In consideration of the trials that we currently find ourselves in, there are issues that need revisiting. This is one of them. Black American Sunni Muslims and converts to Islam are arguably the most leaderless Muslim demographic on the the planet. And what Imams there are, are the lowest paid imams in the United States of America, and that’s if they get paid at all. Many aren’t compensated at all. Yet, they get the lion’s share of the blame for the woes of Black Muslim and convert America. Can we blame that on the Muslim leaders themselves? Is anyone to blame? What contributes to the absence of leadership? Do the few leaders we have get the support of the people? Do they deserve it? All these questions cannot be answered in one article. However, it behooves us to at least unpack the conversation. One thing for sure, being leaderless is not a good disposition for believing Muslims in America. It is said that it is better for people to endure 100 years under a tyrannical ruler then to endure one night without a leader.
Although Muslim leaders and teachers (of any race) are obligated to call to and teach the truth, an imam or Muslim leader is no more obligated to be righteous or to follow scripture than the average Muslim. It cannot be left up to a leader or an Imam to get people to trust them. True, his style, knowledge, demeanor and other factors may play a part, however, there were people who didn’t trust prophets or who didn’t trust the Prophet himself (SAWS).
There is an arrogance amongst our people that convinces us that we cannot go or be astray and many of our people are astray in many key areas of the religion, and think that we are somehow immune to falsehood. Some of us (a minority I reckon) feel that our being Black, or converts makes us true and righteous, and that we can move forward as a civilization without leaders or leadership.
As far as leadership, any Muslim leader that calls to what we know to be right by Kitaab and the Sunna, it would seem to any reasonable believing person that you would follow or support him in what is correct. Just about any hadith about leaders and leadership would easily suggest that; Patience with your leaders, obeying those in authority, obey only in what is obedience to Allah, if you differ in a matter return it Allah and His Messenger (SAWS), the best leaders are those who you love them and they love you, hadith about the end times when people would take ignorant leaders who lead them astray, and they themselves (leaders ) are astray, the virtue of just leaders, dying without bay’at being the death of jaahiliyyah , are all concepts supported by Quran and authentic hadith of the Prophet (SAWS). I didn’t mention the verses and hadith here because it would be too long.
The issues Black Muslims have with leadership has more to do than our general state than it has to do with any leader. We routinely attack our leaders, even the best of them. We do this knowing that any of our leaders who is truthful, forward, or effective will be subject to opposition, persecution, and attack. We know that by our own history. The average Black Muslim family that has cable, spends roughly 100 bucks a month. When was the last time you heard a Muslim attack a cable company for bad service? Or they’ll complain but still subscribe. .People have abandoned the jamaa’at or their community for the most minor of infractions, only to see themselves and their families go back into jaahiliyya. I’ve seen it myself, hundreds of times.
We come up with all kinds of beautiful and inciteful suggestions and projects that we think our imams should do, or could do, or shoulda done. However, hardly ever is there any mention or offering of resources by which to embark on these lofty and inciteful suggestions. People think Imams are Leprechauns. We’re not. And when you talk about Black American Imams cooperating with the greater Muslim community’s Imams on issues, that is a great idea. However, you have to keep in mind that as Black American imams, we have maybe 1/10th of the resources they have. Cooperate how? By serving the tea at meetings? Most of our Imams are nearly dead broke, and live from week to week. Most don’t have budgets for projects, and as a group we can’t even afford to hold our own regional meetings or summits, let alone cooperate with other Imams and Muslim leadership organizations that have 10 times our resources and backing. We are invited to a seat at the table, but that is usually only to ratify what’s already been decided or to simply assume a subordinate position.
Leadership, just like following, having a Muslim leader, and everything else, comes down to believing in Allah, Hs word, and following His Prophet (SAWS), and his sunnah. On the day of rising, a leader will not be held accountable for his people, and people will not be held accountable for their leaders. That is proven by Quran and the Sunna. The Prophet (SAWS) will see some of his followers approaching the houdh of Kauthar, and will call out to them, my ummah, my ummah! And it will be said, “but you don’t know what they did after you”, and they will be shoed away. Eesa ibn Maryam will be asked about his followers, but not held accountable for them. The followers of Sayyina Musa (Moses) AS, worshipped a calf in his absence, but he was not held accountable for them. Did that make them bad leaders? Bad teachers? Musa was a chosen by Allah. Yet, his people abused him. The Prophet was the Beloved of Allah, yet, people apostate after his death, and innovated in religion.
Both, Muslim leaders and people who follow them are accountable to Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala. A leader has his duty, and people (who are not leaders), or followers have their duty. That is the point. So we can dig ourselves out of a lawless situation.
I know many, many Imams, none of them were or are perfect including myself. However, every single one of them from amongst our people were and are dedicated servants to the cause. Whether they had big plans or simple plans, they all stood their ground and were dedicated. Some had much help, some had little help. Some were endowed with wealth and most are poor. Most have small circles, 2-5 people whom they can trust or depend on. Imams are also targets. The more he is liked, the more effective he is, the more he is a target.
Back in the day we used to give bay’at to the Imam. Some of us still do. Bay’at means that you tell him straight, but you got his back, and that you support him in what’s right openly. The imam is a shield, and when a person makes bay’at to an imam, it strengthens that shield because people know that he is not alone. The laws regarding Imams and Amirs in Islam are strict very strict. In todays time, most people couldn’t handle what Islam says about Imams or Amirs. Our view of Imams is different today. We hardly give them the honor that pastors have in the church. People expect Imams to be like stage performers. We hardly support Imams anymore. We clap for them, or excoriate them, and ever so ready to tear them down.
An Imam has to trust his wife, people around him. He wouldn’t be a good Imam if he didn’t start off giving the benefit of the doubt. He as no choice. One of the worst possible things for an Imam is when he trusts you, and you are deceiving him. The Messengers of Allah were Imams too. Most of them were betrayed or deceived. Even Jesus, the son of Mary (AS). People will find every reason in the world not to support an Imam, even when he is upright and calling to the truth. This is why the Prophet (SAWS) said, “whomever dies and does not have a bay’at attached to his neck, (has no bay’at) then he has died the death of jaahiliyya. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to hell, it just means that you died in a state of ignorance.
And Allah knows best. – Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad. Support at cash app to: $abulaith2