Powerlessness – It’s What Turns Good Men Cruel

“The fever. The rage. The feeling of powerlessness that turns good men cruel.”Alfred Pennyworth

Pennyworth, known more famously as Batman’s butler, may have unintentionally uttered a valuable insight into why some Muslims in certain parts of the world feel vindicated to mete out their own brand of justice; a group of misguided Batmen, proverbially speaking. But what causes this rage, this fever? I do not wish to exonerate the perpetrators of these heinous acts, nor do I want to suggest they should not be — or are not — accountable for their actions — but if we are to get at the root of the problem as well as harboring any hopes of stopping it, we must examine why such (predominantly) young men feel entitled to inflict harm on the world. Part of that process will be acknowledging that some of their grievances are legitimate. The other half will be demonstrating to them that (a) some are not legitimate and (b) even those that can be substantiated, vengence, at the cost to public safety, is neither permissible nor practical.

Recent airstrikes by the U.S. government in Syria, for example, continue to show a level of indifference to human life that should outrage anyone. What enrages many of the youth (Muslim or otherwise) is the indifference they feel their respective societies have towards them.  These perceived slights may be economic or perhaps cultural. Others feel they simply have no arena or audience in which they can air their grievances to an attentive ear (which for good, or mostly bad, is precisely what ISIS offers, for example). One thing that any gang or cult gives their members is (a) a sense of belonging and (b) an attentive audience or attentive ear which is sympathetic to their griefs, anxieties, or concerns. Many of these Muslim perpetrators of public violence often feel rejected by society. What is needed in addressing this brand of terrorism is to help them see that (a) not all grievances are legitimate and most importantly, even those that are legitimate, is that personal vendettas, at the expense of the public’s right to safety — Muslim as well as non-Muslim — is non-negotiable as a Muslim. Given that the common profile for many of these perpetrators is one of criminality, clearly the onus that’s on Muslim religious leadership is to articulate this as part of the core of Islamic devotional studies. This is why I feel that so long as Muslim religious leadership is domesticated, neutralized, or passed over, the problem will never be addressed. And in light of this, American foreign and domestic policy will continue to retreat from any plausible strategy to mere tactics: attempting, in vain, to bomb an idea — a grievance — out of existence.

Dangling Carrots

A brother asked me on Twitter,

My response was thus:

American Muslims: we are going to have to confront some unsavory truths many of us don’t want to face. Today’s attack at Ohio State University only highlight this issue. Many Muslims will not want to admit it but while there are many racists and anti-Muslims bigots who will piggyback on tragedy, many non-Muslim allies will find it difficult to support us when it’s not clear (A) what we stand for and (B) what’s a reasonable course of action to deal with this problem of violent behavior of people who are potentially are, or appear to be, compromised by ISIS rhetoric.

In earnest, we are caught unawares, but not for unexplainable reasons. By and large the American Muslim community has become a stage, a public performance of piety, when in reality we don’t know each other well. We have no idea what our respective hopes and fears are. And if we’re that out of touch with one another, imagine how out of touch we are with the rest of America (and how it’s out of touch with us)?

As for solutions, well, first, we must admit that it’s a complicated problem. For starters, Muslims need to reconsider their position on who’s coming from where, to the US, specifically as it relates to Muslims. This will undoubtedly make many Muslims uncomfortable, especially given how many of us take our marching orders and directions from so-called liberal allies. Many American Muslims fail to realize an important caveat in our relationship with liberal America: those same liberal allies who want total open immigration don’t have to deal with the fallout when it come crashing down on the American Muslim community. They will not have to face the social and political fallout of such policies. In addition, American Muslims need to work to hold their government more accountable. What do I mean? Well, how many times as a “bad actor” been reported by the culprit’s family (Boston, Orlando, just to name two incidents) only to have the government fail to capitalize on that intel (Mr. Trump – you see!, Muslims are spying, ahem, “reporting” when we see something “bad” but nothing comes of it!)? This is unacceptable. These failures also result in the continued scapegoating of the American Muslim community as all being suspicious and culpable to terrorism. Sound familiar? This very same process of criminalizing Muslims is the same apparatus that has been criminalizing Black folks since they were “set free” by Lincoln. This only furthers my point which states that part of the reason why many non-Muslim Americans believe you can be radicalized by going to the mosque is because we don’t own that narrative. We have turned that over to our well-intending (or perhaps, not) liberal allies.

Additionally, American Muslims must confront the reality that the Muslims who came to America in the 1960’s are not of the same stripe as some of those migrating here today. The world has changed and the Muslims have been immensely changed by those histories, and seldom for the good. Many of us, well intending, look upon the Muslim world as one Ummah, which incontrovertibly we are. But because we are one religious collective does not mean we are all the same. Can a young Muslim girl or boy raised in the suburbs of Chicago or Detroit be the same as a young Muslim reared amongst famine and doctrinal strife, to say nothing of the effects that colonialism has had upon their collective psyche? What effect would having one’s people drone striked into oblivion have on a young man from Mogadishu? I am not blaming the victim; indeed, we must strive for these factors to be taken into consideration—in the same way that when whites commit public acts of violence their past and family histories are considered—in understanding the whole. No, this must be acknowledged and dealt with.

So what is the root cause of our feckless response to continued targeting of our community? I believe its genealogy can be traced back (again) to certain aspects of our community believing that all whites, and especially the government, are benevolent and have out best interests at heart.

