10 Things I learned in 2013

10- As a community we seem to be confusing substance with symbol.  Too many of our actions focus on symbols and representation, rather than substantive beneficial work.

In this process of symbolic activism, a lot of people have unnecessarily created rancor amongst each other.  Over symbols.  And, in the process, we find ourselves endorsing things we would not otherwise confront.

Thus, symbols have power, but only in the shallows.

Related to this, there seems to be this underlying envy that Muslims have toward the Buddhists.  It’s not an envy over Buddhism, as much as it is an envy over the way Buddhists are treated in our society.  In this outlook Muslims are made to defend themselves over the actions of others, while Buddhists are not.

Thus, hand in hand with the culture of symbols is the culture of victimization and powerlessness.  We resort to symbols in response to an unwillingness and feeling of inability to engage in substantive efforts.

9- I have met multiple Sufis who remind me of the Prophet -p, I have met multiple active members of the Tablighi Jamaat that reminded me of the Prophet -p, but I have never met a single Salafi who reminded me of the Prophet -p.

8- I think I’ve finally figured out how to be a morning person.

I’ve been a night person since childhood.  The night is still, calm and quiet. The day is noisy and hectic.  I suppose I have some cognitive health issues related to the amount of information I have to take in during daylight hours, making waking hours much more difficult than they need to be.

So, the key to becoming a morning person? Starting my day in the last end of the night.  So, I’m actually starting my day before the sun even hints it is arriving.


7- We need to develop a system of manners and etiquette regarding social media.

There are many things said by many people, things that such people would never utter in a public setting. Yet, they type these things and post them in public fora.  Thus, if the great fitna (trial) of the Muslim Ummah overall is wealth, the great trial for the contemporary Muslim in the keyboard.  The keyboard is an extension of your tongue.

6- The Sufis have returned to the American Muslim public.

Ever since the mid-1990s, the Sufis have been largely on the sidelines among the Muslim American public.  The 1990s witnessed the dominance of the various Political Islam and Salafi movements.  And the Sufis were pushed either to homes or circles of the elite (and, of course, those new wave imposters claiming to be Sufis). In the 2000s, with 9/11 and the so-called Global War on Terror, the Political Islam voices either became silent, became passive, went through their own ideological shifts, or became frightened.  The Salafis split between the hardcore Textualists and those packaging Islam in lucrative traveling courses.  Meanwhile, the “We are not bad people” sentiment dominated the community’s discourse. Perhaps the return of the Sufis is a sign that the community is beginning to exhale a bit.

That is not to say that the Sufis have been absent.  Rather, most of our public Sufis have held back on their Sufi-ness.  Now, however, they are resurfacing and are reclaiming the center.

With this comes a return of discourse about love and the heart.  But, with this also comes affectation and rivalry among students of Shaykhs, where one person’s Shaykh allegedly has more legitimate super powers than the allegedly corrupt next Shaykh.

5- Celebrity Islam is alive and kicking, and sucking the life blood out of people’s hearts, almost as fast as YouTube Islam is doing the same.  For my generation, the Muslim celebrities were athletes and performers, most of whom converted to Islam during or just preceding their prime.  Now, the Muslim celebrities are speakers. Many of great character. Many. But, the attraction to celebrity scholars creates a culture of shallow relations and shallower approaches to knowledge.

I could probably make quadruple my annual income if I became a national preacher.  I suspect that I would also have one fourth of the ability to look at myself in the mirror in the process.

4- In terms of Islamic knowledge and discourse, there is a universe of difference between the literate Muslim lay person and the scholar.

Most of my Muslim peers seem to dedicate their free time to play, rather than service and learning.  At the risk of sounding arrogant, the distance in thought between myself and them seems to increase with each year. It’s not because I am smarter than them.  Much of it has to do with how we spend our free time.

But, there are those who dabble.  They are well intentioned, but do not often understand that reading 1 book on a topic does not give them much depth on a topic.  Rather, read 40 books on a topic and sit for 40 hours with a teacher.  In other words, I’m saying that the ability to quote text is not the same as the skill to interpret text.

And, on that note, the lay person reads way too many books that are way to technical or irrelevant.

3- Too many Muslims live in the year 1435CE, not 1435AH.

The vast majority of texts we read and cite are 500-1000 years old. We would like to tell ourselves that these books are so profound that they are timeless.  That is true for the majority content for many of these books.  But, for many, many of these books, we invest time on material that has nothing do with us, and ignore contemporary books in the process.

But, this problem goes further. We spend much too much time living in the imaginations of past victories, as an avoidance of the contemporary mess we have inherited and are, thus ignoring, handing off to the next generation.

2- Hunger in America is a crisis of epic proportions, yet it can be solved.  Convoluted food, in the mean time, is destroying us.

The stats are mind boggling.  As many as 1 in 5 or 1 in 6 Americans does not know if/when they will have their next meal.  The problem is not lack of food. The problem is a combination of poverty and policy.

1- There is a tremendous amount of critique of the operations and environment of the American Mosque, and most of it is clearly from people who have no idea how an Islamic Center runs.

The usual accusations of conservatism, politics and patriarchy are the usual signs of accusers who know nothing about how the community in general, and the mosque in particular operates.  The most realistic accusation against the mosque would be (a) minimalist efforts due to a complete lack of community involvement, and thus, (b) a deep culture of mediocrity.  The attempts to blame the community or a mosque board tend to be valid only for the short while that the miserable board is in power, until they lose their elections.  Otherwise, complaints over a community’s lack of involvement can only come from people who do not know how voluntary organizations run, or have sanitized the experiences of the Prophet -p- to the point of not allowing his companions -may God be pleased with them- to be human.  No mosque board in its right mind will open its doors to people without first getting convinced of long term tireless dedication.  Patriarchy appears in the community more often through the pathway of minimalist effort and acceptance of mediocrity.  Meaning, only enough work will get done that will out weight the complaints.

That is not to say that the problems in the mosque are minimal. No, there are plenty. I’m saying that we need to first know where to point the fingers, and remember that three fingers are pointing back at us.

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One response to “10 Things I learned in 2013

  1. I don’t understand most of your last point. Could you please define your terms “minimalist effort” and “deep culture of mediocrity”, and use concrete examples.

    Also, what is meant by “elections” in a “voluntary organization”?

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