The American Muslim Journey – Reflections By A Former Student of Knowledge

isa-dixonThe following essay is a reflection on the phenomenon of going abroad to study Islam by a close friend of mine, Isa Abdul Haqq Dixon. A Philadelphia native, Isa gives us some important food for thought on how and why many of us feel compelled to go abroad to study, as he puts it, “REAL Islam”. I hope his words will serve as both a wake-up call to those who feel it compulsory to study abroad in order to gain “authentic” knowledge. It is also my hope to spark a rejuvenated conversation that will provide inspiration to all of us to realize that Islam can be learned, and more importantly, lived!, right here in America. Enjoy,

By Isa Abdul Haqq Dixon

As an American Muslim, most of us have these desires to go and study Islam abroad in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the religion. I had those desires ten years ago and decided to pursue them by going to study in Damascus, Syria. Going to Syria opened up my eyes to the reality of being a black man in the world. I remember when I was talking to Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller and he said to me, “If you are patient then you will benefit tremendously”.  This is a true statement, but one has to ask himself, is it really worth it. I never knew how hard we had it as black people living in the past until I went overseas to study. Sometimes people ask me, “How was it living in those countries?” My response to them is usually, “It was like being in Birmingham, Alabama in 1965”. In truth it wasn’t all bad because I was actually afforded the opportunity to study with some great ‘ulama’. I also met some really nice people, the majority being from the States or England. After experiencing this culture shock, I came back to the states only to begin contemplating those same desires once again. This time I thought to myself, “Maybe that was only Syria that made me feel that way. I am sure Egypt will not be like this”. So me being a so-called student of knowledge, I purchased my tickets and moved my family to Egypt to pursue REAL Islam! Or at least this is what I thought foolishly once again, only to experience the same type of behavior from the Muslim world. While it was not quite as racist as Syria, I have to be honest and say that religiously, it wasn’t as beneficial as Syria either.

As time went past I made the decision to return to the States for good. Upon returning I found it was not as easy to find a job as it was a couple of years ago when I left. The requirements were changing within my industry and in order to compete, I had to return to college and complete additional academic studies. Now as a man, who has matured and has taken the blinders off, I can sit back and ask myself the question honestly, “Was it really worth it”? I would have to be perfectly honest and say, “no”. Going overseas to study, I believe, can be a beautiful experience for someone who is young that has his or her parents supporting them along the way. But for someone who is older, and has some major responsibilities, it is not the best road to take. Ironically, I found that in going overseas ended up studying the same information that I already learned here in the States. The only difference was that I was hearing it in Arabic. I began to realize that many people only go overseas because they want to rack up names of shuyukh on their resumes or they just cannot financially hack it living in the States.  I found that the same issues that we have here in America, Muslims also have over there. The problem is that many of us don’t speak Arabic well enough that we don’t even realize what is going on over there.

Living abroad as a student is not the same as living abroad as a working man or woman. One simply does not reap the same benefits. I feel it is time for us as American Muslims to stop these delusions of grandeur, especially for us men, on the need to validate ourselves by going overseas; those days are gone. Gone too are the days of people standing in line waiting to hear scholars talk about Islam in Madison Square Garden or when people would purchase Islamic lectures on tape at the store, blasting them out their car window, riding in their cars. It is time for us to grow up and realize that Islam can be learned anywhere. One does not need to go thousands of miles away from home to study about madhabs or tasawwuf.  As American Muslims, particularly African-Americans, we don’t have much financially going for us and thus must constantly rely on immigrant Muslims to build our religious institutions and environments for us. In essence, we have excluded ourselves from the building process of Islam in America by spending our formative years either overseas or in dreams of doing so. We have to be honest with ourselves: ”If you are not a student of knowledge here, then you will not be one elsewhere”. To build a Muslim community requires Muslim scholars, doctors, sociologists, computer programmers, teachers, accountants, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, lawyers and a whole cadre of other skills and talents. Dr. Sherman Jackson put is best when he said,

“We need all professions to build a strong functional Muslim community”.

