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“Rather Turkish Than Pope”, European Islam Already Exists For Centuries

European Islam
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Changing the factual past in an attempt to gain political authority is one of the paradoxes of modern populism, where the target audience is presented a twisted and fake past as a nostalgic idealistic image. Populist politicians reminisce publicly about the benefits and pleasures of the days of yore, where facts often have to make room for emotions. 

This false representations of a national past on a micro-level is internationally recognizable, but it nonetheless becomes increasingly apparent on a macro-level. The modern European continent is such an example, where right-wing populism is rapidly gaining ground and threatens to achieve political successes.

The populist branch within the Flemish Nationalist thought lends itself particularly to such interpretations of the past, and makes severe historical mistakes in an attempt to uphold and protect that history.

Historically speaking, there’s no truth in an independent Flanders based on the territory of the current Flemish Region. The historical and geographical Flanders is the areas designated as Zealand, East- and West-Flanders and French-Flanders all the way up to Dunkirk. The provinces of Antwerp and Flemish Brabant belonged historically to the duchy of Brabant, and the modern-day province of Limburg was a patchwork of small governments under influence of the Holy Roman Empire, the largest of which was the County of Loon, part of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.

And yet, nostalgic references are made to the Battle of the Golden Spurs, the County of Flanders and the Flemish Lion by right-wingers. These are mere emotional ideals for a people desperately in search of its own identity amidst a rapidly changing world.

That all of this “past” needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The average Limburgian shares less history with his West-Flemish countryman than with someone from Liège, often doesn’t matter any more.

It’s emotional support, and a form of political opportunism.

Das Abendland

In an almost romanticized narrative, Europe is presented as the so-called Abendland, the Evening Land, a common territory inhabited by people and societies that share a homogeneous cultural unity and a common history. It’s from this populist utopia that the resistance grows against the so-called illusion that Europe was partly formed by external influences and ideas from other continents around the world. It’s from this outset that an isolationist and supremacist historical thinking is pursued. It doesn’t come as a surprise that such theories aren’t only wrong on a historical level, but form an acute danger that threatens to separate people, based on ghosts from the past and vague ideals.

This Eurocentric thinking, in which Europe is considered the initiator and not the receiver, persists throughout colonial and post-colonial European thought. Besides, this trend is also observable in our modern Western high school system, where education tends to look at human history through a purely European lens, as if it was the exclusive result of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, Christianity, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Years of history classes are being taught within this framework, offering students just a limited amount of tools to effectively look beyond their own geographical and historical area. This is disastrous for the 21st century’s educational system. Such outdated curriculum only serves the interests of populists and idealists.

The history of the several African civilizations, more focus on the earliest states of the Fertile Crescent and some time on the rise and development of the United States were severely lacking during my high school experience, and I had to wait until university to be taught these subjects. What I found most lacking, however, was any in-depth attention for the complex relationship between Europe and the Islamic World.

The Absent Crescent

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Albanian Muslims in traditional clothing – 1873

The narrative that Europe is the sole result of a Judeo-Christian tradition with roots in ancient Greek and Roman antiquity needs to be swept aside, once and for all. By no means was there in Europe at any point up until the Second World War an example of cultural, religious or social unity. On the contrary! The continent has always been a patchwork of warring tribes, feudal kingdoms and modern nation states that had in most cases little more in common than their shared geographical position on the European land mass.

More than one third of Europe was under strong Islamic influence for several centuries; in the west, the Iberian Peninsula known as al-Andalus and in the east, Greece and the Balkan all the way up to Vienna. Important Islamic cities like Cordoba, Granada, Sarajevo and Istanbul are still standing in all their glory as we speak, effectively forming visual and tangible landmarks of the Islamic presence on the European continent. This part of history and its influence on modern Europe, however, is predominantly kept silent in the rich historical corpus this continent possesses so abundantly, just as much as in the average high schools so paramount in the formation of our youngest generations.

It is mere randomness that determined that Judaism and Christianity, both religions arisen from Semitic societies, are considered to be European and Islam, which equally emerged from a Semitic society, to be non-European. The fact that European Muslim scientists and philosophers like Ibn Zuhr, al-Zahrāwī, Ibn Rushd or Ibn-Ẓafar al-Ṣiqillī were often much more relevant to modern European science and philosophy than the ancient Greek and Roman thinkers, is long forgotten.

