Sherman Jackson – Covering Islam and Muslims in America

Sherman Jackson
AI: Summary © The speakers discuss the impact of the new bill on Muslims, particularly those from certain countries. They also touch on the challenges of bringing together the black American community and the influence of the media industry on shaping people's views and goals. The speakers emphasize the need for a clearer picture of the past to better understand the reality of actions and emphasize the importance of history in shaping one's views and goals.
AI: Transcript ©
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Well, I think that I want to thank

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those who invited me here to give this talk tonight. And

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I had the pleasure of

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sitting in at some of the earlier sessions today, and

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seeing that you guys have been inundated with a lot of information about about Islam and Muslims. And in that context, I'm I'm sort of reminded, as I stand here on the precipice of delivering my own barrage of information, of a

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figure from Middle Eastern folklore, followed by the name of Juha. And he's a sort of all purpose figure, if you're a turkey is a turkey, if you're an Arab, he's an Arab, if you're a Persian, he's a Persian.

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But at any rate, once you have was invited to the local mosque, to give a talk, and he got up and mounted the rostrum and looked at the people and said to them, Do you know what I'm going to talk about?

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And they said to him, Yes. And you have says, then well, if you know what I'm going to talk about, there's no need for me to talk about it. And he left.

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He came back the next day asked again, to address the congregation and mount of the rostrum and looked at the audience and said, Do you know what I'm going to talk about? And of course, remembering the experience of the previous day, they looked back at him and said, No. And you have said, well, then if you don't know what I'm going to talk about, there's no need me to talk about. And he left.

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And then he came back on the third day, once again, asked to address the congregation. And he looked at the audience and said, Do you know what I'm talking about today? This time? Half of the audience said yes. The other half said no thinking that they had stumped or Juha. At that point, you have looked back at them and said, Those who know, tell those who don't know what I'm going to talk about and the left.

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And I'll tell you, it's tempting.

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Let me begin by saying that, I sort of took my assignment from Diane Winston, in our telephone conversation, somewhat literally. And I understood that to be to come and say a few words about Muslims in America, and somehow tie that together with the issue of the representation of Muslims and Islam. In in the media.

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I've also tried to integrate into my my presentation tonight.

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What I anticipated to be some of the questions that will emerge out of earlier discussions in the day, and what I do not cover in that regard, hopefully we can deal with in the in the question and answer period, and I'm assuming that there, there will be a question and answer period. I'm gonna have to do something about this thing, though, because it? Can you hear me? Okay, so All right. All right. So who are the Muslims in America?

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They are, in some, an amalgamation of races, ethnicities, classes, and, perhaps most importantly, histories,

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bound together by a common commitment to a set of basic religious slash theological postulates, and an ongoing exchange and word nd about what those religious and theological postulates mean in the context of their desire for a dignified and self respecting existence, as Muslims in America.

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I'll say that, again, for those who have that look on their face. The Muslims in America are an amalgamation of races, ethnicities, classes and histories, bound together by a common commitment to a set of basic religious and theological postulates and an ongoing exchange in words and indeed, about what these religious and theological postulates mean. In the context of their desire for a dignified and self respecting existence, as Muslims in America.

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It is this conversation or exchange about the meaning of their commitment to these religious theological postulates that really defines the lives of these people and their status as a Muslim collectivity, in America. Now, let me say a few words about these basic religious and theological passages. The first and most important of which is

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course, the dictum that there is no God except God or Allah in Arabic, and that Muhammad is his messenger.

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To this implies, of course, the authority of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet that is to say, his normative teaching, application and supplement to the Quran.

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It also includes however, it implies a certain role for tradition, or the manner in which the early community processed, prioritize, understood and applied the data containing the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Indeed, traditionally, this has been understood to be among the most reliable reflections of what the Prophet himself actually taught. Now for our purposes, two important fundamental questions emerge out of this commitment to these basic religious and theological principles. One,

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how far does the era of sacred history

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extend beyond the time of the Prophet and his followers? Is it limited to the generation of the Prophet? Is it one generation after the Prophet two generations after the Prophet two centuries after the Prophet? How far into the future? Does that period of sacred history extend? The second question is, who are the custodians and the authoritative interpreters of that sacred history and tradition? Now in the classical period, in pre modern times, both of these questions found relatively clear answers. sacred history extended for the first three generations or so after the Prophet Muhammad and then gradually faded out.

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Ultimately coming to an end, sometime around the fourth century of the Islamic calendar, the 10th century of the Common Era. This is indeed the most important period in Muslim history. For this to apply in the Quran and the Sunnah, to realities of this particular historical period, that normative understandings of Islam emerge.

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In other words, it is by trying to get the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet, to speak to historical realities of the first three centuries or so following the death of the Prophet, that the real normative meanings of Islam of scripture of the end of the Sunnah, that is, during the that is the period during which these meanings emerge.

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As a consequence of this,

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all subsequent history of Islam,

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in order to be able to authenticate itself, would have to seek to do so through a conversation of sorts, with this sacred period of history.

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This is to say that no group and no articulation of Islam that aspire to anything beyond a fleeting existence, could afford

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to try to vindicate itself

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outside have a conversation with this particular era of Muslim history.

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Unite, get articulations of Islam that come on the scene and die out. You get a little excursion here, a flash in the pan there. But any real permanency to any expression of Islam would have to seek to authenticate itself vindicate itself, in conversation with this sacred period of Islam of the first three centuries or so,

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as as a result,

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it is not simply and one has to be careful in the way one says this because it can raise certain sensitivities with regard to the way that Islam is expressed rhetorically, oftentimes by by Muslims, but in actuality, it is not simply the N and the Sunnah, that define the parameters of Islam is not the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet alone, that define the parameters of Islam.

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To the Quran, and the Sunnah of the Prophet, one must add the dictates of this sacred history. And let me try to give an example of

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What I'm talking about here, if we take the Quran and the Sunnah alone, there are all kinds of possibilities that could emerge out of these documents in terms of the language alone.

