Message to a Confused Blackman in America
Recently I posted: https://facetofloor.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/the-african-american-muslim-in-2013-part-1/, which in part, discusses the importance of African-American Muslims learning traditional Islamic knowledge, and in particular, the matters pertaining to Sunni Doctrine. I posited that if African-American Muslims learn the method for explaining `Aqidah as taught by the leading Scholars of Doctrine (the Maaturidis and Ash`aris) then this will grant them intellectual clarity, and enable them to get past emotional arguments and personality cults. With such knowledge, they will be able to evaluate ideas, individuals, and groups in a rational manner consistent with the teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wasallam).
This knowledge is called “`Ilmul-Kalaam.” Regarding `Ilmul-Kalaam, however, there are two types: that which was used by some blasphemous factions to try to give “logical” support to their deviance, and that which was employed by the Sunnis to counter their misguidance. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who oppose both legitimate `Ilmul-Kalaam as used by the Sunnis, and the illegitimate use of the science. The opponents of both types of `Ilmul-Kalaam are typically the mujassimah, that is, whose who believe that God is an object or spatial entity of some sort.
The most prominent contemporary incarnation of the mujassimah (among those claiming to be Muslims) is found among the Wahhabis (quasi-Salafis). Given that believing the Eternal Creator of the Universe has a giant smiling face, a shinbone, but one foot, two eyes, fingers, and casts a shadow is ludicrous, and is rejected by common sense, it should surprise none of us that the quasi-Salafis hate for the Sunnis to use `Ilmul-Kalaam. After all, anyone trained in Sunni `Ilmul-Kalaam can immediately see the absurdities of the Wahhabi doctrine and can easily refute it.
What is the core of `Ilmul-Kalaam? It is a system for explaining and defending the correct belief in God using both Scriptural and rational proofs. It is NOT philosophy but is based upon the principles of the the Qur’an:
1. Allah is the Creator of everything (13:16/39:62). That is, all that exists other than God is a created by God, whether it be the entities or the actions, feelings, thoughts, intentions, etc. of those entities. Allah is the Creator and everything else is a creation.
2. Allah absolutely does not need or resemble anything. (29:6/112:2 and 16:74/42:11) Since God existed before the universe, God is not dependent upon the universe—or any aspect of the universe. Allah existed before space and time; hence, Allah is not dependent upon space or time. Allah exists without a place, and Allah is not subject to time, change, or age. Likewise, since Allah is the Creator, and everything else is a creation, Allah is categorically different from everything else. Allah is not an object, image, or any other kind of spatial entity. Whatever one imagines, Allah is different from that.
From these two premises (clearly derived from the Qur’an—and NOT from philosophy), the Sunnis refuted the likes of those who denied Allah is the Creator of everything and rejected Destiny (Qadar), as well as, those who resembled Allah to the creations and claimed God exists in a place or direction. No reasonable and sincere person—who takes the time to understand the Sunni method of explaining Doctrine—is going to object to our argument that God is Unique, and that God alone deserves to be worshiped. This is what I am advocating for African-American Muslims (and all other Muslims) in their approach to understanding Islam.
Nonetheless, on one social media site, I found an objector. I won’t mention his name here—we’ll just call him Mr. Confused. He launched into a tirade about how African-Americans don’t need to follow Arabs or other foreigners to practice Islam—we already have our “great scholars.” Although my initial post focused on using universal creedal matters to distinguish the proper method from the erroneous for understanding Islam, this confused man turns the discussion into an anti-Arab diatribe. He perfectly makes my point that African-Americans need to get beyond emotionalism and judge matters in a cool, calm, rational fashion—and that `Ilmul-Kalaam would give African-Americans the means to do so. This person, not being a student of `Ilmul-Kalaam, shoots off one silly, contradictory, non sequitir argument after another. Let us now examine a few.
This person is from the “Madhhab” of W. D. Mohammed. Now to be fair, it seems that in his last few years, W.D. rejected much of the deviance that he promulgated for most of his life. He did encourage some of his followers to go overseas and (apparently) seek traditional Islamic knowledge. And W.D. was dismayed at the end of his life with the leaders and “Imams” in his organization for not continuing to grow and acquire traditional knowledge. What Mr. Confused defends, however, is the “paleo-madhhab” of W.D. and not what is ascribed to him at the end of his life, and this is what we will respond to here.
Mr. Confused says that African-Americans should not learn about Islam from Arabs. Perhaps, it doesn’t occur to him that the VAST MAJORITY of the Companions were Arabs, and the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) himself is an Arab. Now, if he wishes to claim that all the Arabs went astray, then it begs to question who has preserved Islam down through the centuries and what was their method for doing so (aside: I’ve posed this question to other of the same sect and never got an answer).
