Fighting for the Soul of “American Islam” — Activists vs. Imams vs. Academics

Over the past few days, we have seen one of those rare occasions when American Muslim figures and institutions publicly attack each other. Unfortunate as it is to see this kind of mess, this episode was quite revealing and did a great deal to clarify certain networks and affiliations within the “American Islam” project as well as fault lines therein.

What Happened?

It all started with a biting article in Aljazeera from Ali Al-Arian, son of Sami Al-Arian, the American Muslim professor who was unjustly indicted and imprisoned by the US government for years for his pro-Palestinian advocacy.

Al-Arian’s article, titled “The Political Impotence of the Muslim American Community,” took aim at several prominent Muslim figures and organizations, for the “crimes” of:

  • Sh Hamza Yusuf, for accepting his appointment to Trump’s Human Rights Commission
  • Imam Zaid Shakir, for defending Yusuf, allegedly voicing support for “Blue Lives Matter” (which Shakir denies) and being profiled by the NYTimes as a “good Muslim,” i.e., establishment-approved Muslim
  • Zaytuna College, for publishing a journal which accepts grants from a conservatively-oriented Christian organization
  • Dr. Sherman Jackson, for his position on the UAE-based Muslim Council of Elders, his position as adviser to the Tony Blair led Center for Strategic and International Studies, his involvement with the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiatives targeting “extremism” in the Muslim community
  • Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), for their involvement with CVE
  • Ta’leef Collective, for their involvement with CVE
  • Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), for their involvement with CVE
  • ISNA, for their engagement with the Zionist American Jewish Council and former Israeli President Shimon Peres
  • Emgage, for their involvement with the Zionist Anti-Defamation League and their national chair’s participation in the BDS-violating Muslim Leadership Initiative, MLI

To see sources for these claims, see Al-Arian’s article.

Overall, the article argues that these American Muslim institutions have no principles because they are willing to cooperate with government programs at the expense of the Muslim community’s interests, domestically and internationally.

Now, I think that Al-Arian is absolutely correct with much of his criticism. But, his article suffers from a number of significant problems, which are discussed below.

But before we get to that, another Aljazeera article jumps in to defend “American Islam.” This article, written by CAIR’s National Director of Research, is titled, “Actually, American Muslims Are at the Center of Resistance.”

The author, Abbas Barzegar, begins by stating that Al-Arian makes some good points, but he ultimately goes too far in his criticism of certain organizations.

For example, Barzegar seems to agree that Hamza Yusuf’s associations are deeply problematic, and may be “tantamount to betrayal.” He links to an article calling for the condemnation of Yusuf.

Then Barzegar goes on to list American Muslims he views as heroes (or, as he puts it, (s)heroes). Those of you paying attention will quickly notice a certain pattern…

  • Ilhan “The Sharia Is Barbaric” Omar
  • Rashida “My Allah Is a She” Tlaib (he calls her and Ilhan “icons”… eww)
  • Imam Omar Suleiman
  • Alia Salem (a far-left feminist activist, with interesting scholarly connections…)
  • Linda Sarsour
  • Dalia Mogahed
  • Zahra Billoo (Barzegar’s fellow feminist, pro-LGBT CAIR director)
  • Najeeba Syed (a far-left feminist pro-LGBT academic)
  • MPower Change (Sarsour’s activism org)
  • Maha Hilal (a far-left feminist pro-LGBT activist, and the one who wrote an article calling for condemnation of Hamza Yusuf, criticizing him for being “white cisgender”)
  • Darakshan Raza (a far-left pro-LGBT activist)
  • Imam Zaid Shakir
  • Tarek Messidi

It is very clear what Barzegar thinks “American Islam” should be all about: far-left “social justice” activism, partnership with the most rabid feminists and LGBT pushers, comfortably situated among Democratic party institutions and affiliations.

This is highly significant given Barzegar’s extensive involvement with countering extremism government initiatives.

It is no coincidence that Barzegar’s piece makes little mention of CVE, which was a major part of Al-Arian’s entire critique of numerous figures and orgs. In fact, Barzegar praises several figures and orgs for taking a stand against CVE, which is curious given his own background promoting it. More on that below.

Together, Al-Arian and Barzegar’s article in Aljazeera produce an interesting one-two punch. Al-Arian leads with an article full of denunciation, tearing down one leader after another. Then Barzegar follows up with assurances and positivity, building up the profiles of his chosen list of “American Muslim Leaders.”

Now, I am not saying that this was a coordinated effort by the two authors, but it is certainly convenient what both of these authors include and omit from their respective articles, both published on Aljazeera within a few days of each other.

For example, is it not blatantly, irresponsibly inconsistent to rant about American imperialism and the “institutionalized White Supremacy” of the US war machine, only focusing on Republicans and right-wing-affiliated figures, while completely ignoring the Democratic side of the equation?

Last time I checked, both Republicans and Democrats were at the helm of American Empire and, therefore, implicated in institutionalized badness.

But this fact is rather inconvenient for left-wing activists, like Barzegar, because it brings into question their own affiliations and the affiliations of their preferred imams, who have benefited handsomely from a career on the left side of the political aisle.

As another example of blatant omission, I find it interesting that Al-Arian criticizes Sherman Jackson for several things, but doesn’t find it necessary to note how Jackson gave an entire prayer convocation at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, i.e., Killary’s coming out party. Again, is the Democratic Party not a part of US imperialism and genocide?

Watch for yourself this moving speech from “Reverend” Sherman Jackson as he prays that God will shine His light on the Democrats.

If “American Islam” could be bottled up into a 3-minute clip, that would be it.

