrah because the ire he drew from the Hausa kings.
    • Father: taught Maliki law. A teacher in the Sufi order: Qadiriyyah.

Nana:

  • Daughter of the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Usman dan Fodio.
  • Half-sister of Mohammed Bello, Usman’s son and inheritor.
  • Spoke four languages (Arabic, the Fula language, Hausa and Tamacheq Tuareg). Taught both men and women
  • Poet: Arabic, the Fula language and Hausa, all written in the Arabic script [‘Ajamiyyah].
  • She was active in politics, education and social reform; she was a prolific author, popular teacher and renowned scholar and intellectual. political as well as religious leader as her father was called Amir al-Mu’minin.
  • Responsible for women’s religious education.
    • She created a new class of women teachers (jajis) who traveled throughout the Caliphate educating women in the students’ homes.
    • Each jajis in turn used Nana Asma’u’s and other Sufi scholars writings (recited mnemonics and poetry, etc.) to train corps of learned women, called ”yan-taru”, or “those who congregate together, the sisterhood.”
    • Jajis became symbols of the new state, the new order, and of Islamic learning even outside women’s community. Like the muqaddimah system.
    • Enduring legacy: Today in Northern Nigeria, Islamic women’s organizations and schools commonly refer to her.
    • Significant example for men and women alike. Political, religious, spiritual.
    • Allowed women to be active outside the home. Rewrote the book on women’s roles in a “traditional” society.
    • Islamicized the Hausa, which beforehand, Islam was linked with lineage vs. the Ottoman tendency which was to conquer and rule over non-Muslim populations.

Poetry

You should always be clean and wear clean clothes.

Look well to the details of your religion so that we may all

be united with Ahmada.

You should seek religious knowledge and stop straying from

The Path. Do not be one of the lost in the next world.

Ahmada.

Such knowledge enables you to follow God and the

Prophet.

Insight into the Sunna will carry us to Ahmada.

Wishing for a Muslim everything that you

Wish for yourself is [in keeping with] the character of

Muhammada. (vv. 19-21, 28)

A WARNING, II
Wa’azu
A.D. I856/A.H. 1273 
LANGUAGE OF ORIGINAL: HAUSA SOURCE OF TEXT: WAZIRI JUNAIDU

1 I give thanks to God the Merciful
Who created me; the Generous King.

2 He is One, to Him belongs everything,
He has no beginning because He began everything.

3 He hears, just as He sees:
He knows all mysteries, He is omniscient and patient.

4 But He does not hear with ears,
Nor does He see with eyes.

5 Trust in Him and His existence.
There is no King except God the Bountiful,

6 And trust in Muhammad His Messenger,
Then you will be an upright Muslim.

7 Do not innovate. Keep strictly to the Sunna
For the Sunna will suffice you till you reach Heaven.

8 Repent, for repentance purifies the worshiper
So he can escape from sin which leads to Hellfire.

9 Safeguard the proprieties of ritual ablution,
And on the Bridge over the Fire, you will feel no pain.

10 If you are ill, procedures can vary,
For God gives his servants concessions.

11 What God wants most
Is work that is willingly done.

12 From God we should all seek 
Forgiveness and His trust.

13 The Everlasting never dies
Forever and ever and ever He exists.

14 Listen to my warnings, brethren,
And heed them: admonition is good for you.

15 Let us repent because repentance
Is the gateway to God the Merciful.

16 Give the alms you must and those you wish, and pray
For the sake of the Prophet, our Leader.

17 Say your prayer beads in the mornings
And in the evenings and say extra prayers in the night.

18 To love the Qur’an is to love God:
For the Prophet’s sake, read it constantly.

19 This is the Path of the Almighty.
He who follows will never turn.

20 Women, a warning. Leave not your homes without good reason
You may go out to get food or to seek education.

21 In Islam, it is a religious duty to seek knowledge
Women may leave their homes freely for this.

22 Repent and behave like respectable married women
You must obey your husbands’ lawful demands.

23 You must dress modestly and be God-fearing.
Do not imperil yourselves and risk Hellfire.

24 Any woman who refuses, receives no benefit,
The merciful Lord will give her the reward of the
damned.

25 I have written this poem of admonition
For you to put to good use in the community.

26 I end with thanks to God. I invoke His peace On the Prophet and
his companions.

27 The year of the Hijra is 1273.

FURTHER READING

Adamu, A.U. (2004): Sunset at Dawn, Darkness at Noon: Reconstructing the Mechanisms of Literacy in Indigenous Communities; 7th Professorial Inaugural Lecture, Bayero University, Kano.

