A Short History of How Tawheed [Islamic Monotheism] Survived in America Since Slavery.

cropped-shahada-finger.jpgThis has nothing to do with being anti-immigrant. We are all brothers and sisters in Islam, and the most honored person to Allah is the one with the most taqwa. This has to do with a right of a historically oppressed and marginalized people to think and act in the best interests of their religion and of tawheed. Every people has the right and the obligation to speak the truth, seek the truth, and to realize what has been harmful for them and what has proved beneficial for them. The colonial-like existence as second-class Muslims in a country that we helped build, has not proven beneficial for us. Not by a long shot. And its time to let it go.

Many Muslims are woefully unaware of the history of African Americans and Islam in the United States. Some people might even prefer if we simply dismiss our history and not talk about it, not think about it, or even worse, let someone else tell it for us their way. However, none of these are viable options. People’s history helps shape their present and their future, by the permission of Allah and by His decree. When black slaves were brought to this country in chains. Everything was stripped from them; their possessions, their language, their culture, their family ties, their history, and their religion. Of all that was taken from them, the only thing that was not completely gutted out of them was tawheed. Tawheed remained, and still remains in many people who are not yet Muslim.

The idea that there is only One God remained intact for millions of black slaves and freedmen, just as it does to this very day. About half the people who convert to Islam already believe that there is only One God. Even when slaves were given and many times forced to convert to Christianity, they did so under threat of the whip or threat of death, but they still believed in tawheed. As African Americans started to hear of and be exposed to Islam in it’s pure state, millions upon millions of them converted to Islam; a process that continues to this very day, except that now, the original Islam is often mutated into other isms, and other people’s additions. So now, there is so much more that is added to the original Islam; the splintering ideologies, the sectarianism, the racism, the colonial mindset, the international politics, the suppression of independent thought, that it is sometimes hard to see the original Islam of the Prophet ﷺ through all of the additions.

Also, another problem today is that African Americans increasingly see their Muslim counter-parts as a subjugated people under the authority of Muslim immigrants. How much that is true is a matter of debate, but there is no mistaking the pervasive perception amongst African Americans that we as Muslims have adopted a religion that condones racism and racial subjugation of one race over the other. This problematic perception is exacerbated and turns into reality when people actually end up converting to islam and find that as blacks they are seen and treated as an inferior Muslims by many immigrant Muslims.

The attraction to Islam by millions of ex-slave generations is not a coincidence, although some would like you to think so. It is part of a greater plan to rescue our religion and to uplift and enlighten the minds of Muslims across the globe. Islam is supposed to be our greatest unifier, and it still can be.  Islam can be our greatest unifier but that will not happen until we are all on equal footing and have equal respect for each other and each other’s ideas and viewpoints.

I remember back in the day growing up as a Muslim in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; back then our neighborhoods were divided by territory and you had gangs; Haines street, Brickyard, the Clang, Summerville, Pulaski Town, 22nd and Diamond, Norris Street, Camac and Diamond, and so on. There was nothing that united African Americans from different parts of the city – at least in Philadelphia –  more than Islam. Nothing even came close. When we started to differ over Islam; especially over imported versions of it, well, things got progressively worse. We argued over Ahmadiyyism, we argued over Shiism, and later we argued over the Fuqra Movement, the Jamaa’atul Tabligh, then salafiyyism. Now it’s different brands of Sufism, and other sub-ideologies of Islam. It’s not so much that we argue over these things; it is that each one of the ones  mentioned require that we pay homage and obedience to a foreign element and also sets limitations that no African American can rise above the master headquartered abroad either in knowledge, in thought and in the ability to lead.

For the African American ex-slave community there is nothing that binds us together more than Islam; more than race, more than nationality, more than cities of origin, more than class, tribe, clan or lingo. Islam trumps everything for us. This is why it is imperative that we not fight the ideological proxy wars imposed on us from abroad. I know this is a hard pill for some to swallow, but it is the truth nevertheless.

In sha Allah one day more of us will see the game that’s been played on us. It’s deep that we let these jokers flim-flam us into fighting their ideological proxy wars on our home soil like we’re unpaid Muslim mercenaries. I say that we straight up drop just about every one of these foreign spheres of ideological influence and stick to the Quran and the Sunna. We should do that for at least a generation and a half and see how that works out for us. We can always go back to imitating the fractionalized Muslim world if Quran and the Sunna alone do not work for us. We can always bring back the made up titles and the auxiliary up brands of Islam.  All I’m saying is that Islam is not Black, it is not White, it is not Arab, not Asian, and not Oriental. Islam is the religion of Allah and it transcends everything. That’s the point.

