Reclaiming Our Faith
Channel: Sherman Jackson
File Size: 34.45MB
so about Nicola who feek Dr. Baz Yan
solo, we're at our final speaker for our conference today. And I know it's been a long day and I appreciate everyone's patience. And Dr. J has given me the hand. And I've introduced him many times. So I'm not going to take too much time. But the most important thing you need to know for all the Bay Area people that are visiting and they and they tell us we have Sheikh Hamza, we have Dr. Houghton we have Imams aide. We have Imam thaw here we have said Abdullah, I say Hamdulillah we now at the University of Southern California we have Dr. Sherman Jackson.
So the topic for Dr. Jackson is whether the modern Muslim negotiating creed, theology and spirituality. And in the interest of time, I'll have Dr. Jackson explain what he'll be talking about. So Michael
Bismillah R Rahman Rahim. hamdulillah learners to anyone who wants to fit or want to study when early bIllahi min, surelly and fusina Amen. Say it I'm Melina manga De La Follette, medulla. Medulla Harry Allah wa Chateau La ilaha illallah wa jalla wa Chateau ana Muhammadan Abdullah solo sallallahu alayhi wa
sallam rubbish Rahi Saudi we are certainly among the Tamil assignee of
Kinshasa and FC Philately Sanic. When others are there. They'll be rocky Rapala Anna Bananaman we're back Salam aleikum wa rahmatullah wa barakato.
First of all, I want to start off by saying that I'm just a little bit perplexed by the fact that I was just told that I'm supposed to explain the topic that I'm talking about, but the topic was assigned to me. And I didn't, I didn't choose it. So I've been assigned the topic of whether the modern Muslim, negotiating faith, creed, theology, and spirituality.
But I want to preface my remarks
with a with a number of
what I hope, hope will be sort of useful.
comments, suggestions, if you will, the first of them as this.
I'm here as a part of a community.
And it is my hope, that if the last 10 to 11 years,
have taught us nothing.
They have taught us our mutual need for each other as community members. And that there is strength in numbers, and that we need each other. And I say that in the context of
trying to set up a context here for my remarks, in which what I'm saying up here, is not understood to be an attempt to offer any kind of last words, on anything. This is not a debate. This is a conference. And a conference is a more come up.
Tamara means basically, to come together and to cooperate among yourselves, in an effort to bring about the best possible outcome. And the reason I'm saying this is that, I mean, I'm going to have to talk and again, I was assigned my
I'm going to have to talk about issues of theology and all of these kinds of things. And I remember, you know, that decade of the 90s, when, as a community, you know, every time we got together, we tended not to discuss matters among ourselves, but rather to debate. And by that, I mean that, you know, I would stand up here at not me, those other guys, but I would stand up and I would present my position as if it were the last position, and then I would defend that to the death, even if it was not the best position. And as a community, I think that we suffered a great deal from that. And I hope that we have reached the maturity where we can come out of that, when we can begin to see as
corny as it may sound, our diversity
As as a strength and as something that we should not be afraid of, I'm not going to compromise what I believe to be my deepest principles. But I'm going to be open enough to understand that some of what I believe is essential with regard to Islam, other aspects of what I believe, are essential. And these are issues that there can be give and take on. And there are issues on with someone else in the community may have a better point of view than us, I hope that, you know, we will remain open to ourselves as a community. That's the first point. The second point that I want to make, can I get some water?
That wasn't the second point. But the second point that I want to make?
The second point that I want to make is that,
you know, when I was assigned this topic, I thought primarily about the young people in our midst. And so my most of my comments are going to be going to, you know, sort of college students and, and below and, and part of the reason
a certain recognition that I have that I hope I'm not being too heavy here, but it's reality, and it's a reality that we as a community are going to have to confront. And that reality is this.
If we come back to this zaytuna College banquet conference, or 20 years from now, it is very likely that I won't be here, it's likely that Sheikh Hamza won't be here, imams aide might not be here,
we are reaching the point where you're looking at a generation that is going to be passing on within the next two to three decades. And that means that we have to prepare the way for those who are coming after us, we have to have the collective communal consciousness to understand what that means. And part of I think that what we are missing as a Muslim community, we are missing a central historical consciousness, we don't understand where, what and why we are, where, what and why we are. And I think that that's something that we have to do a better job of. So in the comments that are gonna, that are gonna follow. I'm looking primarily at the young people among us. Um, finally,
let me say that
I'm going to be because I've been asked, I keep saying that, Donna, I'm gonna stop saying that, all right.
