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Sherman Jackson, CVE, UAE and some questions

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For Muslims in the United States, it is easy to fall for the fallacy of “American Muslim exceptionalism.” Some Muslims view Muslim-majority countries as dark, corrupt, and authoritarian places while we in the United States are the light. As we have written about in various contexts, including Zakat abuse and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), the Muslim community’s leaders are capable of corruption and other abuses. There is no reason to believe  Muslims in the United States are any better than Muslims anywhere else.

A few years ago, the federal government started to offer ways for Muslims to profit from the global war on terrorism. It started a race among the unscrupulous to show national security-focused agencies and even foreign governments, how they are best qualified to tame Muslims and Islam. In CVE, Muslims were singled out as a problem religion and a problem community, though they did not start out being explicit about this.  There was strong opposition to CVE from Muslim communities and others and those who organized and worked hard to oppose it found success.

One group of Muslims that for the most part, we did not see participate in CVE were our students of knowledge, our Islamic teachers. Many cared about the dignity of their community and their religion. We can be grateful for this. Unfortunately, there were exceptions.  As a community, it is vital we hold our leaders accountable and correct things when they are wrong. Ali Al-Arian recently called attention to the CVE work of Dr. Sherman Jackson which was uniquely troubling among various CVE ventures for reasons I will discuss below. Jackson’s response was inadequate, and he needs to do better.

Sherman Jackson in the CVE racket

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Dr. Sherman Jackson has been a player in CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) for several years. Unlike other CVE proponents in the Muslim community, Jackson did not speak in American Muslim spaces on the subject as best as I am aware.  CVE is the now widely discredited, (yet somehow still very much alive in various forms) project to move the war on terrorism to Muslim spaces, in schools, and in mental health.  Jackson was a commissioner in the Council of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) CVE Commission in November 2016.  You can read their CVE report online.  

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta co-chaired this CVE Commission.   The report represents a consensus view of all commissioners.  Jackson was only one of two known Islamic scholars who lent their name to this project.  

This “comprehensive new strategy” was meant to be for the benefit of the next President of the United States, assumed to be Clinton. The person who ended up as President seemed uninterested in the advice provided mainly by supporters of his opponent.  

Ali Al-Arian and Sherman Jackson 

Al-Arian’s description of Jackson’s CVE efforts and UAE collaboration is sparse.   Most of his article is not really about Jackson’s CVE work and UAE connections and outside my scope. Though it clearly made a big impact on Jackson.

Dr. Sherman Jackson corrects a few of Al-Arian’s minor mistakes and offers an emotional rebuttal.  He was not an “advisor” to the commission, but a commissioner himself. The product of the commission is Jackson’s product, however. Putting his name on it was his choice.  CSIS is not a “right-wing” organization. They are worse than that, something I will get to below.

Other claims by Jackson were speculative at best (Tony Blair would not have wanted him on the commission) or require clarification.  I hope Sherman Jackson will be able to clarify these from the questions below.

White Supremacy

I am not interested in engaging on Dr. Sherman Jackson’s racial politics and views on immigrants or Al-Arian’s preferred framing in the context of global empire and white supremacy as a system. Instead, it is more useful to look at white supremacy in the context of CVE.  In the national media, CVE has come back into vogue as a way to address mass-shootings by white-nationalists. It has come up recently after the El Paso shooting, for example.    

Those who want to look to CVE as a way to prevent ideological violence in the name of white supremacy will find no help from the CVE Commissioners. The only CVE Dr. Sherman Jackson co-signed is interested in is targeting Muslims. The CVE Commission Report helpfully tells us what a “violent extremist” is. On page 2 of the report, the commissioners (including Dr. Jackson) tell us:

Throughout this report, we use the general term “violent extremism” to refer to the subset of violent extremist organizations that claim the religion of Islam as their motivating source and to justify their nefarious goals, and the term “extremist” to describe the ideologies and narratives deployed by these groups. 

Quite simply, for purposes of US Government policy, the CVE Commission was advocating that Muslims and Muslims alone can be capable of violent extremism. Nobody from any other religion or anyone with a secular ideology could be a violent extremist.  

A stylistic departure for CVE

For the CVE Commission, this was a stylistic departure from the Obama Administration CVE policy, which claimed to address other forms of extremism. However, it was always clear that while there was no real intention to address white supremacy. The war on terror involved spying on Muslim students going rafting but the government did not even know who the armed white supremacist groups were. CVE was always meant to single out the Muslim community, like the rest of the war on terror.  

The CVE Commission would have done away with any Obama-era window dressing. Leaving CVE as the preferred term to not offend partners, who may not sign up for a program called “Countering Islamic Extremism” (a term Republicans would prefer). In a sense, it was more honest than the Obama Administration policy. Another bout of honesty from the CVE Commission is that CVE is not an alternative to the war on terror. It is part of the war.  

Dylann Roof was not a violent extremist because he was not Muslim

In 2015, the year the work of the CVE Commission started, Dylann Roof walked into a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine worshipers.  Violence by white supremacists had a long history in the United States before 2015, a fact Dr. Jackson had known. White nationalist violence has continued since.   

Dr. Jackson, who has proclaimed himself to be the most “explicit” and “eloquent” on white supremacy, somehow managed to co-sign a report that failed to include the murder of black people in a church by a white supremacist in the definition of “violent extremism.” Indeed the document with his name on it failed to mention white supremacy even once while claiming to be a “comprehensive new strategy.”  It appears Dr. Jackson was unable to be either “explicit” or “eloquent” on white supremacy when it may have mattered.  

The co-chairs dismissed “extremism” by non-Muslims as something we should worry about by stating that “we must be clear-eyed about the nature of the enemy.” That makes sense, CVE is an extension of the war on terrorism.  

 The Value Proposition 

The CVE Commission report, other than to commit exclusively to the perceived Muslim problem, something Republicans already did in the CVE Grants Act in 2015, was not groundbreaking.  The document recycled tropes and jargon from prior CVE documents.  The commissioners failed to offer any solutions other than providing more funding to programs that are “proven.”   Objectively, there have never been any proven CVE programs. The report included “enlisting” technology, religious and other sector leaders, getting the White House to lead, and other meaningless gobbledygook. None of this was actionable as policy, except the funding part.  

How do governments fight ideologies they don’t like without getting into thought policing? Is there a way to know if someone is about to become a terrorist in the future? How do we prevent CVE from merely becoming code for political repression? You won’t find answers to any of this in the CVE Commission report.  

CVE was never able to live up to its promise of being a solution to anything. According to an FBI study, for example, there is no way to tell by looking at someone’s ideology that they are more likely to commit violence.  CVE was always a corrupt and fraudulent enterprise. It was junk science attempting to convince policymakers and the public that soothsaying can be actual public policy.  

It seemed clear that for CSIS, the CVE Commission was mainly a fundraising play. The donors were getting something though: a narrative that reflects their values, and loyalty. The UAE, for example, engages in thought policing and political repression. In the UAE, peaceful protest of government policies falls under the terrorism law and can lead to the death penalty. If the UAE or other seriously sick regimes fund you, it makes sense to sidestep difficult issues and discuss the things they want to hear. 

The CVE Commission report was emphatically not scholarship. It was political hackery for money. Dr. Jackson stated he consulted with “Washington insiders” before accepting. The end product seems to reflect the quality of the counsel he sought. It was garbage in, garbage out.  

Why Credibility with the UAE matters

It is impossible to separate Sherman Jackson’s work on the CVE Commission from his UAE affiliation. To CSIS’s credit, they disclose the United Arab Emirates is one of their largest government donors. Though CSIS credits funding for the report itself to Mark Penn, a Clinton pollster who has since become a pro-Trump pundit on TV, and Fred  Khosravi, a businessman who reportedly once told his cellmate he was a “freelance consultant for the FBI.” Both of these individuals were also commissioners alongside Jackson.  Defense contractors and oil companies are also prominent funders for CSIS. That guy from your local masjid who generously donates every Ramadan is likely not on CSIS’s fundraising mailers.  

If you are going to fundraise for a commission report, you want to name commissioners the donors like and trust. Tony Blair is best known for lying his country into a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, nearly all of them Muslim. For the funders, he had the requisite credibility and moral authority to co-lead his fellow commissioners. This seems especially true when it comes to the UAE.  

Islamic Scholars “clean and…vetted”

In 2015, we learned the UAE donated $1,000,000 to the NYPD’s Intelligence Division through a foundation three years earlier. This agency had an aggressive anti-Muslim surveillance operation. In 2014, the UAE, through a cabinet-level decision, absurdly designated the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS), “terrorist” organizations. Both are entirely American organizations that have nothing to do with the UAE.  