Sherman Jackson’s Response

Dr. Jackson responds to Al-Arian’s article forcefully, to say the least. His essay, ironically titled “From Demagoguery Into the Lizard’s Hole – A Response to Ali al-Arian,” has venom for a wide range of Muslim community factions, mostly “immigrant Muslims” and activists.

Here are some choice quotes:

I have spent my entire adult life studying Islam. If Al-Arian disagrees with a view or action of mine, this should be the basis for a conversation. Or he can simply criticize my views or actions unilaterally, with no conversation. But he is way out of line to impugn my personal integrity.

This line has become a tired cliche: “You can criticize my actions, but don’t impugn my personal integrity!”

What does that even mean? Al-Arian’s article is doing precisely that: criticizing Jackson’s views and actions, characterizing them as unethical. Al-Arian is only impugning Jackson’s integrity insofar as he is strongly protesting Jackson’s political decisions. How is it that such a critique is off limits? Does Jackson think that his actions are beyond ethical critique?

Meanwhile, during a “sidebar” at a gathering of Muslim scholars in Texas later that year, I explained to a few of the brothers that while I believed I was right to be on the inside doing what I could, if others thought that CVE was wrong they should be on the outside protesting like hell! This, in my view, is the way mature communities sometimes have to do things: its Malcolm and Martin; its chess, not checkers!

Ok, people who disagree with Jackson on his CVE involvement should, according to him, “protest like hell.” Isn’t that exactly what Al-Arian is doing?

Al-Arian mentions that, “the Muslim American community seemed united at least in its opposition to the Trump administration.” He and those who make up this alleged consensus are apparently offended by Trump’s so-called Muslim ban. But a Blackamerican sister in Chicago once asked me rhetorically why she should support having Muslims come to this country who are only going to treat her like crap. We heard this same talk about Muslim consensus leading up to the 2000 presidential election, i.e., that the Muslim community was united behind George W. Bush (“family values” and all). But is there anyone dauntless enough to suggest that the Blackamerican Muslim community unanimously supported Bush? These are the kinds of false consensuses that we have been dealing with for years.

Uh oh. Muslim activists, like those at CAIR, are not going to be happy about this, activists who have made the end all, be all of their political advocacy for the Muslim community the so-called “Muslim Ban.”

This is the first time I have seen a prominent figure downplay the issue. And I think Jackson’s assessment is exactly right: The average American Muslim doesn’t really care about this. There is no evidence to indicate that this policy has had a significant impact on the community as a whole. Travel to the US from those four countries affected by the ban was already extremely difficult in the Obama era. It was not like pre-Trump, the US had an open-door policy for Iranians, Yemenis, Syrians, and Libyans. Obama had already put travel restrictions on those countries, especially due to the military operations of the US and its allies in three out of the four countries during his terms.

If Al-Arian had any idea of the degree of sacrifice, tenacity and courage that some of us converts, black, white, brown and other – especially sisters — had to acquire and maintain just to convert to Islam and to stay Muslim, he might not be so quick to give himself permission to lecture us about courage.

A pretty condescending and tone-deaf thing to say to a man whose family was literally targeted by the US government, harassed, and held practically under siege for over a decade.

None of us can deny the alarming rates of attrition and falling away from Islam that we have witnessed over the past few decades – some of this in our own families! And yet, who was in the White House or what America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia or the UAE was has not made the major difference. Our primary problem in America is not electoral politics per se but the fact that the socio-cultural reality that now engulfs us is one in which Muslims – especially young Muslims — struggle to find meaning and relevance in Islam. If academics like me appear to be politically ‘unmusical’, might it be because electoral politics does not hold the priority for us that it holds for al-Arian and those in whose name he purports to speak?

Sherman Jackson is a big proponent of “American Islam.” He spells it out here clear as day, but his other works over the years have advanced the same thesis: Islam practiced in America needs to be fully American and, therefore, needs to be wrested from the “immigrants.” This has meant — if not in intent, then certainly in effect — a marginalization of imams, religious leaders, and religious institutions from the Muslim world, i.e., what Jackson and his students derisively call “immigrants.”

As Jackson reiterates in this recent article, immigrants are racist. Immigrants have no sense of what is socio-culturally relevant in America. Immigrants are stuck “back home” and “their Islam” is only good for back home. This, of course, creates a convenient excuse to attribute anything that contravenes American culture as a relic of “immigrant Islam,” even when that thing may be fully in accord with Islam or even required in Islam.

Note: I am by no means saying that racism does not exist among Arab and South Asian Muslims. Clearly, there are racists in our community, whether it is the ignorant masjid-goer, the liquor store owner in the hood, or the father who won’t marry his daughter to a black man.

But the existence of this racism has now become an ideological hammer, wielded by activists and Marxist academics alike, to attack traditional institutions and traditional Islamic values. Jackson also uses this charge of racism here to shield himself from valid criticism.

Now I don’t want to go off on a tangent in critiquing Sherman Jackson’s overall outlook, but I would be remiss not to note the irony in him taking offense to Al-Arian, characterizing him as a rash, racist immigrant, when in reality, protest and irreverence toward authority figures are as American as apple pie! If nothing else, Al-Arian’s critique has fully embraced these aspects of American culture.

Al-Arian has the shocking temerity to accuse me of aligning myself with and lending credibility to white supremacy. If this weren’t so sad it would be laughable. I don’t know any Muslim who has been more explicit and eloquent in their critique of white supremacy – from an Islamic perspective! — than I have. But its funny, when Islam and the Blackamerican came out some fourteen years ago, many in the immigrant community condemned me for trucking the ‘alien concept of race’ into the discourse on Islam in America, as if I had abandoned Islam for the NOI. But then, as soon as they found a way to ‘weaponize’ this critique for their purposes, it gained acceptance and they became the champions of anti-white supremacy. The sad fact, however, is that many of them still do not understand white supremacy. Many of them are not against white supremacy at all; they are simply angry at white people!