True European Islam

This Islam, that was equally and simultaneously influenced and touched by the proximity and contact with other European people, constitutes true European Islam, i.e. the Islam that grew on the European continent and which left its mark on the future development of states influenced by its presence.

That abhorrent mixture of Islam and liberal, secular and humanist ideals that people nowadays wish to propagate as ‘European Islam’ by presenting it as an acceptable alternative of the Islamic religion within Europe is in my opinion nothing more than a product of the European superiority thinking and undoubtedly also the inferiority complex lots of immigrants suffer from. European Islam predates all of this politicized circus for several centuries, and doesn’t need any dilution or mixing in order to be accepted as European.Click To Tweet

That abhorrent mixture of Islam and liberal, secular and humanist ideals that people wish to propagate as ‘European Islam’ by presenting it as an acceptable alternative of the Islamic religion within Europe is nothing more than a product of a European superiority complex and undoubtedly also the inferiority complex lots of immigrants suffer from. European Islam predates all of this politicized circus for several centuries, and doesn’t need any dilution or mixing in order to be accepted as European.

People like Ivan de Veenboer and Jan Janszoon probably don’t immediately ring a bell, and yet they were among the first Dutch Muslims who actively served as seafarers under the Ottoman Empire.

Ivan de Veenboer was an infamous Dutch corsair who sailed the Mediterranean Sea and converted to Islam somewhere at the start of the 17th century. He received the honorary title of ‘Sulaymān-Reis’  from the Dey of Algiers and was promoted to captain and commander of the Algiers corsair fleet, a promotion that heralded a highly successful career. His chief mate was another Dutch corsair, Jan Janszoon. He converted to Islam as well, and assumed command as Murād-Reis over the Fleet of Salé, a powerful squadron of seventeen privateers under Ottoman command. The word Reis is a derivative of the Arabic word for commander, raʾīs, and was given as an honorary title.

In 1566, the Ottoman Empire — under Sulaymān the Magnificent — as the sole foreign power offer its aid to the Dutch rebels of William of Orange. The Protestant Dutch were involved in a violent rebellion against Catholic Spain, and found an ally in the Ottomans. In 1574, Selīm II took Tunisia from the Spanish Empire in a successful attempt to lower the Spanish pressure on the Low Lands.

The History of  the Geuzen

The Geuzen, the Dutch guerrilla and privateering forces who opposed the Spanish Catholics during the Eighty Years’ War, wore a badge with the inscription: “Rather Turkish than Pope.” When the village of Sluis fell under control of the Dutch rebels in 1604, they found several Muslims among the Spanish galley slaves. The Dutch immediately chose to grant them their freedom and to transport them to the shores of North Africa as a sign of gratitude towards the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Caliph Aḥmed I asked the Dutch revolutionaries to send him an ambassador, effectively becoming one of the first world leaders to recognize the sovereignty of the Dutch Republic.Click To Tweet
HUIK_-_rouwkleding_-_Bernard_Picart,_1733
Two Dutch women wearing a so-called huik – 1733

The Ottoman Caliph Aḥmed I asked the Dutch revolutionaries to send him an ambassador, effectively becoming one of the first world leaders to recognize the sovereignty of the Dutch Republic. That ambassador’s name was Cornelius Haga, who arrived with a delegation in Istanbul in 1611. In 1612, he agreed on a very advantageous trade agreement with the Turks, exempting the Dutch from several taxes. Haga remained at the caliph’s court until 1639.

It’s regrettable that such examples are barely covered when speaking about the history of Europe, even in high school. This point of view can build a much broader insight among students with regard to the role of Islam and the Muslims in Europe.

Missed Opportunities and Right-Wing Historians

The fact that the average history lesson doesn’t speak a word about the complex relationships between European nations and Muslim empires, like the Umayyads and Abbasids, is a missed opportunity. In particular because the global history of the European nations can’t be detached from these Muslim empires and vice versa.

The fact that the average history lesson doesn’t speak a word about the complex relationships between European nations and Muslim empires, like the Umayyads and Abbasids, is a missed opportunityClick To Tweet

From Islamic Andalusia and Sicily through the Crusades all the way up to the Ottoman support for Ireland during the Great Famine, European states constantly existed in interaction with neighboring Muslim countries. Keeping silent about all of this benefits only the far-right populist establishment. Right-wing historians, like the Belgian Wim Van Rooy, go as far as denying the entire Islamic civilization and all of its achievements throughout the centuries, calling it an invention of 20th century Arab Gulf states.

