I hope you receive this letter with the best of health and Iman.
I have been thinking about Art lately. As an art school graduate, who sometimes seems to live, eat and breathe art, I see religion as the highest expression of art. The smallest expressions might be a thought that is never shared, some doodle on a page, a turn of phrase in a conversation, or a choice in attire. Greater expressions would include those of the eye (paintings), the ear (music), the body (performance), the interaction (theater), the institution (architecture). Even greater would be film and recent television. Higher would be the development of society. The highest, in span, depth, complexity, and ambition, is religion. Coming from the Divine, seeking the Divine. We say, “Indeed we are from God, and indeed to Him is the return.” A statement for some of loss, and for others, a statement of longing.
Mixed with art, however, are other elements. One is commodity. Another is commentary. Another is the appetite.
Everything above gets commodified through a profit motive. In Chicago, not only do we have a version Van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles” on display, but there is now a life sized re-creation of this painting that is available for rent in case you would want to spend a night sleeping in it.
The music that college students listen to seems to be a mixtape of corporate product and social protest. In my generation of college students, rap music spoke “truths” about life, power, and dissent. Then rap evolved to gangsta rap, which evolved to corporate hip hop. Then, Chuck D rhymed about fighting power; now, Jay Z pontificates about the struggles of having billions. Rock’n roll followed a similar trajectory from rebellion to cash cow. I don’t know that college students listen to art for inspiration more than consumption, though so many ask about its Islamic legality.
In contrast, within the umbrella of “art” we find what is an expression of vanity. Artists and architects design houses of worship whose function is to provide space for the believers to approach the Divine. But, patrons sometimes sponsor them as acts of competition against each other, in the same way they do with race horses. Sometimes competition is pious. But sometimes it is vain.
I frequently call upon students to figure out their priorities in life. Sometimes, the process is to find clarity in intentions and choices. Sometimes, an intervention to steer someone away from detrimental behaviors.
In Islamic law, we find a tiered system of priorities. Establish the most important, first. Some acts of worship are obligatory (Fard), some highly recommended (Sunnah), and some supererogatory (Nafl). The list of Fard acts is small. In other behaviors (usually related to social interaction and commerce), some are prohibited (Haram), some are discouraged (Makruh), and all else are allowed. The list of Haram acts is small. Thus, the most important matters would be those that are Fard and those that are Haram.
But, collectively, within Islamic law, we have another tier system. There are (first) those practices that are of utmost urgency (darurah), (second) those methods of helping to fulfill the urgencies (hajjah), and (third) those methods of enhancing the experience (tahseen). Urgencies would include, for example, shelter and sustenance. It is our obligation to make sure every person in our society has reasonable access to healthy shelter and sustenance. To help fulfill this urgency, we develop institutions and methods of distribution, including the farm, the market, the food pantry. Then, we develop ways to perfect the whole process, to make it dignified and beautiful. The word for perfecting and beautifying is the same -- tahseen -- which relates to “ihsan,” the highest level of faith.
Sometimes art expresses commentary, sometimes it challenges boundaries and categories. Last week we watched the Super Bowl and its halftime show. The show began with the swirling red, white, and blue of its sponsor, Pepsi, as Coldplay performed among a pageant of colors recalling Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Following him were Bruno Mars and -- the most talked about performer -- Beyoncé.
At first glance, Beyoncé seems to be flaunting self-exploiting sexuality in a matter we expect from popular music, calling on males to lower their gaze. [On that note, remember, men: the responsibility is on your to police your eyes, not on you to police her clothing, nor on her to hide from sight.] Then, considering those costumes -- invoking the Black Panthers -- and the lyrics of her song, “Formation,” we see something very sharp, very deliberate.
She is using this moment, perhaps the world’s largest stage, to do something that seems so non-commercial: a performance of dissent. Her lyrics -- not any more suitable for a Friday khutba (sermon) than the music, dance, attire, Pepsi sponsorship -- appropriate a list of stereotypes and caricatures about Blackness, Black femininity, the South, sexuality, the mundane, and professional ambition. To the undiscerning, her performance seems so militant that some took it as a statement against the police; again, it is a stereotype, fulfilling what may have been her point: among those who oppose the #BlackLivesMatter movement are voices who delegitimize the experiences (specifically institutional subjugation) of American Blackness.
