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Why Buying “Experiences” Won’t Make You Happy | The Muslim Skeptic

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Pop psychology has this unique ability to take the worst of philosophical sophistry, combine it with the shoddiest research methods, and spit out ill-begotten, yet Scientific™,  platitudes about how we should live our lives. Whether their work sits on the bookshelves of airport kiosks or is featured on the latest episode of Oprah, these gurus of good living know exactly what human fulfillment consists in, and they are more than happy to share that with the ADHD-addled, depressed, morbidly obese masses.

The latest slice of wisdom to make the rounds is more insidious than usual because it has the virtue of kinda, sorta sounding true, maybe. The claim is this: If you want to be happy, stop spending your disposable income on things, e.g., TVs, cars, jewelry, etc. Instead, spend your money on experiences. As one recent article puts it, if you have to choose between buying the newest BMW or vacationing in an exotic country, definitely choose the latter as that is more likely to make you a happier, more fulfilled human being.shutterstock_145434475


Over the past twelve months, this simple directive of “experiences over stuff” has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and everywhere in between. Perhaps the idea is so popular because it sounds like solid advice, even noble, as if it eschews the baser materialism of our times. The Gordon Gekkos of today are enlightened enough to know that yachts don’t beget happiness. No! True happiness is hiking in Africa and watching the sunrise on Mt Kilimanjaro (with your family, of course).

Psychologist Dr. Thomas Gilovich gives two main reasons why experiences are a better investment in your happiness than buying that yacht.

First, a yacht is a thing and things get boring after a while. Experiences, on the other hand, have the virtue of ingraining themselves in our memories and thus becoming part and parcel of our identities. As Gilovich figures:

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

Secondly, experiences are more likely to connect us to other people than material objects:

“We consume experiences directly with other people,” says Gilovich. “And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”

Quite profound insights there from Gilovich so long as you don’t think about them for more than a few seconds.

For example, is there really that much of a distinction between experiences and things? Surely Gilovich can imagine how owning a yacht can be conducive to creating lasting memories and connecting with people, as much as any two-week vacation in Africa. Of course, a yacht is on the more opulent side of the stuff spectrum, but the same can be said about any material good. Owning a product is always an experience, and as a matter of fact, that is exactly how many products are marketed!

Beyond advertising, the driving force behind many of our consumer purchases are the experiences we associate with those material goods. From that perspective, it is almost like the physical object at the center of those experiences is merely incidental. The kid who saves up to buy a brand new basketball is actually interested in all the fun he is going to have playing with his peers at the park and all the potential friendships he stands to forge. The grandmother who buys her three year-old grandchild a new bike is actually interested in the joy and the excitement on the boy’s face as he receives his gift and all the firsts of learning how to ride a bike. The basketball and the bike — or the BMW and the yacht for that matter — are in many ways simply conduits for that memory-making, those experiences.

In this way, the entire distinction between experiences and things collapses, as do the pseudo profundities of Gilovich, et al.

Beyond these conceptual incoherences, what is especially vexing about Gilovich’s experience fetishism is the idea that experiences are something that can be bought and accumulated. Gilovich wonders to himself, “As a society, shouldn’t we be making experiences easier for people to have?” as if we need social welfare programs that, in addition to doling out blankets and hot soup to the needy also ensure people are getting their daily minimum requirement of experiences.

Joking aside, I often ask myself, why don’t I have more experiences? Usually, it’s a question that comes up when reviewing my resume. Upon further reflection, that seems to be the underlying context in which this focus on experiences makes sense. In terms of a resume, an experience is something compact, packageable, something that quantifiably adds to your overall worth as a potential hire. I suppose there are incorrigible careerists out there who cannot resist conflating that professional meaning of “experience” with the “experiences of life.” In that sense, a “bucket list” is the final resume some envision their lives culminating in.

Maybe for some, the entirety of life is one long resume building opportunity for a job opening that will never be. Even if we do not personally see ourselves in this category of people, do we nonetheless see our own lives as ultimately a series of experiences, one after another?