The fact that the historical role played by Islam in Europe is reduced to an absolute minimum in popular modern historiography only contributes to a wrong understanding of the current question of Islam in the West. Islam existence on the continent has a long history, and didn’t just slip through the net as a result of mass immigration after the Second World War, as claimed by several populists.

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Marmaduke Pikthall

Many prominent Muslims lived on the continent in the early 90’s. Let’s take the example of Evelyn (Zainab) Cobbold was a Scottish noblewoman who converted to Islam after having spent several years in Algiers and Cairo. The 65 year old was, as a matter of fact, by 1933 the first British Muslim woman that ever performed the pilgrimage (Ḥajj) to Mecca.

British writer and journalist Marmaduke (Muḥammad) Pikthall, praised by great writers like H.G. Wells and D.H. Lawrence, converted to Islam publicly in 1917. In 1930, he published an English translation of the Quran, and in 1936 he was buried in the Muslim section of the famous Brookwood cemetery in London.

Sir Archibald (ʿAbdullāh) Hamilton, Etienne Dinet, Claude Alexandre de Bonnevalle, the Hungarian Jozef Bem and even the younger brother of Vlad Dracul, Radu, were all early European converts to Islam, and the list is much longer.

Can’t all of this be considered a common part of European history?

Mahomets Gesang

Goethe known for his love and fascination for the poetry of Saʿdī al-Shīrāzī, dedicated a poem of his to the Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) Mahomets Gesang, Song of Muhammad.

The Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw didn’t make his admiration for the Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) much of a secret as well. His famous quote still emits a serene respect: “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality.” In the January 1933 issue of the Lahore The Light magazine in which he made this comment, Shaw added that “he forecast that within a century, Islam would be the religion of Europe.”

According to him, Islam was dismissed for centuries by Europeans as pagan heresy and nonsense, depicted as the embodiment of evil, but 18th and 19th century thinkers like Goethe, Gibbon and Carlyle brought a positive change in how Islam is viewed. All four of these thinkers, including Shaw, deviated from the contemporary traditional European historiography and observed instead the Middle-East, the Greek-Orthodox Church and the development of Islam. Not only did they get to know the Prophet Muḥammad as a religious symbol, but as an efficient political leader and a genius strategist.

Connection Instead Of Polarization

This entire message, however, won’t ring a bell to most, including Muslims themselves. It’s a message that gets lost amidst the deafening sound of disinformation, political opportunism and populist interests. If this information would be made into a new standard of European historiography and common knowledge, both in school as in public, more connections and mutual understanding will grow as opposed to the rising polarization of today.

Teach students to make connections. Teach them to look at the bigger picture, to understand the historical reality that nations simply need to interact with each other in order to survive, apart from culture or religion.Click To Tweet

Teach students to make connections.

Teach them to look at the bigger picture, to understand the historical reality that nations simply need to interact with each other in order to survive, apart from culture or religion. No one fell from Mars and left his mark on earth. Everything we can observe today arose as the result of a long historical process. When our newest generations then learn to think and reason inclusively and see the shared collectiveness of our world history, they’ll walk the Earth with an open-mind and they’ll be less inclined to think in terms like “supremacy” or “exclusivity”.

The last thing I want to do with this long read is to preach and to sum up lists of “how good Islam is”. No, but I do wish historical justice in the ugly face of the contemporary mass-populism. I want to demonstrate that the Islamic religion forms an integral part of European history, and that this religion can just be European as well, without the need to substitute its norms and values.

I want to demonstrate that the Islamic religion forms an integral part of European history, and that this religion can just be European as well, without the need to substitute its norms and values.Click To Tweet

We don’t need to search for a European Islam, because it already exists for centuries.