I agree with Jackson here. So much of activist discourse nowadays is racist, anti-white diatribes. It’s sickening.

 

It certainly is true that much of American (and European) history is predicated on white supremacy. Jackson has spoken and written about this dimension of American empire and culture for years. But not all white people are white supremacists. And not all the world’s evil is white supremacy. What about Zionism, for example? Zionism is not in service of the white man, is it? But most of the woke Muslim activists have internalized this racist reduction of all the world’s problem to white people.

That being said, Jackson is not one to criticize the identitarian “wokeness” of activists when he plays the race card with reckless abandon in this essay to defend his own actions. If not all white people are guilty, by the same token, not all black people are innocent, as Jackson himself would agree.

So What Was Jackson’s Involvement with CVE?

Overall, Dr. Jackson’s response fails to substantively address the thrust of Al-Arian’s critique. He hand waves his own problematic associations and makes them out to be hardly worthy of comment, let alone defense.

But when we look at the Tony Blair-led CSIS report that Jackson served as advisor to, very problematic themes come to light. (Imam Mohamed Magid of ADAMS center in Virginia was also an advisor or “commissioner.”)

Some commissioners draw a direct link between the Muslim Brotherhood and its ilk, arguing that contemporary terrorist groups like ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and others are the logical outgrowth of their political agenda and intolerant world view. For these commissioners, it is impossible to separate the ideology espoused by these groups and violence. The violence has its roots in extremists’ core belief that everything should be subordinated to their ideology and that those who do not share it are misguided and should be forced to accept it. For example, the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram has its roots in a far more widely shared view that women should be subordinate to men. The idea that cartoon makers should be killed has its roots in the belief that those who print such cartoons are committing an act worthy of
punishment..

Here all political Islam is theorized as leading to extremist violence. In other words, there is no difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. This is precisely the “radicalization pipeline” thesis that has been discredited by sociologists, that maintaining orthodox Islamic beliefs leads to a desire to commit terrorism. By characterizing orthodox Islamic tenets, like gender roles and gender hierarchy or the hudud associated with blasphemy, as leading to extremism, this report casts a wide net of suspicion against all orthodox Muslims.

Of a hundred prominent terrorists profiled, over half associated with non-violent extremist groups before joining violent movements. In this light, ignoring the intimate connection between the ideology and violence is a major strategic error.

Again, this puts the entire orthodox Muslim community in the cross hairs of “counter extremism.” The most aggressive Islamophobes use this logic to implicate average Muslims in the crimes of ISIS and Alqaeda.

In this view, violent extremism descends from an entirely distinct artery of Muslim activism. It begins with the wholesale condemnation not merely of Muslim-majority governments but of Muslim society in general. The centrality of excommunication or takfīr to this ideology can be seen in the name of one of its earliest representatives: al-Takfīr wa al-Hijrah (Excommunicating and Dissociating from Modern Muslim Society). According to Professor Sherman Jackson, renowned scholar of Islamic thought and culture and commissioner, this is the first step in justifying the most violent and inhumane treatment of adversaries—as apostate traitors to the faith. It also sustains these groups’ view that they are the only true representatives of Islam, which they sell to potential recruits who are  often starving for absolution, belonging, or identity. On this logic, to oppose these groups is presented as opposing Islam itself. And not to oppose the West is to oppose these groups.

Jackson is prominently quoted here, explaining how takfir and “opposition to the West” are the mark of violent extremists. But takfir is a part of orthodox Islam (granted that some misuse it, but nevertheless, it is a part of Islam). So what does this imply for orthodox Muslims? Is it a coincidence that the very notion of takfir has been so stigmatized in recent years within Muslim discourse that the mere mention of it sends faux-traditionalists into a tail spin? No, this is what government agencies manipulating Islamic theology is all about.

The report goes into great detail on different strategies to manipulate the Muslim community.

In the United States, prominent imams are dealing with the challenge of violent extremism by getting young people involved in community service. For example, one imam orchestrates outings with local refugee families and service trips to refugee camps in Jordan. The goal is to get young people engaged and to demonstrate that they can make a difference by serving their community in positive ways.

Hmmm… I wonder which “prominent imam” is being described here…

There is much more to unpack with this report, which we hope to do soon. But for now, it is critical to understand how dangerous these counter extremist efforts are. Naive Muslims might think, “Well, what is wrong with countering violent extremists?”

There is nothing inherently wrong with it so long as we acknowledge the glaring truth: virtually all acts of terror committed by Muslims in the past few decades have been a response to Western occupation, invasion, and intervention in Muslim countries. This is a FACT that the US Pentagon itself has acknowledgedNOTE: I am not defending or justifying terrorism.

Acknowledging the true cause of terrorism should be the first step to combating it, but counter-extremism programs ignore this reality and instead pin extremism on things like takfir and other non-liberal, non-secular aspects of orthodox Islam. These programs spread the lie that there is something inherent to Islam that lends itself, if not directly inspires, violent terror. As a result, these programs spread a myth about Muslim extremism that masks the true cause of terrorism from the public. If the Western public were better informed about this true cause, they would be more likely to oppose Western war in the Muslim world. But the military industrial complex and Israel wouldn’t be too happy about that. So Islam and the Muslim community continue to be blamed for something caused by unjust wars and intervention.

The point being, counter extremism programs endanger the Muslim community in the West and indirectly perpetuate Western slaughter of Muslims in the East.

When Muslim figures choose to be a part of such programs, that is a BIG DEAL and something they must answer for.

