There are few topics more sensitive than sexual ethics in the Muslim community. This can undoubtedly be explained, admittedly in part, due to the secularization of the Muslim mind, particularly in the West. The result of this secularization process cannot be better seen in the way Muslims, especially younger Muslims, simultaneously perceive that there is a god whilst at the same time denying that same god any authority over their lives. One particular manifestation of this is what I now dub the “low hanging fruit” syndrome.
In discussing the topic of postmodernism today with a colleague we arrived at a conclusion that the main opposition to polygyny in today’s postmodern world—including from Muslims—is rooted in the notion that (a) polygyny is a right that men exclusively enjoy and (b) that men may enjoy that right unabashedly (that is, having legitimate sexual relationships with another woman).
The reason we touched on polygyny, a marital practice very few Muslims enjoin, is because of its “controversial” status in the minds of those who claim Islam to be a misogynistic religion. A claim now held by many Muslims who’ve been infected with postmodern sensibilities and methods of interpretation.
In Islam, androgyny as well as homosexuality is seen as something sinful — “cursed”, to quote the Prophet, as well as being a Sign of the Hour. Today, many see this attitude, commonly expressed in various revealed religious traditions, as hateful and unenlightened. Yet I came across a curious revelation in an eastern spiritual tradition which seems to concur (many in the West view eastern spiritual traditions as being “open” and “non-judgmental”).
“In the practice of medicine there is a differentiation of treatment according to the Yin and Yang of men and women. There is also a difference in pulse. In the last fifty years, however, men’s pulse has become the same as women’s. Noticing this, in the treatment of eye disease I applied women’s treatment to men and found it suitable. When I observed the application of men’s treatment to men, there was no result. Thus I knew that men’s spirit had weakened and that they had become the same as women, and the end of the world had come. Since I witnessed this with certainty, I kept it a secret.” — from the Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
Much of the Muslim imagination today is mired in reactionary exchanges with popular culture. A prime example of this is the myopic fixation on homosexuality versus a broader critique and response to the androgenization of society. Either way I found, not for the first time, a kindred spirit in Tsunetomo’s lament, losely translated as “fallen leaves”.
I was honored to have participated in a new media program: Muslims and Mental Health series. This episode explores legacy building in the African-American Muslim community. It examines issues of community mental health and how elders in the community are setting the tone for coming generations. We explore what the strengths and weaknesses of the community are. What works well and what could use improvement. What resources are needed in terms of human and material capital to make this community functional and healthy.
This post may indelibly put me on the other side of some folks’ proverbial tracks but I feel that we are approaching a cross roads in America of which, if it goes unchallenged, we Muslims may find ourselves sailing down some very murky waters. To be blunt, this is about a post that Imam Suhaib Webb regarding Nicki Minaj. A critique which involved the morality (or lack thereof) of her image, in particular in reference to her new video Anaconda. Apparently, we have a double-standard in our community (by “our community” I am doubly referring to the black community and to the Muslim community) that wishes to marginalize whites to the role of sympathizer, not of critic. So long as whites sympathize with the social plights of blacks, Muslims, or other socially disparaged groups, their voices are welcome. However, should they begin to bring up issues that confront our (i.e., black folks, etc.) morality, or lack thereof, their voices are often ridiculed and silenced. I have an issue with this both as a black person and as a Muslim.
Without a doubt, white supremacy is a major issue and its presence (not legacy!) is still very much here with us today. But what is often missing from the overall narrative regarding white supremacy is the acknowledgement that some of the the most devastating critiques leveled at white supremacy have come from the pens of white authors and academics. Names such as Richard Dyer (White), Tim Wise (White Like Me) and Allan G. Johnson (Privilege, Power, and Difference) are just a few such examples. We need not, in an attempt to protect our dignity as non-whites, debar whites in participating in the overall critique of white supremacy. To do so would be, least of all, a double standard.
The second tract that I have major concerns on is the issue of morality. As a Muslim, no less an imam, I have an obligation to speak to the realities of the world I live in. And while Nikki Minaj is not the singular focus of any cultural critique I might have, undoubtedly she, and her ilk, would be a part of it. As a black father of a black daughter, I am deeply disturbed by the hyper sexualization of society. Undoubtedly black women have been the targets of such sexualization, undeniably at the hands of black perpetrators. Our collective silence on this is disturbing; our outrage at a white critic, juvenile. And while some would argue that a woman has a right to express herself however she likes, the right does not insulate her from public critique. To be frank, I appreciate those arguments on the one hand from non-Muslims. I am, however, deeply disturbed by Muslims who would object to another Muslim critiquing such behavior which is so obviously unacceptable (by Muslim and non-Muslim standards alike). Indeed, it has been my thought that the next wave of “extremism” to confront Muslims in America will not be in the form of violent outbursts or rhetoric, but will actually be the co-opting, adaption and condoning of post-modern liberalism, which can have little congruence with any modern faith tradition with still appreciates its pre-modern sensibilities.
To return to the issue of the original post, I find it very troublesome that we cannot confront the truth of a critique leveled against us simply because it comes from a white (male) voice. In all honestly, I am in complete agreement with Imam Suhaib’s assessment of Minaj’s video; I would stretch the critique further to her as an artist and ultimately, to her industry as a whole. If what Dr. Sherman Jackson recently said has any merit, regarding the current apathetic stance religion has towards “cool” and “sexy”, then we will need all hands on deck; all voices must be heard. For it is not the objective of this author, nor of the enterprise of Islam itself, to condemn sexual expression. Rather, Islam simply states such expressions are best relegated to the bedroom, where one may indulge one’s “inner freak” to one’s heart’s content, so long as it falls within the boundaries God Almighty has laid out. But that is another story for another day!
(Below are screenshots from Imam Suhaib’s original post)