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All right, so for example, I could, on a literalistic reading of the Quran, justify a man having nine wives.

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So Quran says what? Marry them, three, and four,

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I'm sorry, two, and three, and four. That's the literal quote from the Koran. Well, two, plus three is

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five, plus four is nine. No Muslim, however, no matter how literal they would claim to be, but except this interpretation. And that is because that interpretation was banished from the purview of consideration during the period of sacred history.

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When the parameters are normative meaning of normative understandings were being set.

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I could, on a literal reading of the Quran, justify, for example, Muslims eating pork,

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if you can believe that, the Quran says that the food of the people of the book has been made lawful to you

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is the food of Jews and Christians has been made lawful to you. And therefore an on a literal interpretation.

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pork consumption would be lawful Muslims, non Muslim,

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no matter how literal, they claim to be, with set this interpretation, and it's not because the words of the Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet cannot accommodate that interpretation. But it's because the period of sacred history, that is that interpretation from the purview of of consideration.

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To reiterate again,

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part of what's going on in modern Islam is a continuation of the process of seeking to vindicate one's articulation of slam through a conversation with the parameters of acceptable doctrine that emerged out of the period of sacred history.

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And no group of Muslims, who expects to have any permanency to their articulation of Islam can afford to ignore the necessity of putting itself in conversation with that sacred history. Earlier today, someone mentioned the whole question of progressive Muslims, a movement among certain groups of Muslims in America and, and why, why it came crashing to the ground? Well, one of the reasons and I would argue that the primary reason was that the progressive Muslim movement did not take seriously the necessity of vindicating itself of placing itself in conversation with the period of sacred history of Islam. And for that reason, it could not sustain itself, within the collective

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body of, of Muslims in America. Now, that's the whole issue of the time period of sacred history, who was the custodians

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of the sacred history who are the authoritative interpreters of the secret history? It was in a word, the folk Aha, or the doctors of Islamic law. On this, there has been virtually no disagreement,

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both within and without the Muslim community. Islam developed as a normal kradic civilization, in which the doctors of the law

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had the most authoritative discourse, and therefore had the authority to define the parameters of acceptable doctrine. More so then anyone else in Muslim society,

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a number of things emerged out of the activity of the doctors of the law. One, they developed processes and mechanisms for accreditation, or a certification, that is to say, who was qualified to be looked upon as a doctor of the law.

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I mean, they had training programs they had examinations

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They had a degree granting processes that were designed to uphold a certain standard of due diligence, that was to be applied to the enterprise of scriptural interpretation. So only someone who went through a certain type of education and received a certain type of authentification was looked upon as an authoritative interpreter of the religious law. And by law, I mean, a theology as well. Okay. That's the first thing to the doctors of the law developed what I call a public reason, that is to say, an interpretive methodology via which interpretations of Scripture could be validated. That is to say, the real authority of an interpretation resided not simply in the fact

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that a doctor of the law was expressing it, but in the fact that he could vindicate it

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by reference to agreed upon methodologies of scriptural interpretation.

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And so the real authority lies in this public reason, this

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legal methodology, not necessarily in the person, of the jurist, or the doctor of the law himself. Moreover, any opinion that could be validated on the basis of this interpretive methodology was considered acceptable, valid, plausible. This and I feel really bad here now, because I understand that you've been bombarded by this talk about diversity in Islam. Well, it's a fact that we're going to have to live with this particular setup, gave rise to a massive diversity of opinion in the pre modern period. And these are diverse opinions, all of which mutually recognized each other as being at the very least plausible.

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All right, give me an idea of just how much diversity there was,

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in the fourth century, was a man by the name of Indian mother, before the 10th century of the Common Era, who published a book entitled, The Book of consensus that contained all of the issues on which the doctors of the law had reached a unanimous consensus.

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This book turned out to be the Saudis republished an edition of this book back in the 80s, I think it was turned out to be something like 139 pages. And for those of you who don't know, the Saudis are very friendly to people like myself who have to wear reading glasses, they have this large print. They're famous for using large Arabic print. So it was 139 pages of large Arabic print.

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A contemporary of them under the famous Quranic exegesis, a man by the name of a Tubbercurry,

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who died on 10 years, just eight years before in London, published another book

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called The Book of disagreement.

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And this book contains all the issues on which the dancers of Allah disagree.

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That book came out to be 3000 pages in manuscript.

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That's an idea of just how much diversity existed then. All right. Okay. Finally, the other for our purposes here. thing to be considered about the rise of the doctors of the law is that during the period of sacred history, and all the way up to modern times, the doctors of the law exercise a virtual monopoly on literacy.

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And this was one of the issues one of the means that sustained and help them sustain their power and their authority as authoritative interpreters of the law. They was the only ones virtually, who had access to this discourse. All right, and before the rise of the printing press, even access to books.

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All right. So that gives us an idea of how the custodians of the era of sacred history were positioned. Now this scenario continues all the way right up to modern times, at which time it is disruptive. modernity, modernity exerts many effects. But for our purposes here, I think the most important of these is the simultaneous marginalization

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of the interpretive authority of the traditional doctors of the law by the modern Muslim

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State, that is to say, law in classical pre modern Islam,

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certainly in terms of determining the substance of the law was pretty much a sub state activity.

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The mindset, what I mean by that doctors of the law, who are independent of the state determine what the substance of the law was, with the rise of a modern nation state, the state takes over the definition of the law, this has the effect of marginalizing the traditional doctors have the law, in terms of their legal authority, their authority to define what the law is,

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at the same time,

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there is

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the vacuum that is, in a sense,

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up, developed out of this situation,

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is filled by the fact that modernity also witnesses, the rise of massive literacy on the part of the population. So on the one hand, you get the traditional doctors of the law of their highly sort of formalized training, marginalized, on the other hand, you get mass literacy. All right, and mass access to both.