Why Is Jackson the Only One Getting Hit for CVE Support?

People tend to forget: CVE was an Obama Administration initiative, not Trump. Certain prominent American Muslims in the Obama Admin were key figures in the development of the program.

Now that CVE has become a dirty word in the Muslim community, the involvement of those Muslims has been quickly hushed out, and it is easy to see why. With Trump winning in 2016, many of those Muslims left their cushy governmental roles and transformed themselves into anti-establishment activists overnight. The hypocrisy of this 180 degree shift hasn’t been fully explored by anyone to my knowledge, and I am not going to get too deep into it here.

But just to get the ball rolling: Why does Dalia Mogahed get a free pass given that she played a central role in the development of the program?

Mogahed enjoyed a highly visible and influential position on Obama’s President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009. In this role, she “testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about U.S. engagement with Muslim communities, and she provided significant contributions to the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Countering Violent Extremism Working Group recommendations.”

Her organization, ISPU, also played a big part in public relations, softening the Muslim community to the prospect of cooperating with federal and local agencies to police themselves. This was done through debates on the positives and negatives of CVE, held at the national ISNA convention and elsewhere, making it seem like an argument could be made for such a problematic initiative, one that has now been completely discredited and is seen by many activists, rightly or wrongly, as an arm of white supremacy.

So why does Sherman Jackson get blasted but Mogahed, who played a central role in the development of the program itself, continues to enjoy a highly visible role in the community, headlining ISNA panels annually and sitting comfortably in advisory board positions for organizations like Yaqeen Institute and The Islamic Seminary of America? And more importantly, to what extent does her involvement with CVE inform the work of these organizations she is intimately involved with?

Another figure that has largely avoided scrutiny is Shahed Amanullah. I already discussed his significant role in CVE briefly here, but there is much more that can be said.

And another significant connection: Abbas Barzegar, the author of the second article mentioned above promoting everyone from Ilhan to Dalia to Linda to Omar Suleiman. Barzegar has a history of promoting more “nuanced” approaches to countering extremism and rebranding CVE to make it more palatable to the Muslim community. He wrote a long article for the Washington Post in 2015 titled, “Muslim NGOs could help counter violent extremism.” In 2016, he led a research group which presented recommendations for countering extremism to the British Council. In this report, he pointed to several American Muslim orgs as partners or potential partners for continued engagement in countering extremism efforts:

  • Bayan Claremont, an Islamic Studies degree program with instructors including Sherman Jackson, Suhaib Webb, Omar Suleiman, and others.
  • Fifth Tribe, digital consulting agency led by Khurram Zaman
  • Quilliam Foundation, yes, that Quilliam
  • Affinis Labs, Shahed Amanullah’s company
  • Radical Middle Way, non-profit that brings together “traditional” scholar events

Now, I am not making any claims here about the extent these orgs have been involved with CVE. But they clearly have these questionable connections. Why is there no scrutiny on them? Why aren’t they asked the same legitimate questions being asked now of Sherman Jackson?

The cover of Barzegar’s report.

The reality is, Western governments have made a concerted effort to monitor, manipulate, and police Islamic discourse around the world. In the past 8 years, CVE has been a major part of that effort. As Muslims, we have a right to know about other Muslims and Muslim orgs who have been complicit in this effort and the nature of their involvement with government agencies.

The fact that Abbas Barzegar, one of the key figures involved with the rebranding of CVE, is promoting certain highly visible figures in his Aljazeera article, listed above, while also being a director at CAIR raises many difficult questions.

Imam Zaid’s Response

Imam Zaid also had some choice words in his response to Al-Arian on Facebook.

What is characteristic of his post is its indignation. Like Jackson, Shakir seems to view Al-Arian’s criticisms as a personal affront. Honestly, this kind of attitude reeks of elitism. No one is above reproach. It is possible to respond to criticism, even unfair criticism, without talking about how much you have served the community, how many people look up to you, etc.

As for substantive points, Shakir says:

As we know, that violence does not emerge from a vacuum. It is coordinated and orchestrated from Centcom headquarters, America’s military command for the region. Centcom’s forward operating headquarters are located in Qatar, a country which since 2001 has purchased over 20 billion dollars of arms from the United States with several billion more in the pipeline. It is curious that Al-Arian himself has not found the moral integrity or political courage to condemn the government of Qatar for the role it directly plays in facilitating the policies he condemns others for indirectly supporting.

While perhaps this is a relevant point, it doesn’t absolve Hamza Yusuf, et al., from their involvement with the UAE. Al-Arian not condemning Qatar is not at the same level of Yusuf, et al., benefiting from their UAE connections.

In Al-Arian’s view, the political impotence of the community is due, in part, to what he calls a “colonized reading” of the Islamic tradition. Based on the language, cliches and ideas informing Al-Arian’s critique, his reading of the Islamic tradition is just as colonized. His intellectual frame of reference is simply informed by a different set of “dead white men” than that of those he condemns. The ideas of Marx, Lenin, Habermas, Horkheimer, Adorno, Gramsci, Sartre, Marcuse, Foucault, etc. undergird his analysis while any reference to the Qur’an, Sunna or the interpretations of Muslim scholars is tellingly absent.

There is one major difference between the type of colonized thinking he displays as opposed to that of his adversaries. Theirs, in his view, leads to a politically-neutered reading of the Islamic tradition, while his leads to its total rejection.

I haven’t read much of Al-Arian’s other writing, so I don’t know if Shakir’s criticism here is correct. But I certainly think this critique applies to most of the vocal Muslim activists and academics today. The Critical Race Theory pushers, social justice warriors, decolonialists, and “Gender Justice” feminists are all intellectually colonized and all betray Islamic values in a variety of ways that myself and others often write about on MuslimSkeptic.

