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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Muslim Americans, what now? thoughts on the the impact of W.Deen Mohammed and the future




The death of Imam W.Deen Mohammed, long time fixture in the Muslim American community, sent shock waves nationwide, affecting not only his followers, but the wider Muslim community as well. He was widely seen as a source of stability and confidence for U.S.Muslims, particularly African-American Muslims, many of whom also saw in him a symbol of pride and independence.

His death has re-ignited interest in an oft-ignored African American Muslim community, and has also prompted questions as to the past, present and future image of Islam with a distinct American appearance.

Who was W.Deen Mohammed

Son of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the 'Lost-found Nation of Islam' or simply Nation of Islam [NOI], a movement whose doctrines were a mixture of Islam, Christianity and a variety of race-based fictional accounts. It was founded in the days when discrimination and marginalization of Black Americans was a normal fact of life, also a time when various religious and political movements were vying for the Consciousness and loyalty of Blacks. Elijah Muhammad's interests were not religious alone. While he did view Christianity as a tool to put down Blacks, and Islam as a liberating religion for Blacks, he also had cultural, social and economic interests. He gave his followers the drive to be industrious, hard-working, and productive, opening a variety of restaurants, farms, and other business ventures. He advocated a rather unrealistis vision, complete separation of the races, that some land be set aside for Blacks only, for a Black nation!

It was this movement that produced well-known figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Although marginalized in historical accounts, this movement, despite its clearly odd patch job of a theology, played an important role in both the African-American struggle for human rights and the establishment of Islam in American life.


Upon the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, his son Wallace [also known as Imam Warith-Deen ] became the leader of the NOI, and almost immediatly embarked on a program that led in the direction of accepting Orthodox Islam. Prayer, fasting, uncompromising Monotheism, all ignored in the days of his father, became the norm for his supporters.

Eventually, W.D. Mohammed dissolved all organizational structures, having for himself essentially a symbolic presence only, with no direct control of his followers' affairs. His style had an unique American approach. He seems to have sought to allow Muslims to be Muslims, while at the same time be American! This is a different approach from other Muslim movements, which finds acceptance of all things Western anathema to Islam. He was among the first American Muslim figures to encourage voting, and his preferred style of dress was a suit and tie, rather than a Jalabiyyah.

Of course there were many issues we can disagree with him about, but his impact cannot be denied. He was a sincere worker for the Islamic cause, with a mind of his own.

The future

The passing of Imam W.D. Mohammed reflects the natural changing of the guard. No longer should religion revolve around personalities. That has also been a uniquely American experience, but in Islam our religion is suppose to be about obedience to God above all else, about the Qur'an, the words of God and acting in accordance with justice and fair-play.


Rather than circling around a leader, I think the Muslims will, and actually should, broaden their religious interests, pursuing for themselves the avenues of knowledge and building for themselves all the goodly things needed for their lives and the well being of their communities. This was very apparent to me at the funeral, which I attended, when I saw Minister Louis Farrakhan [ft.1]. It hit me that he was the only other prominent fugure from those past days still active, who himself carried a charisma that is felt by Muslim Americans of all shades and backrounds.


American Muslims are in the process of creating their own identity. Times have changed, and Islam is no longer seen as a protest movement among Blacks. It is spreading fast among Whites and Latinos. Together with second-generation Muslims from Arab and South Asian backrounds, we will create something new and unique.

Muslims here will create their own clothing, that will conform to Islamic requirements as well as Western styles, in the same way Baju Melayu in Malaysia and the Shalwar kameez for the unique identity of Subcontinent Muslims. The future is very promising.

We will ask our readers to respect this process, to participate in this process, contribute to it and do not denigrate the past. We have seen that with the passing of Imam Mohammed, many have taken the oppurtunity to attack his personal, theological and political positions. This is not the time for that, as all that will do is create unneeded enmity and hatred. We ask our readers to put aside differences and to remember the Islamic principle of not speaking ill of the dead, especially one whose good actions outweighted any [percieved] wrong ones.