In the years since, the UAE has prosecuted an aggressive and unflinchingly violent foreign policy in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. In Yemen, the UAE reportedly operates a network of dozens of sites dedicated to engaging in systematic rape and torture. Moreover, it has been a champion of domestic political repression and oppression of the Uighurs and Kashmiris. Indeed, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the butcher of Gujarat and currently in the midst of shocking actions in Kashmir, was just given the UAE’s highest honor. India’s fascist government and the UAE’s rulers deserve each other. More troubling is that some prominent American Muslim scholars, including Sherman Jackson, appear to have no problem with the honor of being considered “clean and…vetted” by the UAE so that their actions are consistent with UAE’s overall foreign policy goals.  

A Question of Values 

When Muslim scholars find reasons to affiliate with such a foreign government so dedicated to oppression, it deserves some communal self-evaluation.

US Muslim scholars, including Dr. Sherman Jackson, continue to attend a conference hosted by the UAE’s government on, and this is seriously the name, “Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.” Getting American Muslim scholars in the UAE’s corner to grant themselves religious legitimacy is part of UAE foreign policy. That all of this seems cartoonishly absurd mockery of their religion does not stop Muslim scholars from collaborating with the UAE’s government. Worse though, Muslim scholars in the United States who have nothing to do with the UAE have not done anything to self-police this servile and propagandistic sham.

It is not at all surprising someone like Tony Blair aligns perfectly with CSIS donor UAE’s values. But do Islamic scholars in the United States have values similar to the UAE’s shaykhdom?  Do American Muslims? 

I don’t agree with everything the mafia does

Dr. Jackson notes he spoke twice about the problem of religious violence as well as “the problem of government repression, mass imprisonment, and torture.” Neither the CVE Commission or the MCE has any project to address these things. Reciting platitudes about human rights is not synonymous with moral courage. The UAE itself publicly and repeatedly proclaims itself as a champion of human rights. That does not make it one.      

In his post, Dr. Jackson notes that just because he works with a UAE sponsored entity, it does not mean he agrees with everything the UAE does. Dr. Jackson wants the Muslim community to hold him to a meaningless ethical standard. Nobody agrees with everything anyone does. 

If a scholar joined a Mafia-sponsored effort to give itself religious legitimacy, “I don’t agree with everything the mafia does” won’t work as a moral defense.  It should not work when collaborating with the UAE government either. Dr. Sherman Jackson gets to decide who he associates his name with. That is a moral choice.  

Benefit and Harm

What we need to do is evaluate the benefit to be gained by the community versus the harm Dr. Jackson may be causing. 

There is significant harm from scholars to providing religious legitimacy to regimes that have foreign policies dedicated to oppression and murder in multiple countries.    There is further harm because the UAE stages it’s religious scholars as props in a way that makes a mockery of religion and religious authority. It is undignified and far below the station of any scholar of Islam to play in such farces, yet,  there they are.

The CVE Commission in the United States was merely an extension of this game.  Use religious leaders to give cover to policies meant to harm people who follow that religion. Dr. Jackson’s participation in the CVE Commission shows there is virtually no bottom to what you can get a prominent Islamic scholar to co-sign. Islamic Scholars willing to collaborate with war criminals to make Muslims less violent are little more than dancing bears for the national security state. The dignity of the religion of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) deserves better.      

Benefits of this display to the Muslim community are not clear, at least not to me.  I hope Dr. Jackson can explain why the immense cost of his participation is worth it. 

If I act wrongly, correct me

An Islamic Scholar is someone who holds a position of a sacred public trust.  That requires public integrity. According to a hadith of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), ulema (not all religious leaders qualify here) are heirs of the Prophets.  However, that does not mean they are infallible and somehow incapable of making serious mistakes.  

Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), in his inaugural speech as Khalifah, reportedly said:

“O people, I have been appointed over you, though I am not the best among you. If I do well, then help me; and if I act wrongly, then correct me.”

Those who honor our tradition should not merely be deferential to scholars and leaders when they start doing things that make no sense or are objectively harmful.  They should correct them and not be afraid of asking difficult questions.  

Some Muslims, including some leaders and scholars, seem to think of Dr. Sherman Jackson as the Muslim ummah’s grandmaster chess player (something he alluded to in his post). We may not understand what he is doing, but that is only because he must be several moves ahead of what our brains can process. I do hope those Muslims can stop thinking this way. Sometimes, even people whose work you admire can make severe errors in judgment.   

Nobody likes to have their integrity questioned. Sherman Jackson would plainly prefer the Muslim community see him as above reproach. But if a scholar collaborates with human rights abusers and mass-murderers to make the world a more peaceful place, a few Muslims may start raising their hands to ask a few questions.  

Some Questions

I have a few questions for Dr. Sherman Jackson, but if readers have their own,  leave them in the comments:

  1. Do you agree with any portion of the CVE Commission Report?  If so, please share with the Muslim community what parts you agree with and why. If you repudiate this report in full, please tell us. 
  2. I understand you signed on to the CVE Commission to prevent a product with undue bias. However, why did you agree to include your name on the final product that excluded Dylann Roof from the definition of “violent extremist”? 
  3. Do you believe CVE is not fraudulent and actually works? If so, do you have any evidence of this?  
  4. You mentioned in your post you told scholars that people who disagree with CVE should protest outside. Did you ever inform them or anyone about where and when the largely secret meetings were so that they can organize protests?
  5. Have there been any concrete benefits to oppressed Muslims anywhere because of your affiliation with the UAE-based MCE?  
  6. What benefits have you personally enjoyed as a result of your affiliation with the CVE Commission and the UAE? 
  7. Do you believe Tony Blair should be charged, and tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in Iraq? 
  8. Do you believe the senior leadership of the United Arab Emirates should be charged for war crimes and crimes against humanity?  
  9. What value do you believe you are offering the government of the UAE’s rulers by serving on the MCE?   

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Ahmed Shaikh is a Southern California Attorney. He writes about inheritance, nonprofits and other legal issues affecting Muslims in the United States. He is the co-author of "Estate Planning for the Muslim Client," published by the American Bar Association. His Islamic Inheritance website is www.islamicinheritance.com

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Paula

    August 29, 2019 at 5:35 PM

    Great job brother Ahmed! This is a detailed speech by Tony Blair at CSIS and their focus on the ‘Islam problem’ and how it is to be dealt with https://player.fm/series/human-rights-video-1580450/csis-commission-on-countering-violent-extremism

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      August 30, 2019 at 2:42 AM

      Thank you, Paula! So are you saying you don’t think Muslim leaders should find any solutions from the Ummah from Tony Blair?

  2. Avatar

    shakeel syed

    August 29, 2019 at 5:38 PM

    JZKK Br. Ahmed … joining you to hear from Dr. Jackson.

  3. Avatar

    Salim Choudhury

    August 29, 2019 at 9:41 PM

    This is quite an incomprehensible piece of crap. If the writer (and I use the term loosely) of this lengthy piece had any ability to think rationally, he would not have made the dozens of logical fallacies throughout this bilious rant masquerading as a piece of journalistic commentary. And the gall to ask a series of questions to Dr. Jackson! Do you think he owes you, or any of your lefty comrades, an explanation of his actions? Seriously, please crawl back into the slimy hole of self-glorification you came from. You neither possess the ability to think clearly, nor the ability to conduct research before you open your big mouth.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      August 30, 2019 at 2:50 AM

      Thank you for your comment. I enjoyed reading it.

    • Avatar

      Mort

      August 31, 2019 at 1:34 AM

      @Salim Choudhury, would you care to explain what any of these logical fallacies are? Why should Dr. Jackson not be questioned? Using ad-hominems is usually indicative of the inability formulate a coherent rebuttal to an argument. Rather than using insulting and degrading speech, perhaps try to articulate any point you may have, if in fact you have.

    • Avatar

      GregAbdul

      September 12, 2019 at 1:03 PM

      Open name calling, in our faith, is slander. If you want this brother to soften or change his opinion about another Muslim, Is this the way Islam teaches us to fix one another? Do you think using big words in your name calling makes it okay?

  4. Avatar

    Mustafa

    August 30, 2019 at 1:23 AM

    What an unintelligible piece of drab. These arguments are so fickle that it was actually embarrassing to read. Can someone please find an actual intellectual to write these “articles?” Not because we believe in the half baked accusations, but because it’s just embarrassing that this is our current level of academic discourse.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      August 30, 2019 at 2:48 AM

      Thank you for coming to Muslim Matters for Academic discourse.

      • Avatar

        Mustafa

        August 30, 2019 at 7:14 AM

        My pleasure. You sound fun.

        • Avatar

          Mort

          August 31, 2019 at 1:43 AM

          Mr. Mustafa, why are you angry brother? Sometimes the truth can be hard to digest. The first step of grief is denial, so your reaction is completely understandable. I would suggest re-reading the evidences provided a few times over, thus allowing to skip the additional 3 stages right into acceptance.

