Keepin’ It One Hunned – Thoughts on Imam WD, Muslim Leadership the Lack of Human Capital

On a recent trip to Nashville where I was asked to speak on Muslims and social justice at Vanderbilt University, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the local Muslims in Nashville. The following is an informal conversation between myself and “brother Todd” on a variety of topics. This is part two of a two-part conversation.

“I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply. We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


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Keepin’ It One Hunned – Thoughts on Conversion to Sunni Islam Part 3

Part three of a candid and honest conversation with a brother whose path to Islam came through the Nation of Islam and why many of us feel we’re encouraged to not have empathy for our own people: black, white, American, etc.


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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).

African American Muslims and Their Social Purgatory

Hat tip to Khalifa for passing this on. And while we may be occupied with more-than-earthly matters today, perhaps we can take a look at this over the next couple of days and reflect upon it. I have a few thoughts of my own I will share on it shortly.

“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary. ….History shows that it does not matter who is in power…those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.” – Dr. Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro.

Let me say from the outset that if you’re faint of heart or easily ruffled, pardon my having included you on this note. One would think that in quoting a social commentary from 1933 that its ideas would be anachronistic or at least irrelevant by 2010, but I find that as an African American Muslim its words ring disturbingly poignant and applicable. Between the Muslim world and America, and between history and orthodoxy, African American Muslims are in a social purgatory of agenda and mission…of identity and relevancy..and between citizenship and complacency.

Let me clarify my use of the term purgatory. Social Purgatory: Living effectively in no sphere of mainstream society whether religious/spiritual, professional, economic, or cultural. .. And belonging neither comfortably or whole-heartedly to the African American community or the broader Muslim community. We stand on the fence at a time of key transition. Imam W.D. Mohammed (rahmah of Allah be upon him) has passed away. Imam Jamil is likely to die in prison, we had to scrape to raise funds for Imam Siraj’s health care, and many of us are an arm-span from FBI watch-lists or already on it. Every time a domestic attack occurs we pray that it isn’t a Muslim. Then we pray that it isn’t an African American Muslim. And then we deliver our “that has nothing to do with Islam” speech on cue. That, my brothers and sisters, is something of a purgatory in itself.

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye or merely a snide comment to the pathologies that exist among us. The dogmas and isms that we tolerate… No, this is the chasm through which opponents readily attack and before that, these are the anchors that narrow our Islam. These pathologies are too many and complex to elucidate here, but suffice it to say they range from misapplication of polygamy to dysfunctional views of our very American-ness and citizenship. We constantly frame our troubles as being from without. Well my motivation in writing this is that I believe quite the opposite. They are from within. Continue reading “African American Muslims and Their Social Purgatory”

Imam W. D. Mohammed and The Third Resurrection by Dr. Sherman Jackson

It is my pleasure to present a most erudite article regarding not only the passing of Imam WD Mohammed [may Allah grant him Paradise] but a clarion call to the entire America Muslim community as to the milestone we’ve reached and where we ought to be heading. Enjoy.

Imam W. D. Mohammed and The Third Resurrection
by Sherman Abd al-Hakim Jackson

The passing of Imam W.D. Mohammed, may God have mercy upon him and grant him Paradise, has brought the Blackamerican Muslim community face to face with a reality that it has been more comfortable with ignoring than coming to terms with. Imam Mohammed’s death has signaled the end of the era of charismatic leadership in which the rank and file can look to a single leader to settle all major questions and chart the Community’s course for the future. Rather than being decided by a single voice, that future will have to be negotiated by the collective understandings and perspectives of the Community’s learned. This implies, of course, general agreement on who is learned and what the rules of engagement are. If the criterion is set too high, it will marginalize valuable voices and confirm an already widespread distrust of religious knowledge and those who claim to represent it. If it is set too low, it will open the Community to the ravages and abuses of those who think that the role of religion is to sanction their and or the dominant culture’s every undisciplined whim and passion.

In the years leading up to his death, Imam Mohammed strove mightily and with great farsightedness to empower his Community to carve out a dignified existence for themselves, to transition to what I have referred to as the “Third Resurrection,” whereby, individually and collectively, the Community is able to negotiate American reality in light of the Qur’an and Sunna. For the most part, however, the Imam had to go it alone, with few contributions from Blackamerican Muslim scholars outside his own movement.

