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What Exactly Is MANA About – Yasir Qadhi Interview

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 Click here for complete coverage of MANA’s Second Annual Conference

I was greatly honored when MANA extended an invitation to me to participate in its 2nd annual conference this past weekend. Below is an interview that Amad conducted, but to contextualize it, I wanted to mention some related points.

It seems that there was a degree of misunderstanding amongst many people about what exactly MANA is about. I myself was questioned (sometimes hostilely, unfortunately) as to why I had agreed to go. There were a number of concerns, all of which I defended at the time and which, alhamdulillah, did prove to be totally unfounded. Once again it was a lesson for all of us about assuming the best of everyone, especially those senior to us in age and wisdom!There were three primary concerns that were expressed to me.Firstly, the very fact that an Islamic conference was being held on racial lines. Secondly, the divide between ‘immigrant’ and ‘indigenous’ could potentially lead to divisions that are not conducive to the American Ummah. And, lastly, the involvement of the NOI (Nation of Islam) with MANA.
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When these concerns were raised, I could only defend based upon generalities. Now that I’ve returned, attending the mains sessions, and spoken with key players, I can state with certainty that these concerns were unfounded.With regards to the first concern, MANA is not intended to ‘divide’ the Ummah on racial lines, but rather to provide a platform to unify the Ummah, by first and foremost united our African-American brothers, and then using the platform of MANA to reach out to other groups. In fact, the main sessions of this conference ALL concentrated on how best to achieve greater cooperation with American Muslims, of all different backgrounds.

The second concern was quite clearly put to rest by one of the main speakers, a student of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, who said that anyone born and raised in America is in fact ‘indigenous’, even if his socio-economic background and family legacy might be different. And as long as us ‘indigenous’ Muslims realize that we are all in the American situation together, we will need to build our future Ummah together. He also pointed out that much of the racism that ‘immigrants’ had for African-Americans was completely absent from the children of these same immigrants. The high esteem in which Imam Siraj, Dr. Jackson and Imam Zaid Shakir are held in by second-generation ‘immigrant’-Americans is a testimony to their color-blindness.

The last concern was also unfounded. NOI has NO official role at MANA. No member of the NOI is on the Shura or Diwan. Rather, one or two key representatives of the NOI were invited to speak on MANA’s platform. The logic behind this, as was very clearly conveyed to me by senior members, was that the NOI will very soon be going through a transitional period similar to the one that Imam Warith Deen’s community underwent. After the current leadership leaves, there will be a vacuum in the leadership and direction of NOI. MANA only wishes to provide a clear line of support to the NOI and encourage them to enter ‘mainstream’ orthodox Islam. Hence, they are keeping some type of relationship with them, realizing that the beliefs of the NOI clearly delineate them from Islam. None of the people that I met at MANA considered the NOI to be Muslim (laymen and speakers), so it is merely a matter of keeping a line of communication open with them, for their own good.

On a related point, I was very pleased to hear Imam Warith Deen’s daughter speak at the convention. Even though she was a teenager when her grandfather Elijah Muhammad died, she said that her father (Imam Warith Deen) NEVER taught her that theology, and she grew up only hearing about ‘mainstream Sunni Islam’. It was only later, after she grew up, that she heard what others believed. To me, that spoke volumes about the character and ‘orthodoxy’ of Imam Warith Deen, may Allah rest his soul in peace.

One last point, and I say this in all earnestness: rarely have I been so humbled by being in the company of the people that I was fortunate to meet this weekend. Many of them have been Muslims for over four decades, struggling at a time and place when there was little recourse to books or knowledge, even less to scholars, doing what they thought was best in order to come closer to Allah. These converts from the early 60s and 70s (many of whom were now IN their late 60s and 70s!!) were worshipping Allah and calling to Islam decades before people from my generation were even born. I met one of the early converts to Dar al-Islam, an African American SUNNI movement that was founded in 1962, and heard first-hand the struggles they had during those times. I met another convert who remembered a time when there were hardly any ‘immigrant’ Muslims in any masjid; pretty much everyone who was a Muslim was an African-American. And the stories go on and on.

While things have changed a lot, and the entire landscape of American Islam has been refashioned, it is imperative that we realize the great amount of work and struggles that earlier generations put into laying the groundwork for us to come now and do what we are doing. While it may seem that we are being lifted higher and higher to the skies, often-times we forget that this is only happening because we are standing on the shoulders of giants below.

