The Apostasy of Umar Lee
(As one can see, the Christians and anti-Muslim bigots are going to run with this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esCyj0deeuM)
This is not intended as an attack on Umar Lee or his genuine motivations for becoming a Christian. Allah knows what lurks inside our hearts. I don’t know him personally, other than at an ISNA, I guess it was three years ago, I bumped into him and spoke to him for not more than a couple of minutes. I did, however, comment pretty regularly on his blogs. As a matter of fact Umar Lee’s blog introduced me to the “Muslim” blogoshere back probably at the tail end of its, what some might call, “golden age” (that is, around 2006-2008). Since then, many of those blogs have gone defunct. For me the blogs were an interesting world. Contrary to the Islamic forums, which were often battlegrounds between the Deobandi and Brewelis and Wahhabis, and sometimes involving very detailed matters of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) in the Hanafi School, which I have little knowledge of), the “Muslim” blogosphere focused more on the condition of Muslims in America. It was sort of a window into the minds of Muslims in this country and the challenges we face here.
One of the problems with said blogs was that many of the people involved had no training in traditional Islamic sciences. In many cases, their learning seems to have been that of attending a few Islamic lectures and reading books and clicking through layer upon layer of websites. As a result, there was A LOT of ignorance and misguidance propounded through those blogs. Nonetheless, the blogs did provide a place for the lay Muslims, and claimants of Islam, to exchange ideas.
At this time, Umar Lee’s blog was among the most popular. His “Rise and Fall of the [Quasi] Salafi Movement” was Umar’s claim to fame. I read it, and in many ways he and I were on parallel tracks, although we were on opposite aisles in the creedal war taking place in the Northeast. Although I started to become interested in “Islam” while I was off at a small liberal arts college (the kind of place Umar Lee used to detest) in Western New England, and Umar was in the hood involved in hood life (a sort of race reversal), we both saw Islam as a means for activism and social transformation. Although Umar is white, he had (from his writings) black sensibilities, and he seemed to be a good reader of character—in a street sort of way. While I was in college, I became one of those hyper-race conscious kind of guys.
It was also a different time in black culture. There was a substantial amount of what folks used to call “conscious rap,” whether from the likes of groups, such as, X-Clan, Public Enemy, and the various Fiver Percent rappers available—and this rap was even sometimes seen on MTV and BET. The so-called Nation of Islam was active in the inner city. Farrakhan loomed large in the psyche of many young urban black males. Traces of the black radical consciousness left over from the late 60’s and early 70’s could still be found among at least some of the “elders” in the black community. Also, there was the hype surrounding the Malcolm X movie, the “X caps,” and the movie itself. This was during the time of the crack blight and the rise in black on black murder and the prison industrial complex entrenching itself into the black community. It was hoped by many young black people that a shift of consciousness was taking place across black America to counter these problems. Black folks would finally wake up, get involved, and be agents for fundamental change—if not revolution—in America.
That black people would be on the forefront of this social transformation seemed logical. Black folk have always been a protest people. For myself, I rapidly passed through a black consciousness and black nationalism phase realizing that we needed something more to bind us (i.e., black folk). We are (or at least were) a religiously inclined people. After reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, listening to Farrakhan tapes, and just having a familiarity with world history and using common sense, it was clear that Christianity, and its doctrine that the Eternal Creator of the Universe incarnated into an infant, could not possibly be the true religion of God and could not be the means to unite my people.
What was clear was that there could only be one True God, and that God alone deserved to be worshiped, and that Islam—in its genuine form—preached that belief. I saw Islam as the means to unite our people—under one rationally consistent belief in God. Islam would free my black Brothers and Sisters from the mental slavery of praying to a white man—an image that looked like our former slave masters—and the excessive emotionalism of the Negro Church. Islam would instill discipline and self-respect in us. Islam would give us structure and order. Islam would give us morality… without being a bunch of punks.
