Ed Husain had an excellent article in the New York Times detailing the role of Saudi Arabia in the radicalization of Muslims all over the world. It not only brought back some bad memories, but it served as more proof that we in the United States and the West in general should say a resounding “no thank you” to these foreign ideologies and embrace an Islam that speaks to the realities in our own communities.
Looking at the sectarian wars between the various Muslim sects and groups in the Muslim majority nations, is it any wonder that some of us are rejecting the alien ideologies that have been foisted upon us for the past 40 years? We can see that the logical conclusion of sectarianism at its worst leads to endless sectarian war and at best to dysfunction that doesn’t allow for cooperation of any kind. This is what was exported to the United States in the late 1980s in the form of books and free scholarships to the Saudi Universities that taught Salafism. In most cases, students came back and wreaked havoc upon us.
Once upon a time when I was growing up in a household under the teachings of the Nation of Islam, to be Muslim not only meant cleaning one’s self and family up and becoming a model citizen in the community, but also meant to continue to be engaged in community affairs. Being Muslim meant being concerned with the affairs of our people – in our case the sons and daughters of the African slaves brought to the Americas.
However, when these alien ideologies appeared – via the students from the likes of the University of Medina, Ummal Qura and other institutions – we suddenly began to hear that working in the larger community was “blameworthy”. It meant to disregard the massive problems in the black community. We suddenly began to “Arabize”. “Arabize” here does not mean to simply learn the Arabic language, but to go further and act, eat and dress as a person from a Middle Eastern country would. Some of them even taught that the Arabs were racially superior to blacks – and thus commanded a higher level of respect.
Black Muslim communities in America now suffer from a number of maladies that have stunted its thought and growth, dimmed its vision, and caused many to embrace a sectarian cause instead of embracing the temperament and philosophical persuasion that cleans up our people. The most harmful maladies that this Salafi ideology afflicted us with was the tendency to impose artificial ideological uniformity that discourages inquiry and intellectual curiosity.
“Salafiyah” compels its adherents to become obsessed with hypercriticism of others to the detriment of the much more enduring work of building the culture and community that they want for themselves. At the same time, the pursuit of ideological uniformity that Salafis encourage breeds hostility to different ideas and resistance to the acknowledgment of past errors. This habit of denunciation stifles healthy dissent and stymies fruitful, creative thinking. This has destroyed many of our communities. Indeed this hypercriticism was often nothing more than a bunch of empty sectarian slogans that did nothing to help our people.
At this point I want to be clear. I am not saying that all the problems of the black Muslim communities can be blamed on salafi ideology. That is certainly not true as there were other alien ideologies as well. That will be a part of our continuing conversation. However, the Salafis introduced the dogma point, which became almost a mantra of sorts, that we cannot work to fix these illnesses – other than by turning people into salafis that is. And one certainly cannot cooperate with a non-Salafi to do so without being roundly denounced in that world.
Now in recent times some of us have begun to push back and say that it is time for us to boldly proclaim that we reject these alien ideologies and embrace an Islam that speaks to our context here in the United States. It is time that we work to mend the old wounds and come back together and get back to the business of “raising the dead”. And this does not mean a press release from time to time when a high profile injustice raises its ugly head. It means doing the everyday, “boring” work of cleaning up our families, communities and neighborhoods. One of the most damaging results of the “Arabization” that occurred is that Black Muslims collectively abandoned our people and squandered the social capital that had been built amongst them, as a result of our engagement and concern for our communities.
We, Black Muslims in America, need to get back to the work of waking people up…then cleaning them up…then telling them to stand up! We need more khutbahs (sermons) that speak to the reality of lack of education in our communities. We need to know that a large number of our children do not graduate high school and begin to speak on changing our culture of ignorance. We DO need to speak out on the crime in our communities and take it on ourselves. We need to constantly reinforce the message of hard work and taking care of one’s family. We need to take an active role in changing the culture of our black communities all across the nation. Sitting back and complaining about someone’s aqeedah point not being quite right is not going to do these things. Actually speaking out and doing the work will! This is the Islam that we need to return to and live in our communities. Not the Islam of sectarianism, tribalism, narrow mindedness and laziness that Saudi Arabia has exported to our communities.
The remedies to the ills in our communities exist, but they will take a considerable amount of time and effort. Our maladies need to be outlined and actively fought against in khutbahs and circles of learning. Changing those habits will require us to rely less on what alien ideologies tell us what Islam is and more on what we know works here.
We also need to redirect most of our energies to our own neighborhoods and cities first to sustain and build local institutions, but more important we need to create flourishing local economies and communities so that our children will have incentives to stay and continue that work in the years and decades to come.
I have in recent months begun to double my efforts to work with my own people in improving our condition. But we will not get very far if after we clean up a person, that person in turn adopts some alien ideology and goes on some tangent. We need to both clean up our communities and warn about the mistakes of the past so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. Who is with me?