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Sh. Dr. Yasir Qadhi is someone that believes that one's life should be judged by more than just academic degrees and scholastic accomplishments. Friends and foe alike acknowledge that one of his main weaknesses is ice-cream, which he seems to enjoy with a rather sinister passion. The highlight of his day is twirling his little girl (a.k.a. "my little princess") round and round in the air and watching her squeal with joy. A few tid-bits from his mundane life: Sh. Yasir has a Bachelors in Hadith and a Masters in Theology from Islamic University of Madinah, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Yale University. He is an instructor and Dean of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib, and the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. sis

    December 2, 2008 at 3:39 AM

    While it may seem that we are being lifted higher and higher to the skies, often-times we forget that this is only happening because we are standing on the shoulders of giants below.

    barakallahu feek ya shaykhana for sharing your experiences.

  2. Mr Lee X Slave

    December 2, 2008 at 3:44 AM

    I as BLACK MUSLIM feel very little love for the so-called orthodox Muslims. You sons of Satan have no love for ALLAH or Islam, let alone the Blackman and Woman of AmeriKKKA. Those of us who are members of the Holy Nation Of Islam will never bow down too you. When you beast stop selling PORK and alcohol, then maybe we will dialogue.. Think about this soon we will be in POWER in this country SOON, then WE will see who is closer to the Shariah.

  3. gess

    December 2, 2008 at 8:28 AM

    Quite nervous, Amad? :) It must be your first interview.

    Well done job and congratulations.

  4. Student of Imam WD Mohammed (RA)

    December 2, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    Jazaka Allahu Khair for the very informative post. I attended the conference this year as well and can second all that Shaykh Yasir said. My only critique is that I think it is important to point out the fact that the NOI is evolving for the better. Although the process may not be as fast or thorough as we would like. I know personally numerous members of NOI who pray five times a day (qiyam, ruku, sujud), fast during Ramadan, and their mosques are now holding Jumuah prayer services on the floor. If we attempt to marginalize them and beat them over the head (metaphorically), this illicit a very negative response. NOI members naturally and logically represent a wide spectrum of thought, a few more extreme than most. As a student of Imam WD Mohamed I have worked with many Ministers and members closely. I even have some NOI members in my Arabic class. They visit our mosque regularly and we will continue to be kind and respectful to them and always keep the door and lines of communication open to them.

  5. Farhan Khan

    December 2, 2008 at 11:54 AM

    wow, I can’t imagine being a Muslim in America in the 60s.
    ma sha Allah, may Allah give them Jannah

  6. MR

    December 2, 2008 at 12:38 PM

    I know personally numerous members of NOI who pray five times a day (qiyam, ruku, sujud), fast during Ramadan, and their mosques are now holding Jumuah prayer services on the floor. If we attempt to marginalize them and beat them over the head (metaphorically), this illicit a very negative response.

    Is there a site or forum where we can find these masaajid and help them out? We could hold events and bring teachers like Sh. Yasir Qadhi or Imam Zaid Shakir to these masaajid and gave basic talks on Islam, Iman and Ihsan.

  7. Amad

    December 2, 2008 at 1:48 PM

    gess, not nervous at all… because I was behind the camera, not in front of it! We were doing this towards the end of the evening and just a bit exhausted by the time.

  8. Dawud Israel

    December 2, 2008 at 2:55 PM

    :)

    Ma sha Allah, I really love how the roots of Muslims are extending deeper and deeper into North American soil. And it’s great to see how these roots have allowed them to bear these storms. In Canada, although we have some very local Imams, we don’t have anything of this nature, but we are getting there in parts of Toronto and bigger cities. I remember meeting one uncle who had been doing street dawah in downtown Toronto for like 20-30 years.

    It’s great to see the cultural divide is being shored up with these sorts of gatherings and personally would like to thank Amad and Sh. Yasir for taking the time to visit MANA and post these discussions. :)

    Baraka Allahu feek.

  9. aarij

    December 2, 2008 at 3:02 PM

    Very nice interview. Ma sha Allah, I’m very happy to read this. Sh. Yasir, Jazak Allaho khairan for your leadership.

