How Muslim Sectarianism is connected to Islamophobia, by Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

la tanaaza'oo.jpgAmidst the climate of increased anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States and the cacophony of noise decrying the evils of islamophobia and the islamophobes, confronting Muslim sectarianism is not a palpable topic for front line attention. Why should American Muslims even stop to think or care about sectarianism within our own ranks, when everyone is worried about islamophobia?

Why consecrate cerebral real estate to thinking about deep-rooted division within the Muslim body when Muslims are being harassed, harangued, mowed down and killed in the streets? That’s a good question. After all, as American Muslims, there are more immediate things to contend with; our honor, our reputation, our dignity and our lives that are at stake. Islamophobia is an assault on all of that. However, what many of us fail to realize is; so is sectarianism. It’s easy to look at islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment and think that is was formed in a vacuum and simply came out of nowhere, or that is fueled by pure ignorance, and good old fashioned American bigotry, without there being any underlying factors that contribute to anti-Islamic sentiment.

Such an assessment is flawed, and underscores just how much more Muslims need to understand the American people and how we form our ideas, and even our biases. What many people fail to understand is that there is a direct link Muslim Sectarianism and islamophobia. They are connected in more ways than many of us are willing to concede.

Sectarianism, extremism and racism, are the trifecta of pathology in moral dysfunction that plague Muslims world-wide. If you look at the fighting in Iraq, the fighting in Syria, the fighting in Pakistan, the bombings of mosques, and the war lording factions in the Muslim world, you will see Muslim sectarianism. Despite the blame we can attribute to western powers and their meddling in the Muslim world, there is still at the core a basic concept of Muslim on Muslim killing, legitimized through ethnicity, sect, and sub islamic ideology, especially between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and through racial differences. But what does one have to do with the other, and what does any of them have to do with islamophobia?

Muslim sectarianism is not an imaginary monster; it is not a fairy-tale or a Hollywood horror movie. it is real, it is pervasive, and it is consequential. Obviously we can see its results in the Muslim world, but we can see it’s consequence as well in various and sundry ways in our own American Muslim sectarianized communities.  These are not imagined problems; these are real shortcomings that affect Muslims and non-Muslims alike. When Muslims emigrate to the United States from the places where sectarian strife is ingrained in the society, it is only reasonable that some people will be concerned that some of this sectarian modality that we’ve become famous for, will germinate here in the United States. You can call such a person an Islamophobe, but others would say that such a person is a pragmatist. I’m not justifying bigotry, or generalization, or implying that this is always the case, but what I am saying is that is grossly unintelligent to suggest that it is never the case. Furthermore, by our own admission, we are a sectarianized community on many levels, and if such be true, then it is a reasonable assumption that this could be a contributing factor to anti-Islamic sentiment. Whether or not Muslim sectarianism should influence people’s views about Islam and Muslims is another conversation. However, the fact remains that it does, whether we think it should or not. Not only that. sectarianism affects us morally and spiritually and it raises important questions about who we are as a religious community.

Amongst the thousands of Muslims with whom I have spoken, interviewed, taught or lectured during the last twenty years, there is an almost unanimous consensus that Muslim sectarianism is a ubiquitous cancer affecting our communities here in the United States. It is problematic, it is ugly, and it affects our lives and the lives of our children. If it is present, and if it affects our masaajid, our interaction with each other and contributes to our division, then it goes without saying that these eventualities could and are likely to influence the way that people look at Muslims, and contributes to anti-Islamic sentiment, or what people call islamophobia.

Therefore, American Muslims cannot adequately address islamophobia until we address the irrefutable dynamics that help define the narrative of our civilizational personality of which sectarianism is at the top of the list. The Muslim ummah in many ways is against itself and against each other according to race, nationality, ethnicity and sub-religious doctrine. We ourselves cannot deny that. We ourselves complain about it, talk about it and write about it. It is flippant to think that the world has not taken notice of that. It is intellectually disingenuous to think for moment that the way we are as a Muslim people, does not influence the way that people look at us. More importantly, it is close to heresy to believe that the way we are in reality does not determine how our Lord looks at us.

Anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States is directed at immigrant Muslim and immigrant Muslim communities in a much higher proportion that it is directed at African American or white American Muslims who were born and raised here. In the inner cities, people are changing their attitudes towards  African American Muslims not because they are Muslim, but because of their association with immigrant Muslims who are viewed as racist and some of whom capitalize on drug, alcohol and gambling addiction, by selling crack pipes, meth pipes, liquor, lottery tickets, blunts and pornography in inner city neighborhoods and then shutting down for two hours on Friday and heading off to the local mosque. People see that. People are aware of that, they talk about it, and it contributes to anti-Muslim sentiment and there is nothing irrational about that.

It goes without saying that as Muslims, we should be very concerned about islamophobia or anti-Muslim rhetoric and we should do whatever we can to curb it. However, recent history has shown that in spite of all the resources that Muslim American organizations have put into combatting islamophobia, the incidents of anti-Muslim rhetoric, hate, violence and vandalism is as high as it has been during the last 16 years.

That does not mean that we should not try to present a positive image of Islam and Muslims but it’s increasingly difficult when people are acutely aware of the factionalism that we practice is our faith.   Notwithstanding that placing responsibility for Islam’s image on other than ourselves is a flawed and unstable paradigm that siphons away valuable time, energy and spiritual as well as temporal benefit. It distracts us from individual and collective responsibility and sets in motion as’baab (causative factors) that could deprive us, at this critical juncture in our history, of what we need most: divine intervention and support. This can only come from Allah.

One of our problems is that Muslims only like to discuss what they perceive to be external threats, whereas the Prophet ﷺ, in addition to addressing external threats to Islam and Muslims, spent a great deal of time addressing internal threats to our religion and to our moral well-being. Our relationships inside of our faith were very much a part of his messaging. All these issues have been bottled up, but at this point is history, there’s no place left to bottle them up any more. Islamophobia is just another type of sectarianism; it’s non-Muslim against the Muslim. From a non-Muslim perspective, why should people be hands off about Muslims when Muslims aren’t hands off about Muslims?

Division within the Muslim body only emboldens anti-Muslim antagonists.

One sure way that the American Muslim Community will have a positive effect on the Greater Community is to address racism and sectarianism within our own communities. Racism is the major unresolved issue in the united states, if Muslims send a message that they not only cannot deal with the racial issue; they will not deal with it or face it, it says that we have not matured as a socially conscious community. It says that there is a flaw in our moral foundation. It also says that we’re hypocrites. I’m not calling anyone a hypocrite, but that is certainly the visual takeaway.

Sectarianism is the most widely used and most successful weapon against the Muslims. The first racist was Iblis. “I am better than him; you created me from fire and you created him from must”. Ever since then, Iblis has used racism and sectarianism to diminish the message of Islam and to enable us in writing our own self-destructive narrative.

In not addressing the racial and sectarian divide in Muslim America, we are, instead of solving sectarianism, cultivating new strains of it. All of this is happening at a time where our country has made fighting violent Muslim extremism a priority, and while Muslim communities have made fighting islamophobia a priority. Violent extremism is fueled by sectarianism, and sectarianism is a subtler form of racism, and all three; extremism, sectarianism, and racism are inextricably connected and Muslims are dead in the middle of it all. So where do we go from here?

