Desi Nationalism, Hanafi Purists and the Ouster of an American-Muslim Pioneer

I want to tell you about a man that I have known since I was a teenager. His name is Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah, or just Sheikh Nur as most people call him, and he is the former Imam or the Islamic Center in St. Louis and later the imam of the Dar al Islam Masjid.

Sheikh Nur is originally from Sudan, and is a black man who is a poster child for the reason the conflict in Sudan is not racial in nature. He came from a traditional Maliki family in Sudan and later studied Islam in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with some of the leading scholars of our age including the late Sheikh Ibn Baz.

As a young man, in the mid 1970’s Sheikh Nur was offered the opportunity to come to Chicago and work with Imam Warith-deen Muhammad in order to help the community with the transition from the teachings of his father to that of mainstream Sunni Islam.

The sheikh will tell you this was not easy work as there was a cultural barrier between him and the African-American brothers and sisters he was working with and it was hard work easing them away from the teachings they had been so loyally dedicated to for years. However, he went as far as it was meant for him to go at this historic time on the Islamic frontier and then he moved on to a more traditional role of an immigrant imam and eventually ended up in St. Louis in the late 1980’s.

In St. Louis Sheikh Nur through his soft-spoken style of bringing people together was able to lead a congregation of virtually no Sudanese and to get along with a Shura full of Desi Doctors and businessman. He conformed to their way of doing things and always accommodated Hanafis when he could. At the same time he always had time for the American brothers and made a special effort to be available to all of those embracing Islam and couples in need of marriage counseling.

Much to the chagrin of the Salafi brothers, including myself at the time, Sheikh Nur put his full effort into participating in interfaith dialogue with Christmas, Jews and others during the 1990’s and had established ties with many of the leading clergy in the St. Louis-area. It was not until after 9-11 when I saw the wisdom of all this, as opposed to the isolationist mentalities of other Muslims, when Christian ministers and rabbis came to the Masjid, without being asked, in order to make a statement of solidarity with their fellow believers.

During this period of time Sheikh Nur also reached out to the local political establishment and media along with others at the Islamic Foundation and as a result St. Louis Muslims have not been vilified in the way that Muslims in some other American communities have. On a national level he was able to become the President of ISNA and the Director of the Fiqh Council of North America.

By any measure this man had done a good job in the position that he held over the years and was performing his job in much the same way in 2006 as he had been doing all along. As had been the case in previous years Sheikh Nur was on the attack from two fronts: the ultra-liberal progressive Muslims who wanted him to dispense with any notion of adhering to the Sunnah and those Muslims who felt he was too liberal and needed to be more hardline and cease with all the accommodations and interfaith stuff. From where I sit if you have both sides mad at you that means you are doing some things right.

There was another element in the air that led to the end for Sheikh Nur in his position. Over all those years Sheikh Nur was the imam of this mostly Desi and Arab Masjid I always saw his presence as a great statement to the diversity of Islam and the fact that in Islam we are all brothers. The Desis always had the power, but they always looked up to Sheikh Nur and gave him the utmost respect, unfortunately though there were some who were always lukewarm to the idea of having a Sudanese non-Hanafi imam.

Last year somehow the forces that opposed Sheikh Nur, almost all of them Desi and specifically Pakistani, were able to finally push him out. Who did they replace him with? A young Desi imam with virtually no experience who is a strict Hanafi and Tabliquee who has stated that he will not be continuing the work that Sheikh Nur has done in the community and has left that for other people (and there are many in St. Louis such as Kamal Yasin and Sheila Musaji who are more than happy to do the work needed).

He also left the practice of Sheikh Nur of not imposing his views on other people and this new imam, although much less educated than Sheikh Nur, sees the need to try and impose his views on other Muslims when that is not practical in such a diverse masjid.

When a brother asked me the other day what I thought of the decision last year to oust Sheikh Nur for the young kid who is now the imam I told him “ they got rid of a Grade-A Steak and replaced it with a day old White Castle cheeseburger” and I meant it.

