Muslim Culture and My Evolution

During my time in the Muslim blogosphere, which has been brief, I have encountered Muslims like I have never spent time with before. Phrases such as wanting to be a “super Muslim” replace phrases such as “masha’Allah that brother is struggling hard” in much of this crowd. In the blogs you get your street cred not by being as pious as you can be or struggling to the affect, but by being as boisterous as you can about your love of American and Western culture and by saying as much as you possibly can about how the Muslims are backwards and need to be more like the West.

Some of these Muslims from what I gather really and truly believe what they say and think they are spreading some kind of light. Others, I feel, are almost embarrassed to be Muslim and are following the Sunnah of the Reformed Jews who were embarrassed by their Jewishness and were void of faith but didn’t want to give-up Yom Kippur and Pesach. They view themselves as enlightened and they view Muslims like me and those I love as backwards and inferior and not worthy. We are laughed at for visualizing an idea society based on that of the earliest generations of Muslims and they think we are not educated enough to be a part of the Western secular cultural elite.

In particular I have been accused of wanting to be a “super Muslim (as if that’s bad)” and being a zealot who wants to distance myself from my Americaness. Anyone who says this does not know me. In many ways I am very American; I am a sports nut, I work in boxing, and I face many of the problems that non-Muslims Americans face. I do have my American heroes and my American villains. However, Islam supercedes any American identity I have. My neighbor in America is my neighbor but the man in Kashmir I have never met is my brother.

I am also dealing with the fact that a number of Muslims I know are now in prison on unjust charges, some doing life in prison, and that a number of my other friends are under investigation or have been visited by the authorities. It is hard for me to summon my patriotic spirit under these circumstances. Many of these Muslim bloggers have never came close to trouble, and some even are happy at the calamities of their fellow Muslims ( which is disgusting) and take joy at seeing “jailed Wahabbis” and like the teachers pet or the hallway monitor are waiting for the teacher to come give them there star to differentiate them from the bad Muslims.

My shit is too real for that (pardon the language). I am a Muslim first but that does not mean I have neglected my role in this society. I spent almost all of 2004 working on political campaigns and have worked on dozens of them over the years. In the past I have also worked on living-wage campaigns, strikes, and on legislative issues. I’ll put my record of being involved in American life against anyone in the Muslim community. Today I contribute to a wide-variety of non-Muslim publications ranging from mainstream political publications to boxing and hip-hop publications. Alhamdudilah I do all of this as a Muslim and in my interactions with all of these people I am constantly asked to explain Muslim issues and I see it as a great Dawah (although I don’t always have the answers).

Now some of my detractors who criticize me for me on the issue of my Americaness and wanting to be a super Muslim (and what do they want to be, a Super Yuppie?) are just talking b.s. to be honest with you because they don’t know anything about me. I have been a Muslim my entire adult life and have surrounded my self with Muslims during this period for 14 years. Have I taken on ways of Arab culture? Of course I have but so what. The people you surround yourself with will rub off on you that is only natural. Why am I around Muslims? Because I am seeking knowledge of this deen and want to be around people of knowledge; and I am not talking about the knowledge of Western indoctrination and jahiliyya culture and I am not interested in cuddling up with the enemies of Islam and showing them how cute and cuddly a Muslim can be. If they want peace I can be peaceful and if they hate Muslims and can’t be guided then I send them the greetings of the Hell-fire. It is that simple.

I also have many dear non-Muslim friends here and my best non-Muslim friend happens to be an Israeli so id on think I’m isolating my self too much.

These people, these Muslim bloggers, who think it is so great to surround yourselves with as many non-Muslims as they can and to think and act like them have there reasons and I have mine. When I became Muslim at age seventeen I was just out of jail, I was a convicted felon, a high school drop out, had just had my skull literally bashed in, was soon to be a father, unemployed and was on a fast-track to nowhere.

My initial attraction to Islam was in the message of racial and social justice. The America I grew-up in, and the poverty and racism that surrounded me, was unjust. Whatever idealized version of America these Muslim bloggers who all probably live in fancy neighborhoods and have had the best educations have is one thing; but I lived through some bitter realties of America that your college professor didn’t teach you and they aint talking about at the Whole Foods Market or the coffee shop. A lot of these immigrant Muslims, and even the second-generation, just don’t get a lot about American culture. All they see is the idealized version they are taught in college and think that is real. This is the ignorance that led to Muslims endorsing Bush in 2000; hey the Republican Party said they are all-inclusive and since we haven’t read otherwise it must be true!