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Omer Sayadi (*1993) is a former student of the Catholic University of Leuven with a special love for the Middle East and North Africa. After receiving his Master's degree in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, he worked with both refugees from the region as well as Arabic-speaking foreigners seeking to learn the Dutch language. He writes columns on Islam in Europe, migration and the depiction of Muslims in mainstream media. He started MENA symbolism as a means of combining everything history, politics, symbolism and society in one place.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Nur

    February 6, 2020 at 6:15 PM

    This shows how important it is to remember our humanity first when interacting with other humans, it is the requirement of being a Muslim, being able to see those that are different from us as they are, just another human-being rather than focusing on the differences, we should embrace our similarities. That is also how we help reform the world into a place where we want to live. As a Turk, sad to see many Turks hating their Ottoman heritage just because of the faults of a few.Sad to see even more Turks claiming ownership of this heritage but behaving in the opposite way including the current government. May we find peace with the grace of Allah.

  2. Avatar

    Sitara

    February 19, 2020 at 2:39 AM

    Thanks a good deal for the caring words, it’s a lot of work but thriving means it with comments like this 🙂

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#Life

Lessons And Reflections On The Death Of Kobe Bryant | Mufti Abdullah Nana

Kobe lessons
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On January 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant tragically passed away from this world after his helicopter crashed. The news of his death sent shockwaves around the world and millions expressed their grief and shared their condolences. His death and his legacy struck a chord with countless people who shared interesting personal stories about Kobe, what he meant to them, how much he inspired them, and the positive change that he generated. 

Kobe’s death saddened me. Despite knowing and preaching about the fleeting nature of life, his death shocked me. I have followed his career and am a fan. Not only that, Kobe was the same age as me, born only 40 days before me. We were both from the graduating high school class of 1996. 

I grew up playing recreational basketball from a young age. I ended up going in a different direction in my own life, but have been an avid sports fan for much of my life.

Many prominent people also shared their thoughts on how much Kobe meant to them and how he inspired them. My objective in writing this article is not to pass a legal ruling on the permissibility of following sports, mourning the death of non-Muslims, taking non-Muslims as role models, or advising Muslims to stop loving Kobe and cut off their connection with sports and Kobe Bryant completely. Instead, I wish to share some reflections and lessons from Kobe’s legacy that we can positively apply to our own lives. A believer is always looking to learn from others, from current events, and past events, and then derive wisdom and lessons from them.

Mamba Mentality And Muslims

There is much that we can learn from Kobe Bryant and his quest to be the best version of himself. He called this the ‘Mamba Mentality.’ 

Mamba Mentality: Honesty, Detachment, Optimism, Passion and Fearlessness. The Mamba Mentality is a mindset for constant self-improvement in the pursuit of your highest potential in life.

Kobe wished to inspire others to adopt his ‘mamba mentality’ in all aspects of life and to be great in whatever they do in life. “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great [at] whatever they want to do.” 

He explains, “The Mamba Mentality is a mindset that extends way beyond basketball or sports. It’s simple, if you have a goal or a dream, you need to apply the mamba mentality to achieve it. Everything worth achieving needs total focus and dedication.” Click To Tweet

As Muslims, sports fans, and especially fans of Kobe Bryant, we can derive many positive lessons from Kobe’s legacy and apply them in our lives to become better Muslims and better human beings. In this article, I will be discussing four specific lessons: 

  1. Following our positive dreams and sacrificing to achieve them
  2. Adopting Kobe’s work ethic and dedication in our lives 
  3. Adopting role models and mentors in our religion
  4. Inspiring others and having a positive impact on the life of others

Following our positive dreams and sacrificing to achieve them

You all know the jingle: “Sometimes I dream that he is me. Can’t you see that’s how I dream to be?”

Kobe not only dreamt to be like Mike, he consistently challenged himself to change his game to achieve this dream. 

He explains, “…we all have dreams. But once you go through the process of trying to make those dreams a reality, you hit obstacles. And I think unfortunately because of pressure or anxiety or responsibilities.. you kind of give up on those dreams and somewhere along the line, you lose that imagination. I think it’s important that you never lose that. You have to keep that. That’s the most important thing, I never gave up my dream.” Holding on to your dream and not giving up is extremely difficult to do and requires perseverance and great dedication. 

Every young person has dreams and plans for what they want to do when they grow up and what they want to become. Although some of these dreams are not realistic or productive (my daughter is not going to become a unicorn), many dreams are positive and serve an important function in helping others, serving Islam, or providing a means of livelihood. Our country is based on the American dream, and we hear countless inspirational stories of those who followed their dreams and achieved the impossible. 

