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).

Chaplain Chats – Islam and Blackamerica

The following are notes from a talk I gave as part of the Chaplain Chats series on February 21st, 2012, at the University of Pennsylvania. You may listen to the audio here:

Why the apparent connection between Blacks and Islam? What does Islam deal with in terms of Black America?

  • The continued struggle of Blackamericans to “settle upon a self-definition that is functionally enabling and sufficiently “authentic”;
  • The power and influence of white supremacy and its value system as a “seminal force of the contemporary global cum American sociopolitical order;
  • The hegemony of modern, Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims.
  • Blacks relate to Islam as blacks [i.e., “oppressed people”] and there is nothing unique or interesting about the link between BAM’s and Islam.
  • Blackamericans often saw a liberating agent in Islam that was not there for them in Christianity. Ironically, it was not present for Muslims living in the Muslim world either. The following is from the South African Muslim Judicial Council during the reign of apartheid:

“Has the [apartheid] government forbidden the worship of Allah? Has the government closed down or ordered the demolition of any mosque in a declared white area? If our government has ordered our Muslims to desert the faith of our forefathers, then our ulema would have been the first to urge us to resist, even to the death.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

What is Black Religion? Def: “a pragmatic, folk-oriented, holy protest against anti-black racism, an orientation shared with many, though not all, Blackamerican Christians and Jews.

Challenges of Islam & Black Religion

  • Post-immigration, many Blackamerican Muslims founded it difficult [and still do!] if unable to address their cultural, political and social realities in ways that were effective in an American context and simultaneously recognized as validly “Islamic” on the other.
  • The proclivities of immigrant Muslims who were assumed to be the inheritors of a “super-tradition of historical Islam”, rendering all of their cultural practices as normative if not desirable.
  • Such norms as the thawb have been subsumed under the “Sunnah”: والقوعد من النساء التى لا يرجون نكاحا فليس عليهن جناح أن يضعن ثيبهن غير متبرجت بزينة “As for women who are past child-bearing age and no longer have any hope of getting married, there is nothing wrong in their removing their outer clothes, provided they do not flaunt their adornments” Qur’an, 24: 60.
  • “America … produced the distinctly racial understanding of difference.” “American whiteness has always reigned as the most prized public asset a citizen could own.”
  • 1965: U.S. immigration law renders Muslim immigrants [Middle East/SEA] as legally “white”.

False Universals

  • Universalisms are ultimately neither as transcendent nor as enabling as they might like to be imagined. Such universals only serve the psychological and or material interests
  • Human rights, freedom, beauty, good, “Islamic”.
  • FU: to speak in universal terms but from a particular cultural, ideological or historical point of view. “’Human,’, ‘Islam,’ ‘justice,’ and the like are all taken, thus, to represent not particular understandings but ontological realities that are equally esteemed and apprehended by everyone, save the stupid, the primitive, or the morally depraved.”
  • To give obeisance or risk castigation.
  • Immigrant Islam “universalizes the particular”.

In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Taking Ownership: the function of the heterodox groups

  • They transformed—if not the creed certainly the “idea” of—Islam for Blackamericans and allowed them to lay claim to it in a way that historical/Traditional Islam had/has as of yet to do.
  • This, more than anything else, I believe what has grafted Islam onto the broader psyche of Blackamericans, rendering Islam a valid religious choice amongst the possibilities of Blackamericans.
  • In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Blackamerican Muslim History

  • First Resurrection: from slave times to 1975 with the death of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
  • Second Resurrection: from Elijah’s death until the divided leadership of Farrakhan and W.D. Muhammad.
  • Third Resurrection: the mastery of the Sunni discourse. The 3R seeks to “thwart the power and pretense of false universals”. Still waiting.

Lessons & Take Aways

Why/how did Islam fail to convey itself to modern Blacks unhampered/unmolested?

“The argument goes that Africans, unable to speak one another’s languages or being of rival cultures and living together on disparate, isolated farms, could neither fully maintain nor successfully pass on their traditional cultures to future generation.  Therefore, with each passing generation, more and more of the slaves’ African heritage disappeared or became incomprehensible to their American-born children.  Whites, seeing African cultures as uncivilized or the breeding ground for rebellion, accelerated this process of cultural disintegration by prohibiting most public displays of the slaves’ ancestral customs.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

Scarcity of resources available to Blacks led to the decline of African religions [Islam included].

In regards to assimilation [versus indigenization]:

“Given the increased vulnerability of Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11, there is a perduring temptation among many immigrant Muslims to seek acceptance by mainstream America in exchange for a domesticated Islam that can only support the state and the dominant culture and never challenge these. This entails an attempt to identify Islam with the proclivities and sensibilities of the dominant group. On such a reconciliation, however, Blackamerican Muslims who feel penalized, threatened, or devalued by the dominant culture are effectively called upon, now in the name of Islam, to abandon protest and the legitimate aspects of Black Religion and acquiesce to the indignities implied by white supremacy.”