Imam Luqman Ahmad

American born Luqman Ahmad is a Sunni Muslim, the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, consultant, patriot, and until recently, has been the Imam of a Northern California mosque for twenty years. Recently he headed up a new organization (Islamic Center of Del Paso Heights) to address the needs of Muslims, specifically new Muslim converts in the United States. 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 “The Devils Deception of the Modern day Salafiyyah Sect”, a detailed look at modern extremist salafiyyism, the ideology which forms the mindset of ISIS. He blogs at, imamluqman.wordpress.com. The sentiments shared in this article are his own and not representative of any of his professional affiliations. He can be reached at imamluqman@icdph.org.

The Psychology of American Muslim Sectarianism, by Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

 

SectarianismYeah, I know it’s a long title. Nevertheless, this is a really complex and deeply problematic topic. When people become Muslim, they’re not thinking; I’m becoming a Tijaani, I’m becoming a Shaafi’ee, I’m becoming a Jihadi, a Tablighi or a Salafi. They’re thinking; ‘I’m becoming a Muslim’. It’s only after they take their shahaadah that people indoctrinate them into this or that sect or group, at a time when no less when they are most vulnerable. I’m not knocking your group here but darn, can’t we just let people get used to being a Muslim first before we sectarianize them? If you think about it, that’s a really cruel trick to play on someone; have them enter Islam thinking unity, and then induct them into sectarianism. This article could have been titled ‘American Muslims and the Oftentimes Perplexing Sectarian Identity Politics’ but that’s heck of a long and confusing title so I settled for a shorter and slightly less confusing title.

Still, this is really a complex topic because for many people, entering Islam is awesome; it’s one of the greatest things that ever happened to them in their lives, but what comes next can be a let down. Especially after they’re ushered through the labyrinth of supplemental isms which have become attached Islam.  Hey don’t misunderstand me; I get it that one man’s ism is another man’s source of enlightenment. However, considering that according to a Pew Research study published earlier this year, the American Muslim convert community is at a zero growth rate, meaning that for every ten people who converts to Islam, ten other people end up leaving Islam, I wonder whether all these isms confronting the new Muslim might have something to do with it. Hey, we are human beings and we need to have groups for a whole bunch of reasons, we just don’t need a whole bunch of groups thinking that they have the monopoly on the truth. The haqq, if you will.

First of all, if you choose just to be a regular Muslim, you might not get much love in the first place because just about every sect, sub-sect, tariqa, group, or movement is looking to increase membership. If  you end up as part of a sect or a particular group, you have to become indoctrinated not only in basic Islam from the Quran and the Sunna, but now you have to become indoctrinated and taught again, the tenants, beliefs and practices that are particular to your sect or group. This is not to say that every group is inherently bad, evil or wrong. I already mentioned that as human beings we need groups, Not every group is wrong and the Muslim ummah agrees to the legitimacy of the four orthodox schools of islamic legal doctrine as well as the Ja’fari and the Zaidi schools from amongst the Shiite, and there are all kinds of groups who follow the Quran and the Sunna. So let’s just say that right now, I’m not referring to any particular group; I’m just talking about sects and sectarianism. Just a little chat. Additionally, it is well known at least in what I believe that as Muslims, we are to follow the methodology of knowledge as set forth by the scholars of the first three generations of Muslim or the Salaf as-Saalih.

Still, you have to admit that sectarianism is an encumbrance on the new Muslim, and in my humble opinion, it’s hit us pretty hard, especially for the American Negroe. We come from a people that’s been pre-programmed for self-destruction, and a culture where our young men (and women) routinely fight and kill each other on the streets for next to nothing. We have people who fight over turf that they don’t even own and then we give them Muslim sectarianism to fight over. That’s the last thing we need; something else to fight over. I’m not seeing where that really worked for us, or where sectarianism has built anything for indigenous African American or convert Muslims. Sectarianism can produce a Crip versus Bloods mentality. People ready to argue and fight with someone over their sect, their sheikh, even over their madhhab or tariqa. When you join a sect, and of course most every sect has its protagonists and antagonists, you have to learn all the tenants of your sect that makes your sect different or better than the other sects, and different from the Islam that existed before your sect or group came into being. If seem people kicked out of their sect because they didn’t want to follow the rules. The Prophet ﷺ and the Salaf, preceded all of these sects. Then, every sect has their particular reasons why their sect is better than the other, otherwise there is no reason for people to be in the sect in the first place. Then once you become in full doctrinal mode then you have to be appraised of the sects (if any) that your sect or group is opposed to, as well as the ones that are opposed to your sect.

