What is Our Mission? Islam Beyond Ritual and Words by Dr. Sherman Jackson
(Written on the Amtrak to St. Louis forgive me if there are errors)
This past Sunday December the 8th I had planned to be coming back from Brooklyn, NY after attending the boxing matches. As fate would have it I was not able to attend the fights and heard about the Dr. Jackson lecture at Masjid al-Faatir on the South Side of Chicago. $54 roundtrip on the Amtrak and a $25 room and I was in the Chi just in time for the snow.
Before I get into my analysis of the Dr. Jackson lecture let me just give a shoutout to the Pilsen neighborhood of the Lower West Side of Chicago. I walked the streets and viewed the amazing Mexican-American street art and architecture. Before I was picked up by brother Ahmad Mubarak I had a chance to attend the National Museum of Mexican Art. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Chicago.
Now to the Dr. Jackson lecture:
Who are the Bani Hashim?
One of the central points of the lecture of Dr. Jackson was this question above. Bringing our situation today into the light of the Serah Dr. Jackson illustrated how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a member of Bani Hashim and that because he did not alienate himself from that community he was still able to retain a degree of support which operated as his foundation as the message of Islam began to spread. The argument is that you need such a foundation to function as a geographic and ethnic safe-haven for believers. The question is who are the Bani Hashim in 2013 America?
The African-American Foundation
Dr. Jackson pointed to the fact that the African-American is the only person in America who can say they are a Muslim and not be either looked at funny or asked “where are you from?” The question of where your wife is from or what is your ethnic origin will not be asked to the African-American: because being a Muslim is seen as a normal thing within the African-American community. Later in the question and answer section Dr. Jackson quoted Rev. Al Sharpton who in a post-911 Tavis Smiley State of Black America forum stated that Muslims are no stranger in the black community because every black family has a Muslim in it.
I find this true in my own life as well. When I converted to Islam in 1992 the first question I was normally asked by people was “how can a white person be a Muslim?”. Islam in St. Louis was seen as a “black thing” as it is in most such areas. While in deeper suburbia and in the post-911 climate Islam has come to be seen as foreign, exotic and dangerous.
The argument Jackson presents is that Islam has no natural home in the white community. There is no such history of Islam in the white community. No association with Islam cleaning up lives and cleaning up streets or of giving hopes to the hopeless. Making lost young men on dark corners into upright God-centered young men in the mosque. No white version of Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Yusuf Lateef, Keith Ellison and countless other examples. No white version of Rock Allen wearing a kufi in his United States Olympic photos. Or Lupe Fiasco, Freeway and Mos Def. And I could go on and on.
When I tell a black person I am a Muslim I never get any hostility. I may get asked if I converted in the joint: but that’s about it. Normally I will get my brother or cousin is a Muslim and get asked if I know them (and half the time I do). When I tell a white person I am Muslim I get a pause, an odd look and then questioned about where my family is from or where my wife is from. Then I might get a shrug, a few curious questions or some downright hostility.
Dr. Jackson also mentioned that black Americans have far fewer problems from their families about conversion to Islam. I have found this to be true as well. I have seen Latino and Asian converts outright disowned by their families. A white convert I knew was sent to the insane asylum after converting by his mother. Most black converts I have known have either got little resistance from their families or full support.
My case is a little different I guess. I took Shahadah at 17. Between 13 and 17 I had been arrested at least 40 times. Assaults, gun-possession, car break-ins, fighting, drug-possession, distribution, etc.. I had been involved in shootings, stabbings and numerous fights and a lot of my friends were getting shot and killed. Growing up in a Southern Baptist Labor-Democrat home Islam was seen as very foreign by my family. My grandmother didn’t even know what Islam was saying “you mean you going to stand wearing a suit with them black men selling newspapers?’.
When I did convert though they embraced it because they saw it as something that could keep me off the streets and out of trouble. My father put up theological resistance: but even he saw it as a good thing. I went from being always high and drunk getting locked-up committing crimes and running the streets to spending my time with Muslim brothers and reading. Good older African-American brothers like Mukhtar Abdul-Malik, Naji Fakhrid-deen, Pi, Jerome Hampton and Kariem Abdul-Haqq who could relate well to my family. They saw this as something good in my life even if it was strange for a white person.