At the same time, it is essential that we channel those dreams in the right direction and in light of the Islamic teachings, pursue a dream that will either positively benefit someone’s life in this world or in the hereafter. It is helpful to talk to a mentor, imam, career guidance center, or parent about our dreams and identify that dream that we wish to follow and pursue that will be most beneficial for us. It should not be doctor or bust, as is the case for many of us! 

Once we have identified that dream, profession, career, and direction in life that we wish to pursue, it will take hard work, dedication, and most importantly sacrifice to achieve that dream.

I dreamed of playing professional sports like many American youth, but unfortunately for me, my ‘NBA career’ ended before it could get started because I wasn’t that good! As plan B, around the time Kobe was already playing for the NBA, I graduated with a degree in Business Administration and was inspired to pursue another dream; going overseas to study Islam and become an Islamic scholar. 

Those years were brutal. I became sick during those seven years, was homesick and often thought of quitting and heading back home, but by the grace of Allah,  I finished my studies. Sacrifice to pursue this dream meant giving up a career in management, friends, time with family, watching my younger brothers and relatives growing up, and much more during these years. Fortunately, my family supported me through this and in 2005, I graduated as a Mufti, qualified to give fatwas in Islamic law.

Kobe further expands on the need to sacrifice in order to attain one’s dream and that this is the price of achieving one’s dream. He wrote in his book, Mamba Mentality, “If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it. A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness.” 

Adopting Kobe’s work ethic and dedication in our lives

Kobe describes the need for hard work and a strong work ethic in order to attain one’s dreams and greatness. “Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.”

“Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.”Click To Tweet

Kobe was a model for his work ethic and passion for basketball. Shaykh Suhaib Webb says, “Kobe’s drive and focus were edifying and motivating. I would watch him and think, I wish I was as passionate in my work and studies as he was towards his craft.” 

Personally, I did my best to dedicate myself entirely to my Islamic studies while overseas. I burnt the midnight oil literally and did not go to sleep in my first year of studies before midnight and never slept after fajr, trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of study. In fact, while Kobe was winning three straight NBA championships from 2000-2002, I didn’t even know because I didn’t have a computer, didn’t have a cellphone, didn’t have access to the internet, and was simply too busy. 

Laziness is the exact opposite of a strong work ethic and dedication. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم taught us to seek protection from laziness and inability.Click To Tweet

Laziness is the exact opposite of a strong work ethic and dedication. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم taught us to seek protection from laziness and inability.

Kobe has this to say about lazy people, “I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language!..” Kobe was willing to sacrifice everything dear to him to achieve greatness in basketball and to win championships. 

How would our lives be different if we were to apply Kobe’s untiring work ethic, waking up early, dedication, and relentless pursuit of perfection to our jobs, responsibilities, families, religion, and desire to learn? 

Imagine putting Mamba Mentality to work to becoming slaves of Allah.Click To Tweet

Imagine putting Mamba Mentality to work to becoming slaves of Allah. We must be ready to make similar sacrifices to become good Muslims, to enter Paradise, and to learn about our religion. 

The need for role models and mentors

Kobe Bryant used to fondly remember his mentors such as Bill Russel and how their advice inspired him. “That’s why I think it is so important to have those mentors, those north stars, who you learn from and look up to.” (Mamba Mentality) Just as we need role models and mentors in sports, we also need role models in all other aspects of life, including our religion of Islam. 

It is up to us to determine to what extent we develop a relationship with our role models, listen to their advice, follow them, and are inspired by them. The stronger our relationship, the greater the impact will be. Many of us were inspired by Kobe and took him as our role model. We had a special connection with him and felt it in our hearts when he passed away. How many of us have similar Islamic role models and mentors that we love as much, have a special bond, who we follow and remember? We need more positive Islamic role models and mentors in our lives to inspire us in our religion as Kobe inspired us in sports. 