Most every self-respecting sect these days has its enemies and detractors to gather people against. The nature of sectarianism is that it is easier to gather people in opposition of something than it is to get them together in favor of something unless its some bid’ah. Sectarianists love them some bid’ah. Not just them. Any one of us can get caught up in some bid’s these days if we’re not careful. If the bid’ah is exciting enough and you’re going to get good news coverage, people will flock to some bid’ah. If someone belongs to a sect, then best believe if you look hard enough then you will likely find some religious innovation. Sometimes just a minor smidgeon of bid’ah, but sometimes you find the weird stuff. I mean real weird stuff. I remember a recent group that some brothers belonged to where they do turn off the lights to do thikr. Now that some weird stuff to me. Why turn off the lights? Unless maybe you’re trying to save money on the light bill, but why do it at thikr time? I wasn’t there and I’m not part of that group and it could be totally innocent, just trying to save money on electricity. I just have a thing when men and women gather together and then turn out the lights because it reminds me of back in the day house parties.

Once you enter into sectarianism you can easily find yourself in the unappealing position of attacking anyone who criticizes your sect, your sheikh, your madhhab, or your particular group. Or even worse, taking it personal. As you become deeper and deeper indoctrinated as happens to many people, they find themselves defending their sect even when the criticism is warranted and upholding the views of their sect and their shuyookh even when those views contradict the Book and the Sunna. This is how sectarianism gets out of control and for Muslim converts, it gets out of control quite often. Bottom line, if you think that your sect is the way to go, then al-humdu lillaah. If you think your madhhab is the way to go then al-humdu illah. I follow the Shaafi’ee madhhab in most every issue of fiqh but I’ve been known to take a Maaliki position here and there. I know that some people say that’s not allowed and they are free to try to bring it up when we all stand before Allah on the day of Judgment.  I’m still of the view that if it agrees with the Book and the Sunna, I’m all for it, and if it doesn’t well… not so much.

Sectarianism may have its benefits and of course like I said, all groups, tariqas, islamic political parties, and movements aren’t bad and they all aren’t 100% pure good either. So don’t go off half cocked because you think I insulted your group or your sheikh. My advice is that if you’re going to be Muslim then learn the basics. Learn your prayers, do your prayers, pay your zakat, fast your Ramadan, and if you get a few dollars, or excuse me, a few thousand dollars to spare, go ahead and make Hajj. Do the five pillars. If you want to go deep into one sect or another, okay ma sha Allah, but still try to stick to the basics and keep your options open. If we can pay dues to all of these groups and spheres of foreign influence in our communities and still manage to all work together to address our problems with family, Islamic communal infrastructure, our many fatherless homes, and the other problems in our shared communities then fine. If not, we should think a little more about the impact of Muslim sectarianism on what’s left of our fragile communities. In the meantime, obey Allah and His Messenger ﷺ and your leaders that you are connected to in matters that are right, but remember,  you have to trek your own path to Allah. No one else can do that your you. Not your sheikh, not your group, not your Imam, just you. Above all else, keep your loyalty and your sincerity to Allah and to Allah Alone. Wal Allahul Musta’aan.

Imam Luqman Ahmad

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

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

By Shaykh 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 Mosque bombings in Iraq, the tragedy of Muslim on Muslim violence and intolerance in the Muslim world goes unabated.

Such is the culture of sectarianism. While hardly a Muslim innovation, we seem to have perfected it in the modern age. It’s the “my race is better than your race, my nationality is better than your nationality, my politics are better than your politics, my tribe is better than your tribe, my Islam is better than your Islam” mentality. This mindset has led us to either depend on despotic, ruthless rulers to keep us from each other’s throats, or set about trying to kill, control and marginalize each other in the name of Islam, region, political party, tribe or race. If the notion of tribal, ethnic or racial preference taking precedence over Islamic solidarity became outdated with the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, then certainly, now in the 21st century, it should have become an ancient relic of antiquity. By now, we should be laughing at our since discarded ignorance the same way that Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab once laughed at himself for the time when, overcome by hunger, he ate one his idols for lunch.