That conception seems to be overly beholden to a kind of empiricist, representationalist view of human consciousness, that what makes us who we are is a series of sensations and sense data that we store in our heads and, then, at a later date, we can replay for ourselves and interpret as if watching a movie of our lives. With the ubiquity of social media and cell phone recording technology, many of us do see our lives as essentially a movie production or a series of Facebook or Instagram posts. What is the perfect social media profile? What “experiences” would such a profile showcase? With this mindset, it is hardly surprising that many in our society do derive significant pleasure from having “experiences” that they can photograph, video record, upload, and show off to friend, family, and follower. But is that pleasure contributing to one’s happiness or to one’s vanity?


And that is another thing that bothers me about “chasing experiences” — the vanity of it. There is something disturbing and artificial about the idea that experiences — as the fundaments of life itself  — are to be pursued insofar as they contribute to one’s sense of self, one’s personal satisfaction.  What is valuable in any given place and at any given time is the fact that you are there to take in that moment and make it a part of your personhood, to add it to the list of experiences you have had. All world religions and ethical systems decry this kind of egotistical impulse to see one’s self as the focal point of this cosmic drama of life. But modern psychologists like Gilovich urge us to embrace this instinct and even cultivate it, to make a vacation out of it.

Then again, stroking one’s ego does contribute to some version of “happiness.” Or, is it just base pleasure, a sating of the nafs? Unfortunately, Gilovich and social psychologists in general do not ponder too deeply on such distinctions. Their research conclusions depend on respondents’ subjective assessment of their own happiness. But, do people in general have the depth of insight into their own mental states or even the conceptual framework to distinguish between, say, a carnal, transient satisfaction and the deeper, more meaningful happiness that most of us are presumably striving for?

Of course, the materialistic, atheistic paradigm that dominates the social and physical sciences denies that there can be any metaphysical or spiritual happiness above and beyond mere bodily pleasure. In the end, its all just dopamine flooding our brains, nothing more, nothing less — certainly nothing meaningful about it. For those of us who do understand that happiness is of various shades and significances, that true happiness is something otherworldly, inexorably tied to our purpose as human beings on Earth, then not only are Gilovich’s conclusions on “experience vs. material” fundamentally flawed, but so is all social psychological research that assumes this flat, reductionist view of happiness.

The fact of the matter is that science cannot tell us what happiness truly is because science is not — or, at least, should not be — teleological. Science, by its very nature, cannot tell us what our purpose is, what we are here for, and, therefore, it can never determine how we can be fulfilled in that unique way that entails real happiness. One does not have to be Muslim to accept this reasoning, but Muslims especially should be wary of these often spurious claims coming from the multi-billion dollar self-help and positive psychology industry, which, if the frenzied devotion of its adherents is any indication, has become a modern secular religion unto itself.

But, as Muslims, we do know the purpose of life and we do know that happiness in this life and the next comes from fulfilling that purpose. (And how merciful is our Creator that He deliberately made it so that fulfilling our purpose is also the source of happiness; He could have made circumstances different, where fulfilling our duties and doing good were a source of depression and sadness.)

In the final assessment, we have to be impressed by how Gilovich, et al., were able to repackage and promote what is essentially consumerism, i.e., the decadence and blameworthy self-indulgence sages have censured throughout history. Tying consumerism to happiness is as cynical as it is bold, but thankfully most people understand that consumerism and consumption have nothing to do with happiness, at least not the deep, meaningful happiness most of us care about. If we can all agree on that much, then what difference does it make if the consumption is of the stuff-buying or experience-buying variety?

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  1. Avatar


    April 20, 2015 at 9:23 PM

    Awesome and insightful essay mr. Haqeqitju. Thank you for the very readable opinion piece.

  2. Avatar

    Abdul Sattar

    April 21, 2015 at 3:36 PM

    salaam Ustadh Daniel,

    BarakAllahu feek for these reflections. I’ve actually been reviewing some of the work on this and thinking about it recently as well.

