American Muslims and Islam Drift Apart

By Ismail Royer

In 1394, while the army of the Ottoman sultan Bayezid was laying siege to Constantinople, Manuel II Palaiologos, the emperor of Byzantium, was writing a scholarly work of comparative religion. The emperor’s book was a record of a dialogue he had with a Persian about the relative merits of Christianity and Islam.  In one passage Manuel wrote: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only bad and inhumane, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

On this point the emperor was mistaken; the Prophet taught no such thing. Nevertheless, while the sultan and his army probably never learned of the emperor’s opinion, it is hard to imagine they would have been very bothered by it. These men, like Manuel himself, were busy building an empire, the earthly representative of a cosmic order: they likely would not have seen themselves as victims of the emperor’s “insensitivity,” nor would they have picketed, rioted, or issued communiqués demanding that he apologize for his “Islamophobia.”

As many will remember, though, this was the reaction of many Muslims around the world in 2006 when Pope Benedict XVI quoted Manuel’s dialogue in a lecture. Sultan Bayezid would surely have found this reaction incomprehensible and undignified. Indeed, it only makes sense to us over six hundred years later because every perceived slight to Islam is salt in the wounds left by the subsequent collapse of Islamic civilization. This hypersensitivity is due to the Muslims’ low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, and inferiority complex in relation to the dominant civilization of the day.

Meanwhile, the dominant civilization of the day itself is experiencing signs of decadence. American society is devolving into a collection of aggrieved “communities” demanding emancipation from the White Male Power Structure. Membership in an aggrieved group has become a status symbol, so that individuals compete to be members of as many groups as possible, collecting memberships like merit badges. Even a segment of whites define themselves as an aggrieved group (their oppressors are other aggrieved minority groups, including Muslims with their “creeping shariah”). By playing the game of identity politics this segment of whites even managed to capture the presidency.

In this milieu stands the American Muslim community. It has whole-heartedly embraced modern American grievance-based culture, and specifically the left-wing version, both as an expression of Islamic-civilizational-collapse syndrome and as a means of defending and advancing community interests. In embracing this mentality, the American Muslim community has quite consciously and willingly sacrificed Islam’s core role as the source of spiritual and societal order. This sacrifice was mandatory, for in leftist grievance culture no act is more oppressive than pronouncements of objective truth or moral judgment. Thus, the leader of a major American Muslim organization could write in 2016:

For years, the LGBTQIA community stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Muslim community as we have faced hate crimes, bigotry, marginalization and discrimination. Today, we stand firmly and resolutely to declare that this support goes both ways; that we are there for all communities who are the victims of violence and persecution in our country.

The liberation of the American Muslim community is inextricably linked with the liberation of all minority groups—Black, Latino, Gay, Jewish, Trans and every other community that has faced discrimination and oppression in this country. We cannot fight injustice against some groups, and not against others.

Homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and Islamophobia are all interconnected systems of oppression, and we cannot dismantle one without dismantling the others.

The sentiments expressed in this passage logically and necessarily flow from the premises of grievance culture. Indeed, there is no conceivable way to be part of it and at the same time pass moral judgment on, for example, same-sex marriage, “gender reassignment” surgery, abortion on demand, and so on.

Moreover, there is no way to make any affirmative statements about the truth of God and his intent for the creation, as doing so would imply that others are sinful or deluded. That is why membership in the leftist grievance community requires aggrieved groups, including American Muslims, to concur in the demand for radical removal of religious symbols from the public square. For the grievance culture, the only recognized objective truth is that there is no objective truth; the only moral wrong an “oppressed group” may commit is to suggest that another oppressed group is morally wrong. Thus the Islam of the American Muslim community is morphing into a cultural identity whose defining components are not spiritual and moral substance but rather victimhood and resentment of the dominant culture’s “oppression.”

This state of affairs was not, of course, the goal of American Muslim leaders and activists who paved the way for the grievance-based approach. Their packaging of American Muslims as an aggrieved group among a community of aggrieved groups was motivated, as noted above, by a strategic calculation aimed at preserving the Muslims’ rights and safety in America, a move that came naturally because it dovetailed with the resentment-mongering “Islamism” they brought from their home countries. But it was inevitable that the generation of Muslims that inherited the aggrieved-group mantle would embrace the rhetoric sincerely rather than strategically, ditching the old activists’ anachronistic Islamism along the way.

To be sure, the secularizing trend among the youth is largely attributable to the massive leftward shift in this country and the resort to identity politics along the entire political spectrum. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the short-sighted calculations of Islamic activists of preceding decades helped popularize the view of Islam among a new generation of American Muslims as a sort of racial or cultural identity only distantly related, if at all, to religious beliefs and practices.