This is how we treat our pioneers in the American-Muslim community.

( Note: I did not speak to Sheikh Nur before writing this and prior to this weekend of 5-12 I had not seen him for a year and I just happened to run into him after attending a lecture by Amr Khaled . These are my views and do not reflect the views of Sheikh Nur. )

No problems here!

 

Denial (dĭ-nī’əl) is a defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a fact that is too painful to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence

Some brothers have disparaged my rise and fall series as “exaggeration”, that I am unqualified to speak on this topic (my own experiences?? are THEY more qualified to speak on MY experiences?? Should I ask for a fax from overseas, from someone who has never lived in the US to explain MY experiences to me??) and even one implied that I was lying (the only lie is with those who know these things but prefer to keep it undercover in order to keep this dysfunctional culture alive) This is part of the culture of denial that has taken root in the Muslim community.

These people are trying to tell me that I have not seen what I have seen with my own eyes! They are trying to tell me that I have not seen people that I know personally whose lives have been destroyed. They are trying to tell me to fall into their groupthink and thought reform and toe the line and tell me that things are still pristine and that all these social problems that I have seen with my own eyes are a figment of my imagination.

They want to tell you that the sisters pawned off to lunatics, the drug addictions, the criminality, the boycotting and all of that was all a figment of my overactive imagination. “No problems here!” “He is only imagining that we have problems!”

You get that?? I am only imagining that the brothers that get married 10 plus times exist and want to keep this culture in tact to take advantage of it. I am supposed to know that a “daiee” that gets married and divorced 20 times is a natural thing.

Instead of addressing problems, we have to shoot the messenger or trivialize them as not being from the “duaat”. I’m supposed to be a bobbleheaded “yes man” devoid of personality. The way to take care of a person pointing out problems is public personality execution so that other dissenters will not speak up.

No one is taking pleasure in pointing out problems, but to deny them is damaging! Extremely damaging. It creates an inverted universe where happiness = saddness … personality = groupthink … living in a bubble=real life

Anyone have any idea how frustrating it is for someone to tell you that what you have seen is NOT what you have seen?

I am a part of the team and want to help solve problems and destroy this culture of denial and pretentiousness that has formed in the Muslim community, but we can’t help dig ourselves out of this hole if we are going to continue to shoot the messenger, deny problems and insist on “staying the course”

Clarification and more thoughts

After completing the ten-part rise and fall of the Salafi Dawah in America series I wanted it to marinate for a while and for readers to be able to voice their opinions on what had been written and their own observations. Before giving further comments, I received numerous emails asking me to clarify the title of these posts. After thinking about it, I should have called these posts “The Rise and Fall of the Salafi Movement in the US”.

Anyone who actually reads my posts should not get the idea – as some from all sides of this issue have – that I was saying that the dawah itself was inherently false. I was not saying that. The Dawah of Islam is true in all times and all places but it was high-jacked by people (some of whom posted in the response of the last post) that wanted to spread thought reform and injustice for all. This ultimately brought the entire movement down. The mistakes and zealousness of the TROID/SP/QSS elements does not stop truth from being truth for all times. There was no vision on how to deal with social problems other than BLASTING a brother for his faults, making him/her feel like crap and boycotting them. This methodology of blasting and boycotting was a failure and this is what I was referring to – along the failure to deal with it and adjust to the post 9/11 world. I hope that this makes things clear. To the brothers that were attacking Ali At-Timimi, you all need to be for real. He never abused sisters like some of those that attacked him.

To proceed, masha’ Allah there was a lot of interesting discussion on the topic by those who were intimately involved in the dawah and those who looked in from the outside. I have been deeply moved by the comments of the sisters, many of whom were deeply hurt and abused by brothers that were supposed to be following the minhaj of the Salaf and that issue, of the dysfunctional marriages within the American-Muslim community in general, and the Salafi community in particular, represents dirty laundry that needs to be aired. Some have come to me and said that maybe these issues don’t need to be discussed in such a public format while recognizing that these problems exist. Others are still in denial. It is my assertion that if these issues are not discussed here they will not be discussed anywhere and people will be left to cry to themselves at night and think that they are all alone.