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All right, and so all of a sudden, we have a very different reading, literate public, all right, before books, about Islam, about Islamic doctrine, about Islamic law, about Islamic theology, and all of these things. And this has

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a a massive impact on the sort of

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manner by which doctrine is produced in the modern world, in a sense, this vacuum of authority, results, results results in something of an interpretive free for all.

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And that results in a global authority crisis in modern Islam. And this raises the question, who speaks for Islam? Now, one of the biggest mistakes that one can make, I think, in looking at Islam in the modern world, is, of course, to assume that the realities of the modern Muslim world are simply an uninterrupted continuation of the Classical Period.

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That is a major mistake, with catastrophic implications in terms of our ability to understand what is going on. In this regard, I'd like to relate to your real life incident that I experienced a few years ago, in Egypt, I was in Cairo, about to leave the country. And I want you to pick up a copy of a very famous modern explanation of the Quran by a very controversial figure, the firebrand saved cookbook, who was at one time, the chief ideologues of of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now this mark is six volumes, big Tomes.

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And it's a very

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important word in certain ways. But I mean, I wanted it basically as as a reference, I go into the store and I say, I like to have a copy of safe cook. And he says, okay, 125 pounds. That's not a whole lot of money. But when in Cairo you act like tirades. And so I cleanse into my spiel, you know, why? The, you know, and the guys sort of starts getting just a little bit impatient. He says, okay, look, look, look here.

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If you want, I can go on the back, and I can get you a copy of another explanation. And by a classical xvg, the very famous, even cathedra, very famous Tafseer. And he said, not the abridged version, the full version, I can give it to you for 75 pounds.

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But if you don't take this particular edition of sage cook off the shelf now today, if you come back tomorrow, I'll have to order it for you. It won't be there. I said to him.

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Wait a minute. Emeka said why he said the following to me, he said, The people won't buy even considered because they are afraid of him.

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They can't read him. He makes them feel stupid. He has all this classical poetry in there. All this grammatical explanation.

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Since they don't have access to this said, quote, but on the other hand, he writes in very accessible modern Arabic and relates everything in his explanation to modern events in the Muslim world.

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By virtue therefore, have access along, say, Cobb, who was not a trained exegesis, or jurist, has the potential of displacing a highly authoritative classical exegesis from the Classical Period.

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All right, say cops radical, and in some ways

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I don't wanna make him the issue. So in some ways, belligerent almost interpretations of Islam of the Quran, many of which would be either modify, or undermined by the Tafseer, or the explanation of me can feel all right, I've given a much broader hearing, simply because people have access to him.

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Not necessarily because they prefer his views, although they may, they simply can't read it the fear, that is a part of what is going on in the Muslim world. So much so that a colleague of mine, Professor Dick bullet, at the Columbia University, refers to the authority crisis in modern Islam as being one in which authority now is often confused with and replaced by authorship.

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In other words, if you want to be an authority, all you have to do is right.

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And your authority is not, it's no longer based on the level of training, or authentification that you might have from a seminary or anything like that is based simply on the fact that you are able to write, and so authority now is often confused with authorship. Yeah, this is the general a picture that characterizes much. And I think, the most important aspects of what is going on in the Muslim world. Let's move for the moment. And I'm trying to rush through this, because I realized I have Yes, limited time.

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Let's move then to to America. What does this tell us about Islam in America? Now, the authority crisis

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in America, American Islam, is exacerbated. To put it lightly.

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We have on the one hand, and going back to my initial statement about Muslims in America being an amalgamation of different races, ethnicities, classes, histories,

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there is a competition for ownership in Islam and America, who will own Islam, who will be looked upon as having the authority to define and speak for Islam.

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The immigrant community has sort of led in the charge to pretentions of ownership. Now, to be fair, this is prima facie, a quite reasonable sort of assumption, after all, these people from the Muslim world are not Muslims, then who is

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all right.

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Having said that much, in many instances, and more than when often meet the eye, the true basis of the immigrant pretension to authority or ownership is not religious knowledge per se, but rather, the rootedness and a history that is presumed to be Islamic, because it is presumed and often presented as being an uninterrupted continuation of the history that emerges out of the era of sacred history. And so what we're really looking at, in some instances, are competing histories

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whose history

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is both most authentic, most authentic, and therefore has the greatest claim

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of being the history and contemplation of which normative understandings of the Quran and Sunnah should emerge. Do we get those normative understandings by trying to apply the Quran and the Sunnah to American reality? Or do we get normative understandings by trying to apply the Quran and the Sunnah

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The two Middle Eastern. And let me be more precise Arab realities. This is a part of the competition that's going on in American Islam. And let me be clear here, very clear. This is not simply the contention of black American Muslims,

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white American Muslims feel the same way. In many regards, second, and third generation, immigrant Muslims feel the same way. In many regards, there is a feeling that American history and social reality is this counted as the proper object of Muslim religious contemplation. And that if you really want to be authentic, and you're thinking, you contemplate the realities of the Muslim world, you come to solutions in that context. And then Anna logically,

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you see, you apply that to life in the States, but you do not interpret or attempt to apply Islam directly

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to life in in the United States. And this is all again, connected to, to the authority to the authority crisis. Now, the presumption that the history of the modern world is a faithful reflection of the legacy of Islam produces the following the Muslim world number one is where real Islam exist. And when I say Muslim world, again, more properly speaking, I should say, the Arab Muslim world to

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the Muslim world has the exclusive capacity to authenticate those who have pretensions to Islam. This is an extremely important issue here, and this is why it's behind what I what I call in other contexts, the the John Walker Lindh syndrome.

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If one thinks about why John Walker Lindh would leave America and go to the Muslim world to begin with? The answer is that so that he could get validation so that he could be authenticated. The other side of that is that Islam in America struggles and continues to struggle with the fact that American Islam is not yet self authenticating.

