Staring Into An Abyss

I would be a blameworthy liar if I said that my biggest anxiety, my biggest fear, wasn’t the task of raising my daughter as a Muslim. Raising her to prefer being Muslim over every other cultural option on the menu. Have a look at this reflection by ‘AbdelRahman Murphy:

“I may not be Muslim anymore, but I think if you were here in 95 when I was growing up, I still would be.”

Joe Bradford added this commentary as well:

“…Unfortunately we are dealing with communities that build million dollar structures, see Imams and youth coordinators as overhead, and want to use volunteers to do the job that specialists should be trained in.

“Its my experience that volunteers seek what ever is personally gratifying for them at that particular time in their lives, and don’t really care about much else.”

“It is a vicious cycle: Volunteers work to create experiences for their 5 yr olds, who grow up to be teenagers with parents now busy in careers, so they are chased out of the mosque but elders overcompensating for being 30-somethings caught up in their careers, who then grow up to be parents of 5 yr olds that volunteer to give their kids “experiences” and so on and so on.”

“There is attrition at this stage, much like the person in the article, but it is not noticed in the community because new immigrants fill the void left by community members that have left.”

“The model many Muslim communities (our local community included) implement is the problem, and will only get worse. Until we professionalize the operations and actually become religious service providers that serve the entire life cycle of our community, it will only get worse.”

“The way I see it, it won’t get better any time soon.”

I’m sure Joe won’t take it personally if I hope he’s wrong. May God give us the courage to change. May God help us all.

Keepin’ It One Hunned

I want to keep it “one hunned”, as the young folks say today. Young Muslims — and here I mean The Next Wave (second generation immigrant, Blackamerican Muslims, converts), whine and moan and groan about the State of the Ummah, yet have not sacrificed even a modicum in comparison to their folk’s generation (or their grandparents in some cases). All the while, especially inner city Muslim communities, wallow in urban blight and decay. As a Blackamerican Muslim, I have been frustrated by my treatment in the broader (immigrant) Muslim community but that is only half the story. In truth I have also experienced incredible kindness and generosity often outstripping what I have experienced at the hands of my own Blackamerican Muslim counterparts. All too often now, we Blackamerican Muslims scoff at our immigrant brothers and sisters (I say “we” because I myself have been a part of this) about how they came here for “Dunya” (worldly means). In my opinion, this has been a very short-sited explanation of how Allah, the Majestic!, moves people around as well as some measure of hasad (envy) on our parts to be sure. As the Book says, “they have a plan, and I have a plan”. Indeed, some immigrant Muslims did come here for worldly gain (which is not in and of itself blameworthy) but they also helped to establish Muslim communities. Communities many of us have benefited from day one. I cringe to think of where we would even pray (in the streets?) if it were not for the establishment of many of these communities. Were they perfect? No. Should they have done things differently? Certainly. However, if we look at their histories, and had we lived those same histories, we might, (ironically) have done the same things they did!

What we need now is not another documentary about the State of the Ummah, but a way forward that benefits the maximum amount of people. This will mean starting small, verses attempting to build mega-mosques. In fact, some of the most successful organizations we see in front us today, from AlMaghrib Institute, to Zaytuna, to Ta’leef, for example, all started as small organizations often held together by nothing other than the close bonds of Muslims who, in addition to believing in God, believed in one another. This is why I want to present the following rubric as a way, a suggestion, for small groups of disenfranchised believers to channel that frustration into action.

A Way Forward

Community-Budget

I have laid out in the above image a rubric which demonstrates the amount of capital that can be raised by groups of various sizes and capacities to contribute to a central fund. As you can see, even a group as small as ten people — at four to five dollars a day — could rent a location allowing them create their own spaces (see Dr. Jackson’s definition of third spaces) for their own uses. The numbers obviously grow as does the number of participants. The reason I find this rubric informative is that it illustrates that great numbers of people are not needed to effect change, or at the very least, start. Instead, it is a matter of determination and trust that allows small but efficient groups to grow and be successful.

