Sunday, January 13, 2008

Why Black American Muslims Don't Stand for Justice...

First, I have to admit I know very few African-American Muslims and know very little about the African-American-Muslim community.

I recently stumbled on this blog which I must say has a whole bunch of thought-provoking posts and provides much-needed insight into the Black Muslim community.

Below are excerpts from a popular post:

Taking the lead in a resurgence of civil rights activism is a tightly-knit coalition of Black radio personalities (Micheal Basden, Warren Ballentine, and Sharpton himself) and church leaders, who’ve been raising public awareness for the past year about these disturbing incidents.

And then a question occurred to me: How is it that pork chop, chittlin-eating preachers were able to corner the market on civil rights struggle, and how did a religion that teaches its followers to “turn the other cheek” and “love those who spitefully use you” become identified as a viable force for racial and justice in this country? At the same time we the Muslims, inheritors of a pure scripture which commands the doing of justice in the here-and-now, are left totally out of the picture.

After twenty years of the immigrants’ controlling the Islamic agenda in America, by the year 2000 Blackamericans had clearly taken the “back seat” when it came to community issues. Having taken up this knotty and controversial question of why “Blackamerican Muslims don’t stand for justice”, we’ve learned that one of the most important factors in our failure to develop and maintain a community activist, social justice tradition has been the overwhelming dominance and influence of the immigrant Muslim community.

However after having looked at this issue from all angles, its also becoming clear to me that immigrant dominance does not fully explain why Blackamerican Muslims don’t stand for justice. The record reflects that the immigrant organizations’ power-play for control of the “Islamic” agenda in America met little to no resistance from Blackamerican Muslims. The question then is why.

It was certainly expected that in attempting to explore this question we would invite the usual criticisms that always tend to impede any type of serious and frank discussion of Black community issues, especially when viewed in the context of Islam’s universality. Unfortunately, in the minds of some confused individuals “Blackamerican progress” and Islam are mutually exclusive thoughts. Because of the ‘teachings’ of the past decade or so from certain imams and du’aat - even Blackamerican ones - we now see that any talk of Blackamerican Muslims showing concern for their own community immediately provokes shrill accusations of “nationalism” or of “dividing the Muslim community”.

And what is so tragically ironic about it all is that at the same time these people raise the ugly specter of “nationalism” - being unable to advance even a cogent definition of the term - they will in the same breath utter the completely absurd statement of “I’m not Black, I’m not African American. I’M JUST MUSLIM”. However they are not able sustain the delusion of being a racial and ethnic tabula rasa (blank slate) for very long, and waste no time reinventing themselves into the mirror image of a Saudi, Sudani, Pakistani, or what have you.

Before you rush to make a judgment, take a deep breath and go through some more posts on the blog and the blogroll to really get an idea of what our brothers are going through.


Affad Shaikh said...

Amazing post. This is the sort of stuff I wish Muslamics could be engaged in.

However, even if we are excerpting here is an interesting angle. how can a community expect to change or take leadership of anything if we continue to have the overwhemingly large percentage of our community living under the salary range of 30,000 dollars a year?

With just as large of a drop our rate from high school, combined with a percentage of people not pursuing or being able to receive a university/college experience.

If we as a community want to set an agenda for America, then we as a community need to view the social and economic rifts that exist in our community. Why, better yet how can we address this lack of economic mobility and access?

If we have a community that continues to progress toward the middle class it shows that there is a process, something that we have to offer, to help people out of the poverty and debt that the "capitalist" structure has created.

Do not get me wrong, I am all for free markets and am through and through a capitalist. However, I do believe that we as a community need to provide access to the capitalist enterprise because if we don't then these people, muslims and others, will flock to an idea a movement that will.

People will argue that the structure is not plausible, that it needs to be torn down and re-created. I argue against that issue and our argument still does not address the issue at hand, how do we take people out of the situation they are in?

Yesi King said...

great reply affad. you mentioned you don't believe the existing structure needs to be torn down and recreated. can you elaborate on that a little more. i'm not an econ expert but i'm just curious. i believe the oppostite of you, and usually have this discussion with non-muslims. i have to admit, i have never had this discussion with a muslim, a muslim who believes that capitalism and free markets can solve the problem. i absolutely disagree with you but i think this is a good discussion don't you? you should post a blog on it;D while i'm not a total idiot and am totally aware that many muslims do agree with capitalism as a viable economic structure, i'd like to understand that a little more.