 


Note: For historical context, see this author’s essays Pity Me, I’ve Been Victimized from October 2002 and Muslim Activism at the Crossroads from February 2003.

12 thoughts on “American Muslims and Islam Drift Apart

  1. Excellent article brother!

    What do you think is the alternative strategy to pursue? The fact of the matter is that this is not 1394 and Muslims do not have the confidence or strength they used to. While obviously we should hold fast the the rope of Allah, it would be a bit more helpful if you could elaborate on a reasonable alternative strategy, inshaAllah. Especially taking into account the rise of the Alt-Right and their anti-Islam rhetoric, which I think is likely to push Muslims even further left in reaction.

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    • I will have more essays in the future, inshallah, on alternatives to the current approach. You’re right that the mainstreaming of the alt-right is a catalyst for a further drift to the left. Thank you for your beneficial and thought-provoking comment. I’ll take it into account as I write follow-up articles to this one.

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  2. Ah well… there’s no Bayezid this time around. So what do you suggest that Muslims do. Typical critiquing as usual but no suggestion as to what Muslims should do. After reading this article, I get a feeling that Muslims should not even be present in these lands.

    If the suffering people of Syria have no where else to go and the only people that are willing to accept them are Canadians – champions of LGBTQ causes – they should reject that option and submit to daily humiliation and pain I guess…

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    • Don’t despair, akhi, the situation isn’t like that. I’ve been thinking about these things a lot and so have many other people so the idea is to find some other way with a fresh and creative way of looking at the situation. In the next week or two I’ll post a follow-up with suggestions for an alternative approach. Jazakallahu khair for your comment.

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    • This isn’t a black and white, all or nothing situation. You don’t have to support the narrative of the lgbt community in order to recognize their legal rights as citizens. Really that’s all that matters. Not if someone is supportive of your lifestyle but if you have the same rights as other citizens. If you do why complain?
      “I get a feeling that Muslims should not even be present in these lands.” You realize that non muslims don’t own these lands and muslims have as much right as any other citizen? What about Canadian muslims? Should they leave their home country because they are muslim? That’s silly to even say. Btw Canada is not the only country accepting refugees. Muslims countries are as well. If someone is escaping tyranny how can you make veiled threats to withhold support because they have different beliefs and still get on that high horse of yours?

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      • Sister, I agree. As you say, we have to treat everyone with kindness and respect but that does not require us to explicitly or implicitly endorse actions that our Lord forbids. Calling for the “liberation” of people who, for example, practice homosexuality does exactly that. I will extend to them whatever rights I owe them as a neighbor, citizen, and human being but will not endorse their right to “marry” and so on, and will not approve of their lifestyle.

        And yes–this is our land as much as anyone’s. We belong here and it is our obligation to seek good for this land. Allah loves goodness and calls to it; we want that for ourselves and our neighbors and all the people here.

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    • Actually, I hope Qa’im doesn’t mind but I’m going to paste this from one of his posts in their discussion forum:

      I have a lot of thoughts on this article and the phenomenon it discusses.

      Let’s start with a few examples from the past couple years. We saw Hamza Yusuf get snubbed by some of the most popular Western Muslim leaders for his criticism of Black Lives Matter, an LGBT organization that essentializes race, promotes non-nuclear family structures, and has a materialist structuralist view on suffering. We saw CAIR put Islamophobia and homophobia in the same boat. We saw Tariq Ramadan leave the biggest Muslim convention in the West because they refused to condemn drone strikes, wiretapping, domestic spying, and autocracies. We saw Yasir Qadhi, Mehdi Hasan, and Linda Sarsour approving the legalization of gay marriage in America. We saw Linda Sarsour lead the biggest feminist march in the world, where women wore genital hats, promoted rights for transsexuals, pro-abortion activists, being “nasty women”, and wrapped their scarves in American flags. Even Muslim intellectuals like Seyyed Hossein Nasr are promoting a Schuon-esque perennialism that marginalizes Muhammadan law and ethics. There comes a point where this is no longer Muslim solidarity with the safety other groups, but other groups hijacking and infiltrating our religion. Not only is this spiritually dangerous, but it is impractical, and I will explain why.

      It is clear that most Muslim youth identify with leftist politics, since it is multicultural and inclusive. Unfortunately, that comes with baggage: secularism, individualism, naturalism and religious skepticism, identity politics, LGBT rights, hookup culture and the normalization of sex, third wave feminism, body positivism, political correctness, and in general pro-revolutionary sentiments in almost every situation where even mild grievances exist. Balancing this with the Islamic tradition, which can be opposite on most of these issues, is particularly troublesome. The hipster Muslima with a rainbow scarf and a Guevara shirt marching at a Sl*tWalk is becoming increasingly more normal in Western Muslim communities.