    When I approached all the pop-journalism that has been coming out about this, I actually saw it as more of a confirmation of the Islamic worldview, than a materialist opposition to it.

    Although the articles may contain encouragements to “Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things”, I think the wording might be focusing on encouraging people who have money to spend and plan to do so to redirect that spending to gain greater utility.

    I see the articles attempting to prove a more fundamental reality: “Having Experiences Makes you Happier Than Having Things”. It seems like the word “Buying” kind of gets in the way of the true results of the research.

    Once we change the word Buying to Having, I feel the entire thing fits well into our psycho-spiritual paradigm as Muslims. Happiness comes from the experiences that we have – whether the experience of prayer, of loving, reciting the Quran, and so forth.

    All I’m saying is, while I fully appreciate your points – I think “chasing experiences” is not so bad when one frames *what* experiences one wants. Every prayer can be chasing an experience. Every walk on a beach an opportunity to say: “You have not created any of this in vain.”, and so on. Experiences do not have to be bought, they can simply be lived.

    I think the research is pretty reconcilable once we get past the the word “Buying”, which seems to have been included primarily to provide an alternative to collecting and amassing objects for those who have disposable income.

    I may be lacking some knowledge about Gilovich’s intents or previous research that leaves me under-informed about the implications about his publishing these ideas. With slight changes, I see it as an opening to our belief that hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah, and as Shah Waliullah (ra) wrote, that the soul cannot be satisfied by the accumulation of objects because it was not made from dust as the body was, but from a higher level of creation.

    JazakAllahu khairan for the reflections
    Abdul Sattar

    • Avatar

      Daniel Haqiqatjou

      April 21, 2015 at 4:28 PM

      Wa alaikumussalam Abdul Sattar,

      Thanks for your comment; wa iyyakum! I absolutely agree: there is nothing inherently problematic about traveling, going to beaches, climbing mountains, etc. In fact, these activities can draw one closer to Allah as we reflect on the magnificence of His ayat in creation.

      But, as you point out, money has nothing to do with that. What is problematic about these articles is that they focus on the buying aspect. The kind of tourism the NYT, WashPo, the Atlantic, etc., are promoting is not cheap. And it has nothing to do with prayer or reflection about one’s higher purpose, and so on.

      Nonetheless, even if we take out the buying aspect, I still wouldn’t make the unqualified claim that “having experiences makes you happier than having things” because experiences can be just as hollow, spiritless, purposeless, vanity-inducing, nafs-sating as material objects. Sometimes more so. Just look at party culture.

      Furthermore, where do we have this idea that material objects, in and of themselves, are negative? The Prophet (sas) is recorded to have loved a number of material things: perfume, watermelon and other fruits and foods for example. The sahabah also had prized possessions. As scholars discuss, there is nothing inherently wrong about enjoying material things of this nature (so long as those things are not prohibited or blameworthy and do not lead to that). It is only when love of the dunya penetrates the heart, leading to vanity, pride, and ghaflah, such that one is distracted from the akhirah and one’s duties to Allah, preferring to accumulate wealth to helping the needy, etc., then that becomes a big problem. But the same dangers are associated with “experiences,” so there is no real distinction there.

  3. Avatar


    April 22, 2015 at 7:40 AM


    Enjoyable read. Very intellectually stimulating and refreshing to have an Muslim’s perspective on this topic. JazakAllahu Khair.

  4. Avatar

    Muhammad Kamrul

    April 22, 2015 at 3:15 PM

    Your view is praiseworthy, MashaAllah! May Allah reward you. But, is it correct to criticize other’s view when each view is based on metaphysics and other-worldly thoughts? We know, everything is valid in it’s own perspective but when one sees a thing from another perspective then it may not look valid! Perspective is an issue.

  5. Avatar


    September 20, 2015 at 8:58 PM

    SubhanAllah! This is just what I have been looking for!
    May Allah reward you immensely for this and grant you and your family Al-Firdous.