Affad Shaikh said...

Salaam Yesi,

I would actually be interested in hearing what an alternative economic structure or any structure would be like.

For instance, the three branch set up we have here in America, I think would work seamlessly as an islamic form of government.

There would be few tweaks I imagine, with in the judiciary and the congressional body there should be some sort of Islamic Jurisprudence council entrusted to examine and conduct "ijtihad" or whatever you want to call it on the Islamicity of legislation.

Anyway, in the same way I know that Marxist thought or socialism is not Islamic in any way. Islam strongly encourages property ownership, entrepreneurship. Islam also has a limited tax structure, in that taxes are jizyah and zakat based on limited government intervention in market manipulation and control.

Islam encourages money flow, opening of markets and exchange of idea's and people and goods- the numerous trade routes, developing of the "checks" (banking in general and finanicing) Islam put into practice the legal contractual basis of government and ownership that helped to move goods beyond the small trade routes of the Prophets time.

This is not to say that the "social responsibility" is not part of Islam. That is something that muslims could bring to the table when it comes to capitalism as we know it today. There are so many other issues that are involved in this discussion and i agree it requires a post, if not several of its own. but like i said i would also like to see an alternative model.

Marya Bangee said...

what about interest? how does that work into the free market model?

Marya Bangee said...

also - i like the "I'm just Muslim" stance - as long as it doesn't mean we close our eyes to our differences or deal with very real issues like racism, economic and class differences, etc.

Affad Shaikh said...

of coarse interest is a tool that we as Muslim need to work to remove from the market system. We were able to have a market that functioned without interest, I believe we are capable of doing the same in the future. That is what the "Islamic banking" movement is all about, granted I think a huge problem is we as Muslims do not exist out of a vacuum, so many people will have issues with the theories surrounding Muslim/Islamic financing tools because of how it resembles this or that. For anyone who studies the subject, its easy to see how critical intentions and responsibilities become, being that the contract is critically scrutinized to examine it for legality under the sharia.

I love the "i'm just Muslim" stance, yet how do we move toward a practical application of that? how do we move from a community of some what like minded individuals to a society which can function in complex fashion? While the "i'm just Muslim" concept is critical, we can not remain at that stage. There needs to be discussion, progression and most of all development through trial and error. That in essence is the enterprise of creating a healthy society. We are, after all, not a nation of an island.

Yesi King said...

Wa asalam Affad. Well first of all, your question was "how do we take people out of the situation they are in?" When I look around and I see organizations like Islamic Relief (not to take anything away from the wonderful work they do), or other things like people getting excited about new ways on how to battle global warming, I get a weird feeling inside. I do think these things can help, but then can only help so much. If you truly want change I think you need to change the economic/political means running the game. Otherwise doing anything else will just be like putting a band-aid over a large gunshot wound.

Now, you want to see an alternative model? I cannot show you an existing one, because as you many know capitalism is the only "successful" out there. Here you have to conceptualize successful... what does successful mean? Make money? Yeah capitalism is successful there. Solve social problems? I would argue no. I would argue it is capitalism that actually causes and has caused these social/economic/ environmental/racial/imperialistic/ alienating/ sexist, etc, problems we see today. I don't want to spend a lot of time discussing this particular subject as that is not the issue at hand, so I'll skip all of that.

I will however say that a model can be developed. I can argue that there are actually many links between a socialist economy/gov., or a communist econ./gov. with of course many tweaks. and that Islam is even more compatible with an Anarchist type setup. I would even argue that Islam on its own has the capability to design its own model within the constructs of its own rules and laws, taking of course, ideas and models from other sources to help facilitate such a thing.

I would also argue that there is an inherent contradiction between capitalism and Islam. I know I'm not backing up my arguments here with any hard facts, but doing so would require pages and pages of how about I whip up something in the upcoming weeks, something short to get some discussion started,yes? I hope I don't get lazy;P

Affad Shaikh said...

I hope you don't either. I actually am of the OPINION that ANARCHY and ISLAM have no compatibility. Islam could not function under anarchy, because Islam requires structure and stability in order to ensure key practices.

The thing is, we do not have the luxury of being in a vacuum. We exist in the West and we have a "western intellect" so we discuss issues based upon what we know and understand. That includes vocabulary and definitions from a Western Construct- or a liberal democratic construct, or whatever. This is the frame that we begin with, unfortunately, its difficult to think "outside" the box, because we end up relying on what we know.