Art -- even when projected across the globe -- starts from within a private space, perhaps an idea, a sentiment hidden in a bedroom, a moment in a cave or a cloister. It might remain concealed until the world finds it. Like most Van Gogh’s paintings, the poems of Emily Dickinson and Mirza Ghalib were posthumous discoveries. The more complex forms require collaboration. Some art aspires to beautify our experiences. Some seeks to draw attention to our uglinesses.
In the end, it gets us to talk, to ourselves, to each other, and perhaps to the Divine. So, all in all, I ask you to consider the art in your life. Make it meaningful. Make your experience, in thought, in disposition, in attire, in ambition: considered and beautiful, and make the choices your own.
Salaam everyone! Next week Northwestern's McSA will be holding it's annual Discover Islam Week! This year they'll be hosting activist Linda Sarsour, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, and CNN correspondent Reza Aslan! More information is available on the event page or you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions! Support our fellow MSA neighbors and go to some of their events if you can! ... See MoreSee Less
Please take a moment to pray for the mother of one of our graduates. The mother has gone into Cardiac Arrest after surgery and is not conscious. This situations is especially difficult because the graduate's father returned to his Creator less than a year ago.
Salaam my brothers and sisters! Today is the LAST DAY to register for the ping pong tourney. We have a good size draw, so don't miss out. The final will be held in Damen MPR, and we'll have additional entertainment for everyone there. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to ask.
Salaam! Our friends at LUC Amnesty International are having a spoken-word event tomorrow night in The Coffee Shop at 7 pm! The program will highlight Chicago's premier spoken word artists, including our peers, and LUC Amnesty Int has volunteered to contribute all donations from the event towards our ongoing Orphan Sponsorship Drive! So take a coffee break tomorrow evening at 7 pm and enjoy! ... See MoreSee Less
I hope you all are having a wonderful semester! I am gladly to announce that SUNNAH IN ACTION IS BACK!!! This month Sunnah in Action is to SMILE :). We have a beautiful blog post written by Eyad Kholoki. Here is a sneak peak and please click on the link below to read the rest. Believe me, I promise this will make you smile :))
"......A true smile extinguishes stress through the release of endorphins, and also ameliorates one’s level of overall health. In short, following the shama’il of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has the potential to improve the overall image of Islam, while at the same time strengthening our own individual relationships with Allah (swt) and his messenger. Just imagine if the image of the modern Muslim was that of a smiling, kind person – the benefits of following the lifestyle of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) truly are limitless." ... See MoreSee Less
I hope you receive this letter with the best of health and Iman. Just sending some reflections.
We are discovering cracks in the System.
We have been hearing about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Because a presidential candidate mentioned it in a debate, the crisis is getting much attention. As is to be expected, because a presidential candidate mentioned it in a debate, the crisis has been politicized. Some pass the blame on to others, while some argue that there is no crisis.
I have a colleague from Chicago who taught some courses in Flint and told me that the water coming from taps was brownish and smelled. Having said that, I should mention that the rules for ritual purity and the rules for potability are different from each other. Meaning, what constitutes cleanliness for our ablutions (wudu’) is different than what constitutes cleanliness for the water we drink and bathe with. He felt that the Flint water failed both. You cannot purify yourself with it, nor would you want to drink or bathe in it.
To understand this point, let us understand that when we speak of ritual cleanliness, as a prerequisite for prayers and other practices, we look at observable qualities of the water, focused on its apparent color, smell, taste, and viscosity. In other words, if the water is observably clean water, then it is clean enough for ritual acts. Because most of us in urban America are used to using the same water for ablutions that we use for drinking and bathing, we usually need not concern ourselves with the details.
The point of the above exercise is to illustrate that when we address a problem, we have to figure out the appropriate lens through which to evaluate it. So, when considering the cleanliness of water, we might look to see if it is ritually clean or we might look to see if it is scientifically clean. The two are two different lenses, that intersect. If the water is ritually filthy, then it is definitely not potable.
