Why Polemics Are A Waste Of Time

A Muslim recently brought to my attention a disturbing video (the link has since disappeared off of the person’s web site) of a Muslim openly bashing and berating a group of Nation of Islam men standing on a street corner in the UK. I watched the video with a sense of shock and disgust. The antagonist obviously had only one thing in mind – to act or perform for his audience and to denounce the “kafirs“, as he termed them, for all to see. Chalk up another victory for Islam.

My frustration and anger do not stop at the video. On the site that’s posting the video, the brother describes the NOI brothers as, “nuts”. I am curious to examine the potential reasons behind this NOI bashing in an attempt to find some validation for it.

Let me start my vent with a short statement: polemics is a waste of time. I have yet to ever see any good come of it. Nor should healthy dialog and debate be mistaken for polemics and especially visa versa. Is is because they claim Islam that they deserve such a scathing public display? For me, it is a real shame that Muslims today [with special emphasis placed on Blackamerican Muslims] cannot find the room to find a dialog with the Nation. They are simply stripped of any value and tossed aside. How utterly ignorant and shortsighted this is [not to mention thankless – we would not have had a Malcolm X without the Nation!].

While other Muslims seem to enjoy the ability to foster care, concern and dialog about their own people, regardless of religious affiliation [the Palestinians come to mind], the same room is not afforded to Blackamerican Muslims who wish to address the Nation. In fact, Blackamerican orthodox/Sunni Muslims in my opinion, tend to be the biggest offenders. Why? Have we forgotten the contribution that the Nation of Islam has made to Islam being a viable and tangible mode of Americana for blacks in this country? I would hope no one out there would be absurd enough to forget that blacks in America [for the time being] have the capacity to move from Christianity to Islam without sacrificing neither their Americanness nor their blackness. This shift has been greatly made by the efforts of the Nation. This simply cannot be emphasized enough. The sooner we all come to openly recognize this and appreciate the reality of this, the sooner I believe we can repair a rift between the Nation and other orthodox/Sunni Blackamerican Muslims.

The gentleman in the video seemed to frame his arguments against the Nation around three central points: that they’re kafirs. That they murdered Malcolm X. And that their theology isn’t “true” Islam. I shall attempt to look at each of these critical points.

Before analyzing the brother’s takfir [calling them kafirs], we must examine this word kafir and see what type of value is placed on this word now and if so, how does that value compare to previous historical values that have been used by Muslims in the past.

Undoubtedly, in the Modern context, kafir is a dirty word, akin to calling somebody a son-of-a-bitch [or in reality, much worse – so use your imagination]. But beyond ethical values, the word is also used to strip someone or a whole group of people, of their humanity. If one is a kafir, in this sense, then one isn’t even fully human. And historically, we have seen the darker side of humanity when one group of people imagines the other without human value. But in pre-Modern times, kafir was used to simply denote a person who fell outside the religious fold of Islam. Not whether or not they had value as a person or a human being. And while it’s not within the scope of this post to do so, there are numerous sources that will support my opinion here including Prophetic ones. For further reading, research some of Dr. Sherman Jackson’s work on this term, kafir.

As for the murder of Malcolm X, this is not in repute nor dispute. Rather, what is important, in the immediate case, is that were any of the brother’s in the park personally responsible for brother Malcolm’s murder. Communal guilt is not a practice that can be legitimized in the religion of Muhammad of Arabia and I find no reason to instigate that bid’ah. Conversely, Usama bin Laden and his cohorts were responsible for the mass murder of some 2, 998 people. And yet we as Muslims, worldwide, have been clamoring against precisely the same thing – communal guilt. That we are guilty by religious association, for the deaths of those 2, 998 people [God rest their souls]. I have no doubt, that if put to the question, Mr. Abdur-Raheem Green, would agree that he in no was is responsible for the actions of the nineteen hijackers despite his religious affiliation with them. So why then are the NOI brothers held in duplicitous guilt? I can find no facts that support this presupposition and move to have the case dismissed.

Mr. Green’s final point, that their Islam isn’t “real” Islam, again, is a dog barking up a wrong tree. I don’t think any moderately educated orthodox/Sunni Muslim [in his/her religious tradition] could condone the Nation of Islam’s theology as valid according the strictures of the religion that Muhammad of Arabia brought. The fact is besides the point and ties back to the misplaced value and making takfir on them. Nation of Islam or not, kafir or not, does not give one the reason to chide these people. But let me further my case with some Sunnah.

