“I Have No Right To Change This Qur’an” – Lessons From Muslim History, Lessons From Black History

وَإِذا تُتلىٰ عَلَيهِم آياتُنا بَيِّناتٍ ۙ قالَ الَّذينَ لا يَرجونَ لِقاءَنَا ائتِ بِقُرآنٍ غَيرِ هٰذا أَو بَدِّلهُ ۚ قُل ما يَكونُ لي أَن أُبَدِّلَهُ مِن تِلقاءِ نَفسي ۖ إِن أَتَّبِعُ إِلّا ما يوحىٰ إِلَيَّ ۖ إِنّي أَخافُ إِن عَصَيتُ رَبّي عَذابَ يَومٍ عَظيمٍ

“When Our Clear Signs are recited to them, those who do not expect to meet Us say, ‘Bring a Qur’an other than this one or change it.’ Say: ‘It is not for me to change it of my own accord. I follow nothing except what is revealed to me. I fear, were I to disobey my Lord, the punishment of a Dreadful Day’.”Qur’an 10: 15

“Afro-Christianity served as a means of asserting African American humanity and agency within the dehumanizing confines of slavery. In fact, Afro-Christianity has at times meant all things to a wide number of thoughtful scholars, especially as a tool to dismantle the arguments of Ulrich B. Phillips and Stanley M. Elkins. To Herskovitz and Sobel, Afro-Christianity demonstrates the vitality of African traditions despite the racist, conformist pressures of American society. For Lawrence W. Levine and Charles W. Joyner, slave Christians reveal the triumph of African American cultural creativity over the stagnating influences of forced labor and physical deprivation. Finally, Eugene D. Genovese and John W. Blassingame use Afro-Christianity to assert the slaves’ sense of community and personal resistance against the onslaught of white oppression.”

Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity, 1830-1870 by Daniel L. Fountain

The 40 American Hadith — Hadith #5: Allah’s Mercy is Pervasive Even In the Darkest Hour

My new piece is out for ImanWire from my 40 American Hadith series, “Allah’s Mercy is Pervasive Even In the Darkest Hour”:

Silah asked Hudhayfah: “What benefit can there be for a people who don’t fast, pray, worship or give to charity, instead simply saying ‘La ilaha illallah’?” Hudhayfah replied, “Silah! It will save them from Hell!”

Read the whole piece here.

Muslims in America – What Comes After Resistance?

The American Muslim community is currently embroiled in a struggle against the injustices being perpetrated by the Trump administration. As to whether these actions are truly injust or simply a matter of selective outrage, fueled by a model minority narrative, remains to be seen. But one question which hovers over American Muslims is what is their fate, post-resistance?

In reading Daniel L. Fountain’s Slavery, Civil War and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity 1830-1870, one is inspired to, drawing upon the religious history of black folks in America, ask the question: will American Muslims adopt the world-views, mores, and religion[s] of their “masters”? By this I mean to compare the history of African Americans and their conversion to Christianity to American Muslims and their future conversion to liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism. In order to make this inquiry clear we must look at why and how Africans and their progeny converted to Christianity.

Anecdotal historical accounts of African religious life in antebellum America feeds us a narrative in which African slaves and their progeny converted to Christianity during their tenure as slaves. From this perspective we are left with the assumption that Christianity played a major role in the lives of slaves. However, recent scholarship gives a more convincing insight into the reality that Christianity did not come to play a significant role in the majority of African American lives until after emancipation. According to Fountain (amongst others),

“more than 60 percent of the slaves surveyed indicated that they were not Christians while enslaved (emphasis mine)1.”

My point being here is to challenge the notion that Christianity was a form of slave resistance. Instead, I argue that, since Christianity did not gain significant ground amongst African Americans until post-emancipation, it was more a means of assimilation than resistance. Fountain quotes nineteenth century physician and all around social agitator, Thomas Low Nichol, as saying,

“[t]he Southern people are eminently religious, and their negroes follow their example (emphasis mine)2.”

Whereas in the nineteenth century, the religion of America — and those who stood in position to impart “freedom” to slaves — was Christianity, the religions of America today are increasingly liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism, and thus, my concern is, will American Muslims embrace the religions of those who stand ready yet again to impart “freedom” to American Muslims? While some have balked at the heavy-handed tone in a recent article penned to American Muslim activists, I am equally concerned about the temptation for American Muslims to go down the same road as their previous American brethren did. In fact, as Fountain argues, it was,

“the expectation and delivery of freedom [being] the leading factor for African American conversion to Christianity3.”