The problem in most of our conversations, however, is that the lens we commonly use for investigation has been a very microscopic view within Islamic law. In other words, I receive plenty of inquiries from students about the Islamic legality of certain practices: listening to music, eating certain foods, investing in stocks, social interaction, among other topics. I receive very few inquiries about a different lens -- social justice -- except as justice pertains to the issues that get attention, including #blacklivesmatter, Palestine, and Oil.
The water crisis in Flint seems to fail in just about every lens. The water is too polluted to drink. The water is too polluted to use for ritual. The water is so polluted that politicians invest time to pass blame or to claim concern. But, not far from campus, close to where I grew up, and close to where many of you live -- Crestwood, Illinois -- the water has been cancerous, with a scandal that traces back nearly a decade. The Colorado River has had a major water crisis since the beginning of the century, affecting numerous States, with California getting the most attention.
Many of the major global conflicts of my generation have related in some way to Oil and energy resources. If you influence energy resources, you influence entire nations. The Gulf War, from just before most of your births, despite the then US President’s claim to liberate the newly occupied Kuwait. Even the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979 was an overthrow of a tyrannical Shah, who was placed into power, as part of a coup by the US and UK to overthrow a democratically elected leader who nationalized the Oil industry.
While the global battles for control over energy resources will continue, your generation will see battles related to control of water resources. If you influence water access, you influence survival. Some trace crises in Iraq and Syria to droughts from a decade ago. Water is a major factor in the Occupation of the Palestinian territories. Indian activist Arundhati Roy has written many essays about the water crises caused by dam construction. Somalia and Ethiopia, despite being at the edge of the sea, have been suffering through their own drought.
In our modern era, we have witnessed the rise of Systems thinking. In Catholicism, we find this in Liberation Theology as well as its non-Catholic offshoots (like Black Liberation Theology and Progressive Islam), arguing that systemic obstacles impose poverty upon masses, and the pious practice of feeding the poor door-to-door will not solve these institutionalized subjugations. In some Evangelical Protestant traditions as well as Middle Eastern branches of the Salafi movements (though less articulated), we find a connection with Capitalism, arguing that the keys to personal and social fulfillment come through a deregulated free market, with evidence given through decreased mortality rates in such environments. Among some Muslim legal thinkers, we find a push toward Systems thinking through the Maqasid, which is a major component of Islamic law focused not on the interpretation of individual passages, but interpretations of consistencies across the entire body of scripture. Maqasid often speaks of “the higher aims” of Islamic law.
Returning to Flint, the problem is clear. It does not require any lens or analysis beyond simple observation: the water is polluted. The challenge then, is to figure out how to improve the water, and how to fix what is broken. The goal of these various lenses is to figure out where the problem rests, and hopefully to figure out where to focus in fixing things. The strange thing that Flint and other communities illustrates, is that when the problem is water, we have a clue that the whole thing is broken no matter what lens we use. In other words, the Flint water might not be the problem, but the symptom of something much larger happening here.
So, the burden is on you and I to figure things out. The first step, however, is to expand our selections of lenses. In the meantime, consider the fresh taste of the water you use, and be grateful that it is a privilege.
Loyola University Chicago has a long standing tradition that a senior give a reflection following communion at the Baccalaureate Mass. The department of Campus Ministry is inviting graduating seniors to apply to give the reflection. To apply, students should submit a resume that highlights their campus ministry activities and a 750 word essay that addresses how their Loyola education has helped them to grow in their faith tradition. Applications may be submitted to email@example.com by March 15. ... See MoreSee Less
Greetings Dear Students, Please come to the IC 4th Floor today, 330-530pm. We will have a presentation entitled "An Islamic Response to ISIS" featuring Dr. Lisa Reiter (Head of Campus Ministry), Myself, and Abdullah Alzamli, among others.
I hope this letter reaches you with the best of health and Iman. Just sending a short letter.
I had the privilege of representing Loyola with a few colleagues at a conference in Washington DC, sponsored by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Interfaith Youth Core. I wanted to share a few observations for your consideration. It was an educational, eye-opening experience.
