بِسْم الله الرحمن الرحيم
All praise is due to Allah, the One Who is absolutely transcendent, free of every deficiency. May the best benedictions and peace be upon the best of Allah creation and the paragon of humanity, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). To proceed:
This post follows a weekend of violence fueled by racial bigotry and a week of discussion regarding it. It is my intention to be very direct and even somewhat personal but mostly, it is meant as a bit of a reality check on some levels. If anyone finds fault with my words or feels slighted by them, by all means comment. Discourse is certainly welcomed. Also, as a final introductory note, my intention is certainly to keep the post readable, but I can not guarantee brevity for this topic.
The violence that happened and the discussions which followed can be seen from different angles. There is no doubt that white supremacists were “demonstrating” and there is also no doubt that there were counter “demonstrations” and it is also true that violence was instigated and acted upon by both sides. These are facts. As in most situations like this, each side blames the other so that one side claims they were there to peacefully exercise their right to free speech but they were forced to defend themselves due to the violence of the other side. It’s messy and gets messier. This then lends itself as a trigger for further accusations and fuel for more violence. What is more, it has been utilized as a justification for many to remove from public places memorials to those who fought on the losing side of the Civil War and This itself has seemingly opened a door to go so far as attack founding fathers of this nation such as Washington and Jefferson. This is where we are today, pretty much up to date.
As for myself and this blog, I don’t tend to use it to espouse my personal views, let alone personal information, However, perhaps there is a benefit this time and so an exception is being made. Honestly, I don’t care if the statues are destroyed, as a Muslim I oppose three dimensional images of living creatures. What is more, we have national parks and libraries which permit us to learn properly about the history and heritage of our nation. The big issue I take is consistency – or rather the lack thereof. It always strikes me when an individual or group is completely (if not forcefully) in agreement with a matter until the shoe is on the other foot. Between the violent behavior seen at Black Lives Matter “demonstrations” and that seen at the White supremacist “demonstration” the arguments for and against the behavior are the same, as is the mindset and behavior. The difference is who argues for and who argues against. The same exact person who would defend this behavior by one group is adamant with regards to its ignorance and injustice when done by the other. We lack consistency. If it is wrong for one, is it not wrong for all? If we condone it for one group, is it less right for any other group?
Now, I am a white man, My family came to this nation from wortenburg, Germany in 1865 and I entered into Islam over two decades ago. There is no secret in this, after all, I am currently writing “Message to the White Man in America”, the link to the first 25 chapters is here on the blog. Because of the complexion with which my Lord created me, something I literally have no choice in, I am told I should not have a voice in the discussion. Many things are invoked, be it white privilege or my ignorance of “the struggle”. In logic, this is called “poisoning the well” and it is a means of controlling not just the conversation but the voice of the conversation.
I will briefly challenge any reader, before moving on, have you ever had to live in a state run housing project? Have you ever had to stand in a line as a child and wait for your government issue block of cheese, can of peanut butter and can of salted pork? Have you ever had to go to the store and pull out a booklet of pastel colored food stamps to pay for your lunch (Not a card where you can hide it, actual colored stamps so everyone can see you didn’t have green bills)? Have you ever had a rope put around your neck and lifted off the ground due to the color of your skin? All of this happened to me before I was ten. Have you ever been literally spit on due to the color of your skin? Have you ever been singled out and jumped (beaten by a group) due to the color of your skin? Have you ever been beaten and physically scared for the rest of your life by police? This is some of what I faced as a teenager. I have never in my life been part of a majority group, neither in school or in my community. That has never been part of my experience. Even now, in the Muslim community, I am part of a tiny minority. That is my experience throughout life. And lest someone be inclined to say, “we don’t mean you. It’s the others.” Think of how insulting this has been every time it was said to a person of color by a white associate.
I recently visited a sheikh and the topic of white privilege came up and I scoffed so he (may Allah preserve him and raise him in rank) made the statement that if I and a black man was to walk into a bank we would be treated differently and that is due to white privilege. I kept silent out of respect for this great man, however, where I live the majority of people working in the banks are African American and latinos. Every experience I have had based on the color of my skin has been the very opposite of “privilege”. Despite this, because of my whiteness, when the topic arises it seems cartwheels are performed in order to categorize me into a pre-conceived notion. I refuse to be narrowed by my skin and I refuse to be silenced.
When I was a teenager F.U.B.U. Clothes were popular. What does the name mean? “For us, by us”. Black owned and operated was (and is) a proud movement. What is more, today you have those who call to the slogan “buy black but sell to everyone”. Sadly, we find Muslims marketing against other Muslims and worse, calling on one another to buy from disbelievers rather than other Muslims based on this very slogan. No big issue really, it is marketing. However, what about consistency? It is acceptable for latinos and we also see it amongst some Arab groups, but, how would it be if small businesses ran by white folk were to do this? Would the acceptance be consistent or would such people then be labeled as racist?
