Archive for May, 2008

Alternative Visions — Part IIA (Amer Haleem)

May 20, 2008

Part I of this Series is here.

The issues I am discussing in this series are ones in which I have long been interested. However, I was driven at this time to actually write up some thoughts on these issues and to try to communicate and promote discussion around two powerful recent contributions. In this article I will discuss an amazing 14 page cri de coeur in Al-Jumuah Magazine from one of the most challenging thinkers and speakers on the Muslim scene here in the U.S. Amer Haleem. (The other is from Shaykh Anwar al-Awlaki and will be discussed in Part III.)
Ustadh Amer Haleem titles his essay “Children of a Mixed Message: How the Generational Dynamics Have Weakened the Muslim Community in America and Made it Harder to Raise Our Families.” AlJumuah Magazine is in the midst of a “year long meditation on the Muslim Family.” Haleem’s article contains a lot of food for thought and so I will just try and touch on some of the major issues in this post. Haleem includes a brief historical analysis of the Muslim community here in the United States, discusses what he sees as a rather bleak present, but closes with an optimistic note of faith in the possibility of “miraculous” change within our community and within a single generation. Haleem describes all of this through the lens of generational dynamics and the American framework of the Baby Boomer — Gen X — Millenial Generations labels.

Amer Haleem certainly is highly qualified to write on this topic due to his many years of experience with Islamic activism in America at many different levels from the grassroots to the highest echelons. Most of his time in more recent years has been spent assisting in the mammoth Qur’an study and translation project carried out by his teacher Shaykh Ahmad Zaki Hammad. The major product of this work released to the public is “The Gracious Qur’an: A Modern Phrased Interpretation in English” (2 Volumes).

The fact that Amer Haleem is unhappy with the direction of the community and its leadership and is unafraid to express his concern in the best Islamic tradition of nasiha is clear to anyone who has heard him speak in recent years. One can check out this article describing a speech he gave at Northwestern University almost a year ago to see the type of prophetic speech which he embraces. In this essay, Haleem contends that “the major spiritual dynamics and forces of social change within our Muslim American community….have rather systematically escorted our community down American society’s secular escalator rather up through the traditional spheres of Islam’s insistent social justice and the stations of spiritual elevation well-marked by our polymath Muslim predecessors…” Haleem continues, “Take a good look at who we Muslims in America are becoming and what’s become of us. The most significant aspects of our life and identity–like our personal and communal worship of God, virtually all the signs of meaningful relationship with Him, and our intramural coummunity cohesion and family conditions–have deteriorated not improved, and dramatically so, over the last decade. The vast majority of us do not practice Islam.” As one continues through the thought process of Haleem’s essay, it is clear that this is not a matter of blaming the masses of Muslims who have taken this course, although of course each one of us in the end is responsible for our own soul, but of calling into question the leadership dynamics and choices which, Haleem argues, have contributed greatly to this reality. (more…)

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The Advice of Jesus (alayhe salaam) to the Rich Young Man

May 20, 2008

From the King James Bible

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? 26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

Alternative Visions — Part I (Introduction)

May 18, 2008

Anyone who is even marginally active in the Muslim community here in the United States and who has been so for even just 15 years (as I have) would probably notice the following. The Muslim community in the United States is an incredibly diverse one, in terms of ethnicity, in terms of involving both immigrants and indigenous, in terms of socio-economic class and income levels. Especially before the events of September 11 and what has followed, it was not at all unusual to see “radical” religio-political understandings of our current situation and what Islam has to say about it in ‘mainstream’ Muslim fora, even where such views would not normally be seen in mainstream fora outside the Muslim community (with the possible exception of the Black American community — about this more later in the series if not in this post).

Although a diversity of views can still be found amongst the Muslims for the one who desires to search, it would seem that as a certain segment of Muslim leadership has moved to try to join the mainstream political discussion and processes of the country, that Muslim leadership has coalesced (or is at the least beginning to coalesce) around a certain vision of the role of the Muslim community here in the United States. I will try to identify certain statements that I find representative of this consensus in the process of this series but for the purpose of this introductory post let me state that the Vision promoted by this leadership seems to focus around the following major themes:

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Phil Donahue: Body of War

May 18, 2008

Phil Donahue was all over the media here in Chicago last week promoting his new documentary film “Body of War.”  The film looks excellent, inshAllaah I hope to try and see it in Chicago to support the effort.  I know it is only showing in a handful of cities.  The film is billed as “an intimate and transformational feature documentary about the true face of war today.  The film juxtaposes the struggles of Tomas Young, 25, who was paralyzed in Iraq as he deals with the severe physical repercussions of his injury and develops his own anti-war voice with an aggressive and angry critique of the dishonesty of the administration that pushed the US into this war and the cowardice of the politicians of both parties who did not stand in its way.