There are many great living Muslim leaders, scholars, sports players, and heroes in the world today who are excellent role models and inspirational mentors. By the grace of Allah, I have had the opportunity to meet many of them and benefit from them. I could write a separate article on these amazing personalities

There are also many great heroes, scholars, and leaders from the past who we can follow and take as our role models. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم is the greatest role model and mentor in history, and we should do our best to learn about his life, his example, and his way and incorporating it into our own lives. Imagine if we had such a strong bond and love for him as we did for our favorite sports players! The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “Among the people from my nation who love me the most is a group who will come after me and will be ready to sacrifice their family and wealth just to be able to see me.” (Sahih Muslim) May Allah make us from among such people. Amin

The Prophet’s Companions رضي الله عنهم are also the best of role models and examples. Abdullah bin Masu’d (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “If a person is going to follow someone else and take them as their role model, then he/she should do so with those who have already deceased because indeed the living are not safe from falling prey to temptations and evil. [The deceased who are worthy of being taken as role models] are the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم. They were the best people of this Muslim Nation; they had the purest hearts, deepest knowledge, and had the least formalities. Allah selected them for the companionship of his Prophet and to establish his religion, so recognize their virtue, follow in their footsteps, and hold fast to as much of their good character and ways as you can, because they were definitely upon clear guidance.” 

Inspiring others and having a positive impact on the life of others

Kobe’s legacy not only includes changing our own lives while striving towards greatness in all that we do but also working on inspiring others to do the same. He says, “I think the definition of greatness is to inspire the people next to you.… Our challenge as people is to figure out how our story can impact others and motivate them in a way to create their own greatness.” 

He was a leader who built a team that worked towards greatness. And this did not just happen haphazardly. He applied the same techniques to leadership that he did to his game. He writes about his leadership style: “What I did adjust, though, was how I varied my approach from player to player. I still challenged everyone and made them uncomfortable, I just did it in a way that was tailored to them. To learn what would work and for who, I started doing homework and watched how they behaved. I learned their histories and listened to what their goals were. I learned what made them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understood them, I could help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.” Excerpt from Mamba Mentality. We too need to use wisdom and insight when calling others to Allah and to goodness, and to customize our approach to the individual for maximum benefit. 

We will receive the reward for all the good deeds done by those who we inspire, motivate, encourage, and teach. The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم said, “The person who calls towards guidance will receive the reward of all those people who acted upon his calling, without decreasing the reward of the original doer himself/herself.”

As Muslims, we too need to work on leaving behind a good legacy when we leave this world which will continue to benefit us from our graves. When we die, all our good deeds will come to an end besides perpetual charity, pious children who will pray for us, or knowledge that we left behind. 

Kobe has left this world and is unable to further work towards building his legacy, while we are still very much alive and have that opportunity. Shaikh Suhaib Webb has shared a very positive lesson from Kobe’s life and death:

“As we sit saddened and frozen by the loss of Gianna and her father, let’s remember that we are, by God’s grace, alive. Let’s translate this moment into a passion and dedication to live, be better and use some of the drive Kobe modeled for us in his career, towards our faith and healing a fractured world.”

Redirecting our energies and channeling them to Islamic works

Sports play a significant role in many of our lives. Many of us are passionate about the sport we play or follow. We are attached to our favorite sports champ like Kobe Bryant and our favorite teams. Taking sports entirely out of our lives might not be a very realistic proposal. 

Scholars have written that what is required in such circumstances is not to eliminate that energy and connection from our lives completely, but to redirect it and channel it to more productive and more spiritually rewarding Islamic projects and activities: seeking knowledge, performing Salat, waking up in the middle of the night for prayer, staying fit and looking after our long-term health, and adopting Islamic role models. 

I will end with Kobe’s quote on what legacy we leave for others; “It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you – or don’t. So don’t take it lightly. If you do it right, your game will live on in others.”

#Mambaout

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Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, Institutions
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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.

Continue Reading

#Society

Black Youth Matter: Stopping the Cycle of Racial Inequality in Our Ranks

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

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As we joined the rest of America in celebrating Black History Month and commemorating the legacy of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., with tweets, infographics, and sharing famous quotes, racism and colorism continue to plague the Muslim community. 

When we hear of a weekend course about the illustrious muadhin of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Bilal Ibn Raba’ah, may Allah be pleased with him, or a whitewashed cartoon movie based loosely on his life, we flock to the location. When the imam retells his story during a Friday sermon, we listen intently and feel inspired, we smile in awe upon hearing about his fortitude in the face of incessant torture. We cry while reliving the part where he enters the city of Makkah alongside the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) victorious, and calls the adhan atop the Ka’aba. 

Then, we leave. 

We return to our homes and all but forget about it until the next time he is brought up— unless we are Black Muslims. Like King, his impact comes in waves, maybe once a year like MLK Day or like Black History Month, for many of us. Yet, there were more Black companions and renowned Black Muslims in our history, just as there were countless civil rights leaders who fought for racial equality in America. For many of us who are not American of African descent, we live our lives unperturbed by the implications of ignoring the racial disparities that exist within our own places of worship.