American Muslim communities (where applicable) should embrace this conversation, and work more to open their masaajid to more indigenous and convert Muslims (of all races). Because this would produce a diversity of thought, a diversity of policy, and solutioned approaches to other and broader issues affecting our Muslim communities. Muslim communities need to address these things not just on the surface, and not just with pats on the head and the Bilal story, or the Suhail ar-Rumi story, but on their boards, in their leadership, in their decision making, in their community strategy, as well as in their core ranks. And I’m not just talking about superficial talking points; we’ve already been through that. African American Muslims especially have dealt with bigotry in this country for a very long time and we shouldn’t dismiss their experiences like they’re new to this, or insult each other’s intelligence. Both communities could learn from each other.

The more people outside of Islam view our communities as foreign, and behind the times on the issue of race, the more likely people will express and act on their bigotry and dislike for Islam and Muslims. Of course when we seriously start to address racism, we would have to deal with other issues like sectarianism. If we unpack sectarianism, we will find extremism and if we unpack extremism we will invariably find racism. Racism is itself an extreme ideology that presupposes that Allah is not a just Lord, and that He sanctions the subjugation, disparagement, and marginalization of one race of people over another simply on the basis of skin color. Islamophobia, the Muslim American Godzilla, is simply another form of racism; it’s just that the shoe is on the other foot. At some point, we’re going to have to resolve this issue of racial, ethnic, and religious discord within the ummah. It is inevitable. Our future is connected to it.

Imam Luqman Ahmad

Imam 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 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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The American Muslim Convert Revolution, by Imam Luqman Ahmad.

revolutionmuslim_jpg-vi1In his book; Race and Slavery in the Middle East (1990), Bernard Lewis suggests that the topic of race in Islam is so “highly sensitive” that it would be “professionally hazardous” for young scholars to embark on it. I’m probably going to get some negative feedback for talking about this. But I’m already labeled a trouble maker, so I’m going to say it anyway.

There is a quiet, but momentous revolution going on in the heart of Muslim America that will potentially change the moral trajectory of Muslims and Islam in the United States. This revolution is not a violent, armed insurgency. There is no name for the movement. There are no flags, no slogans and no particular leader. There are no planned attacks against anyone, no public demonstrations or protests, and to date, no calls for boycotts.  But it is a revolution nonetheless. However, this is a different kind of revolt.

There are no street marches, no sit-ins or sit-downs, or picket signs hoisted over the shoulders of converts as they circle the local mega mosque. No one is talking about boycotting anything and there are no specific demands anymore. It is as organic a revolution as there ever was. This is a low decibel revolution that doesn’t really seem like a revolution at all in the conventional sense. Nevertheless, there is a revolution going on in Muslim America; it is growing, and before it is over, it will likely reverberate into every corner of every mosque in the United States.

Black and White American Muslim converts to Islam are revolting against what many of them view as racism and racial injustice inside some of our nation’s masaajid (mosques). In a non-stop fusillade of verbal indignations, recriminations and resentment appearing all over social media, people are recounting in vivid and often granular detail, their personal experiences of marginalization, racial slurs, indifference, slights, being left out, put down, ignored and looked down upon by immigrant Muslims. The vitriol expressed by converts to Islam detailing their unwelcoming experiences inside of many of the nation’s mosques, rival those of the staunchest anti-Muslim purveyors of hate, and it’s bound to get worse before it gets better. Interestingly enough, many Muslim immigrants themselves are voicing dismay as what they see as racial division amongst Muslims living in the United States.

The good news is that American Muslim communities all over the country are starting to address these issues incrementally as immigrant communities, masjid boards and imams across the country genii to make purposeful and courageous strides at inclusion and dialogue. However, it is a complex, often controversial, and sometimes incendiary conversation and not always easy to unpack.

Racism, and issues relating to race in Muslim relationships in the United States, is a tough, touchy topic. In June 2015, journalist Zeba Khan wrote a very good article in Aljazeera about the problem entitled; “American Muslims have a race problem”, and in June 2002, almost 15 years ago to the day, I wrote an article entitled “Racial Politics in Muslim America”. The responses in my inbox were overwhelming. It was like I discovered something. However, it wasn’t that I discovered anything new; it was that I dared to speak publicly about race relations in Muslim America.  Many convert and born Muslims from different nationalities applauded the piece and thought it was an honest depiction of reality. Others, nearly accused me of treason for bringing the subject up in a public forum, especially as it was within a year of 9/11.

Publicly bringing up the topic of race in Muslim America can get you ostracized. When African American Muslim leaders talk about it in mixed public setting, people’s faces turn red with the; “how dare you!” look.  Even Arab, Pakistani, Indian, and other Muslims of conscience who attempt to deal with this issue sometimes get pushback. Imams have been relieved from their positions for pushing the race issue to the forefront. Muslim leaders and organizations have been reluctant to take a direct stab against racism in Muslim America, or to even openly suggest that racist, anti-Black sentiment exists at all in Muslim America.  Some notable exceptions are ISNA (the Islamic Society of North America), ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (Muslim ARC), the Muslim Empowerment Institute (MEI), and the recently formed organization, Mosque Without Borders.  Failure to call this monster out is what it partially fueling the anger, the moral indignation and the revolt by Black American, as well as White American and Latino American converts to Islam. Born Muslims of Arab, East Asian, and African decent are revolting as well.

Many American Muslim converts, despite experiencing what they perceived to be clear racist tendencies from immigrant Muslims, used to brush it off as simple misunderstanding, a mistaken inference, a cultural glitch, or the unintended consequences of migration to an unfamiliar environment. Maybe he didn’t hear my salaams although I’m standing two feet away from him. Maybe they didn’t think it was patronizing to ask me if I know how to make wudu, or if I heard the Bilal story, or if they asked me am I fasting and it’s the middle of Ramadan, or if I am a Muslim and I’m sitting in the masjid wearing a thobe with a kufi on my head. These are the types of stories Muslims have been recounting for a long time except that now, they re-tell their experiences on social media and other platforms where it gains traction.  People are feeling empowered to speak out about what they consider a moral catastrophe.

Just a decade and a half ago, it was virtually unheard of for an African American Muslim to speak openly about racism or racial disparagement in the Muslim community aimed at Blacks, even though it is no secret that African American Muslims have always been treated as a sort of a second class, inferior Muslim. For a long time now, there has been two distinctly different Muslim Americas. People talk of disappointment, pity, and disbelief that we have come as far as we have regarding race relations in the United States, only having to revisit it, in what seems like a Jim Crow era of Muslim America.

Many people of the older generation who emigrated to the United States were born during the time where the enslavement of Blacks was still practiced in their born countries. This is not to disparage any particular nationality, but they still have open slave markets in the south Libyan city of Sabha, so if you just got here from Libya, it’s not too difficult to look at a black American and see “slave” or ‘abd’. I’m not justifying it of course, but I’m pointing out how easy it is to be a racist Muslim in America if you’re not aware. A person cannot simply erase their mental image of Black people when it has been instilled in their culture for centuries that blacks are an inferior slave race with some exceptions to the rule. Even ibn Khaldoun in all of his genius concluded that the black race were little more than a dumb animals.

African American and White converts Muslims are largely invisible in most of the national television coverage about American Muslims, and for 30% of the population, that’s a pretty significant omission. Whenever there is mention of American Muslims in the media, the reference is made to immigrant Muslim communities, indigenous American Muslims are almost completely ignored.