Mr. Confused rehashes the same tired argument that many of the older followers of the WD assert. They assume that none of the African-American Sunnis have any familiarity with black history and the struggle of black folk in America. Personally, it was my study of Afrocentricity, BLACK NATIONALISM, and African history that generated my interest in Islam. I was longing for African-Americans who could teach Islam IN A BLACK CONTEXT—dealing with black issues. I came to Sunni Islam AFTER being influenced by Malcolm X, Farrakhan, the 5%ers, Malachi York, and the “Nation” (of so-called Islam). I became a student of traditional knowledge not because my (later) teachers were Arabs, but IN SPITE of them being Arabs (My first teacher was black and the next was “white”–so I thought (he was part white and later I found out he was also part Bengali). It was only after knowing these Brothers for almost two years that I found out that their Shaykh was a black man from Africa.)
The reason why I didn’t join a black (quasi) Islamic organization is because, I could not find one that could answer the questions I had about God, the questions I had about spirituality and mysticism, questions I had about the different factions claiming to be Muslim, nor could they answer questions I had about history and how do we know that a given person is actually following the teachings of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wasallam)?
I didn’t reject Farrakhan/the “Nation” because they were black, but because I could not buy into their belief that Fard Muhammad was “Allah in person.” I rejected Malachi York not because he was black, but because he never made it clear about what befits Allah and what does not—that’s aside from all those blasphemous images in his books that claim to be of the Prophets (but they all look like him with different hair styles). Again, I did not reject the 5%ers because they were black—to the contrary, I was fascinated by their (pseudo) scientific talk. I rejected them because it was hard for me to believe that such low life people could be “Allah” (a`udhu billah!). Even with my rudimentary understanding of Islam, I knew that the core of the Muslim belief is that there is only one God and not hundreds of millions of (alleged) Gods.
I was hoping (back in the day) that WD, having renounced the blasphemous belief of God-incarnate that his father (la`natullah `alayh) promoted, would be a true representative of Islam—and would deal with issues relevant to me as a young black man. Having the background I did with black nationalism, I wanted “an Islam” that would talk about ethnicity and identity; that would discuss the legacy of slavery on the black psyche; that would discuss the servile mentality of some African-Americans in relation to immigrant Muslims; that would discuss the colorism and racism many immigrant Muslims felt towards blacks, and the stultifying inferiority complexes they felt around whites. WD did discuss these things… but….
…But there was no clarity about the matters of Doctrine. I read his articles, his newspapers, his writings, and talked with his followers. What I found was a mass of confusion (and no, it ain’t b/c he and his peeps are just so deep that they can’t be understood). When it comes to general details of `Aqidah, WD’s works are bereft of them. Basic questions I had about matters of Creed could not be answered. It seems that either he was ignorant of or didn’t understand various theological controversies, whether it be about Allah’s Attributes and ta’weel (non-literal interpretation), human will and Destiny, the matter of good and evil, the role of Sufism, the influence of Greek philosophy in the Muslim world, etc. When it came to choosing to learn about the proper belief in the Creator of the Universe and talking about black activism, knowing my Lord took priority.
I had encountered theological discussions in the works of Orientalists (and even in a book by the Wahhabi, Bilal Philips). I WANTED CLARITY. WD’s followers were caught up in the cult of personality, and could not stop talking about how WD is the supposed Mujaddid (Reviver of the Sunnah) of the era. (Actually, Mr. Confused said that WD Mohammed is the greatest Mufassir (interpreter) of the Qur’an after the Prophet.)
Also, there was the issue of history. It was very clear—even in my initial readings—that Islamic learning is from teacher to student via isnaads (chains of scholarly transmission) going back to the Prophet. WD never spoke of such, and I could not find where he had any such isnaad. (It is interesting to note that in one looooong debate I had with another WD follower that I challenged him to list five scholars between 930 C.E. (approx. end of the Salaf era) and 1930 (when Fard Muhammad appears on the scene) who followed his methodology. He couldn’t. I asked him to list three. He couldn’t. I asked him to name one. He couldn’t. That’s because the WD “madhhab” has no connection to the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam).)
What I found with WD was far-fetched fanciful interpretations of Islam. He, for instance, denied the existence of the jinn, because their existence isn’t recognized by mainstream Western science. To the contrary, he said that one would have to be a fool to believe in such entities (in spite of the fact the PROPHET told us about their existence and the scholars devoting entire books to the topic of jinn). WD rejected the existence of the miracles. He said, for instance that the Red Sea did not actually split, but that one has to look into the “symbolic significance” of the term “red” and the term “sea.” This is similar to the claim of the apologists of the early 20th century, such as, one who claimed that the birds mentioned in Suratul-Feel, were not actually birds, but a virus that had caused the army of Abrahah to die. Such an explanation is not supported by the Mufassirun (Qur’anic exegetes) nor by history.
In reality, WD, hadn’t sloughed off the Isma`ili influences of his father.1 The Isma`ilis are a notorious sect of Shi`ah who engage in “symbolic interpretations,” numerology, and distortion of Qur’anic Verses—to the point that they denied explicitly clear matters, such as, the reality of the Hereafter. They claimed, for instance, that “Paradise” is living in this world and being free of religious obligations. (This is not a whole lot different from Elijah Poole (WD’s father) claiming that Paradise in not in the Afterlife , but is in this world and being free from the rule of the white man.)