So at a young age I had to get rid of all my non-Muslim friends. Would you have preferred I went and did a couple of drive-bye’s between Maghrib and Isha? How bout selling a little crack before Fajir? That would be keeping it real with the Americans wouldn’t it? That’s what Muslim Wake-Up wants, right?

What happened is I studied Islam and traveled all over the US and then the world in my study of Islam. I leaned not only to love the deen but I loved Muslims and I met Muslims from all over the world and became friends with Saudis, Pakistanis, Malaysians, Somalis, Bosnians, Palestinians, White, Latino, African-American and Muslims from even more counties masha’Allah. My way of looking at the world was transformed as well as my mannerisms, speech patterns and way of dealing with people. Many of the Muslim converts on blogs went to college as a non-Muslim, came from strong and stable non-Muslim families and had a good experience in America prior to coming to Islam; I had none of those.

One of my teachers, Jaffar Sheikh Idris, once wrote a tract called the Islamization of Society (a good read btw); I went through my own process of Islamization. My education is the deen and my university is the sheikhs I sat with and the independent readings I have done. A lot of these bloggers have written towards me with hatred, but they don’t know me.

I will stand by my arguments and no matter what anyone says I believe this country, America, is based on many principals that are in complete contradiction to Islam while at the same time demonstrating much of what is good (and whoever makes the leap of flawed logic to that being an endorsement of corrupt and backwards Muslim countries is just an ignorant ideologue). Our job here is not to be followers but to be leaders. We should not emulate the failed movements of Reformed Judaism and Mainline Protestantism; but emulate Bilal Ibn Rabbah who said Allahu-Ahad to his unjust masters under penalty of death. Islam offers a radical alternative to the norms of the West, which is in fact a dying civilization. Do we want to embrace the Islamic culture of life or embrace what Pope John Paul II called the Culture of Death? Do we want to be a saving grace to the West or do want to be polluted by its sicknesses? Do we want to sit in the mountains and mediate while Muslims are being attacked or will we stand and defend them? I will also stand by my argument that when a white American accepts Islam he or she has apostated from whiteness and therefore one cannot be white and Muslim. Of course the skin will still be white, but like scholar Timothy Wise says “whiteness is not based on what you are but on what you are not”. One of those things is not being a Muslim.

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8 thoughts on “Muslim Culture and My Evolution

  1. Assalamu Alaikum.

    I was with you all the way, until your closing comments about whites… I didn’t quite understand how your argument led up to that point.

    Every nation has unique qualities and attributes (and weaknesses), and it is not fair to characterize an entire nation as totally negative. White people have their own native genius, and the fact that they have exploited their genius towards evil ends, does not make their qualities negative. For example, anger is an attribute (of your namesake, Umar for instance). We are all very familiar with the negative consequences of anger, but without anger, there is no jihad either. It’s a double-edged sword. So it’s quite possible to be very white and Muslim, and use one’s whiteness (and its concomittant qualities) to the good of Islam.

    I’m not terribly well-read, and I must admit I have never heard of Timothy Wise, but unless I’m misunderstanding the context of the statement of his you quoted, it seems to be patently false. Even some of the people you said you loved (i.e. Bosnians) are white (Albanians too, and others).

    Saif.

  2. It is very posible to have white skin and be a Muslim and there are millions of white Muslims. What I am saying is that I belive that to be a white American in a cultural sense I feel that the white Muslim will more or less be kicked out of the club.

  3. Assalamu Alaikum.

    What club do you mean?

    Do you mean that if a white American tries to be a Muslim in the cultural sense, he will be kicked out of the Islamic “club” (i.e. Muslims will not be comfortable with the haram aspects of his culture), then I don’t understand why you are singling out whites only. All non-Muslim cultures have haram aspects, and this seems to be equally valid for other cultures.

    If you mean that by being white and Muslim, he will be rejected by his own non-Muslim “club” (culture), then again, why are you singling out whites? This would appear to apply to everybody, including blacks or latinos or others.

    The reason why I’m belaboring this issue, is that I think this attitude can place an unnecessary stumbling block to people wanting to convert. “[W]hen a white American accepts Islam he or she has apostated from whiteness and therefore one cannot be white and Muslim.” Unless by the term “white” you are only associating evil qualities (such as greed, materialism, etc). That seems to be just as racist as associating evil qualities to, for example, “black” (violence, poor education, etc). What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.

    Saif.