However, it is our youth that bear the brunt of this injustice. 

A few weeks ago, I witnessed an incident that made me reflect deeply on the effects of racism and fear on our youth and the Muslim community. After picking up my son from middle school in Baltimore County, I drove to a nearby 7-Eleven for some snacks. While I was standing in line to pay for my groceries, I noticed that the man behind the counter was Muslim. From his outward appearance, accent, and name tag, I guessed he was South Asian. We greeted each other with salaam, a smile, and a head nod of camaraderie.

As he was ringing up my items, a group of chattery students still in school uniforms, approached the entrance of the convenience store. The cashier looked up horrified, and in mid transaction swung his arm back and forth as if swatting a fly. I turned to look at who he was gesturing to and saw the children were swinging the door open to enter. They were about 6 African American children from the same public middle school as my son. In his school, each grade level wears a different color polo with khaki pants as part of their uniform, so I could tell that most of them were in his same grade level.

“No! No! No!” the cashier cried harshly, “Out!”

I turned to him grimacing in disbelief, surprised at his reaction to the kids and then I noticed his expression. He had a look on his face of fear coupled with disgust.

One child cheerfully told him, “I got money, man!” My head turned back and forth from the students to the cashier. He reluctantly said, “Fine,” but as more students followed, he added sternly, “Three at a time!” I wondered if this was a rule when one of the girls in the group said, “Yeah, three at a time y’all,” and the majority stayed back, as if they were familiar with the routine. Some of them rolled their eyes, others laughed, but they remained outside the door. The cashier followed the ones who entered with his eyes intently as he finished bagging my items. He looked genuinely concerned. I tried to make light of the situation and get his attention away from the children, asking, “The kids give you a hard time, huh?” He smiled and nodded nervously, but I was not satisfied with his answer. 

As I swiped my debit card to pay, I felt troubled. My maternal instincts were telling me that I should defend these children. I felt anger and helplessness at the same time. These kids were tweens or barely 13 years old, yet they were being judged because of the color of their skin. There was no other logical explanation. They were not rowdy or reckless, not any more than any other child their age. They did not look menacing; in fact, they were all smiling and joking with one another.

Yet, this cashier, my Muslim brother, was looking at them as if they were a threat. The same way some white American may look at a Muslim sporting a beard and thobe boarding a plane.  

I tried to find excuses for his behavior. Perhaps he had a bad experience, or he was having a bad day. Could some of the kids from the middle school have stolen something before and this prompted his apprehension? There is some crime in this neighborhood located in the southwestern part of Baltimore County, on the outskirts of the City. Could he have suffered from some type of trauma that led to his anxiety? Maybe there was a fight in his store one day? Yet, even if any of these assumptions were true, I still felt like he was overreacting.

After all, these were just kids.

In Dr. Joy Degruy’s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, she mentions that policing continues to represent one of the most pervasive and obvious examples of racial inequality; one that even the youth are unable to avoid. She cites an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, highlighting a study by UCLA, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Boston, Massachusetts, Penn State, and University of Pennsylvania that investigated how black boys were perceived as it related to childhood innocence. They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. 

They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. Click To Tweet

On November 22, 2014, a 12-year-old African American child, like my son and his middle school peers, was fatally shot by police while he played with a toy gun in a playground. The child, Tamir Rice, was just a young boy playing cheerfully outdoors, but police officers regarded him a threat, demonstrating the ghastly reality of the above-mentioned study. After hearing about this atrocity, I remember telling my own children that they can never play outside with nerf guns or water pistols, out of fear of this happening to them. This is the type of world our children are living in. As Muslims, why do we choose to be part of the problem and not its solution?

Black youth

Junior football team huddling together

As I walked through the door and past the group in front of the 7-Eleven, all I could think about is that the kids were no different than my son who was sitting in the car, hungry, waiting for me to bring him some food. The only difference was that I was there to defend him, if need be. The children did not have an adult to stand up for them against the discrimination to which they were being subjected. I felt guilty for not saying more. I also remembered an incident where a group of African American youth were turned away from the tarawih prayers at a local mosque, not too far from the 7-Eleven, during the month of Ramadan, because they were perceived to be “too rowdy.” This prompted me to write about this incident; to speak up for them now, and to remind myself and other Muslims that the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us compassion. 