Alarmingly, this culture of Muslim-sectarianism is gradually finding its way into America. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with a little ethnic, tribal or even racial pride. Unbridled however, it swaggers into racism and very easily graduates into the type of sectarian modality that we are burdened with today. Instead of sheepishly reminiscing how once upon a time in America there were such things as an Afghani Mosque, an Afro-American Mosque, or an Arab Mosque, we find ourselves foolishly trying to relive an undignified and disastrous past of sectarianism, based on tribal, ethnic or racial loyalty. Destined for failure, the sectarian trend of American Muslims communities must be eradicated before it gets out of control. Anecdotally, it should come as no surprise to Muslims in America that we are met with intolerance when we fail at tolerance amongst ourselves. The American civil war, the numerous race riots throughout American history, and the civil rights protests of the sixties, has convinced much of America that racism, segregation and narrow-minded bigotry is counter-productive. Even biracial marriage, once considered intolerable, has become an innocuous, accepted social practice. Ironically, amongst Muslims living in America, inter-racial marriage is still largely taboo. The Prophet, peace be upon him, saw the self-destructive pattern inherent in sectarian proclivities and the potential damage that it posed to the Muslim peoples. This is why he opposed it from the very beginning. After the conquest of Mecca, the Prophet, peace be upon him, commanded Bilal, the freed African slave, to climb atop the Kaaba to make the call to prayer. After Bilal did so, someone remarked, “Muhammad couldn’t find anyone to be a muezzin except this black crow!” Others uttered similar derisive statements about Bilal. When the Prophet, peace be upon him, was informed of these remarks he summoned the men who made them and they admitted their statements. Then the verse was revealed; “Oh you people, surely We have created you from a male and a female. And We have made you into tribes and nations in order to know one another. Surely the most righteous amongst you to Allah is the most pious.” Regrettably, these types of sentiments still prevail amongst us.

During the seventies and eighties, America’s response to racismand bigotry was to embark on an elaborate, slogan-laden campaign of re-education and behavior modification. African American history entered public schools, anti-discrimination and anti-segregation policies were adopted in employment, education, finance, and politics. It took a while for people to catch on and it is still a work in progress but here we are, a generation later, and those efforts have been largely successful. Thirty years ago, sexual harassment in the work place was commonplace. However, through public awareness, extensive re-education, and aggressive prosecution, most Americans now consider sexual harassment unacceptable. There was a time when a husband could brutalize his wife, send her to the grocery store with two black eyes and not receive anything more than a furtive scowl from his neighbor. Now after a generation, a hearty bruise bearing slap in the face will get someone jail time.

In six-century Arabia, idol worship was widely accepted. However after re-education in the form of wahy (divine inspiration), not only was it abolished but never again since that time have statues been worshipped in the Arabian peninsula. Re-education, a successful tool employed by the Prophet, peace be upon him, still has merit. Muslims in America and elsewhere will never achieve the desirable standards of unity and cooperation established by our revealed texts, unless we dispassionately address the underlying causes of our malaise.

In the United States, a domestic culture has emerged that allows us to agree to disagree. We are accustomed to being able to work together, side by side for a common good. From kindergarten we are taught to get along, to work together, to play together and mend our differences. Even in the ruthless world of American politics, opposing forces frequently find common ground and build coalitions. Thus, we need to amplify the message that we neither want nor need the type of sectarianism, intolerance and racism practiced by Muslims in the Muslim world, here in the United States.

Americans as a group increasingly abhor racism. African American Muslims are exceptionally appalled by it and resist it so defiantly because for over four hundred years, they have lived through some of the worst examples of racial bigotry and subjugation in history. Much like the oblivion of many white racists in earlier times to their deranged attitudes about race and ethnicity, many immigrants Muslims fail to perceive the indifference shown to African American Muslims, or Muslims of color. Likewise, many African American Muslims also fail to realize the inherent dangers of Black Nationalism.

In the early 1960s when some of the first modern mass waves of Muslim immigrants came to the United States, an alliance between converts and immigrant Muslims was forged. They needed each other as they do now. It is lamentable that after gaining a secure foothold in American society, many immigrant communities have started to show an unhealthy indifference towards the indigenous African American and to a degree, the white American Muslim population. Obviously that is not the case for all immigrant Muslims. However, this ominous drift is strong enough that there is widespread consensus amongst those affected that it is a growing crisis. We are slowly moving away from unity and moving towards separation and disunity. This is why there is an imminent need for reeducation. Unity, like faith, needs to be taught by imams in their sermons and teachers need to address it in schools. New converts to Islam and newly arriving Muslim immigrants need to be oriented towards it from the very beginning. Although older Muslims tend to be deeply entrenched in sectarian tendencies, much hope prevails for the coming generations. However the time for re-education is now while we as Muslim peoples in America are still in our adolescence. Otherwise we may find ourselves twenty-five years from now in the same pathetically fragmented condition that haunts the Muslim world today.

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