What is weird is that Imam Zaid’s acerbic words against activism here may very well apply to some of his own associations and mentees on the activist front…

Finally, Shakir makes this explosive claim:

I cannot see how this statement violates or misrepresents any Islamic teachings, nor can I see how it is an endorsement of the “Blue Lives Matter” platform. On the other hand, Al-Arian’s implicit endorsement of the coldblooded murder of unsuspecting police officers is condemnable in the light of every Islamic teaching upholding the sanctity of life.

Whoa! Accusing the man of implicitly endorsing coldblooded murder! No one’s going to top that. [Update: Imam Zaid has since deleted this sentence from his post.]

Like Dr. Jackson, Imam Zaid provides no substantive response to the charges leveled by Al-Arian. This leaves many questions. Does Imam Zaid approve of CVE activities? Does he approve of Dr. Jackson’s involvement with them? Does he have any connection to such programs? Does Zaytuna? Does he not feel any duty to clarify these issues to the community?

Irony of Ironies

What is striking with all these articles and responses is how little substance there is to the whole conversation. Al-Arian bemoans a lack of principles, but he doesn’t spell out much in terms of principles himself. All he says towards this is:

Being Muslim meant standing up against white supremacy and global empire, whether in Alabama or Vietnam; it meant standing in solidarity with the struggles of black and brown people everywhere.

What? This is what it means to be Muslim? What about tawhid, submission to Allah, love of Allah and His Messenger, peace be upon him?

This is exactly the danger of the constant emphasis on social justice activism. An entire generation of Muslims has been conditioned to believe that Islam, as a religion, is primarily about activism, and not just any kind of activism, but activism as defined and mediated by a left-wing political narrative that is often anti-religion and anti-tradition. This is why we have so many American Muslims who strongly believe that being a good Muslim means marching for the acceptance of gay lifestyles and drag queens, i.e., things that are enormities within Islam.

But as it happens, Sherman Jackson is partly responsible for this “Islam as activism” mentality.

Most people might not be aware of this, but Sherman Jackson was the first Muslim scholarly figure to argue that American Muslims ought to support gay marriage. This was in 2007 in an article for the Washington Post’s now defunct OnFaith blog, titled “On Morality and Politics.” This was nearly a decade before the Supreme Court Decision to legalize it. Jackson was way ahead of the curve on this issue, and the ludicrous argument he made to justify his position influenced many imams and Muslim academics.

I have reproduced the article below since, as far as I can tell, it’s no longer on the internet. But key to his argument is the distinction he makes between morality and politics. This is the distinction that has been parroted by every “nuanced” Muslim academic trying to justify Muslim support of LGBT fahisha ever since.

But the distinction is a nonsensical one, and even if it did make sense, we can see the results of it now: Droves of young American Muslims who can’t make this “nuanced” distinction between the moral and the political and, even worse, adopt the political as their morality. This is the activist, social justice caricature of Islam that Jackson’s own philosophical outlook has helped to create, and now he is left tasting the bitter fruits of it.

So What Should Our Principles Be?

Religious scholars, imams, and community figures should not be cooperating with government powers. That has become very obvious at this point. I have already explained this principle and its precedent in the Islamic tradition. No good can come of it and all that is bred is mistrust and confusion. It is completely justified in this post RAND Report world to mistrust religious figures who are involved or affiliated with any level of governmental and political power. These are forces that aim to secularize and liberalize Muslims by distorting Islam, reforming it to serve their interests. They have announced their intentions openly and brazenly.

We simply cannot afford to be naive about this.

Furthermore, this rule applies to government powers whether Republican or Democrat, left-wing or right-wing, seemingly friendly to Muslims or not. Clearly there is a double standard with activists and academics railing against Hamza Yusuf, Sherman Jackson, et al., for their associations with Trump and the UAE, but silence for those like Omar Suleiman and Dalia Mogahed who affiliate with the left.

For those who are not aware, Obama dealt billions of dollars in arms to Saudi and the UAE during his presidency. He on numerous occasions openly criticized Muslims as prone to violence and he sat idly by as Israel leveled Gaza through multiple operations. Why don’t these travesties, not to mention all his other crimes against the Muslim world, make the left-wing and the Democratic establishment just as problematic for the Muslim community? Shouldn’t they be condemned in the same way virtually everyone agrees the Republican party should be? Why do some community members seem stubbornly blind to the atrocities against Muslims and Islam from the left?

Until this double standard is resolved, we can’t take many of these activists, academics, and public figures seriously. Al-Arian is right. It is a question of principle.

Slash and Burn?

Just to preempt possible expected responses, let me state: This post is articulating important questions that need to be asked. This is a part of accountability. If you notice, there is no questioning of intentions, no impugning of personal integrity, no broad-stroke condemnations of anyone in any of the above. However, if leaders consistently make bad decisions that threaten the interests of the Muslim community and then stand by those bad decisions, they need to be scrutinized by the community, not given a blank check to do as they please with us as their hostages.

As always, we pray that Allah unites the Ummah on Truth and guides us to obedience to Him in all our affairs.

 

Article by Sherman Jackson on Gay Marriage:

On Morality and Politics (Published March 5, 2007)

This is a difficult question, not because of its substance but because the moral and political framework within which Islam is forced to express itself – especially in the modern West – tends to distort its voice and force it into apology and misrepresentation.

A major feature of this framework is the tendency to assume that religion, and therefore Islam, invariably aims to translate its every moral sensibility into laws and policies. On this understanding, if we know a religion’s moral judgments, we can assume that we know its legal/political ones.

