Alternative Visions — Part I (Introduction)

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:

a) The formation of and identification with an “American Muslim” identity distinct from that of different peoples’ nations of origin and the Muslim ummah outside of the United States generally. Sometimes there is also mention of a general “Western Muslim” identity. Although there is certainly a realization that European Muslims may have a different set of issues than American Muslims, there is really in some ways a common intellectual leadership at least among English speaking Muslims from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.

b) A strong encouragement of these American Muslims to become aggressively involved in the political system. In practice, this has focused on the national level and especially a great amount of interest and discussion around the presidential elections since 2000. (Note: many thinkers of this trend have rhetorically tried to encourage local political involvement as a higher priority than national involvement but in general on the ground I see little evidence that this is being followed to any great extent).

c) We are just beginning to see the tentative raising of a few voices in the embracing of “secularism.” In the past, Muslims had either spoken strongly against the secular nature of politics in the “West” or had largely remained silent about such philosophical questions as what type of polity Islam envisioned ideally. This seems to be where this consensus vision is heading, without denying the desireability of Muslim countries to establish “Islamic” forms of rule, this trend spends most of its energy justifying the active and unambivalent embracing of participation in secular political systems by western Muslim minorities. Often it is stressed that this embrace of participation in these political systems is not to be seen through the lens of utilitarian or self-interested concerns but as a complete embrace of the political and cultural identity of the nation state in which these Muslim communities live (of course while also stressing the maintenance of strong Islamic identities and practices and the assurance that “there is no contradiction.”)

d) At the same time, without necessarily rejecting any of the above, there is also a concern emphasized at the same time by some leaders of primarily focusing the energies of the Muslim communities here in the west on internal development. Without necessarily specifying a long long term strategy these leaders emphasize the need as well as the opportunity to protect the level of Islamic belief and practice among Muslim communities in the West and state that this must be the first priority. Such leaders would stress the need for the development of Islamic schools and mosques which can develop effective strategies for the flourishing of Islamic practice on an individual and community level here in the west while consciously de-emphasizing concerns over global issues over which, it is thought, Muslims in the west have real little influence anyway.

InshAllaah I hope to expand and correct this basic outline as I begin to collect specific examples of this intellectual trend amongst the Muslim leadership here in America. I do not completely reject this trend and in fact embrace some aspects of it. Without any doubt I have tremendous love and admiration for many of the great leaders advancing this agenda. At the same time, I do not hesitate to share my profound uneasiness with this developing consensus. In fact, in addition to outlining this consensus for the purpose of discussion, as the title indicates, the main purpose of this series will be to highlight and promote for consideration Muslim leadership which is promoting “alternative visions” which challenge some or all of the assumptions and/or prescriptions of this consensus elite vision for Muslims in the West.

Some thinkers/groups/intellectual trends I hope to highlight:

Hizb ut Tahrir

Shaykh Anwar al-Awlaki

The Al-Ummah Community of Imam Jamil Al-Amin

The Jamaat of Shehu Uthman dan Fodio

Amer Haleem

Tanzeem Islami

Shaykh Ali Al-Timimi

Al-Sabiqoon Movement

As I said, it is my great desire with this series to promote consideration of these “alternative visions” because I think that each of them has particular strengths and insights which would be beneficial to the Muslim community
in terms of forming a Vision for our community which can be effective in our current situation but which more importantly can be one which is wholly consistent with our beliefs and priorities as followers of the Prophet (saw) and believers in Allaah. As anyone familiar with the above names or groups will recognize immediately there are great differences among these groups. Some are dynamic thinkers, some are political movements. Some are followers of intellectual/political traditions from the Muslim world, some are native to the soil of America while obviously deeply influenced by the Islamic intellectual tradition. And in no way could anyone, myself included, embrace all of the thought of each of these groups at the same time. In fact, it must be stated, I belong to none of the groups mentioned and my own perspective on them may be skewed by my level of exposure to them. But, in each of them, I admire their willingness to challenge what I am calling the elite consensus view of a Vision for the Muslim future in the West and I think there is much we all can learn from each of them.

Relevant Articles Relevant to the “Emerging Consensus” View:

Sherman Abdul-Hakim Jackson, “Muslims, Islamic Law and Public Policy in the United States”

Umar Faruq Abd Allah, “Islam and the Cultural Imperative

Yasir Qadhi, “Muslims in the West: Where are We Going?” (lecture)

Hamza Yusuf, “From Protest to Engagement” (lecture)

Keith Ellison (interview) “First of the Mohicans: A Muslim in Congress

The Radical Middle Way website (UK)

8 Responses to “Alternative Visions — Part I (Introduction)”

  1. Musa Maguire Says:

    I’m interested to see where this is going. Personally, I was once willing to accept a lot of the radical religio-political rhetoric at face value. I even deferred to some of the wild conspiracy theories that give that sort of thinking its approximation of validity. The fact is, however, that radical religio-political movements in the Muslim world have proven to be empty, corrupt, and ultimately fruitless. What manages to endure meaningfully in the West AND East is the “consensus” approach, either explicity through political activism or implicitly through tacit acceptance of the social order.