What converts to Islam (of all races) experience is a deep sense of disappointment. A spiritual let down, and a sense of embarrassment. Imagine growing up in America knowing that many White Christians and Jews marched on Washington, and stood side by side with blacks in their fight against racial bigotry and then enter Islam and you can hardly get a salaam from your own co-religionists.  There is hardly anything more embarrassing than bringing your friend to the mosque that you attend, knowing that he’ll be treated with indifference but if you were Christian and took him to a church, they would embrace him. Convert Muslims are not asking for or demanding respect anymore. It seems to have gotten past that. Many are starting to look at the Muslim immigrant community as incapable of change, incapable of enlightenment. However, such a view is not true. Many immigrant Muslims and communities are looking for ways to deal with the racial problem we have as Muslim Americans and to their credit, it is not a problem that can be solved overnight.

What many converts are forcefully asserting now is that they need to have their own masaajid, their own schools, their own communities and forge their own futures as Muslim Americans. They are saying that they need to deal with their own issues, tend to their own culture, develop their own islamic scholarship. In fact, it’s gone beyond even that. Converts Muslims, White, Black and Latino are expressing open abhorrence and contempt towards the immigrant Muslim community. Yet, there is still an overwhelming sense of hope, and wishful, prayerful thinking, that we will somehow get a grip on racial relations in Muslim America. That we can somehow turn the page of understanding.

Race is the single most divisive issue in our nation, the growing perception amongst converts is that the immigrant Muslim community is taking the religion backwards at a time when we need to be moving forward. A sort of civilizational suicide. They control the majority of the nation’s mosques and Muslim communities where racial disparity and discrimination is most felt. Yet, they are afraid to look at themselves in the mirror. Everything is someone else’s fault. This is becoming the consensus.

African American Muslims have come to expect racism from society, from White people (although the situation has improved), from our government, from many of our institutions.  They expect that when they are pulled over for a traffic stop that they were targeted and will be treated differently than a white person. They expect they will have problems moving into some neighborhoods, that expect that they will pay more for auto insurance, that their schools will be less funded, and inferior in quality than schools in White neighborhoods. African American Muslims have come to expect that. However, what they did not expect was to find racism inside of the brand new million dollars plus mosque. They didn’t expect to be treated with indifference, and disrespect by Muslims coming from abroad. They didn’t expect that. However, by and large, that’s what they got, and now they are revolting.

Marginalizing the convert community does not seem to be anywhere near it’s ending; we’ve got quite a way to go. Our domestic portrayal of a singular image of Muslim Americans that does not include African American, Latino, and White American Muslims is likely to continue, and if it does, the criticism will get louder and eventually make its way to the mainstream media and then it’s going to be messy. That’s just my own prognosis.

Americans of conscious have come too far, and have sacrificed too much to settle for a racist Muslim America. No one owns Islam, it is the religion of Allah, and He has declared that we are all equal except by taqwa and we are morally obligated, all of us, to strive for these ideals. fortunately, we as American Muslims, are a moral community and many Muslims of all backgrounds are rising to the occasion although there is a lot of works that needs to be done.

It’s not about Black power either; overblown black pride is just as insidious as overblown White pride or overblown Arab pride. African American Muslims who believe that they are entitled to some spiritual preference because of their skin color, are just as deluded as White, Arab, African or Asian Muslims who believe that their skin color or ethnicity makes them better. The religion of Islam is championed by people of all colors, ethnicities, and lineages, and the best of them are the ones who have the most taqwa.

The goal is that eventually moral minds will prevail and American Muslims of different races and cultures will embark upon candid, intrepid conversations that will lead to greater understanding. Understanding will hopefully lead to collaboration and collaboration will give us a richer vocabulary of options to address some of the problems facing Muslim America, and for that we may need to see this revolution through to the end.

Luqman Ahmad

Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a graduate of Omdurman Islamic University, and the son of converts to Islam. He 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. 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 look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

 

My Strong Hijabi Girls. One Fathers Story, by Imam Luqman Ahmad

hijabiAccording to a recent Muslim civil rights group [CAIR] report, anti-Muslim bias in our public school system is on the rise. As a Sacramento area Muslim parent with five children still in local public schools, the report only confirmed what our family already knew and what our kids have experienced, each in their way, for quite some time.  In 2003, when my oldest daughter Wadia graduated from Grant High School in Del Paso Heights, she was the only graduate crossing the stage wearing hijab. They told me she was the first in Grant history.  In 2015, when my daughter Aneesa graduated from Rio Linda High School, she too was the only one who crossed the stage wearing hijab.

I have six daughters who’ve attended Sacramento public schools and all six of them were the only ones in their schools who openly identified their faith by wearing the Muslim headscarf, hijab. All of them endured the pressure, the name calling, the stares, and the disparaging comments that sometimes accompany bigotry and religious bias.  When my daughter Aaliyah played softball on the Rio Linda Bobby Sox softball team, she was the first young Muslim woman to wear her hijab while starting as a pitcher.  She got stares  too but she, like the rest of my daughters, always carried their Muslim identity with dignity. My daughter Aaliyah persevered and became one of the beloved members of her softball team, and successfully served as secretary for her 8th grade class at Rio Linda Preparatory Academy. My oldest daughter Wadia became a very popular senior at Grant High School and walked across the stage as the only hijabi amid the cheers, and accolades of her class-mates. My daughter Aneesa is now a student at American River College. My daughter Huda who years ago was the first Muslim girl allowed to wear a hijab at Hiram Johnson Junior High school as part of her basketball uniform, is now a college graduate.

I still have three daughters and two sons attending Sacramento public schools this school year. All my girls proudly wear their hijab. Because my children are as I am, African American, they have faced occasional bouts of racial prejudice as well. We deal with prejudice of all kinds as a family. As parents, my wife and I listen to our kids, support them, and have even had occasions where we’ve spoken to school officials who have always been open minded and helpful.

We raise our children to be proud of who they are, to stand by their faith choices, and to know that there is a long way to go in ending bigotry and misunderstanding of Muslims.  We don’t tell them to get used to it, but we do teach them how to effectively deal with it, and learn from it.  We know that even though we or someone else can intervene on their behalf, they must go back to those same schools and face the same occasional hate and bigotry as individuals. I am so proud of my girls and my boys, for the graceful way that they have handled bigotry and anti-Islamic sentiment throughout their young lives.

Children, like adults, can be very cruel at times, and advocacy groups like CAIR and NAACP do a lot to help educate the public about discrimination and bias against Muslims, Blacks and others. Still, most incidents go unreported. As the Imam of a local mosque for twenty years, I have heard dozens of stories about racism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and misunderstandings about Muslims. I believe that we need to do everything we can as parents to teach our children and young adults how to mitigate hatred and bias using kind words, education, and just being proud of who they are. While we are waiting for society to change, there are things that we can perhaps change in how our children react to prejudice and bigotry.

Our precious children will one day be adults, and they will inherit a polarized, fractious world.  I know that my wife and I as parents will always be there for them, but we realize that they will face these challenges alone most of the time. We have confidence that they can survive bigotry, hate, racism, and bias by holding fast to the principles of patience, steadfastness, and perseverance; values that Islam teaches.

As a father, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my children from harm, but I know I can’t follow them around and stand guard.  It is important that we teach our children that there are more good people in our schools and in our country than there are bigots.  we need to teach them to be vigilant and aware but to not give in to fear, and to put their trust in Allah. As we empower them to stand up against bigotry, let’s make sure we give them hope for the future.  There is still a long way to go before we all are treated with dignity, but I believe that as a nation, and as a people, there is still hope. And Allah knows best.

Imam Luqman Ahmad (Abu)

Imam Luqman Ahmad is a writer, public speaker, consultant, and President and CEO of Mosque Without Borders. He is also the Imam of a Northern California Masjid and the author of the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect”, a book about Muslim radicalization and theological extremism in Islam, available on Amazon.com Contact him at imamabulaith@yahoo.com. Read his blog at imamluqman.wordpress.com.