I'm going to be talking about some of the challenges that confront us in terms of theology, in terms of faith in terms of spirituality. And I just want to
sort of not warn us, but but but pointing out the fact that, you know, sometimes when we talk about problems, and and Muslims have lots of problems that are confronting them these days, sometimes when we talk about problems, you know, it can dampen the mood, you know, it can it can put us in a state of mind where we think that life in itself is nothing but one long, boring concatenation of problems. All right, I'm going to be talking about challenges. But I don't want Muslims to internalize, you know, the sensibility, you know, the idea, the feeling that our lives are nothing but a long chain of problems. We live in a time and in a place where yes, we do have problems. But
we also live in a time and a place where we have unprecedented resources and opportunities. And away from our dealing with many of the problems that we have, we have to leave space to contemplate how we are going to best use our resources and how we're going to best take advantage of the opportunities that we have, that other Muslim communities, communities across the globe could never even dream of enjoying. So I don't want everybody in here just to be thinking about problems, problems problems, although that's in a sense, what I'm going to be talking about.
So the issue of negotiating
theology fates spirituality, in in a place like modern America, of course, negotiation is itself
a give and take enterprise. It's sort of the art
of give and take, and that includes compromise and I know that's a dirty word for some Muslims, especially when you're talking about issues having to do with religion, and, and theology
There is principled compromise and there is unprincipled compromise. And I think that anyone who was familiar with the Sunnah Muhammad sallallahu alayhi. wasallam knows the difference between principled compromise and unprincipled compromise. And for us to be able to negotiate the things that we're going to be talking about today, it's important to know the difference between what we can and what we cannot compromise. And to be clear, and understanding that difference, and to be resolute in our commitment to maintaining that distinction.
This means to my mind that theology has to come front and center. In a sense, it is first and foremost, because it is theology, far more than any other of the Religious Sciences, that gives us the sense of the absolutely non negotiables of Islam.
I mean, even in fifth,
I can, as a matter of fact, you know, I can, I can, I can drink some wine, if I'm choking, and I don't have anything else to say in my life. But one, I can drink wine under duress, and still be a Muslim.
But I cannot believe that God is three,
or that God has children,
or that God didn't even forbid, wine drinking, I can't do those things, I can't believe those things and, and still be a Muslim. So it's important for us to understand what leads and what follows in terms of our religious commitments, and our beliefs. And when it comes to theology, we have a number of challenges in America, and there are many of them. And I'm only going to have an opportunity to talk about maybe three, maybe three or four of them. But I hope that what I have to say will be useful. The first challenge that we have, I think, is a challenge that some of us might not be familiar with in this room, but I'm an academic, I'm interacting with young people on the college
level every day. And I have been for the last few decades. And one of the things that I am repeatedly being confronted with, is the fact that our children who are passing through the academy, and institutions of higher education are internalizing an epistemology, a way of knowing
a way of comprehending reality, and assessing reality, that is placing distance between them. And religion, distance between them, and Islam. They are coming through the university system, they're internalizing a way of thinking, a way of knowing that is itself fundamentally alienated from religion. And at the end of four, or six or eight years, they're coming out of these institutions, and then being asked now reconcile Islam with yourself.
And among the major features of this epistemology is something
that some refer to as scientism. This is a major challenge, not just for theology, because of course, theology comes after the very idea that one accepts the existence of God to begin with. All right, we are in some ways challenged with the whole enterprise of the very existence of God. And so we have a challenge of how do we sustain
and approach others. We'll talk about God
when one of the reigning epistemologies not only denies, but precludes the very existence of God, by denying and placing beyond the realm of legitimate engagement, anything and everything that is supernatural, or above and beyond the material world. This is what and by the way, that, you know, Reinhold Niebuhr, the great Christian theologian talks about ironing, you know, and it's ironic that the more successful we are as parents, the more likely we are to be to produce children who go to college. And yet, the more likely you are to produce children who go to college, the more likely they are to become susceptible to precisely this kind of an epistemology. Right, and so it's the
it's the, it's the better off among us if I can use that term. All right, who should perhaps be most concerned
About this as a challenge. Now, how do we begin to, to to address this challenge? There are two things that I want to say about this very briefly. And again, especially for our young people here, who are saturated with the presuppositions of scientism.
I think one of the first thing that we have to do is we have to get clear. And we have to maintain the distinction between science and scientism.
I'll say that again, we have to be clear. And we have to maintain the distinction between science on the one hand, and scientism on the other. Science, as a study of the fifth of the physical world is an enterprise in and of itself, the claim that there is no reality beyond the physical world. That's not a scientific claim.