          • Avatar

            Mustafa

            September 1, 2019 at 2:27 AM

            Dear Mort,
            Ooh, you sound fun too. Thank you for the online diagnosis. Do you offer private counseling as well?

  5. Avatar

    Abdul Malik

    August 30, 2019 at 2:09 AM

    You’re either at the table or on the menu. Lots of Muslims it seems prefer to be on the menu.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      August 30, 2019 at 2:38 AM

      Sounds like the cannibals’ code. Eat or be eaten. Sound advice somewhere I am sure.

  6. Avatar

    Filsan

    August 30, 2019 at 4:19 AM

    Is this supposed to be journalism?

  7. Avatar

    M.Rahman

    August 30, 2019 at 4:42 AM

    “What we need to do is evaluate the benefit to be gained by the community versus the harm Dr. Jackson may be causing “ Wow, stunned by your audacity. To even attempt to summarize a fraction of what Dr. Jackson has contributed to the Muslim Ummah would be impossible. God is just and he will defend His people.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      August 30, 2019 at 11:43 AM

      Wow. A summary of a fraction, like any fraction (1/1000) of his contributions to the Muslim ummah is impossible? That is amazing! Thank you for pointing this out.

  8. Avatar

    Abdullah

    August 30, 2019 at 8:19 AM

    Wow, the Dr Jackson cultists are out in full force. As their cult leader has done, they have nothing to offer but emotional diatribes and personal insults. Great work as usual Ahmed.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      August 30, 2019 at 12:05 PM

      Thanks, Abdullah. I am glad a few people find the contribution valuable.

  9. Avatar

    Sameer

    August 30, 2019 at 9:34 AM

    Groupies and masturbators to all things Sherman Jackson are spamming these comments rather than deal with substance of anything that has been written.

    This goes to the larger problem of the tasawwuf/nafs crowd. They elevate their celebrity sheikhs to a status of idol and worship them instead of demanding evidence from Quran & Sunnah, much less political accountability.

  10. Avatar

    Susan

    August 30, 2019 at 9:50 AM

    Jazakum Allahu khairan for one of the most relevant and informed articles ever posted on Muslim Matters. I am so heartened that these questions are being asked. I have two questions off the bat:

    1) Is UAE payment to Dr. Jackson funneled through a Swiss or offshore account?

    2) When and how are Muslims going to hold the government of Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, responsible for heinous crimes against humanity?

  11. Avatar

    Irtiza

    August 30, 2019 at 11:30 AM

    Ahmed,
    This piece was very well done. As someone who respects Dr Jackson and has read his works and heard his lectures, I cringed through parts of it, but nevertheless it was important to get this information out there. I am optimistic about one thing – I think this dialogue from the last few weeks will force American Muslim leaders and organizations to consider/ reconsider/ be cautious of their alliances and partnerships.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      August 30, 2019 at 2:04 PM

      Thank you for your comments. I know many Muslims have great respect for Dr. Jackson and would like for him to use his talents, knowledge, and platform for good and beneficial purposes. I do hope you are right in that there will be far more critical writing within the Muslim community about alliances and partnerships Muslim leaders have and that this will help us all become a better ummah.

  12. Avatar

    Ahmed

    August 30, 2019 at 8:05 PM

    As one who was privileged to study under Dr Jackson, I am disappointed to hear about his poor judgement. I hope this controversy does not undermine his great contribution to Islamic thought, which happens to be his least popular book, Islam & the Problem of Black Suffering. His most promoted book on the Third Resurrection is overrated, IMHO.

    Despite my admiration for that one specific work of his, I now can’t help but wonder … How much money did he make from CVE and similar endeavors?

    And … now my mind is unfortunately going to a place where I tried hard to not let it go in the past…

    … on multiple occasions, including the classroom, I noticed with surprise his regular taste for high end stuff, for example his Tod shoes, a nice big Merc, etc. Not judging, but I ask — is that not a violation of both Islamic guidance (do not wear silk, and by extension fancy clothes), and the restrained clothing choice of NOI (which he rightly admires as signifying a BASP ethic, and I am certainly not implying there is anything more to his NOI stance).

    Do CVE-like dollars fund his ostentation? Lets not rush to judgement, since the $ could have come from many halal sources, including gifts or ol’ fashioned hard work, since we know he does a lot of the latter. But when news shocks, the mind goes to places where it perhaps should not.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed

      August 31, 2019 at 1:57 PM

      Since the respected wife of Dr. Jackson, Dr. Heather Laird, has flagged my earlier comment as racist in a lengthy public post on her FB, it invites a response. An accusation of racism is serious, and must not be made lightly, and must not be evaded once made. Clearly, much of our world is still very racist, and every good human can contribute to alleviating that disgusting disease. But hurriedly hurling accusations of racism will not help. Does Dr. Laird know my race? If I am not black, would my original commentary be more valuable if I was? Might I have made the same comment if Dr. Jackson were white? If I were to observe that by painting my comment as racist, she has deftly deflected the key questions raised, is that being racist? Is it healthy for Islamic scholars with a big public profile to be ostentatious? Should public Islamic scholars (as opposed to secular Professors) be held to a higher standard than the laity on matters other than intellectual output? If ostentation is un-Islamic, which is what I have been taught, should we overlook the ostentation of Islamic scholars from oppressed communities, but not of majoritarian communities? Is any respectful critique of a scholar from a disadvantaged community racist? In addition, the main article poses nine excellent questions. As a student, I humbly seek answers.

  13. Avatar

    Muhammad

    August 30, 2019 at 9:05 PM

    Excellent work, and kudos to the author (as well as MuslimMatters) for publishing it. JazakuhAllahu khairan

    This assessment is sorely needed. Critique here is made not on speculation, but clear cut evidence of troubling CVE work. It can’t simply be shooed away on the basis of our respect for an individual’s past work.

  14. Avatar

    Gibran Mahmud

    August 31, 2019 at 8:08 PM

    I admire Mr. Jackson and think this article is good-he’s not somehow free from being questioned and I think nobody should get into any political business without first considering that they can and will be questioned in this life and the next. It’s senseless to refrain from questioning and criticism or tamp down on it because he’s contributed to the Ummah-and? This makes him infallible? Many men contribute good and bad, many mix right with evil, many take a dark turn after having been on the path.

    And some contribute a lot of good and make serious errors they will eventually repent for. We wish the best for every Muslim and it’s as much our responsibility to appreciate each other as it is to hold each other accountable. We are the only allies we have-the rest of the world is against us and we have munafiqoon from among us-if we do not strengthen each other and hold each other to account we are vulnerable to the enemy outside and the enemy within.

  15. Avatar

    Safiya O

    September 1, 2019 at 9:08 PM

    Salaam Alaikum,

    If Dr Sherman Jackson has been the only prominent Muslim to engage in CVE work, then the underlying point (if not the tone) of this article would be fair critique. Likewise if he were the only prominent Islamic figure/organisation without financial transparency.

    However, as brother Haqiqatjou has pointed out here many, many scholars and leaders have engaged in CVE work.

    https://muslimskeptic.com/2019/08/26/fighting-for-the-soul-of-american-islam-activists-vs-imams-vs-academics/

    So therefore, why solely criticise Dr Sherman Jackson? It is notable that in Al Arian’s article, the three figures singled out for critique were converts, two of whom are African American. Yet, as brother Haqiqatjou lists, many Arab and Asian Muslims have taken part in CVE, so why no pieces dedicated to them?

    Brother Shaikh, you brush away talk of being at the table vs being on the menu as “cannibal politics”, but the issue of political representation for Muslims is not one that will go away.

    For myself, I would rather have someone who bases their actions in the Qur’an and Sunnah representing me. The deep concern with the so-called activist Muslims is that not only do they not o this, but they have actually considered themselves to have transcended the need for revealed texts.

    This is extremely concerning, particularly when you consider that Sh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir and Dr Jackson are all in their early 60s now. Who are the next generation of leaders who will replace them and how will they balance representing a community nationally and globally?

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      September 3, 2019 at 2:46 AM

      The article was about Sherman Jackson. I have written several articles on CVE. You should read them. Yes, Muslims should engage in politics. However, people in politics should be comfortable with their work being subject to scrutiny. While you may be committed to unconditional adoration and deference, and accuse those who do not subscribe to this philosophy as racist without bothering to read another article by the author you are addressing, not everyone is going to be like that.