 

 

Mosque Without Borders; Combatting Muslim Sectarianism by Shaykh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

 


MOSQUELogoNEW2Mosque Without Borders was established in the Spring of 2017 to combat Muslim sectarianism, and it’s by products, which are religious extremism and racism, particularly as it affects Muslims in the United States. We need your support. However, we need to be clear about what we are advocating and what we are working to curb. So just what is Muslim sectarianism, and what is the view of sectarianism according to the sharia? What do Muslims need to know and understand about sectarianism, especially Muslims living in the United States? Muslim sectarianism is a complicated notion with complicated consequences. So for starters, know that there is no one single brand or type of Muslim sectarianism.

What is sectarianism?

Muslim sectarianism has many forms, many categories, numerous tentacles and many manifestations. Some extremely harmful, and some not as harmful. It reveals itself in varying ways according to time, place, people and sub-ideology. Some Muslim sects are relatively new and some are hundreds of years old. Some sects are built around individuals and some are built around ideas or supplemental philosophies. Some are hyper cultish with elaborate rituals and liturgical nuance, and some are very simple. Some sects require initiation, some don’t. Some sects are descriptive but not necessarily sectarian and some sects are sectarian at their core but vague in their description. Some are both. Some sects are regional and some are international. Some are all over the place and change with the changing of the times. So let’s first take a look at the meaning of the word.

  • Sect: According to the New Shorter Oxford Dictionary; A body or group of people subscribing to views that are divergent from other people of the same religion.
  • Sectary: a person who is zealous in the cause of his sect.
  • Sectarian: According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th, sectarian (adj.) characteristic of a sect. Also, having limited character or scope. (n.) adherent of a sect., narrow, bigoted.
  • Sectarianize: is to make sectarian
  • According to Wikipedia, sectarianism is: a form of bigotry, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching relations of inferiority and superiority to differences between subdivisions within a group. Common examples are denominations of a religion, ethnic identity, class, or region for citizens of a state and factions of a political movement.

That’s on the English side. However, we need to look at the Arabic side of the meaning of sectarianism because our primary scriptures are in Arabic, and the foundations of codified traditional knowledge in Islam are in Arabic. Thus, In the Arabic language, there are several words and phrases in the Quran that are used to denote sectarianism; for example; hizb (حزب), as in the verse:

وَإِنَّ هَٰذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَأَنَا رَبُّكُمْ فَاتَّقُونِ فَتَقَطَّعُوا أَمْرَهُم بَيْنَهُمْ زُبُرًا ۖ كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ

“And surely this your religion is one religion and I am your Lord, therefore be careful (of your duty) to Me. But they cut off their religion among themselves into sects, each part (hizbin)rejoicing in that which is with them.” (Quran, 23:52-53)

Hizb however, could also simply mean a group of people; as in the verse:

وَلَمَّا رَأَى الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الْأَحْزَابَ قَالُوا هَٰذَا مَا وَعَدَنَا اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَصَدَقَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ ۚ وَمَا زَادَهُمْ إِلَّا إِيمَانًا وَتَسْلِيمًا

“And when the true believers saw the clans (ah’zaab), (confederate forces) they said: This is that which Allah and His messenger promised us. Allah and His messenger are true. It did but confirm them in their faith and resignation.” (Quran, 33:22)

In modern-day parlance, some groups use the word hizbee as a pejorative term meaning someone who is a sectarianist, or a party loyalist as in political party, or a specific Muslim group, representative of a specific ideology.

Another word used to describe sect in the Quran is shi’ite. I’m not talking about Shiite Muslims here, I’m talking about the word shi’ite, as in the verse:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا لَّسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ ۚ إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ

“Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects (shiya’an), you have no concern with them; their affair is only with Allah, then He will inform them of what they did.” (Quran, 6:159)

The above aforementioned verse is not referring to any particular sect; it’s talking about breaking into sects and sectarianism in general. However, this conversation is not about semantics, and every Muslim sect can present their arguments why they are not a sect, why they are not sectarian or why they are the saved sect, or the best sect of all.

Allah forbid the Prophet ﷺ from supporting sectarianism in our religion, and the Prophet forbade the people from arguing about doctrine.  The Prophet ﷺ said, “No people ever went astray, after they were guided, except that they were overcome by arguing”.[1]

The general rule of Islam with regards to sectarianism is to avoid it:

“وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا ۚ وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ النَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ “

“And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.” (Quran 3:103).

The purpose of Mosque Without Borders is not to debunk or analyze the ideology of every orthodox or heterodox sect of Islam but to empower and teach those Muslims who don’t want to belong to any sect, and who prefer not to practice a sectarian styled Islam, in ideology, or in spirit.  This is not about semantics, or polemical acrobatics. This is about the lives of real Muslims who are concerned with living their religion and not arguing with each other about it. This is about sectarianism and the negative impact it has on the lives of Muslims.

The Prophet’s ﷺ view on sectarianism and it’s by products

The Prophet ﷺ outlined many of the principles of non-sectarianism throughout his life as well as during his farewell sermon when he said; “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab nor for a non-Arab over an Arab except by piety”.[2] He ﷺ further elucidated the foundation for actionable non-sectarianism when he said: “verily your blood, your wealth, and your honor is sacred, like the sacredness of this day, of this month, and of the place”.[3] He cemented his disdain for sectarian practices when he said: “do not return after I’m gone to being like unbelievers, some of you striking the necks (fighting) of others”.[4]

Sectarianism also has to do with abandoning the principles of islamic brotherhood, disregarding the idea of racial equality, and lack of respect for the sanctity of life, honor and wealth as outlined by the Prophet ﷺ in his farewell sermon. Perhaps the most obvious and widespread manifestation of sectarianism is racism, but it is not the only manifestation of it.

no to sectarianismMuslim sectarianism has been around ever since shortly after the death of the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet warned us against it, the Quran warns us against it, and the Muslim world has suffered by it in the worse ways. The first social issue relating to sectarianism addressed by the Prophet ﷺ was racism. He addressed it by freeing slaves and elevating the status of the ex-slave to that of an already free non-slave Arab. He reiterated this principle thought out his tenure as a prophet of God. Even at the end of his life, he appointed Osama ibn Zayd as general of the Muslim army who included Umar and Abu Bakr and Osama was barely eighteen years old.

Sectarianism brings out the very worst in the Ummah, from the wars between the companions of the Prophet ﷺ, to the massacre of Muslims by other Muslims in so many countries, to the fratricidal warfare between Muslim groups throughout the ages, and even what we see today in many Muslim countries and now in the United States and elsewhere. Different groups calling the other unbelievers, mosques being bombed. Violent extremism, petty mosque politics, racism within the ummah in many Muslim countries and even her in the unites states. It can all be traced back to racism, sectarianism and the notion of the other.

Muslim sectarianism in the modern sense;

There are many faces of Muslim sectarianism. Sectarianism in the modern sense is the belief that your particular sect represents the whole of Islam, or that the addendums of faith, belief, and practice, representative of your sect, embodies the whole of Islam or the entirety of the message of Allah and His Prophet ﷺ whereas someone not subscribing to your additions, is considered less of a Muslim or even not a Muslim.