The first is that Loyola seems to be way ahead of almost every other institution in serving the non-Catholic populations, including us, competing mainly with DePaul and Georgetown. Consider the beautiful prayer space, the Muslim members of faculty, the chaplain, and the IWS minor with its plethora of excellent courses. We have so many offerings here that it is easy to take them for granted, and then miss them -- or regret ignoring them -- once we’re in our post-Loyola lives.
Second, there seemed to be unanimity, starting all the way from the President of the ACCU, that there is a need to serve the non-Catholic populations, especially the Muslims, especially in light of national and international events. I have not attended a conference of non-Muslims in which Muslims were mentioned (positively and sympathetically) as many times as they were in this 24 hour period.
Third, the consensus was that this responsibility to serve is because of their Catholicism, not despite it. The Church in Vatican II produced some revolutionary documents (considering where the rest of the world was at the time in the 1960s) about relationships with other faith communities, especially the Jews and the Muslims. These are Dignitatis humanae and Nostra aetate, which -- for our purposes -- called for mutual respect between Muslims and Christians. The Western World was stuck in the Cold War, elsewhere secular nation states were just formed across the globe in this new post-WW2, post-Colonial era, and American Catholicism was not only asserting itself on the international stage, but had just elected (and lost) a US President. Talk of religion -- focused on building bridges, rather than laying borders -- was something unheard of. Vatican II does not necessarily represent a shift, or something new; in sessions during the conference, scholars argued that this inter-faith work is textbook Catholicism. For the head of our Campus Ministry, Lisa Reiter, none of this was anything new for her.
The fourth point to consider is that the convener of our conference was Eboo Patel and the IFYC. Eboo and I have some history together. My wife used to work for him. Our kids go to the same Islamic school. Now, our former Interfaith Chaplain Brian Anderson -- who had an outstanding relationship with the Muslim students -- works with him. Watching Eboo in action makes me wonder who is the bigger character, him or me.
My point, however, is that it is still something new -- even for me -- to see a Muslim at the head of such a non-Muslim event. He is a bit younger than me and I find him very inspiring. It seems that most of the attendees, of higher pay grades and skill sets than myself, felt the same way.
And that leads me to the main point of my letter. While most of the letter should give you comfort that there are so many people looking out for you, I am not giving you the privilege of resting on their efforts. You and I know that, as bad as Islamophobia may be (and I have expressed many times all the experiences my own family has had), there are many other types of phobias, hate crimes, institutional suppression and neglect far worse than what most of us are facing. Eboo formed and grew IFYC in that environment.
A repeated point during the entire conference was that the Catholics of America are the best of the crop when compared against their competitors, but they have a lot more work and improvement to do. Thus, I am not trying to paint a picture indicating that the Catholic world today is a work of perfection. But, of the various religious communities, it seems as though they are in the lead. In the past few centuries, while facing hate akin to what we face, the Catholics formed what are now nearly 250 universities across the country. Including high schools, there are currently a million students in Catholic institutions. All of that started somewhere, with something small.
I feel sometimes that getting us Muslims to focus on something other than marriage and med school -- like education beyond the core sciences and service of local non-Muslims aside from Muslims overseas -- is like asking for something impossible. I also wonder if my presence on campus has not inspired improvement among the Muslim students, as much as it has given many an excuse not to work.
But, take the time you need to get what you need done. But do not delay; I expect you to hit the ground running. As he tells us in his book, Eboo started his organization with an idea, not knowing where to go. Now it and he are forces to be reckoned with. He is one of the most influential of all the Muslims in America. Every time we sit down, whether at a birthday party or something else, we engage with full attention wrestling and wrangling over big questions, pausing conversations when our kids start yelling at us for attention. Over the weekend, we had a chat about the importance of studying the Humanities. And, a question that neither of us had an answer to -- with full respect for the skills required for the Health Sciences -- was how to get Muslims more active and engaged.
The ball is in your court. Find a cause and make it yours. Mine is to educate you. Let’s talk.