    Amad bhai, you sound like a….non-indigenous Muslim :D (polite way to say fob :P). I would have never thought as such after reading your writings :)

  10. Student of Imam WD Mohammed (RA)

    December 2, 2008 at 3:42 PM

    Is there a site or forum where we can find these masaajid and help them out? We could hold events and bring teachers like Sh. Yasir Qadhi or Imam Zaid Shakir to these masaajid and gave basic talks on Islam, Iman and Ihsan

    MR,

    To my knowledge there is no online forum or site for this. Our relationship with the NOI has developed over the years. We didnt just go knocking on the Mosque doors and requesting to come in and teach and vice versa. Not only do we have this relationship where they are learning the tenants of the deen, but we also go out in the community together and bring relief to some of the most economically depressed areas of certain cities. This is the trademark of the NOI and a significant amount of African American muslims. Members of the NOI have not had favorable experiences with immigrant Muslims. This is due to some fault on their part as well as on the part of some immigrant brothers. When someone knows that you beleive that they are not a ‘real’ Muslim, this shuts the door on about 90% of your dialogue.

  11. Amad

    December 2, 2008 at 3:53 PM

    Aarij, who said that was my voice?? Remember the cousin I mentioned, my helper??

    Let the voice be a mystery (for my non-FOB pretension sake). But I can say that I write better than I speak :)

  12. Demetric Muhammad

    December 2, 2008 at 5:04 PM

    I thank Student of Imam WD Mohammed (RA) for their posts in response to this article. They are demonstrative of the brotherhood and love that is shared between the NOI and Iman Mohammed’s commuinity. This article came up in my Google Alerts. I am a member of the NOI and follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. I take issue with the fact that you claim that I and those like me are not a real Muslims.

    Yasir Qadhi wrote: None of the people that I met at MANA considered the NOI to be Muslim (laymen and speakers), so it is merely a matter of keeping a line of communication open with them, for their own good.

    That is hard for me to believe. I just left a class where I taught salaat to a group of inmates and came to my office to check my email, but yet I am not a Muslim? I give in charity, give alms to the homeless, fast during Ramadan, conduct Jumuah prayers and bear witness that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger, but I am not a Muslim?

    I do all of this because I have been taught by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan to do this. He is my guide and exemplar in following the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (WAS). He is a student of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad who is a student of Fard Muhammad. Master Fard Muhammad came from the Holy City of Mecca in Arabia. He is an Arab and gave Elijah a curriculum of study comprising 104 books which were on the life of Prophet Muhammad (WAS).

    Elijah and his works were based on his belief in, love for and attempt to folow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad(WAS). This is why his work looked strange to the world of “orthodox” Muslims. But if most “orthodox” Muslims were actually striving to apply what the prophet taught they would understand what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad did.

    If you consider the continuity inherent in all revelatory messages you see that Elijah picked up where the Prophet left off in addressing the problem of racism. The prophet addressed this in his farewell address to his followers because he detected that this disease had begun to manifest itself among the early ummah. He said that there is no superiority of the white over the black or the black over the white, but that superiority rests solely in keeping one’s duty in obedience to Allah.

    By 1930 when the NOI began this disease had become an epidemic and that which saturated American life and all of its institutions. So anyone attempting a work of reform and spiritual upliftment would be a fool to ignore this probelm. So in order to establish equality his message ameliorated and uplifted the so called American Negro and humbled and condemned the inhumanity of the slavemasters children.

    I could go further, but perhaps you should get some of Minister Farrakhan’s lectures and study them. In 1997 he was turbaned as an imam of the Muslim world by the World’s Islamic Peoples Conference. He has toured the world 3 times and everytime he goes to the Muslim world he is treated as not just a Muslim but as a leader of Muslims. In Iran which is one of the staunchest Islamic republics he spoke to over 60 million Musilms! In Dagestan he was received with a celebration on the airport runway by Caucasian Muslims. In Nigeria he was honored with the Durba celebration and given a white horse. He has taught at the main Mosque in Moscow. The imam of Al-Aqsa mosque in has flown to Chicago just to meet with him.

    Now again there is more that I could say but this is not the treatment of one whom you are courting to Muslim “orthodoxy.” This is the treatment of one whom you are seeking to honor for their leadership and righteous example. And it should be noted that righteousness is always orthodox with Allah, while it is most times unorthodox to man.
    As-Salaam-Alaikum,
    Brother Demetric Muhammad

  13. Salem

    December 2, 2008 at 5:35 PM

    Demetric,

    Thanks for stopping by this website, and also for your good manners.

    I guess the main issue ‘orthodox’ Muslims like myself have with the Nation is its teachings that:
    1) God appeared in the form of a man (Fard)
    2) This ‘God’ spoke with another man, and appointed him to be his prophet (Elijah)

    The first matter contradicts ‘La illaha illa Allah’ and the second one contradicts ‘Muhammad Rasul Allah’. These beleifs are still printed in the national Nation of Islam newspaper (I don’t remember the title offhand), and I’ve read them directly myself.