I wasn’t the only young man who had this hope for transformation in black community by way of Islam. There were many others. At this time, however, the Saudis, with their Wahhabi doctrine, saw an opportunity to spread their creed here in the US and among inner city African-Americans. The Wahhabis (quasi-Salafis) offered full paid scholarships to guys from the hood to go study at Madinah University and other Wahhabi institutes in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
This ideology (Wahhabism) became for many African-Americans synonymous with “Islam”—after all, the Two Sanctuaries (Mecca and Madinah) are contained in Saudi Arabia, and the Sunnis had very few publications available for English language readership—and certainly none as nice looking as the Saudi published literature. Those socially conscious and functional African-Americans, who were searching for Islam often passed through Farrakhanism and maybe flirted with the Warith Deen Community and often ended up in Wahhabism.
These converts would find that unlike the Farrakhanis and W.D. Community, the Wahhabis were not very concerned about social activism in America. The Arab Wahhabis were trying to transplant the Saudi agenda to American soil, and for many of the more intelligent and educated black converts, they sensed this and saw that the needs to African-Americans was not being met. This would further be compounded by the reports from African-Americans who returned from Saudi Arabia with horror stories about the virulent racism amongst the Arabs there. Furthermore, as the Wahhabi ranks swelled with the pathological underclass and prison ex-convicts, they brought their dysfunction to their centers (and other centers) and the ghetto drama was let loose. On the regular, the Wahhabis would be acting out and excommunicating one another (claiming so and so is off the manhaj), and there was lots of infighting. Then 9/11 came, and the Wahhabis were placed under greater scrutiny—some of the leadership was arrested, others were deported, and others up and left and made what they called “hijrah.”
After that, many of the African-American Wahhabis were left confused, and there was a phrase that was pretty common amongst the bloggers a few years back: “Salafi Burnout.” Many of the more educated and functional African-American converts had made great sacrifices to try to build what they called “Salafi Da`wah.” Careers were forsaken, family ties with non-Muslims were often severed, “marriages” were broken, and children suffered, and now without a growing community base to support them—but instead only a disintegrating toxic “community” to tear them down—these disillusioned converts had to deal with the reality of life in America.
This is where Umar Lee had been for quite a few years. He was—and so many others—a recovering Wahhabi. Again, I don’t want to talk about what his genuine motivations are for the many controversial things he said, but there can be no denying that much of what he said contained many insightful observations about the plight of the American Muslim community. Some people have been faulting him in his “Apostasy Video” for mentioning that the Muslims have not fixed the (or begun to fix—or for the most part not even addressed) the ills of American society—and especially not those in the inner city. People have to keep in mind that people like Umar Lee and myself became interested in Islam partly because we saw its socially transformative potential. We saw ourselves following in the footsteps of Malcolm X. And it was a jolt to see, as the American Muslim demographics changed in this country to a stronger immigrant base, the majority of Muslims not caring about social activism, not caring about racism, not caring about poverty, not caring about suffering in this country. To the contrary, one increasingly found Muslim immigrants not involved in da`wah, but involved in parasitic corner stores selling poison, haraam, and filth to the poor. Others among these immigrants contented to live out the American delusion in the Wonder Bread suburbs. This further contributed to Umar Lee’s—or at least people like him—sense of frustration and alienation.
Also, Umar Lee, to his credit, also observed the shift taking place amongst the quasi-traditionalists long before these characters made their sellout agenda more apparent. There were a number of the so-called celebrity imams who did talk about social activism, they did have scathing—but accurate—critiques of American society and its moral decay and hypocritical foreign policy. These “leaders” have “bin dun flipt the skript,” and now some are even trying to pretend there is no difference between Islam and disbelief by trying to erase the line between blasphemy and Imaan.