  6. Avatar


    June 12, 2016 at 4:50 AM

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Book Review of Revolution by the Book by Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (Formerly known As H Rap Brown)

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Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s magnum opus, Revolution by the Book, is a paradigmatic Islamic liberation theology manifesto. It gives an outline of spiritual cultivation specific to the experience of the marginalized who are advocating for freedom from structural oppression, particularly Black Americans in the context in which Imam Jamil is writing. In his book, Imam Jamil Al-Amin argues that Islamic religious practice, which he refers to as “the Muslim program” provides a successful guide to revolution, specifically for Black Americans who have been marginalized, dehumanized, and oppressed in the United States for over 400 years. This revolution is not to be understood in the context of the masses suddenly rising up and overthrowing the ruling class. Rather, it is a suttle and spiritual revolution of the hearts. Imam Al-Amin argues that only through the revolution of self can a person be able to revolutionize the community around them. He writes that “It is said in Islam that the greatest struggle is the struggle against the evil of self. The struggle against the evil of self is the great Jihad, the foremost holy struggle,” alluding to a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him). The book’s quotations are almost completely from two sources: the Qur’an and ahadith, which are sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Revolution by the Book is adorned with these two sources of Islamic knowledge. It is seldom impossible to find a page of the book without either a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him), or a verse of the Qur’an. Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s book begins with Surah Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur’an. Following them come the 10 chapters of the book all deal with a particular aspect of this program. Each chapter begins with a particular set of verses of the Qur’an.

The first chapter, “God Alone” stresses the importance of belief in God in transforming society. Without this belief, society cannot move forward in improving itself. It is followed by a chapter entitled “Born to Worship” which emphasizes the importance of prayer. Thereafter comes a chapter titled “Holy Money” which speaks of the importance of charity, which morphs into a discussion on the sociopolitical imperative of investing one’s money in the community. Then comes “God’s Diet” which speaks of the importance of fasting and eating healthy food. The fifth chapter is titled “Pilgrim’s Progress” and mentions the Hajj, and how Islam connects Muslims to a broader community of brothers and sisters around the world. The book is then followed by a chapter titled “God Natured” which speaks of the importance of the fitrah, or original nature of submission to God that all human beings possess, described in a hadith by the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him). The book then presents a chapter titled “Turn Right at the Light” which emphasizes the importance of repentance when one commits a sin. Chapter 8, “In Your Family” emphasizes the importance of the nuclear family, and is followed by a chapter titled “Everybody Can Fight But Everybody Can’t Win” which emphasizes the importance of practicing the program and living by an Islamic epistemology, as opposed to ascribing to secular ideologies such as nationalism and Marxism. The book ends with a chapter titled “Finish Lines” which accents how death can come any day for a human being, and how the Muslim must prepare for it, each and every day. The book then culminates with Surah Asr, a three verse chapter of the Qur’an dealing with the importance of time, and making the most of the limited time that man has on Earth. Revolution by the Book serves as a call to action, intended to resurrect the soul of the reader, so that they can ultimately resurrect a broken society. The text reads in the voice of a powerful figure. In order to understand just how powerful of a figure the author is, one must understand both his contributions as both an Imam and leader of American Muslims as Imam Jamil Al-Amin, as well as his contribution to the freedom struggle of Black Americans as H. Rap Brown.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin is a leader within the Dar Al Islam movement, a Sunni Muslim, predominantly Black American, Islamic movement in the United States. Founded in 1962, the Dar Al Islam movement was the single largest Sunni Muslim organization in the United States until Imam Warith Deen Mohammed transitioned his father’s formerly pseudo-Islamic Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam in 1976. The Dar Al Islam movement’s ideology can be seen in the sources that Imam Jamil Al-Amin cites. He uses very few sources outside of the Qur’an and ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad. This is because the Dar Al Islam movement overall did not affiliate itself to any particular madhab, or school of Islamic jurisprudence, nor did it affiliate itself to any Sufi order. However, the organization is distinct from Salafis in the sense that they are not anti-madhabb or anti-Sufism. But one can see the ideology of not following a particular Sufi Shaikh or school of thought in this work of Jamil Al-Amin. Rather, he focuses on preaching to people the Qur’an and authentic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. This is not necessarily an issue as he is preaching very rudimentary and basic Islamic teachings, and means of purifying oneself in this book.

