Open letter to American Imams: The Integrity of Our Friday Sermons is Not for Sale, or Loan to Anyone

minbar

My dear respected colleagues and brothers in faith, I am not the best of you, nor am I the most knowledgeable, eloquent, or favored of you to God Almighty. However, I share with all of you, the awesome responsibility of delivering the Friday Sermon. As the American Muslim community, as other religious communities, face the complex, and often confusing, and stressful challenges of our time, we must remember that our duty as Imams, and khateebs, (Muslim preachers) is first and foremost to God Almighty, and then to the believers who attend the Friday prayers and listen to our sermons. Our Lord demands, and our congregations have a right that we are honest, forthright, sincere, free and unhindered in what we impart to them in the way of scriptural exhortations, religious instructions, and advisement. The faithful congregations that we serve in our nation’s mosques have placed in each of us their trust that we speak as free men.

American imams are nudged in varying degrees to address pre-chosen topics according to the current campaign priorities of National American Muslim political organizations and advocacy groups, local an federal law enforcement agencies, and sometimes even by politicians. Sometime this occurs in complicity with board members and mosque administrators, and sometimes not. Muslim political leaders, and all of the aforementioned organizations all serve an important purpose in our communities. However, when the imam ascends the pulpit to deliver the Khutbatul Jum’ah (Friday sermon), anyone else’s presumption of authority, or influence should come to a complete halt. .

With increasing frequency, American imams are given pre-selected issues, instructions, outlines, and talking points about what should be the topic of our weekly sermons. Last week it was ISIS, this week it’s homegrown terrorists , in previous weeks it was the Chapel Hill Murders, in January it was the Charlie Hebdo killings, in December it was the Peshawar school massacre, in September it was the beheading of US journalist Steven Sortloff, and in August it was James Wright Foley. Anti-Islam, and anti-Muslim sentiment, religious extremism, identity crises, ignorance of religion, spiritual ailments, and world events are all things that matter. Sometimes things that warrant condemnation or support by rallying or demonstrations. All of that falls under the category of enjoying the good and forbidding the evil, which within most Muslim communities is a department that the Imam heads. So it should never be up to anyone but the Imam or khateeb to decide what comes out of his mouth when he stands on the minbar on Friday. Khutbatul Jum’ah is considered a dutiful act of worship (ibaadah), that is for the remembrance of Allah and what is associated with it, and an Imam should never act as anyone’s or and organization’s or any local or federal law enforcement agency’s personal religious police, or rented out as such.

When Muslims leave the Masjid, they face the real world, where there is very little sugar-coating. We as Imams need to be just as intimately candid and honest with our congregations, both individually and collectively. Muslim board members, and administrator should trust the Imam, and give him the opportunity to come up with the right formulas for the congregation, and let him define his own personality and relationship with the congregation. Sometimes the boundaries between the religious purview and conscious of the imam, and the sensibilities of a board, or the politics of an influencing Muslim organization are muddled.

Our duty is to teach people the religion, and instruct them about what is required of them by God. We must maintain our prerogative to offer impressionable Muslim youth, the full complement of moral teachings, life instructions, Quranic advises, and Prophetic guidance that is available to us in our faith. We are free men of conscience, and each of you has a better understanding of the congregations and localities that you serve, than anyone else. If we believe that as Americans and as Muslims, we respect the right of all people to speak freely, then we must also assert that very same right for ourselves when speaking from the pulpit.

Speak as you will dear brethren, on whatever topics that you see beneficial at the time, but deliver your sermons as free believing men of conscience, inspiration and choice, being obligated to one except Allah, be He Exalted and Glorified. It is hypocritical, and disingenuous for any of us to say that we stand for freedom of choice, freedom of speech, or liberty, and for the best interests of our religion, and our country, if we allow anyone, including Islamic organizations, Muslim leaders outside of our congregations, law enforcement agencies, the media, or politicians, to control our messages. One of the most egregious forms of tyranny, is to restrict the words of a khateeb while he is speaking on Friday inside of the House of Allah. The message we deliver in the Friday sermon, should never be compromised, sold, auctioned or bartered, or loaned to anyone, at any time, in any mosque. If we allow that to happen, then we have betrayed our country, our religion and ourselves.

Imam Luqman Ahmad

 

Shaykh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a writer, a researcher and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Northern California. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation (NAIF), and the CEO of ‘Mosque Without Borders’, an organization that address Muslim sectarianism in the United States. He is also and the author of the new book, “Double Edged Slavery “, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States, and the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect “, a critical look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com.

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American Muslims vs. Islamophobia, Round 9, and He’s punching hard as ever!

I wrote this article 8 years ago, and haven’t altered a single word, except the title. [see original ] During the same period, we haven’t altered our approach to dealing with Islamophobia, except that we changed the definition of Islam from submission, to peace. Some of us are still sticking to the theory  that we can convince our Country to change the way it looks at Muslim Americans, while still maintaining that there is absolutely nothing in us that needs to change. I’m afraid that we’re going to have to change folks. There’s no way of getting around that.. Or we could simply keep using the same strategy, making the same demands, and thinking the same way, and in another 8 years, can have this conversation all over again.


 

Coverage of Muslims and Islam is a bread and butter media commodity. First amendment guarantees and free speech provisions in Western countries limit censorship based upon sensitivities of a particular religious group. Favorable coverage and dispassionate, objective editorial regarding Muslims and Islam is not an entitlement in the real world of the free press. Such is usually accomplished through paid advertising. Journalistic integrity competes with ratings and circulation value, and responsible reporting from one perspective is unwarranted media bias from another. Such happens when people think for themselves. Thus, it stands to reason that negative portrayal and contemptuous commentary of Muslims, and Islam in western media is an inextricable certainty of the industry, particularly in light of global events. Although it frequently angers Muslims, and evokes protest and condemnation, it is unlikely to go away. Nevertheless, as Muslims our concern is legitimate and the matter requires attention. The question is what type of attention?

Despite condemnation, various public relations overtures, civil rights actions and legal maneuvers, the anti-Muslim comment has not vanished. When will it end? How can we stop it? The truth is, there is no foreseeable end in sight, and if we continue to employ the same reactionary methods to change public opinion, or quell anti-Muslim statements, the problem will only exacerbate. Part of the conundrum is our reluctance to assume collective accountability for our condition. Another cause of the problem is conspicuous absence of Quranic and Prophetic guidance in our choice of tactics.

Slander, ill treatment, and negative perception of Muslims are not simply public relation challenges requiring conventional image re-tooling. Or a mere civil rights dilemma remedied by protest and letters to the editor, and certainly not just a constitutional infraction requiring a Bill of Rights refresher course. There are numerous geo-political, theological, and socio-environmental factors which determine how Muslims living in the United States are spoken of, spoken to, and treated. Overstating the scale and breadth of ill sentiment toward Muslims in America is counter productive. Disregarding the root causes is irresponsible. Ignoring it completely is a missed opportunity. Expecting positive results while failing to employ an Islamic ethical approach is a fantasy existing only in the quilt of our minds woven together with the threads of wishful thinking.

Ill sentiment and verbal attacks against Islam and some Muslims in the United States does occur. However, considering that there are about 5 million Muslims in America, the ratio of reported incidents of anti Muslim bias reported by CAIR is 40 out every 100,000, which is too low[1][1] to warrant priority one status.

Countering verbal disparagement with protest is a tactically flawed approach. In this year alone; there has been at least three major incidents (the cartoon satirizing our Prophet (SAWS), the Pope’s repeating a centuries old quotation, and the eight Imams who were unceremoniously escorted off an airplane) of verbal or public insult of Islam, the Prophet (SAWS) or Muslims. In each case there was protest, vociferous indignation, and demands for retraction or apologies. Yet, in each case, indignation yielded no measurable improvement of Muslim image or cessation of anti-Muslim bias or speech. Additionally, the principal sentiment fueling the response was anger. In all but the last incident, response resulted in the loss of innocent life. It is ironic that anger is the very emotion that warrants suppression according to the islamic ethical code.

A greater irony is that in each case, media characterization of Muslim response was replete with words like, “rage”, “fury”, and “anger”. I personally do not recall any headlines that captioned; “Muslims love for their Prophet caused them to… “or the love of Allah fuels protest”, or, Muslim expresses their love for Islam by boycotting….” Thus from a strategic perspective, response netted negligible dividend. To consider whatever dialogue that followed as tangible gain is a misleading since doctrinal polemics between Islam and other faiths have existed for over 1400 years. In the game of image politics, celebratory elation when a detractor agrees to your petition to dialogue is a sophisticated and sanitized form of humiliation. It messages a craving for legitimacy. The compulsive rush to defend criticism implies that there is truth in it.