Footnote

[1] Louis Farrakhan broke away from W.D. Mohammed upon the latter's acceptance of orthodox Islam, and revived the teachings and program of Elijah Muhammad.

Obsession: a documentary of hate and fear


In the Sunday edition of the Toledo Blade, readers received a surprise in the middle section, a free DVD. The title of this free gift ['beware of the Greeks, even when they bear gifts'] is 'Obsession: Radical Islam's war against the West'. It's a one hour so called documentary.

As the day went on, I learned that this 'gift' had not just been given to the good people of Toledo, cities all over the nation, [in selected states, the swing states actually] had received this DVD. Our community held a meeting to plan a response, and it was revealed there that seventy-two newspapers carried this DVD nationwide, reaching an estimated audience of twenty-eight million!

This DVD placed together a variety of disparate clips of images and statements throughout the world in an attempt to show the audience that 'Radical' Islam is out there, ready and able to destroy the Western way of life, and as such the West, the fountain of civilization and freedom, must be on guard, against "them". "They are here, among us" one speaker on this production said.

The same good 'ol boys

Among the many individuals featured or shown in this production, the most prominent are Walid Shoebat, Brigitte Gabriel, Steve Emerson and Daniel Pipes. All of these individuals are directly involved in organizations that seek funds and support for their respective agendas, usually revolve around Pro-Israeli or Zionist interests, the defense industry, and Evangelical Christian circles, those who claim a monopoly on Biblical interpretation, whose figures earn quite a bit of money from speeches, books, etc.. [One web site claims Shoebat earns over $13,000 for each speech]. Thus, people such as those featured on the DVD cannot be relied upon to give reliable, unbiased and accurate information.

Another speaker, Lamar Marcus, of Palestinian Media Watch, implies that Muslims created the myth that Jewish ritual requires the blood sacrifice of a child, when in reality this idea was founded by Europeans, Christians, in the Middle Ages.

False implications

Mr. Shoebat made the laughable assertion that Jihad [ which means 'struggle' ], explained by him as 'self-struggle', is still a dangerous concept comparable to Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf , which means 'My struggle'. This can be compared to a person making the wrong assumption that there is a conspiracy behind the fact that the word Ingerris [Melayu for 'English'] appears so close to the 'N' word used in the USA as an insulting reference to Blacks.

In any case, a common theme throughout the documentary is the 'similarities' between Islam and Nazism. One speaker said that radical Islam is more dangerous than Nazism, and of course there were many pictures of German troops and Hitler. Much was made of a 'close' relationship between Palestinian Mufti Ikrima Sabri and Nazi Germany, but the same assertions could very well be made of the relationship between Iranian Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and the United states.

It was constantly repeated that 'moderate' Muslims need to speak out against terrorism. Yet, Muslims have been doing just that. Even the events of September 11, 2001 found condemnation from Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, all opponents of US policy in the Middle East, all of whom are designated Terrorists by the US! It is very easy to confirm that the religious and political institutions of Muslims worldwide have condemned violence and murder, regardless of the identity of the victims or the perpetrators. A simple Internet search would suffice to answer that challenge. All of this is well-documented.

Induces Amnesia

A clip from an Arabic language television program is said to be especially frightening for Western audiences, in which a child is kidnapped by Jews for the purposes of sacrifice in a religious ritual. The propaganda is horrible, says this DVD. Yet, the same can be said of Hollywood films such as Death before dishonor, Seige, or Delta Force!

Every community has its bad apples, its elements who are so filled with rage that anything they say will most certainly be shocking. So, clips of representatives of the British-based group Al-Muhajiroun as well as Abu Hamza Al-Misri, former fighter in Afghanistan and also formerly of Britian making shocking statements was to be expected. That these figures are ignored by the wider Muslim community is never mentioned.

This DVD absolves the West of any responsibility for the grievances felt by people worldwide. It seeks to oversimplify the situation as 'Muslims hating the freedoms and success of the West'. While such grievances are not the subject of this particular post, nonetheless it would be wise for the reader to remember that there is two sides to every story, and that images can be decieving.