Let’s start practicing the religion and stop preaching it. If you cannot help build a community where you are, move somewhere else and help them do it there. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf advised us,

“Don’t wait for an event to change. You have to change now”.

The reality is either you are going to be part of the solution or part of the problem. You decide where you stand!

Trickle Down Edunomics

Everything in America now is business. Education is business. The goal is not to educate and train, but to close the sale. Seal the deal. Students, despite passing exams and standardized tests cannot obtain employment. Youngsters are being propelled into a higher education system that only seeks to drain them of their wealth (what little wealth they have) and saddle them with life-crushing debt for the rest of their lives.

And thus school closing having nothing to do with education but everything to do with money which is why the emphasis is now on standardized test scores. This will ensure that populations who are the least economically viable will suffer the brunt of school closings. The boulder of economic crisis has rolled down hill to crush the Detroits and the Philadelphias of America. And the boulder keeps trickling down.

See the article, Professor: Time to Redefine ‘Data’ for School Closings.

Problematizing Statistical Analysis of Blackamerican Participation in Farmers Markets

The following is a short paper/project that I did for a GIS course I took in the City & Regional Planning Department at the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania ,in 2011. I wanted to do a quick study to show the lack of presence of Blackamericans at farmers markets (predominantly white spaces).

Map A-1: Farmers Market Density
Map A-1: Philadelphia Farmers Market Density

It has been some measure of consternation as to why Blackamericans appear to have a much smaller degree of participation in farmers markets (and some would charge the whole localvore1 phenomenon as a whole) as compared to non-blacks in general and in particular to whites.  Several oft-quotes deductions point to lack of education on the part of Blackamericans regarding food:

“If people only knew where their food came from”.2

Continue reading “Problematizing Statistical Analysis of Blackamerican Participation in Farmers Markets”

Escaping the Hurricane: Reflections on Anti-Shari’ah Hysteria

The following is an article written by esteemed American Muslim scholar, Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, of Lamppost Productions. A Philadelphia native, Ustadh Abdullah has gone on to found Lamppost Productions, an online educational resource on Islam. He is also part of the teaching faculty at Zaytuna College. I became aware of Ustadh Abdullah many years ago when I was studying myself. I must say I continue to be impressed not only by the breadth of his scholarship [which is substantial and may Allah increase him in knowledge!], but by his application of what he has learned and his dedication to ground that knowledge in the reality in which he operates. The article which proceeds here, Escaping the Hurricane: Reflections on Anti-Shari’ah Hysteria, provides a well-needed perspective on the mania that has gripped much of the imagination of Americans concerning Islamic law/Shari’a, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Caught in the grip of this maelstrom, Muslims have been deeply challenged to separate the wheat from the chaff, with most responses seeking to either deflect the negative imagery hurled at them through unprincipled appeasement of the dominant culture, or the exact opposite, condemning America entirely. Ustadh Abdullah’s response is balanced and attenuated to the circumstances. Ustadh Abdullah exibits great courage in order to ask hard questions, such as those relating to the truth of the 9/11 attacks—a tender topic to say the least—while taking measured steps to dismantle many of the misconceptions as to what Shari’ah law is and what, if any, its consequences are. I hope you will find it as enlightening as I did. و لله الحمد

As Salamu ‘alaykum, brethren,

Below you will find a list of hypothetical questions that I believe all Muslims need to be thinking about along with some brief responses to them. A storm is brewing in the Western world and pretty soon it’s going to be a hurricane if we don’t get started with serious efforts to reach those around us, our neighbors, peers, families, and co-workers. As you know, 2012 is an election year, and both the Republican and Tea Parties have already gotten a headstart on their campaign to rid the white house of President Obama and God knows who else after that. My concern is to defend Muslims, not Obama, but I do mention him just to underscore how central the demonization of Muslims is to ensuring his own demonization. I believe it is our duty to make every sincere effort we can to get around the country (especially our leaders) to host as many interfaith gatherings as possible with the expressed aim of speaking about Shariah, terrorism, and the real issues at hand behind which the corporations and politicians want to hide: the ECONOMY. I’m a little sarcastic in some of my responses below in hopes that readers can decipher the logic of them all on their own. I have not furnished my responses with citations mainly because I feel that the evidence supporting these answers is as brilliant as the sun. Hence, there is no need to furnish you with them. Please let me know what your thoughts are on these matters.  While all questions are important, of particular concern to me is the response concerning 9/11. It seems to me that as long as we continue to accept “collective” responsibility for that tragedy we will never be able to dig ourselves out of the morass we find ourselves in and quickly sinking deeper into.