At first blush this may seem divisive: a call to split the community and fracture its unity. I would counter that there a number of Muslims who equally pollinate between AlMaghrib, Zaytuna, and Ta’leef, just to mention a few. But what is great about these institutions is that they all serve different demographics; no single one serves the entire community. Smaller local homegrown organizations are much more adaptable and scalable to meet the needs of local communities.

In summary, and to return to my initial critique, this generation of Muslims will need to rise up, not only to face the challenges that are in front of them, but rise up and give thanks for what came before them. In this I equally indict myself. We’ve all been the benefactors of communities and mosques built by those who came before us all the while contributing very little of nothing at all. And in particular, to my fellow Blackamerican Muslims, we truly have no excuse as to why we are not community builders. It is for no other reason than we have conflated cynicism and our protest spirit with pietistic indifference. Most of us have no qualms with giving Mr. Comcast and Mrs. Verizon $100 — $200 dollars a month, Mr. Dunkin Donuts $30 — $50 a month, all the while crying and complaining about materialistic immigrant Muslims and their racist communities, simultaneously refusing to donate to causes that have a black face on them. Our success (and Allah!) will demand a much higher level of engagement that we have thus far been willing to give.

The time is upon us to build. I continue to be astounded at the inability for Muslims in America and American Muslims (there’s a difference) to see providence in our being here. Nowhere else in Muslim history have we seen the meeting of two auspicious histories converging on the same spot: the emigration of large numbers of Muslims from the historic Muslim world to America at the same time the single largest mass-conversion to Islam in the western hemisphere (may God have mercy on Imam Warith Deen Mohammed!). Both of these events unfolding as America’s traditional religious and moral values begin to waver and crumble. For what else is it that the Qur’an says about our Book (and vise-a-vie, ourselves):

وَإِذْ قَالَ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ إِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيَّ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَمُبَشِّرًا بِرَسُولٍ يَأْتِي مِنْ بَعْدِي اسْمُهُ أَحْمَدُ

“And when ‘Isa son of Maryam said, ‘Tribe of Israel, I am the Messenger of God to you, confirming the Torah which came before me and giving you the good news of a Messenger after me whose name is Ahmad’.”Qur’an 61: 6.

Like Jesus the son of Mary (peace and blessings upon them both), who was sent as a reformer to the Tribe of Israel, so too is Islam: that which confirms which is true that came before it. America, by the mid-60’s, had forgotten what was morally true from its own tradition: sexual immorality, usury, crime and violence, etc. We must come to see our being here greater than some materialistic drive, but rather, as one’s ‘aqidah should confirm, part of God’s Divine Plan to remind and revive, not destroy and ridicule. Our mission here, indeed our very lives, should not about grabbing and acquiring political power (though we should have a political voice, a conversation for another time) but rather about reminding America about what is ultimately good (God, first and foremost) and what is right. I see this whole scenario unfolding before our eyes as perfect timing, only as God could do it!, that the one community that is supposed to be witnesses over humanity (just as our Messenger is a witness over us!) would be brought, through fantastic historic forces, to America just at the moment when things look dark.

So take a moment and reflect on these words. Find, God willing, if you can, ten like-minded people in your community, and plant the seeds for something good and wholesome to grow. Gone is the time for being unmosqued. Now is the time for re-mosqued, for asserting oneself, with all proper etiquette, and with a willingness to get one’s hands dirty, all fi sabil’Allah (in the way of God).

No Growth – No Surprise

Squeaky wheels gets the grease. There are some in our community who are attention seekers. They want a lot of attention and we obliged them. Perhaps if we work actively to steer our converts (so they can move beyond conversion into “being” Muslim) and other members of our community towards operationalizing their Islam, we could nip all of this in the bud. It’s no coincidence that some can rise to popularity in this age of social media and blogs (I myself have a well-read blog). It provides an (unhealthy for some) outlet for those who struggle with narcissism (a disease of our age).