He said, “Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Even when a bedouin came into the masjid, the House of Allah – a place much more sacred than any convenience store – and urinated, yes urinated there, he still treated him with dignity. (Muslim)

The students standing at the door of the 7-Eleven were just going in for a snack. Even if they had been misbehaving, the gentleman at the counter could have addressed them with kindness. Similarly, the youth at the local mosque just wanted to pray tarawih. Now imagine the impact it had on them to be turned away from praying with their brethren during the month of Ramadan. 

I sat in the car where my son was waiting and found him looking out the window, unaware of what was happening. We were parked far from the entrance.

“Do you know any of those kids?” I asked him. “Yeah, the girl on the right is in my gym class,” he said.

My heart sank more and as we sat in the car, I wondered, what would have been the cashier’s reaction if the kids had been white? More than likely, he would not have treated them the same way. This racial profiling leads to devastating consequences. A recent news report by WUSA9 revealed that the state of Maryland leads the nation in incarcerating young black men, according to experts at the Justice Policy Institute. Their November Policy Briefs for 2019 entitled, Rethinking Approaches to Over Incarceration of Black Young Adults in Maryland, revealed that disparity is most pronounced among emerging adults, or youth ages 18-24, where, “Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.”

“Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.” Click To Tweet

What was most troubling about the incident at the 7-Eleven was that the students had been conditioned; they were already used to being treated that way. It was routine for them and business as usual for the Muslim cashier. While he may believe that he is doing the right thing, by averting a potential “problem,” the harm that he is causing has greater ramifications. He is adding to the trauma these children are already experiencing being black in America. Black students in Baltimore County were not even allowed by law to earn an education past 5th grade in 1935, and 65 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, the county’s schools are still highly segregated. Local and federal leadership in America have continuously failed African Americans, and it is disheartening to think that the immigrant Muslim community is headed in the same direction. 

I was haunted by this incident and returned to the 7-Eleven a week later to ask the cashier or the owner of the store about their (mis)treatment of the middle schoolers. I parked directly in front of the glass doors of the entrance and it was there where I saw a sign typed in regular white computer paper that read, “AT A TIME NO MORE THAN THREE (3) SCHOOL KIDS ARE ALLOWED IN THE STORE & please do not bring bags inside the store. Thanks.” I had not seen the sign before, maybe I overlooked it the day of the occurrence. Nevertheless, I went inside and spoke with the owner of the franchise, a Muslim gentleman who greeted me with salaam. I asked him about the sign outside the door and the reason why the middle schoolers were treated like would-be criminals. He explained that students from local schools have stolen goods from the convenience store on many occasions. To prevent this, they established a rule that only three unaccompanied school children could enter at a time and they were not allowed to bring their backpacks. The owner further added that crime and vandalism were prevalent in the area. Unfortunately, because this side of town is predominately African American, the blame falls disproportionately on this group. 

Nevertheless, patrolling and intimidating the African American youth in the area is not the solution. As Dr. Degruy stated in her book, “The powerful oppress the less powerful, who in turn oppress those even less powerful than they. These cycles of oppression leave scars on the victims and victors alike, scars that embed themselves in our collective psyches and are passed down through generations, robbing us of our humanity.”

A thirty-four-year veteran police officer named Norm Stamper wrote a book about racism in the criminal justice system entitled, Breaking Rank, (2005) and he mentioned that, “It is not hard to understand why people of color, the poor, and younger Americans did not, and do not, look upon the police as ‘theirs’… Do the police protect ‘the weak against oppression or intimidation’ or do they oppress and intimidate the very people they’ve sworn to protect?” Likewise, this young generation will begin to see Muslims of all colors as no different, if we take the role of the oppressor. 

When Abu Dharr insulted Bilal ibn Rabah, may Allah be pleased with them, by calling him, “O son of a black woman!” and the Prophet, peace be upon him heard of this, he rebuked Abu Dharr and said to him, “By the One who revealed the Book to Muhammad, no one is better than another except by righteous deeds. You have nothing but an insignificant amount.” We may have read or heard this and other narrations before, however, we fall short in implementing these teachings.

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

Sometimes it takes one person to stand up and point out the wrong to set the right tone. The sign at the 7-Eleven in my neighborhood has been taken down.

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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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