The title of the book may also seem strange to some. As opposed to a revolutionary manifesto, the book seems to rather be a book on how to change one’s own self and how to restructure society from there. Before his conversion to Islam, Imam Jamil Al-Amin was known as H. Rap Brown, a charismatic and nationally-known leader within the civil rights movement. He would be mentored by now-Congressman John Lewis, who was then Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. At the young age of 23, H. Rap Brown became Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, succeeding Stokely Carmichael. Under Brown’s leadership, SNCC entered into a working relationship with the Black Panther Party. Brown took the nonviolent out of the name of the organization, and renamed it the Student National Coordinating Committee, lamenting that “violence is as American as cherry pie” and that they would “use violence, if necessary” and fight for freedom “by any means necessary.” 

While chairman of SNCC, Brown simultaneously was appointed Minister of Justice of the Black Panther Party. In 1971, Brown was sentenced to 5 years in jail for “inciting a riot”, a crime that many suggest came out of the Cointelpro program that specifically had the goal of “neutralizing” him. It was in jail that chaplains from the Dar Al Islam movement invited him to their weekly Friday prayers. Familiar with Islam because of Malcolm X, H. Rap Brown attended Friday prayers without becoming Muslim. After a few Friday prayers, H. Rap Brown converted to Islam and took the name Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. Upon leaving jail, Imam Jamil Al-Amin studied the classical Islamic sciences in West Africa, India, and Pakistan. Following that, he became Imam of a community of around 400 Muslims in the West End neighborhood of Atlanta. The title Revolution by the Book comes from Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s credentials as a revolutionary. He is alluding to how he feels that his Islam is the culmination of his revolutionary days in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Black Panther Party, and that he has now finally found a means of making this revolution possible. He says in the prologue of the book that becoming Muslim did not mean a shift from his revolutionary lifestyle. Rather, he says that Islam was a “continuation of a lifestyle” of the struggle for freedom for Black Americans.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin writes that:

It became evident that to accomplish the things we had talked about in the struggle, you need a practice. Allah says He does not change the condition of people until they change was is in themselves. That is what Islam does, and it points out right from wrong. It points out truth from falsehood.

He continues on to say that:

It is criminal that in, in the 1900’s, we still approach struggle…sloganeering saying, “by any means necessary,” as if that’s a program. Or “we shall overcome,” as if that’s a program. Slogans are not programs. We must define the means which will bring about change. This can be found in…[what] Allah has brought for us in the Qur’an and in the example of the Prophet. Our revolution must be according to what Almighty God revealed…Successful struggle requires a Divine program. Allah has provided that program.

The remainder of the book outlines the ingredients for successful struggle. Imam Jamil Al-Amin claims that the most important aspect of revolution is belief in God. Without this, none of the other objectives such as prayer, fasting, charity, repentance, and pilgrimage to Mecca can be actualized and implemented. He also goes on to argue a divine command morality. If a person does not have belief in God, they lack an objective morality to base their lifestyle on. As a result, they fall into a subjective morality that makes it very easy for them to stumble and constantly reinterpret their values in accordance to their whims and desires when faced with pressure to compromise their values. To successfully mount a revolution, a person needs to be solidly grounded and not constantly reinterpreting what is right and wrong. Such an action could jeopardize the struggle and place the one engaging in the revolution in danger of selling out his or her values. Divine command morality serves as an anchor for the person revolutionizing society. This is why Imam Jamil Al-Amin believes that Imaan, or faith in God is the single most important ingredient to successful struggle. It is also interesting to note that the Arabic word “imaan” which means faith comes from “Amaan”, a root word that means safety or security. Through faith, believers are strongly anchored and have safety and protection from being misled by their whims and desires.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin writes that:

Iman is an essential ingredient to success, for a fearful, doubtful person is unable to struggle; he gives up easily, submits to every oppressor, compromises his integrity, acquiesces in injustice, and accepts enslavement. In contrast, a person who has taqwa, God-consciousness, fears only the Ruler of the Universe, Almighty Allah; he perseveres against the greatest of challenges, maintains his integrity, resists injustice, refuses enslavement, and fights oppression without regard to man-made standards.