Does Shariah law threaten the US Constitution?

  • No.  The Shariah aims to protect five universal interests: religion, bodily integrity, progeny, sanity, and property.  This means that Shariah law actually would guarantee the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; guarantee the protection of life, honor, and property ownership; promote the preservation of the family and responsible adult interaction ; strive for economic justice and fight against exploitative and predatory business practices.
  • As for what Shariah has NOT done to America are: Restrict civil liberties; Rob the treasury; Destroy the economy and then reward those responsible for the market crash; Cut funding for education; Initiate three wars that are further draining the little credit we have left; Steal retirement benefits; Squander peoples’ life savings; Raise the costs of healthcare and pharmaceuticals; Predatory lending and foreclose on thousands of homes; Raise the cost of gas and food goods, extraordinary rendition; imprisonment without legal representation, torcher, etc.
  • The Patriot Act is more responsible for abolishing the Constitution than the Shariah would or could ever be.

Have Muslims infiltrated American institutions and taken over America?

  • No. The last time I checked the Muslims population in America was only 2.6 million according to the PEW Institute (http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-01-27-1Amuslim27_ST_N.htm) in a country of 300 million.
  • Last I looked as well, the “overwhelming” majority of those in charge of Congress, the economic sector, the military chiefs, institutions of higher education, major corporations, and the media were “white.” So where are Muslims supposedly taking over?

Do Muslims NOT want to live by the Constitution?

  • To be honest, it’s complicated. That’s largely because Article IV: Section 2 of the Constitution still promises to prosecute runaway slaves, the 13th Amendment allows the enslavement of people guilty of committing crimes, and Article I: Section 2 still counts blacks as merely 3/5 of a person.  If we could just efface some of this troubling stuff, I’m sure that Muslims would be totally fine with the Constitution (wink).

Does the Qur’an forbid Muslims from befriending non-believers/”infidels”?

  • Yes and no. There are two kinds of infidels mentioned in the Qur’an. One that is hostile, antagonizes, and works assiduously to make life difficult for Muslims, and another who is accommodating and congenial. Whenever the Qur’an speaks harshly about the infidel (kaafir), it is speaking only about the first of the two.

Do Muslims believe that the Qur’an is superior to the Constitution?

  • Yes. Muslims do believe the Qur’an to be superior to any man-made document. But that does not mean that faith in the Qur’an is necessarily difficult to reconcile with good citizenship. In reality, the Shariah obliges Muslims to respect and abide by any law that does not infringe upon their fundamental religious duties. When a Muslim is found confronted by such an infringement, the Shariah encourages them to either seek reasonable accommodation by peaceful means or to immigrate to another land where their religious rights are respected.

Are Muslims being nice just because they’re a minority in America?

  • No. But Muslims are being cautious because they are fully aware of the great evil that “white” America is capable of when they get scared (e.g. massacres of entire native populations, dropping atomic bombs on civilian populations, interning yellow people in concentration camps, inundating the inner cities with crack cocaine and illegal firearms).
  • Dissimilation (taqiya) is actually to “conceal” one’s Islam to the point that a non-Muslim doesn’t know that a Muslim is actually a Muslim. It is to “deny” one’s Islam in the face of danger. So Muslims are NOT practicing ‘taqiya’ as some have suggested. Muslims aren’t concealing any more of a sinister intention than that of their accusers who MIGHT be concealing an intention to institute a new Jim Crow (outside the prison walls) or to aid the political ascendancy of the Ku Klux Klan.

What is Shariah?