The converts in this country are HEMMORAGING. They are confused, and with the efforts being put forth today by the quasi-traditionalists, this confusion is only likely to grow. So what is to be to done? First and foremost, people have to acquire traditional Islamic knowledge, and above all THEY HAVE TO GET CLARITY IN THE CREED! Very often when Umar Lee would go on rants against the Wahhabis or other bloggers would bemoan about so-called “Salafi Burnout,” I would try to inject the importance of the Sunni `Aqidah. For the most part I was either ignored or attacked (attacked not by Umar Lee but others still hanging on to the Wahhabi doctrine).
The Muslims (real Muslims—not people who simply identify as such) believe that Allah is One—Allah has no partners, Allah is Unique with no similars; Allah is the One and only Creator and everything else is a creation; Allah is not a material or spiritual entity; Allah is not an object made of parts or potentially subject to addition or subtraction. The Sunni `Aqidah is based upon the belief that the Creator ABSOLUTELY does not need or resemble the creations. Hence, Allah is not dependent upon space; Allah does not have the properties of spatial beings, such as, having a size, a shape or a location. Whatever one imagines, Allah is different than that.
When one understands the above, one understands that the Creator of space, time, and direction is not literally located above the `Arsh (Ceiling of Paradise) during the day and beneath Prophet Jesus for part of the night, much less does the Creator have real-actual fingers, a shinbone, smiling face, and a foot. Muslims worship Allah, the Eternal Creator. The person who worships some sort of shadow-casting object with real-actual body parts on the Kursiyy would not be in reality worshiping Allah. He would be worshiping something other than Allah. And the one who worships something other than Allah is not a Muslim. Simple. Plain. And Clear.
One of the problems of those suffering from so-called “Salafi Burnout” is that many did not seem to realize that the Wahhabis are NOT Muslims. It is not the case that the Wahhabis are merely bad Muslims—the Wahhabis don’t have the Muslim belief in Allah. Hence, for those suffering from that anthropomorphic burnout, they have to realize that they weren’t Muslim in the first place. When this is clear, one can realize that much of the bad behavior that was done in the “name of Islam” was not done by Muslims. The Wahhabis are object worshipers. The Muslims do not worship an object or anything else that has a size or occupies space.
The converts need basic training in the matters of `Ilmul-Kalaam,1 so that they can defend themselves against the onslaught of atheism and other deviant anti-Islamic and quasi-Islamic ideologies that are prevalent in the society. One of the quasi-traditionalist wrote that African-Americans don’t need to go into the matters of `Ilmul-Kalaam because, in essence, they are not an intellectual people… But that is exactly the problem that African-Americans suffer from—their worldview is largely emotional and not rational. A study of `Ilmul-Kalaam would give black converts (and other converts) the intellectual clarity in Creed needed to navigate through this society. If Umar Lee, for instance, had been trained in the matters of the Sunni Creed after his abandoning of Wahhabism—and was sufficiently educated in the belief that Allah exists without being in a place or a direction and that Allah is not a spatial entity—then it would not be as likely that such a person would be claiming that Jesus is his “Lord and Savior.”
Another matter related to the education of the convert, is informing him (or her) about the matter of apostasy—and I don’t mean only open stated renunciation of Islam—but that a person could fall out of Islam without knowing it. The person who claims that there is another Creator with Allah, or that Allah is ignorant, or weak, or that Allah is in need, or similar to the creations would not be a Muslim. Furthermore, the one who insults the Qur’an or the Prophets, or intentionally rejects what is commonly known amongst Muslims, or desecrates the Qur’an by throwing it into the trash or stepping on it commits disbelief.
Contrary to the claims of the Quasi-Traditionalists and the “Pledgers,” the issue of riddah (apostasy) and takfeer and the conditions of deeming a self-professed Muslim to be a disbeliever MUST BE DISCUSSED. Without this knowledge, a Muslim is liable commit kufr (disbelief) and fall out of Islam without knowing it. Many of the quasi-traditionalists are trying to suppress this discussion to hide their own insidious agendas. These people KNOW that the masses of the Muslims in the USA are confused and vulnerable to falling prey to blasphemy. These “leaders” KNOW that the famous Sunni scholars discussed these issues extensively, to warn and protect Muslims from adopting blasphemous beliefs or engaging in blasphemous acts or statements. Yet, these leaders will say things like, “This is only for the scholars to trouble themselves with.”