For those of us who personally know converts who leave Islam, you’ll often see there was no progression, no growth of who they were as a person (not only as a Muslim) during their stint in Islam. I hold us a community (fard kifayah?) partially to blame: we have no expectations on ourselves other than beards, hijabs, and bummery (yes, that’s a word). This is also where, again for those of us who do know these converts, we should be challenging them by asking, “why did you spend x-number of years jumping from lily pad to lily pad instead of learning how to swim in the big pond?” What do I mean? Salafism, Sufism, progressivism, this ‘ism and that ‘ism. Some even claim that Islam, vis-a-vie, Muslims, are incapable of competing in the marketplace of ideas. How ironic that in making this statement (which in to some degree may actually hold a bit of validity) thet indict themselves! Obviously is you spend your life committed to the Cult of Personality and not to establishing a relationship with God and His Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم then you can’t expect blood from a turnip. This ordeal is bigger than any one personality; I see the same issue happening now with the UnMosqued people (which is interestingly enough, also taking place online via social media. Just go on Twitter and look for the hash-tag #unmosqued – also see #remosqued). People are whining and complaining about the predicament of our mosques (some true – some maybe not so much) but that’s it. It only amounts to complaints. Folks are unwilling to be that change they want to see in their mosques and communities. Case in point, I was just asked by a young Muslim this morning:

“Why did you want to become an Imam and grow closer and become an important part of your Muslim community? This MSA is my first ever Muslim community and I just can’t help be feel that maybe I just wasted my time by joining it.”

I am not chiding this person but as you can see, many struggle with seeing validity in their lives and the easiest and most convenient target for their frustrations is the Muslim community (an abstraction). My reply was:

“In short, because I like people, because if I don’t, who will. Because I have the necessary skills and talents, in sha’Allah. And because I don’t see it as a waste of time.”

For every commentator on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, we should be asking critical questions, not simply refuting this or that particular person’s misguided reasons for leaving Islam. What can we do, right now, today, tomorrow, this month, this year, to make our community a beacon of light and hope, where folks (myself included!!) can be rehabilitated, where we can help reinforce our children’s love of Islam (and themselves!). Where Islam becomes a lived-in reality, a way of life, not simply a collection of do’s and don’ts (we need more do’s!!).

In a closing observation, I want to say this about converts, who often look for validation and a sense of belonging. For some, this is sought in the Black community (for others with Arabs or South Asian community). This is why for some, even in their demeanor, they attempted to co-opt Black vernacular, body language, urban modes of dress and even derogatory aspects of Black urban behavior. In essence, they seek acceptance from and by African-Americans. This is often the base because their his whiteness is perceived as an immutable barrier to BEING black. Why else do so many feel so comfortable in weighing in on issues with in the black community such as black masculinity. What is not addressed is they own perception of whiteness and how its seen as emasculation personified (look at the critiques of Nuh Ha Meem Keller, Hamza Yusuf, Joe Bradford and others by white converts). Some pursue their Islam through Salafism in its urban, Blackamerican form, not Arab or Desi Salafis (for they do exist in abundance). And even when Salafism “disappointed” them, their next “lily pad” they jump to is often Sufism (the sign of an imbalanced mind – this is nothing to do with those groups in particular); but not just any expression of Sufism (Naqshbandi, Qadiri, Shadhili) but the tariqah which is predominantly black: the Tijani Order. The issue here is seeking acceptance from personalities and groups of people: African-Americans in this case here, instead of dealing with their obvious identity crises and (erroneous) misgivings of being white (which for many white converts, they seem to feel — and indeed may be encouraged to feel — is in jeopardy of discrediting the authenticity of their Islam) has more to do with their apostasy than anything else in my opinion. You’ll notice that theology (tawhid) is often left out of the discussion and the reason being is that for many new converts, theology may not play a major role in the decision to convert (I know it didn’t in mine — I had no idea what tawhid was when I became Muslim. All I knew was my best friend since I was 5 years old became a Muslims, so I became a Muslim — the important part is that I eventually grew as a person which allowed me to grow in my Islam). The major reasons initially may fade over time (boyfriend, girlfriend, marriage, etc.) and if people grow in themselves then such things as tawhid, Sunnah, etc. may become the defining points in why they stay Muslims.