For example, if you believe that the sheikh of your sect is the only one that possesses true guidance of Islam and that believing in him and following him is necessary to obtain salvation, then you are sectarianized. If you believe that you must call yourself by the name of your sect, or a group in order to be rightly guided, then you have been sectarianized. If you believe that your brand of Islam is the only true brand of Islam in exclusion to all other brands of Islam, then you are sectarianized. If you cannot pray behind this or that person because they do not ascribe to your sect, then you are sectarianized.

Example of some types of sectarianism are people who ascribe to the terms, Salafi, Ahlul hadith, and Atharaee, Tijaani, Qaadiri, Naqshabandi, and Ikhwaani, just to name a few; if you consider calling yourself by these names as a religious obligation and that those who don’t ascribe to these names are less of a Muslim than you, or that you are a better Muslim than they, simply because of the sectarian title, then this is sectarianism. If you as an adherent of a particular sect, believe that only people of that sect are rightly guided, then that is sectarianism. If you are a member of a Muslim ideological group and believe that your group represents the totality of Islam in exclusion of other groups than you are a sectarianist. If because of group or sub-ideological differences, you declare the other to be an unbeliever your calling yourself. One of the hallmarks of sectarianism is to direct anything ranging from simple disdain or hostility, or the grand charge of heresy towards the other group that is different from your sect.

Combating Sectarianism:

Granted, combatting Muslim sectarianism is no simple proposition. People have to be unsectarianized. Sectarianism is taught, and it can be un-taught. There is a sectarian mindset, and there is an unsectarian mindset. It’s a monumental problem for converts because Muslim converts come into Islam pure of faith and are then taught sectarianism as they come along. Another problem is the colonial mental hold that the intellectual molestation that occurs through the multiplicity of different spheres of influence and teaching methodology thrust upon convert Muslims. I break it down in my book Double Edged Slavery. This stuff didn’t happen overnight and it was very methodical, which on the one hand makes it a multi-layered problem but on the other hand makes it easy to trace how we got to this point, especially if you understand Muslim history. It is possible for a person to back his or her way out of sectarianism; it’s called deprogramming.

De-programming is not for everybody, but there are a lot of Muslims who do not want to be a part of a sect, there are a lot who do not want to be racist, and there are many who do not want to be an extremist in their religion, and who do not want to be jumping from one sub-ideology of Islam to another, and who do not want, groupie- type Islam following someone who doesn’t have clue who you are. Problem is, not many Imams, or teachers are equipped to deal with this issue. Many Imams have no training whatsoever in the classical sciences of Islam which is problem also because you end up making stuff up, making up ideology, and things like that. That doesn’t help much either. There is a method to this madness which is why we established Mosque Without Borders.

There is no one way to combat sectarianism since sectarianism and people who practice it or believe in it differ from time to time and from place to place. Fighting sectarianism is not so much as deconstructing every Muslim sect and polemicizing ideological arguments against it. It has more to do with promoting unity in spite of sectarianism and giving Muslims a clear choice on how not be stuck in a sectarian modality whereas you believe your sect offers the only path, or the best path to salvation. Unity is not for everyone; it’s for the people who want to be unified.

This is about the disruption of lives, the breaking of the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood, about fratricide, incessant debates about micro-doctrine, splitting of communities, arguing, fighting, fitnah in our masaajid. Mosque Without Borders is aimed at teaching people how to be non-sectarian for those who prefer that. It’s for people who want to escape the boundaries, the hubris, and the sometimes insanity of Muslim sectarianism.

I believe that there are Muslims out there who don’t want to sectarianize, who believe in what Allah says in the Quran, who believe in the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and what was reported from him according to authentic sources and believe that they will someday meet Allah, and want to meet Him as a Muslim, and not as an adherent of any sub-sect of Islam. That is their choice and people should be made aware that there is such a choice.

Changing the sectarian narrative

The United States of America is a new frontier for Muslims. Most organized Muslim communities are less then 30 years old. There is still time to address Muslim sectarianism in our country in a sane, healthy, and rational way.  We have to create Muslim communities that are equally open to everyone; White, Black, Latino, Arab, Pakistani, Indian, Asian, African, low income, high income, educated and undereducated. This is the legacy of the Prophet of Islam ﷺ. This is the picture of non-sectarian Islam, and this is the conversation that Mosque Without Borders is bringing to the forefront. If this article makes sense to you and you support combating sectarianism, extremism and racism in our ummah, then make a donation to Mosque Without Borders.

Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

CEO, Mosque Without Borders.

Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a graduate of Omdurman Islamic University, is the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, consultant, and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Folsom, California. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation (NAIF), a founding member of COSVIO, (the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), 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. He is also author of the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect“. The Imam blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com.

 

[1] Collected by Abu Eesa at-Tirmidhi.

[2] Collected by Bukhaari and Muslim.

[3] Collected by Bukhaari and Muslim.

[4] Collected by Bukhaari and Muslim.

Malik Ambar; an extraordinary convert to Islam, by Shaykh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

Murtaza_Nizam_Shah_II_and_Malik_Ambar.jpg
Malik Anbar and his master Chengiz Khan

Little is known by Muslims about the millions of East African slaves bought to India between the 10th and the 18th century who lived in and help build and maintain Muslim dynasties in what we know to be modern day India and Pakistan. Many of them converted to Islam and their descendants still live in many parts of India today. One of the most famous of them was Malik Anbar. He was born in 1549 or 1550 in Harar Abyssinia. His parents named him Shambu but because of poverty, they like many other parents during those times, sold him into slavery in the Red Sea port of Mocha, which is in modern day Yemen. Later he was transported to the Baghdad slave market where he was purchased by Mir Qasim al-Baghdadi who treated him like a son, taught him Arabic, finance, and public administration, and eventually sent him to the Deccan Sultanate of India to serve as the slave of Chingiz Khan or Malik Dabir. Chengiz Khan just happened to the Regent Minister of the Sultan of Nizam Shahi Dynasty which was part of the Ahmadnagar Sultnate. Chingiz Khan also happened to be a black Ethiopian who had converted to Islam. He treated Anbar, who had converted to Islam by then, like his own son, even though he was his slave.

Ambar served as a slave with distinction under Chingiz Khan for 20 years. During this period, Ambar took on various duties in the Nizam’s court where he witnessed and learned military strategy, political organization, and diplomacy; essential training that would serve him later as a free man. When Chingiz Khan died in 1594, Malik Anbar’s days as a slave were over. Being no longer a slave, he left the employ of the Sultan to seek his own path. He ended up gathering a mercenary army that consisted at first of about 150 Arab immigrants, but grew to an army of thousands who were ferociously loyal of him. His command of such a large force of mercenaries earned him the title of Malik (king)  Anbar.

The greatest regional power at the time was the Mughal empire. By the year 1600 Malik Anbar was a major figure in the resistance movement against Moghul expansion of their empire into the Deccan (in modern day Pakistan). His mastery in guerilla warfare techniques prevented the Mughals from capturing the southern half of India, he repeated fought back their invasion and the empire’s rulers called him the “rebel of black fortune.” By 1620, Malik Anbar commanded an army of 50,000 soldier mercenaries. About 10,000 of them were black ‘habashis’ Ethiopians. He was considered a political and military genius who effectively took control of the Sultanate of his time. He lived to be 80 years old and is hailed as a hero across the Deccan. Till this day Malik Anbar remains one of the best-known African Muslims on the Indian subcontinent. He died on the 18th of Sha’baan in the year 1035 of the Hijra. His tomb still stands in the city of Khuldabad in modern day Pakistan.