Any orthodox/Sunni Muslim worth his or her salt knows that the Prophet loved his people. Religious affiliations aside, he loved his people. It is apparent in his actions and most evident in the love of his uncle, who is recorded in more than one authentic narration, died in a state of kufr [disbelieve]. If one were to give the life of the Prophet a thorough, detailed study, you will find a man who was deeply troubled about and for his people. That throughout his Prophethood, he dearly wanted to make concessions to make Islam more attractive for Makkans/Arabians. Which is why Allah shows to us in the Qur’an that He had to strengthen the Prophet’s resolve or he was have conceded more to them than was proper. That is the real Muhammad, Mr. Green. That is your real Prophet, of which your actions show you are woefully ignorant of. And to toss gasoline on a fire, Mr. Green actually proceed to yell out verses of the Qur’an, in Arabic, of which his target audience was most likely ignorant of. In my opinion, this is akin to shouting fire in a burning house full of deaf people. It does no one any good and saves no lives. What would you do, Mr. Green? Keep shouting at those poor, miserable deaf bastards until the house falls down on them or learn to communicate with them and try to save some lives?

Nuts? Only nuts I’ve seen lately were in the snack isle. But I have seen some crazy stuff on the Internet lately.

And God knows best.

7 Replies to “Why Polemics Are A Waste Of Time”

  1. This reminds me of the other day, I was watching the democratic debates on youtube, and Obama responding to attacks by saying he moved to Chicago to become a “community organizer”.

    Not an activist, but an organizer.

    There is a subtle difference between the two that all those involved in “dawah” can learn from.

    Another interesting thing to think about is the MO of the Nation itself. I don’t think that most Muslims, in fact most of the public, is unable to distinguish between what is considered “Orthodox” Muslim belief and what is “NOI” brand Islam.

    Catch some of the old Saviours day celebrations on the internet (sorry i dont have the link, it was the year 79) and Elijah himself was saying that there were many white Muslims around the world and in the states that respect him and them and so the members of the NOI should reciprocate that respect.

    This is almost opposite of what he and other ministers were saying years before that. Once they had gained the prominence and respect they felt they deserved their tune changed. Or can we look into it even deeper, and say that once they respected themselves enough as they should have, they were able to notice the respect that people had for them?

    This video reflects a similar type of process.

    Many Muslims, especially those that see themselves as a religious vanguard take pride in downing on others. They elevate themselves by stepping on other’s shoulders.

    I can not think of one instance of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah where he did even slightly similar.

    Hopefully Muslims will evolve enough to realize that this form of polemic rabble rousing is not only against the Sunnah of the Beloved, but is counter productive to progress.

    Something even those who have not been blessed with the truth seem to have figured out.

  2. I knew this was going to get you going. You read me when you pointed out that the British brother used the same sophist approach on the FOI brother that Muslims in general have leveled at them today by the status quo. I’m glad I haven’t ran into brothers of his ilk here in the US. The Blackamerican Muslims in America shot heroin into their veins by subscribing to such tactics with the NOI.

    The other issue is that Abdur-Raheem Green is a ‘world-reknown dai’ee’. I find his background rather interesting. But how many people were focused on the beautiful message of Allah’s stature in the video? And when is it ever appropriate to come screaming at someone giving a talk, in an attempt to show off? Yes I said it. And the fact that the mic was right up on him the whole time tells me the event was supposed to garner some kind of support.

    Also…I’m sick and tired of everyone throwing Malcolm X’s name around for their benefit. If the brother (and others) had the opportunity to do as much research as some of us, he’d be intrigued by the complexities of it all. It has become fashionable to accuse the NOI of killing Malcolm when, in fact, it was much more tangled than that. I have had the opportunity to personally meet two of the brothers who helped plot the disaster. All of America has Malcolm’s blood on their hands.

  3. Firstly I want to say that I am the type that can disagree in a brotherly manner and still have no hard feelings.

    I would not go into a park and disturb a person’s speech either, but I can certainly understand Br Abdur-Raheem Green’s anger that his (our) religion is being distorted. It would make me so angry when people would assume that I believed that whites are ‘devils’, in big headed scientists or that Elijah is a “Messenger”. What was the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) response to Musaylamah? Did he accept him and his followers as ‘brothers in faith’? What was Abu Bakr’s response to them?