That is why I use terms like "capitalism", "democracy" etc, which might not be encompassing the totality of what those things/institutions would be like in a wholly "Islamic" universe.

With that said, I still go back to my assertion that Islam has much more "capitalist, democratic, humanist" qualities. (again with out any back up, because i would also have to go back to rims of notes and books I have read to back it up)- so i look forward to your post, maybe it will get me to stake out my ground better.

Amer said...

br Affad you mentioned "Anyway, in the same way I know that Marxist thought or socialism is not Islamic in any way. Islam strongly encourages property ownership, entrepreneurship. Islam also has a limited tax structure, in that taxes are jizyah and zakat based on limited government intervention in market manipulation and control."

while I do understand your point that some hadiths and verses enforce strong property ownership, "free" market values (historically, I'm not convinced capitalism was ever 'liberal'), other capitalist values, etc. I just have a few questions:

1. First, the highly ambiguous word "Marxist" (which, sadly, seems to refer to many, many people). What do you mean by "marxist thought"? are you referring to leftist econ? I'm confused whenever I hear this word refer to whole systems, etc., and I look forward to your answer. However, as for my position, similar to what Foucault said seems about right to me: "As far as I'm concerned, Marx doesn't exist..the sort of entity constructed around a proper name, signifying at once a certain individual...his writings..and an immense historical process deriving from him."

2. you also mention that "socialism" has a similar quality, that is, of being "not Islamic in any way". I have a bigger problem with this claim .. and I'm wondering how and why socialism is unIslamic? do you suggest doing away with the corpus of text produced in the brotherhood's 1960s (not a surprise, i guess) and later project of "Islamic Socialism" of which both alghazali and alsiba'i contributed to. qutb's portion on `economic justice' in his book 'social justice in islam' resembles this attempt at constructing an islamic socialism (in a very socialist-loving time). are we to do away with these attempts? or return to alafghani and mohammad abduh's attempts much earlier (again, no surprise) to hint at a capitalist-liberalist islam? enter ew...that disgusting word: hermeneutics.

3. alternative models ! where are they at? I have no idea. Alternative models of what, though? We can't simply exchange capitalism with a more sustenance-based has become a way of's mutated: "[now] we are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world". To take away capitalism is also to condemn to death a large (if not fatal) portion of consumerism and the crass consumption that plagues the US (i'm personally not familiar with the rest of the West (sorry Said!)): how would an non-conspicuous-consumption version of 'the Real Housewives of Orange County' look?

Capitalism has become (has been, more accurately) life-affecting. Perhaps the South Central Farmers got furthest as SoCal revolutionaries: creating a largely sustenance based farm within capitalist urbania. After evicting the farmers, I've heard (and maybe mistakingly, if someone could kindly let me know?) it was leveled and is being made a warehouse - from sustenance to surplus, or excess.

a small note can be extracted from this: perhaps Allah (swt) gives us the seeds for an alternative model
at the beginning of Sura 102: "The mutual rivalry for piling up (worldly things) diverts you" - that is, accumulation. "Marx" (his influences and precursors), at the beginning of Capital (and other texts), noticed a capitalist function he put into formula as: M-C-M, that is, money buys commodities, which, in turn, sells for money. Precisely a primary capitalist goal and function: transform capital into capital + profit (or M-M`). Perhaps, as the verse might suggest, an emphasis on sustenance rather than accumulation ought to be looked at? (this is question 3!) Perhaps this is one reason why the South Central Farm could not (or, more appropriately, was not allowed to) survive? I'm no economist though.

There's much more to talk about but my ramble is completely embaressing! I really look forward to your, Yesi's and others' responses. I do feel, on a digressing note, as I understood was suggested earlier, there are important intersections between anarchism and Islam.


Affad Shaikh said...

Brother Amer,

Jazaks for your thoughts. I have been waiting in anticipation for your comments but was much pleased to see further questions. These questions will inadvertently call into question my own assumptions but also help better define where I stand on issues.

I have to say, however, that I appologize in advance. Being a perfect little capitalist, I just started my MBA and am in he midst of juggling my work and school.

So please give me time as I work on providing answers to your question and hopefully contributing positively to this discussion.

Charles Hassan Ali Catchings said...

There will be a website with a lot information and live online discussions up and running in the near future dealing with quite a few of these BAM issues. The autho of the post cited and several others will be contributing regularly and the programs should be lively. If you would like to know more or would like to submit articles and op-eds let me know. Allahuakbar and Salaam!