Salaam! Yesterday we gave you the news of the most exciting upcoming event "Story Night: Accused" lead by the one and only Nouman Ali Khan right here in Chicago! Now, here's even greater news! To make this event as beneficial as possible, we need YOUR help. Sign up to be part of the Bayyinah volunteer team for this event on February 26th and help make it successful Insha'Allah! But hurry, spots are limited.
Assalaamu alaikum everyone!! I've come bearing news that might excite you almost as much as my announcement of next week's IAW meeting at the GBM yesterday! Nouman Ali Khan (😱) is having a story night in Chicago in which he will discuss the painful episode of the Prophet's (pbuh) life where the dignity of our mother (RA) was brought into question and the verse from Surat al Noor that brought him peace. For all details and registration info, check out the event page below! Happy weekend!! Story Night: Accused by Nouman Ali Khan... See MoreSee Less
Assalamu Alaikum everyone! InshAllah we will be hosting a ping pong tournament in the upcoming weeks. 30% of proceeds will be going towards prizes for the winners and the rest will be donated to our year long orphan sponsorship drive. If you are interested in playing please fill out this form: goo.gl/forms/hD3XWb2C8s
We will be holding separate tournaments for guys and girls and everyone is welcome to play no matter what your experience level is!
I pray you receive this letter with the best of health and Iman.
In recent letters I started speaking about marriage. Here, I feel compelled to make one key point about married life that seems lost on undergrads: life is complex, thus, people are complex.
We are taught that people find attraction to potential spouses and motivations for marriage through a host of reasons: beauty, lineage, wealth. We are also taught that the best reason for marriage is your potential spouse’s religious outlook and practices.
Our local Muslim cultures tend to imagine themselves as conservative, though that cautious behavior tends to be inconsistent and sometimes absurd. I am thankful that my office has giant windows on both sides, and that there is no stigma for students to visit me, so that students of all liberal and conservative outlooks feel comfortable in visiting me. But, in contrast, I once had a colleague who was very rigid in keeping genders segregated, yet had a female physician. If that is not enough, he blamed her gender for her inability to cure his illness.
As a result of this mass conservatism, however, a dominant reason that many contemporary young Muslims seek marriage is for the chance at interaction, emotional and physical, escaping the strictures they lived through. While too many young male Muslims have made it forbidden upon themselves to speak with their female co-religionists, and vice versa, I find it fascinating that this ad hoc ruling seems less applied when either speaks with non-Muslims. I find it more fascinating that even those Muslims who are so strict on such rules are not able to speak with courtesy with others. It recalls the student who for years would never respond to my greetings (“Salam”) except with a short split-second grin, yet she sent me repeated extended emails asking to help her find a loan for med school. Perhaps in person, she was shy.
The point in all this is that even though I am pointing out what seem to be inconsistencies, I am speaking to the complexity and complications of human behavior.
There is a parallel we can draw from pre-Islamic Arabia. I suspect some causation in the following behavior. As we know, Makkah (Mecca) was about as fiercely patriarchal as any society has ever been, including the practice of female infanticide. It is fascinating, however, that in this same land at this same time, in this environment that was missing so many women, poets recited verses of idyllic female lovers. Further, at this same time, soothsayers and oracles were often female, as were the goddesses that the men worshipped. These practices were so contradictory and horrendous that even God Himself calls them out on it.
Likewise, when I listen to young people search for potential spouses, or when I listen to them consider specific people, I find a comparable set of extremes. On the one hand there is an idealizing of what their spouses should be like. One of the ideals is of a type of misogynized piety. Once a young man came to me after a Friday Khutba (Sermon) and asked me to help him find a wife. His preference: a widow of an Islamic scholar, who was herself a zahida (an ascetic). Another common line, “I want to marry someone who is better than me so that I will improve as a Muslim.” That is idealist language, and it is not the job of the spouse to be your teacher. Often, that well-intentioned statement is code language for: I want someone who will be easy to deal with.