I believe the Muslim community must play a greater roll in helping to determine who is going to be a part of it (not CVE!). By and large we have not been consulted in this process. Instead, “experts”, whose credentials often read like a rap-sheet of anti-Muslim (and sometimes anti-Black) darlings. How can these folks possibly be left to make decisions on our behalf?

Lastly, we must resist the temptation to deliver a “loyal” American Muslim who, in exchange for promised securities and social acceptance, will only sing the praises of its owner. Is America truly the land of golden opportunity? Is the United States military truly a force for good in the world? The American public cries foul at public acts of violence when perpetrated by non-whites but feigns amnesia that it also dropped two!, not one, but two! atomic bombs on civilian populations in Japan. How did the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave justify sending black soldiers off to die in a war of which, upon their return, they would be subjugated to violence and tyranny by their own government? This is the kind of American Muslim I fear our government so dearly wants to co-opt. And sadly, I feel far too many of us are ready and willing to make that deal.

So yes, there is a way forward, but it will be neither easy nor convenient.

Bridging The Credibility Gap – A Message to Muslim-American Leadership

At the recent CAIR LA banquet, Dr. Sherman Jackson made a speech in which he really hit to heart of the matter so many of us Muslims in America, and other parts, are really struggling with: the credibility gap. This gap is what prohibits us to be able to distinguish ourselves from the likes of ISIS, al-Qaeda, or any other group or individuals who happen to act in the name of Islam with which we find disagreeable, reprehensible or even barbaric. It is this credibility gap which leaves us on the defensive like the man who is asked if he still beats his wife: if he says no, he admits that he did so in the past; if he says yes, he admits his guilt. Either way, he’s damned if he does or doesn’t.

Take a listen to the short audio clip in which Dr. Jackson summarizes this credibility gap:

“Some images that have been produced about me come between you and me … and so rather than your ability to hear, contemplate, internalize the words that I’m saying, those images come in between us, and they degrade your faculty of human encounter.” — Dr. Sherman Jackson


[Direct download]

Amongst many salient points that evening, Dr. Jackson has also highlighted the need for Muslim leadership, whatever form it may take, get out ahead of this crisis and become credible themselves. We denounce non-Muslims who write and or say whatever they wish about Islam, even going to “the sources themselves (Qur’an, fiqh, etc.)” to prove their points, yet many of us lack credentials and even work to subjugate the broad intellectual tradition of Islam under our own personal agendas. In the end, these leaves the Muslim community woefully uninformed and illiterate of their own religion and tradition. So how can we ask non-Muslims to separate the wheat from the chaff of what is and is not representative of normative Muslim thought, morals and ethics, if we ourselves are not committed to higher standards of integrity and scholarship. Until this issue is resolved no amount of distancing or apologizing will remove the collective guilt that all of us are laboring under. May God grant us guidance, mercy and unity.

وَاعتَصِموا بِحَبلِ اللَّهِ جَميعًا وَلا تَفَرَّقوا ۚ وَاذكُروا نِعمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيكُم إِذ كُنتُم أَعداءً فَأَلَّفَ بَينَ قُلوبِكُم فَأَصبَحتُم بِنِعمَتِهِ إِخوانًا وَكُنتُم عَلىٰ شَفا حُفرَةٍ مِنَ النّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِنها ۗ كَذٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُم آياتِهِ لَعَلَّكُم تَهتَدونَ

“Hold fast to the rope of Allah all together, and do not separate. Remember Allah’s blessing to you when you were enemies and He joined your hearts together so that you became brothers by His blessing. You were on the very brink of a pit of the Fire and He rescued you from it. In this way Allah makes His Signs clear to you, so that hopefully you will be guided.” — Qur’an, 3: 103

The Slippery Slope of Apologetics – Between Empathy and Suicide

It goes without saying that the events that took place on the morning of January 7th, 2015, as perpetrated by three gunmen in Paris, France, were heinous and unjustifiable. But equally unjustifiable is the call and charge, from amongst Muslims and against Muslims, to condemn violence “perpetrated in Islam’s name”. While both vocalizations may appear to have credence, I believe it is an insidious and slippery slope to communal suicide.

I have received several requests today from members of the Muslim community to address the tragedy involving the staff of Charlie Hebdo. While I understand the sentiment to hold community meetings and the like, I believe it would be an error to hold an event for something as particular as this. None of us, by and large in the Muslim community, are in disagreement as to the heinous nature of what was done but I do believe it a detrimental act of getting into the business of apologizing for acts which we did not commit or condone; no matter how you spin it, that is what we would be doing. In fact, and I am not alone in this assessment, it is precisely this kind of response from the Muslim  community that can further exacerbate those fringe elements within our community to seek extreme measures for perceived injustices.

To be frank, I am also concerned about allowing the dominant culture to dictate what is or what isn’t a “good Muslim”. Should our condemnation not meet their approval (and the goal post on this seems to be ever shifting) then can we  all not be criminally held as suspicious? It is akin to the structural racism that faces of us African-Americans, when white America says things like “you could get ahead or do better if only you tried harder or weren’t lazy”. This rhetoric encourages Blackamericans, to not strive for excellence, but to strive for dodging the ridicule of whites. This can be a pernicious and never ending maze which we run ourselves ragged through.

Our focus as Muslims, now more so than ever, must be vigilantly on being true to Allah and His Messenger, which has, does, and will always suffice any group, in anytime and in anyplace.

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.