Alternative Visions — Part IIA (Amer Haleem)

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.

Unfortunately, there is obviously no way I can effectively communicate the depth of the article or effectively discuss its analysis unless people read the whole thing. I encourage everyone to subscribe to AlJumuah where one can read on a consistent basis, high quality Islamic thought from people such as Amer Haleem, Uwaymir Anjum, and of course many others.  In the meantime I will go through the major contentions of the essay here for the purpose of discussion.

As I said before Haleem’s analysis focuses on the generational dynamics in the Muslim community, what he terms the “leadership dabkah” being danced between the Muslim American pioneer generation and their Gen X now thirty something children. Haleem charges “together they have captained our community to a clear-cut shift toward relativism as a rationale for questionable conduct and doubtful communal judgment. Based on their neat moral separations, they can now tell us with a straight face to vote for people who distance themselves from us on the most crucial level, who want to fight the “right war” against the poorest and most battle ravaged members of our faith family. If voting is not helping us we should not vote. We have alternatives….I know the get out the vote argument is everywhere on the wing in our all-American community. But if this is now the major thrust of our organized existence (along with aggressive arts and culture programming)–and it is–how pathetic a dawah is that?”

Haleem goes to the heart of the issues I’m attempting to engage in this whole series. “Does our community have direction, or are we just flying by the seat of our pants? If it does, then who’s articulated it, who’s leading it, and what are the intellectual and social notions that constitute their thought? Moreover, are these ideas firmly underpinned by the Qur’an and the clear Sunnah of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, or are they simply an amalgam of personal desires and the cultural moment?

“The kind of writings or communications needed for our community are…epistles pointedly addressed to us that awaken and connect us to the mission-inspiriting message of the Qur’an and its Messenger, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, statements that remind us of why we are alive and what in the world we Muslims are here for…what is our purpose under Heaven?”

Instead, Haleem sees in our community “a dawah to gain acceptance–not by presenting our message forthrightly, even if alone, like the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, from the hillock of Safa, but by following the spiritually desiccated example of the faith communities that have devolved before us in America.”

Haleem’s historical analysis is fascinating. Haleem points out that the beginnings of a Muslim community of substantial numbers here in the U.S. can be traced to about 50 years ago. The community was formed, composed from the beginning of diverse strands, from Muslim immigrants from all over the Muslim world, to Blackamerican Muslims both through the NOI experience and directly into Sunni Islam, and converts from other backgrounds. Haleem contends “notwithstanding the continuous presence of Islam on the continent before there even was an American polity, these are the pioneers of the American Muslim community we are part of today. They could hardly have been a more miscellaneous lot.” Yet, according to Haleem, despite the great diversity of this small pioneering group, they did share one important thing in common. “Almost to a person they had made a dramatic hijrah from circumstances and ways of life, and with sacrifices hardly imaginable to their children, out of the various mainstreams from which they hailed, as well as from the mother of all modern American culture, the progressive, secular mainstream.”

This is the generation that built the Muslim institutions in America. To Haleem, again the key is “to recognize that psychologically they had exited the mainstram and migrated toward Islam. Having committed to their own internal reform, they sought, at the same time, to reenter the mainstream, but via the message of Islam.” As the community grew, this pioneer generation looked with hope towards their children, the Gen-X generation Muslims, viewing this new generation “as the ‘first’ authentic American Muslims.” At the same time, the wealth of these immigrant communities also “surged exponentially.” Although this fueled the building of these Muslim institutions in America, it also had the tragic effect of creating and ingraining ethnic separation and division in the American Muslim community, as the immigrants followed the path of so many before them in this country and fled to the “vanilla suburbs.” And at this point, although there have always been attempts to recognize and combat this phenomenon of division and separation, “the story of Muslim Generation X within the institutional establishment, becomes very much an ethnic-immigrant one.”

This new generation was looked to as the “Messiah-generation.” Everything about this generations unique “American attributes was celebrated by their parents. Muslims craved visibility and respectability in the wider community, from the establishment and these truly “American” Muslims were the ones who were going to bring it.  Unexpectedly, the community which had once been small and ‘remarkably integrated’ began to divide like crazy.  Divisions based on color, language, gender, minhaj (methodology), nationality, money, etc.  proliferated as the communtiy grew.  In addition to these divisions, the younger generation’s hearts and minds were not won over by the leadership figures of the Pioneer Muslim generation.  The speakers that did attract this generation were united by “rejection of the immigrant-based movement paradigm and a call to return to an idyllic spiritual or classical archetype of Islam.”  Unlike the cohort of the Pioneers, the Muslim X-ers “never exited teh American mainstream.  On the contrary, mainstream American culture verified” their uniqiue qualities as the “truly American” Muslims.