There are a few other major problems, related to visual media. The first is the fashion/airbrush industry. While in line with my daughters, at miscellaneous stores like Aeropostale, as we stand next to photos of frowning models in overpriced clothing, I get into conversations with them about airbrushing and what it does to our understanding of beauty. The second is the film industry -- especially Bollywood -- which has corrupted not only our ideas of weddings, but our notions of love, replacing devotion with infatuation. The third is pornography, which requires its own conversations. Here, however, I will mention that pornography is corrupting all aspects of intimacy and beauty. The recurring theme in all of these examples is that our imaginations overtake our reality, leading us to seek a spouse who does not exist, considering especially that those models do not look like their airbrushed photographs, those Bollywood romances are just stupid, and pornography is performance.
The next problem relates to our behaviors prior to our weddings: in a nutshell, a common question I receive from your peers, asking for advice as they think about marriage is, “What am I supposed to share about my past?” The answer is: if you have repented and it does not affect your spouse-to-be’s life, it is none of his/her business. If, however, it will affect him/her perhaps because of the people involved, then you may have to have conversations about this. On the flip side, too many young men and women are way too immature to conceive that their spouse has had experiences that may not have been wholesome. More importantly, many hold double standards in this behavior, having their own vices while not allowing their potential spouses to have the same.
The most important point, however, is some much simpler. When you meet people through the years and get to know them, you discover many of the struggles that people carry. Every person you meet is probably carrying more than even they realize. For example, when you reach my age, you might be startled to find out how many people have had children who died. But, I have had college students who have themselves had children who returned to their Creator. This does not include all those students who have lost siblings. If you have not experienced this, then imagine the pain associated with it: it is immobilizing.
The person you marry will be someone who is carrying burdens in his/heart. Some of these burdens are identifiable. Some are buried deep within the most tender spaces in their being. The result, however, of those traumas, experiences, challenges, will be complex human behavior that seems to be contradictory and inconsistent.
This does not justify the horrendous behavior of the pre-Islamic Arabs, nor does it justify some of the other behaviors above. But, the point is that every one of us, despite our abilities to smile and live, carries something. As life goes on, we will each be carrying more. And more.
Thus, the first challenge in looking for a spouse is in looking for someone made of a soul, flesh and bones, and memories. Too many of us are looking for someone made of cardboard.
We hope you had a warm, relaxing, and productive break! Now that we are back, it's time to get the ball rolling for our exciting and action packed semester as an MSA. A few orders of business: 1. Please pay a shura member and pick up your MSA gear from the musalla. Shirts and hoodies are labeled and placed on both sides of the musalla for your convenience. 2. Please help us clean up the musalla by taking your things home! That's right people; the piles have been assembled and now it's up to you to come and claim your last or forgotten items. Anything left over by this coming weekend will be thrown out or donated. 3. Please use the link to the form below to give us your general availability or preference for Sisters' and Brothers' halaqahs as well as general MSA social/educational events. Please check all the choices that apply. Your voice matters and we appreciate your input!
JazakumAllahu khair and we hope you have a great start to this semester! ... See MoreSee Less
Salaam Br. Omer! Can you please post this in the Loyola MSA group? My name is Khadijah and I am the founder of Muslimah Nannies, an online platform to connect Muslim caregivers with Muslim families. We are looking for caregivera in Chicago. There are jobs available! If you are a Nanny, Babysitter, Housekeeper, Tutor, Pet Care Provider, Senior Care Provider or Daycare Provider; We are looking for you. Part time, full time, date nights, one time and occasional availability is welcome. If you have any questions or need assistance registering at www.muslimahnannies.com, email Khadijah at support@Muslimahnannies.com or text her at 571-306-3791. ... See MoreSee Less
I hope this letter reaches you with the best of health and Iman.
This weekend we are commemorating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In his memory, I would like each of you to take moment to read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. You may find a facsimile at Stanford’s website at this address:
The first thing to note in the letter is that he addresses the it to clergy. You will see that it is a response to critics, sometimes calling them out because they him without criticizing the situation that his demonstrations were addressing. Preachers were among the lead voices in the Civil Rights movement. Preachers had and have the responsibility of providing a social conscience for society. Often, however, they are co-opted by power structures.
