I have something I want to share with you, which I have never explained to you before. When I was a young man, I made a decision that would change the course of my life and ultimately yours as well. The skeleton in the closet of our lives is that as a wide-eyed, peach-fuzz lipped, knuckleheaded, eighteen-year-old, in the middle of one brisk March night, I said the following words that would change who I was forever: “there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his last prophet.”
It was long before the frenzied age of rampant Islamophobia and nearly a decade before hijacked airplanes would slice into our hearts, like rusty blades that leave wounded tissue gangrenous with infection, claiming thousands of American lives along with our innocence, in a cacophony of death. There was no Muslim “Kaiser Soze” (boogeyman) yet; Bin Laden was not in the public conscious and most people in our nation associated Islam with the eloquence and dignity of Muhammad Ali, and not the straggly bearded, turban clad foreign accents that terrorized us from faraway lands.
My two friends, the lanky and tall Abbas and the pudgy faced Osama, shouted “Allahu Akbar!” in unison to affirm the pledge I spoke that night that made me a Muslim, and the sound of their cry ricocheted through the air like a lost memory echoing in the back of my skull, for I too was a victim, spoon-fed imagery of explosive Middle Eastern tropes. The hidden truth is that in the eyes of America, my brown skin and my unique heritage already categorized me as “other” in the eyes of xenophobic America. America was already Islamophobic, it just hadn’t learned the vocabulary yet. I grew up through the hostage crisis, embassy bombings, plane hijackings, and the Gulf War; I’d been the victim of school yard bullying and the default Iranian, Arab, Libyan, and Iraqi in all those instances, and ostensibly a Muslim, because of my brown skin. The same lovely hued skin you have.
America had already considered me “the other” in many ways, long before I became one, and back then I always had a cowardly way to retreat from the otherness they asserted upon me. I could say with conviction that I wasn’t Muslim or an Arab, or anything else other than what I was. Or take it a step further, become strategic and grow to hate and then bully the Muslims around me. The venom inside me had burgeoned into racial and ethnic slurs that I found myself using under my breath, and eventually I’m loathe to admit, at the top of my lungs in order to distance myself from those who had distanced me from my identity as an American.
I became the bully that I despised by targeted the false-identity they ascribed to me, in others and challenging their othering with self-hate. In that clouded time, Chuck D and Lord Jamar cut through my mental fog and spoke directly to me through cassette tapes stuffed in Walkman’s while the Poor Righteous Teachers taught me like no other teacher had in school and collectively, these Hip-Hop artists introduced me to a man named Malcolm X. It was ultimately Malcolm who began the process of healing me, and by the time I met your uncle Abbas as an eighteen-year-old college kid, I was enamored with the discipline in the faith of Islam.
Abbas, now a successful surgeon, was the first practicing Muslim I had ever met, and in him, I saw a Muslim who was emblematic of what Islam taught, as manifest in the example set by Malcolm; in our friendship, I discovered the essence of Islam, is love. This was a far outcry from the Muslims I had met through Hollywood, showcased in the media, or those whom I’d previously interacted with. Our brotherhood helped introduce me to Islam, but my decision to become Muslim was a choice to become what the world already thought I was—it was ultimately a resolution to embrace my otherness.
From that day to this one, I have survived by living in the hyphen; as a Muslim-American, in a nation that devolved rapidly from President Bush making a distinction between American Muslims and those who committed the atrocities on 9/11, to a president calling for a Muslim registry and travel ban. The otherness I’d embraced in my youth now encircles me like the serpentine wrappings of the pariah I’ve become—but one I would have been regardless of my choice to become a Muslim or not. The Qur’an foresaw the test we’d face as Muslims in America when in Chapter 29, it states, “Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe,’ and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and God will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.”
The great secret that I have kept from you is that I didn’t choose this life for you—but that it was chosen for us, by the ignoramuses that have equated brownness with otherness and have hung hyphens around all of our necks. The fact is whether you choose Islam or not, you will be inextricably related to it, and you can deny it at every turn, join the bullies, or choose to follow this path and thereby control the hyphen. This is the test.