This and other forums will, Insha Allah, be a means to improve this situation instead of continuing to ignore it. There is a loneliness to being a Muslim in America, and there is a depression that permeates those that follow the Sunnah that Muhammad Al Shareef attributes to the fact that we are living a dual existence as Muslims in behaving and speaking one way around Muslims, another way around our coworkers and fellow students (and to add my own view possibly even a third way around our families).

Marriage
If we cannot talk about these problems for fear of other people witnessing the conversation then the problems will often go unattended to. Marriage is an issue that came to think about after reading the comments. I have known for some time that there were speakers in Salafi circles who had been married and divorced 20 times and that it was very common for brothers to be married 10 or 15 times. Just as these brothers did in the streets before they were Muslims, they left a trail of children that they are not taking care of and abandoned women behind as they talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk. In the comments to the series we have heard the pain of these sisters who were sincere in the deen, devout in their practice, and had a love of the Sunnah; but were abused by a community that did not take the interests of sisters to heart.

Many of these abused sisters have left the deen, and may Allah guide them back to the Haqq, and many, masha’ Allah, have remained in the deen. One sister commented that problems began when “marriage became a joke” and can anyone argue that did not occur when you had speakers who would come in town for lectures and marry a sister they met that night and consummate the marriage only to never see the sister again?

Does anyone believe that the young Muslim children from such relationships do not have a positive Muslim male role-model in their lives? If they are not getting it from their fathers they are surely not getting it from the public schools they probably go to or their non-Muslim grandparents. The next time they will get attention from Muslim men will be when they girls are being chastised for wearing revealing clothes as teenagers and the boys are out on the streets. If the community is going to go into a positive direction then it is going to have to address the problem of marriage and family in the community. It must no longer be acceptable for brothers and elders in the community to prey on sisters.

We must also recognize that those of us who are converts, and come from dysfunctional homes and backgrounds of poverty, more than likely have never seen a functional marriage up-close and that we will need classes and counseling on this issue.

People will say “this is not from the Sunnah”, and will say what counseling did the Sahabah get, and that is all good, but the fact of the matter is that “game” has entered the community in the form of brothers that have been raised to believe skills in the art of deception are a virtue and that Islam is just another thing to game and play with and therefore it is more important to look and talk like a believer then actually behave and believe like one.

Can anyone be surprised that a brother from a broken-home, who barely knows has father, watched his mother get beaten by multiple boyfriends, and has two or three “baby-mammas” enters Islam and gets divorced ten times and has a few Muslim kids he isn’t taking care of? Is sitting around and loitering in Yemen for a few months supposed to stop this behavior? Or can he just listen to some CD’s or lectures while driving around checking out girls wearing tight-jeans and saying “subhannallahu akh, Id like to get that in hijab” and that will teach him how to be a good husband? Then again, maybe he can go and listen to a lecture in person from one of the lecturers who is skilled in the art of “hit and run” Muslim marriages.

If the community is going to go into a positive direction then it is going to have to address the problem of marriage and family in the community. It must no longer be acceptable for brothers and elders in the community to prey on sisters. We must also recognize that those of us who are converts, and come from dysfunctional homes and backgrounds of poverty, more than likely have never seen a functional marriage up-close and that we will need classes and counseling on this issue. This IS something of benefit!

What these brothers need are classes and time to develop and they don’t need to be rushed into marriage by the community and need to be taught that contrary to what they heard on the streets it is possible for a man to go without sex for a little while and this is what separates us from the animal kingdom. When we enter the deen we need to be reprogrammed, and this goes for those who came from educated backgrounds as well, just as what is in the streets is false, what you have learned at college in many of your classes and the media represents another falsehood. The sisters are not perfect, far from it, and just as the brothers learned the wrong things coming up so did the sisters, and thus has made many of them less than desirable. However, they have clearly taken the brunt of the beating amongst the community and whatever problems they have I am sure sisters can address.

