Progressive Islam and Racism
I was browsing through Fellowship Magazine's online issue for this month and found two must read articles.
The first, an Africana View of Progressive American Islam
, by Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad is fabulous. It articulates almost exactly my vision of Islam. I'm posting a section here (see below). You should read the whole article.
The second White Like Me:A Woman Rabbi Gazes into the Mirror of American Racism
, is written by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, and expresses almost exactly my sentiments about being white, while at the same time belonging to a minority community. Just replace Jewish with Muslim. Of course, some of her examples don't fit the Muslim scheme, but the sense of prejudice and danger in one's own home is common in both communities, and Muslims can bring their own stories of Anti-Islamism -- from murders to vandalisms and arson of mosques, from slurs hurled from passing cars to Hollywood's ubiquitous depictions of Muslims and Arabs as violence, misogynist terrorists. Again, selected exerpts below, but I strongly recommend the entire article.
From the article on Progressive Islam:
* Understands that the Qur'anic message is essentially universalist regarding salvation, while it remains unitarian regarding the Oneness of God. The string of prophets mentioned in the Holy Qur'an up through Jesus and Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon them) is a short list pointing toward thousands of others who have brought God's revelations to humankind. The divine message has remained essentially the same, with degrees of cosmetic modification fashioned for differing cultures, languages, needs, and times. And in the post-Muhammadan period, according to the experiential insights of the great illuminationist philosophers, Sufi saints, and mystics, God's infinite self-revealing continues in extra-scriptural forms.
* Distinguishes the unconditional faith in Allah's Oneness and the voluntary submission of self to God's sovereignty from historically- and politically-conditioned beliefs, and practices informed by such beliefs. These remain open to rational investigation and possible change in the context of hard-fought social struggles.
* Emphasizes free will as a gift to humankind from God, rather than fatalism in religion.
* Declares white supremacist ideology and its twin, Christian triumphalism, along with their strategies of violence-based domestic social control, imperialism, and militarism, as manifestations of spiritually darkened hearts in need of social and political repentance and a long process of religio-psychological rehabilitation. Reparations in some form are an essential element of this rehabilitation.
* Takes into thoughtful consideration the idea that religious experience has an ideological basis in material reality. The class-, race-, gender- and authority-based ideological underpinnings of all religions must constantly be exposed and assessed.
* Insists on a historically conscious praxis. For progressive African-American Muslim thinkers especially, it is never enough to merely project logically consistent religious thoughts, beautifully articulated in some abstract way. Critically informed and organized action is paramount for qualitative social change.
* Respects the Jeffersonian dictum of church-state separation as promoting religious pluralism, and liberal religious tolerance as in keeping with an authentic and liberative Qur'anic hermeneutic.
* Lifts up the meditative and theosophical Islamic sciences/practices. The works of the Muslim spiritual masters are voluminous and hold out much hope for religious universalism based on a grasp of the oneness of reality.
* Advocates nonviolent resistance to oppression as the morally superior equivalent of the militarist notion of jihad. Shaykh Amadou Bamba of Senegal and Abdul Ghaffar Khan of India have credentials equal to those of M. Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Malcolm X's politically righteous slogan of "by any means necessary" must be read in an ethically consistent way that does no violence to the exhortations and limits of sacred scripture.
* Advances the spirit of internationalism and regionalism by use of the ideas in human rights conventions.
* Enters into coalitions with other progressive religious and/or secular activists in support of civil liberties and qualitative social change.
* Uplifts Islamic philosophical inquiry and the unrestricted use of reason in the practice of ijtihad (personal judgment of religious matters). This point assumes that a narrowly conceived traditionalist orthodoxy is problematic.
Agenda: thinking outside the box
It follows from these principles that progressive Islamic thought must ever regard its doings in the world as tentative and subject to change. God's plan, and the guidance we receive as creatures of the Universal One, are not to be boxed into some neat and tidy or permanent explanation and practice. The only real and lasting thing is submission of self to divine guidance. This is unavoidable. All creation must, at some point in its journey or evolving, submit to its Creator's Will. But we, in our limitations, may not in this life ever comprehend that Will.
Medieval Islamic history demonstrates that Muslims who get obsessed with "being right" are not above employing compulsion in religion, no matter what the Qur'an may teach. If we want to take Qur'anic teaching seriously, we have first of all got to let compulsion go. And that means there can be no enforceable orthodoxy.
From the article on racism:
Within the North American construct of racism, I am Jewish and I am white. Like other white people, and especially those committed to social justice, identifying with my whiteness makes me squirm. Whiteness brings up feelings of embarrassment, rage, helplessness, and guilt for our shameful past and present.
As a Jew, my impulse is to emphasize the ways in which my whiteness is different. When people of color share their experience of racism, my first feeling is often, wait a minute, I’m not white, I’m Jewish! I belong in the “people of color circle.”
This is a common response among Jews of European descent. We want to be in a category all our own. But when I mention to people of color that many Euro-Jews do not consider themselves white, most respond with looks of complete non-comprehension. We certainly look white to them. When I walk down an American street, no one assumes I am a person of color. When I look into America’s racial mirror, America reflects back the color white.
Still, the temptation to deny whiteness is strong among Jews like myself. Like most of my peers, I have always lived with a sense of alienation from American society based on my Jewishness. Our disturbing history at the hands of the white Christian world includes the horrors of the Crusades, Inquisition, pogroms, and the Holocaust that murdered one-third of the entire world population of Jews less than sixty years ago. The story of the St. Louis, the ship of Jews turned away from American shores and returned to Germany during the most profound period of genocide in Jewish history, confirms the assumption that Jewish safety, even in America, is always conditional. Accusations of “Christ killer” and the oft-repeated stereotypes that Jews control the media, the world’s money, and the world’s government, coupled with the pressure to assimilate and convert, cause Jews to feel insecure about our status even in America. Moreover, whiteness is associated with Christianity. In the circles of the Klan, white supremacists, and other manifestations of racist Christianity, Jews are not white. We are viewed along with African-Americans and other people of color as the cause of racial impurity. These factors in Jewish life set us apart from other white people.
Even in good times, it is daunting to be Jewish in an America where four out of five people are Christian. For example, during one Christmas saturation period from Thanksgiving to the New Year, I took my son to the mall (a rare trip for us!) to see the Lubavitch Hasidim light a menorah in a public space. Nataniel commented, “Finally, someone remembered Chanukah!” It is hard for a Jewish child to grow up with the knowledge that he or she is not normative. Jewish children who seek acceptance and want to avoid the anti-Jewish slurs so commonly spoken in their schools, or to fit into the sports team that prays to Christ before every game, often choose to hide or leave behind the Jewish part of their identity in order to fit in. Given that children in school often divide themselves along racial lines, Jewish children are faced with the issue of how they place themselves in a world that does not allow them to be themselves. Many Jewish people grow up with negative feelings about being Jewish. Jews are very vulnerable to assimilation into normative whiteness. This is not a positive development.