  • Shariah literally means a clear path to a large body of fresh water. It has been used also to mean a ‘divine path’, ‘moral code or ideal.’ All the prominent apostles of God were given a Shariah. In other words, Abraham had a Shariah. Moses had a Shariah. Jesus had a Shariah. And Muhammad, the last apostle of God, had a Shariah. What distinguishes each of them is merely that the laws differed slightly.

Would Muslims like Americans to accept Islam?

  • Sure. But we understand that all guidance comes from to God. The Qur’an teaches us that we cannot guide those whom we love, and that it is not God’s desire for all people to be Muslims. This desire is no different than the Christian desire for all to believe in Christ. While we understand that it is not all Christians who seek to demonize Muslims by alleging that we represent an imperialistic and fascist system of domination, it is also clear that our Christian antagonists, in particular (like Pat Roberson and Franklin Graham) are merely concerned about the rise in our numbers because we make their own ideological imperial efforts more difficult to accomplish.

Would corporal punishment return to America if the Shariah law was enforced?

  • Not necessarily. This is because the Shariah law is not a static inflexible system of law nor is it merely a penal code. The Shariah covers matters of religious praxis, doctrine, virtue ethics, matters of personal status (marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody), finance, commerce, peace, war, and many other matters. The proof that the Shariah’s penal code is dynamic can be found in the fact that the Caliph ‘Umar I put a stay of execution on the punishment for theft (cutting off hands) during a famine when hungry people were being caught while stealing food.

Would non-Muslims have to abide by Shariah law if it existed in America?

  • No. Non-Muslims would not be expected to live according to the demands of the Shariah if it was to be practice in the United States. It would only apply to Muslims who have willfully pledged and vowed to live according to the Islamic teachings. Islamic history is replete with examples of Christian, Jewish, Magian, and other communities flourishing under Islamic rule without being forced to live as Muslims.

Were Muslims responsible for the attacks on 9/11?

  • Whether you believe Muslims to be responsible or not, consider this. The so-called 19 hijackers all supposedly died in the attacks on the Trade Towers, Pentagon, and Flight 93 which crashed in PA. Who identified them? In other words, if the only witnesses to the 19’s actions all died during the crashes, how do we know those 19 supposedly aboard those flights actually carried out the attacks? How do we even know they were aboard? Did the victims text pictures of them back to their loved ones or to law enforcement? A claim that they were “known” terrorists is not sufficient proof especially considering the credibility of the source of that allegation. This is worth considering whether or not you believe in some of the conspiracy theories out there.

The original article was published April 27th, 2011, on Lamppost Productions web site.

Getting Serious About Our Islam – More Thoughts on Spiritual Maturity

كرم المرء دينه ، ومروءته عقله ، وحسبه خلقه

“The nobility of a man is his religion, while his manliness is his discernment, and his regard is his character.” Abu Hurayrah via al-Bayhaqi in his as-Sunan al-Kubra.

Some time back, I wrote a small article which turned into a khutbah, a halaqah, and some subsequent blog posts talking about the need for a spiritual maturity on the part of Muslims in American; to come of age, as it were.  While the words were initially met with approval, I still feel they fell somewhere short of the mark.  I continued to talk and lecture from the classroom and the minbar, and was dismayed at what I witnessed: A living disconnect, a living dysfunction amidst Muslims, both young and old, immigrant and indigenous.  There seemed (and still seems) to be a lack of reification of Islam’s values—things such as devotional prayer, the Oneness of God, love for the Prophet and so forth—a process to bring them into play in daily life.  Islam’s values have largely become locked away by Muslims in a plastic, sterile vocabulary that seldom goes beyond the perfunctory “Qur’an and Sunnah”.