  4. I think you are not understanding my argument. It has nothing to do with greed and materialism because those traits can be found in all cultures and it has nothing to do with white people being particularly bad or more prone to sin than any other group. It has to do with the attitude of racial and cultural supremacy. Whiteness is not based on skin color in America but on what you are not, as an example during the Cold War most Americans who were polled didn’t consider Russians to be white. I think there are specific things one can do that will make them non-white and this is not just relegated to one becoming a Muslim. This is also not specific to whiteness; the same can possibly be argued for some Latino groups and definitely some Eastern European groups were the identity is based on religion to a large extent. Islam is a culture btw; when one accepts Islam they accept a culture based on the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (s). When Malaysians, Bengalis, Hausas and others accepted Islam there was no question as to if they were also accepting a culture that were radically change their world view. This is also understood in the majority of the modern African-American Muslim community; why make a special exception for white Muslims? I see too many white Muslims walking around like they have done the community a great favor by being a Muslim and Allah should thank them for being a Muslim (a’uthubilahi min dhalik). I am a white convert, and I could have played that role and got immigrants with inferiority complexes to kiss my butt, but that would have been degrading to both of us.

  5. YeahI dont buy the whiteness thing either. I am a white convert and still find much of value in European culture and my background, never mind the fact that there are white Muslims, like the Bosnians in Eastern Europe. One of the reasons I became a Muslim is because I reject the idea that our skin colour makes us different from anyone else. When you start “rejecting” your colour, then you loose this idea, which I think is one of the greatest selling points of Islam.

    I dont understand what “white in a cultural sense” means. Which “white”? Are all whites the same? Is the white American who listens to country music and drives a pick up truck the same as a white German who listens to Beethoven, reads Goethe and takes public transport to work? There is no more a “white culture” than there is an “Islamic culture”. They are both a sum of the parts. The very same generalisation you are making, lumping all of one group together, is the same thing that those who hate Muslims do when they talk about the “Muslim world” or “Islamic culture”. There is no such thing. There are many different areas of the Muslim world that are almost completely different from other areas. Are Yemenis like the Indonesian? They are both Muslim, but yet their culture, even their religion is often significantly different.

    As to being kicked out of the club, in a “white sense” it doesnt have to be either. Sure, there are hurdles, but often these very same hurdles are faced by anyone who takes a stand for any religion. Try being a religious, non drinking non fornocating devout Christian in the “white world” today. It will be pretty hard. I have never had an issue with being excluded because I am a Muslim. It isnt because I hide it. My office all know I am Muslim, they know I am fasting for Ramadan. I have prayer rugs in my office, an Islamic calander on my wall, as well as a picture of the al-Aqsa mosque. I will admit that the vast majority of my friends are Muslim, and the majority of them are Arab, but this has more to do with our commonalities than anything else. I want to be around people who understand me, who I dont have to explain things to.

    As to the identity of “whiteness” being based on Christianity, I dont buy that either. I guess it depends on who you hang out with. As a punk rocker I hung out with almost exclusively white people and the feeling was certainly ANTI religion, certainly not based on any one religion.

  6. Asalaamo alleikum. I totally get the white-club comment. Once I became muslim, I was automatically an outsider to the white community, “one of them”, not “one of us”, any more. It felt the same as if I had painted my skin black.

    The hatred, racism, and fear I experienced from mainstream white America, just because I put a scarf on my hair, was unbelievable.

    That’s one of the main reasons I left the states (and the fact that I didn’t want to pay taxes any more to fund Bush’s war on innocent people). *I live in Qatar now. I don’t make money in the states and so I don’t have to pay war taxes. And I fit in very nicely here thank you very much.

  7. Salaams

    I agree with so much here, but not the ‘anti’ stuff.

    I am a white, middle class graduate, but I am also poor and I’ve lived in local authority and Housing Association rented accomodation all my life. I have a pretty rounded perspective on both Muslim and non-Muslim culture across the class divide. And I am evidence that your kind of analysis fails because the world is complicated. It is a mistake to moralise people into camps. ‘Goodies and baddies’ is Bush talk.

    First, I think your idealization of Muslim cultures is misplaced – for example, I know many would agree with me when I say adultery is more of a problem in British Kashmiri communities than it is amongst the general population. Given the choice of living in the UK or Pakistan, I know where I’d choose. The drug problem there is a million times worse than the British one.

    Second, by tone as much as anything, you demonize non-Muslim cultures. This is simplistic and reactionary. There are plenty of non-Muslim atheists who are deeply moral (and in their own way deeply spiritual) and they would agree that some aspects of Western culture are amoral. I think it is best to leave the judging to Allah, and express personal grievances as such, instead of muddling them within a generalising, self-righeous rant.

    My best friend is a nurse who has devoted her life to serving others, and she is a non-Muslim. Surely it is better to work with all good people to bring out a fairer, more just society, regardless of their faith.

    Wasalaam

    The Muslim Anarchist

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