There is always that interesting loop hole used to poison the well further – “non-whites can not be racist.” The argument goes that one can only be a racist if they have some kind of authority or power but this definition only applies when one is discussing it as a doctrine of government which fosters discrimination based on race. When one discusses it on an individual level it is much more honestly understood as a hatred or intolerance for other races, usually (but not always) supported by an idea of the superiority of one’s own race. Understanding it this way, we should be honest (especially with ourselves) and say there are many who are racist against whites. There is a great deal of hatred and intolerance seen in this regard on social media. What is more, there is so many attacks aimed at shaming and blaming whites until we find them actually hating themselves.
Racism is a disease which is seeded in the heart and it is not unique for whites or blacks in America. Indeed some of the worst racism I have heard and witnessed has come from Arabs and Indo/Paks. We even see forms of tribalism amongst African groups and Europeans identities. It needs to be acknowledged as something not uniquely “white” in order for it to be dealt with. This is so important as we see people on social media, where everyone is made to feel like their ignorance has a right to see the light of day, arguing foolishness. We see that people label the system as “white” as though it has a racial identity and then they seek to destroy it. This is like a straw man which one builds up, labels and then burns to feel they have accomplished something. What is more, how many of those getting into these discussion in the American Muslim community are first and second generation Americans? Even many of those with black skin are not indigenous Muslims but rather immigrants who chose to come from Africa in the last fifty years. How many second generation southeast asian Muslims take up the fight against the system due to the oppression faced by people of color? Do we not understand this problem? How many whites in this country are in actuality immigrants who came after World War Two? Yet they are blamed and labeled, are we truly that daft?
People claim “the system is white” but even such a claim as this falls short of the mark in so many ways. When one uses the word system it must be defined well and in this case it can only relate to a philosophical system based on principles and doctrines of race. It can not relate to a governmental system which is a coordinated method or scheme of procedure. One can say that the system of government was founded by those who upheld a racist system of philosophy however, that still would neither be exactly true nor would it make the system of governance racial. This argument is often invoked when one points out that major cities, states and even the country has people of color at the highest levels of office, of academia and of the highest economic status. When cities have had African American leadership over a majority African American populace for several decades and the problems of drugs, violence, education, broken homes and employment have not improved, we are told it is because the very system itself is “white”. Interestingly, it is a democratic republic system which is designed to be changed by the representatives who were chosen to represent the majority who voted. Understand this well because in doing so you must understand that racially label the system as “white” is nothing more than a straw man argument at best and a cop out at worst. Either way, it does not stand.
Someone may say, “well the founding fathers had slaves and saw blacks as inferior and the government was built with that ideology.” If I were to agree and say the government was built by those holding a particular ideology, that in no way means that what we see today reflects that. In fact, I think what we see today is truer to the writings of the founding fathers than it was in their time. However, how many know what the founding fathers actually said about slavery and racial relations? It is always mentioned that they were slave owners but what did they say? George Washington himself said in a letter to John Merced in 1786, “I never mean, unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it, to possess another slave by purchase, it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by law.” What is more, in his last will and testament he said, “upon the decease, my wife, it is my will and desire that all of the slaves which I hold in my own right shall receive their freedom.”
In 1796, Benjamin Banneker wrote, “The color of the skin is in no ways connected with strength of mind or intellectual powers.” In a letter to him, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I can add with truth that no one wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their (the slaves and blacks in general in the U.S.) body and mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecility of their present existence, and other circumstances which cannot be neglected, will admit.” Here he calls the very system which lead to and permitted slavery as imbecilic. In clearer words we read his writing in 1787, “This abomination must have an end. And there is a superior bench reserved in a heaven of those who hasten it.” Indeed, he had penned in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence there was a paragraph on the prohibiting slave trade but it was omitted in the final draft.
What about others such as James Madison? Didn’t he say in 1787, “We have seen the mere distinction of color made in there most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exe fused by man over man.” And again in 1789, “It is hoped to be that by expressing a national disapprobation of this trade we may destroy it, and make ourselves free from reproaches, and our posterity from the imbecility ever attendant on a country filled with slaves.” How much clearer could he state it then when he said in 1820, “Our opinions agree as to the evil – moral, political and economical – of slavery.” This sentiment was heard again and again by so many of the voices of the founding fathers, be they Thomas Paine, David Rice, Benjamin Rush, Alexander Hamilton or Benjamin Franklin. Perhaps we can end this point with the words of John lay who said in 1786, “To contend for our own liberty, and deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.”
This is not meant in any way to deny or sugar coat the evils of the past! It is not meant to deny the evils of the slave trade or the injustices that occurred following abolition. It is not even meant to deny the racism and effects of it that are experienced right up until today. And believe me, it is absolutely not meant to deny the injustices and corruption of our government. What it is meant to say is that if we are going to cure the hearts of this disease, our own, our families and our communities, we need to be not just honest but consistent.