The question remains: have the descendants of African slaves gained freedom and have their expectations been met? Many would argue that true freedom, the ability for self-determination, has not arrived yet. And likewise, in light of liberalism, secularism, and scientific atheism (what I will term here as scientism), can these philosophies fulfill their promises to American Muslims4? For it is precisely the same gambit, the same offer, and the same temptation, I see American Muslims engaged in both in terms of embracing liberalism and the like, but also in an articulation of Islam that is pitched as resistance, and nothing more. If, quoting Fountain again, “under slavery, Christianity … did not meet most slaves’ needs … most did not convert”5 then what of an Islam that does not meet Muslims needs, particularly as Americans? It is here I believe most of the hard work needs to be done and thus should be the primary focus of scholars, for it is also the reason why so many Muslims, particularly the youth, look for truth-claims (even false ones) elsewhere6.

Resources 

1. Fountain, Daniel L. Slavery, Civil War and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity 1830-1870. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. Pg. ix.

2. Ibid., 7.

3. Ibid., 5.

4. Jay Tolson, in the Fall 2016 edition of The Hedgehog Review, writes, “scientists began to wonder uneasily about whether scientific progress was compatible with scientific truth”. Tolson, Jay. “From the Editor”. The Hedgehog Review. http://iasc-culture.org/THR/index.php.

5. Fountain, 5.

6. Manley, Marc. “Between Political Theories and Truth-Claims: American Muslims and Liberalism”. Marc Manley – Imam At Large. www.marcmanley.com, 21 Jan. 2017.

Respecting the Station of One’s Lord – Between Proclivity and Acts – Engaging the Gay Community as Believing Muslims

There are few topics in the American context that are as controversial in modern times as homosexuality.  This is certain just as true for Muslims today as it is for Christians, though sadly to date, Muslims in America have not taken the time to develop their own arguments and positions on homosexuality settling instead for being subsumed under the vocal, if not dominant, discourse of the Christian Right.  It is my recommendation that Muslims make their positions understood, not in an attempt to thwart Divine Law concerning this subject as we shall see, but to promote a dialog that allows for political and social discourse without abandoning moral principles and obligations to Islam.

My reason for writing this is two fold. One, I was asked by a Muslim student to articulate Islam’s stance on homosexuality such that she could readily present it to her audience in clear yet unflinching terms. The second was a meeting I recently attended in Philadelphia in which a group of Imams sat to discuss issues facing the community. Sadly, nearly the whole discussion was wasted on a diatribe about homosexuals. When I asked the group of men if they had any doubts concerning the illegitimacy of homosexual acts they replied they had none. I pressed them, asking if there was a major issue with homosexuals coming to their mosques and demanding acceptance on the grounds of unrepentant homosexuals, again they replied in the negative. Instead, in my opinion, it amounted to nothing other than a chest thumping session where they could feel good about themselves, reveling in anti-homosexual stances, instead of actually engaging in useful discourse about trying to solve critical issues facing the Philadelphia Muslim community (issues such as AIDS, domestic abuse, criminal activity, lack of support for new Muslims, etc.).

Let me begin by dispensing with intellectual formalities and niceties such that my position on what is commonly referred to as homosexuality is clearly understood: Those who commit homosexual acts are committing heinous and abominable crimes before God.  This is the mashûr (standard) opinion in Islam regarding sexual acts between those of the same sex.  For brevity sake I will not delve into the hierarchy some scholars have placed on man-to-man sexual relations versus woman-to-woman. I am speaking on the entirety of that which is referred to as homosexuality.  One such example of this is clearly and explicitly outlined in the Qur’an in chapter 7, verses 80-84:

Wa Lûtan idh qâla liqawmihi a ta’tûna’l fâhishta mâ sabaqakum bihâ min ahadin min’l ‘âlamîn. – And Lot, when he said to his people, ‘Do you commit an obscenity not perpetrated before you by anyone in all the worlds?’ … Innakum lata’tûna’l rijâla shahwatan min dûni’l nisâ’, bal antum qawmun musrifûn. – ‘You come with lust to men instead of women. You are indeed a depraved people.’ … Wa amtarnâ ‘alayhim matra(n) – fa’ndhur kayfa kâna ‘âqibatu’l mujrimîn. – And so We rained down a mighty rain upon them. See the final fate of the evildoers!’”

The verse above is just one such example in which Islamic sources not only explicitly label homosexual acts forbidden (this worthy of Divine Punishment) but they are elevated above other crimes or sins “not perpetrated before … by anyone in all the worlds”.  Clearly, such acts are not only harâm (impermissible and punishable in the Here-After) but are of a degree above other sins such as consuming alcohol or gambling.

My point here is again not to waste time reasserting a standardly-held opinion in all orthodox schools but rather to find ways for the Muslim community to one, establish its stance on homosexual acts (and not on homosexu-ality as I will explain here) as Muslims and not simply letting the Christian (or any other group for that matter) Right speak for us and two, find a way, despite the grave nature of the sin, to at least establish a dialog with the gay community in a way in which traditional and conservative (of which I consider myself to be among) religious groups, in America or elsewhere, have been unable to do.

