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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My thoughts: Cultivating an Indigenous Muslim culture

Last Friday, I attended an excellent panel discussion at NYU on "How to cultivate an Indigenous Muslim culture: Defining Roles and Responsibilities"

I included the following speakers (with bio's at the end):
Dr. Sherman Jackson
Dr. Martin Nguyen
Imam Khalid Latif
Madeeha Mir
Su'ad Abdul Khabeer

I think many good points were made at this event. Some of them (what I remember) I will try to relay (mixed in with my own thoughts)...

1.  My first point is just one of my own views and I apologize for my brashness but I never even thought twice about "how to be Muslims + American" until I came to NYU.  Inadvertently, I never really interacted with Muslims outside my own ethnicity until I came to NYU either.  But that leads to my point...I don't think I'm alone in thinking that many Black Muslims never had to deal with the struggle of being Muslim and being American in the same way that many Muslims who are of "immigrant" families have.

Now there's alot of loop holes in that last statement...that is why I point out the words "in the same way".  Most African-American Muslims have never associated themselves with any other country other than America.  In fact, many held (and now hold) an Anti-American view.  My point is that I never had a problem with understanding what country I belonged to or what religion I was practicing (even after 9/11) and I think many brothers of my ethnicity can share in this view.

Now like I said before, there are many loop holes in that statement because of course many "American" practices are in fact, un-Islamic and have lead all Muslims, including Black Muslims to struggle with the two identities.  And this has even led many African-American Muslims into identity crises. But we will save that discussion for later.

If you gathered nothing else from the convoluted generalizations that I just made, just know that I never thought that hard about being American and Muslim...I just did it.

2. In criticism to the title Sis. Su'ad made some good points.  The title (How to cultivate an Indigenous Muslim culture) suggests that we don't have one now! It also suggests that there is a solution to this "problem" that can be placed in a pamphlet and handed out after Jummah. She noted that government really "cultivated" the ideal of culture in order to place people in boundaries for the advancement of power and control (ie. the effects of slavery and race).

She said that culture is the value/meaning that people place on themselves. We should resist the attitude toward the "HOW TO" of culture...and appreciate what we already have.

That is to say that many would feel that what we do have is not what we want or its not good enough.  To speak plainly, indigenous Muslim culture has been established in America for some time now.  But many Muslims don't want to CLAIM it. And it may not be anything necessarily "wrong" with that.  Wearing timberland boots with a thobe is indigenous Muslim culture, but everyone may not want to do that.  BUT, we should ACKNOWLEDGE that it exists. Respect it. Value it.

3. Imam Khalid mentioned one thing that applied to me and many others: Many of us have NEVER engaged a Muslim outside of our own ethnicity until college (until we were forced to).  And I'll leave that statement as it is.

4. Dr. Jackson, being the scholar that he is, made a few comments that worth pondering.  He said that we don't feel we have the authority to make the decision about our culture.  In other words, our culture (here in America) has to be validated by those we hold in authority.  But the problem that we run into is that the traditional Mathabs and the top Islamic scholars don't explicitly address much of the cultural decisions that we face everyday.  The issue boils down to cultural authority and authenticity.

5. I believe that there will never be just one single American Muslim culture.  We won't have just a single Muslim expression in American, both regionally and socially. We come into this religion through different ways and experiences and ultimately can practice our beautiful religion in different ways that are still all "Islamic" in the general definition/understanding of the term. And that's fine.  But, in all different ways, we still struggle to some extent with being a Muslim American.

What we should focus on is the Islamic spirit and the Islamic way of life.  This should be infused into our daily life.  Living as an American but staying true to your Islam.
As Imam Mohammed has put it:
"The focus is community life: (1) That means Masjid; (2) That means schools; (3) That means cultural centers; (4) That means we should be trying to provide cultural outlets for Muslims; (5) That means we should have Muslim theaters; (6) We should have Muslim art; (7) We need a different music, a new music and a new expression; (8) We must also have strong business. We need to concentrate on business; (9) let's push the wilderness out of ourselves, out of our homes, out of our neighborhoods. Lets push the wilderness out of the Muslim community; (10) we have to have a Muslim Teachers College, we have to support the Muslim Teachers College. We have to see growth and expansion for the Muslim Teachers College." ("Growth For A Model Community In America"--Imam WDM)


Confirmed Panelists Bios:

Dr. Abd al-Hakim Jackson, a native of Philadelphia, received his Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania in Oriental Studies –Islamic Near East in 1990. Presently, he is Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Visiting Professor of Law, and Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Michigan. From 1987-89, he served as Executive Director for the Center of Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Cairo, Egypt.