Here we come to an embarrassingly sad fact about the state of Blackamerican Islam. For decades, Blackamerican Muslims have been venturing abroad to learn Arabic and the Islamic religious sciences. Yet, this has translated into little benefit and even less interfacing with the Community of Imam W.D. Mohammed – despite that community’s historically unique role in indigenizing Islam among Blackamericans. When we think across the spectrum of the most noted Blackamerican Muslim scholars – from myself to Zaid Shakir, from Aminah Wadud to Aminah McCloud – what we see is a veritable brain-drain out of the Blackamerican community into discourses and activities whose primary beneficiaries are not Blackamerican Muslims and or whose primary focus is not Blackamerican Muslim problems or concerns. Of course, there are exceptions, both in terms of individuals who contradict this description and in terms of some of the activities of the scholars named. But the fact that these are exceptions points to the reality that I am trying to describe: Blackamerican Muslim scholars have a closer relationship with the immigrant community than they have with the community of Imam W.D. Mohammed.

To be fair, there are understandable reasons for this: 1) it is easier (and safer) to direct the Islamic sciences to the realities of the Muslim world and by extension the perspective of Muslim immigrants; 2) Muslim immigrants have more financial wherewithal to support such activities as lecturing, teaching and writing; 3) the immigrant community has a greater ability to validate scholars as scholars; and 4) the media (which plays an enormous role in setting the Muslim agenda in America) tends overwhelmingly to focus on immigrant issues. Beyond all of this, however, there lurks a far more subtle, sadder and less talked about reality that has for decades plagued the relationship between the followers of Imam W.D. Mohammed and the rest of the Blackamerican Sunni community.

I remember Philadelphia in the late 70s and early 80s, when Imam Mohammed was in this midst of his history-making transition. Those of us converts who had been blessed with greater access to (what we thought was) traditional learning would deride the way members of the World Community of Al-Islam in the West recited al-Fatihah, joke about how they gave salaams and relish their inability to keep up with us on all of the irrelevant minutia on which we so self-righteously prided ourselves. We were better than them; for we were real Sunnis, not half-baptist wannabes. For all our – knowledge, however, we were completely devoid of wisdom and even more ignorant of the Sunna of Muhammad (SAWS). Of course, our high-handed arrogance would produce over time an understandable counter-arrogance. To the Imam’s community, we were confused, self-hating Negroes, wannabe Arabs, fresh off the back of the bus onto the back of the camel. If what we displayed was what the so-called Islamic sciences were supposed to be about, they would have little use for them. Ultimately, this would lead to a quiet resentment, mistrust and even hostility, not only towards us but also towards the so-called Islamic tradition that we so dismally (mis)represented. Of course, there were those from Imam Mohammed’s community who managed to transcend some of this alienation. But this was far more the exception than it was the rule.

I may be wrong, but I suspect that Philadelphia was no anomaly in this regard, that this was a fairly widespread phenomenon across the country. The death of Imam Mohammed, however, has now forced us all to take collective responsibility for this toxic state of affairs. Imam Mohammed may be succeeded by another leader; but he is not likely to be replaced; for who could fill his shoes? The new leadership, therefore – not unlike Blackamerican Muslim leadership in general — will have to find ways to spread greater Islamic literacy among the rank and file, to empower them to engage the religion on their own, in order to enable them to sustain their commitment to it. As for the rest of the Blackamerican Sunni community – especially the scholars – I pray that Allah will inspire us and show us the way to mend this relationship. And I ask Allah (and the followers of Imam Mohammed) to forgive me for whatever I may have contributed to our mutual estrangement.

This is not time for a blame game; there is enough blame to go around – on all sides. The time now is for us to put all our “hidden differences” aside and come together to work for the glory of God. In concrete terms, perhaps this year’s MANA conference in Philadelphia could be the starting point of a broad-based dialogue. And if not the MANA conference, perhaps the conference held by Imam Mohammed’s community next year could be the forum. The important point is that we find a way to move beyond where we are now, that we come together in safe space where we can air our differences, establish bonds of mutual respect, identify our common objectives and strengths and renew our commitment to upholding the truth, as Allah says, “even if against ourselves.”

In the meantime, may Allah shower his mercy upon our beloved Imam W. D. Mohammed. May He keep him firm in the grave and raise him among those who have earned His pleasure. May He reward him richly for all that he has done and sacrificed for Islam in this land. And may He bless and guide us to overcome our insecurities through strengthening our bond with Him. May He empower us to conquer the evil whisperings of our souls and grant us the resolve to resist the temptations of Satan. And may He gift us the wisdom to prepare ourselves for a Day on which neither wealth nor progeny will avail, and none shall be spared save those who come to God with a purified heart.

Dr. Sherman Abd al-Hakim Jackson is the author of Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking toward the Third Resurrection. He is a co-founder, Trustee, and Core Scholar of the American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM). ALIM is an institution dedicated to empowering Muslims through the development of Islamic Literacy; the application of critical thinking to the building blocks of Islamic Knowledge, Thought, and Character. ALIM currently provides intensive instructional programs targeted at those desiring a critical understanding of their faith and the place of that faith in modern world. Dr. Sherman Jackson is the King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and Culture and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity .