The Prophet ﷺ said, “No people ever went astray, after they were guided, except that they were overcome by arguing”. [at-Tirmithi]
Indigenous American Muslims seem to have developed an unhealthy appetite for arguing amongst one another, and it is certainly not just limited to us living here in the United States. Arguing and disputing with one another takes up an incredible amount of time. We argue about aqeeda, we argue about food, we argue about clothes, we argue about family ties, we argue about who has the most hate for the kuffaar, who is imitating the kuffaar, and we argue what constitutes kufr and who’s faith is at risk. We argue about who is on the haqq, and who is not. We argue about Allah, we argue about His Holy names and attributes, we argue about His mercy, who deserves it and who doesn’t. We argue about who is guided and who is astray, and we don’t stop arguing, night or day. We argue about the length of our pants, the shortness of our beards, and we even argue about the sajda marks on our foreheads.
Historically, everyday Americans do not argue back and forth a whole lot about religion and religious doctrine. We live in a country where people are free to believe in whatever they like, and if a person is comfortable with his or her faith, they don’t feel the need to argue about it or defend it over and over to others. Baptists and Methodists don’t go back and forth arguing about doctrine, calling each other names, and neither do Jews and Christians.
Arguing back and forth about religion is a relatively new phenomenon that entered Muslim America along with the culture of sectarianism which Muslims have yet to resolve. The culture of arguing and sectarianism has made it pass our borders, and found a home amongst indigenous American Muslims. It seems that fourteen century’s worth of debates around theology, Islamic law, worship, faith, heresy, Muslim politics, and who should be in charge — which have taken place during the course of Muslim history — have all been resuscitated and given new polemical life here in the good ole USA.
We argue about groups, we argue about gatherings, and we argue about saying hello to a stranger. We argue about alliances and disavowal and we argue about friends as well as enemies. We argue about sects of Islam that do not even exist anymore. We argue about words, we argue about the meanings of words, and we argue about the meanings of the meanings of words. We argue about class, we argue about race, and we argue about titles that we make up and proclaim to be sanctified. We invent new titles and then argue about those.
So while we were busy arguing
So guess what Muslim American converts? While we were busy arguing amongst one another about shoes and socks, and madhhabs and minhajis, and sparring with one another using the views of your sheikhs as if you’re playing Rokem Sockem robots, something extraordinarily consequential has occurred. Actually, a few things have happened, but I don’t want to drop it all on you in one reading. It didn’t happen overnight, so you might not have noticed at all, but while we were engaging in theological proxy wars on the internet, trying out different identities, different paths, tariqas, movements, and championing every Muslim cause that was handed to us, (except our own of course) something has happened. And for many of us, it slipped right by without the slightest notice. Are you sitting down? Okay, I’m going to tell you.
A new group of Muslims leaders, communities and organizations have arrived on the scene who are better educated, have larger, stronger communities, are more organized, have more money (lots of money) and spread out across the nations cities and suburbs. They are the new American Muslims. Many of us complain that the narrative of Muslim America portrayed in the media, on national television, in commentaries, from the pens and mouths of many national Muslim leaders, activists and pundits, does not include the American Muslims who’ve converted to Islam. You know the ones I mean; The ones who are not searching for an identity, are not trying to figure out how to assimilate , who are not afraid of deportation, who do not have a “back home” to go to. Yeah, the converts to Islam and their children, and children’s children, and their children’s children.
The convert narrative is missing because the convert community, many of whom are Black American, are not included in the future plan being concocted for Muslim America. In fact, you are hardly mentioned except anecdotally. And you, the American Muslim convert community; of Black , White and Latino American Muslims, are more of a novelty, a showpiece and a passing mention, than a serious part of any national conversation about Muslims. The tremendous amount of monetary and other resources coming from inside and outside of the United States in support of the new Muslim America, is not being funneled into your communities.
You should have seen this coming
Now don’t be alarmed, you should have seen this coming but you were preoccupied worrying about everyone else except yourselves. Some of you even believed them when they said you cannot be yourself, think for yourself, do for yourself, or even love yourself. Some of you believed it when it was said that its not necessary to build your own masaajid, establish your own local communities, and to be honest, there was some Kool-Aid served and yes, some of us did take the drink. So while many of you were trying to figure this out, the new American Muslims, through their powerful organizations, began to speak for you (even though they don’t know you), tell you what issues should have priority, and even out the kindness of their hearts offered you a new identity. Now isn’t that nice.
It is appreciated that you were kind enough to put your own issues and more immediate needs on hold, such as family issues, building Islamic schools for your children, building masaajid in your neighborhood where you live, addressing poverty issues were you live, crime in your communities where you live, and partnering with people and organizations where you live, just to support the causes of the international Muslim community. That was darn good of you. Your service and commitment to the causes and agendas of Muslim peoples all around the world is duly noted. You championed Palestine, you championed Egypt and the Arab spring — which ended up being the Arab nightmare — you championed Darfur, you championed Libya, and when they told you to curse Gadhafi, you cursed him. When they told you to worry about ISIS, you started to worry, even though we have the strongest military in the world to handle ISIS. All in all, your dedication and your commitment to the greater good of the world’s Muslims is admirable. It would have been needed if the world’s Muslims were just as concerned about you. Sadly they aren’t, except for a few. Today’s American converts to Islam will risk being remembered and recorded in the annals of history as a distracted mob of people. At one point in history there was a need for you by the greater body of Muslims, and there is still a need for you in photo ops, cameo appearances, and of course a must item for every mega masjid to have at least 1 or 2 token African American or Caucasian Muslims. However, at this point the convert community has outlived our usefulness to the larger community of the new American Muslims.
Yes converts, you are on your own but you are not by yourselves
Now American Muslim converts to Islam must deal with the reality that we are on your own as converts to Islam. Our communities are declining, many of our masaajid have closed its doors for good, and in the last 20 years as hundreds of new masaajid have been built around the country, there have been less than five new masaajid built from the ground up in our communities. Some of us al-humdu lillah have stuck to the remaining Masaajid and communities, and have stuck it out through thick and thin. Others amongst us who have converted to Islam found yourselves in a state of shock and disarray. Meanwhile, what was known to be Islam is changing The Islam you were invited to is not the Islam that was shown to you after you converted.
So dear convert community, understand that you are on your own. However, you are not by yourselves. Remember that it was Allah who guided us to Islam, and it was His divine will that we become a Muslim. He didn’t do it because He wanted you to to be a Muslim colony in your own country, or a slave to anyone else besides Him. Allah did not bring us to Islam simply to fight the same fights, argue the same arguments, and perpetuate the same bigotries that have plagued Muslims worldwide. He didn’t guide us to Islam to buy into anyone’s sect, schism, or parochial version of Islam, or to become second class Muslims in your own country. He didn’t bring you into Islam to ague back and forth with islamophobes while your children are dying in the streets, or to spend our time trying to change people’s hearts, when you could be working on your own hearts. Allah called you to Islam to lift you, to purify you, to dignify you, to strengthen you, and for you to be true to the principle that religion belongs to Allah, it is for His sake, and that we worship Allah alone without partners. Believe that He will continue to guide you if you remain true to Him. You must realize that you are free to think, free to challenge, free to ask questions, free to resist any so-called Islamic authority that is not of your ranks and who does not represent your best interests.
I do see light on the horizon. It has to start with raising consciousness which is what many of us are working to do. Once Black American Muslims and converts realize that that they are free to work in their own self-interests according to Islam, without looking at things through the lenses of immigrant Muslims who mean well, but in most cases do not have a clue about our needs, then we will be better off. This is not meant in any way as a slight towards immigrant Muslims; we are all brothers and sisters in islam, at least on paper we are. It is simply the reality of our condition and it is not a matter of placing blame on this or that group. Muslims come to this county to make a better life for themselves and their children, they have their own pre-existing mindsets, emotional and historical issues and dysfunctions, biases, and challenges, and Black American Muslims have their own as well. However, we have enough problems already than to take on other people’s dysfunctions as our own while forgetting our own condition. Then there is the issue of Muslim politics in America; a vicious, I mean vicious cycle of power wrangling, misrepresentation, opportunism. True, many of us are simply naïve to the realities of Muslim history, and the way that Blacks are treated and have been placed in many Muslim societies, even until this very day. There is light at the end of the tunnel because Allah is Light, but this is a uphill struggle and many of our people do not yet know or believe that they are free and their are many others who fear that indigenous Muslims would wake up.
There are many Muslims in America from all backgrounds who agree with me. Some people get it, some people are in denial, and some people will catch up later in sh Allah. Many Muslims are just as sick of Muslim sectarianism and marginalization of the American convert community as I am. There are many Arabs, Pakistanis, Indians, Afghanis, Asians, Africans and European Muslims, who understand the need for real unity and equality amongst Muslims, and they are plenty. They will stand with you but you as the convert community must speak your mind, you must not be afraid to work for what’s in your best interest in this life and in the hereafter, you must commit, speak for yourself, and stand for yourself. You might have you go into rebel mode. It’s okay if you want to argue, but please argue with yourself, or with someone else besides myself. This is only my advice. I am a free American Muslim Imam and I am liberty to speak my mind and offer my advice to my fellow Muslims. Wal Allahul Musta’aan, wa sallalaahu alaa Muhammad wa alaa aalihi wa sah’bihi wa sallam.
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Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad
American born Luqman Ahmad is an associate Imam and resident scholar at the Toledo Masjid al-Islam in Toledo Ohio, where he delivers some of the Friday sermons. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation, a founding member of COSVIO, (the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), and the author of the book “Double Edged Slavery“, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of Black American Muslims and converts to Islam. He blogs at, imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.