Whether you choose to wear a scarf on your head or not, you will be a default ambassador for Islam. You will be forced to explain it and its practices at every turn and stupid people will question your nationality because of it; they will question your loyalty and they will typecast you into the role of other, so they can define themselves as civilized citizens while they demonize you. This is your test.
What may seem like a vice grip akin to a being trapped between a rock, or in this case Iraq, and a hard place, is truly a special place to be, because like the Quranic promise of a test of faith, there is a test of what it means to be American too. Ostensibly America is just a promise. It is a dream deferred until it is tested and realized for those collecting on its promissory notes. For example, it takes a person like Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf to test the promise of the freedom of expression by sitting during the national anthem, just as it takes a conscientious objector like the late Muhammad Ali to test freedom of religion. It will take someone like you embracing the otherness they cursed you with in order to litmus test the promise of America for yourself, by walking this path, donning a scarf, and ultimately living in the hyphen, until America accepts you for what you are and who you choose to be. This is America’s test, not yours.
Why not Islamophobia?
The original definition of this term, coined in the 1970’s was not one that invoked the notions of uncontrollable fear, but one that spoke to systems of oppression; however, over time a lay definition has taken over, one which absolves agents of hate, arguing that they too are victims–victims of a uncontrollable phobia. Sadly, this not only does a disservice to those oppressed by these agents but the fight against this type of hate because it absolves the system of its culpability.
Therefore Islamophobia no longer helps to describe a system that actively “racializes” all those that it associates with Islam (not necessarily by declaration of faith, but by physical cues like brownness, facial hair, or head covering) into a monolith to be exploited, oppressed and to limit civil rights, for the excuse of safety.
Islamoracism is therefore, a more accurate term of this type of systemic hate. I encourage my fellow educators, and diversity practitioners to switch the nomenclature, as a coalition of Muslims and Sikhs that I am a part of have.
To help, a group of brown M.C’s of various faiths and non-faiths created this piece:
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” — Emerson
To ISIS/ISIL aka DAESH,
Stop with your bulls—. Just stop. You may pull the wool over the eyes of downtrodden, simple-minded, and ignorant Muslims—as well their counterparts in the reactionary West, but your cheap parlor tricks with the Qur’an, replete with revisionist history acting as your cut-rate magician’s assistant, will not con the vast majority of us who recognize the charlatan behind the façade of piety. The Saudi oil-dollars that pay for your photo-shopped pamphlets, the Toyota trucks you use to transport your tools of terror, and the monetized motivations of your suicide bombers will not suffice for a grand song and dance routine you use to misdirect the audience from what you’re truly doing.
I/we know Islam through Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X—the snake oil you sell will never be anything more than propaganda, recognized by any who know Islam as the religion it truly is, as something that can have nothing to do with it. The very idea of an ‘Islamic State’ is farcical when you attempt to bring it into vogue with a non-Islamic state of mind. Every explosion you mastermind and/or inspire only punctuates your hypocrisy and further de-legitimizes the political claims you make. For every innocent non-Muslim who you’ve caused the death of, at least twenty innocent Muslim souls could testify alongside them about your depravity, stupidity and sheer evil.
If Islam is good, you are the opposite of what it stands for as a religion and the violence you breed is diametrically opposed to the definition of peace, inherent in the linguistic root of the faith itself. So I, as an American Muslim hate you, for you have, through the force of your wickedness, dismantled the framework of love established by the Prophet Muhammad and his family that inspired exploration, mysticism, poetry, academia, and humanity. You have made ‘Islam’ a word to be reviled, and have damned every Muslim, living anywhere on the globe, to an apologetic existence.
When you sever heads, you are no different than Yazeed, the illegitimate Caliph and mass-murderer who ordered the beheading of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandchildren and great grandchildren. When you plow vehicles into our blameless masses, you do so with the same moral turpitude as the crusading forces that once annihilated countless, Muslim and Jew alike, in their insatiable thirst for power in the Holy Land. Every knife thrust or explosion that claims innocent life is no different than the viciousness of colonial regimes, or the totalitarian governments that assumed power in their wake throughout the Middle East and curtailed basic human rights with torturous violence.