Next, Imam Jamil Al-Amin claims that the most important aspect of this struggle is prayer. He says that prayer is the center of the community. He quotes the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that prayer is what separates a believer form a disbeliever. He also quotes verse 11 of Surah Raad which states that “God does not change the condition of people until they change was is in themselves.” This is the most quoted verse of the Qur’an in his entire book, emphasizing the change in self that is required for the revolution that SNCC and the Black Panther Party imagined. He asserts that prayer is the key to this change, and that prayer is also what binds his mosque together.

Imam Jamil Al-Amin writes that:

Any building is just an edifice. The mosque is built to make prayer. Prayer is the key to the community, not buildings…Prayer is a practice, a program, that begins to make you aware, that makes you conscious of the Creator; it makes you fear Allah, and that brings about within you a transformation, a change that is necessary to throw off that whole system that you have become accustomed to. It is the beginning of a revolution in you which expands to other aspects of you reality.

Following his emphasis on prayer as the foundation of successful Islamic practice, Imam Jamil emphasizes other very important aspects of Islam, cemented with verses from the Qur’an and ahadith. Aside from just emphasizing the religious obligation of the action, Imam Jamil Al-Amin connects the idea to a sociopolitical imperative. It is not just his goal to explain to the reader why the action is religiously mandated. But he also seeks to connect it to why it is important for the social resurrection of the community in which a person resides. For example, he presents many hadith and the verses of Qur’an on the importance of charity. But beyond that, he connects the idea to the spiritual and social resurrection of Black Americans. 

Charity — you cannot have an effective social struggle, a successful movement, if you don’t have charity. You cannot have a successful revolution if people don’t have charity, if you are not willing to sacrifice. Sacrifice deals with giving, with sharing those things that Allah places in your trust? 

Beyond just laying out religious obligations, Imam Jamil Al-Amin points out many flaws in modern society, particularly those of materialism and corporatism. In his view, modernity is filled with many diseases that have deprived people of who they really are. People just go around consuming food, drugs, and entertainment, and are unable to cultivate their souls, or even ponder the fact that they have one. He writes about how society is devoid of values and how Americans have become a people who just go from one holiday to another without contemplating their existence. Americans have become a people not just intoxicated by drugs. More prominently, they have been intoxicated by holidays and entertainment.

We talk about intoxicants. We reduce the problem to cocaine and crack. But indeed, it is more than cocaine and crack. In fact, the problem is not crack and cocaine, the problem is that we live in a society that has made a virtue out of being high. This society arouses within you desires and passions that make you seek to escape reality by being high. Everything is geared toward keeping you in a state of euphoria. One holiday follows the next: Christmas to New Years, to Easter, to Mother’s Day, to Father’s Day, to the NBA playoffs, to the Superbowl, to championship fights, to Olympics. Everything keeps you high. Everything is geared towards keeping you away from encountering reality, everything is geared to keep you from remembering God.

He advises parents on the dangers of this corporatism also. Imam Jamil writes that: 

Your child must stop eating what the media sells; the television, radio, comics, magazines, recordings, etc. You must help them control their lives; you must take control of your children’s lives away from their enemy. You strive hard to teach your children right, then you turn the television on and allow everything that is against your religion, against your Lord, to be propagated in your house. You lock your doors and windows then turn on the TV.