  16. Avatar

    Ayatullah Muhammad

    September 3, 2019 at 3:33 AM

    Jazakallahu Khayran at your attempt at being balanced. I personally prefer your article on the “Lords of CVE” than this one despite a few questionable points I’d encourage you to work on to make your critique stronger. The few points of assault I was expecting to see had very poor reference standard which were almost on par with Ali’s. To be frank, besides the *direct* questions, everything else sounded like a history note even though I guess as someone alludes, its an attempt not to impugn on character. The article could have been shorter by demanding, Dr Sherman should simply clarify his CVE stances and the wisdom of the UAE framework which he is yet to serve his followers

    1. Article refers to the “Lord of Muslims” article, which has little to NO mention of how long Dr Jackson has been on board that. If he decides to bounce back that he was there for “2 hours”, you would have just made the same mistake Ali make, which should be besides the point of the whole inquiry. Yet it garners attention of the preying social media eyes which leads to impugning Character.

    2. “Vetted and…” section claims to have UAE describe him as such in the letter. Two references are not clear. Does such exist in those references(which points at Wedaddy)? otherwise the source you referred to irrespectively doesn’t define him as such but rather assigns him as a CSIS/Tony Blair scholar. There is a world of a difference to that. Already, Sherman has not problem with the blair one because he doesn’t feel its worth the assault. Am sure he’d have a problem with the “Clean and vetted” one even if light which ascribes him to be “anti-Ikhwan”, something he has apologized for in the face of Sisi handshake allegations.

    “More troubling is that some prominent American Muslim scholars, including Sherman Jackson, appear to have no problem with the honor of being considered “clean and…vetted” by the UAE so that their actions are consistent with UAE’s overall foreign policy goals. ”

    THe reference to the best of my reading needs better clarity than what you have provided. Otherwise it can be closer to impugning his character despite your attempt at sticking to the topic.

    Otherwise, may God reward you for shinning the torch and demanding for accountability as necessary. JAK

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      September 3, 2019 at 12:19 PM

      Thank you for your comment. A few comments:

      1. Ali can speak for himself. You seem to imagine what Dr.Jackson would say (like being there for two hours) and offer that as a potential mistake I may have made. You can read the report itself about the work that went into it. Dr. Jackson had many opportunities to denounce it, distance himself from it, minimize his participation. I have also had the opportunity to speak to various people involved with this process over the years so I know this was a significant investment in time for him. You should keep in mind, several items in this article are a few years old now.

      2. There is the term clean and vetted that I link to. Dr. Jackson is someone with a strong relationship with the UAE, he is, as I point to elsewhere in the article, a member of the Council of Muslim Elders. This is an auxiliary of the UAE government. The only two American Islamic Scholar commissioners on the CVE Commission are known to have strong ties to the UAE, which is a major donor of CSIS.

      Again, thank you for your comment and I appreciate you engaging with the article and considering the issues addressed.

  17. Avatar

    Aziz

    September 3, 2019 at 10:51 PM

    Dear Ahmad Shaikh

    it is a fair criticism, and I think in general all Muslim American scholars who interact formally with western or arab governments should recognize that these public relationships will be scrutinized and should be scrutinized. The main response I hear from scholars as to why they do engage is that if they didn’t, someone worse than them would end up advising these governments. But it belies the fact that governments could really care less what religious scholars tell them. I don’t think a lesson in Quranic exegesis would convince the UAE to stop bombing children in Yemen.

    At the same time, the core point of Jackson’s rebuttal is that politics and the demands of social justice are not the main concern facing Muslims in America. On this issue I would agree. Modern liberal culture is aggressive and relentless in its attack on the core tenets of belief or faith in religion in general. If we assume this to be true, then it is possible that Muslim scholars would end up with strange bedfellows when considering the trajectory of conservative views in America.

    The American left if a spiritual wasteland when you consider how it elevates and sanctifies the desires of the individual above all else. While it may defend the rights of Muslims to live in America, it acts as an aggressive cancer to the core beliefs of any Muslim who chooses to do so.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      September 5, 2019 at 3:16 AM

      Thank you for your comment Aziz. I understand that there will be political differences among Muslims. Those political difference are subject to debate and discussion. Those differences should be subject to analysis based on who the actions benefit and who they harm. I don’t know that any flavor of politics in the United States or much of anywhere is a spiritual pursuit. It’s sausage-making I personally hope religious leaders stay out of. I would have no problem with religious leaders providing their perspective and opinion to anyone, but what I describe is several steps away from that as you know. I don’t know that I would say the “core point” of Jackson’s rebuttal (of Al-Arian’s article, he did not write one for my article yet) was as you describe. I don’t think anything Jackson was doing has anything to do with the American left. Al-Arian’s article was perhaps framed with language common in racial theories popular today. However, some of the issues it brought out, most notably the troubling work of Dr. Jackson with CVE and the UAE, was valid.

  18. Avatar

    Khurram Shah

    September 5, 2019 at 5:11 PM

    I do not get the vilification of the UAE. How many commenting here have actually lived there for a few years? It is a modern Muslim state with next to zero crime, the leadership is loved by citizens as well as expats. Go to any UAE newspaper, and you will find Indians, Pakistanis, westerners all praising the country. They are marking this year as a year of tolerance and all religions are respected. There is also a ministry of happiness looking at making people happy. As we speak, they are planning to send an astronaut to space in the coming days, a phenomenal achievement for such a new country.
    I would say a lot of the negative sentiments are inspired because of fake news from certain countries

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      September 5, 2019 at 7:14 PM

      Thank you for your contribution. Muslim Matters really should host an awards program for best commenters. I wonder if the Ministry of Happiness can help.

      Also, I did not realize they are sending someone to space. I suppose I need to rethink my entire world view now.

      • Avatar

        Khurram Shah

        September 7, 2019 at 3:24 AM

        I doubt sarcasm makes anyone’s point stronger. At the end of the day, the rulers of Dubai are loved by their people, citizens and expats alike. Even western expats are full of praise for the ruler’s vision and tolerance, as well as Muslim expats from all over the world.

        • Avatar

          Ahmed Shaikh

          September 9, 2019 at 4:02 PM

          Khurram, you seem to think public displays of fawning over their rulers is definitive proof of how wonderful rulers are. Also, space. You know, Stalin had an awesome space program and he had no shortage of people fawning over him publicly. Maybe he was not such a bad guy after all?

      • Avatar

        Khurram Shah

        September 7, 2019 at 6:52 AM

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsRs_guDxWc

        This is how humble the ruler of Dubai is, he sits with common people in a seminar. And you can judge by the reaction of the audience they love him, the smiles are all natural, and they look on with admiration. Of course if someone has never visited the UAE and they learn about UAE from “neutral” sources like Qatar they will get a negative view.

  19. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    September 12, 2019 at 12:52 AM

    as salaam alaikum, my interest is Muslim unity. Takfeer is a serious thing that we should avoid except when it serves a vital purpose. Louis Farrakhan is not a Muslim. That Ahmadiyyas are not Muslims. Farrakhan exploits black young people so saying this protects black children from an injustice that comes to them. Sorry…Dr. Jackson working with the federal government to counter the bad apples in the American Muslim community is vital work that needs to be done. We do have bad apples. I will not go down the list here, but I just finished trying to lower my blood pressure over some of us who are stuck on Imam Luqman Abdullah, who was killed 10 years ago in an FBI raid. Some of us are stuck on cult figures. A Muslim convict from 10 years ago engaged in criminal activity and some of us think it’s Islam to fight for a dead convict while in the meantime you live in a place where most people and especially black people do not even know what Islam is? Now if you can show me where innocent Muslims are being harmed as a result of Dr. Jackson’s actions, then I am totally with you,. Such actions would call his Islam into question. It all boils down to Obama. Some of us are so into making him the enemy. Now the day we have a Pakistani American Muslim president, do you think anyone will for one second question his Islam? Yet this black Christin guy, who did extensive Muslim outreach is supposed to be the enemy? Some of us, who go to mosque and know a lot of Arabic have some very bad ideas. If you hate America or think this is a kafir evil place, that kafir government will gladly give you a passport and you can go to where you can freely practice your religion…as the Quran commands.

  20. Avatar

    Jason Salahuddin Hammer

    September 13, 2019 at 9:50 PM

    I have no idea who you are or what contribution you’ve made to Islam in America. I know who Dr. Jackson is and what he’s about. His value to is cannot be overstated. Get your weight up before you even think about coming at him with your weak accusations. That fact that you will actually misguide weak and confused folks makes me angry. Dr. Jackson is a scholar and intellectual giant; you, my friend are a clown. May God protect people from your venom.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed Shaikh

      September 14, 2019 at 1:50 AM

      It may seem to you that my value is dependent on what random Sherman Jackson cultists on the internet think of me, and that’s fine just go with that if it makes you feel good. Yes, people whose iman was dependent on Sherman Jackson not being on the CVE Commission and not being on a UAE affiliated council may have an identity crisis or something. I suppose it’s a brave new world and you will just have to deal with it.