Ustadh Amer Haleem describes the effect of this generational interplay as “enormous” and one of “mind-boggling contradiction.”  “This is the generation that has institutionalized the dual (or some might say “split”) personality into our communal and private lives.  They wanted the next generation to not have to go through the struggles they went through, of an older generation that didn’t relate to their mainstream experience and a mainstream that looked down upon their spiritual-cultural character.  They began to find their spirituality in a culture of “set-aside authentic spiritual programs.”  But the idealism of these experiences was always clearly delineated from their “real lives.” Haleem sums up the effect of all this, “they learned an amazing amount about the historical elements, constructs, and scholarly streams within Islam…but in the end, they converted their considerable talents, exposure and insights into business tools, mostly for the conscienceless mega-corporations and banks they almost invariably ended up joining.”  Completing this problematic creation of dualism was the way in which this generation at once raised teh bar of Islamic knowledge to an ideal so lofty no living human can achieve it and consequently ended up discarding their own study and relegating Islamic “ilm” to a level of practical irrelevance.  “Religious knowledge, to them, is a great and noble thing, but we should not let it interfere with our lives, or only so much as it confirms our whims.

Into this great maelstrom of generational dynamics came 9/11.  Haleem argues that, at least with regard to the American equation for Muslims, September 11th did indeed change everything….(continued in Part IIB inshaAllah)

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15 Responses to “Alternative Visions — Part IIA (Amer Haleem)”

  1. Musa Maguire Says:

    I don’t really get it…is he saying that the Pioneers are “The Greatest Generation” Muslim style and the Generation Xers have messed it up, or have they both conspired in a foolhardy mission to gain acceptance? And how did the pioneer generation migrate from the American mainstream? He also seems to make the point that they were starstruck by that mainstream?

    And is voting addressed in reference to anything other than foreign policy? My response to that is simple: don’t vote based on foreign policy because a) most of the problems in the Muslim world are, at their root, self-inflicted, and b) America will not be the one to solve those problems, even if it was coerced to act justly.

    I guess I’ll have to read more…

  2. abunooralirlandee Says:

    That’s my goal…to keep you so confused that you have to keep reading.

    No, seriously, I’m not sure if I’m doing the best job of summarizing what Ustadh Amer Haleem is saying, because his original essay is pretty dense and I’m trying not to just quote the whole thing.

    Secondly, I’m sure my interpretation of what he’s saying is influenced by my own ideas and my desire to try to kinda get him on my ‘side’ so speak.

    However, let me give the following quick thoughts.

    The Muslim pioneer generation was a diverse group, their “hijrahs” were different depending on which strand they came out of, but their is no denying that anyone either as a new immigrant to the U.S. in the 1960s, or someone converting to Islam in the same time frame, was making a “hijrah” from the mainstream American culture.

    Haleem admires certain things about what the Pioneer generation did and he mentions them, he also admires certain qualities of the Gen-Xers. He also has plenty of criticisms of both groups and attributes the disastrous direction of the community currently to both the mistakes of each of these generations as well as the interactional dynamics between the two cohorts.

    The main theme of the essay is not ‘voting.’ He uses it at the outset as a symptom of the problem he will describe. I certainly don’t think he is looking for the American government to ‘solve the problems’ of the Muslim world. No doubt, people who not only vote for but enthusiastically endorse and support candidates who openly call for wars against already vulnerable and suffering Muslim communities is something for which the individual will have to answer on the Day of Judgment. Unless of course one actually believes that things like the War on Afghanistan are either justified from the point of the U.S. or actually good for the Muslims in Afghanistan, then obviously you would not be bothered by such policies or rhetoric. If one is opposed to such a war, it’s hard to see how one could dismiss it as somehow not that big of a deal.

    The key to understanding Haleem if I am correct in understanding him is to understand a couple of points that was universally accepted by all Muslims I came across when I first accepted the deen but which seems to be getting a little more murky in recent times: 1)The primary role and purpose of Muslims living in a predominantly non-Muslim society is to communicate the message of Islam, pure and unadulterated and 2)Muslims all over the world form a single ummah and when one accepts Islam one becomes part of that ummah regardless of what country one lives in.