You and your Saudi sponsors may be too obtuse to comprehend why I began with words from Emerson in his essay entitled “Self-Reliance,” which I was re-introduced to recently by my friend Dick Bradford, so I’ll try to explain it simply, such that even minds tainted with an ignorant, black-and-white world view can grasp it. If religion becomes a mere sequence of actions or rituals devoid of essence, then while it may have consistency, it will have little else. This is what you prescribe, a formula of faith, with no choice or faith in it. To practice Islam in this way would indeed be as Emerson so eloquently stated, akin to the hobgoblin of a little mind—to translate that into terms that would resonate in the iconography you hold dear; it would be like Shaytan (Satan) consuming one’s mind, leading the faithful to faithlessness.
I’ve written as much when I penned a letter to your benefactors in my “Open Letter to Saudi Arabia” and I’m not the only one calling attention to your false logic, and the hopeless machinations of your directionless cause. Reza Aslan is doing it in scholarship, Leila Sarsour through activism and Mehdi Hasan on television. I speak to you, not only as a Muslim like they do, but also as a father, teacher, and an artist, who was American before becoming Muslim over two decades ago. I believe that you’ll be nothing more than a disgusting footnote in the arc of human history, and all those who choose to be associated with you or your philosophy will be reviled by the world just as the Nazis rightfully are. In the end, you’ll not only fail at your own short-term goals of making us fearful but you will have provided the means of your own destruction by bringing us together in our collective hatred of you. Your days are numbered.
p.s. Read full letter on Kindle
Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Rajioon
Nabra Hassanen is no longer with us. Her light in this world was extinguished and her last moments on this earth were exceptionally brutal. No one should experience what she experienced. The culpability for her murder extends beyond her rapist and killer—and when I wrote to this truth—furiously writing two articles in rapid succession, to process this loss, my inbox was riddled with pushback and hate that I dared to call the cause of her death “Islamoracism.”
The semanticists came forth to argue that Muslim is not a racial category, missing the point that the nomenclature shifted to describe a systemic disenfranchisement of anyone racialized to be associated with Islam in America. Then the police department ruled the cause of her death to be ‘road rage’ even as news that they were testing for her rape leaked shortly thereafter. Rape is an act of hate and violence, and yet still no one was willing to call it a hate crime. This is a system set up to turn an ignorant eye towards the violence that strikes my community, forcing the victims to plead, protest and lobby in order to get law enforcement agencies and the media to see beyond their privilege and to acknowledge what is really happening.
My sister, Hajjah Safiyyah Fatimah Abdullah said it best when I interviewed her, “There is, and in fact, has always been a concerted emphasis in this country on ‘de-humanizing’ people of color. In doing so, that allows the media to further shape public opinion that when incidents of violence occur, it is not reflective of the broader social construct in this country, but rather, an isolated, and therefore unavoidable and unaccountable occurrence that does not need to be addresses in a broader social spectrum. In other words, in classifying it as ‘road rage’ or ‘a parking space dispute’, it lays lie to the reality that due to the current racist and Islamophobic atmosphere of our society, the perpetrator is not at fault for following a group of teenagers, and then attacking them. It is well beyond ‘Road-Rage’ when you not only attack a group of people that were no threat to you, but then kidnap…yes, kidnap…he picked Nabra up and put her in his car, and then took her somewhere to bludgeon her to death, to the point that when the police found the body they said that they found the ‘remains’, not the body, but the remains and will perform an autopsy to determine identity and cause of death. That is not road-rage, that is hatred…and it was that same hatred that caused him to follow the kids in the first place. The decision by the Fairfax Police Department to label it as road rage instead of a hate crime allows the police to continue to defuse the tensions within the Muslim community and ignore the hatred of Muslims across the country; thus, insuring our community doesn’t rise up in righteous indignation. ‘Road rage’ is forgettable; it is an isolated incident whereas ‘hate’ indicates a pattern, and prompts a public discussion on the rise of violent Islamophobia. It is the same process that they use for ‘defusing’ the shooting of Black, Brown and Native people by the police. It is the responsibility of our leaders and our communities to rise up and demand that the crimes be labeled for what they are, hate crimes, and be recognized as such. It’s time for our leaders to ‘man-up’ and stop being afraid.”