    To the extent that people know the difference between the NOI and Islam is to the extent that brothers have worked to make those differences known and not obscure them. However, in the past few years, there seems to be a new effort to “mainstream” the NOI and accept them (and hence their beliefs) as Muslims. I don’t think we do the people much justice by doing that.

    I think my writings clearly show that I am as much for helping my people as anyone else, but I see it as counterproductive to put a stamp of approval on the NOI belief system.

    This is my opinion and and Allah knows best, but we are all still brothers working toward the same struggle

  4. Abdur-Rahman – Salaams.

    Firstly I want to say that I am the type that can disagree in a brotherly manner and still have no hard feelings. I would not go into a park and disturb a person’s speech either…

    You say you would not go into a park and disturb someone’s speech and yet you post a video of the action in obvious support of that action. I would say this is a contradiction. One that would require some thinking on your part.

    but I can certainly understand Br Abdur-Raheem Green’s anger that his (our) religion is being distorted. It would make me so angry when people would assume that I believed that whites are ‘devils’

    I am curious, Abdur-Rahman, if you would have the same reaction to Shi’ites, who [potentially] have very different theological stances than you do. Or Ahmadiyyahs. How about Christians? They say God was manifest as a white/jewish man. Would you also stand on a corner or support someone standing on a corner, berating someone over their beliefs?

    Did he accept him and his followers as ‘brothers in faith’? What was Abu Bakr’s response to them?

    The Prophet’s response to Musaylimah, note the first thing that he did:

    “The Prophet asked the convoys what they thought of the matter and they said: ‘Our opinions is even as his.’

    “From Muhammad the Messenger of God to Musaylimah the liar. Peace be on him who followeth the guidance! Verily the earth is God’s; He causeth whom He will of His slaves to inherit it; and the final issue is in favour of the pious’ [Taken from Muhammad by Martin Lings].

    But let us also examine a verse from the Qur’an, s. Hujarat, from this same time period:

    ‘If only they had patience until thou couldst come out to them, it would be best for them: but God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [Q:49, v:5].

    ‘The desert Arabs say, “We believe.” Say, “Ye have no faith; but ye only say, “We have submitted our wills to God,” for not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey God and his Apostle, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful [Q:49, v:14]’.

    In my opinion, the Prophet’s response to Musaylimah’s men was subtle but firm. There is no account of publicly humiliating them and that is a most important facet of the Prophet’s Sunnah – he never humiliated people. He may have ridiculed them and certainly disagreed and even fought with them but he never humiliated people. In time, Musaylimah met his demise and within a hundred years, idolatry had passed out of practice in the Arabian peninsula. This is amazing! For a people who vehemently held to their idolatrous beliefs, that in the span of roughly four generations, it was wiped out entirely. Much of this had to do with the concept of ownership in Islam, something many Blackamericans don’t feel, hence the acting out of someone else’s cultural interpretation of Islam. And as far as Abu Bakr’s response, it had more to do with sedition against a forming polity than it did for religious intolerance. And last but not least, that was the Prophet! To follow his Sunnah and to co-opt his authority in the religion are too entirely different issues. Neither you nor I have that kind of authority. Let us not forget Suwrah al-Kafirun: “To you your religion, and to me,mine”.

    Again, aside from flying spaceships, is it because they’re black and claim Islam, that you wish to humiliate them? What else could you call calling someone a “nut”? Or is that what you call da’wah? Perhaps you think that by so obviously layout out the fallacies of their religion, they’ll jump ship en masse for “real” Islam. It seems to me that for you, the Nation get a special dispensation of hate and humiliation that other groups don’t. And in my opinion, it is no small circumstance that they happen to be black. Do I condone Nation theology about black men as gods and spaceship? Hell, no. But that ain’t part of the dialog yet. I wish to reach out to our brothers and sisters in the Nation, to establish a link with them because, like you, I do believe that the religion that Muhammad brought is the true religion but I will not sacrifice that truth on the altar of humiliation.

    To the extent that people know the difference between the NOI and Islam is to the extent that brothers have worked to make those differences known and not obscure them. However, in the past few years, there seems to be a new effort to “mainstream” the NOI and accept them (and hence their beliefs) as Muslims.