Or that's not something that science can prove empirically, although it is a claim of some scientists, all right, we have to be clear about distinguishing science, from scientism. And therefore, our opposition to scientism does not necessarily have to imply opposition to science.
Because when we oppose science, and by the way, science is not all one thing I'm taking for granted that I'm talking to intelligent people, science is not all all one thing. All right, there are many different scientific theories, not all of them, equally reconcilable with each other.
I don't have to go into any details about that. But again, part of the problem that we have to be careful about is that, you know, it's in the interest of promoting our commitment to religion. And if in our attacks on scientism, we come off as appearing to be opposed to science, we will actually undermine our position rather than promoted. And this is one of the reasons why I say we have to be extremely careful about remaining clear on the difference between science and scientism. That's an important distinction for our young people to get. And it's important, because, on the one hand, you know, if God is indeed beyond the created, sort of physical world, then God in His a sense, beyond
science, nothing was better than
that. If science says that anything that cannot be empirically tested, we can't bring it in the line when subjected to scientific testing. If that is beyond the realm of science, then so is then so is God. And so we don't need to allow these sorts of false arguments, these, these false contradictions to bedevil us, but we'll only be able to navigate that space. If, if we can maintain this distinction between science on the one hand, and scientism on the other.
There's a recent book by David Berlinski, I think his name is if I'm remembering this correctly, one of the points and by the way, he's a scientist, he's a mathematician. And he happens to be a secular Jew, for for all that, that that's worth. I mean, one of the points that he makes is that, you know, we have to be careful about some of the mythologies of science. And some of those mythologies operate most heavily on people who know nothing about science. I mean, we complain about, you know, tech cleave in religion. All right? I mean, the number of people who do blind typically, and I mean, really, really blind to clean of science. I mean, it's equally problematic. And one of the things he
says is that, you know, I'm not here to argue, and he's not he's, he's, he's, I think he's agnostic. He's, I'm not here to argue, or to make a scientific argument about the existence of God. But what I am here to establish is that science, any self respecting science, must admit that it cannot disprove the existence of God. Right. And so that's one of the things that we need to be very clear with, especially for our young people. So Muslims should be beware of of either scientific proofs of the existence of God as well as proofs of the non existence of God. And this sort of takes me to my second question, or my second issue.
I think that, you know, when you are an embattled minority, and Muslims, no matter what your race, your ethnicity, your social class in America is today. If you are a believing practicing Muslim who identifies as such, then you know something about what it means to be a sort of a sort of marginalized embattled, embattled minority. And sometimes when you find yourself in that and that
position, you know, you will go for any argument that you think will will serve your cause. And sometimes you can end up embracing arguments that, that that actually, um, can do as much, if not more harm than good. I think that Muslims have to be very careful.
In this, this quest to somehow find scientific backing or support for Islam as religion, we have to be very careful about the scientific arguments for the existence of God that we accept. All right. And the reason I say that is the following is that oftentimes, I mean, many of the scientific arguments that I've read for the existence of God, the God they prove exists, don't sound like the god of the Quran to me.
And I think that that's something that we have to be very, very careful about. And again, if we maintain this distinction between science and scientism? We don't we don't have to worry about needless dichotomies in that regard. So that's one challenge. How are we going to sustain talk about God? All right, when one of the reigning epistemological paradigms and all of us are infected by all right, basically, problematizes, the whole enterprise of believing in God. The second challenge, I think, has a lot to do with what I would call the rise of the social scientists, not the social scientists, but the social sciences, and a certain genre of modern rationalism, almost. And here's
the question becomes this.
Will theology including Muslim theology
survive as a relevant,
functional enterprise for Muslims in the modern world? And what will that theology be?
And I asked this question, because it seems to me that,
to a large extent, the large the rise of the social sciences have in some ways produced a sort of social scientific cation. That's my word
of Islam, a social scientific Keishon of Islam, which drastically reduces the role and the influence of of theology. And what do I mean by the social scientific occation of Islam?
Um, I mean,
the tendency to, to say that Islam is, whatever Muslims say it is, regardless of how qualified or unqualified learn it ignorant, regardless of how much they know about Islam, or even how committed they are to Islam.
If we want to know what Islam is, we simply take, you know, some, some surveys, what do you Muslims in this room believe? You believe that
wine drinking on Tuesdays between two and four is okay? That becomes a slap.
Right? And what this does is, it reduces the role and the influence of theology, because religion no longer has to be grounded in the very revelatory sources of that religion. And if you want to get an idea what I'm talking about here, in more concrete terms, somebody mentioned that up here, um, there are debates going on online now about atheist Muslims,
for example, all right, I'm a Muslim, who doesn't believe in God.