Islamic canonical law does not prescribe recrimination as a response to verbal affront which carry no judicial or legal consequence. Unflattering words are not repelled by the same; on the contrary, evil is only repelled by justice. “Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!”[2][2] Ibn Abbaas said: “Allah (God) summons the Muslim community to exercise patience when angry, benevolence in the face of ignorance, and pardon when offended. If people did that, Allah would protect them from the Devil”[3][3]. If countering verbal disparagement with protest and reciprocal assault is righteousness, then to do the opposite constitutes unrighteousness. Obviously, such a hypothesis contradicts Prophetic guidance. The example of the Prophet (SAWS) in responding to verbal disparagement against himself, His Lord, or Muslims was to exercise restraint.

The dangerous theological implications of the protest approach seem to escape consideration. Understandably we are frustrated by the incessant degrading, slaughter, and humiliation of Muslims. However, although anger, insult and frustration are causes of moral infraction in Islamic law, they are unacceptable justifications for it. Otherwise, emotion would outrank divine injunction as the primary criterion of good conduct. Such a notion is heresy according to orthodox Muslim theology

Prioritization of anti-Muslim bias as a premiere issue over Muslim intra-religious hostility and sectarianism transposes the divine contractual assignment of Islamic law. It creates a reverse moral assumptive whereas intra-religious sectarianism is an acceptable paradigm while anti Muslim bias is not. The latter is declared intolerable to the degree of public protest, indignant response, and central billing in Friday sermons, while the former warrants no such attention, although it ranks amongst the category of major sins in Islam. Stoicism in the face of verbal invective is virtue while the Muslim slander of Muslim is depravity and Muslim on Muslim killing approaches heresy. “Slander of a Muslim is depravity and killing him is heresy”.

Therefore, by what moral rationale do we address anti-Muslim sentiment in the press, which by itself bears no spiritual penalty for Muslims if left unattended, and not devote similar attention to Muslim on Muslim killing and slander which register sin by occurrence, and sin when allowed to continue. “Verily the believers are a single brotherhood therefore make peace between your brethren and fear Allah so ye may receive mercy”[4][4].

Since verbal disparagement against Muslims and Islam is an inevitable occurrence, Islamic spiritual etiquette emphasizes preparing in advance for its contingency and utilizing deflective buffering if and when it happens. “Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly Hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil,-then that will be a determining factor in all affairs!”[5][5] Hence, no shock or dismay should follow slanderous, negative, or degrading statements about Muslims especially in environments where we are religious minorities, such as the United States. As a rule Muslims should resist grieving over verbal insult, “Let not their speech, then, grieve thee. Verily We know what they hide as well as what they disclose[6][6]

When verbal and media denigration occurs, there are scriptural analgesics that buffer and counteract psychological, emotional, or spiritual irritation. “And have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble (dignity)”[7][7]. Dignified detachment rekindles spiritual fortitude and prioritizes inner jihad. Self control and spiritual focus does more to convey the noble attributes of Islamic teachings than hypersensitivity and angered reaction to disparagement. It brings forth divine assurance of blessing and guidance which in significantly more rewarding than emotional capitulation to antagonist sentiments. “Those who, when afflicted with calamity say:To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return. They are those on whom (Descend) blessings from Allah, and Mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance”.[8][8] Blessings and mercy is better than anguish and consternation.

Frenzied retort to anti-Muslim speech underscores the need for Muslim moral attentiveness, and bolsters the argument for reform. Not reform of Islam as suggested by many, but reform of the Muslim heart so that behavior response conforms to Islamic teachings and pleasing the Creator takes precedence over pleasing the created. If there is truth in the verbal invectives launched against us, then reminder is a timely utility since remembrance benefits the believer. If it is false, with no basis in truth, we praise Allah that we are free of it. Demanding that people not insult or speak ill of Muslims only bolsters animosity. It may occasionally silence the tongue, but it has little effect on the heart of the antagonist. Public criticism when muffled turns into whispers (was’wasa) which though lower in decibel, is exponentially more insidious. Let’s leave response to insult to Allah and concentrate on our own salvation. “If good fortune comes to you, it grieves them; and if evil befalls you, they rejoice in it. But if you are patient in adversity and conscious of God, their guile cannot harm you at all: for, verily, Allah encompasses [with His might] all that they do.[9][9]” The sooner we do this, the better. Otherwise we will find ourselves inducted into a war of words in which entry itself assures moral casualty.

Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

Imam Luqman Ahmad

Imam Luqman Ahmad is the Imam and Executive Director of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center in Sacramento, California. He is also a founding member of COSVIO (Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), and the author of the book; ‘The Devils Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect’ available on Amazon.com. He can be reached at imamluqman@masjidibrahim.com. http://www.masjidibrahim.com.