Concluding thoughts

Obsession only reinforced the stereotypes held about Arabs and Muslims. It has the potential to create a backlash of violence, even terrorism from right-wing groups and militias, against Western Muslims. Whole families can be placed in great danger as a result of this DVD. Of course, the controvery will die down, and individual Mosques and community leaders will respond to it, but nonetheless it is our feeling that the intentions of the creators and backers of Obsession have less than honorable intentions.

To our Muslim readers, we advise patience, and most importantly- do not overreact. It's a safe assumption that the producers of this so-called documentary want us to do exactly that. The propaganda war against Islam and Muslims is nothing new. It happened in the time of the Prophet Muhammad and is recorded in the Qur'an. A succinct example is given in the following words;

Is this a message that you ridicule, and you earn your money by lying about it? [Q 56:81-82].

Our long term responses to propaganda of this nature is to be better Muslims, live as Islam teaches us. Have inviting, clean Mosques, be prepared to answer questions honestly, make Islamic literature [especially the Qur'an] available to your friends, co workers and neighbors. These sort of actions will cancel out the efforts of the hateful and, God-willing, create a safer situation for ourselves and plant the seeds for greater understanding.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ramadan readings: the expansive message of the Qur'an.

As most of our readers are aware, reading or recitation of the Qur'an is very important in the month of Ramadan. While it is not our intention to go into the particulars of how this tradition has evolved, it is nonetheless a necessity to engage in its study while observing the fast.


The study of the Qur'an is never a boring experience for the believer, and it is our view that benefiting from it is especially heightened while fasting. It is my hope to share some observations of texts I read today.

Salvation

Just about every religious group has among its adherents those who believe that Heaven, paradise, Nirvana, or whatever label applied, is limited to themselves only. The Quranic position can be described in the following text:


And they say: None enter Jannah [paradise] unless they are Jewish or Christian. These [assertions] are their desires. Say: Produce your evidence, if you are truthful [Q 2:111]


This ayah summarizes the argument made by sects and religions as to the holders of salvation. God says to those holding such views to show their proof to the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, indeed, to all mankind.

Does anyone of us have keys to heaven? Can we look inside and find out exactly who is in it? Indeed, we cannot, and those who think otherwise are just speculating, following their own desires and prejudices.

Allah has told us- in the final revelation called the Qur'an, who will be in his paradise. The answer may surprise us all:

Nay! [the one who is] completly submissive to God, a doer of good, then he has his reward with his Lord, on them shall be no fear nor grief .{ Q 2112}


No label is given. Action is required. The word 'Nay' [Bal'] negates the argument of the prior sentence. Those who think they are the only ones blessed by God are indeed incorrect. In another place, Allah has said that those who are sincere in thinking they are God's exclusives, to the detriment of others, to kill themselves, return to God and his heaven faster{ Q 62:6].

Allah is the Provider and nourisher of all. While it is true that many of us hold to theological errors, can we really say that God made people, allowed them to make these mistakes in belief, just to send them to hell for misunderstanding? The Quranic message is this: Have the right understanding of God, and act accordingly. Label has not been given that much importance.

In this same section, we are shown again how labels have little bearing on one's status before God Almighty.

Jews and Christians will never be satisfied with you until you follow their Millah. Say: Surely God's guidance is the [real] guidance... [2:120].


Allah created all people, he knows best who deserves his rewards and who does not. Also of interest is the following verse;

The Jews say: "The Christians have naught (to stand) upon; and the Christians say: "The Jews have naught (To stand) upon." Yet they (Profess to) study the (same) Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but Allah will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment. [Q 2:113]


In the end, God is the judge. Therefore, we should never judge someone's ideology and say that God will not given them anything. That's arrogance on our part.

Endnote

For a more in-depth study of some of these issues, the reader is referred to the work The language of revelation, in which this writer has explored the Quranic usage of Kaafir, Islam and Muslim. To obtain, email waheed79@yahoo.com