To show the erroneous nature of such a claim, it is not only the scholars who can potentially fall into disbelief—it is MORE likely for the unlearned to fall into disbelief. Furthermore, according to these “leaders,” one can’t call any self-professed “Muslim” a kaafir (disbeliever). But what would such people say about the likes of a Louis Farrakhan? Farrakhan claims to be a Muslim. Louis Farrakhan also claims that hundreds of millions of Asiatic Blackmen are Allah (a`udhu billah!). If a person doubts that such a belief is blasphemy, then that person himself would be a blasphemer. And the core of Farrakhan’s blasphemy is not only that he believes that Allah is collective of human beings, the core of his kufr is that he believes Allah is a spatial entity of some sort. And as Farrakhan is a disbeliever for such a belief, so are, for example, the Wahhabis for believing Allah is a spatial entity of some sort.
Likewise, by not clarifying the matter of takfeer (the rules related to deeming someone a disbeliever), it opens the door for all sorts of deviants to claim that they, too, are Muslims, such as, those who claim that polygyny is evil, that the Sacred Law does not recognize legal differences between men and women, that homosexual practices are allowed in Islam, that those who reject Prophet Muhammad (which by implication implies Allah has lied (a`udhu billah)) will attain salvation and bliss in the Hereafter, etc. However, when Muslims learn the basic rule: anyone who rejects what is commonly known and well-established in Islam can’t be considered a Muslim (for they have not submitted to what Islam teaches), then the limits between Islam and disbelief are clearly marked in a Muslim’s mind.
Furthermore, when one learns about apostasy, he knows that the indulgence in general sin does not render a person a disbeliever. It renders him or her a sinful Muslim. And general sinning, such as, not fasting Ramadan, eating pork, or selling alcohol—-even abominations like those just listed—does not take one out of Islam UNLESS, the person deems the sinful acts Islamically permissible (because deeming such acts permissible entails belying Islam and what the Prophet taught). However bad things may get in his (or her) life, the person can still hang on to the belief in the Oneness and Perfection of Allah and the belief in the miracle performer who taught that belief and the Sacred Law we should follow (that is, the Prophet Muhammad) and the person will still be a Muslim and will eventually earn Paradise.
Also, convert Muslims need to be educated early on about the different factions. Clarifying the difference between the Sunni Creed and deviant ideas and sects is not a source of division for the sincere. The sincere Muslim wants the Ummah to be united on guidance and not deviance. Additionally, converts need to be educated in the area of polemics—that is, how to debate and defend Islam, so that Muslims can compete in the marketplace of ideas. The traditional model of Muslims learning the “Five Pillars and Six Articles” (without detailed explanation), the basics of the prayer, the general do’s and don’ts of Muslims, and reading a (mis)translation of the Qur’an will not equip a Muslim with the means to defend himself in an overwhelmingly secular society.
Lastly, there has to be recognition that Umar Lee was very right regarding the area of social criticism. We need to build social institutions that are responsive to the Muslims—especially needed are institutions responsive to the needs of convert Muslims. Issues of race/racism, color-caste, class, marriage, and family have to be candidly discussed. Not discussing these issues isn’t going to make them go away. Instead, we as Muslims, as many a convert is told, should have the confidence that Islam does, indeed, have the means to address the society’s problems. We just have to sincere in our endeavor to learn and follow the guidance of our Prophet (salllallahu `alayhi was-sallam).
1Ilmul-Kalaam is the system the Sunni scholars used for explaining and defending the Muslim creed by using not only Scriptural proofs from the Qur’an and Hadith but also rational proofs that can be demonstrated independent of the Qur’an and Hadith.