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All right, it still derives a good measure of its authenticity from the Muslim world. All right. And then lastly, it is only in contemplation, therefore, of Scripture, in light of the realities of the modern Muslim world, as I mentioned earlier, that normative understandings of Islam can emerge.

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All right, and this has the effect of sort of

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putting Muslims in America in a position where that, you know, this is sort of a scrimmage game. Here in America, the real league is isn't still the Muslim world. Now, there are a number of Muslims in America who are pushing back against this.

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But black American community is pushing back against this. And arguing that, for example, just one example, if issue of Palestine, and the occupied territories can claim status of being a bonafide Islamic issue.

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Why cannot then racial discrimination, white supremacy, problems of the urban ghetto, all right, eat make an equally equal claim to being a bonafide Islamic issue that deserves the attention and the intellectual energy of the Muslim community.

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All right.

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And I'll follow up on Josh's shameless plug. This is essentially, you should know that academics don't make any money off these books. But

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I think this is an extremely important discourse about this very problem. Because this book is about trying to get Muslims in America, as well as non Muslims in America to take seriously the prospect of Islam in America as being part of the ongoing saga of the American project.

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That that Islam is, you know, people don't

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realize this, but if you just take the African American community as a whole, the proto Islamic movements of the 20th century got started at the beginning of the 20th century, there's almost 100 years that's passed on Islam in the black American community as an American phenomenon. I'm not talking about, you know, Islam coming over on slave ships, though Islam has begun in America, almost 100 years has passed on, on that very on that very enterprise. And so Islam as part of the American project, white Americans also pushing back, all right, they come from a history. And by the way, we tend to over politicize our, our thinking about Islam. Muslims are not always just concerned about

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political issues. I mean, simple issues, like the celebration of holidays, you know, someone converts to Islam, they come from a Christian background or whatever. Can we celebrate Thanksgiving?

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Yeah. Can men wear wedding bands? Can people celebrate birthdays? All right. And again, they the tension is, okay. Do we answer this question on the basis of an analogous analogous examination of what goes on in the Muslim world, and say, What whatever they celebrate, we can celebrate? There is a discussion one up, let's look at what and, and the center and sacred history says, and process these issues on the basis of that.

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That is really what's going on, in in this capacity. I'm gonna hurry up because

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we make each other nervous.

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All right. All right. The third group, there are growing numbers of immigrant Muslims who are also pushing back. And I don't want to give the impression that, you know, attachment to the pretensions of, of Islam being located solely in the Muslim world is, is exclusively an immigrant thing that many white Americans and black Americans will also subscribe to that notion, or that all immigrants subscribe to that, to that to that picture, they do not. We've already mentioned, the progressives, put in quotations. And there are also intelligent, committed immigrant Muslims. And I think that we saw an example of this this morning in SM Abdallah, who actually evolve into some of the positions

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that you hear articulated today. And that has been a process that has unfolded,

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over over years of having lived in America, and having therefore been in a position to develop a more critical of position, visa vie the realities of, of the Muslim world.

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Also, second and third generation immigrant kids are pushing back against the sort of hegemonic pretensions of the Messiah. And then finally, women in all of these groups

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are pushing back. Now, all of this has been

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accelerated and informed by the the events of, of 911. And while all of these groups in their attempts to sort of push back, as it were, may achieve this or that success on this or that issue, the real determining factor in terms of what kind of Islam emerges in America is, in my opinion, very intimately connected with these groups success at vindicating their perspective and their perspective as Muslims who live in America through a conversation with that sacred history that I talked about earlier, that is going to determine in terms of the long term implications of Islam in America, what kind of Islam emerges. Now if I can take just two minutes, I'll say just a couple of

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words about about this whole media thing because I think it's both fair and important for us to understand a few things in this regard.

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Muslims, as I guess, you might imagine, have a certain amount of

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with, with with the media and, and media representations of Islam.

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A lot of this is connected to the all too human preference for being represented by one's ideals, as opposed to one's realities. I don't think that Muslims are the only ones who have this

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But I think that there are real ways in which Muslims feel that both their ideas and their realities are often distorted and sometimes through what appears to be an almost willful ignorance. And just let me give two examples. One of it

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Hills being destroyed and the other half of reality is being destroyed in the now I'll try and wrap up.

00:40:05 --> 00:40:28

Muslims feel that their ideals are often distorted, because their ideals are routinely, if not exclusively, put into conversation, not with the teachings of other religions. But with secular enlightenment ideology and all its attitudes and biases towards religion.

00:40:29 --> 00:40:49

And in this context, Muslims feel that they are rarely in a position of simply being able to explain or articulate what Islam is. Instead, they're placed in a sort of hegemonic discourse, that always seems to put them in a position of having to apologize.

00:40:51 --> 00:40:53

And, of course, when you apologize,

00:40:55 --> 00:41:09

you know, you're always in a position of having your views distorted, because there's a certain thrust to apologies, that communicates a certain kind of meaning. So I'm gonna ask you, well, have you stopped beating your wife yet? I mean,

00:41:11 --> 00:41:14

how are you going to? So Muslims really feel

00:41:15 --> 00:41:40

that, that that, that they are more often than not put into a position of having to apologize, rather than being simply able to explain, and by the way, in terms of sources, this leads to the problem of you guys coming in contact with misinformation, and some instances, willful, outright?

00:41:41 --> 00:41:42


00:41:44 --> 00:42:01

All right, under pressure, to apologize and to make Islam seem or the ideals of Islam appear more seemingly, in the context of a universe of meanings that is secular and enlightenment informed. All right.

00:42:04 --> 00:42:15

Maybe during the question and answer, period, but I'll explain why. I mean, this is what led in a sense to the fact we're about to about terrorism. And this is precisely why a person such as myself resigned.