      Given so many of his acolytes to lash out in incoherent ramblings in defense of their hero, maybe being a barnacle to another “intellectual giant” will help you develop better critical thinking skills and more thoughtful prose. Or maybe you would just be a phrenetic disciple of someone else and nobody would be able to help that.

      Anyway, thank you for your comment.

  21. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    September 13, 2019 at 10:17 PM

    I ended a bit badly, so I want to clear up my “love it or leave it” ending.
    Starting crudely, As Muslims we are not allowed to buy haram things (like pig). The Muslims-should-not-vote crowd is wrong for this very reason. Voting is only a citizen stating the way he or she wants government funds spent. Everyone who lives in America pays taxes. If you don’t pay taxes, you live in America illegally and I don’t know of any scholar that says ducking taxes is halaal for Muslims living in the West. So, if you live in America and pay taxes, you are funding your local, state and the federal government. To live in America and file taxes every year means you fund the military and the FBI.
    So if you believe these people are evil kabals, intent in killing Muslims, you are paying for the unjust killing of Muslims through your voluntary act of paying federal taxes. I don’t mean to tell you to get out of America. I am asking about the sincerity of these claims of the evil US government. Pay them your money to fund their government and then spend all your time telling the world how the government, police and military you pay for is very evil and hates Muslims….
    Isn’t that way worse than buying pork?

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#Society

The Problem With “When They Go Low, We Go High” In An Anti-Black Society

Andrea N. Williams- Muhammad

Published

In 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama’s quote, ‘When they go low, we go high’, was first invoked in response to growing anti-black and racist sentiments hurled by the current president and his supporters. Like many others, I believed it was stirring and motivational, yet never felt right in my heart, let alone mind. Going high, but what was the starting point? How are we defining the actions of the ‘they’ or ‘them’? What is the breaking point, when engagement with the ‘they’ becomes problematic and leads to your destruction? Are there rules to this engagement? What game are we playing? Who gets to be the judge or referee? So, the quote and the sentiment never really set right in my heart and led to more questions than answers.

The first assumption of the quote, ‘they’  have a moral compass and actively engaging you in this manner, placing you on the same level. The reality, whiteness in America seeks to maintain its power and control. White slaveholders and the system of hate they used to justify those they enslaved, built a model of power and control, which is the foundation of our current economy and societal structure. This institutionalized whiteness is so ingrained in our culture we are blind to its implications and oblivious to how we each play a role in maintaining this system. Ignorance of the historical development of this country and the narrative of being ‘American’ allows for ‘them’ to maintain their control and a passive acceptance of ‘their’ control and power.

The ‘they’ is often not embodied in a singular person or one group, but a collective body of thoughts and behavior; perpetuating fundamental beliefs or maintaining a perceived status quo. It is individual, institutional, and structural. While social media is full of single racially- charged incidents, when viewed as a whole, they are rooted in long-held beliefs and perceptions of white superiority and disdain for Black presence in their daily lives. Guilt, maybe. Fear. Many are not even aware of how and why they ‘hate’ Black people they simply, do. Here is where we will begin, if you cannot soundly identify or recognize why you hold a particular belief or idea, your actions can never firmly centered in a morally or ethically position. Many of the recent encounters reveal whiteness is predicated on lies; and the belief that white words are superior to truth. The interaction between a San Francisco couple, confronting a Black Man. provides a case study in how we are often engaged and the surveillance of our presence. Threats to call the police, with false information was of no significance to them in their minds, they were right and justified. This incident and the modern-day lynchings of Black persons, allows us to understand ‘they’ or morally bankrupt and will do whatever is necessary to maintain their perceived control.

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A quote by Matshona Dhilwayo bridges the gap between the contradictions in my heart and the understanding my mind seeks,

“It is possible to turn the other cheek when one has stopped counting.”

For generations, Black Americans have taken the ‘higher’ road in response to prejudice and discrimination. At times I believe, we have stopped counting because we knew few changes were coming or justice. During the pinnacle of the civil rights movement during the 60’s the emergence of Malcolm X, challenged the idea of ‘turning the cheek’ when faced with violent acts perpetrated upon Blacks by Whites. The slaps, the senseless murders of Black people on the streets, you count and recognize your enemy for who and what they represent.

In confronting our enemy, we must meet them on their home field of engagement. Millions have taken to the streets across the globe, no longer willing to accept the status quo and suffer needlessly at the hands of those who seek to negate our very existence. As a country, we must understand, this was NEVER a fair fight, on an equal field of battle, or with ample weapons. Nothing about the ‘American’ way of life ever guaranteed any of us a fair shot or equality.

You can not get justice from a system founded by people who in the 1700s published books on how to address the ‘negro problem’. Even Thomas Jefferson knew this day was coming, but in the end, he still held firmly to the belief we were an inferior race who could be easily controlled and manipulated.

Did the enemy play fair when Dr. King was trying to catch a moment of calm at the Lorraine Hotel? Was the enemy morally centered when Malcolm stood in the Audubon Auditorium and was assassinated in front of his family? Did they think twice as Medger Evers pulled into his driveway to spend the evening with his wife and family? When Fred Hampton lay in bed beside his wife was there a second thought?

The idea is not to meet your enemy on some lofty plateau of moral superiority, because they have none; their superiority is based on an ideology that doesn’t even recognize you as their equal. The real lesson, learn from your enemy- their tactics, fighting styles, and methods of engagement. Fight them not with their tools, but your own.

As people of faith, we tend to view those around us, as divine creations of The One; forgetting it was one of those divine creations, who we call the Shaytan. Yes, we accept others for who they are and respect all of humanity. The balance then becomes in recognizing just as the Quran teaches, not everyone will be called to faith or will lead peaceful harmonious lives. This is where we find ourselves, after almost five hundred years of oppression and abuse across the world, here in America, there may not be any redemptive hope for our enemy or the system they created. This does not mean, we simply acquiesce to their control and power, it means we engage them on a level playing field and defeat them using their own rules and weapons.

Knowing your enemy does not mean you become them; nor does it eliminate Divine intervention during periods of unrest. Knowing your enemy, is simply that you fully embrace the reality that they are your enemy and act accordingly. While we hold firm to our faith and the knowledge that He is the Best of Planners, we cannot enter into the enemy’s seat of power believing our mere presence and fervent prayers will somehow miraculously and instantly change their heart. That is not our calling or role, and not our divine purpose. Imams, scholars, and activists engaged in the work of justice and equality, are not divinely elevated to personas and are not representatives of our Lord, but mere offering religious insight and guidance. They hold space, offering insight, and protection.

Never, in the history of this country, have those in power and control ever fully recognized, accepted, or atoned for the entrapment, kidnapping, and enslavement of Africans. Instead, they have violently and systematically created a country of denial and continued oppression. The argument is that things have improved from the ’60s.  My response, I am still not free of the anxiety of having my children taken from this world, simply because they are Black.

We are not allowed to move about this world without having to do twice as much; be ten times better; while still being thought of as less than.

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#Islam

Identity Scholarship: Ideological Assabiya And Double Standards

Danish Qasim

Published

The Prophet helped the Arabs overcome their asabiya (tribalism) and enter a new defining bond of Islam. The criterion for right and wrong was no longer clan membership, but rooted in the religion of Islam. Muslims were instructed to defend the truth, command good, and forbid evil regardless of tribal affiliation. Asabiya does not just relate to kin-based tribes.  One of the resurging traces of jahilya affecting our discourse is ideological tribalism. In ideological tribalism, we hold double standards between our tribe and other tribes, and overlook fallacies in our group that we would not for other groups. Just as we protect an idea that represents our identity, when a personality reflects our group identity, there is a personal reason to defend the personality. It then becomes instinctual then to double-down in discussions even when wrong to show group strength, which at this point is a survival mechanism and not a true dialectic. Abandoning a quest for truth and succumbing to an in-group vs. out-group dichotomy leaves us to defend falsehood and dislike truth. Refusing to accept truth is one way the Prophet described arrogance. 

Group belonging

One of the main drivers of identity scholarship is group belonging. When we focus on defending our group rather than principles which extend beyond group delineations we prove false our claims of wanting the truth.  The burden of moral responsibility is not offset by finding someone to follow [1]. Charismatic leaders have an ability to tap into latent desires of individuals and awaken in them the desire to be part of something greater than themselves. Their own identities are often validated by following the charismatic figure, and they then work hard to preserve the group as they would to preserve their own selves.