Then the unimaginable happens, Nabra Hassanen’s memorial is set on fire.
The apologists and deflectors are oddly silent. Those that began their semantic debates with my inbox have disappeared under the bridges from whence they came. While we Muslims are left knowing, not only was our young sister brutalized and slain but that the violence and hatred in this nation is such that, there are people (I use that term loosely) who took it upon themselves to further the torture on Nabra’s family and friends, as well as the greater Muslim community, by burning a memorial left to honor her.
This is not fueled simply by an irrational fear, it is systemic, and it is sadly the world that we as Muslims have to navigate.
I’m tired of living in a place where hate, violence and hypocrisy reigns supreme. Where is the acknowledgment of the truth? Where is the justice? Where is peace?
Many believe that Islamophobia is a term that was created to respond to the specified xenophobia targeting Muslims, Sikhs and any who could be associated with Islam after 9/11 in America. However, the term was coined in the 1970’s and came into vogue in the 1990’s; since, throughout that time those associated with Islam have been victims of hate crimes and bigoted acts of violence.
I could a fill a book with tales of the numerous physical battles I had throughout the 80’s, afterschool, upon dilapidated blacktops on rundown public-school yards. It would happen, every single time the Middle East was in the news, due to a hijacking, hostage crisis, outright war or when a Hollywood blockbuster decided to use a Middle Eastern/Muslim trope as a plot device. Even though I wasn’t a Muslim then, I was brown, and that alone gave the bullies and the ignoramuses at school reason enough to punctuate their hatred upon me with their fists. This was Islamophobia; I experienced it fully, before I ever became Muslim or knew what the word meant.
The fact that the schools I attended knew what was happening to me and didn’t do anything to stop it wasn’t Islamophobia, it was Islamoracism.
What we see in the United States now isn’t Islamophobia either, it is Islamoracism. This is what Jaideep Singh was talking about; what people like he and I now face in this country is systemic hatred and not simply bigotry from the shadows alone. When systemic power is intertwined with prejudicial intentions it creates a monolith to disenfranchise; in this moment Muslims are that homogenous group and this is a form of racism to be known as Islamoracism.
It might be phobia, as in an irrational fear that drives the system to act, but once it does, it creates systemic prejudice and this is how we witness our government violate habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions by waterboarding suspected terrorists and holding them indefinitely without formal charges in Guantanamo, and how multiple wars in the Middle East are sold to the American People on lies, and how our government can argue to ban refugees from nations we’ve destabilized and then in an act of cartoonish buffoonery, actually create a formal Muslim Ban.
The Muslim Ban, surprised some of my liberal friends, who’d made excuses for years whenever I complained about the methods used by the TSA—even when I quoted my good friend [redacted], a TSA manager, who specifically stated to me that the rules they go by for screenings specifically target Muslims. These were necessary security measures, my friends would argue, but they finally saw the light when Trump unveiled his Travel Ban. The ban is a textbook example of racism in that it is systemic, treats Muslims as a monolith and targets them for exclusion. In spite of this, I have some conservative friends who remain unconvinced that the ban is racist, or that it is an example of Islamoracism; they don’t see the connection between a policy such as this and the violence that it will breed—but this past weekend, they too began to change their tune.
The violence this past weekend, like a van running over people leaving the mosque after Ramadan prayers in London, weeks after a similar series of attacks claimed lives on the city in the name of ISIS, left me broken hearted. “I want to kill all Muslims!” screamed Darren Osborne, as he committed this heinous act of terror and his screams still echo in my brain. Just as I was reeling from this depravity, I fell deeper in despair with breaking news of the assault and murder of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl, which left me a wreck. These are acts emboldened by a system that is already punishing those associated with Islam, and has given the sickos tacit permission to act out their hate filled fantasies upon innocent Muslims, because they believe they are acting out in the interests of society.
To all this, I say, enough is enough! As a Muslim, a husband, father, educator and artist, I denounce both the hate and the violence—so down with Islamophobia and down with Islamoracism!
