Some ISNA Reflections
This is our fifth year going to the ISNA convention to sell books, pass out pamphlets, an simply get to meet people. This year we were a bit short-handed, but praise Allah, we managed. In brief, the ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) convention is the largest annual Muslim convention in the country. It attracts Muslims from all over the USA and Canada, and there are speakers who come from other parts of the world as well.
As for the demographics of the attendees, I said a few years ago that 75% were South Asians (Bangladeshis/Indo-Pakistanis); I was quickly corrected and the person said more like 85%. I have to agree, and this year there seemed to be more South Asians than years before. In terms of sheer numbers, the convention typically attracts 30,000-40,000 people. Although I may be wrong, but it did seem that there were fewer people this year than before—but still the number was in the tens of thousands. Besides the South Asian community, there was no other “sub-dominant” group. There was a medley of other ethnic groups, such as, Turks, East Africans, a few Arabs, a few African-Americans and white Americans, some West Africans, and some people from Indonesia and Malaysia. I spent most of my time at our table, so I did not see that much, but this is an assessment from the people who passed by at the bazaar, and the few times that I walked around.
There’s always lot’s of energy at the convention. For many, this is one of the religious highlights of the year along with the Eids. The general atmosphere there is pleasant, and the people are friendly. I am quick to remind people about the difference between the Muslim culture, as seen at ISNA, and what it would be like to be sitting at a table during a hip hop convention. It is clear, for to all but the most hardened cultural relativists, that not all cultures are “equal.”
The convention provides me, personally, with the opportunity to see what is new on the market, especially with books. Although the Internet provides access to all kinds of information, sometimes a book title might slip under the radar. Aside from the Wahhabi book publishers that are ISNA, such as, the so-called, Darusalaam and Al-Basheer, most of the book sellers are indiscriminate with what they sell. One may very well find a book by the notorious Wahhabi, Uthaimeen, right next to a translation from the works of Al-Ghazali. Sometimes, such books can even be seen side by side.
This leads me to my more critical assessment of the conference. MANY—I mean MANY—of the Muslims there in attendance seem to have very little traditional Islamic education. I am not that familiar with what South Asians learn or how they learn about Islam in their home countries, but it seems to me, aside from that minority who are “students of (traditional) knowledge,” that the typical religious education consists of little more than memorizing some Qur’an (without careful attention to the rules of tajweed), how to pray, fast, and some basic rules of Islamic etiquette—and some sirah of the Prophet and stories about the Companions.
I make this assessment, in part, because when many of the people came by the table, and I made it a point to mention that we have a translation and explanation of the Creed of At–Tahawi, they seemed utterly unfamiliar with the name, although, At–Tahawi himself was a Hanafi, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims in South Asia are Hanafis, and At-Tahawi’s book is universally known among the students of knowledge. If it is, like it seems, that many of the first generation Muslim immigrants are unfamiliar with the classical Islamic doctrinal tradition—beyond the most elementary matters—then that would mean that they are utterly ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of Western modernity. And if that is the case with the first generation, then it can be all the more expected that the second generation does not have the theological heft to contend in this marketplace of ideas. And this is something extremely dangerous.
You’re Being Tricked, Hoodwinked, Bamboozled, Led Astray….
The word “lucidity” kept reverberating in my head at ISNA this year. Perhaps it was the reishi (or the newest supplement to the herbal arsenal that I bought in D.C.’s Chinatown that weekend) but I could not help but recognize that it seemed that many of the people there do not have clarity. I don’t mean that they have bad beliefs, but they are not familiar with “who is who” and the ideologies followed by the various speakers in attendance. Do they know what an “apologist” is? Or a so-called “Hislami?1” Or a Wahhabi? Or a quasi-traditionalist? Are they capable of discerning the talk of genuine Ahlus-Sunnah from the people of deviant innovation? As the scholars have said: “The one who does not know evil is more prone to fall into it.” Furthermore, many the speakers, instead of educating the masses about the matters of `Aqidah and making things perspicuous—crystal clear—for them, they are dumbing the audiences down and sedating them with “feel good stories” that don’t address the most important aspect of Islam: that is, the CORRECT BELIEF in the Creator of the universe, and the correct belief in the Prophets.