00:42:16 --> 00:42:19

Right, because what was happening was that the integrity

00:42:20 --> 00:42:50

of the fifth council was being undermined. The fifth council was taking a political position, it was talking about what he liked to see what it didn't like to see, that's not the position of a fifth Council, a fifth Council is supposed to engage thoroughly, in principle, deductions of the law, sort of like when you see the Supreme Court at the President's State of the Union address, he makes this point and everybody stands up and claps on the Supreme Court as what

00:42:51 --> 00:43:28

they sit there still, we don't have an opinion, because we need to maintain your confidence that we will engage in our job in an unbiased manner. And if we're already giving a sense of what we think, How can you have confidence that we've interpreted the Constitution in an objective manner? The fifth Council, all right, by coming out, I didn't have any problem with the substance of the fatwa to say, against terrorism, I've written academic pieces out of the classical tradition on terrorism and jihad, that, you know,

00:43:30 --> 00:43:52

ban all of them from from the perspective of Islamic law. All right, but for the fifth council to simply say, Okay, look at us, Homeland Security. See, we're really nice guys. And we are going to condemn terrorism because we know that's what you really, really want to hear. And we're not going to give any arguments, we're not going to give any verses from the Quran, we're not going to give anything from the sun or anything, just accept us.

00:43:53 --> 00:44:19

That to me, undermines the integrity of the fifth Council. And first off the point at which you can actually develop an institution in American Islam that can command the respect of the Muslim populace. This is a very serious problem. From my, from my perspective, one of the things that I worry about women and I promise I'll stop. One of the things that I worry about

00:44:21 --> 00:44:37

is for those who are seeking to present Islam, to the American populace at large. Getting out too far ahead of the rank and file of Muslims

00:44:38 --> 00:44:40

have not taken the time

00:44:42 --> 00:44:59

to vindicate their points of view of getting the Muslims themselves on board when they talk about democracy, or women or voting or this or that particular financial instrument. All right, big

00:45:00 --> 00:45:12

Because when that happens, what you're going to get is a disconnect between leadership and the populace. And that's a very real fear of mine. Last point, and I promise and we'll be done.

00:45:13 --> 00:45:21

I've said that several times anyway, the the issue of the realities of the Muslim community being distorted.

00:45:22 --> 00:45:27

The realities of the Muslim community, Muslims feel are distorted in as much as

00:45:28 --> 00:45:33

only for Muslims are their realities taken as being faithful reflections of their ideals.

00:45:34 --> 00:45:48

That is to say that, you know, al Qaeda or whoever it gets in the plane and crashes into a building. All right, that's a reality. No one denies that. But is it reflective of the ideals of Islam?

00:45:49 --> 00:45:58

Here with Muslim people take it to be a reflection of the ideal of jihad. I teach a class at the University of Michigan

00:45:59 --> 00:46:04

compared to religion class, last time I taught it was about 456 students. I asked the question

00:46:05 --> 00:46:24

if I as an as a black American Muslim, got into my car and crashed into the front office of the local que que que just drove my car right into the office, killed everybody inside. How many people will believe that I did that? Because I'm a Muslim, and they are Christian.

00:46:26 --> 00:47:17

None of them said they will believe that. I said, Then, how about if I stated that I did it? Because I'm a Muslim, and they're Christians? Still, they wouldn't believe it? What if I quoted you the verses from the Koran that said, slay them? Wherever you find them? Would you believe them that I did it because I'm a Muslim, and they are Christian. Still, they would not believe it. Yet, we have no problem believing that Islam, some normative understanding of Islam is what motivated 911. The difference, again, is that white Americans, my fellow Americans, know my history. We don't know very much about the history of the Muslim world, and therefore, we don't know what kinds of

00:47:17 --> 00:47:27

considerations might inform their behavior in the same way that we know the kinds of considerations that might inform my own. I'll stop there. My apologies. And thank you very much.

00:47:36 --> 00:47:40

Because I think that's really important part of this committee. Would you like to go first?

00:47:45 --> 00:47:46

Is it true that

00:47:48 --> 00:47:55

Muslims in different countries have sort of a nationalist? Islam? Islamic?

00:48:01 --> 00:48:05

mean? Yes. I mean, yes or no. Here.

00:48:07 --> 00:48:13

In the United States, there's that friction going on within the community? And then

00:48:15 --> 00:48:40

yeah, I mean, there are all kinds of considerations. I mean, one of the one of the real challenges that Islam poses to Muslim Americans is that you're right. In many instances, Muslims from certain parts of the world, have by and large interactions with only Muslims of their sort of ethnicity, ethnicity, class and linguistic group, even their particular persuasion of Islam. So for example, you know,

00:48:42 --> 00:49:03

Indian and Pakistani Muslims are very much into the Hanafi school of law and practices. And that's basically all they recognize as being being a slap, and then all of a sudden, they come to America. All right. And, you know, for example, I mean, Hanafis pray with their hands like this. All right, the Maliki school phase right way with their hands

00:49:05 --> 00:49:12

down to their sides like that. Now, you can imagine what, you know, someone from the subcontinent feels, feels and

00:49:15 --> 00:49:24

what, so, so there are those kinds of tensions? That, that that are there? I'm not sure I would call it nationalistic.

00:49:25 --> 00:49:29

Because I think that it depends on the issue with which they're being confronted,

00:49:31 --> 00:49:46

you know, in terms of whether some sort of nativist sentiment or or impulse will flare up or not, it's sort of like, you know, blacks in America have all lots of infighting. But, you know, Trent Lott says something outrageous, and then

00:49:48 --> 00:49:56

everybody's together, you know, I mean, the same thing. The same thing applies to Muslims from various parts in various countries within the Muslim world.