The Future of the Dawah

Several months after I had taken shahadah I was with the Jama’at-Tabligh in Chicago and a brother from New York told me ” since you are now a Muslim it is a must that choose a madhab” and I had never heard the word madhab and asked him what it meant and he gave me a brief explanation and told me of the 4 different schools of thought. Without knowing anything I looked at him and said “I want to follow the madhab of the Prophet and the same one as the Sahabah”. I couldn’t understand how it could be mandatory for a Muslim to follow a madhab when they came about after the Prophet (s.a.s.). Allah blessed me with that understanding at a primitive stage in the deen and it was reinforced over the years by teachers of mine such as Sheikh Abdul-Rahman Basheer, Sheikh Ali al-Timimi and Abu Muslimah. Today I still hold true to that, and seek to follow the dawah of Ibn Taymiyyah.

Unlike any other group in the ummah that has a beginning and a founder after the Prophet Muhammad (sas) the founder of this dawah is the Messenger of Allah (s.a.s.) and in following the dawah of the Salaf we are seeking to go back to the root and remove man made traditions, cultural baggage, and superstitions to call to and strive for what is pure. Because of the fact seek to go back to the root, and not let the teachings and traditions of men supercede what the earliest generations were upon, we are strangers in this world. Despite what problems may exist within the community, and what we had to go through as highlighted in this series, it is that desire for purity in religion that I still strive for and I know many of you do as well. The enemies of the Salafi Dawah, and the callers to the ways of culture and tradition and modernism and any other ism that is at odds with the Sunnah, should not delight, this deen, as taught by the Messenger of Allah (sas) has been preserved until the Day of Judgment when all else shall vanish.

The rise and fall of the ‘salafi dawah’ in the US (Final, Comments Open)

Previously:

Part One: The Beginning

Part Two: The Competition for Converts

Part Three: The Brotherhood

Part Four: E.O. and its satellites

Part Five: Northern Virginia/DC area

Part Six: The Decline

Part Seven: Boycotting and Excommunication

Part Eight: Social Breakdown

Part Nine: Post 9/11

COMMENTS ARE NOW OPEN

Final Thoughts…

When IANA and other such organizations dissolved after 9/11, the remaining reasonable and moderate American brothers had no place to go and for all purposes – especially with all the fitnah of brothers being arrested – and basically went into hiding and are quietly going on with their lives observing the social anarchy from afar. I have found brothers that were formerly active in the salafi movement – brothers that at the time had big untrimmed beards and exclusively wore thobes – with small trimmed beards, a suit and tie on and wanting nothing to do with the movement. Some were even very anti-salafi.

 

 

It also did not help matters when some groups that were opposed to the salafi movement as a whole took the opportunity to scapegoat them after 9/11.

 

 

As to the TROID side, they continued to shrink in influence, and have become sort of a punch line. They are the ones associated with ‘salafiyah’ when other Muslims think of salafis. Mention the word ‘Salafi’ to a Muslim what often comes to mind is a criminal who marries several times. They thought it to be “unbeneficial” to address social issues and those very issues ate away at them like acid. They thought it better to “leave these issues” but it never left them.

 

 

TROID began to lose influence as the tabloid style emails ceased and they ran out of people to character assassinate. Plus people just got tired. They can’t put together any conferences outside of Philly and Newark, where – even in those places – they are also waning in influence. There is no real solid “movement” in place. Even if one visits a lot of the old salafi websites, one will find that they haven’t been updated in months or sometimes, years. This has contributed to the end of the “cut and paste” era. And Salafis are almost nowhere to be found in the post 9/11 intellectual debate.

 

 

As to the remnants of the IANA side of things, some have retooled, run away from the old salafi movement, and have an entirely different focus. These groups do not concentrate on converts anymore and disown the title ‘salafi’ for themselves because they do not want to be associated with the legacy of TROID – for good reason.