In order to not render myself guilty of my own claims, let me be specific.  I cannot account for the number of Jumu’ah prayers I have attended where the rank and file come in their most drab, their most dingy clothing.  Ripped jeans and T-shirts are a common sight.  Middle-aged men attend Friday prayer dressed in sweats, jeans, and all articles of mundane clothing.  Young men (perhaps someone can correct me but I see a much better response from Muslim women, young and old) attend prayer in the shabbiest of clothing, often with holes in them (some I am sure are purposely done for the “cool” factor); their backsides are frequently exposed, revealing their underwear or worse, their nakedness (my parents lovingly endured the many phases of my youth, but I hardly think nakedness would have been one they would have allowed).  Let me make something clear here, these critiques are no solely leveled at “’hood Muslims”.  I have witnessed the same behaviors at Ivy League universities amongst the Muslim Student Associations (MSA’s).  Muslim students attend prayer dressed in the same foppish T-shirts and jeans, or even worse, shorts, with their thighs exposed1.   For some reason, there is an unspoken dispensation given for students to show up as they like.  Not only are these Muslims detached from the tradition of honoring their religion, as Abū Hurayrah indicates, but their prayer itself may be invalid.  Over and over again I see men going into sajdah (prostration) with their shirts hiked up, exposing their back sides and often, a bit more (let your imagination fill in the blanks or the proverbial “cracks”).  What is even more disparaging is the hypocrisy I have been witness to by some of these very same brothers who are quick to turn their gaze on a woman who is not “properly covered”, or even worse, happens to wander over into the men’s section.

So what is at play here?  Or more importantly, what is at stake?  One observation that stands out clearly is not only a lack of appreciation, but a lack of indoctrination of Muslims into the tradition of Islam (small “t”): Muslims have been conditioned to respect and venerate the vocabulary of Islam: Salah, Qur’an, Prophets, Shari’ah, etc., but have seldom been invited to take ownership over these principles, let alone bring them down off of their abstract shelves and put them into play in their own lives.  The results of this schizophrenia has been the near-complete separation between the utterance of a venerated principle (i.e., “Sunnah”), and its enactment on the part of that very same person.  How else does one explain the recitation of such neo-slogans as “having to return to the Sunnah” while praying with one’s underwear showing or attending Friday prayer in one’s play clothes?

The landscape of American Islam is an ever changing kaleidoscope of slogans, cliques, personalities and the like.  This is not so much of a railing critique as it is an acknowledging that Muslims in American (and indeed outside America given American culture’s viral nature) should not expect to remain immune to this phenomenon de facto by nature of being Muslim.  Case in point has been the emergence of “Traditional Islam” onto the stage of American Muslim imagination.  This neologism is very close to becoming a brand name versus signifying anything concrete.  Muslim organizations across the board have adopted its use as a means of granting themselves legitimacy.  It’s not that these organizations may not indeed have claims to legitimacy (as indeed, most if not all do in some way or another) but rather it’s the manner in which this terminology disarms their target audiences of truly benefiting from the teachings they have to offer.  As it stands, “Traditional Islam’s” pedagogy fails to impart to its target Muslim audience, “you need to live by and enact these codes, these edicts, these moral injunctions, in your life”.  All too often to the contrary, targets of Traditional Islam are deceived or misled into a false sense of quietude, by which their lives are magically transformed into being better Muslims, ignorant of the disconnect articulated above, to speak nothing of the crushing loneliness that many Muslims continue to experience, as confessed to me time and time again.  The neologism itself has changed shape via the canopy and backdrop of the American Muslim canvass: Salafism, Sufism, and even in its plain clothes form, Traditional Islam.  I chose to make this distinction as I am not overly biased against one group or another.  To the contrary, I would hope these groups would reanalyze their approaches and rethink their success rates, for the issue is ubiquitous, as has been confirmed from friends of mine who are active in all the aforementioned circles.