    I guess if these two beliefs have been modified or discarded, perhaps the NOI would be considered ‘Muslim’?

  14. MR

    December 2, 2008 at 6:56 PM

    @Demetric Muhammad – Do you believe Prophet Muhammad (saas) is the last and final messenger?

  15. J

    December 2, 2008 at 10:41 PM

    I just left a class where I taught salaat to a group of inmates and came to my office to check my email, but yet I am not a Muslim? I give in charity, give alms to the homeless, fast during Ramadan, conduct Jumuah prayers and bear witness that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger, but I am not a Muslim?

    Of course you are not a Muslim. The Arab polytheists (mushrikeen) conveyed to Prophet Muhammad [s] that they were willing to pray the salah, to give in charity, to give alms to the poor, fast during Ramdan, and conduct the friday prayers, but they were still doomed to Hell-fire because they refused the CENTRAL belief of Islam, which is the Oneness of Allah [swt]. They were simply not ready to abandon the belief in many gods…yet, they were rejected as kafiroon (disbelievers).

    The religion taught by Elijah was polytheism, so why are you surprised that we do not consider you Muslim? Elijah believed that one god was not enough because every god would die after a fixed amount of years, after which another god would come into existence and replace the former god. Elijah wrote:

    Each God, according to what Allah (God), in the Person of Master Fard Muhammad, to Whom praises are due forever, taught me, has a cycle of twenty-five thousand years. Once every twenty-five thousand years, another God would be given a chance to show forth His Wisdom to the people. This has been going on for many trillions of years, according to His teachings to me.2

    Every twenty-five thousand (25,000) years, each God coming after the other God made a new civilization. His belief, teaching, and theology were different from the other God Who preceded Him.3

    It is abundantly clear from Elijah’s writings that he believed in multiple gods. Elijah wrote:

    He Gives us Education on the Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding of Gods… not of prophets… but of the Gods of the Prophets of the past. He builds our minds according to the way Gods Think and not the way of thinking of servants.4

    Elijah believed that the first god was “self-created” seventy-eight trillion years ago, and every twenty-five thousand years thereafter another god would come into existence. Using simple arithmetic, this means that Elijah believed in over three trillion gods. The NOI is thus a polytheistic religion, as opposed to true Islam, which preaches absolute monotheism. God commands us in the Quran:

    Devote yourself towards the religion of pure monotheism (haneefia)…this is the right religion, but most among mankind understand not! (Quran, 30:30)

    I pray that Allah [swt] cause you to accept true Islam.

    Fi Aman Allah

  16. osman

    December 3, 2008 at 1:15 AM

    is that amad’s voice? Wow, that is so different that what I had imagined in my mind.

    As for the NOI, I agree that we should be softer with these people. They are on the verge of accepting the true path and the worst we can do is to slam that door shut. I’m not saying that we should call them Muslims, but I feel we should be less harsh. Remember as Shaikh Yasir said, before the 90s, Islamic information was very hard to get, no internet, not many scholars, etc.

    Today, as the Muslim come to America, the resources are getting better but we should explain to NOI what we believe and how they have strayed in a soft manner so that their hearts may open.

  17. Amad

    December 3, 2008 at 10:31 AM

    is that amad’s voice? Wow, that is so different that what I had imagined in my mind.

    read my earlier comment… :)

  18. Abu Dharr

    December 3, 2008 at 12:42 PM

    Assalaamu a’laikum everyone,

    My opinions/observations on MANA’s role, the black Muslim movement, and the comments above:

    One must bear in mind the baggage various Muslim subgroups have.

    Most immigrant Muslims to the US/Canada have an attitude of overt condescension, subtle patronization, or a tendency to co-opt the egalitarian spirit of Islamic brotherhood/sisterhood, while maintaining a “not with my daughter/son” attitude in their hearts and lives.
    I think racism and the ummah has been so blogged to death by Muslims, that we no longer have the attention span for hearing more.

    A brother at the MANA convention mentioned how almost 50% (or more?) of America’s Muslims (whether you go with the 2 million, or 6 million figure, Allah knows best) ARE of African-American origin. This really should not surprise anyone – given the history of the civil rights and black political movements in the 20th century alone. Philadelphia has generations of Muslim families. “As-silsila al-qawm aswad,” if you will (forgive my bad Arabic).