I grew up in an environment defined by poverty, crime and violence but I was not raised with hatred or even anger. I speak not as a white man or as a representative of white folk but rather I speak as a human being and a believer. If we want to move forward as healthy individuals, as good families, and as strong communities we must be honest and consistent. Our ego (individual and communal) is addicted to whatever strengthens it and the two things that fuel it the most is being praised and “othering”. The more we can differentiate ourselves from others, the stronger our ego becomes. What is more, our ego not only seeks differences but it seeks out the deficiencies in others so that it can feel superior. The ego defines its existence through “otherness” and so feeds on it; Otherness of creation, of races, of languages, of nationalities, and even faiths. Any time the ego can make an enemy it becomes stronger so it always seeks to use others, either to feed it with praises or to feed it with negativity by emphasizing the “otherness” as it gives it something to complain about. Understanding this, the way forward is to come to the realization that all of mankind are the children of Adam.
The human heart is the means to living within the realm of reality. It is the real means by which we interact with others and it is our means of manifesting our truth. Unfortunately, so often when we interact with others we project onto them from our own hearts. We project who we expect them to be, who we want them to be, and even the way we want them to view us. This is the cause of so much conflict! Instead, we should struggle and strive to commit ourselves to Relate to others according to what is, according to who they really are and respond to them according to their current state in the present. If we did this it would ensure that we always responded appropriately in a given situation. It would also then be the case that they would become a mirror to our own reality and nature instead of a fictitious creation of our own devices.
Everyone – your family and friends, believers and disbelievers reflect back to you your states – even those you interact with on the street or in a shop – so we should strive to meet everyone with love, mercy, kindness and compassion. We have to get to a point where we are able to acknowledge that we are all humans and we all fall on our faces sometimes, it happens. But in order to arrive at this state of acceptance we must be willing to let go of our pride. We must be willing to be wrong, to be weak, to be vulnerable, even to be hurt…Suffering is real, It happens! but can not allow ourselves to get stuck in that moment. We must acknowledge the trials and allow the difficulties in life to serve as reminders for us. What is more, we must be willing to recognize that even when we share circumstances and situations, everyone of us goes through our own difficulties, or at least their own experiences of them.
Realizing this, we should Treat every encounter with every human being as though we are encountering humanity itself. We must learn to manifest our compassion for our fellow man. It is there in our hearts already, though for many it is buried by so many veils. But we must strive and learn to manifest it, seeing our fellow human being as our fellow human being. We are quick to see other people’s limitations, to try to act as advisors or correct them. What is more urgent is that we work on our own States in that moment! Our own “what is right now”. We have to stop looking outwards at others and begin honoring ourselves by being real in every moment, by honoring this truth and being committed to it. What do we mean? Understand that commitment to truth is actually only a commitment to God and a commitment to God leads to a commitment to effort and a commitment to effort means commitment – regardless of the good of the decree or the bitter of it. Understanding this, our commitment to our fellow man – to humanity – should only ever have one condition – the condition of an absolute commitment to our Lord, ourselves and our fellow man that we will strive to exist in the truth. That is, to manifest Allah’s guidance, as found in the Qur’an and the prophetic sunnah, in every aspect of our lives.
Our hearts have the answers and they hold the potential -for growth, for change, for healing. If we want peace in our lives, if we want to bring peace to the lives of others, we must manifest it. Only we let go of that pain and suffering, – the negativity and othering that our egos feed off of; when we open our hearts to humanity – only then will we see change. How many of us live aware that every moment of our life is a unique experience? What is more, how many of us choose to experience giving and receiving love, allowing it to flow from us. How many of us share our moments, our lives, seeking by it to Touch the lives of others?
The prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him made it clear that racism, tribalism and nationalism are all from the beliefs and perspectives of the pre-Islamic days of ignorance. He (peace and blessings be upon him) made it clear that there is no room for this in Islam. He made it very clear that the non-Arab is not superior to the Arab nor the Arab to the Non-Arab and that the Black is not superior to the white nor is the white superior to the black. He taught and made it clear that Allah does not look at outward forms but rather He looks at our hearts and deeds. He (peace and blessings be upon him) also made it every so clear that if one’s heart is corrupted their limbs would be corrupt, meaning that if one has diseases in their hearts you are sure to see wrong actions from them. The prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), by his example, manifested the words of Allah that it was Allah that created us upon our nations and tribes but our nobility, honor and dignity – our right to be truly respected – is according to what is manifested upon our limbs, from our hearts, for Allah.
I say, as I end this very long post, as human beings we need to stop clinging to rhetoric, propaganda and slogans and take ourselves to account for our own actions. As Americans, if we don’t like the current situation in OUR nation, do not love it or leave it – change it – with your hands, your tongues and your hearts! And as Muslims, there is room to know yourself, your linage and your heritage but there is no room in judging others due to theirs. We are a people who enjoin the good, forbid the evil, stand out for justice, defend the oppressed, and speak the truth, even if it be against ourselves. We must be true to this and, as is the theme of this, we must be consistent across the board.
We close with the words of the beloved of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself” Imam An-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy upon him) defined this generally as our brothers in humanity. So know and understand well, Loving FOR others is a part of our faith.
And success is with Allah alone.