This understanding, however, is not consistent with the perspective of Traditional – to be distinguished in many ways from Modern – Islam. Simply put, before its encounter with the vision of the modern nation state, Islam was pluralistic: neither law nor politics, i.e., the applied legal order, was a zero-sum game.

One Islamic school held a substance to be unlawful; another held it to be harmless; neither, however, could bind the other to its view. Muslims unanimously condemned pork and wine consumption as immoral; but they did not deny this to Christians or others whose religious values allowed it.

In short, Islam did not seek to translate its every moral value or sensibility into a political order consisting of rules to be imposed on the entire society.

As for the specific issue of homosexuality – and I limit myself here to homosexual acts not tendencies (adultery, e.g., is only a crime if it is acted upon, not if it is simply desired) – Islam unanimously condemned it as a moral abomination, imposing stiff sanctions against it. Generally speaking, however, these applied only to Muslims. [This is not true. Liwat was not permissible for ahl al-dhimma, as Ibn al-Qayyim explicitly says in his work on the topic.]

As for non-Muslims whose religious traditions sanctioned homosexuality, many jurists, perhaps a majority, would place them under the general provision that left religious minorities to their own discretion, at least in the private realm (marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.). [What is the evidence for this? Plenty of evidence that shows the opposite: Jurists restricted homosexual behavior for both Muslims and non-Muslims.] This is the general position to which I subscribe.

As for gay unions, Islamic law would no more sanction them than it would homosexual acts. Again, however, this applies to Muslims. [??? is this some back-of-the-envelope ijtihad?]

As for non-Muslims, there is, as mentioned, a tradition within Islamic orthodoxy that leaves them to their own moral order, at least in the private realm.

In this light, I have serious misgivings about a constitutional amendment that would ban gay unions across the board, not because I support or even condone homosexuality but because I believe that marriage is essentially a religious institution whose definition should be left to religious communities.

The state should be limited to the role of executor, just as it does in the case of the bylaws of professional organizations or the terms of multinational contracts.

In other words, if a religious community (e.g., the Episcopalians) deems gay unions to be consistent with Christianity, the state should only act to curtail their religious freedom for a compelling state or public interest. Otherwise, the political value of religious freedom should trump the moral perspective of the state. The matter, in other words, is not one of morality but one of religious freedom in a pluralistic society.

To be sure, many gays (and others) will deem even this to fall short of full recognition of homosexuality. They are right, of course.

I would only add that, as a Muslim, I should be no more compelled to accept their moral vision than they are to accept mine. They do not accept the prophethood of Muhammad. I should not have to accept the morality of homosexuality. Nor should it be assumed, on the other hand, that because I reject homosexuality on moral grounds I reduce a person’s entire worth as a human being to his or her sexual orientation.

And God knows best.

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Daniel,

    For someone who doesn’t live in the USA, I would like to ask you *your* opinion/observation on the soul of American Islam.

    I understand you mention popular activists, politicians, religious (or irreligious) imams, popular professionals (engineers, CPAs, lawyers, etc.) etc., but they are just those – public figures – regardless if you speak appraisingly or critically of them.

    But what about the average American Muslim on the street? Personally, I don’t think it’s a monolithic demographic, unlike in the Muslim world like Morocco or Pakistan or Indonesia and so on.

    1- The first generation immigrant – Ignore the country of origin and salafi/sufi leanings
    2- The second generation immigrant, i.e., children of those who migrated, who were born and/or primarily raised and grew up to adulthood in the US – Again, ignore the country of origin and salafi/sufi leanings
    3- The first generation convert – Ignore ethnicity (white, black, hispanic, American Indian, etc.) and salafi/sufi leanings
    4- The second generation convert, i.e., children of converts who were raised by them in their state of Islam, again ignore ethnicity and salafi/sufi leanings

    For each of the above categories of people, what would be your assessment of their levels of knowledge or practice, and about their contribution to or influence from – academia, politics, and imam-dom. Simple tweet sized one liners would be great. I’m really trying to understand what would be a typical American Muslim.

    • The biggest trend based on what I have seen around the country and talking to imams and community organizers is the “social justice-ification” of religious Muslims. Within all those categories, you will find the more or less religiously observant. But the new trend is that many of the religiously observant in those categories see Islam as left-wing social justice and have little or no interest in learning aqida, studying fiqh, contributing to dawah, etc. This is a huge shift in the past 20 years in America.

      • “many of the religiously observant in those categories see Islam as left-wing social justice and have little or no interest in learning aqida, studying fiqh, contributing to dawah, etc. This is a huge shift in the past 20 years in America.”

        That is worrying. But then, that is a giant failure of imams and academics, even the fake ones.

        So what exactly are the so many institutes teaching then – the likes of Al-Maghrib, Zaytuna, Safina etc.

        My understanding was that the popular “imams” and “academics” were teaching stuff to people, mainly the MSA youths rather than the population at large, but it was “fake Islam” i.e., religious teachings filtered through liberal secularism, stuff like feminism oriented “fiqh of women’s rights”, and other such establishment-compliant aqidah and fiqh.

  2. “headlining ISNA panels annually and sitting comfortably in advisory board positions for organizations like Yaqeen Institute and The Islamic Seminary of America?”

    This article is missing one very specific name….Yasir Qadhi. He is both a student of Tony Blair and is the dean of the seminary mentioned above.
    https://www.facebook.com/yasir.qadhi/posts/announcement-regarding-my-affiliations-with-al-maghrib-institute-and-the-islamic/10156764231743300/

    After acquiring his PhD from Yale – where Blair was his advisor – this guy did a total 180.