As it relates to the general body of sins, regardless of hierarchy, Islam maintains a division between what one inclines to do and what one actually acts on.  In other words the sin is not the inclining towards committing the sin but in the act of committing it.  In fact, Islam places a great deal of devotional importance on resisting one’s desires (at least those that contradict Divine Law), promising a great reward for doing so:

Wa ‘ammâ man khâfa maqâma rabbihi wa nahâ’n nafsa ‘ani’l hawâ fa ‘inna’l jannata hiya’l ma’wâ. – But as for him who fears the Station of his Lord and forbade the lower self its appetites, the Garden will be his refuge.” Qur’an, 79: 40-41.

Additionally, God urges those of conscious in the Qur’an to turn to their Lord after committing heinous or devious acts:

Wa’lladhîna idhâ fa’alû fâhishatan aw dhalamû anfusahum dhakarû’Allaha fa’staghfirû lidhunûbihim wa man yaghfiru’l dhunûba illa’Allah wa lam yusirru ‘alâ mâ fa’alû wa hum ya’lamûn. – Those who, when they act indecently or wrong themselves, remember God and ask forgiveness for their sins—and who can forgive sins except God? And they do not knowingly persist in what they were doing.” Qur’an, 3: 135.

An important distinction needs to be made here in order to fully understand the arguments presented.  Islam does not condone identity by proxy of proclivity.  In other words, Islam does not recognize one’s lifestyle simply because of one’s likes or dislikes, regardless of whether those proclivities are by nature or nurture.  One of the arguments the gay community often uses to substantiate their right to commit homosexual acts is that they were “born that way.”  Islam does not single out homosexuals in this case: I would have no more right to have a beer, gamble or fornicate with any number of women, simply because I like beer, am an alcoholic, like to gamble or having a gambling addiction, like women or because I was born a so-called heterosexual.  What takes primacy in these scenarios is not individual proclivity but respecting the station of one’s Lord (maqâm).  And while this would appear to many go against popularly held conceptions of freedom and individualism, this in fact is the dominant opinion Islam takes on human (read individual) rights.

Beyond all this lays an opportunity for (American) Muslims to engage a community that might otherwise be branded as off limits and irredeemable.  The question for me now is not if but how and to what extent the Muslim community is willing to engage and make space for, as Dr. Sherman Jackson has said, gays and lesbians.  True, this endeavor will require a tremendous amount of courage and intellectual capital on the part of Muslims.  Some have argued against any such engagement whatsoever on the basis of Sadd al-Dharâ’i’ or Limiting Harm.  Certainly this is a valid point, as Islam sees homosexual acts committed with impunity an individual and social harm.  However, others have argued that given the political and social climate in America, the one group that might be inclined to uphold the rights of Muslims to practice their religion would be none other than the gay and lesbian community.  The decision will no doubt be long and hard.

In the end, I find the choice to engage the gay community on those grounds which Islam permits (i.e., committing homosexual acts is a major sin) while still offering the possibility of salvation by encouraging the rejection of such heinous inclinations, is one in which preserves the dignity of all parties involved: it seeks to not reduce gays to people who only commit homosexual acts (and do not have other aspects to their humanity) and it allows Muslims a productive avenue of “Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil” (al-Amru bi’l Ma’rufi wa’n Nihayatu ‘ani’l Munkar), an obligation all Muslims are called upon to do.

Getting What God Wants Us To Get From Islam: Creating Safe Spaces

First Khutbah – Main Points

What do we want from Islam? We seldom ask this question. What does Allah want us to get from Islam? And in the negotiation of these two questions, how do we go about making this a reality?

Piety, to a large extent, has been replaced by such plastic words as “tradition”. This word has garnered so much attention in recent years that Muslims are beginning to identify themselves as “traditional Muslims”. But my question is: what is “traditional Islam”? Often what is deemed to be traditional is expressed in modes of dress, pious affectation, perhaps even cuisine. Allah has a different definition of piety:

ليس البر أن تولوا وجوهكم قبل المشرق والمغرب

ولكن البر من ءامن بالله واليوم الآخر والملائكة والكتاب والنبئين…

“Piety is not the turning of your face to the East or the West. No, piety is the one who is secure in his belief of God and the Last Day, the Angles, the Book and the Prophets…”

[Q: 2:177]

الذين ءامنوا ولم يلبسوا إيمانهم بظلم اولئك لهم الأمن وهم مهتدون

“Those who profess faith and do not wear their faith on their sleeve, security is their reward. They are the rightly guided.”

[Q: 6:82]

The downside to all of this is that we often create psychological spaces were people do not feel safe to grow as Muslims. This plays on people’s religious sensibilities and in fact, when they do not stand up to this comparison, they may be afflicted with doubt and uncertainty. Continue reading “Getting What God Wants Us To Get From Islam: Creating Safe Spaces”