00:50:00 --> 00:50:03

Are the Saudis basically trying to

00:50:05 --> 00:50:08

be the top dog, because they have the money and making,

00:50:09 --> 00:50:55

etc. In America? I would say that. And I'm going to I'm going to speak here and as neutral of fashion as I can, I would say I would argue that any anyone, any country in the Muslim world has found that it could exert influence over the the the development and therefore, the sense of I don't want to call it loyalty, but affiliation, that emerges out of America would jump at the chance to do that. The Saudis happened to be more particularly, I think, favorably positioned than other countries, they again, they do have the money. They have control of the pieces for for hedge, they have the HUD

00:50:56 --> 00:51:37

and they have a religious establishment that is quite, quite large, inactive. I mean, you're I think, from Philadelphia, I mean, that's my hometown. And you know, they're among the Salafi movement. I mean, there is an enormous amount of influence. But there are other parts of the country in which LSR in Egypt, for example, seeks to influence. One of the things that I think about, and I'm just wondering about this is the following that within the black American community, she is has had a very, very, very limited success. Very, very, very, very few African Americans are Shiites.

00:51:38 --> 00:51:47

And one of the reasons for this is that she ism, has, by and large, been represented by by Persian speaking Iran.

00:51:49 --> 00:52:18

With the invasion of Iraq, and with the toppling of the Sunni regime in Iraq, first of all, you produce a Shiite ark that now runs from Iran, all the way to Lebanon. All right. And for the first time, you're going to have an Arabic speaking, oil rich she country. Now, what implications is back on a half

00:52:19 --> 00:52:28

for the ability of Shiism, to export itself? And it's an guys all right.

00:52:29 --> 00:52:36

As opposed to the Persian guys that the that the Iranians sort of were shoulder width in terms of trying to export Shiism, from Iran.

00:52:37 --> 00:52:57

That has that has massive implications. I mean, you you could be looking at a situation where, you know, are the books are flowing into America, and American Muslims can't tell what the the authors are? She I personally, I mean, this has potentially far reaching implications. I don't know. But it's a question.

00:52:59 --> 00:52:59


00:53:00 --> 00:53:47

you were talking about the traditional texts, and how important they were in terms of forming normative Islam? Can you talk a little about about the influence of Israeli ads, and how that kind of twisted things, frankly, I think a perfect example, for the female is the issue of Adam and Eve and the blame of the fall that Eve in the Quran is never blamed. Specifically, it's Adam and Eve, or Adam, but never Eve. But you get this Friday off. And suddenly these I can see people to this day still quoting these things that go completely in the face of this. Yeah. But again, I'll give you one of my my, my personal scholarly biases here. I don't know how much it's worth in terms of your

00:53:47 --> 00:54:06

enterprise of reporting on Islam. But I happen to think that the the emphasis on on texts, is somewhat exaggerated. What's really going on is that people are appealing to texts in an effort to validate certain histories.

00:54:08 --> 00:54:42

All right, and it's really the history. All right, you know, let's say, a very conservative communities that say in Pakistan or India or you know, in Yemen or something like that, that would point to these kinds of sources as a means of validating a social practice. That's very, very common among them. All right. But it's very doubtful that that practice is a spontaneous result of interpreting that particular that particular Hadith, if matters are that simple. All right.

00:54:44 --> 00:54:58

We'd have a much I mean, people somehow think that well, all you have to do is come up with the right interpretation and it will change everything. Well, Muslims drink, is there any type of test that says Muslims can drink, they listen to all kinds of things, so which there is no

00:54:59 --> 00:55:00


00:55:00 --> 00:55:00


00:55:01 --> 00:55:26

So So I think that there's really that Israeli yet are somewhat of a problem in as much as they provide a basis. All right, for certain groups to try and authenticate their, their practices. But the practices themselves, I think in a minority of cases, I mean, they don't actually emanate from those sources. If you get the point that I'm trying to make,

00:55:27 --> 00:55:29

that there isn't justification ism.

00:55:30 --> 00:55:45

What my point is that, even if that particular source did not exist, the attempt would be through some other source is that a person who was really it was Israel yet is a genre of Hadith

00:55:46 --> 00:55:46


00:55:48 --> 00:55:54

are, when Islam spread out into other parts of the Middle East and encountered

00:55:56 --> 00:56:08

a number of Jewish conquerors and the Jewish Congress themselves, brought in apocryphal material from their own backgrounds, and sort of reformulated them in the guise of Hadith,

00:56:09 --> 00:56:16

and placed them in the mouth of the prophet. And some of these things seep into the corpus of Hadith.

00:56:17 --> 00:56:19

And that's what she's talking about there.

00:56:30 --> 00:56:42

I feel like I'm still trying to get a handle on the who the custodians and interpreters of the law are today. I mean, I understand they're these doctors of the law, but as a journalist,

00:56:43 --> 00:56:47

I'm still trying to figure out

00:56:48 --> 00:56:58

who are the wise people? Do they exist today? And what do we, you know, who do we rely on as journalists as our

00:56:59 --> 00:57:46

interpreters? And custodians? Well, the honest question to that is, is is I don't know. And that is, because we are, as I said, in the midst of an authority crisis, I mean, that that question is no more difficult for you trust me, other than it is for the average Muslim? Or the average Muslim? Is that a real loss in terms of determining? Well, who exactly do do do I do I listen to and this is one of the reasons that by default, oftentimes, you know, overseas sources are referred to because still, at least they're the apparatus of formal authority are still in are still in place. So you can write as her you can write, each of us have the kind of doorway, and these are people with

00:57:46 --> 00:58:05

formal qualifications. And you know, they can give, they can give the answers, but, but, you know, a limited number of people Muslims in America have access to, to those bodies. And so for large numbers of Muslims, the question of, you know, who do I listen to? Um, is a question that often goes unanswered.

00:58:06 --> 00:58:13

I mean, there, there are people who, through their writings, through their speeches, lectures, etc.

00:58:14 --> 00:58:23

have acquired a modicum of authority. I mean, their words are, are listened to on the understanding that that they are right.