    • I also find it conspicuous that Daniel, being as good as he is in identifying problematic subtext in the platforms of different muslim public figures, can’t find one thing wrong with Yasir…..

  3. Seems like a power struggle between the Ikhwaan – CAIR and Al-Jazeera are subsidiaries of the Muslim Brotherhood – and modernists (often with a Sufi background). Both their methodologies are wrong. Although they have much overlap they have marked differences. The Ikhwaan want to integrate into Western society but maintain a distinct identity. The modernists want to assimilate into society – in the process complaining about apostasy they themselves cause with their watering-down/secularizing policies (“On Morality and Politics”). A cause of this is probably the ethnic background: Ikhwaan often have an Egyptian or different Middle Eastern origin while modernists are often white or Afro-American converts.

    • That would make sense since many of them aren’t from Ahl as-Sunnah. Many have a Qadiyani, Ismaili, Shia etc. background. By advocating for plurality they wish to gain influence and power in the Muslim community. From there on they can use the political clout of the community to advocate for their own interests.

      Associating with people purely for political reasons always backfires in the end.

      The number one criteria to congegrate on is aqeedah. Once there’s unity on this every problem becomes solvable. The three groups mentioned above are strictly speaking completely independent religions from islam.

  4. Daniel you are way off here on Sherman Jackson, surprised you are not reading him more carefully rather than ascribing your pre-determined assumptions on to his words. With respect to the homosexuality issue, he is making the argument that in a secular society, marriage should be in the domain of religion, and not in the domain of the state. That is an argument that would be consistent with fairness principles and actually protect religious communities in accordance with secular laws. Your perspective (i.e. implement shariah) will never actually play any meaningful role in the discourse other than rouse your audience. It is not practical in a secular society.

    Second, Jackson is arguing in his rebuttal to Al Arian that is the LOSS of belief that is the greatest challenge facing Muslims in America, not the political pursuit of justice. He is in fact making your main argument for you, but its not clear to me you are seeing that. Al Arian is pursuing justice as the main thrust of Islam, whereas Jackson is saying his assumption that we all agree on justice as the goal is not the case. And according to you it is not, rather correct belief is the main challenge. He is IN LINE with you here, but you dont seem to understand it.

    overall, i think you paint with such broad brush strokes these days you are losing your nuance and your accuracy in your critiques. quality is better than quantity. instead of throwing read meat to your base, try to resist the urge to grandstand at every opportunity and focus on the actual ideas presented, not only the context in which they are coming up

    • “Daniel you are way off here on Sherman Jackson, surprised you are not reading him more carefully rather than ascribing your pre-determined assumptions on to his words. With respect to the homosexuality issue, he is making the argument that in a secular society, marriage should be in the domain of religion, and not in the domain of the state. That is an argument that would be consistent with fairness principles and actually protect religious communities in accordance with secular laws. Your perspective (i.e. implement shariah) will never actually play any meaningful role in the discourse other than rouse your audience. It is not practical in a secular society.”

      I agree with the above. No point bringing in the Shariah rules of the ahl al-dhimmah here, because secular societies are not governed by Shariah. In the case of the west, any argument has to be made in the context of Muslims being able to protect and safeguard their *own* identity, religion, values, and interests.

      In that spirit, making a case for “marriage is the domain of religion” would actually support the Muslim cause, and help build a further case for *actual & real* religious freedom that would allow us not to be coerced into entertaining cases of conducting gay “nikah”s and baking cakes for gay weddings.

    • Yes, I agree that Jackson’s argument is based on liberal secular presumptions like the Fairness Principle, etc. I reject liberal secularism as it is incompatible with Islam. You can read all the reasons why on MuslimSkeptic. Overall, this is why his argument is flawed at a fundamental level.

      • Come on, man. You’re more astute than that.

        We all (you, me, Aziz) reject liberal secularism here. No one is making a case for acceptance of liberal secularism.

        The point is – What do you think is more realistically achievable for the Muslim minority in a liberal secularism dominated state – on ground?

        If you go by the “apply Shariah” card, I don’t think you will achieve anything realistically in a liberal secular state.

        If you go by the “freedom of religion” card within the liberal secular frame of reference, we will at least stop or reduce the hijacking of the Islamic dialectic by the various state elements whom you pointed out so passionately!

        We will then have a strong case for “Our religious values and rulings do not permit us to conduct poofter marriages. Furthermore, they also do not permit us to serve poofter interests like printing rainbow flags in our Muslim owned printing shops. Yet furthermore, people who promote acceptance of poofter acts or marriages, are anathematized in our religion.”

        Now you might point out that this approach leads to the gay-lobby support along the lines of Ilhan Omar, Linda Sarsour et al. If you do that, that would be flawed, and I would reply by –

        “Ilhan Omar, Sarsour et al are actively promoting fawahish while claiming to be a Muslims. They are not playing the “freedom of religion” card. They should be playing it for Muslim interests rather than playing the “you lobby for Muslim rights, we lobby for gay marriages (at all costs)” card with the poofters. We can leave the kafirs alone to their musings, regardless if they want to decriminalize anal sex, or even make it a mandub or wajib in their liberal secular laws. It’s not our concern.”

        I do think that your mention of Jackson’s timing of his article is critical and it makes all the difference, though. Back in 2007 when they weren’t legalized, Sherman Jackson might have played that card as a tacit support for gay marriages overall aligned with the liberal left, rather than working towards making a case for Muslim interests. Or perhaps, he saw it coming and was thinking ahead of his time. Allah knows best.

        However, today it is very relevant for us to use that “freedom of religion” card to safeguard our interests.