Incredulous, I reached out to other educators and artists, who were similarly fed-up; a group of brown MC’s throughout this country who I approached with the charge that we create a song about Islamophobia, which would lay out our anguish and angst, touch upon the hatred and violence, and clearly state, as we do in the song’s refrain that: “it’s not Islamophobia, its Islamoracism, it’s not a passive process, it’s a part of the system!” Featuring KB and Swap from Karmacy, the first ever South-Asian American hip-hop group, JiNN (formerly Jinnsanity), an up-and-coming MC from Florida, the first Sri Lankan MC, Ras Ceylon and yours truly; the following song is a tool in the arsenal of those who choose to fight the ignorance of these times with knowledge and unity.
Please enjoy and share and stay tuned for videos, and future remixes, as we hope to continue to battle hatred until we dismantle the systems of oppression aimed at disenfranchising those of us who are brown enough to deserve it.
Inter(ned) Faith by Professor A.L.I.
Thomas Munro had a vision of Raghavendra Swami,
Just as I had a dream of my own Samadhi,
For a piece of my heart is buried deep in Shirdi,
And another is covered by Karbala’s sands barely,
And the other vital organs are scattered beyond,
Amongst constellations like Trisanku body parts.
Put together like the rivers that flow unto sea,
The source is the same, this path is for me.
My ablution, an abhishekam performed with water,
From a well in Samarra, the bloodline of martyrs,
And my pilgrimage to Mecca begins in Sabarimala,
My fasting, a practice learnt from a devout mother,
And charity, in the blind generosity of my father,
And prostration learned by bowing down to elders,
So Islam’s rhythm was nestled in Vedic vessel,
And the cultural practices of traditional Tamils,
This is the complexity that helps to form me,
Yet ignoramuses like our president cannot see,
That Islam is everywhere, from the cycles of seeds,
To the circumambulation of atoms in the deepest of seas,
To banish this is to banish self, the essence is peace,
To war with oneself is the sickest disease.
Islam and America by Professor A.L.I.
When you silence me, you ignite the Bill of Rights,
When you stop me from practicing my faith,
You set the document aflame.
When you ban me, you shred the legends,
That this nation was once a haven,
For refugees of religion.
The ink of the pen of Jefferson,
Was enthused with his reading of my Holy Book,
As he framed the documents you prize.
The blood of Muslims deprived;
Chained souls in cargo holds,
Are tethered to this nation’s success.
Moorish treaties made this a country,
Through formal recognition,
Yet now their children are enslaved in prisons.
Ask the carcass of Hi Joly,
Or the remnants of Alexander Russell Webb,
Reminders of the American Islamic web.
Two sides, polarized, engage in civil warfare,
Like the 292 Muslims who fought,
In the Civil War, so we could be here.
Sadly, their names forgotten,
Like the Union porter Max Hassan,
Or Moses Osman, a ranking Captain.
A century old Muslim cemetery,
Look to Biddeford Maine,
Where the tombstones face Mecca.
The oldest mosque is rooted in Cedar Rapids,
Targets for bigotry, graffiti and fires,
Equal parts peace and tragic.
You honored Malcolm with a stamp,
But the stamp you gave on my passport,
Is a promise you’ve broken.
You shed tears for Muhammad Ali,
Yet you deny me,
For having the same beliefs.
No matter how you reclassify me,
I remain an American,
Who wishes you only PEACE.
If I you label me a Christian, due to my love for Jesus Christ and Mary, my adherence to the lessons taught by him, it is because I learned Christianity not from colonizers but from Saint Thomas.
Saint Thomas was the apostle of Jesus who migrated to South Asia and guided many towards the love of Jesus, and worship of God almighty. What he taught was so close to the principles in the Old Testament that when Western Christians encountered the Malabar and Tamil Christians they exclaimed that these Christians were too Jewish in their practice. They avoided pork and observed the Sabbath and these were qualities that seemed far from the practice of Roman Catholicism.
