By Dr. Imam Achmat Salie 10 Thil Hajj, 1435 AH ; October 4, 2014
Editor’s note: Dr. Imam Salie is a former imam and the program developer of the Islamic Studies Program at the University of Detroit Mercy.
During this Festival of the Sacrifice, we celebrate vicariously in the Hajj/pilgrimage rituals-the manasik. Many of you have fasted 1-9+ days; fasting the day of Arafah expiates the sins of the previous and coming year. Ibrahim AS, as Khalil Allah, friend of Allah, had to do his Qurban; we too will have to do our qurban-not only the sacrifice of lambs or cattle, but the sacrifice to be the difference or go beyond that and be the meaning. Multiple sacrifices involve time, talent, treasure, and healing touch. Ibrahim had his Ismail to sacrifice; our Ismail is to transform society and ourselves. Our Ismail could be a robust civic engagement that leads to quality of life, strengthening ourselves ethically and spiritually (alqayyis man daana nafsahoo…), becoming media savvy and politically savvy, marketing ourselves effectively, behaving professionally at all times, and creating sustainable communities of meaning. Our Ismail could include role modeling balance (tawaazun), the balance between change and continuity, modernity and tradition, ethnic- and ummatic loyalties, exclusivism and assimilation-being neither an oyster nor a grasshopper, but a wise owl Muslim negotiating a safe haven for ourselves and others in society and the nation; at all times with marvelous manners.
Our Ismail is to demonstrate resilience (muroonah) and chivalry (Muruwwah), strategic thinking and strategic direction, or establishing a community of the essence (ulul albab and ulun nuha) able to see the big picture-the puppets and the puppeteers, the chess pawns and the masterminds/game changers. Our Ismail and Qurban could be to become not modern or post neither modern nor traditional conservatives, but Critical Muslims. Great minds do NOT think alike. We have a long tradition of critical thinking and debate (mujaadalah). In fact, debate is a Qur’anic imperative-wa jaadilhum billatee hiya ahsan. From great companions, tabi’in, to poets, Abu Tamman, Abd Rabbihi, Jahiz- the humanist, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Sina, Bairuni, alBattani, Ibn Haytham, al-Ghazali and ibn Rushd (tahafut al tahaafut). The incoherence of the incoherence debate was the norm. It will come as a surprise that Shia and Sunni seminaries are places of daily debates. Through a system of mutaala’ah and takraar, we challenged seminary faculty; they became as much our teachers as well as our students. To an outsider it would have seemed irreverent or even blasphemous. “Come on Molvi Saheb, do you hear yourself?” “That’s simplistic!! We demanded details & limits (is the difference between mash & ghasl (wiping and washing) feet during ablution a single drop?
I was invited to an Ivy League university two weeks ago; 100 students in the large auditorium texted their questions to the laptop near the speaker-when given an opportunity to ask questions multiple times there was just silence; perhaps the millennial way of doing things.
We live in a post normal society with many contradictions-the only way to cope with contradictions is to transcend them. Islam was born in doubt; the Prophet was hesitant and confused; “Cover me, cover me” zammiloonee…. He was visibly shaken. “Was I touched by a jinn?” Khadijah RA had to obtain clarity from Waraqah bin Naufal, her cousin. Critical Muslims are able to dispel myths about themselves, but are also able to avoid essentializing others or spreading myths about others. Caucasian Americans do not abandon their elders-80% still live in their own homes. We are not hyphenated Americans. We are Americans. Period. Critical Muslims go beyond apologism, -victimhood, &-slippery slope thinking. Sardar’s post-normal society is perpetually at the edge of chaos; uncertainty is the norm. The Quran and our obsession with enchantment and the Afterlife will anchor us-we do not have to embrace religious atheism (Unitarians and even many Jews) or religious existentialism (Tillich and Kierkegaard). We derive a profound sense of meaning from Islam and its teachings. We know why we have been created, namely, to worship and recognize Allah and live righteously.
Hajj is Arafah (alhajju ‘arafah), literally speaking; the pilgrimage is incomplete without being present on the plane of Arafah. Metaphorically, Arafah means much more to Muslims than a barren land to gather. Arafah is the place to celebrate diversity (diversity of, languages, cultures, races, ethnicities, genders; as well as diversities of thoughts and perspectives). The Arafat experience is one in word and deed. We recall the sermon of the Prophet during his only Hajj on the Mount of Mercy (jabal rahmah) drawing our attention to the centrality of pluralism, multiculturalism, non-racialism, and gender equity, planting the seeds for abolition of slavery and economic parity. The timeless message of that khutbah is much needed here in America. In 1865 the abolitionists were convinced that race has been fixed. The 1964 Voting Act-many thought Civil Rights activists then were convinced that race is something of the past, Ferguson in 2014 disproved them-race still a major problem according to 80% African Americans and 35% whites. The Khutbah from the Hajjah Widaa’ was a divine policy statement; the wording is unequivocal-there is simply no place for any form of discrimination. Arafah is from the same word as ta’aaruf. “Oh people, we have created you from a male and female, and created tribes and peoples for mutual recognition” The address is to humankind, not to the Quraish, Arabs, or Muslims, not to born Muslims or reverts, but to all people. “There is no claim to superiority of an Arab over a non Arab or a person with white skin pigmentation over one who is very tanned/ chocolate color; the only elite is an elite rooted in God consciousness or reverential awe (taqwa).
