The Test of the American Muslim

TheTestOfTheAmericanMuslimDear Daughter,

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.

Love,

Dad

Stop Using Islamophobia

Islamophobia12

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:

An Open Letter to ISIS

OpenLetterISIS“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.

Sincerely,

Professor A.L.I.

p.s. Read full letter on Kindle

 

Inter(ned) Faith

interned-faith

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

islam-and-america

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.