      The left/right spectrum is a construct – a useful one, but a construct nonetheless – and social trends that affect one side of the spectrum are likely to be common in other parts of the spectrum as well. An interesting phenomenon nowadays, which manifested in the election of Trump, Brexit, and nationalism in Europe, is the alt-right. The alt-right is neo-masculine, nationalistic, populist, and reactionary. While it is on the right of the spectrum, it is unlike the old conservatives – it is liberal on the use of drugs and contraception, it is skeptical of religion (they vary from very atheist to very Christian), and it is sexually promiscuous. So on most social issues, besides immigration, the new millennial conservatives are pretty “liberal” in the 90s / early 2000s sense of the word. What we’re seeing today is nationwide degeneracy and nastiness, and an open rebellion against parents, tradition, and general nobility and honour. Both the right and the left are in their post-truth echochambers, where their Facebook feeds are filled with confirmation bias.

      The root of the postmodern left is not Marx, but Foucault. He inspired a system that allowed the middle-class intelligentsia to develop discourses for marginalized peoples (people of colour, the poor, the disabled, women, children, and homosexuals). They covered up the obscenities of contemporary America (violence and racism) by promoting a jargon that masks the failure of Western civilization to overcome racism. By the 1980s, these intellectuals formed their own “marginalized” narratives of history, each hardly truer than the other. Together they made a fabric of discourses, each being either dominant (Eurocentric, male-centric), or marginal. At first sight, it appears compassinate to give a voice to marginalized people, but this 1980s postmodernist system offers no ultimate solutions or salvation for struggling people the way Marxism or Christianity did. There was no way out of the suffering – only a means to “resist” established powers and survive on the margin. What Foucault, and in extension, BLM, LGBT, democratic socialists, and new Muslim activists are offering is a gospel of intellectual disobedience in the name of the downtrodden. But, they behave within the system and not outside of it. Each group entrenches itself in tolerance, then proceed to deconstruct the cultural artifacts of other groups (books, scholarly articles, films). They disintegrate much but construct nothing. Both dominant and marginal discourses ultimately put their faith in the market, and fall back onto the Anglosaxon individualist naturalist yeoman sentiment. They are experts in jargon, but not actual dissent – just an allergy to religion, Eurocentrism, white male chauvinism, and absolutism. Both camps pride themselves on science and technology, and are averse to traditionalism and religion. They both believe that the world is driven by chance and power. Foucault offered educated bourgeois the opportunity to side with and speak for the working class, and become the new star of a neoliberal Left. They have no agenda or program, only “dissent” against the dominant view. Take feminists for example: many feminists are intersectional and co-opt elements of Marxism, but ultimately, they are not awaiting some proletarian revolution – they are more bent on co-opting the current socio-political and economic system to give themselves a bigger piece of the pie.

      In the end, leftist identity politics is what created the alt-right, because it got the millennial right to think in terms of whiteness. Their reaction is what created Trump, Brexit, and the rise of nationalism in Europe. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Muslims need to tread lightly and understand these issues fully.

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  3. Mashallah! Very well written brother. Muslims in the west readily give up their Islamic beliefs in order to gain acceptance and political support. We are so afraid of standing alone that we would rather deny or alter parts of our religion that does not fit the narrative of the leftist movement which is just as extreme and illogical as the right wing. Of course muslims in my generation actually buy into the narrative and wholeheartedly embrace it. This is due to societal pressure. Leftist pressure religious people into changing their beliefs by threatening to withhold political support (have had this happen to me), accusing religious people of denying scientific facts (even though science does not support the narrative the lgbt community is trying to push), by constantly expressing victimhood, and claiming that anyone who objects to their lifestyle is further victimizing them. I even had a gay person tell me not to have children because they might turn out gay. For the lgbt community it isn’t enough that they have the same rights as other citizens. You have to believe it is not a sin to live that sort of lifestyle. Essentially you have to go against Allah. This hypocritical, black and white outlook on life and politics is why im glad im no longer liberal. I hope I am never so desperate to be accepted that I would try to alter Islam. I would rather leave it then change it.

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    • Thank you so much for your comments. I think there are many brothers and sisters who have watched this trend going on for a while and are bothered by it. If being someone’s ally means you have to conform to their ideology, then it’s a losing bargain. No ally is so important that we would alter or set aside our religion. We need to place our trust in our Lord.

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