00:58:24 --> 00:58:27

But But, but to go as far as as far as,

00:58:29 --> 00:58:34

as looking at these persons as formal authorities, we're not yet at that point in American Islam.

00:58:36 --> 00:58:37

What do we do?

00:58:41 --> 00:58:45

I mean, depends on what you what you what you're looking for.

00:58:48 --> 00:58:56

I mean, any The problem is this. I could give you names of people who were trained as humans

00:58:58 --> 00:58:59

that were trained,

00:59:00 --> 00:59:04

and have formal degrees in Islamic law,

00:59:05 --> 00:59:10

and who come to United United States, and they are formal to you.

00:59:11 --> 00:59:12

All right,

00:59:13 --> 00:59:20

who give legal opinions that are totally wrong in the context of America.

00:59:26 --> 00:59:27

I can give you a concrete example.

00:59:28 --> 00:59:31

In classical Islamic law,

00:59:32 --> 00:59:37

of course, we know that Muslims have an obligation to attend Friday prayer.

00:59:38 --> 00:59:56

Classical Islamic law says however, if for to no fault of your own, you are unable to go. So for example, if you have been incarcerated, all right, there is no blame on you for not going to Friday to meal prep. Okay, fine.

00:59:57 --> 00:59:59

Come to America now. All right.

01:00:00 --> 01:00:13

At the warden at some prison, cause up this SR graduate and says, Do Muslims who are incarcerated? Are they obligated to attend Friday prayer? And he says what?

01:00:14 --> 01:00:20

No. And then the warden therefore shuts down Friday prayer in the prison for inmates.

01:00:21 --> 01:00:27

Now this Sheikh has no idea of the concept of reasonable accommodation.

01:00:28 --> 01:00:29


01:00:30 --> 01:00:41

And through his fatwa, all right, Muslim inmates in American prisons, maybe deny the right to symbol for Friday.

01:00:42 --> 01:00:50

So this person is an authority in some sense. But should he always be referred to as the go to guy?

01:00:54 --> 01:00:55

Am I feeling or?

01:00:58 --> 01:00:59


01:01:00 --> 01:01:03

I don't know if I misunderstood you. But you said something about

01:01:04 --> 01:01:06

that there are those who

01:01:08 --> 01:01:13

serve up Islam as being part of the Enlightenment tradition.

01:01:14 --> 01:01:58

Now, what I said was that the Enlightenment tradition provides the context in which many of your questions are asked. And in that context, Muslims feel pressure to apologize, rather than simply to explain exactly, it's in that context, I guess, the media operates. Right. So is there another context in which Islam should be understood? Is my question is that possible? I mean, it's, well, I think, What two things, I think I think it is possible. I mean, those of you who are in the media, I'm not going to bore you or try to impress you, you know, by quoting this Mattingly article and all these kinds of things. But I think that there are certain things that can be done within the

01:01:58 --> 01:02:02

industry itself. On the one hand, on the other hand, however,

01:02:05 --> 01:02:09

if, if, if, if the media is going to

01:02:10 --> 01:02:13

pursue an understanding of Islam,

01:02:15 --> 01:02:19

that that puts it in conversation with secular ideology.

01:02:21 --> 01:02:23

On the one hand, the question has to be asked

01:02:25 --> 01:02:35

whether or not that's going to be done with all religious traditions. And Muslims feel that sometimes there's a slight double standard there. And then second,

01:02:36 --> 01:02:43

are Muslim explanations, then I'm always going to fetch the label of extreme.

01:02:45 --> 01:02:50

But I guess I understand what you're saying. It's interesting that it seems that there's this constant.

01:02:52 --> 01:03:02

There's this tendency to restore Islam, to these norms, these enlightenment norms that reflect western values always even in the so called

01:03:03 --> 01:03:04


01:03:05 --> 01:03:07

representations of Islam.

01:03:08 --> 01:03:19

In the press here, well, let me let me let me say this much, I mean, because my perspective on much of this is that in its best tradition,

01:03:23 --> 01:04:05

the American project is one in which the meaning of being American is at its best when it's in contention. And when we start talking about Western values, I happen to believe that black people in America are among the most Western. All right, but clearly, they have outlooks, perspectives and ideas that are not quite consistent with sort of the what you might refer to as Western notions. So I think that one of the things that that can be done is to complicate a little bit, this whole category of Western, it's not a monolith. I mean, there are many narratives. There are many historical narratives. There are many repositories of mythologies in America, all right, that are

01:04:06 --> 01:04:11

equally Western. But when it comes to, I mean, we

01:04:13 --> 01:04:26

we become, I mean, almost hyper enlightenment when it comes to looking at Islam, but not when it comes to looking at Catholicism. And we don't we don't we don't look at Catholicism and say, Well, where are you going to get a woman up there and giving mass

01:04:28 --> 01:04:30

but then when it comes to Islam,

01:04:31 --> 01:04:37

I mean, so I think that the Catholics are, I think, pretty Western.

01:04:38 --> 01:04:40

That's the point that I'm making.

01:04:44 --> 01:04:46

Do the other stuff in the church?

01:04:47 --> 01:04:59

I mean, how the conference proceedings of business I'm not trying to affect the outcome of the of the discourse, but what I'm talking about is the set of presuppositions that you as a journalist, go in with me, what standard are you holding to me?

01:05:00 --> 01:05:26

Are you holding Muslims to, and it's the same is the same standard to which you're holding Catholics. I mean, talk about politically and things like that we don't talk about Mormons. You know, I mean, I read articles, you know about other religious communities in the newspapers. And I have to ask myself, boy, this guy was a Muslim. What would they be saying about Islam? I mean, about, I think a month or six weeks ago, there was an article in The New York Times about a Jewish rabbi

01:05:28 --> 01:05:36

who their, their ritual and Judaism where the rabbi kisses the * of the child, it's part of the, then I see that.

01:05:38 --> 01:05:39

And he was passing

01:05:41 --> 01:05:42

genital herpes virus.