Dr. Abd al-Hakim Jackson has taught at the University of Texas at Austin, Indiana University and Wayne State University. In addition to numerous articles on Islamic law, theology and history, he is author of Islamic Law and the State: The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Shihâb al-Dîn al-Qarâfî (E.J. Brill, 1996), On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam: Abû Hâmid al-Ghazâlî’s Faysal al-Tafriqa (Oxford, 2002) and, most recently, the controversial Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Towards the Third Resurrection (Oxford, 2005).

Dr. Abd al-Hakim Jackson is co-founder of the American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM), a primary instructor at its programs, and a member of its Board of Trustees. Jackson is also a former member of the Fiqh Council of North America, past president of the Sharî‘ah Scholars’ Association of North America (SSANA) and a past trustee of the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). He is a sought-after speaker and has lectured throughout the US and in numerous countries abroad.

Martin Nguyen is currently a PhD candidate in Islamic History at Harvard University. He has served as graduate advisor to the Harvard Islamic Society and was one of the founders of Shura: Islamic Forum at the Harvard Divinity School. He will be joining Fairfield University this fall as Assistant Professor in Islamic Religious Traditions.

Imam Khalid Latif was appointed the first Muslim chaplain at NYU in 2005 where he began to initiate his vision for a pluralistic future on and off campus for American Muslims. He was also appointed the first Muslim chaplain at Princeton University in 2006. Spending a year commuting between these two excellent institutions, he finally decided to commit full-time to New York University’s Islamic Center where his position was officially institutionalized in the spring of 2007. Under his leadership, the Islamic Center at NYU became the first ever established Muslim student center at an institution of higher education in the United States. Imam Latif’s exceptional dedication and ability to cross interfaith and cultural lines on a daily basis brought him recognition throughout the city, so much so that in 2007 Mayor Michael Bloomberg nominated Imam Latif to become the youngest chaplain in history of the New York City Police Department at the age of 24.

Imam Latif has not only managed to solidify the basis of a strong Muslim community at NYU that seeks to emphasize inclusiveness and understanding of others without compromise, but has also worked tirelessly to foster dialogue with people of other faiths in order to clarify misconceptions and encourage mutual education. Through his work Imam Latif has demonstrated not only an exceptional dedication to gaining and disseminating religious knowledge and values, but has begun to carve out a much-needed space for young American Muslims to celebrate their unique identity and have their voices heard in the larger public sphere.

Madeeha Mir is a fourth year Counseling Psychology doctoral student at New York University, volunteering time on a regular basis to provide counseling services through the Islamic Center at NYU. She currently externs at Barnard College Counseling Center and has completed externship training at Bellevue Hospital Center and CUNY Baruch College Counseling Center. She has worked with young adults and children in both outpatient and inpatient settings and has an emphasis on providing counseling to college-aged students on a variety of areas, including relationships, marriage, identity, family conflicts, substance use, and other mental health issues.

Suad Abdul Khabeer is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University. Suad's dissertation explores the ways Chicago Muslim youth negotiate religious, racial and cultural identities through hip hop. Suad is also a research affiliate with the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University. Suad has spoken and presented papers at Yale University, Haverford College, University of Massachusetts - Amherst and the University of California – Berkeley. Her publications include *Rep that Islam: the Rhyme and Reason of American Muslim Hip Hop *in the January 2007 issue of The Muslim World, *Black Arabic: Some Notes on African American Muslims and the Arabic Language *(forthcoming in edited volume “Black Routes to Islam”, Palgrave Macmillan), and *A Day in the Life*, poetry which appeared* *in the anthology “Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak”.

Prior to her graduate work, Suad received a Bachelors in Foreign Service from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. During her senior year at Georgetown, she interned at the President’s Interagency Council on Women at the Department of State. There she worked specifically on State Department initiatives to engage the broader American Muslim community. After graduating, Suad spent at year in Damascus, Syria where she was a student at the Islamic Studies Institute of Abu Nour University. While at the institute she studied Islamic Studies and Arabic language, building on her many years of Arabic language training. She also gave a presentation at the American Cultural Center of the US Embassy in Damascus on the relationship between Hip Hop and Islam.


Esoteric Prose said...

MashaAllah, mad I missed this, but it seems to be the beginning (one of many) that will inshaAllah lead to more understanding of 'the other' and how our experiences will lead to building a better community inshaAllah. Ha ha - love the 'tims and thobe' and yes, I've seen it in real life! :)

thelegacymaker said...

check out the video

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