Racially of course I had problems as well. I grew-up in a very racially-polarized area with a lot of fights and racial-tension. Everything was about race and everyone knew it. My father had all the racial-attitudes of a blue-collar North St. Louis white guy. Which is to say he was a lot like Archie Bunker. But our relationship wasn’t good anyway and my mother (who I did not see) was married to a black man with my bi-racial younger siblings. I never really felt at home within the racial paradigm of North St. Louis County. So, at 14 while getting into trouble I was also reading books like Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver . When I read the story of Malcolm X I was ready to be a Muslim but we will get to that next.
White Guy with a Race Question
Dr. Sherman Jackson asked the audience if anyone thought that he was anti immigrant-Muslim or anti-white. One white guy in the crowd said yes based on having read Jackson’s book (he did not get the chance to elaborate).
I remarked to Abdul-Malik Michael Ryan after the talk that the racial-attitudes of young white-converts is radically different than our generation. To a man almost all of the converts of our generation came to Islam after reading Malcolm X (and the whites from the generations before were influenced by the Black Panthers and the “movement” spirit). I was recently told that in an interview with a white-convert the convert said they didn’t like Malcolm X because he was “anti-white”. In the past week there has been a very active Facebook discussion between an African-American Jackson student and a white-convert who has displayed all of the racial-attitudes of your average white Bubba in the Tea Party. The day when people like that would be Muslim I never thought would come. However, as few as they may be, it reflects a change in the climate.
Unless whites live in racially-mixed areas they are never forced to look at race or examine race. Even when they live in such communities many still do not. America is racially-divided it is a small percentage of whites who care to understand or spend time on the other side of the divide ( and more than liberal-arts majors and do-gooders it is poor urban and inner-suburb white folk who spe
I spent last weekend in Chicago. Only a four to five hour drive and cheap bus and train ride from St. Louis it is a city I have been to many times. My first trip to Chicago I was maybe 18 and travelled there with a taabliqui jamaat. Later I would come to visit MCC on Elston and Pulaski and sit with Amir Ali (R.I.P.) at the Reading Room with Ismail Royer.
Ismail dreamed of going to study at the University of Chicago. When he was not accepted he was really sad until he was accepted at American University in DC.
A lot of St. Louis kids move to Chicago. It’s bigger, more vibrant, more opportunity, close to home and maybe far enough away from exes, family drama and undisclosed baggage.
I see Chicago as being better than St. Louis in many ways and in other ways lacking. Here are the pluses:
Muslim Community: There is really no comparison between the Muslim community of St. Louis and Chicago. While indigenous Sunni Islam in Chicago has lagged behind the East Coast Sunni Muslim pioneers it has excelled in other ways and is decades more advanced than St. Louis.
In St. Louis the reality of indigenous Islam is you have masjids of old and dying WDers, a small Salafi Madkhali prison gang masjid, and a masjid of mostly heroin-addicts, the homeless, and crackheads. There are also the indigenous beggars who frequent the immigrant masjids. Mixed in are a small sprinkling of educated professionals and guys like me just barely holding on and not that active.
The immigrant Muslim community in the city is heavily made up of students, just trying to get their education, and refugees just trying to establish themselves. No real community life outside of their ethnicities. In the suburbs the Muslim community is rapidly growing and there is a lot of progress. Similar to 1980’s Chicago or 1970’s Brooklyn in terms of development.
In Chicago you have a variety of indigenous masjids on the south and west sides. IMAN with it’s pioneering mission. I may have got a little pissed when Rami Nashishibi taught his American-Muslim history class and didn’t give the pioneers in NYC and Philly their just due (the Dar al Islam, Islamic Party, MIB, MOA, Hanafis, Imam Jamil, etc.): but there is no doubt he has helped to establish a good and much needed thing. IMAN is the only organization I know of that can bring disaffected second-gen immigrant Muslim youth together with indigenous Muslims for dialouge and community engagement.