 

 

 

 

Texas Dawah and the Al Maghrib Institute are two examples of such organizations that are pretty balanced and have run away from the salafi label like the plague. I hear that Texas Dawah puts on a pretty good program, but they – along with Al Maghrib – target the college aged (18-25) middle class, children of immigrants. We converts are largely an afterthought in their programs. Converts are welcome to come, but they are not considered in the programs. Some converts that have been around this crowd have even gotten the feeling that they are a “pet convert” and shy away.

Texas Dawah – for example – had over 3,000 attendees at their last conference, but I would be surprised if even 1% of that number were converts. Again, this is not to say that they reject converts, but it is clear that they don’t speak to our issues in their conferences. This is in contrast to the old days when you had large numbers of converts at the old salafi conferences. A crowd of 3,000 would have close to 1,000 converts and several speakers that were themselves converts. Gatherings in East Orange could draw 2,000 people in which 95% were converts. That is just not the case now. No one considers us anymore.

 

 

I attended an Al Maghrib class in New Jersey and immediately felt out of place as a convert, because I knew that this program – though very good for its audience – was not for people like me. The crowd was overwhelmingly first or second generation immigrants and middle to upper class young individuals that were either in college or just graduated. Again, nothing wrong with that, but we are left in the cold. Double weekend classes or a once a year conference does not compare to an everyday movement that was a way of life.

 

 

I spoke to Muhammad Al Shareef, and I could tell that he just couldn’t relate with a person like me. This is not a criticism of him, as I enjoyed his class – in an abstract way – but I could tell that there was not only a convert/non-convert divide, but a class and social divide. The problems of people like me are not even conceptualized much less thought about, thus many are still in the streets with no place to go. (Another issue is that you can’t rule out the barrier that the fees for the Al Maghrib)

 

 

This is why I feel that these new organizations are too limited in their scope to be anywhere near the old days. They are concentrating on the second generation youth – nothing wrong with that – but there are many others out there.

 

 

There is little to no talk of community building, raising children, dealing with non-Muslim family and non-Muslim in-laws, cleaning up and reviving neighborhoods, or things of that sort that are of importance to converts. The converts are left with a choice of being left in the cold to observe from the outside as forgetten about relics from a past era or to assimilate completely into the immigrant world and resolve to leave their American identity behind.

 

 

If organizations such as Texas Dawah or Almaghrib ever decide that they want to deal with converts, then they will have to take on social problems in order to be affective and not declare them to be “of no benefit”

 

 

At one time, things were great, and seemed to be on the move. Then things fell apart as the over zealous element was never put into check and ultimately destroyed everything. There are still brothers floating around that seem to think that it is still 1996, but they are isolated. I feel sorry for brothers like this when I see them, because usually they were not around during the good times and do not know that what they are doing is a dead end, especially without the social support that was around in the 90’s.

 

 

As it stands, the movement is a shell of what is used to be. The Islamic Center of America in East Orange seems abandoned compared to how it used to be. In the DC area, there is no fervor amongst the handful of Salafis that are remaining. There are some who remember those days, go to the masjid and pray and do good deeds and in their homes still enjoy the knowledge. Jamatul Al Qawee was taken over by the TROID element and is barely functional via a handful of isolated, triumphalist brothers. There are a few remnants at the Dar as Salaam masjid in Maryland, who have also run away from the salafi movement. Everything else is a faded memory.

 

 

Across the country, the salafi masjids folded one by one, until they are nothing more than a handful of sad isolated brothers in a few cities that even now do not realize that the world has moved on without them. They are in for a rude awakening.

 

 

The brothers and sisters across the country are left alone… left to pick up the devastating pieces and try to carry on their lives… left to try to fill the huge void in their chests…. left try to live instead of simply exist… left to wait to wander with no place to go.

 

 

Isolationism was such a big mistake and that is why I am opposed to it. Even though I look upon those days with fondness – I am left feeling very cynical, jaded and scarred.

 

 

Comments are now open…