According to Ann Ruth Willner, charismatic authority “derives from the capacity of a particular person to arouse and maintain belief in himself or herself as the source of legitimacy. Willner says that the charismatic leadership relationship has four characteristics:

  1. The leader is perceived by the followers as somehow superhuman.
  2. The followers blindly believe the leader’s statements.
  3. The followers unconditionally comply with the leader’s directives for action.
  4. The followers give the leader unqualified emotional commitment.
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Charismatic leadership satisfies our desire to be part of something bigger, and paradoxically, to hand all power over to someone else can make us feel more powerful because we think that person is the best version of ourselves. We feel that we have gained ‘agency by proxy.’ We have also dumped all responsibility for decisions onto the leader- what Erich Fromm, the scholar of Nazism, called an ‘escape from freedom.’ When we are in a charismatic leadership relationship, our sense of self-worth attaches attached to the identity of the leader, so that we take personally any criticism of that leader, and have as much difficulty admitting flaws or errors on the leader’s parts as we do on our own. Because we see the leader as us, and we see us as good, we simply can’t believe that he or she might do bad things” (59) [2].

Charismatic leadership is emotional and works on desires. This type of leadership has no relation to truth. It exists and persists due to feelings, hence contradictions, double-standards, and outright hypocrisy aren’t issues for those in the relationship. Even when the leader confidently behaves irresponsibly, followers do not think less of him. What is inconsistent and irresponsible for an out-group observer is charming to members of the in-group.

As Miller points out: 

Followers don’t expect charismatic leaders to be responsible for what they say, nor to behave responsibly; their irresponsible behavior is part of their power. Their use of hyperbole and tendency to be unfiltered in speech are taken to signify their passionate commitment to the in-group (60).

Such loyalty is not specific for charismatic leaders, The Minimal Group Paradigm shows that we have more empathy for our in-group even if that in-group is arbitrarily assigned, and we will act biased in their favor against an arbitrarily assigned out-group. This is a tendency against which we must actively fight to maintain clarity in thinking and fair standards in discussions. When group loyalty is prized there is a fear of opposing the group, which obliterates any chance of scholarly discourse. Questioning a position becomes akin to questioning authority and leaves the questioner ostracized and out-casted. When the out-group is pejoratively labeled, there is an additional fear of thinking like or ending up in that group. 

Identity scholarship

Rather than looking at the argument constructed and judging whether or not it is sound, identity scholarship approves or dismisses arguments based on the person making them. Arguments are then validated by personalities and not standards of scholarship.  This is a dangerous shift from reasoning and evidence to personalities. 

Identity scholarship leverages the need to belong and centers the personality over the argument. However, focusing on the strength of arguments and not the personality is especially important given that the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is applied to vocationally trained Muslims, seminal graduates, preachers, or to those who display a scholarly caliber in Islam alike. This is a sufficient crisis. The term is heavily equivocated, and should never serve to stand in place of standards of scholarship in discourse. 

Ambiguity in the term ‘scholar’ or ‘shaykh’ is exploited by groups to strengthen their influence. Not always pernicious, this is the natural progression of proselytizing via group identity. An in-group who will dismiss dissenting voices for not having studied long enough, not obtaining ijazas, will promote voices of similar or less educated Muslims when those voices are in their ‘in-group.’ Titles like ‘ustadh’ and ‘ustadha’ are quickly conferred upon those who are volunteers or proponents of the ‘in-group’ even with minimal study. Advocating for the correct paradigm is rewarded more than a knowledge based approach to issues. Giving titles to those with social capital in your in-group is also an effective way for brand expansion. For example, loosely affiliated students with avenues into the growing Muslim mental health field are often referred to as ‘ustadha.’  Also, traditionalists will often promote in-group religious figures engaging in no-risk activism like condemning already popularly condemned figures as exemplary ‘scholars and activists’ who should be followed by other activists.  

If a person has been doing this long enough they become ‘shaykh,’ and then eventually a ‘senior scholar’ with assumed wisdom and spiritual insight, worthy of deference. I am well acquainted with the unfortunate irony in traditional circles where those who push a manhaj of studying at the feet of scholars have by and large not done so beyond attending general lectures by visiting scholars.  Many do not even know Arabic, but their zeal and tenure of feel good lectures in a community primarily interested in nasheeds and tea coupled with their promoting the right figures secure for them a scholarly status by generations who venerate the theory of studying at the feet of scholars. 

Thus authority and titles are conferred by virtue of in-group allegiance. 

Slip into demagoguery

When we accept an in-group and out-group dichotomy and don’t argue fairly, we lay the foundation for demagogic discourse. As Patricia Mill-Roberts writes “If people decide to see things as a zero-sum game- the more they succeed, the more we lose, and we should rage about any call made against us, and cheer any call made against them- then democracy loses” (13). The best way to avoid this is by maintaining fair discussions and letting go of double standards. Arguments appealing to in-group or out-group positions rather than being based in fact should not be accepted regardless of which group they are coming from. Several tactics used in these types of arguments are described below. 

Creating a strawman

Falsely representing the out-group is a common tactic in demagogic discourse. One example is portraying out-group critics as only critics. The critic is frozen in time as someone who has accomplished nothing, helped no one, and as only one who sees the faults in others. The in-group then goes on to list what they have accomplished -‘albeit with some faults’- to not seem as braggarts, but insists that those faults are magnified by the arm-chair critics. 

Another example is labeling Muslims more concerned with academic preservation and development as Muslims in ivory towers. This suggests knowledge is only relevant if immediately actionable and discounts the role of theoretical knowledge in both present and future action as well as an intrinsic end.  

Even when it comes to the epitome of practical action, Allah tells the Muslims to not all go out in battle, but to have groups remain behind to study.

Condescending discrediting

One way demagoguery characterizes the out-group is by a “dithering, wavering, impaired masculinity, and weakness…”(66).  Just as Rudy Giuliani dismissed those protesting Trump’s 2016 win as “professional protestors” with nothing else to do in life, so do we dismiss dissenting voices. 

Terms like ‘keyboard warrior’ should be dropped from the vernacular of anyone who uses the internet for Islamic education. If the internet is good enough for theatrical Ramadan reminders and choreographed Islamic reflections, it should also be good enough for dissent and valid critiques.[3] We have to embrace the fact that the internet is not a pretend medium; social media posts are used in newsfeeds, are reacted to on the mimbar, and even prompt live events. If we dismiss valid criticisms made online as the act of ‘keyboard warriors’ we should also call those giving dawah online ‘studio daa’is.’  

Discrediting due to inexperience

Experience is an important element in answering questions and dealing with different scenarios, and, should rightly be considered when one is looking for a teacher, etc. However, frequently, the standards for what constitutes experience are used inconsistently. The same individuals who refer to young teachers as ‘shaykh’ or ‘mufti’ while in their in-group, dismiss ‘shaykhs’ and ‘muftis’ in the out-group of similar age and experience, arguing that a person can’t be a ‘real’ mufti because studying 7 years doesn’t make anyone a scholar. Graduating from a seminary or Islamic university will be the standard for members of an in-group to be called scholars, but the out-group will be ‘immature graduates’ who have not learned wisdom.  Wisdom itself will be defined as the avoidance of actions which challenge the in-group. Likewise an activist saying the right thing and echoing in-group talking points will be called ‘ustadh,’ but if from the ‘out-group’ dismissed as a Godless- activist’ that just hates hierarchy. 

Victimization and Victimology

Demagoguery thrives on the in-group being victimized by the out-group. It is common for religious figures to dismiss valid criticism as nothing but hate, envy, or ignorance [4]. When criticized by activists, it is common to label them as ‘anti-clerical’ activists who only have an issue with Islamic leaders because they are neo-Marxists. 

‘Neo-Marxist’ is used as a catch-all term to discredit those who disagree with the positions of some religious leaders to insinuate the disagreements are rooted in hate for hierarchy or authority thus being illegitimate. Even conservative and practicing Muslims are labeled as ‘leftists’ and ‘Godless activists’ for simple critiques. In Sufi groups, disagreeing with leadership is often said to be the result of being spiritually veiled, or the work of ‘dark forces’ and ‘shayateen’ dividing us. If we can agree that black-magic and evil-eye are real but should not be the first culprit in a failing marriage, let’s also look for practical failures when religious organizations break down before we start blaming the ‘shayateen.’  

On one hand the in-group claims they are victims, on the other they blame the out-group for having a victim mentality.  This may seem like an obvious contradiction, but as Miller explains,  

If condemnation of out-group behavior is performed by a very likable persona, then onlookers are likely to conclude that the rhetor would never engage in the behavior she or he is condemning. This maneuver is especially effective with people who believe that you can know what someone believes by listening to what values he or she claims to espouse, and with people who think you can predict behavior by listening to values talk (who believe that ‘good people- that is, people who say the right things- don’t do ‘bad’ things) (56) 

Another tactic is using terms like ‘victomology’ to belittle legitimate grievances of being wronged and falsely representing those grievances as an attitude of being a victim in life.