Al-Hageel, S.A. (2001): Human Rights in Islam and their Applications in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; First edition, King Fahd National Library, Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia.

Arebi, S (1991): “Gender Anthropology in the Middle East: The Politics of Muslim Women’s. Misrepresentation. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. Volume 8 Number 1

Al-Mamoud, I. S. (2001): Winning the Heart of Your Husband: Deluxe Printers, London.

Boyd, J. (1989): The Caliph’s Sister, Nana Asma’u 1793-1865 Teacher, Poet and Islamic Leader: Frank Cass, Britain.

Bullock, K (2002): “Toward the Full Inclusion of Muslim Women in the Umma: An Activist’s Perspective” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Volume 19 Number 4.

Boyd J and Mack, B.B. (1997): Collected Works of Nana Asma’u, Daughter of Usman ‘dan-Fodio (1793-1864) Michigan State University Press, U.S.A.

El-Tayeb, S.E. (1989): “The Ulama and Islamic Renaissance in Algeria” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences Volume 6 Number 2.

Heywood, A (1998): Political Ideologies: An Introduction; worth publishers, New York, U.S.A.

Johnston, H.A.S (1967): The Fulani Empire of Sokoto Oxford University Press, London

Mack, B.B. and Boyd, J. (2000): One Woman’s Jihad; Nana Asma’u Scholar and Scribe, Indiana University Press, U.S.A.

Maqsood, R.W. (2003): Teach Yourself Islam: Bookprint Limited, London.

Suleiman, I. (1997): “Scholars of the Sokoto Caliphate” New Nigerian Newspaper, April 21, SS VIII.

Usman, M.T. (2003):   “Literary Legacy of the Sokoto Caliphate: Commentary on some selected poems from Northern Nigeria” FAIS Journal of Humanities, Volume 2 Number 4, Bayero University, Kano.

Islam: Questions and Answers

I am re-posting this from a letter my wife wrote about the 20/20 incident.

After lengthy discussion about ABC’s recent 20/20 program on an email listserv for Middle East and Islamic Studies, Maytha Alhassan invited members to compose a letter to the producers. We have workshopped the letter with someone in the media and incorporated suggestions from readers. If you are interested in signing, please send your name, title, and affiliation.

ABC’s 20/20

Islam: Questions and Answers

We applaud ABC’s 20/20 for producing the show “Islam: Questions and Answers” program, which attempted to address the American public’s curiosity about Islam and show the true face of Islam in America. However, as scholars, activists, educators, and community leaders, we are concerned about the ways in which this program misrepresented Muslim Americans.  We would like to address three major areas where your program inaccurately depicted Islam in America: first, by continually asserting that moderate Muslims do not speak up; second, by overlooking the contributions of African American Muslims;  and finally, allowing women who have complete antipathy towards Islam (Pamela Gellar and Ayaan Hirsi) to speak for Muslim women. The producers and researchers may have been well meaning, however the program’s insensitivity and lack of nuance  alienated many American Muslims and perpetuated many misconceptions about American Muslims. Our aim is to address these three areas and provide some recommendations for more accurate coverage of American Muslims in the future.