The Gujarat coastline is also home to significant numbers of Siddi, otherwise known as Zanji or Habshi, descendants of Africans. Some are Royal Habashis who are descendants of ex-slaves from Africa who intermarried with Indian aristocracy.  Hundreds of years ago such Africans living in communities on the west coast of India were called Sidis, (higher class) and those living in the interior were called Habshi. Today, the terms refer generally to Indians of African descent and are used interchangeably.

Sidi Haidar Khan
Sidi Mohammed Haider Khan, 1930.

Note: The bulk of the Muslim world had huge numbers of slaves from mainly east Africa who helped build cities, work the land, served in armies and governments, and took care of households. From Yemen, to Oman, to India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Libya and other places, there are black Muslims today who, similar to African Americans are descendants of slaves and who are at the bottom of their societies. I know that this is part of Muslim history that we are encouraged to forget about but believe it or not, these histories have a great impact on our current situation as Muslims living in the United States. And that’s how it happened folks. Our history has lessons for all of us.

Imam Luqman Ahmad

Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad a graduate of Omdurman Islamic University, is the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, consultant, and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Folsom California. 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 new  book “Double Edged Slavery“, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States. He is also author of the book: “The Devils Deception of the Modern day Salafi Sect“. The Imam blogs at, imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com.

Dimantling the Culture of Muslim Sectarianism, by Shaykh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

This article was originally written about in 2004 for Q-News. I’ve made minor changes in this version. Here we are in 2017, and sectarianism is worse than ever. Things will not change, until we change. To read the original, go to;

The Lotus Tree Blog

By Imam Luqman Ahmad

In Afghanistan it’s dreadful enough that the U.S. military machine has blown the country to smithereens, now obvious obstacles to rebuilding has been augmented by the violently competitive warlords, fighting each other for power. In Iraq, intermittent violence between Sunnis and Shiites boils like a volcanic crescendo waiting to erupt should the American forces ever decide to leave. In Kurdistan another powder keg is slowly igniting between the Kurds, the Arabs and the Turkmen.

In Tajikistan after the recent fall of the Russian empire, the country capitulated into a vicious civil war. Tens of thousands of Muslims were killed and close to a million were displaced in a conflict that although ostensibly was between fundamentalist Muslims against Marxist Muslims, was really about clan rivalry and ethno-nationalism. Whether it is civil strife in Uzbekistan, sectarian violence in Somalia, Wahhaabi-Shi’ite, or Tuareg darker-skinned Muslim clashes in Mali, or…

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THE TALE OF TWO CITIES:  Portland and Philadelphia on ‘Memorial Day’ One Sister’s Story during Ramadan,by Umm K. Rashad Bey

Ramadan is the month of Quran, the month of mercy, and the month of reflection. This is one sister’s story of a troubling incident that occured during this month of Ramadan. There are hundreds of stories like these. It underscores that we need to do better in the way that we treat our women folk. – Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

By Umm K

Yesterday, there played a story in the TV news media- where a ‘colored’ teen, with a baseball hat and hair stuffed under it- some hanging out- tearfully spoke about the men who were stabbed to death for standing up for herself and a friend.  I later learned that she was not necessarily Muslim, but accompanied her friend that was Muslim and wore a headscarf (veil) and were riding on public transportation when the horrible incident occurred.  The murdered men were not Muslims but can they be considered Martyrs, non-the-less???  Or would they be considered like Ansars– or helpers or friends of the Muslims?

Also last night, I traveled to a masjid in Northeast Philadelphia.  My heart was set on attending iftar and prayers in North Philadelphia, at Masjid Mekka, but because of where I was traveling from and the time of the evening- I went to a closer mosque.  I saw a big tent set up- so I figured that they had items with which to breakfast.

The women’s area had been changed since I had last visited, and when I asked a man, he took me around to the basement entrance – an area that was not handicapped accessible, but had been nicely remodeled.  There was only water available, which is fine for iftar– but I discussed with some of the sisters there- whatever the men have, we should have the same.  Eventually, some young sisters came with a plate of dates and we all broke fast and offered Maghrib.

Another of the young sisters asked if there would be food for dinner.  I went up and out and got in my car to go home.  I saw a man unloading a van of food under the tent.   So I parked my car and saw about 6 females sitting in the dark on a concrete step, while the men lined up under the lighted tent and sat comfortably at tables and chairs with additional carpets.  A boy shuffled the women away with “bisquits” (from Popeyes) as instructed by the man who provided the food.  Meanwhile, the men had steak sandwiches, rice and peas, pizza and chicken, teas and drinks.  So I stood at the tent and asked the boy to keep asking for food for the women.  Eventually, after he told me that the food was for the men only, to which I responded ‘astaqfirullah’ we were brought pizza and then I told him just put some of everything that they had on a tray and we would all share together.  The boy, through his cooperative assistance, and repeated urging, was successful in getting this concession.  I later learned that the helpful boy was the son of the oldest female sitting outside the tent.

Which is the better behavior?  To give your life for females who are not in your faith practice- or to refuse to feed females who are in your faith practice?

Umm K. Rashad

Umm K. Rashad Bey is a licensed professional counselor, and a very active Muslimah who resides in the Philadelphia area.

 

How American Muslim Converts/Reverts Are Affected by Muslim Sectarianism, by Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

No-sectarianismGlobally, Muslim sectarianism affects almost all Muslims in one way or another. Many Muslim groups would not thrive as a sect or be able to keep their adherents in check without having a sub-ideological focus, or without being in opposition to another Muslim group. The modem day Salafist phenomena in the United States is just one example of that. At their height, they would ascribe medieval, and early islamic sectarian labels to other Muslims and then proceed to demonize them. They would attach the title Mu’tazilite, Raa’fidee, Juhamee, and Khawaarij to everyday converts who have never even heard of such titles and groups, and of course to many of them; to be a true Salafi, you must call yourself a Salafi.

This methodology is not only a characteristic of some modern day Salafists, it’s typical of many islamic groups who came to the country already sectarianized. Sectarianism works better in a small village somewhere where everybody is of the same tribe, or believes the same, thinks the same, and has the exact same values for generations. However, in Muslim America, sectarian Islam creates an entirely different dynamic. Especially for the convert or revert to Islam.

Sometimes converts/reverts come across one or another of these sectarianized versions of Islam and don’t even realize what hit them until much later when they try to raise their children on the sect’s sub-ideology or on veneration of the sect’s founder or leader, or until they go and try to integrate with another group of Muslims and then they discover that one group hates the other. This can be a pretty mind blowing, faith shaking discovery for someone who just recently entered into the religion of Islam. Which is why those who stay in Islam for a long time and survive the twist and turns of sectarianism become so strong in their faith and grasp on tawheed. When confusion sets in, believers tend to resort to the foundation of Islam; laa ilaaha illa Allah Muhammad Rasoolu Allah.

It’s not that sectarianists are trying to mess with your head, for many, sectarianism is the only Islam that they know and understand. The simple Islam of the Prophet ﷺ for many sectarianists is a betrayal of their sect’s sub-constitution. But it is the simple Islam of the Prophet which attracts converts to Islam in the first place, which is why sectarianism is not compatible with the convert. It ruins faith more than it enhances it.

When people convert to Islam, they are completely vulnerable. The nature of true conversion is that sins are forgiven, faith is untainted, and previously held ideology is discarded wholesale.