Chicago has a few religious leaders focused on social causes, and we are at a very religious school that emphasizes Social Justice. While Dr. King did not address them in this letter, the members of the Nation of Islam were also very important leaders of the Civil Rights movement, and recently hosted the second Million Man March.
Our on-campus Muslim community is not as socially active as it can be, beyond the posting of memes and facebook posts. To be fair, we do have religious campus Muslims who are very active on #BlackLivesMatter, Palestine, and Syria, among other causes (including Domestic Violence), but they know that they are a small minority in comparison with the overall Muslim population here.
A second thing to note is his focus on non-violence. Among his influences is Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of Satyagraha. The idea is that you physically embody truth with your being in the face of tyranny. In common parlance, that is non-violence. A contemporary of Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan had a similar movement called Khuda-i Khidmatgar.
The point about non-violence is something to consider in our contemporary era. We find some Muslim scholar-activists endorsing this idea because the difference between power and the dispossessed is so great now that there is no other option. Meaning, in the pre-Industrial era, especially the pre-gunpowder era, the difference in tools and resources was still great, but nothing compared to what we have now.
Consider his four steps in non-violent action: assessment of a situation, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. Often activism has a romantic, adventurous quality to it. In that lens, many believe that activism means defiance, and someone getting arrested somehow carries a badge of honor. After all, this Letter we today revere is a letter from a jail.
Rather, he illustrates that activism is careful strategy. Looking at the life of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, we see repeated examples of careful strategy, first telling his followers to keep their hands tied up against any aggression by the oppressors, eventually launching action against them.
Within those four steps, we see self-purification. It was education and preparation for dealing with the various sources of tension. It would be, in our language, training in Sabr (active perseverance), which is very much at the heart of your Islamic consciousness. In a world outside of social service, we speak of Sabr in dealing with the vicissitudes of life. In the case of service, then Sabr is the ability to maintain integrity and to persist, while witnessing and experiencing what others are experiencing.
To be frank, an activist Muslim who has the discipline to make his/her daily prayers will have more backbone against struggle and more fuel against burnout than one who does not. I’m saying this from experience. Most Muslim activists are fueled by anger and a consciousness of victimhood, and they burn out and lose their integrity very quickly. To paraphrase James Baldwin, the activist must be driven by love, and that includes love for the oppressor, to get the oppressor to develop love so that the oppressor becomes a human, preventing the oppressor himself from oppressing others.
Another point to note is his mention of the interconnectedness of all these issues. While those in the #BlackLivesMatter struggle have found strong commonality with those working to end the occupation of the Palestinians, the point is that all the world’s issues influence each other. I suspect he is pulling this point from another influence, Reinhold Neibuhr. President Obama--influenced by both King and Neibuhr--makes a similar remark in his “A New Beginning” speech in Cairo, addressed to the Muslim world.
Related, I would like you to consider something else, King is "Dr." King. Meaning, he is a highly educated, trained intellectual. While there are many highly educated activists, the strange commonality between those of the far left and those of the far right is an anti-intellectual, action-focused orientation. There are plenty of PhDs in both the far right and left, but the collective lay impulse is different. The Prophet -p- says (paraphrased) that there are four types of people in this world: those with knowledge and wealth, those with knowledge without wealth, those without knowledge but with wealth, and those without knowledge or wealth. The first acts upon the knowledge and does great things. The second, because of knowledge, wishes to do so, and thus gets rewarded for the desire. The third does not care, and has the worst lot. The fourth may have the sentiment to be like the first two, and would get rewarded for the desire. The point is that knowledge is fundamental.
Last, as you know, I get interviewed by the press about Islamophobia. Not to discount any individual experiences, Islamophobia is nothing in comparison to what is happening right now in Black American communities. But, reporters ask me what Muslims plan to do about their/our future here. The answer to that question is up to you. Your priority as a student is to get your degree with the best level of excellence you can achieve. No question. But, hiding in careers will not save you.
Read through the letter. It is one of the more important American documents of the past half century, not only because it represents a moment in our history, but because it provides a lens and manual. Rather, let us read it together in my office and discuss it.