Last month (November 2010) I wrote a short piece about the function that story telling plays in the Muslim tradition, one which is dying out.  Similarly, despite the fact that Muslims today have more cataloged access to this so-called tradition, it is dying out as a lived practice.  In fact, we can see the same stance and relation Muslims have today towards “Traditional Islam” as they do towards the Qur’an and Sunnah: Adoption of modes of dress, that are presumed to be more authentically Muslim, supersedes implementation of Muslim tradition; attempts to revive art forms such as calligraphy (of which I happen to personally be a fan of); in sum, a treasure hunt of bygone relics of a former, more nobler or “quaint” epoch.  To the extent that one can excavate these relics, one has become more and more a proponent of “Traditional Islam”, despite whatever gnawing and nagging feelings of isolation and detachment exhibited in so many who are in pursuit of it, not to mention personal character defects that lay at odds with value systems found in the “Qur’an and Sunnah.”  What is being missed here about tradition is precisely that thing which tradition is trying to get at: Acting upon one’s values, not simply memorizing and reciting them.  When the veneration of values become detached from the practice of those same values, the results are reminiscent of the Prophetic narration in which Muslims, despite their numbers, are akin  to “froth, such as is found on a torrent of water”2.  What Muslims are missing today—those on the pedagogical side of the “Traditional Islam” isle as well as those seeking it—is tradition’s power to root and cement the seeker in a reality that reflects his or her beliefs, publicly and privately.  I am reminded by H. P. Lovecraft’s observation on tradition.  He muses:

In a cosmos without absolute values… there is only one anchor of fixity…, and that anchor is tradition, the potent emotional legacy bequeathed to us by the massed experience of our ancestors, individual or national, biological or cultural. Tradition means nothing cosmically, but it means everything locally and pragmatically because we have nothing else to shield us from a devastating sense of “lostness” in endless time and space.  (Schultz and Joshi)

Tradition in Islam (arguably in other arenas as well) does more than simply tell us where, how, and in what order to place our footsteps (proverbial and literal), but also affirms that we are doing so to garner the pleasure and reward of God Almighty.  In as much that Traditional Islam (as a brand) claims to evoke the legacy and authenticity of the Prophet [s], its power ultimately rests in its ability to acclimatize it (i.e., the Sunnah) to our locality.  To return us to our example about Friday etiquette, how and in what way will Muslims enact the Prophet’s edict to “wear their best clothes”3?  This, to date, has been mostly patronized by literal interpretations of wearing a thobe, vis-a-vie the hadith’s word, ثوب (the word “thawb” has been understood by many scholars to be representational of clothing in general, a word that is capable of encompassing a variety of styles).  In the absence of a tradition that confers agency, not simply administers it, the non-thobe wearing crowd appear to see little to no value in dressing well for Friday prayer, donning instead the same disheveled look (i.e.,  T-shirts, jeans, and the like).

I see this tension—a clash of temporals—a phenomenon akin to what Dr. Sherman Jackson dubs “juridical empiricism”4 , that act by which (religious) communities—Jackson’s “Believers”—form a “last-ditch effort to find refuge from the deluge of modem secularism”5.  Jackson continues, “Every serious commitment to Islam … assumes that meaning is restricted to the strictly lexical sense of words and that allegorical, figurative, or metaphorical interpretations are most often attempts to escape or distort the true meaning of scripture6 (Jackson).  I have heard from Muslims, both immigrant and indigenous, that wearing a suit is “imitating the kāfir”; the necktie is the “noose of civilization”.  Another example of the “forest ‘fore the trees” syndrome found in the current “Traditional Islam” dilemma, is the adoption of the fez (a hat worn by Muslim men throughout the Muslim world), a hat, that despite its origins who lay outside Revelatory Islam, has been adopted as a bona fide symbol of authentic Muslim identity7.  What has been lost in time is the appropriating power of Muslim tradition, in this case, the appropriation of the fez, originally a “foreign object”, as an appropriated Muslim head piece, to condone and convey identity and agency (two areas American Muslims are in desperate need of).  In other words, Muslim tradition at some point in time conferred upon the red felt hat a degree of symbolic Muslimness; an identity piece.  The question that begs answering is why has this process arrested?  One could possibly make the case that it is still struggling to stay alive, as seen in the city of Philadelphia, where Blackamerican Muslims have attempted to fuse Middle-Easten modes of dress (thobe) with American urban footwear, namely Timberland boots.  This stylistic look has become iconic and symbolic of Islam amongst Blackamericans in Philadelphia.  It is now, in the local culture, an authentic expression of Philadelphia Islam.  The questions is, can this envelop not be pushed to include, or in the spirit of the fez, co-opt, other modes of dress as well?  It is a gut feeling of mine that many Americans in the broader cultural context object to Islam, not on theological grounds, but on aesthetic ones (i.e., they do not wish to dress like “foreigners”).  If American Muslims are going to get serious about da’wah, then they will have to contend with these issues, not simply calling those who don’t mind changing up their wardrobes.