Ubaydullah Evans to me the best young man in Muslim America. Now because he is black (and cant pass a paper bag test) he wont get that much push from the major organizations who are looking for white,beige and brown faces to promote. Nonetheless he is in Chicago and if you are there you can benefit from his knowledge.
My brother Abu Noor Ryan, another one of the most brilliant minds of Islam in America, is now the chaplain at DePaul and basically rewriting the book and taking Muslim campus life to the next level.
There is also the American Islamic College, Usama Cannon coming in for Taleef talks, and the legacy of Imam Mohammed. From indigenous perspective there is just not comparing the two. (Let’s also keep in mind the study and practice of traditional Sunni Islam is only 20 years old in St. Louis. Only beginning with the return of Mukhtar Abdul-Malik from the East Coast in 1992 and Mujaheed Abdul-Qadeer aq-Menepta and Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Baseer teaching at Masjid at-Taqwa wa-Jihad and later Geraldine in 1993.)
From an immigrant Muslim standpoint Chicago is also way more advanced. Muslim schools, Muslim boarding schools, loads of masjids, a second-gen Muslim culture and lingo, it’s just more advanced due to sheer numbers and the time they have been there. Personally I don’t want to go to any of these masjids just saying their existence adds to the life.
Not that I am a strict halal eater anymore (I’ve gone Saudi): but a simple visit to Zabihah will show you Chicago is a great city to live in for a halal eater. St. Louis is making a lot of progress though but will probably never catch up due to low demand.
Diversity: St. Louis is still a black-white city. Blacks and blondes. I grew up in a racially-polarized segregated city and VERY little has changed in my lifetime. People who say race-relations are good in St. Louis are normally white people who don’t know shit, clueless folks, or people who seldom see or interact with people outside of their race. They are NEVER people like me from a racially-mixed family or who grew up in North County.
The brightest Muslim brothers left St. Louis. They felt unfulfilled. We have a big black “brain drain”. St. Louis has one of the smallest Latino populations in the country. Without an infusion of refugees fleeing war and ethnic-cleansing we wouldn’t have the small level of diversity we have now in south city. I have been saying for a while this city needs massive immigration to survive. Many agree. It just isn’t there yet.
Chicago reminds me of living in NYC and DC. Latino kids listening to hip-hop their mothers speaking to them in Spanish them answering in English. Desi kids in Bears jerseys. Hijabs, beards, turbans, kippahs, all common sites. Not just immigrant cultures. Arrived groups. Fully multi-lingual. Adding their flavor. People who see my beard and know I’m not Amish or in a biker gang. Not quite New York. Light-years ahead of St. Louis.
On a short walk I saw Romanian, Greek, Polish, and Ughyr restaurants. St. Louis was an ethnic city. In midwestern and “up south” fashion though it rapes anyone of their identity. The goal is blandness. Drowing in an ocean of whiteness. The Italian is just a hoosier with the vowel on the end of his name. The assimilated goyische Jew breaks his Yom Kippur fast with a pork steak and a Bud Light, the Romani kid told to never tell anyone he is a “gypsy”.
Street Tribes: There was a time the game in St. Louis was organized. Fat Woods running the Pruitt-Igoe, the Petty Brothers, Jerry Lewis-Bey and the Moors, the Conway Brothers and others before them in Kinloch, etc. . Crack killed all that. And it aint came back. The Street Tribes of Chicago from Jeff Fort and the el Rukn to the Folk Nation to the Peoples Nation to the Latin Kings provided structure and organization. It could be a positive force or negative force. The point is it provided structure. Which meant less violence. It also meant a structure for self governance was in place detached from the system. The government saw this as a threat. Destroying the leadership led to the removal of structure which has led to Chicago becoming the murder capitol. The ideas still exist though as do the tribes. That in itself gives Chicago a progressive advantage over the petty, chaotic and cannibalistic streets of St. Louis.
Modern: Chicago is a modern city in a modern America. A good portion of the St. Louis Metro has one agenda-the return of the 1950’s ( and that wasn’t a bad decade). They aint coming back though.