One weakness in this text comes with regard to who Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s audience is. One review referred to it as “A valuable text for new Muslims and an excellent introduction to the fundamental teachings of Islam for non-Muslims.” So perhaps it is a text aimed at introducing non-Muslims to Islam, while also allowing Muslims to review the basic teachings through the context of his unique life experience. But which non-Muslims is he specifically speaking to? Is he speaking to Black revolutionaries who are not yet Muslim? He could be speaking to past colleagues of his from SNCC and the Black Panther Party. Is he making the case to them that Islamic practice presents a necessary program for them to actualize what they want in regard to this revolution?  Is that the purpose of this book? Or is he is referring to Islam as the continuation of the struggle in a rhetorical way. He is saying to his people that they do not need to wage revolution through protests and the ballot box. Rather, by the practice of Islam, each and every person transforming themselves will transform society. After all, society is merely the summation of a bunch of individuals. If all parts of the whole have revolutionized themselves, the whole too should revolutionize itself.

I also question if it weakens Islam or sells the deen short to present it as a means of good revolutionary praxis as opposed to salvation. The objective of Islam is to get close to God, not to restructure society. But establishing justice and ridding the world of this oppression is a result that comes from closeness to God. One begins a Muslim out of belief in God, and out of realization that the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the messenger of God, the last of prophets, and the greatest human being to ever walk this Earth. It is obvious that Imam Jamil Al-Amin understands. He emphasizes that the self must be transformed before anything else and that it is important to be aware of one’s close proximity to death. I wonder if maintaining the notion of a revolutionary self is to essentially say to those from his past days in the freedom struggle that he has not changed as a person. The H. Rap Brown who asserted that “violence is as American as cherry pie” has discovered what real revolution is all about—the greater jihad against the nafs. It is a sign that he has not committed some sort of political apostasy towards the freedom struggle, or cultural apostasy towards Black people. Rather, he has discovered that this materialism and lack of spiritual ethic guiding the freedom struggle can be purified and best applied when put into Islamic guidelines. 

For Muslims, this is an especially important text. It reminds them to fulfill the basic obligations of their religion and the evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah for fulfilling these basic obligations. It also connects to a figure who is seldom forgotten. Many know of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, but few know of the Imam Jamil Al-Amin. In addition, the Dar Al Islam movement which he was a leader in provides a model for dawah and Islamic institution building. But moreover, Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s book exemplifies to the reader that purification of the self does not have to take place in a vacuum of political quietism. Rather, in purifying themselves, the reader too can purify the community around them. Revolution by the Book is a seminal text representing a seminal figure.

Both Imam Jamil Al-Amin and his manifesto will be etched in the American Muslim imagination for years to come as symbols for purification of self, and the purification of society, insha Allah. 

Buy the book here

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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#Current Affairs

A Letter From The Executive Director

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

AssalamuAlaikum Dear MM Fam,

Alhamdulillah in 2007, I was fortunate to be a part of the team that started up a little website called It’s hard to believe it’s been over a decade. In that time MM has grown from a group blog into a full-blown media entity giving an independent and authentic Islamic voice to contemporary spiritual, social, and political issues that we face.

MM's work has been featured in CNN, Washington Post, ESPN, Buzzfeed, and more. This platform has grown tremendously and now reaches millions of readers every year.Click To Tweet

With 2020 around the corner, we are at a critical juncture. Traffic has grown beyond our current capacity – yes, we’re basically the masjid that now has an expansion project lol – and we have to grow in order to meet our community’s media needs.

Your help is needed to invest in the MM infrastructure so we can not only keep up with our current growth but also develop new content such as podcasts and videos to continue to reach more readers all across the globe.

Your contribution on #GivingTuesday is particularly vital as it will count as double with a Facebook match. We need your help to make vital improvements that will enable MuslimMatters to continue being a voice for the voiceless and a platform for mainstream Islam in the media.

This #GivingTuesday I’m raising money for Muslimmatters Inc and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Every little bit helps. And on GivingTuesday Dec 3, Facebook will match a total of $7 million in donations first come, first served. Thank you for your support.

Contribute what you can, and please share this post to help us hit our #GivingTuesday target to keep MuslimMatters strong for 2020.


Omar Usman

Executive Director

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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