Post 9/11, Islam has been condemned as a cult by some from the Christian Right-there is nothing Christian or Right about them. More dangerously, Islam has been reduced to a political ideology depriving it of all protection that is due to religions. Muslims are not the exotic other, they are the ‘terrorist’ other. Pity and patronization of Muslim women have devolved into suspicion and resentment- with a deafening silence from feminists. The Prophet (s) has been equated with a Karl Marx and the Quran seen as another Das Kapitaal or Mein Kamph. The Hot War against Islam-GWOT (global war on terror)- is very extensive. For some, the hijab, a symbol of suppression before 9/11, is now a symbol of terrorism, the minaret a symbol of dominance. The attack on women with hijab-at a rate of 8 per month- conjures images of witch-hunts and Salem trials. Muslim women face intersectional discrimination-that is multi-dimensional discrimination involving gender, race, ethnicity, immigrant status, language, and religion. An accent is nothing to be ashamed of; it is not a sign of stupidity; The highly gifted Ariana Huffington, who founded the Huffington Post, proudly sports her Greek accent. Islamophobia, an extreme form of intersectional discrimination, has three phases or 3 Is; imperialism, institutionalization, and industry (Nathan Lean); invasion of Muslim lands or forcing their hand; introducing policies that convince others that Muslims are a threat-anti Shariah laws in many states, and then 67 groups with an annual budget or 42 million/annum to spread hatred for Muslims and distortion about Islam. Turkey, an ally of the US, has a strident anti Israel rhetoric, but provides Israel the military space to attack neighbors and use Haifa port for their imports and exports. Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies cooperate. “You’ll be friends if you are true friends to our friends”-the culture of covering up the truth is one-al kufru millatun waahidah.
What then is the solution; and we are challenged to be the solution to the nation-wa anta hillun/hallun li hadhal balad. Spirituality, education at the highest level-Islam 901, robust civic engagement, contribution and volunteerism (the ethic of pure altruism that the Dalai Lama so admires about Islam) are ways to counter the pillars of Islamophobia-imperialism, institutionalism, and industry. Optimism and hope are mandatory. Transcending contradictions is a coping mechanism, and critical thinking is not a luxury but a necessity. Being organized is not recommended; it is obligatory. A woman in his audience asked Noam Chomsky, an immigrant from the Ukraine, “What should I do when I leave this lecture hall?” Chomsky retorted, “Nothing!”. After a dramatic pause he added. “Real change requires organization at the highest level”.
How do we balance between bigger is better and small is beautiful. The answer is the cellular model. Rick Warren has a flock of more than 20,000, a campus of 150 acres, but 3,000 groups with 6-7 members or families in each group. Rick is soft spoken with a raspy voice and a warm hug. Recently, at one gathering, he collected 7 million in cash and 25 million in pledges from his large flock.
How do we discern between foolish fatwas and truly informed and enlightened ones. Many muftis give respectability to prejudice, bigotry, xenophobia, harmful social and cultural practices; some muftis endorse death warrants.
The message of Arafat and the experience of Arafah should not be lost. There is no place for discrimination: simple, garden variety racism, or compound orchestrated intersectional prejudice. Racism that masquerades as safety and security measures is diabolical, unconscionable, and scandalous. Being organized, being the difference and meaning, robust civic engagement (policies are everything-their impacts and damages could be extensive), Two lessons from the Farewell Sermon-first, treat your women well- there is, therefor, no place for intra community hierarchies in which women are lower on the ladder. The place of women is in the House and the Senate. Second, Islam is color blind-every form of discrimination and racism is ignorant/jaahiliy and unIslamic. A refusal to recognize the unique skills and talents of others, women, youth, and elders especially, is contrary to the spirit of the ayah of ta’aaruf. Do we recognize those who could take our organization to the next level? Those who are not stuck in sectarian or ethnic loyalties, unable to transcend contradictions? Our vicarious Hajj is recognition of the richness and magic of diversity-the gift, blessing, and opportunity cost of diversity capital-something we have in abundance, but do not optimize.
We need visionaries and poets. Nations are born in the hearts of poets; they prosper or die in the hands of politicians. Truth without passion is Philosophy; with burning from the heart it becomes poetry. Poets construct the ineffable through words and awaken our imagination- a deficiency of imagination translates into prejudice and bigotry; bigots are ignoramuses who themify, thingify, commodify and villify. The Latin word for wisdom, i.e. sapience from sapere means to taste or touch. In his De Anima, Arisotle pronounced touch as the highest, most intelligent, and universal sense-the Platonic view was that sight was highest on the hierarchy of senses. Plato’s view unfortunately won; we have today a spectacle society-the world is no longer an oyster but a screen (Kearney). Through touch, we enhance the role of informed empathy, vulnerability, and sensitivity. To love or be loved is to be able to say, “I have been touched”; we live that we may learn to love, we love that we may learn to live. “Tactility is not blind immediacy” (Kearney). Through tactility we respond to the pain of others empathically and authentically; perhaps Ferguson and Gaza could have been prevented had there been more love and imagination. We are called upon to be healers (masih-like) and not distorters (masikh-like); “”Isaa-like and not Dajjal-like. A single dot differentiate the two words masih and masikh. Conflation and distortion is so easy.
Let’s use our God given talent to serve Islam and humanity. Maher Zain has produced great songs to change perceptions about Muslim. In Malaysia and Indonesia alone he has 50 million Facebook followers. Each one of us has a unique gift to make a difference, be the difference and be the meaning.
We pray for a unity of purpose, a unity against injustice, and a unity for the sake of peace, prosperity, and civilizational harmony. We pray for all the oppressed, victims of imperialism, institutionalized racism and hatred, and casualties of a well funded industry that themify, thingify, vilify, and commodify Muslims and non-Muslims alike.