Being oppressed (mazlum) does not require living a tough life, being a victim in life, or being part of an oppressed group. We are told by the Prophet that delaying a payment owed while being capable of paying is oppression (Muslim). When our God given rights are transgressed upon, we are mazlum in that situation. It is not uncommon however to see Muslims want to claim their rights and express they have been wronged to be dismissed as those who love to be victims. Ironically, this is even done by organizations that describe themselves with the leftist concept of ‘safe spaces.’  

Disregarding Nuance

“Demagoguery is comfortable because it says the world is very simple, and made up of good people (us) and bad people (them)” (24). 

We must understand that if someone does not see an issue as black or white, it’s not because they are obviously corrupt, willfully ignorant, or stupid.  The word nuance itself triggers cynicism and is treated as an excuse to employ mental gymnastics to deny what is ‘obvious.’  The fact of the matter is when it comes to khilafi issues there is generally a vast scope of acceptable actions, and when it comes personal ijtihaadi matters for policy there is often no clear-cut best answer. Thus in such matters the objective is to come to a best resolution or course of action. In short, we should all take appropriate measures in our decisions to ensure the benefit outweighs the harm. Certain positions are cautioned against due to the likelihood of harm to one’s religion, but that likelihood may not serve as evidence that one has harmed his religion. As the great scholar Muhammad Awama relates in Ma’laam Irshadiya, the way of the scholars is to leave people in what they are following as long as it is correct and has a valid legal perspective [5]

Scholarly discourse

Advice from recognized experts in a field carries weight, but it should not be conflated with a scholarly argument. A common mistake is to confer authority upon an opinion outside the area of one’s authority. Scholarly works must prove themselves to be scholarly as stand-alone works. Even if a great scholar has published many scholarly works, his advice should be taken as advice. For example, Imam al-Ghazali was a great scholar, but Dear Beloved Son is not a scholarly work.  We have a malfoozaat (wisdom-sharing) tradition that is precious, but we must know where to place it in the hierarchy of Islamic knowledge. 

Islamic scholarly discourse should be evidence based, demonstrative of legal proficiency, and cater to Islamic concerns. Those engaging should share the evidence for what they say, the sources of the rulings they share, the difference between the reason for a ruling and the wisdom of a ruling [6], understand contextual fatwas,[7] and understand which rulings are based on urf and which rulings are intrinsic obligations or prohibitions. These are just some elements of Islamic scholarly discourse, and it cannot exist alongside identity scholarship. 

There should be private forums with prerequisites where scholarly discourse can take place. When these discussions move outside of their proper place other issues such as discussing weak or aberrant (shadh) fiqh opinions arise, which to an undiscriminating audience all will seem co-valid on the spectrum of differing opinions in sharia. Promoting aberrant positions caters to our cultural preferences of thinking outside the box and carries the façade of an intellectual approach to Islam. In Maharam al-Lisaan (Prohibitions of the Tongue) Muhammad Mawlud lists both mentioning the conflict between the Sahabah, and mentioning aberrant opinions as prohibitions.  This is not due to the utterance being sinful, but rather to the misconceptions it can lead to for the average Muslim if not properly addressed.  

There may be a need to dismiss open innovators and those spreading misguidance, because there is no end to the possibilities of innovation and it obfuscates what should be self-evident, and can be very difficult for even scholars to refute in ways that resonate with those affected by innovation. The double standard as previously mentioned is when lack of formal credentials is only a problem for out-groups. 

How to have productive discourse

Islamic historical discourse has its share of polemics. There are commentaries, fatwas and treatises which insult valid ijtihad and even refer to the entirety of a madhab with epithets. Some scholars were harsh and had a penchant for polemics. Transgressions into mockery and slander were not condoned, and belligerent attitudes were something scholars sought to check with reminders of adab al-ikhtilaf (the etiquettes of disagreement). While the previously mentioned certainly existed and such an approach may serve to strengthen positions of the in-group to the in-group, it does not make for productive dialogue with the out-group.

Outside of scholarly discourse, when we debate policy and Islamic positions, we need to have sincere, fact based arguments with the goal of arriving at truth. Our ability to accept truth no matter who says it shows we have transcended in-group vs. out-group tribalism and have entered the realm of sincere discourse.  Overcoming in-group tribalism and following the truth, rather than blindly following our ‘fathers’ is a central message in the Quran. 

And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?  2:170 

Arguments on points should never be personal. We should train ourselves to evaluate arguments and understand that people we like can make mistakes, and people we dislike and generally disagree with may be right on certain matters. 

Don’t take cheap shots if you disagree with someone, such as pointing out a typo to insinuate incompetence. 

It’s important to leave double-standards, and to point them out when someone is employing them.  When one side is unfair or uses double standards, it encourages the opposition to act in kind, and the discussion devolves into a fight. When disagreeing with someone, never insult that person.  When a personality is attacked, the response will be defending the personality, and the entire discussion is derailed. 

Sharing a post, or article should not be seen as endorsing an individual or a post. Sometimes it’s a means of opening a discussion, other times to share beneficial points even if the entirety of what is shared is not beneficial. Furthermore, endorsing an individual in one area is not a blanket endorsement, and should never be taken as such.  The Hanafi tradition was able to benefit from legal fatwas while not accepting theology of Mu’tazilite scholars. Likewise, many of our best tafseers are from Mu’tazilite scholars. The widely studied and highly regarded Tafseer al-Baydawi is basically a reworked Mu’tazilite tafseer without the Mu’tazilite aqidah. Scholars have been able to ‘take the good and leave the harm.’ 

“I don’t think you could search America, sir, and find two men who agree on everything.” – Malcolm X

We need to uplift our intellectual level and drop disclaimers like “I don’t agree with everything in this article” or “I don’t agree with everything he said.”  It is only worth stating when you do agree with everything someone says or does.  The common disclaimers should be taken as givens and we shouldn’t capitulate to a cultural push of walking on egg-shells so no one accuses us of supporting the wrong person or idea. 

It is critical we operate under the assumption that sharing a panel with or working with an individual is not an endorsement of that individual. Likewise, working with an organization is not an endorsement of that organization. Such associations are attacked as potentially confusing to the average Muslim, but we must work towards establishing that such actions are not support. 

Here we see an ambivalent conceptualization of the ‘average Muslim’ as someone who both deserves transparency from religious scholars for their actions as well as one who is easily confused or misled by the actions of Muslim scholars. If we can accept both propositions, that a scholar’s actions are not proof, and that working with someone and sharing posts and platforms do not equate support for every particular view or stance of a person, we may set the foundation for being issue focused rather than personality focused. 

In conclusion, it is important we all hold ourselves to high standards of discourse and not support behavior or fallacies from our in-group that we would deride from an out-group. The groups themselves are inevitable and not a problem, but we have to work to overcome the natural ideological tribalism that accompanies group membership.  If we personally transcend in-group bias and reflect it in our discourse, we can overcome the pettiness and hypocrisy that stifles productive discussions. 

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Raised by Converts

Laura El Alam

Published

Note to the reader:  Some Muslims debate which term we should use for someone who has chosen to accept Islam. Is it supposed to be “convert” or “revert?”  In this article, I choose to use the word “convert.”  Before I start receiving comments from individuals who are convinced that the term “revert” is the only correct one, I would like to share this superb article on the issue written by Ricardo Peña, who says it better than I ever could.  

Nuha* thought she had found her soulmate and future life partner in Joel*, her co-worker. He was kind, hardworking, and charming, and the young couple wanted to get married.  Nuha’s father, however, would not give his blessing to the union because the potential groom had recently converted to Islam.  Nuha’s dad wanted his daughter to marry a man who had grown up in a Muslim family and therefore, presumably, had years of Islamic experience and fairly solid religious knowledge. He speculated about some of the things Joel might have done before embracing Islam and whether he had any habits that would be hard to break. He also thought it would be wiser for his daughter to marry someone from the same background; he doubted a white guy would really know how to relate to a Pakistani-American girl and her desi family. Most of all, he worried that Joel would not know enough about Islam to be a good husband, father, and imam of his family.  

Was Nuha’s father justified? Do converts make good spouses and parents? Can they ever truly move on from any un-Islamic aspects of their past and adhere to their new deen

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How do converts attain the knowledge necessary to raise children with Islamic knowledge, taqwa, and adab?

To answer this question I spoke with six Muslims who grew up in a household where one or more parents were converts to Islam. Their answers give insight into the true dynamics of what happens when converts raise children.  

Khadijah is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach from the United Kingdom. Her mother, a white British woman, converted when Khadijah was eight years old.  When she and Khadijah’s father had divorced, she had felt a need to find a deeper meaning in life. This searching led her to Islam.  