Food for thought.

Status Quo – A Khutbah

Islam is more than a religion. According to Cicero, religion comes from “relegere” or “to go through again/read again.” From “re” + “legere”.

But Islam is a way of life, a way of living your life, of seeing, of acting, all tied together. It can even be classified as civilizational, though this can sometimes be problematic when certain groups or races of people are seen to be indistinguishable with that civilization.

This way of life touches on every aspect of human existence: the personal, the public, the private; even the political. But in today’s world, where so much emphasis is placed on the political, Muslims have often lost sight of where in the grand scheme of things does politics fit. What about our principles? What happened to that simple piety of “doing the right thing”? We cannot wait-list our morals and principles until we achieve certain (perceived) political goals. What if we do not have the capacity to do so? Being Muslim isn’t always about what you’d like to be able to do but about what you ought to do with what you’re given.

إنكم في زمان من ترك منكم عشر ما أمر به هلك ثم يأتي زمان من عمل منهم بعشر ما أمر به نجا

“You live in a time that one will be destroyed if he does not fulfill a 10th of what he has been commanded to do. Then there will come a time when fulfilling a 10th of what you have been commanded will be salvation.” al-Tirmidhi, hasan.

Getting our community back to basics: morality, compassion, God-fearing and God-consciousness (warning people):

فَإِنْ أَعْرَضُوا فَقُلْ أَنْذَرْتُكُمْ صَاعِقَةً مِثْلَ صَاعِقَةِ عَادٍ وَثَمُود

Qur’an, Fussilat, 41: 13.

Even out theology connects belief in God to feeding poor people. This is not contingent upon any political aspirations:

إِنَّهُ كَانَ لَا يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ الْعَظِيمِ – وَلَا يَحُضُّ عَلَىٰ طَعَامِ الْمِسْكِينِ

Qur’an, al-Haqqah, 69: 32-33.

Current state of heedlessness: we are only jolted awake and into action when there’s a crisis. We live from crisis to crisis:

مَثَلُهُمْ كَمَثَلِ الَّذِي اسْتَوْقَدَ نَارًا فَلَمَّا أَضَاءَتْ مَا حَوْلَهُ ذَهَبَ اللَّهُ بِنُورِهِمْ وَتَرَكَهُمْ فِي ظُلُمَاتٍ لَا يُبْصِرُونَ – صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ – أَوْ كَصَيِّبٍ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فِيهِ ظُلُمَاتٌ وَرَعْدٌ وَبَرْقٌ يَجْعَلُونَ أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ مِنَ الصَّوَاعِقِ حَذَرَ الْمَوْتِ ۚ وَاللَّهُ مُحِيطٌ بِالْكَافِرِينَ – يَكَادُ الْبَرْقُ يَخْطَفُ أَبْصَارَهُمْ ۖ كُلَّمَا أَضَاءَ لَهُمْ مَشَوْا فِيهِ وَإِذَا أَظْلَمَ عَلَيْهِمْ قَامُوا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَذَهَبَ بِسَمْعِهِمْ وَأَبْصَارِهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

Qur’an, al-Baqarah, 2: 17-18.

We don’t read the Qur’an with a sense of fear and awe. We think these “stories” are about “other people”. Why would Allah inform us of what they did wrong if not then to warn us to avoid the same pitfalls?

Are we committed to delivering Allah’s message and to doing good works? Or are we here just to enjoy this life? But then suddenly we find ourselves victims of this heedlessness as well:

أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ

Qur’an, al-Ankabut, 29: 2.

إن قامت الساعة وفي يد أحدكم فسيلة فإن استطاع أن لا تقوم حتى يغرسها فليغرسها

al-Adab al-Mufrad, sahih.