Converts Muslims come into the religion without belonging to, or yearning to belong to any particular sect; they come in on pure tawheed without sectarian alignment and simply want to belong to the Muslims.  They are natural marks for sectarianists and easy targets of post conversion proselytizing because they are trusting, they are open and they, in many cases, are very naïve to the nuances of Muslim sectarianism and in fighting. It’s like; okay, now that you are a Muslim, what kind of Islam do you want? Even worse, some people are presented with the notion that they really aren’t a true Muslim until they join this or that sect, or initiate into this or that tariqa, or follow this or that sheikh. People are in essence, taking two shahadas; the shahaadah of Islam, and then, the shahaadah of the sectarian group.

Extreme Salafism has had its heyday amongst American Muslim converts, but it is waning. There are more ex-Salafis now than there are Salafis. A lot of Muslims have discovered that you can follow the ways of the Salaf [righteous predecessors] without having to call yourself a Salafi. That realization for many, was an eye opener of cathartic proportion. These days, Sufism is the hot craze amongst many indigenous American Muslims. This is not a condemnation of Sufism as a discipline within the legitimate islamic practice.  It’s just an honest assessment of where we are in Muslim America.

People are using their Sufi affiliation and titles like gang signs. Many of the more popular Sufi tariqas maintain that if you leave the order, or disengage from the sheikh, then you have left true Islam, and will fall into disfavor with Allah. That’s a pretty hefty psychological burden to lay on an unsuspecting, impressionable, recent convert to Islam. Even more so if the sheikh lives thousands of miles away and you’ve never even met him face to face. Ironically, many Muslims are discovering that you can embrace and practice Islamic spirituality according to what the Prophet ﷺ practiced and taught, without having to call yourself a Sufi and without being a so called Sufi.

Converts come into the religion believing in tawheed, Muslim unity, and in the simplicity of Islam, and are then betrayed on so many levels. Sometimes, they are literally chased away from Islam by racism, marginalization, or by the pressure to give up their critical reasoning, their common sense, and their identity. Other times it is the sheer confusion and perplexity of sectarianism that leaves their heads spinning. There are many Muslims who convert to Islam, and gradually understand and practice the faith, get married, perhaps, have children and produce healthy Muslim families that continue into the next generation. However, that’s not the way it is for many converts during these times we live in today.

Many new Muslim converts in America these days are a one shot, single generation deal. They convert to Islam but it doesn’t really spread to their children or next generation. The average convert today is simply subject to too many fluctuations, and quirky influences in his or her faith and ideology in the name of Islam to keep up.

It’s interesting to note that most American Muslim converts to Islam already believed in god before they converted to Islam. In fact, most of them believed in one god. For these new Muslims, Islam only confirms and gives deeper meaning and definition to what they already believed before they converted to Islam. Which in part, is what lead them to Islam in the first place. Many converts to Islam where already honoring their parents, being kind to their neighbors, keeping family ties, giving charity with their hard earned money and were already truthful and honest before they ever knew about Islam.

There is nothing purer for the one that Allah Himself guides to Islam than the Islam that was practiced and taught by the Prophet ﷺ. Sectarianism for the Muslim convert is a demotion of faith, not a promotion of faith. It is imperative for converts to Islam to understand it’s damaging effects and to extricate themselves from the cyclical morass and confusion of modern Muslim sectarianism. In my humble opinion, there is no better Islam for them, than the original version, without supplemental editing or ideological appendixes. I believe and will in sha Allah, continue believe that Islam is best practiced when it is independent of sectarianism. Which is why Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala said; “Be not like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving Clear Signs: For them is a dreadful penalty“. (Quran 5:105)

Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

[Taken from the up coming book; ‘The Dilemma of the American Muslim Convert’ by Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad]. American born Luqman Ahmad is the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, consultant, and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Folsom California. 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 new  book “Double Edged Slavery“, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States. He is also author of the book: “The Devils Deception of the Modern day Salafi Sect“. The Imam blogs at, imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

 

Who and what are the Salaf, and who are the modern-day Salafis? by Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

salafi-1It is difficult to define just who exactly is a Salafi. The word Salafi, [from the Arabic word Salaf, is a relative noun [ism nisbee]. According to the Arabic dictionary, al-Bahr al-Muhit, a Salafi is someone who ascribes one’s self to the Salaf. Abdul-Rahmaan ibn Abdullah as-Salafi is cited by al-Fairuzaa’baadi as an example of a Salafi. Imam Adh-Dhahabi used the term Salafi in a descriptive sense when he said, “bal yakoona salafiyyan” [no, he should be Salafi]. However, the modern definition of a Salafi is inexplicit.

A Salafi in the general sense

In a general sense, a Salafi is someone who claims that he or she follows the way of the Salaf as-Saalih. He attributes and ascribes to them by using the term “Salafi” or “Salafiyyah’ which supposedly indicates that he is following their way in understanding religious matters. By religious matters we mean creed and ideology, jurisprudence, understanding of the Quranic verses, character, virtue, etc.
In such a rendering we can define the person who claims to follow the Quran as a Qurani, or the one who claims to follow the Prophet (SAWS) as a Muhammadi. Of course, these are unacceptable terms, not used by Muslims. However, were we to use the line of reasoning employed by the modern-day Salafis, such terms become plausible.

Traditional scholars of Islam did not use the term “Salafi” as a label; they did not go around saying, “I am a Salafi”. They did not name their schools madrasa Salafiyyah or claim to follow or propagate da’wah Salafiyyah. The well-known scholar of Azhar, Shiekh Abu Zahara [d. 1974] says in his book, Taarikh al-Madhahibi’l Islamiyya, that some people who dissented from the Hanbali Madhhab named themselves Salafiyyin [Salafis]. However, Abu Faraj ibn Jawzi [d. 506/1114] stopped their mischief from spreading by proclaiming them people of bid’ah.

The scholars of Ahlus Sunna wa Jamaat do ascribe themselves to the way of the Salaf. However, they used to reference the Salaf by saying things like, “this was agreed upon by the Salaf” or “this did not exist among the Salaf” or “the way of the Salaf is better”. Some would even refer to the madhhab of the Salaf. However, this was mostly done when discussing issues of creed and it was almost exclusively used in reference to things that the Salaf agreed upon. Otherwise, scholars would say, “some of the Salaf used to do so and so” or some of the Salaf used to say so and so”.

Some contemporary Salafi scholars have attempted to establish definitions for a Salafi such as “a true Salafi is one who values Tawheed and fights against shirk” or “a true Salafi is one who is not of the Khawaarij, and not of the Mu’tazila”, etc. However, these definitions and those like them can also apply to a true Muslim. As ibn Taymiyyah says,

“There is no fault upon the one who exhibits the way of the Salaf, ascribes himself to it, and refers to it. In fact, that should be accepted from him by agreement [of the scholars], because the way of the Salaf is only the truth. If he is in conformity with it outwardly and inwardly, then he is in the same category as a believer [Mu’min] who is upon the truth outwardly and inwardly. If he is in conformity with it outwardly and not inwardly, then he is a hypocrite [munaafiq]. We accept his outward appearance and leave his secret condition to Allah”[1].

Some of modern-day salafis say, “a true Salafi is one who adheres to the methodology of the Salaf in understanding the Quran and the Sunna.” This definition however, also applies to a true, sincere Muslim; it even applies to someone who adheres to a traditional school of jurisprudence such as a Shaafi’ee, a Maaliki, a Hanbali, or a Hanafi. Since the Muslim scholars unanimously recognize these four Imams and the schools of thought established by them as representing a sound and accurate interpretation of Islam, following any one of them would be essentially following the true path.
Thus, defining just who is a Salafi in an authoritative, conclusive way is an elusive undertaking. May Allah give us tawfeeq (success).