Some of these speakers are extremely popular. These speakers are educated in the classical Islamic tradition; they know how the scholars explained matters of doctrine; they know that those scholars spoke explicitly about blasphemy and apostasy (kufr and riddah); these speakers are not people who’ve been attending little madrasahs in obscure villages in Kashmir or in the deserts of Chad for the past 20 years and are unfamiliar with the deviant doctrines Muslims in the West are confronted with. They know exactly what areas of `Aqidah the Muslims in America are confused about—or may be vulnerable to confusion—yet, these speakers are conspicuously silent about these matters. It is enough to look at the various question and answers posed on message boards and blogs about the basic belief in Allah and other fundamental matters of creed to realize that there is A LOT of doctrinal confusion among Muslims in America. We can also be nearly certain that the vast majority of the people would accept the truth from these speakers with no problem (just as they devour their convolution with no apparent objection). So why not simply state the truth and inform the people?
It is difficult to think that this is not by design. For one, there was the “Pledge” that was signed a few years ago in which various folks on “The Circuit” said that the Muslims, in general, should not concern themselves with the matters of Creed beyond the most rudimentary issues. This “Pledge” includes expanding the term “Sunni Islam” to include the Wahhabi doctrine. The Wahhabi doctrine, however, entails praying to a giant extraterrestrial shadow-casting bipedal object with a smiling face, organs, and a shinbone. The Sunni scholars have explicitly deemed such a belief kufr (blasphemy). Conversely, the Wahhabis (going back to the founder of Wahhabism, Muhammad ibn `Abdul-Wahhab) deemed that the masses of Muslims are “grave worshipers” and disbelievers. As a result, the Wahhabis have taught that it is permissible to mass murder those who do not follow their ideology (and we see the consequence of this deviant ideology in the terrorist acts being committed the world over in the “name of Islam”).
How can it be that the (real) Sunnis would consider genuine object worshipers, like the Wahhabis, part of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jama`ah? How would a sincere Sunni Muslim abandon enjoining the good and forbidding evil for the sake of some false sense of “unity?” It is part of our religion to inform and educate others about the proper belief in the Creator. If a person is praying to a giant imaginary spatial entity that he thinks lives above his head, then he is not a Muslim. You teach him the correct belief. If he accepts, that is great for him, but if he rejects, then it would not possible to “unite” with an object worshiper in the name of “Islam.”
One can readily imagine the absurd scenarios this method of “unity” would lead to. If a non-Muslim were to ask a genuine Sunni questions about the Muslim belief in God, the genuine Sunni would explain that Allah, the Creator of time and space, exists without time or space; Allah is not a material or spiritual being. Allah is not not something with a size or dimensions. Whatever one imagines, Allah is different from that. The Wahhabi, however, would interject and say that, indeed, Allah does have a size and dimensions and that Allah has giant organs and limbs and a smiling face. The non-Muslim would immediately see that these are two different beliefs and that it is not possible that both of these beliefs could be correct. It is not possible that the sincere Sunni could “unite” with a Wahhabi in the name of Islam. And this applies to all the other deviant ideologies and factions that claim to represent Islam, but teach kufr in reality.
We are not talking about differences in the details of fiqh. There are people who claim to be Muslim giving speeches in front of thousands of people, but they reject the creed of the Prophet. This is known. Aside from the Wahhabi doctrine, you have people claiming to be Muslim, and they believe that Allah is a body of light. Others claim that Allah is everything and everything is Allah. Others claim that a person can attain salvation while rejecting Prophet Muhammad—although Allah informed us that he (sallallahu `alayhi wasallam) is a Prophet! These beliefs are kufr (blasphemy) and nullify one’s Islam. Yet, we don’t hear any of these speakers taking the time out to warn their captivated audiences about these erroneous beliefs—beliefs that are not uncommon among those who identify themselves as Muslims.
What lends greater suspicion to something more insidious is going is that one prominent American writer and speaker, who is at least heavily influenced by Wahhabi ideology, has a very extensive website but has virtually nothing dedicated to what he might consider “Tawheed.” I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that he doesn’t mention what is typically mentioned by Wahhabis in the matters of Tawheed, but it is odd that something so fundamental as the matters of creed are not mentioned. It’s as if he is intentionally is trying to conceal the details of what his conviction about Allah are.
Among the most famous of these personalities on the circuit wrote a couple of years ago a 20 page article in which he could not clearly define what a kaafir is. Twenty-one pages of obfuscation, that praise Allah, I can clarify in one sentence: a kaafir is a person who is not a Muslim. And I can add, maa-shaa’ Allah, an additional detail: the kaafirs are of two types: the accountable kaafir (those who are sane, pubescent, and heard the call to Islam2 in a language they can understand) and the unaccountable kaafir (those who are not sane, or not pubescent, or did not hear the call to Islam). Islam teaches that the Muslims will ultimately attain salvation in the Hereafter, and the accountable kaafirs will be in Hell for perpetuity. (The non-accountable people will not be punished in the Hereafter for their disbelief and will be admitted to Paradise).