[1][1] 1972 incidents of anti-Muslim bias were reported in 2005 according to a 2006 CAIR Report.
[2][2] Quran, 41:34.
[3][3] Jaami’ Ah’kaam al-Quran, al-Qurtubi, Vol. 10, p. 236 Darul Kotob al-Ilmiyyah.
[4][4] Quran, 49:13
[5][5] Quran, 3:186
[6][6] Quran, 36:78
[7][7] Quran, 73:10
[8][8] Quran, 2:156-157
[9][9] 3:120

 

Respectfully Mr. President; Some American Muslims are not afraid, and we darn sure aren’t worried

We the peopleDear President Barak Obama, you mentioned in a recent in a Los Angeles Times op-ed; “But we know that many Muslim Americans across our country are worried and afraid”. Gee Mr. President, with all due respect, did any Muslim American leader tell you that American Muslims, or at least some of us, are concerned, but are patient, faithful, believe in the power of prayer, and have put our trust in our Lord?

You see Mr. President, to many of us, Islam is a religion; not a political ideology. And as such, there are numerous verses in our scripture and prophetic traditions that teach us how to deal with negative statements about Muslims and Islam. I’ll just mention a couple of verses: “All that is with you is bound to come to an end, whereas that which is with God is everlasting. And most certainly shall We grant unto those who are patient in adversity their reward in accordance with the best that they ever did.” 16:96. Here’s one more; “Endure, then, with patience (all that they who deny the truth may say] -always remembering that it is none but God who gives thee the strength to endure adversity and do not grieve over them, and neither be distressed by the false arguments which they devise:” 16:27. So you see Mr. President, some American Muslims simply do not have the time to sit around being afraid and worried about anti-Muslim sentiment. Our faith, and trust in the Lord, keeps us calm.

Some of us are more concerned about health care, unemployment, paying our bills, and getting our children through college than we are about who praises, or who criticizes Muslims. Don’t get me wrong Mr. President, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t concerned about the rising anti-Muslim, and anti-Islam rhetoric, however, that’s not the only thing that we are concerned about. Some of us, Mr. President, are concerned about the erosion of free speech in this great country of ours. Some of us are concerned that there are American Muslim leaders who fraudulently claim to speak for all of us, when in fact, they do not, and cannot speak for us all.

Some American Muslims believe that in the United States of America, people have the right to like or dislike whoever or whatever they want, as long as they do not resort to violence, or break the law. In fact Mr. President, some American Muslims believe that our right to be Muslim, and love Islam, is connected to the right of others not to be Muslim, and to hate Islam. You see Mr. President, some American Muslims are not a tribe, we don’t have tribal chiefs imbued with the authority to tell all of us what to think, what to like or not like, and how to feel.

If you really want to know who American Muslims are Mr. President, you might want to ask around a little bit more, and not rely on a few Muslim political organizations. By the way, we didn’t even elect those guys to represent us in the first place. We did elect you to be our President, and I at least expect you to dig a little deeper before you ask our entire country to give American Muslims a special pass that other groups who experience negative inference do not get.

You know Mr. President, I clearly remember when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. I was a fourth grader at Francis D. Pastorious Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We were all instructed to go outside, stand in full assembly and sing; ‘we shall overcome’. The second chorus was; ‘we are not afraid’. I wasn’t afraid then, and I sure as heck, aren’t going to start being afraid now.

In the meantime Mr. President, I will defend without violence, the right of any and every American whether they like Islam, hate Islam, ambivalent towards Islam or is an adherent of Islam, the right to speak according to his or her own conscious, and conviction, whether it be political, religious, satirical, or editorial. You can tell people who you want them to be, but you cannot tell them who they are, and what to think. I also believe that God will call every person into account on the Day of Judgment, based upon who they are, not who they said they were, or who someone else thought they were. In the end, it is God who will decide who is right, and who is wrong, and at that time, nothing else will matter. I don’t speak for all American Muslims Mr. President. In fact, I don’t believe that anyone can – That’s just my take on it Sir. If I can be of any additional service, please contact me. I’m sure you have my number.

Imam Luqman Ahmad

Imam Luqman Ahmad is the Imam and Executive Director of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center in Sacramento, California. He is also a founding member of COSVIO (Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), and the author of the book; ‘The Devils Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect’ available on Amazon.com. He can be reached at imamluqman@masjidibrahim.com. http://www.masjidibrahim.com.

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