Mr. Donahue of course was a prominent war critic before the war, which is a big part of the reason why his show was pulled off the air by MSNBC.  I have to say, over and above my profound agreement with and admiration for his unflinching anti-war stance seeing him interviewed on several programs this week reminded me of what warm feelings I have for Mr. Donahue.  Although of course he comes from my parents’ generation, he does have that Irish Catholic liberal midwestern background.  My affection for Mr. Donahue of course started with his afternoon talk show, which I would occasionally enjoy watching even if I didn’t much care or understand the issues being discussed because of his charismatic liberal humanism  (I mean this in a good way, his love for people and especially for the ‘little guy’ against big powerful institutions).  It continued as I was in high school and college when I would enjoy watching his cable show that he hosted alongside Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner.  It was actually through several interviews on that show with Irish journalist and historian Tim Pat Coogan that my love and enthusiasm for Irish history and Irish republicanism was first kindled.

Of course another great joy of my childhood that I’ve recently rediscovered through dvd with my own children was the film made by Mr. Donahue’s wife, Marlo Thomas, Free to Be You and Me.  It may cause chagrin to those who think that Muslim male (especially us “white” converts) are too feminized but I still can’t find too much that I don’t appreciate in this 1970s feminist classic.

In other random recent events, I also saw the film “Arranged” on dvd.  The film tells the story of an Arab Muslim woman and an Orthodox Jew teaching at the same school together in New York who form an unlikely bond over their concurrent searches to find husbands through the “arranged” marriage procedures of their religions and cultures.  It was a nice little film, heartwarming and funny, and with hardly any of the false notes one expects from films that try to tell the stories of truly religious people.

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim: Islam and the Secular State

May 14, 2008

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a lecture a couple of weeks ago given by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim. The event was sponsored by the Loyola University Islamic World Studies Program (directed by Dr. Marcia Hermansen, translator of Shah Wali Allah’s Hujjat Allah al-Baligha) and co-sponsored by the Chicago Muslim Bar Association. I am extremely grateful that the sponsors allowed me to attend a dinner with Dr. An-Naim after the event where I was able to discuss his ideas in a little more detail and I hope they didn’t regret it based on the fact that I heatedly disagreed with Dr. An-Naim on some issues. May Allaah (swt) forgive me, I am generally extremely calm and mild-mannered but when that Irish temper gets going, it’s all over!

Dr. An-Naim discussed his new book Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’ah. There is a lecture about the book available on Dr. An-Naim’s website as well. I have not read the book yet, so I am just tentatively addressing some of the issues that came out in discussion, and I pray I do not misstate or misrepresent Dr. An-Naim’s postion in any way.

As background, Dr. An-Naim is an extremely prolific scholar based at Emory University in Atlanta. He writes on a wide variety of Islamic and African issues. He comes from the background of a political activist and has a strong ‘progressive’ outlook. I use the term here in the sense of politically progressive and not to necessarily associate him with the “Progressive Islam” movement or mode of thinking. Although as I state, Dr. An-Naim is very prolific as a scholar he is best known to me as being a former student of Ustadh (Teacher) Mahmoud Taha. Dr. An-Naim also translated one of Taha’s works into english. I have not read Taha’s work either, but he was an opponent of and was executed by a Sudanese dictator who used religion as a justification for persecuting Taha. Again, I have not read it so I don’t claim to understand the ideas in their entirety or in depth, but they do seem to be unorthodox. One point usually emphasized in discussing these ideas is that the Makkan suras of the Qur’an (revealed pre-hijrah or before the Prophet(saw) had any political power) are a universal message valid for all times and peoples while the Madinan suras (revealed while the Prophet (saw) was a political leader) were in their specifics directed towards that particular time and place and those specifics are not necessarily binding for other times and places. Something that probably doesn’t sound too controversial to the non-Muslim modern western ear but which is, as I said, very ‘unorthodox’ to Muslims.

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