        Otherwise, if we play the “Shariah law says so” card,

        1. It won’t realistically achieve anything on ground in nations dominated by liberal secularism.

        2. It will give a chance for the state apparatus to hijack and dictate what the public Islamic discourse should be, both directly through their media and politicians, as well as through utilizing the traitors and zanadiqah within like Asra Nomani, Linda Sarsour, Daiee Abudllah and so many more.

        Think about it –

        1. Would you rather have the state authorities and America’s top “imams”, “activists” and “Muslim” politicians dictate to you that takfeer of poofter-marriage-supporters or Qadiyanis is terrorism, or get Muslims fired from their jobs for even saying that adultery and homosexuality are sins punishable by hellfire? (A Christian rugby player in Australia endured just that – https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/christian-australia-israel-folau-bible-athlete-gofundme) You know what that is? That is taking away of even the liberal-secularism-granted “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion”, essentially meaning it is not possible to live in the land and practice Islam or state its beliefs.

        2) Or would you rather the state authorities just said “each to their own” to all religious groups and lets Muslims practice their faith *properly* and poofters practice sodomy?

        Fiqh books state on the topic of offensive combat, that it is the duty of the Muslim Sultan to send a regiment at least once every year for the sake of taking Islam to other lands and liberating them from kufr, *but only* if the Sultan has reasons to *realistically* expect victory, otherwise it is haram as it would jeopardize the interests of the Muslim state as well as cause harm to many Muslims.

        If you are teaching or propagating ideology and aqidah here, that’s one thing, and you should of course say that you reject liberal secularism.

        If you are proposing a solution to a problem the community is facing on ground, you have to propose the solution that is the most realistically beneficial for Islam and Muslims given the circumstances.

        For the purposes of your site, since both of these are weaved together, I can see how you might have lapsed.

        PS. I do not approve of or defend Sherman Jackson.

      • I wanted to clarify Ilhan and co’s mantra is not exactly ” you lobby for Muslim rights, we lobby for gay marriages” but rather “you lobby for liberal secularism compliant ‘Muslim’ rights, we lobby for gay marriages”.

  5. No you can’t use this kind of language:
    “Religious scholars, imams, and community figures should not be cooperating with government powers.”
    This is pure Iranian revolutionaryesque khariji speak, and must be removed from you asap.

    It would have been better for you to say:
    “Religious scholars, imams, and community figures must warn government powers against doing kufr (denialism), shirk (mixing up ideologies), nifaaq (hypocrisy ie hiding feelings and intent), fahisha (foulness of speech, body, time, health, wealth), zulm (wrong ie darkness against others), fasaad (spreading corruption with intent) and other sorts of evils mentioned in the Quran and we must do this even if one lived until the day of judgement and was not able to leave like in the case of prophet Noah, who spent more than 900 years trying to do his best to convince his people. But then made a prayer to end his people. But on the day of judgement he will tell the people nafsi nafsi that he fears for himself for the prayer he made that killed his people.

    • Ummer Farooq August 27, 2019 at 6:39 am
      Doesn’t this completely violate the secular ideal of seperation between church and state? Isn’t the US a secular country? So why are they interfering in the internal affairs of religious communities?

  6. I wanted to clarify Ilhan and co’s mantra is not exactly ” you lobby for Muslim rights, we lobby for gay marriages” but rather “you lobby for liberal secularism compliant ‘Muslim’ rights, we lobby for gay marriages”.

  7. Well Mr. Sherman Jackson, God does know best, and certainly he knows you’re a deviant unless you’ve changed your views. The thing I can’t stand more than these people’s worthless opinions is their conceit…..

  8. So in the past few months you’ve called out Dr. Yasir Qadhi, Muftī Abdur Rahman ibn Yūsuf, Shaykh Zahir Mahmood, Shaykh Sulaiman Mullah, everyone at Yaqeen, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, and now Dr. Jackson and Imam Zaid. Seems like the only traditionalists you’re ok with are those whose pasts are entangled with accusations of sexual improprieties.

    When you first started writing a few years ago you were a positive force. Unfortunately now I’m just waiting for you to declare yourself to be the mujaddid.

  9. “When you first started writing a few years ago you were a positive force. Unfortunately now I’m just waiting for you to declare yourself to be the mujaddid.”

    @Umer S

    What a pathetic comment soaked in utter ignorance of deen!

    This guy’s a mujaddid only if you believe the popular names you mentioned above are the be-all and end-all of “traditionalists”, assuming they were “traditionalists” to even start with!

    1) Deen defines people.

    People don’t define deen, regardless of how high and mighty they try to appear or how popular they are on google search results and American tabloids!

    2) Islam isn’t measured by popularity. You want popularity contests, look to Trump or Hillary.

    Our yardstick for right and wrong is Quran and Sunnah and the ways of the Ahlus Sunnah as espoused by the 4 Sunni schools of fiqh.

    If someone doesn’t comply with that, we will call him out, even if we call out *all* the popular people a google search spits out!

    Scholars commenting on the title “Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama^ah” have said that the Jama^ah is not majority by numbers but the ones sticking to the right methodology of the Ahlus Sunnah, even if it is just one person.

    3) That said, there are enough proper traditionalists, even in America, not counting those in the Muslim world, who teach deen properly to the masses. The only thing is they’re not popular on social or mainstream media, neither do they try to build a base of sychofantic followers working as a PR machine for them promoting them and exaggerating their influence. They don’t make a living or try to gain fame and popularity feeding off of deen by selling tabloid & liberal-secularism-compliant “Islam” to one and all.

    I’m not saying *all* real or perceived Muslim public figures are in the wrong, but if one sees the popular ones, specially in the USA and Europe, most of them most certainly are shills and stooges of the empire, regardless if they’re sufi or salafi.

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