Culture: I’m not that well-cultured. I go to a museum every now and then, I like thr library and have a thing for flowers, old buildings, public radio and the symphony. That’s about it and I believe St. Louis competes well with Chicago on all of those if not better. The area where Chicago really kicks St. Louis ass is film. There was a time when the Tivoli, Hi-Pointe and Plaza Frontenac showed a lot of good foreign-films, documentaries, and edgy indie-fims. Not anymore. Even the St. Louis International Film Festival has went downhill. They all seem to be focused on yuppie love stories and gay or ironic comedies. Like Girls isn’t bad and white enough on the small screen. Every time I see a film I wanna see and it’s not here I look and it’s in Chicago.
Public Transit: I don’t think Chicago’s public transportation system is all that great. It definitely is not as good as NYC, Boston, DC or Philly. it also is not as pedestrian as the East Coast. Still, it isn’t bad, and it is way better than St. Louis (which doesn’t take much). Metro in St. Louis is for poor people. When I was poor I caught the bus and Metrolink. Now that I have a decent job I don’t. That simple. I don’t miss the unruly passengers, rude drivers, and being late everywhere. Chicago, while still kind of lacking, has more diversity on the train. Not just poor people. The city is also a lot more pedestrian. I love walking and in Chicago there are a lot of places to walk, a lot to see, and a lot to take in. you are also not the only person on the sidewalk. In New York I walked several miles a day. In St. Louis my fat ass only walks to the car (OK I go on nature walks when nothing is good on TV). I miss walking. Every time I go for a walk in my neighborhood I may have to beat a mother f****** ass or die trying.
St. Louis has many pluses. Great friends, favorite places to eat, family, familiarity. You are born here you die here. Few people surprise you in St. Louis or alter their destiny. They play the roles they were born to play.
These are all the words I will speak for now. It is all peace and love. I am busy working with my mentor writing on my 21 years as a Muslim and the good and bad. I am finding it very therapeutic and I am still in 1999. In the spirit of the late Imam W.D. Mohammed we are called to be North American Spokesman for Human Salvation. Imam in the Streets. God bless America. God bless the poor. God bless those in the gutter. People not the powerful. Speak truth to power. The mainstream of America aint where it’s at ya Muslims. Grassroots indigenous Islam. Stop the infighting. Arguing over shit that don’t matter. Concentrate on family ( I speak to myself first). Stop the infighting. Akil told me “it may be true you don’t always have to say it”. Impulse control. Respect our elders. Screw the FSA and all that foreign jihad “GI Joe” fantasy bullshit. Feds need to stop harassing Muslims. Obama aint shit but a devil. Same as GOP. Spread love. End the sexual hypocrisies. Urban sustainable pedestrian neighborhoods. Stop believing in conspiracy theories. Your’e not a scholar you just have Internet access. Obey the law and stay out of jail. Join the NRA. Bitter ex wives stop preventing fathers from seeing their children and include them in their lives. Fathers step up to the plate.
I was encouraged by the scholar Yasir Qadhi to make a video of recantation. I have been invited to go to Medinah by some beautiful brothers there. However, I cannot get my passport until I pay off some money owed to the government. I would very much like to go and study in the City of the Prophet. If anyone has deep pockets and can assist in that matter let me know. Do not put any money in my hands. There is a brother in DC handling this matter.
Two additional videos on Muslim issues on my youtube page regarding Muslims issues and Ismail Royer.
Umar Lee: the St. Louis Stranger, He That Walks Against the Wind, the Halal Honky, a North American Spokesman For Human Salvation, speaks about his last controversial video, Sending love to Muslims and non-Muslims alike and responding to friends and foes alike. Props to Muhammadabdullah al-Maliki in Chi-town, Abdul-Rahim Mathon in STL, and so many other brothers and those I talk about in the video who been by my side.
Peace and greetings to Anas Cannon, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, and the others. Oh yeah shout out to the Kansas City Kingpin Tarik Liwarau the “money makin madkahli” and Big Dirty D Dawud Adib and baby girl Tasneem.