    Also, while the historically Muslim world is full of kind souls, its politics are close to hopeless. To some degree, the Muslim communities in the West represent a clean slate.

  2. abunooralirlandee Says:


    JazzakAllaahu Khayr for your comments. I’m going to hold back on any disagrement with you (for now at least). Obviously, one of the first questions to be addressed is whether the “consensus” approach is actually working? And if it is, working towards what goal(s)? The next two posts, although they will contain prescriptions and ‘alternative visions’ will also largely consist of (what I read at least) as two very strong critiques of the “consensus” approach from two highly respected voices: Amer Haleem and Anwar al-Awlaki. If, indeed, the Muslim communities in the West are a “clean slate,” this is all the more reason to think carefully and deliberately about in which direction we think those communities should move.

  3. Musa Maguire Says:

    I am not directly familiar with what Amer Haleem or Anwar Al-Awlaki say about this. However, I have noticed some disturbing trends among others who oppose the political engagement and “American Islam” aspects of the consensus.

    First, there is a general tendency to read contemporary reality as parallel and neatly equivalent to events in Islamic history. This leads to a very naive acceptance of Islamist movements in the historically Muslim world. Some figures have gotten themselves and others into unnecesary trouble through this kind of thinking. While it is important for us to feel solidarity with Muslims and support them in legal ways, I don’t know of any movement that is so pure and worthy that we should sacrifice our selves and families to support them. There are very good brothers sitting in jail right now because they followed this line of thinking. May Allah reward them for their good intentions, but our communities and their loved ones miss their pressence. This is where the clean slate issue is very relevant.

    Also, while many proudly disdain political participation and other forms of assimilation, they simultaneously embrace other aspects of the West, such as corprote professional culture, faith in science and technology, etc. In thier minds, these things are “neutral”, and therefore justified. This can reach a bizarre level, where fantastic claims about the anti-Islamic agendas of media or academics are accompanied by enthusiastic endorsements of pop psychology or snake oil personal development programs. People spend their energy to prove the compatibility of Islam with the latest time managment technique rather than the compatibility of Islam with sociology, for instance.

    At the risk of this becoming any more of a late night ramble, I’m going to stop now…

  4. abunooralirlandee Says:

    “I am not directly familiar with what Amer Haleem or Anwar Al-Awlaki say about this.”

    All the more reason for you to continue reading the series, right? 🙂

    Seriously, do you know Amer Haleem? I would look forward to your reaction to his ideas very much. It is not available online for me to link to, but I strongly encourage you to read his essay in the most recent issue of Al-Jumu’ah. It is that essay which will form the basis of my next post.

    Again, Jazzak Allaahu Khayr ya Musa for your contribution. As I stated in my original post, “I do not completely reject this (consensus) trend and in fact embrace some aspects of it.” Still, I think it has some serious flaws and contradictions which I think have to be addressed head on and honestly. I would just encourage you to keep an open mind and be willing to consider these challenges without automatically lapsing into the well rehearsed (and perhaps valid) critiques of the Islamist movements in the Muslim world. I encourage you to continue to offer such critiques, I just hope that such critiques (even if completely valid) do not offer a convenient justification for ignoring the weaknesses, contradictions, and corruptions of our own comfortable status here in the heart of the empire.

    And Allaah knows best.

  5. musa Says:

    I am certainly not party-line consensus, especially as you describe it above. But a lot of those who oppose it oppose it for the wrong reasons. I’ll definitely have an open mind to future posts.

    By the way, you need to get some Irish flags or birds carrying machine guns or something like that for the banner.

  6. abunooralirlandee Says:

    No doubt. I need to get some technical advice in general for this blog. My first question was how can I change the fact that you’ve got the little green design on your comments while I gotta have the purple one? 🙂

  7. Alternative Visions — Part IIA (Amer Haleem) « Abu Noor Al-Irlandee Says:

    […] Alternative Visions — Part IIA (Amer Haleem) Part I of this Series is here. […]

  8. Differing Conceptions of the Islamic Revival…. « In-Vaid-Ing the Blogosphere Says:

    […] Alternative Visions by Abu Noor […]

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