Putting aside the great sartorial debate for a moment, I want to turn back to tradition itself, and more specifically what tradition means to young Muslims as well as what it means to be young and adult in American society.  In a 2007 interview conducted by Andrea Longbottom, she asks Dr. Robert Epstein, author of The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen (Quill Driver Books, 2007), about his views on the teenage brain and behavior:

I struggle with [teens’ capacity to make sound judgments and decisions] as a parent of four offspring.  That strong tendency we have to want to protect—there’s a reason for that, absolutely.  But the best thing we can do for young people is to give them the tools they need to be independent and to make those decisions.  There’s only so much you can learn by advice from others.  Most of what we learn in our lives comes from experience.  You give your sons and daughters the best advice you can, and then you give them the tools they need to become independent.

If you give them incentives and opportunities to join the adult world, that’s not the same as setting them free.  You’re not pushing them off a cliff.  What you’re doing is saying, “I’m going to welcome you into the adult world.  If you show me you can do this, then you’re going to join us.” You’re not pushing them toward oblivion—you’re pulling them with you into the world of responsible adulthood.  Given the choice between being infantilized in the frivolous world of teen culture and joining the adult world, I believe most teens will pick the latter.  (Longbottom)

Epstein highlights some key items I think every Muslim in America shout stop and take stock of: “incentives and opportunities to join the adult world.” It has been articulated by numerous other cultural analysts, but the fact America at large has an issue with the transition from childhood to adulthood is hard to overstate.  The fact that the video game industry, at nearly $20 billion dollars annually, a stunning figure in comparison to such (former) titans as General Motors, continues to enthrall and dazzle young adult males between the ages of 15 and 40.  Video games are just one example of the many components of modern culture that “infantilize” young people into a practice of frivolity, Muslims again not being immune. Modern society and culture, on a global scale, deifies youth to such an extent that there are few incentives to be found in popular culture for youth to “grow up”.  For me, I see tradition, in all its various articulations as far as Muslims are concerned, as a vehicle which leads and coaches one through life, informing one on how one comes to decisions, especially the journey from child to adult.  Tradition is that which (should) give options: Sometimes one may take the “traditional route”, meaning that you follow an example of those informed ancestors that came before you, such as the Prophet [s], the Companions, Scholars, etc.  Other times, one may need to interpret the reality one faces for which one’s tradition does not have a “lexical” response to.  In this scenario, one strives to move in the spirit of one’s tradition, aiming to achieve the same goal (see Jackson’s example about opening a window, fetching a fan, turning off the lights, and pouring a glass of water) one would hope to achieve were there a “lexical” example; where a textual application could actually apply.

Epstein also highlights the importance of those who are the current key holders and gate keepers to accompany these young adults into their world of responsibility and tradition.  Here it is especially critical for Muslims to spend more time amongst Muslim youth, specifically those of the imamate and leadership positions.  Doing so will require a paradigm shift in how American Muslims envision and imagine the role of the imam and the masjid.  Muslims must come to put trust in their youth, aiding them in making good decisions, thereby establishing a trust between the generations.  This trust is best earned by being there with these youth as they learn to make those decisions, side-by-side in journeyman fashion, with their adult counterparts leading them, not herding, or worse, chiding them when they make their inevitable mistakes.  In doing so, Muslims will foster an environment whereby they may truly become protectors of one another8. The consequences of not doing so are already readily apparent, as we have, are, and may continue to “wrong ourselves” as Surah al-Tawbah, verses 70-71 proclaim9.