  1. First, the show continually asked, “Why don’t we hear or see more mainstream, peaceful Muslims speaking up?” or “Where are the moderate voices?”
    • It is problematic to divide Muslims into binary categories of “moderate” and “radical.” Would the same categorical statement be made about the socio-political orientation of followers of different religious faiths and other ethnic groups? How would the mainstream reaction to your program be had you produced a segment titled “Where are all the moderate Christians?,” “Where are all the moderate Latino Americans?” The framing of these questions and methodology of answering these questions highlights an acceptability of a bigoted stance on Muslims that is rarely acknowledged.
    • Muslim Americans are constantly blamed for not speaking up, however the media bears some responsibility. Moderate Muslims continually speak out and do positive things for American society, but this does not make it in the news. And there American Muslim scholars and leaders who hold conferences, talks, lectures devoted to the topic of “Forging an American Muslim identity.” Zaytuna Institute scholars Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, Islamic Center of New York University Imam Khalid Latif and professor Dr. Sherman Jackson are but a few of the many American born intellectuals and community leaders who do speak out.
    • Where is the media when peaceful Muslims gather, participate in the American political process, protest terrorism, violence, and hatred?
    • At one point, an expert posits a recommendation “They need to have a million man march on Washington,” while conveniently ignoring that the Million Man March was actually led by a Muslim man, Louis Farakhan.
    • On September 25, 2009, Islam on Capitol Hill gathered an estimated 8,000 to prayer Friday prayers. And on October 15, 2010 thousands of Muslims once again convened on Capitol Hill to demonstrate their belief in American democracy and promote religious freedom, however, there were few media outlets at the DC event.
    • Muslim Congressmen Keith Ellison wrote an Op-ed “Should We Fear Islam?” in the Washington Post speaking to the first point made in this section. Ellison and Muslim Congressman Andre Carson were also completely absent from the program, which brings us to an important issue of accurate portrayal of American Muslims.
  2. The program reinscribes Islam as a foreign religion by focusing on Arab and South Asian immigrant communities in the US, at the expense of African American Muslim communities.
    • Your program excluded African American Muslims in the narrative of Islam in America and conflated of Arab with Muslim. African Americans make up the largest percentage of Muslims in America, and yet your program visited Dearborn, Patterson, NJ, and even Egypt to speak with Arabs who compose the third largest group of Muslims in the US.
    • The Nation’s first capitol, Philadelphia, has a rich and long history of Muslims. There was a community of orthodox Black American and Caribbean American Muslims from the 1920s. It has high concentration of Muslims, a Muslim chief of police, Muslims who work in city government, etc.
    • With the over-exposure of Arab Muslims, your program even failed to mention that Arab American Muslims are in the minority in Arab American communities. Most Arab Americans are Christian.
    • The program did a poor job discussing, engaging with and highlighting the diverse community of Muslims.
    • Low figure for Muslims (2-3 million?), and no breakdown of the demographics.
    • No discussion of converts.
    • The program even failed to show celebrated athletes (NFL, NBA, boxing, Soccer players), politicians and historical figures who are Muslim and African American.
  3. Finally, the segment, “Does Islam oppress women?” did a great disservice to Muslim women.
    • While we appreciate the inclusion of one Muslim voice, Irshad Manji, she herself is not a scholar on Islam.
    • Instead two polemics who are vehement in their anti-Islam stance, Ayaan Hirsi and Pamela Gellar received undo attention.
    • Your program failed to include any Muslim scholars such as Amina Wadud, Ingrid Mattson (a Canadian scholar who recently ended her term as ISNA president), or Dr. Aminah Beverly McCloud to speak in this segment? Their and other scholars’ absence is an indication of an asymmetric representation of opposition views.
    • Perhaps these scholars would have shed light on Muslim women’s contributions through history such as Islam’s first convert, Khadija al-Kubra, the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, who was also his employer before marrying. One of the first Sufi saints was a woman, Rabia al-’Adawiyya al-Qaysiyya (Rabia al-Basri) or Nana Asma’u, a West African educator and reformer.

In order to explore our rich diversity, we have provided some recommendations to improve your coverage of American Muslims below:

  1. Explore the long history of Muslims in the US, a history of residency and settlement that predates the formation of America as a country. American born Nawawi scholar Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah has written extensively on this subject.
  2. Include broader segments of the American Muslim community to ensure that each major ethnic group, South Asian American, African American, and Arab American, is represented in your programs.
  3. Attend Muslim American events, banquets and conferences like the prayer on Capitol Hill, MPAC, CAIR’s functions, etc. Do not just focus on sensationalism, but cover American Muslims during Ramadan or Eid al-Adha (the end of Hajj).
  4. We ask your researchers and staff to be more careful in their selection of “experts.” Make distinctions between socio-politics and Islamic scholarship. None of the women you interviewed in the question on the oppression of women in Islam had training in Islamic scholarship on covering or the hijab. We can help provide a list of scholars and experts who would be happy to lend their expertise.
  5. Consider diversifying your staff, researchers and interns with knowledge, expertise, and experience in various communities may yield better results.

In summation, your program provided a rare opportunity to provide accurate coverage of Muslims and clear up misconceptions. As acknowledged at the onset of your program, the controversy surrounding the Park 51 community center elicited a renewed curiosity in Islam. We were pleased with the inclusion of Edina Lekovic’s (MPAC) comments, Reza Aslan’s explanation of the definition of “fatwa,” and Faiza Ali’s (CAIR-NY) elucidation of the hijab’s complex historical place in cultural and religious practice, “coerced headcoverings are tribal.” However we note that while your program was a step in the right direction, it still ended up being misleading. By taking into consideration the recommendations we have made, your producers can create more accurate programing on Muslim Americans thereby showing the real face of Islam in America.