The Christians in Asia at that point had not been edited by the Council of Nicea, nor were they split in thought by a break in Eastern Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism, and they also weren’t part of the narrative that would see Martin Luther and John Calvin amongst others challenge the power of the Church. King James hadn’t issued the Bible they were reading and somehow they were coexisting alongside the oldest Jewish Community of the Diaspora, Hindus of various practices and varnas, as well as Sunni, Shia and Sufi Muslims, not to mention Buddhists and Jains. This was a pluralistic society that saw commonality and love. This is the Christianity I know and practice, though you see my practice as a Muslim—the essence is the same.
I have Saint Thomas to thank for that, and to honor him, I created this piece:
The Middle East is not a Homogenous Place: A Brief Critique of Ibn Khaldun
by Professor A.L.I.
Marshall Hodgson points out in The Venture of Islam, that the period between 1258 and 1503 marks a consequential segmentation pertaining to areas deemed Dar al Islam. Although there remained greater unity between these lands as opposed to Dar al Harb, invading forces, and changing political boundaries alienated areas like the Maghrib. Ibn Khaldun’s excised introduction to his world history, is therefore only adequately understood in light of the framework Hodgson furnishes. Ibn Khaldun’s work is a project of categorization and development of social truths, which are designed to better interpret history. Unlike Tabari, Ibn Khaldun’s history is less fact oriented, and more devoted to principles of sociological interpretation. The lack of facts, problemetize many of his sociological examples and principles as they fail to consider that there may exist, groups outside his sphere of comprehension: the Maghrib. These excluded groups cast uncertainty into Ibn Khaldun’s social equations. His generalizations are also disputable within the area where they seem most pertinent. In essence, Ibn Khaldun’s falsafah based history, constrain and limit a thorough understanding of the states and societies that have preceded him in Islamicate history.
Ibn Khaldun asserts in his introduction the existence of two groups: sedentary and Bedouin. This universal classification scheme lacks inclusion of categories beyond the two, framed groups. Although an argument may be presented regarding his passing mention of Kurds, Turks, and Slavs as emblematic of a deeper worldly consideration; its manifest flaw are other existing groups near his sphere which problemetize his claims. Hodgson clarifies that the Maghrib was isolated especially from Persia prior to his introduction of Ibn Khaldun in his research. This point, when understood in the context of historical events explains why groups like the Mongols are not considered. The Mongols highly question the sedentary and the Bedouin classification system, as they manifest qualities from both groups that are mutually exclusive.
He later expands this classification scheme to draw out generalizations about both groups which greatly draw question to its application into the Maghrib area itself. Claims into disposition of courage to Bedouin based on their natural condition rather than the sedentary is based on weak logic. His arguments can equally be swayed by counter assertions of greater bravery by sedentary groups due the protection of an army, and walls, and the inability to flee attack. Similarly, his arguments on the purity of lineage seem applicable to his area, where as Hodgson points out there is a constant shifting of rulers, and lack of a consistently powerful dynastic tradition. He cites a hadith that elucidates the nobility of Joseph and his forefathers: Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. His conclusions concerning the hadith that “four generations in one lineage are the limit in extent of ancestral prestige,” fails to consider other prophets that Muslims acknowledge that emerge from this dynastic tradition such as Moses, Aaron, Solomon, and David. This particular argument also displays ignorance of Shii belief in the Immamiya: the vice regency acknowledged after the prophet in the Imams, who inherit their pure lineage from Fatima and Ali, and infallibility from the Prophet.
Many of Ibn Khaldun’s statements are generalizations based on examples he has interacted with, within his isolated sphere. In what seems hubris he fails to even acknowledge the possibility of groups outside his definitions, and in some cases their beliefs and therefore remains an unreliable source for the comprehension of Islamic states and societies outside the Maghrib at any in depth level. Hodgson cleverly states,
“Ibn Khaldun’s Maghribi focus was very fruitful for him. But for a modern scholar to generalize from the Maghrib, as some do, can be very misleading, especially if his notion of the other moiety—‘the East’—is almost limited to the Jamai-Sunni Arabs in a period when the greatest cultural vitality was in the Persianate zone.”
Ibn Khaldun presents cultural insights into the areas that he discusses; but the use of Ibn Khaldun should be limited both to his sphere as well as his falsafah school, lest they restrict our historical understanding of the states and societies that comprise the Middle East.