It is my hope that this article does not convey any latent or secret hostility I have towards the Muslim tradition or any Muslim organization who seek to avail themselves of it.  To the contrary, I have endeavored to learn and study the Muslim intellectual and spiritual traditions, a vocation that has been going strong for fifteen-plus years.  It is my hope and wish that it can be made available to Muslims such that their daily lives are impacted and enriched by its endorsement.  To be sure, there has been some impact on the rank and file Muslim by these various organizations.  I only advocate doing a better job, not to deride them for not doing any good whatsoever.  It is also my hope that as adult Muslims, we can step up our game, and demonstrate through actions and words, what a living Islam looks and acts like.  Through this holistic approach, we may actually be able to redeem ourselves in the sight of God, and put forth a better example to the broader Muslim public the transformative and healing power of Islam.

Footnotes

  1. الفخذ عورة الراوي: عبد الله بن مسعود المحدث: البخاري – المصدر: التاريخ الكبير
    جلس رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم عندنا وفخذي منكشفة فقال أما علمت أن الفخذ عورة الراوي: جرهد المحدث: أبو داود – المصدر: سنن أبي داود
    خلاصة حكم المحدث: سكت عنه [وقد قال في رسالته لأهل مكة كل ما سكت عنه فهو صالح

    ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud relates, “the thigh is part of the ‘awrah/private parts”, related in al-Bukhari’s al-Tārīkh al-Kabīr. In Sunan Abū Dawud, Jarhad relates, “The Messenger of God sat down with us and my thigh was exposed so he said to me, ‘Did you not know that the thigh is part of the ‘awrah/private parts?’.
  2. أنتم يومئذ كثير ولكنكم غثاء كغثاء السيل — see Abu Dāwud’s Sunan Abī Dāwud, #4297.
  3. ولبس من أحسن ثيابه — see al-Haythumī’s Mujma’ az-Zawā’id, Vol. 2, #177.
  4. See Sherman Jackson’s, Literalism, Empiricism, and Induction: Apprehending and Concretizing Islamic Law’s Maqāsid al-Sharī’ah in the Modern World.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Just to set the record clean, I happen to own several fez’s as I am quite fond of their style.
  8. والمومنين والمومنت بعضهم أولياء بعض — Sūrah al-Tawbah (9), verse 71.
  9. ألم ياتهم نبأ الذين من قبلهم قوم نوح وعاد وثمود وقوم إبرهيم وأصحب مدين والموتفكت أتتهم رسلهم بالبينت فما كان الله ليظلمهم ولكن كانوا أنفسهم يظلمون والمومنين والمومنت بعضهم أولياء بعض يامرون بالمعروف وينهون عن المنكر ويقيمون الصلوة ويوتون الزكوة ويطيعون الله و رسوله ألئك سيرحمهم الله إن الله عزيز حكيم — Sūrah al-Tawbah (9), verses 70-71.

Friday Prayer/Jumu’ah Resources

  • إن يوم الجمعة يوم عيد و ذكر، فلا تجعلوا يوم عيدكم يوم صيام، و لكن اجعلوه يوم فطر و ذكر، إلا أن تخلطوه بأيام
  • “Friday is an ‘Eid/Holy Day and a remembrance therefore do not make your Holy Day [Fridays – not Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Fitr] a day of fasting.  Make it instead a day of “fitr” — a day of charity and feasting, unless you connect it with other days.” Related by Abū Hurayrah from al-Suyūti’s al-Jāmi’ al-Sagīr.
  • من اغتسل يوم الجمعة ولبس من أحسن ثيابه ومس من طيب إن كان عنده ثم أتى الجمعة فلم يتخط أعناق الناس ثم صلى ما كتب الله له ثم أنصت إذا خرج إمامه حتى يفرغ من صلاته كانت كفارة لما بينها وبين جمعته التي قبلها
  • “The one who takes a bath on Friday, wears his best clothes, perfumes himself if he so has it with him then attends the Friday Prayer without stepping on the necks of the people, then prays as God has proscribed it for him, then listens attentively to the Imam from the time he comes out until he [the Imam] finishes his prayer, it serves as an expiation for what was between this Friday and the previous one.” Related by Abū Sa’īd in Abū Dāwud’s Sunan Abī Dāwud, #343.

Extra Reading and Sources