It should not be surprising that this person engaged in his 21 page exercise of obfuscation, for he has now recently admitted (at least according to a Youtube video) that he does not believe in the standard Islamic belief in salvific exclusivity—that Islam is the only religion accepted by Allah (Al-Qur’an 3:16; 3:85; 48:13). To the contrary, he admits that he has a belief different from what Ahlus-Sunnah says about the destination of those who rejected the message of Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu `alayhi wasallam).
As a convert coming from a sort of social-activist background, I was all for “unity, but first and foremost, I was for CLARITY. I wanted to know what the true belief in God was. I wanted to know how I could know that it was the true belief in God; I wanted to know how to rationally explain and intellectually defend the true belief in God. It seemed obvious that there would be beliefs that would not merely contradict the correct Islamic belief, but there would be beliefs that would render a person’s Islam null and void. It was evident to me once I started learning traditional knowledge that not everyone who calls himself a Muslim is a Muslim. There are, after all, people who claim to be Muslim and say that the word “Allah” is an acronym for Arm-Leg-Leg-Arm-Head and call themselves “Allah.” There are people who claim that Allah is Fard Muhammad. When I learned the true Creed, the erroneous beliefs became obvious, and I could explain why such beliefs were incorrect.
The creed of the Sunnis, as explained by the great Ash`ari and Maaturidi scholars, was so evidently true that I could not possibly want to “unite in the name of Islam” with someone who would reject the pure creed of Tawheed and opt for object or image worship and polytheism. It was clear to me that these misguided people had diseases in their hearts and harbored ill convictions about their Creator. I did not want to “unite” with such people—to the contrary, I wanted to learn how to refute such people.
One indicator that many of these “leaders” are not remotely sincere is that they are telling their listeners not to learn about takfeer and apostasy. Who in their right mind would encourage a Muslim to be ignorant about those matters that would negate their Islam and be a reason for them to lose all their good deeds and be cast into Hellfire—forever? Instead, these “leaders” will give speeches on how to save the environment—but not on how to save one’s self from falling into kufr.
Also, it makes perfect sense to me that the opponents of Islam would attempt to undermine Islam from within. These people who cannot bear the truth would naturally try to undermine Islam by supporting or initiating deviant factions that would call unsuspecting Muslims to confusion, misguidance, disunity, and blasphemy. We see that this is part of their agenda very clearly here: http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1716.html. The way for one to protect him or herself would be to learn about the blasphemy so that one would be aware of it and be able to identify those who are promoting it, in-shaa’ Allah. To the contrary, these “leaders” promote books and share the stage with those calling to blasphemy in the name of Islam, and they tell their followers NOT to learn what the Sunni scholars said about blasphemy.
These “leaders”are telling the people to disregard the matters of apostasy. There are people who are confused about what nullifies one’s Islam, and these leaders instead of educating them about what those matters are and the rules pertaining to blasphemy, they tell their audiences to simply ignore them. We live in a time and place where holding on to one’s Islam is getting more and more difficult, and the society is increasingly becoming engulfed in disbelief and sacrilege, yet these “leaders” are not educating Muslims on how to protect themselves from the fire fueled by human beings and stones.
The solution is simple. The true Sunni Muslims need to be diligent in propagating the creed of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jama`ah, as it was codified by the great Ash`ari and Maaturidi scholars. We see that the Muslims need to be educated about the matters of kufr and riddah (disbelief and apostasy). The various theological controversies whether about the Attributes of Allah, Destiny, human will, the muhkam and mutashaabihaat Verses, etc. have all been discussed and resolved by these great theological schools; hence we should follow them. The Ash`aris-Maaturidis explained the matters of the Sunni creed in a rational manner (consistent, of course, with the Qur’an and Sunnah), which is especially important in this age of science and alleged “intellectualism.”
In conclusion, either a person believes Allah is the One and Only Creator, Who absolutely does not need or resemble anything, and that Muhammad is the final Prophet and his Sacred Laws are superior to all other laws, or the person rejects this and is a disbeliever. Simple as that. Muslims who are not educated in the Sunni theological tradition will find it difficult to rationally defend the Muslim doctrine. They will have no clarity in explaining the true belief of the Sunni Muslims, and they will be susceptible to those miscreants who wish to exploit their ignorance. So let those who haven’t learned sit with those people who can teach them, and let us all unite with the proper knowledge and with sincerity to obey Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. This is how we can build a strong Muslim community in North America and elsewhere.
1A so-called “Hislami” is an ignoramus who simply makes up things about the Deen (hence, “His” (so-called) “Islam”).
2The “call to Islam” means hearing the Declaration of Faith—that is, “There is nothing worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”