    But I encourage you to read on. And May Allaah (swt) reward you for your contributions.

  3. graz Says:

    link to today’s bhtv
    http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/11035

  4. abunooralirlandee Says:

    graz,

    Thanks for the link….in general I encourage everyone to check out the content on Blogging Heads TV..and this topic relates to Islam, but as I commented over there I find Jim Pinkerton so abhorrent that I couldn’t even make it through the whole thing.

  5. Ron aka graz Says:

    Thanks for posting over there today.

  6. Musa Maguire Says:

    Would you vote if Barack Obama changed his name to Barry O’Bama?

  7. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Musa,

    If he did that and ran as an abstentionist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstentionism) candidate who would refuse to take office as president until the United States either was ruled by Shariah or agreed to take the north of Ireland back from England by force) then I might vote for him.

    In the meantime, in response to certain Muslims I respected who somehow just felt that we had to vote to somehow let people know we were out there I had suggested in the past a bloc vote for Jamil Al-Amin. Getting a couple of million write ins for Imam Jamil is a cause I could get behind.

  8. Mohsin Says:

    Assalaam Alaikum,

    Looking forward to reading future posts in this series. When is the next one being posted?

    your brother,

    Mohsin

  9. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Wa ‘alaykum as-Salaam,

    Mohsin….beautiful to hear from you. Jazzak Allaahu Khayr for reading the blog and commenting….inshAllaah I will resume the series soon…Thanks for putting some pressure on me…I look forward to your feedback and contributions.

  10. Mueen Says:

    Haleem’s article is an ideal bulwark against assimilation and an adulterated, pacifist Islam but I’m not sure if many will heed his message.

  11. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Mueen,

    Jazzak Allaahu Khayr for your comment. As the whole concept of this series implies, I agree with you that the community as a whole is heading, by choice or by default, in a different direction than these alternative voices, including Shaykh Haleem, would suggest. Still, it is our job as people who care about the future of our community to try to do what we can to keep these voices in the discussion.

    I don’t think many serious Muslims claim to have all the answers regarding the way forward…the best of our leaders are open to discussion and dialogue from a diverse variety of voices.

    In the end, as always, a great advantage will go to those who are willing to work hard and those who are sincere to Allaah (swt) alone. May Allaah (swt) make us from amongst them.

  12. darthvaider Says:

    Interesting post!!!
    here are my 2 cents:

    I agree with Ustadh Amer that the Muslim contingent in America, at least right now, does not seem to have any long term goals when it comes to political activism. In fact, I’d say that the majority of what we’d like to see, as far as policy is concerned, can be achieved through alternative means to voting.

    That said, I think that what the author fails to capture is the nature of the electoral process and the political scene in America. Politicians take positions that are politically expedient and if it so happens that one candidate holds policy positions that are more sympathetic to our ideology and belief system, then why not support that candidate over one who will undoubtedly create more problems for us, both domestically and abroad?

    In any case, I look forward to seeing the next few posts on this subject (and it may be that I misunderstood either the shaykhs position or your explanation of it!).

  13. shireen Says:

    salams brother. inshaAllah you and wife and kids are well. if you are interested in reading the ‘uncensored’ (LOL) version of amer haleem’s article you can find it here at: http://www.seehearspeak.com/?p=30

    take care.
    shireen

  14. Stinger Says:

    Salaam,

    Brother, I would advise you to read some books by Ahmed Rashid ie. “Taliban” or “Descent into Chaos” to better understand the Afghan-Pakistan conflicts. I think that Muslims need to better understand the background into these areas so they can come to an informed opinion. In short, without support from the Afghan and Pakistani governments these wars wouldn’t be possible. Also, these countries and other regional states (Iran, India) are part of the problem, even if the US withdraws tomorrow, civil strife will most likely continue.

    Peace

  15. abunooralirlandee Says:

    Stinger, Jazzak Allaahu khayr for the book recommendations. I’m always down with those. I have actually read “Taliban” but it’s been a few years now since I read it. I read a little bit of Descent into Chaos as well. I dont’ think anyone would disagree with the statements you made that the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and India have been involved in the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and that even if the U.S. withdraws conflict will most likely continue.

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