01:05:44 --> 01:05:57

And there was there was a story in The New York Times about it. Whoa, what a Muslim. What would be, you know, said about said about Islam? So, I think that I mean, you're right. I mean, there is this.

01:05:59 --> 01:06:15

You know, we are where we are in our history in terms of our relationship to the enlightenment. Okay. But I don't think that America is as monolithic in terms of the way that it relates to that. I mean, as the media often assumes, when it comes to talking to Muslims minimizes our religious.

01:06:18 --> 01:06:19

Yes, I would

01:06:21 --> 01:06:25

respectfully take issue with that. I think that I mean, not all of it.

01:06:26 --> 01:06:44

I think those questions do come up about Catholicism and Protestantism. I think those questions do come up from journalists, about how they fit into the constitutional system and the rationalistic perspective that we have as a nation.

01:06:45 --> 01:06:47

I don't generally ask.

01:06:48 --> 01:06:52

Catholics are a Southern Baptist, if they, if they

01:06:56 --> 01:07:02

would commit terrorist acts against America. Nor do I ask Muslims, what I would say,

01:07:04 --> 01:07:14

from the Imams to young Muslims, and school age, Muslims. I've had many of them volunteer to me.

01:07:15 --> 01:07:19

We are not terrorists and the media consistently.

01:07:21 --> 01:07:31

hate us with that brush? Well, let me ask you this. How many Catholics volunteer to you? I'm not gay, and I'm not a *.

01:07:34 --> 01:08:06

I'm not saying that I don't mean to be offensive. But But you understand the point that I'm trying to make, they have not been in a better position when they feel that they have to volunteer, that kind of information, but most of them do. And you made that made that clear earlier, that there there is this conciliation that Muslims tend automatically to make at times, but it's not automatic. I don't think that I mean, Muslims are not, you know, I'm looking for ways, you know, you don't get so many blessings for the number of times you declare you're not not a terrorist.

01:08:07 --> 01:08:42

I mean, that's a part of the social, social political context in which they live, and what Muslims are. And I think what one of the tests perhaps of the journalistic community would be this? To what extent do Muslims read your papers? To find out about themselves? I would argue very rarely. And in the majority of cases, Muslim, read the Muslims read the papers to find out what they are saying about us, and how they are presenting our religion to the rest of society.

01:08:43 --> 01:08:46

And I think that there's something mildly wrong with that picture.

01:09:04 --> 01:09:05

They've all deferred, so be nice.

01:09:08 --> 01:09:15

I, I wanted to sort of take you back to the historical part of your talk and ask you that, you know, the pre modern period that you were discussing

01:09:17 --> 01:09:18

how the jurists

01:09:21 --> 01:09:39

at that time were able to disseminate what they were deciding what and why. I guess I want a clearer picture of why those centuries were so important to what we're trying to do. We're talking to you now. Why your why you think they're so important and also how

01:09:41 --> 01:09:45

how that came across on the ground to Muslims.

01:09:46 --> 01:09:59

Well, if I understand your question fully, and a part of what you're asking is an anthropological question, which is a whole PhD dissertation about you know about why certain things take hold when they do. The short and simple answer to your question would be

01:10:00 --> 01:10:31

For the same reason that we are not obsessed with, but we take an interest in the period of the founding fathers of America in terms of coming to some kind of understanding of both who we are and who we should be. We are in constant conversation with that period of history in order to determine whether we are moving in directions that are consistent with what we say we go on what we aspire to be or not. And I think that this, that sacred pillar of sacred history that I talked about, sort of plays the same role

01:10:32 --> 01:10:37

in Islamic or Muslim sort of social psychology as it were.

01:10:48 --> 01:10:54

Just gonna bounce off of what you just asked, is there a historical reason why

01:10:55 --> 01:11:33

it's three generations from the time of the prophet that that that's the period of say, No, I mean, there are all kinds of things that develop that we don't even know why, I mean, the development of the schools of law, why they develop when they develop, and where we don't really know, know the answer. But this is a period that Muslims have back to as being the golden period of Islam where, again, the normative understandings of religion were produced, that's in law, that's in theology, that's in mysticism, to a certain to a lesser degree. But that is the period of, of, of sacred history

01:11:34 --> 01:12:06

in which, if I am to determine myself to be a Muslim today, I have to do that to some extent or another in conversation with that history. And I think that progressives, women's groups are finding out the hard way that you can ignore that sacred history. And you can put forth a view, and it may catch on for a while. But it won't, it's not likely to have much permanency unless it, you know, sort of authenticates itself in conversation with that history.

01:12:07 --> 01:12:10

That's my opinion, there are some who disagree with me, but they're wrong.

01:12:16 --> 01:12:22

Why, why hasn't that American Council that you resigned from being able to feel this

01:12:23 --> 01:12:24

authority, at least?

01:12:25 --> 01:13:19

Well, I think that, by the way, I mean, I resigned from that fifth Council. I'm not opposed to fifth councils. And I believe that we have a very serious need for a fifth Council, not in an effort to homogenized sort of four dyes and, you know, make American Islam one one size fits all. But fatwas are not binding instruments. They're voluntary instruments. And I believe that for Muslims who want guidance, there should be a reliable body of jurisprudential thought that can give them answers. The answers are voluntary, anyway, and I believe that we need such a body in in America and, in fact, one of the other members who also resigned, we were talking about, well, we still need a fifth

01:13:19 --> 01:13:27

Council. Just that one, sort of, in our estimation, misunderstood its mission.

01:13:28 --> 01:13:51

The fifth Council has to remain above the fray, it cannot get politicized. It cannot give into to ethnic racial class favoritism, it must remain above the fray and it must do so in order to be able to command the respect and the assent of the rank and file.

01:13:54 --> 01:13:58

Well, when you get such was on the tsunami and such was on Katerina.

01:14:05 --> 01:14:07

Yes, thank you.

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