Poem: St. Louis Summer, Window Units
STL all swell
La ilaha ilullah
Pass the ammunition
God bless America
Lips and hips
Pistols and hot sauce
frozen custard and donuts
gettin high down low
My city on that “ron”
dogfood they call it Ghadafi
American-cheered lynch mob
On the deen
Hoes in hijab
frauds in Holy Clothes
Father’s Day Child Support Day
Holsitic transforming crackers in kufis
Islam as a Business
Goofy White Liberals
Muhammad “first feminist” you must be high
“Green” Muslims in Loudon Co SUV’s and McMansions
Black “The white kafir in my cereal” conspiracy lunatics
Sufi dirty underwear buyers
Your thobe aint high enough akh
Saudi dick ridin crowd
Hipster Islam Chomsky tafseer
Interfaith in nut hugger jeans
Gay atheist “Muslims” lookin for Paki daddy attention
Trim that beard
Hijab and tight jeans
She give oral but won’t fuck
Maybe let you go in the backdoor
Abeed not marrying my punjabi princess
Somali clit cutters
white Muslim must be a fed
white Muslim don’t know shit make him mosque spokesman
White Muslim Girl: Khaleesi “white savior complex”
Piss off white daddy fuck an Arab
After green card he dump you for his cousin
FSA and govenment baby killers
lost whitegirl from Michigan dies
Don’t nobody in Syria give a fuck about you
“Die for Kashmir?” I asked Ismail
Mad love to Sheikh Ali al-Timimi
Good men in prison
Criminals roam free
drunk drivers and payday lenders
bloodsucking rent to own
Holy Hawaiian in office
Whiteboy came to Chicago
Bobby Rush kicked his ass
Loves him some drones
Jay-Z glorifies dopegame Barry lockin up dealers and users
Barry never gonna do shit for no nigga
Just collect votes
W you knew what he was
GOP dreams of those lynchin trees
Choose between evils
abortion clinic babybrain suckers
We livin in Latter Day Rome
Empire on it’s knees
Learn to speak Chinese
Love a big butt and a smile
Boricua, Cubana, Dominicana, Colombiana
Newstead and Natural Bridge or 57 Mable
Remember The Animal House
R.I.P Pac and Biggie
Wanted to fuck Left Eye
Arab girl Twerk Team
I know I aint right
These sisters be hoes for real
hijabis on Skype
Salat in the EBT line
more babies for the welfare
collect them “daddy” checks
Bitch fall in love with kafir dick
Crazy black folks seeing UFO’s
Ulama say the Earth is flat
San Francisco hippies
Rather recite Short Dawg than Rumi
Where is your Mark Twain
Jihad created Andalus they forget
Fatimah and Umar
Ayesha and Ali
Blood of Karbala
Rich brown kids get pimped by their white professors
St. Louis inferiority complex
Fuck Chicago cold-ass city
More Dixie than Diddy
No kisses on the cheeks
Country grammar and STL Swag
St. Pauls and Vess
Old Vienna and Goody Goody
West County Orange Girls with Yellow Tops-Candy Corn
Pork steak eatin Jews
A-rab store cats named Bobby and Dick
Cherokee Street rebellions
South Side white settlers
Warm summer nights
sweat of the gym
taste of the Gin
overcome by jinn
Old North vacant lots
no place for tots
parks for dogs
stayin off that hog
Bus be slow as hell
South Grand and Delmar Loop walkin
Walnut Park stalkin
Ghosts of Kinloch
Robertson used to be
St. Chuck white flight
Missourah meth labs
Cummin like droves to the Grove
Place to feel normal
Cards games voice of Jack Buck
Music fills the summer air
Alderman needs money for tuition
Fund a cause and watch dogooders in Escalades
800 to 300 watch us slide
slow it down to a glide
Need money upfront
35 to the 42
bloody St. Louis summers
clothes come off those skeezers
gunshots soundtrack to the night
Sonny Liston’s home
Need a New Burner
Ced the Entertainer
Ice cream trucks and NSA
Children cant play