“My mum taught me Islam in stages,” explains Khadijah. “As she learnt things, she passed them onto me. We went to study circles together, and we learnt to pray together as well. She wrote the transliteration of the prayer on little blue cards for us to hold whilst we prayed. I wouldn’t say her knowledge was sufficient at the time, but whose knowledge is? I learnt valuable lessons as I watched her do her own reading, leaning, and questioning. I felt like we stumbled through together. As I grew up, this taught me Islam is a constant journey, and it’s ok to ask questions.”

Shaheda, a freelance writer from North Carolina, grew up in different circumstances than Khadijah, but the women’s stories have definite parallels. Shaheda’s parents are African Americans who were both raised in traditional southern Christian families. The pair converted to Islam in the 1960s when they were college students who were active in the Civil Rights movement. They began to learn about Islam after their introduction to leaders like Malcolm X.  

As different as her parents’ life experiences were from Khadijah’s mum’s, Shaheda enjoyed the same benefit of being able to see her parents growing and changing due to the love of Islam. “My parents were learning Islam as they were raising us,” explains Shaheda, “and so their increase in knowledge was tangible to us. We grew up in a community where you would see the physical manifestations of knowledge acquisition. The style of dress of the sisters became more modest, the separation of women and men became more pronounced in social gatherings, social gatherings took on a more religious tone, we began to attend Sunday school to learn Quran and Arabic.”

Though it may come as a surprise to some, in families where one spouse was a born to a Muslim family and the other is a convert, the convert is often actually the more knowledgable and practicing parent. Aliyah is a family counselor from the Midwestern United States whose Indian mother and white American father met when they were partners in pre-med.  “My dad had read about ‘Mohammedans’ and would ask my mom lots of questions about them,” explains Aliyah. “My mom was raised in a home that was only culturally Muslim. Plus, back then most immigrants just wanted to assimilate. She didn’t really know the answer to my dad’s intensive questions. One day she suggested he ask her father the same questions. My grandfather took him to the ISNA convention where he could ask more knowledgeable people. Alhumdulilah he got all his questions answered and converted!”

 She continues, “As a little kid we always looked at my dad as the sheikh of the house. We all agree that he’s the reason my family is even practicing. He would always patiently entertain and answer my questions, read me stories about the Prophets and Seerah, and really focus on aqeedah and comparative religions.  When I grew up and both our levels of knowledge needed to grow, we learnt together. As a teen, my dad and I would walk to the masjid together and attend the Friday night halaqa. In college, our favorite thing to do was attend al Maghrib classes. I would ditch my friends and discuss with him what we had learned during the lunch break.”

For Iman,* a stay at home mom who grew up between the United States and the Middle East, it was her convert mother — not her Arab father — who was her main Islamic influence.  “I was about 6-7 years old when my mom converted,” she explains.  “I grew up celebrating Christmas and Eid. We had a Christmas tree in our living room for the first several years of my life. My mother, who was raised a Southern Baptist, embraced Islam when my youngest brother was a baby, so for most of his life she was a practicing Muslim. We learned most of what we know from her.  I remember as a child seeing stacks of books on the dining table that she would check out of the masjid library to read and learn. She was a very intelligent woman who knew more about Islam than lots of born Muslims.”

Based on her own experiences, Iman asserts, “Generally speaking, I think converts are more knowledgeable than born Muslims. It can be challenging,” she adds, “when the convert is more serious about deen than their born-Muslim spouse.”

Anisa, a former teacher from Missouri, agrees with Iman.  “In some ways, I feel converts may have more Islamic knowledge than born Muslims because they have had to search for the knowledge themselves as opposed to growing up with it. Also,” she adds, “many born Muslims have grown up with so much culture mixed with the religion that the difference between the two can get blurred.”

Anisa’s mom, a white American woman who was raised Christian, met some Muslims at Oklahoma Baptist College back in 1970.  She started conversations with them in the hopes of converting them to Christianity, but ended up intrigued by their faith. She took an Islamic History class and read whatever books she could find at the library. She decided to become a Muslim at an MSA conference and made her shahada in 1973. “By the time my mother was raising my sisters and me, she definitely knew all the basics of Islam and was able to teach us,” says Anisa.

“She was the main parental source of knowledge for us, although we also attended Sunday school.”Click To Tweet

Mustafa is the child of an Egyptian dad and an American mom. He was born in the U.S. but raised primarily in Egypt where he was surrounded by Muslims, and yet his convert mother was a huge inspiration to him in his faith. “I know that I loved my mom so much,” Mustafa says.  “I felt that she had done the decision-making process for us. That if someone so smart, clever, and precise figured out Islam was the Truth, it must be.” 

“My mom became Muslim in the early 80s,” explains Mustafa. “She learned about Islam from her students while completing her Masters at the University of Illinois-Champagne. She was teaching English as a second language to Malaysian exchange students. She also ended up living with them and learning about Islam from them. People always assumed my mom converted for my dad,” muses Mustafa. “She didn’t even know him when she converted!”

As positive as their experiences were, overall, with the guidance of their convert parents, life was not always easy for the children who grew up with one born-Muslim parent and one convert. Many times, stereotypes about race, ethnicity, and cultural differences complicated their relationships with extended family members and outsiders. Both as children and as adults, many of them had to cope with people’s misconceptions and tactlessness.  

“I was always teased,” confides Aliyah.  “I’ve been called ‘half Muslim,’ ‘zebra,’ and ‘white girl’ in a derogatory way. Aunties always questioned if I was taught Islam properly. People would assume my dad converted for love (the pet peeve of my whole family). I would hear talk in Urdu in the masjid kitchen that I couldn’t cut an onion because I’m white. It was hard for us when we were getting married to find someone that clicked with us because we were so culturally different than everyone we knew.”

“Kids are rough,” adds Mustafa.  “Muslims can be ignorant, stereotypical, and not know what is offensive. Someone asked my sister, ‘Did your dad marry your mom because she wore a bikini?’ We were oddities at school in Egypt when people would see my mom pick us up from school. I was actually embarrassed to be seen with her for a while growing up, just because of all the attention it got me.”

I was “the white girl” in a Muslim school,” explains Khadijah, “and whilst that made the other girls very aware of who I was, there was always an element of separation there. I didn’t feel white. I didn’t feel Pakistani or Gujarati. I don’t feel like it affected me in either a negative or positive way. I got used to not completely belonging and forged my own ‘culture.’ I married an Afro-Caribbean brother, so my children have such a mix of cultures around them and I think it’s pretty beautiful. Whether my upbringing influenced this or not, I don’t know!”

While Shaheda did not feel any religious tension within her extended family, (“I understand from firsthand experience how people of different faiths can coexist in love and mutual respect,” she says), she does experience some difficulty from her brothers and sisters in Islam.  She reports “having to repeatedly validate my identity as an actual Muslim to those who don’t have the same experience. The assumption that there may be something missing or not quite Muslim enough is troublesome.” 

Wisdom to Share

These children of converts with their unique experiences and courageous dedication to their faith have excellent wisdom to share with the Ummah.  

Aliyah, whose work as a counselor focuses especially on Muslim families, has advice for Muslim parents whose marriage is mixed, either culturally or racially. “To youth,” she says, “identity matters SO MUCH, especially in this day and age when that’s all anyone ever talks about. If you’re a white convert parent of brown/black kids, identify your privilege that comes with that. If your kids are brown or black…learn about what that means in America. When I was with my non-Muslim relatives they would just make me feel so ‘other.’ They would focus on my exotic look and beliefs and just make me feel like an alien.” 

She continues, “Research things to consider when you are raising a child that is a different ethnicity than you. Ask your kids how they feel about it. Have an open conversation. Teach them about valuing both their cultural backgrounds.”

Khadijah’s advice to Muslim parents is,

“Learn WITH your children. Let them see that you’re still learning and struggling as well. Let them experience the journey with you. They’ll learn more that way than through lectures. You don’t have to act like you have everything figured out.” 

I believe the constant cycling in of converts into Muslim communities is a great blessing,” offers Shaheda. “And with that blessing comes a responsibility. We owe them our support, wisdom, and love, and I think we should take that responsibility very seriously. We should create bonds. These individuals who Allah has chosen as believers among disbelievers are special, and they keep us on our spiritual toes. There are multitudes of blessings when a community gains a new convert.”

When I asked them if they would have any concerns about their own children marrying converts, all of the interviewees answered a firm “no.”  They realize that a person’s dedication to Islam is not guaranteed by being born into it, or even raised with it. 

Converts — people who chose Islam as mature adults after a great deal of research, soul-searching, and personal transformation — are among our Ummah’s most passionate, educated, and sincere members.  

*Names have been changed

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