    What efforts have you made, on a personal and communal level to let people know the difference? And to what purpose is this difference to be know? So the “real” Islam can be foisted up high? What are your intentions? It is clear in the history of the Prophet’s life, that he was always combing the culture and his self for ways to bring his people into the fold. And no matter how bad you think the NOI’s theology is, they ain’t got nothin’ on a bunch of idol-worshiping Arabs from the middle of the desert! Instead, we are in a unique position because of our shared history and shared urban spaces, to reach out to these people and see what kind of work we can do. Will I stand behind them in Salah? No. But neither are they compelled to do so if I stand to lead prayer. But one thing’s for sure, there will be no dialog with people like Mr. Green and quite frankly, posts that support his rantings are just as condemnable as his actions. I believe you to be better than this and would like to discuss this with you in person [well, a phone call would do]. I do not want to counter your post with humiliating you. If you like, send me and email and we can arrange to talk over the phone further regarding this issue.

    Your brother in Islam,

  5. Salaams. Nice blog brother and nice photos as well.

    Thank you for writing this post because it is an issue I have been struggling with for a while also.

    I wrote a while back about how I grew up with a lot of contempt for NOI simply because I felt their legacy made it harder for me to be assimilated and accepted in “immigrant” Muslim communities. Following my myopic and flawed logic, being accepted by these Muslims made me an authentic Muslim. As such, the further I could distance myself from Black Muslims and NOI, the closer I would get to Allah (swt). I think that because Black Muslims always have to prove their authenticity it seems that the attack in the film (and on a smaller scale in everyday conversation) is more performative than anything else–let me SHOW that I am not a “backwards” NOI member by publicly humiliating another person in hopes that I will get the stamp of approval from REAL Muslims. This is very destructive and I believe it speaks to the fact that Black folks irrespective of where we are in the spiritual community are still dealing with internalized elements of inferiority. The assertion has always been that once you become Muslim, the importance of race dissipates. If anything, I would argue that race becomes magnified within Islam not because Islam the faith carries the odor of hyper-racialization, but because Muslims have assigned a hierarchy of authenticity based on race and national origin.

    If anything, the public humiliation is what disturbs me the most. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “One who covers up the failings of someone in this world will have his shortcomings covered up by God on the Day of Judgment.” (- Riyadh us-Saleheen, 240) In this instance I am not asserting any value judgment about NOI because that is for Allah (swt) alone to judge; rather, when we as Muslims perceive the actions of others as a particular failing or fault, we should seek to engage in dialogue rather than humiliate or expose them for Allah (swt) will grant us a similar favor when we stand before Him. If that is not enough of a motivation, recognizing that for every fault we can site about the NOI, the NOI was an important if not necessary spiritual journey for Black folks in America. I do not believe that NOI was some form of aberration in Allah’s (swt) plans because He makes no mistakes. I do believe that some Black folks had to go through the NOI in order to better understand this selfs in America and better understand their histories and if they were to choose Sunni/Orthodox Islam, to better understand Islam within the context of Black American experiences.

    Once again, I appreciated this post.

  6. Kameelah,

    thanks for dropping in and reading. Sorry for the slow response. I’ve been out due to some health issues.

    Yes, the total dehumanizing of the NOI is really disturbing to me. It seems doubly so on the part of some Muslims who feel that their own Islam is in jeopardy simply by association of blackness – “I’m black and Muslim. They’re black and ‘claim to be Muslim’, so therefore I have to go to extreme measure to assert my true Muslim identity.” Very sad. There is one, simple, incontrovertible fact and that is that the status and acceptance of Islam amongst Blackamericans to this day is due almost solely to the efforts of the NOI. That there is an unarguable chain of psychological narration that has made Islam accessible for blacks that dates back to the NOI and denying it is both ungrateful and woefully ignorant. Acknowledgment of this fact in no way condones their theology and the fact that there is a growing segment of us, coming from the orthodox/Sunni came, who being Blackamerican, see an opportunity to reach out and have a dialog with our fellow Blackamericans who are in the NOI, shows that we simply want to reestablish a connection, if only on a cultural level. I cannot begin to name the number of brothers and sisters I know who came to orthodox Sunni or even Shi’ite Islam from the Nation. As Olivier Roy puts it so eloquently,

    “Only when it is too late do we dream of the past, and then our dreams incorporate everything we want to deny.”

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