    Now, lest anyone ask, “but were they really Muslim?” one should inquire how a Muslim is defined to begin with – given current sociopolitical contexts. Were families at the time of the Mihnah where Imam Ghazali and Imam Juwayni al-Haramayn were on the run, where Hanafis and Shafis were fighting till blood spilled, questioning the Islamic authenticity of their neighbors and fellow townsmen? Were those who opposed Imam Ahmad for upholding that Qur’an is created, “not really Muslim enough?”

    If history is a sheikh, then we have much to learn from him.

    MANA is run by Imam Siraj Wahaj, someone who has tirelessly dedicated himself to the upliftment of Muslims. Now he may not attend those gatherings where people complain about the high fundraiser surcharge, or whether the Biryani is cooked to perfection. And that’s ok alhamdulillah – because Muslims NEED people who are eager for khidma (servanthood). Too many people chase positions of leadership and fame, and do NOTHING when they sit in those chairs.

    So for non-black Muslims to sit and pontificate whether the aqidah of those ‘kallus’ is sound enough for the ahlussunnah position as outlined on their SunniPath link, while they munch on the last plate of baklava at 2am in the morning, somehow strikes me as pathetic and out of touch with reality.

    Sh Hamza Yusuf was once interviewed about the Rihlas and Zaytuna’s future (disclaimer: I am no supporter of either, nor am I publicizing with intent to appraise either). He basically said, any organization will rise and remain as long as the people within it are committed to the cause – and that one should not dependent on personality cults or charismatic leadership alone, to carry the torch.

    This has been a real problem, in my view, with many Black political movements in the US – Islamic or otherwise. Many await the next Martin, Malcolm, Marcus, Malik, or whomever. It’s in clear view whenever you take a look at the pews and the chorus in many Black churches, stirred to a frenzy by a firebrand preacher. Then everyone goes home, the spirit fizzles, and it’s back to mindless sinning and distraction again.

    This ALSO remains a problem with the current Muslim dynamic of MANA/ISNA/RIS conferences. It is not much different from the financially robust evangelical preachers, who are popular with contemporary Christians.

    The fundamental vacuum is that of genuine Islamic leadership. Until the day when it arises, the ummah may remain scattered, divided and leaderless. Allah strengthen us, and may we pray that Qur’anic du’a – O our Lord! Make our spouses and children the comfort of our eyes, and make us leaders of the God-conscious!

  19. Dawud Israel

    December 3, 2008 at 4:45 PM

    BTW, I realized there were others who were part of this effort, besides Amad and Sh. YQ.
    I would like to thank them as well ! :D

  20. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    December 4, 2008 at 5:21 AM

    bismillah. writing as a first-generation immigrant — well, i was a one-year-old at the time :) — i pray that Allah will forgive my parents’ generation for their sins and excesses, and will magnify the good of what they did contribute to Islam’s growth in America.

    for me the chief excess of that generation of immigrants was a sort of blindness to the indigenous African American Muslim community. in Houston, many (including me) have spoken of the early 1970s as a kind of golden era. when Muslims gathered at the old masjid on Richmond (which most of the readers of this blog have never seen — no, i am not talking about the masjid on Eastside, off of Richmond. subhanAllah) there was no separate masjid for the shia, much less for arabs, pakistanis, nigerians, and indonesians. all of them prayed in one hall, mashaAllah. ibrahim yazdi — who became foreign minister for the islamic republic of iran, and then a political dissident — was among our imams (the kind that lead salat, lol). and egyptians, iraqis, and pakistanis served the community’s needs with love and mutual respect. but seeing an African American at the masjid was rare. too rare.

    it is a testimony to how much good that generation of immigrants did accomplish, though, that despite such an epic and willful distance from indigenous Muslims, those immigrant Muslims built so many masajid and Islamic institutions in this country. and that the only “prejudices” they passed on to their kids are the ones that have led to masajid that are predominantly arab or pakistani, or almost unilaterally turkish, bosnian, nigerian, indonesian, etc.

    sometimes that natural desire to be with people who share a common culture with you does go too far, as can be seen in the politics as some very large masajid. but the same common thread that allows all the youth of all these groups to work together is the same common thread that binds us all together as Muslims, a term that finally and without doubt includes African American and Latino Muslims, too.

    alhamdolillah.

  21. Faiez

    December 4, 2008 at 2:41 PM

    Amad, you sound like a nice guy =)

  22. I am Still a Brat

    December 4, 2008 at 2:56 PM

    -Edited. Unrelated to subject.

  23. Faiez

    December 4, 2008 at 9:10 PM

    hahaha interesting how my comment above got editted. as you wish :)

    -Let’s just say I didn’t do it, I thought it was funny :) -Amad

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