A Salafi in the specific sense

One problem encountered in describing a Salafi is the sheer novelty of the term. The scholars of the khalaf (latter-day scholars), who followed the way of the Salaf, such as the four Imams and those who came after them, did not go around saying I am a Salafi. They did not attach the ascription “Salafi” to their names, their publications, their schools etc. They would simply say, “I am a Muslim and I follow the way of the Salaf ‘as-Saalih. Thus, a “Salafi” as a separate sect is a contemporary conception. Defining who is a Salafi is not just a matter of determining what they say, but what they do. One must consider not whom they say they follow, but whom do they actually follow?

Describing a Salafi is not like describing a Muslim. One can easily look at the Quran and the rigorously authenticated traditions of the Prophet (SAWS) and find plenty of definitions for a Muslim. “If you have believed in Allah, then it is upon Him you depend if you are Muslims”. [10:84 Yunus] Here Allah says that Muslims are the ones who believe in Allah and depend upon Him. He does not say that a Salafi who believes in Him and depends upon Him! “And who is better in speech than the one who invites to Allah, does righteous deeds, and says I am of the Muslims”. [41:33 Fussilat] Here Allah says that a Muslim is one who invites to Allah and performs righteous deeds. This is the best of speech. He does not say that a Salafi does this.

The Prophet (SAWS) describes the Muslim in the hadith, “The Muslim is one who the Muslims are safe from his hand and his tongue”[2]. In another tradition, the Prophet (SAWS) describes a Muslim as, “A Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. He should not wrong him nor surrender him to his enemy”.[3]

Likewise, the sacred texts describe in detail what is incumbent upon the believers with respect to belief, worship, character, law, action, social intercourse, and other things. If the verses in the Quran, and hadith of the Prophet (SAWS) regarding the Muslim were taken together, we would see conclusively in sha Allah, what the description of a Muslim or a Mu’min (believer) is. However, there is no mention in the sacred texts of what is required upon the Salafi, or what the Salafi believes, or who is a Salafi.

The Prophet (SAWS) never foretold of a people who would call themselves ‘Salafi’, hence, the descriptions of the modern day Salafi are all ijtihaadi [deductively] based, and not nassi [textually[4] based. Nass or nusoos [plural] are revealed and associated text of hadith. Ijtihaad on the other hand is the result of human deduction. The two cannot be intelligently equated. All the scholars of Ahlus Sunna wa Jamaat agree that an ijtihaad, particularly that of a latter day scholar, is subject to error. They also agree that ijtihaad which contradicts established texts from the Quran and the authentic Sunna, are frivolous at best and heretical at worst. This fact alone unmasks the true alien nature of the term Salafi, notwithstanding the obvious impossibility of determining a conclusive description for them. However in sha Allah, we shall attempt to delineate the current variety of so-called salafis.

The view of the Salafis by the general public

A perception has emerged amongst the general Muslims population that the salafis are a troublesome bunch. On the east coast of the United States, many of them are regarded as hoodlums. That is because they will accost you in the masjid because your pant leg is not rolled up high enough and then they’ll curse you out in the street because they think you didn’t give them the correct change for their sandwich! I am not saying that these perceptions are true to life. However, in recent years, based upon their interaction with them, Muslims in the United States and other parts of the world have solidified a perception of them as cold, arrogant, rude and prone to hasty interpretation. Many view them as extremely comfortable with chaos and controversy.
For some, the Salafis are those brothers who wear their pants up to their shins. For others, the Salafis are the ones who love to argue and call everybody deviants. Others regard the Salafis as those calling for a return to purity of Islam, but feel they are not quite ready for the rigors of modern hard core Salafi life. For some, the Salafis are the only true Muslims. For others, the Salafis are themselves deviant. Some people view them as a sect, a cult or simple another madhhab. Others regard them as neither of the three.

To some, the Salafis are an annoying thorn in their side. They are especially bothersome to some of the modernists, who try to carve out a modern version of Islam, congruent to the ideas of new pluralism and secular humanism. To adherents of traditional Islamic knowledge and methodology, the Salafis are considered perhaps well intentioned but grossly unscholarly and over simplistic in their approach. If you ask one hundred people concerning their opinion of a Salafi, you may get a few dozen different answers.
Since they are a new group, they are always changing and altering their views. For example, some of them used to say that you must call yourself a Salafi. Later, they modified their stance and said that it is only recommended to call yourself a Salafi. Another example is that one of them will find another hadith and then something else becomes haram or bid’ah. Then a few months later they will find yet another hadith and the ruling will change.

Since many of them reject the idea of learning from traditional chains of scholarship or adherence to any of the accepted schools of thought, they are always involved in what some of them call “progressive scholarship”. This means that while they are in the process of finding all of the hadith on an issue, they issue rulings. Then, they come back after some years or months or even the next day and change the ruling or view. There is nothing wrong with progressive scholarship; however, progressive scholarship cannot ever be considered the absolute truth, free from any error. Imam Shaafi’ee issued many rulings on issues that he later changed after he was apprised of more information. Imam Shaafi’ee was a scholar of the highest caliber. In the case of Imam Shaafi’ee, it was reported that he used to say when arriving at a disputed conclusion; “I am right, with the possibility that I am wrong, and you are wrong, with the possibility that you are right”. However; progressive scholarship when practiced by novices, and people prone to acrimonious dispute and fitna, is reckless.

It is difficult to define them as a whole. There are certainly many from amongst the Salafis who may be applying Islam in the character, temperament, and true understanding of what the Prophet (SAWS) intended. Much of what this author is referring to are the extremists of the Salafiyyah those primary targets are new Muslims. At the common level, regarding relationships amongst the average Muslims and masaajid, particularly those predominately frequented by American Muslims, the worst of the Salafiyyah is what seems to attract the most adherents. Islam as practiced by converts or reverts in the United States is mostly at the common level. As ibn Taymiyyah said,

“From that which is well-known about what occurs when people gather together upon some matter, is that any group which becomes strong and has many followers, then you will definitely find in them the pure and the impure, the justly balanced and the unbalanced, the extreme and the moderate. Moreover, a well-established fact is that the extremists are more vocal and have greater acceptance, since the ones who are justly balanced follow a middle course. And those who seek this balanced approach are few in numbers, in every age and place. As for extremism, then this is what most of the people thrive upon, and what the over-whelming majority inclines towards – and this has been the path of the various sects and religions as well. So the extremists try to monopolize their being mentioned among the people and to single in their da’wah. And they did not find any way to gain a monopoly over the people, except by extremism, which they achieve by degrading people and belittling them at every opportunity; either by their tongues, or other than that.

The first to open this door – the door of unleashing their tongues against those who oppose them – were the Khawaarij. And this is the route by which they came to the masses, through the door of takfeer (declaring a Muslim to be a disbeliever), in order that the masses would flee from other than them, so that they could secure a relationship for themselves with the masses. Then this disease was transmitted to others, such that the extreme elements of each group started unjustly declaring Muslims to be unbelievers, sinners, innovators, or deviants”. [Maj’moo’a fataawa]

 

[1] Majmoo’a a-fataawah.

[2] Collected by Muslim.

[3] Collected by Bukhaari and Muslim.

[4] Based upon the Quran and the Sunna.

 

[Taken from the book;The Devil’s Deception of the Modern-Day Salafi Sect’ by Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad. American born Luqman Ahmad is a Sunni Muslim, the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, consultant, and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom in Folsom California. 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 new book “Double Edged Slavery“, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States. The Imam blogs at, imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com.

 

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