If WD had studied `Ilmul-Kalaam, he could have understood there is a difference between what is impossible and what is uncustomary or unfamiliar. The two must not be confused. Impossible are things like, the daughter giving birth to her own mother or someone drawing a “square circle.” What is impossible is for an infant (or any other object) to become the Eternal Creator. Such things do not have the potential to exist under any circumstances, for they are by their very nature contrary to definition.
On the other hand, the uncustomary refers that which could potentially occur but is contrary to the norm. Believing in the miracles, although they are uncustomary, is not “superstitious.” The miracle is the means by which a Prophet proves his Prophethood. Likewise, believing in the unfamiliar, although we might not have experienced such a matter, does not preclude its existence. For instance, believing the realm of the jinn is not superstitious. (Even back in the day I always found it odd that WD rejected the existence of the jinn but apparently affirmed the existence of the Afterlife when neither are accepted by Western science.) Reason (the sound intellect) says that both miracles and the jinn have the potential to exist (for they are not contrary to definition), and when the report of such comes from a trustworthy source, that is, the mouth of a Prophet whose message has been preserved, then we must believe they are real.
After studying more traditional knowledge, and then returning to WD’s works, the egregious nature of his misguidance became all the more evident. Among his deviant claims is that the person who rejects Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) will attain salvation in the Hereafter. He attempted to justify this blasphemous position by quoting 2:69, which refers to the GENUINE followers of the Prophets of their time. The Qur’an makes it EXPLICITLY clear that salvation is based not only only believing CORRECTLY in Allah, but also in the Prophet Muhammad:
“Whoever does not believe in Allah and His Messenger [Muhammad] is a disbeliever for whom Allah has prepared Hell.” (48:13)
Likewise, there is the saying of the Prophet Muhammad:
“Any Jew or Christian who hears about me and my Message, but fails to accept will be condemned to Hell.” (Related by Imam Muslim)
A simple way to counter this self-professed “Muslim” apologist is to walk him through a series of questions:
1. Do not Muslims believe Allah is truthful in what Allah revealed? [Yes.]
2. Do not Muslims believe Allah revealed the Qur’an? [Yes.]
3. Does not the the Qur’an say that Muhammad is the Messenger ? [Yes.]
4. Do Christians believe Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah? [No.]
Hence, by rejecting what Allah revealed, the Christians are claiming Allah lied (a`udhu billah), and claiming Allah lied is clearly blasphemy.
An untold number of people have gone astray over this misconception that WD actively promoted. (WD’s misguidance on this matter went further. He even claimed that the Christian men could marry Muslim women—despite such a prohibition is common knowledge in Islam.)
When these OBVIOUS errors in doctrine are mentioned to the typical WD member, like Mr. Confused, he pulls out the old canard that African-American Sunnis are a bunch of wannabes enamored with the Arab guys at the corner store selling malt liquor 40 oz. to the natives. There is some truth in this in the sense there were African-American Sunnis who adopted the manners and behavior of their foreign teachers, and in many cases fell out of touch with the condition of black America. So that may be… but…
One: selling swine and wine does not make a Muslim a disbeliever. It is very possible a person may have the correct belief in Allah and in the Prophet, while falling into even major sins. Being guilty of enormities is not disbelief.
Two: The Muslim who engages in enormities is far superior to the one who commits a single act (saying or belief) of blasphemy.
Three: the deviance and misguidance of (many) Arabs does not make the teachings of WD any less blasphemous.
Hence, African-American Sunnis oppose WD’s ideology not because he isn’t a foreigner, but because what he taught opposed the teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet. Again, as was the point of the blog entry, “African-Americans Muslims in 2013,” for one to understand the different groups and factions out there, one has to take it back to the matters of the Creed. If a person has a blasphemous belief in Allah or the Prophet, then he is not Muslim. Full stop. Period.
Lastly, having the correct belief and studying traditional Islamic sciences does not mean that one cannot address contemporary social issues. It’s simply a matter of setting priorities: we must educate the people about the proper `Aqidah (and warn them about blasphemy) first and foremost, for our salvation depends upon dying as Muslim. BUT we also must deal with the day-to-day concerns and needs of the people around us.
Sadly, many of the VERY legitimate issues that the so-called “Nation of Islam” (and WD to a lesser extent) raised about black America—and the solutions they proposed—were dismissed by Sunnis because of all the vile deviance associated with the Nation’s doctrine. Whether it be the importance of a good work ethic, family stability, diet and nutrition, establishing businesses, opening schools, social services, and farming, the “Nation” was pretty much on point, and it would be prudent to study what they said and what they accomplished, take out the poison, and develop a da`wah that is effective and relevant to the people we deal with. This is the way of wisdom. This is the way of Islam.
1Oddly enough, although Elijah Poole openly insulted Allah by calling God a human (or race of humans, i.e., Asiatic Blackmen) and although Elijah Poole claimed to be a Messenger of Allah after Prophet Muhammad, WD and his followers still bestowed the title “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad” to this enemy of God.