And Muslim who doesn't believe in God. And by the way, this is going on, you know, in academic circles. And there are actually people who are supporting the idea that, well, if he or she says he is a Muslim, he or she is a Muslim, period, and no one can second guess their claim to being a Muslim.
All right. And what this will end up doing is empowering masses, who may be overly influenced by non Islamic influences, to determine what the substance of Islam and the modern world is. This is a major challenge for us, especially in this part of the world. It's a major, major challenge.
I personally witness so many debates
you know, from
you know, gender justice
to who has the most
to the, to gay rights and all of these things. So many of these debates are going on in Muslim circles. All right, with little to no reference to the various sources of Islam.
It's amazing. I mean, the theological input, does God have the sovereignty and the right to dictate moral values? That question is never even addressed. And this, by the way, is among college educated and even some professors among within the Muslim community. All right, so we have a real challenge in terms of, of the social scientists, or the social sciences, redefining the definition of Islam. And on that redefinition, the sources of Islam, Quran and Sunnah, people who want to invoke for Ansan, and all this kind of stuff in the context of those conversations, Sheikh Hamza talking about extremism earlier today, they are considered extremists
in many of these conversations, and so this is a challenge that, that we have to understand as a challenge. And it's a challenge.
Somebody stole 10 minutes off my clock.
It was 10 minutes I just looked. Alright, let me Hurry up, then I get to get your
it's a challenge. That brings us to the next challenge. And that is
Miss Muslim theology.
What is it?
And is Muslim theology?
In its sort of frozen black box form?
adequate to rise to the challenges that we face here in this part of the world. And I say this, not as someone who sees himself as detached from Muslim tradition. I personally believe that Islam is a story, enterprise.
Islam is a storied enterprise. That story begins with Muhammad, Abdullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, and his companions who write a first chapter. And that story continues throughout the generations among Muslims. And for me, for me, Islam at its best tradition, as an Islam that remains in conversation with all of the efforts of our ancestors. So I'm not talking about cutting us off from our tradition. However, we must understand, we pay a really nasty pack of tricks on our ancestors, because we hold them responsible for things that they could never have been responsible for. And when they set out to develop theological approaches, they set out to make Islam, Quran and
Sunnah their own tradition, meaningful, relevant and transformative in the context of the societies in which they lived. They did not live in our society, they did not confront the challenges that we confronted, they lay down for us, however, indicators in terms of how we might confront those challenges. And that's what we have to do. And just to get more concrete about this, if we go back and look at some of the major debates that were had, you know, say 1000 years ago, and by the way, I'm personally I'm of the opinion that we need to look at our tradition not only critically but judiciously that means that you know, those aspects of our tradition that we find useful, we have to
avail ourselves of them, but we should not be importing meaning this controversies and debates into our modern space, just because they argued about it, then does it mean that we have to argue about it now, especially those aspects, which nobody really understands now? All right. But if you take for example, three minutes okay. If you take for example,
the ismat will suffer
what was the smell was the fact that they argued about most give me some
speech what else?
Right. Right, which right is to Allah large, right.
You see, the point is, is that and this is this is this is what happens when we lose our historical conscious
This, all right, many people will hear me and what I'm saying right now as an indictment of them not at all, not in the least, not in the least they did their job.
We have to do ours.
They did their job. And by the way, Muslim theology developed at a time when the greatest theologians, that actually, no matter the ad had been handled, all of them were minorities in their societies.
All of they did their job. But if they talked about the watch, well, yet, we still Allah ash, are these going to be the attributes of Allah that are most meaningful to modern people.
And what I would argue is that one of the things that we need to confront in terms of our theological approach is that people in modern society, especially in modern America, they want not simply a God, they can think about, but they want a god they can embrace and relate to.
And that means that we have to do a better job of obligating those attributes of God, such as his mercy, such as his forgiveness, and such as his wrath, such as his empty calm, such as his Hikmah, his wisdom, these things have to become meaningful to mine and people so that God is not simply an artificial construct that people think about, but a reality that they can actually embrace and live with.
This is going to be one of the challenges of Muslim theology in the modern West. And I know, especially in the way that I just articulated it up here that there are many problems waiting here, probably of anthropomorphism and all these other kinds of things, we will have to confront these, we will have to confront these problems, all right. But ask yourself this.
If I ever have to anybody ever try and explain to a child
is a listicle, Allah lunch.
Right? Whether God literally only figuratively has a hand.
And point the point that I'm making here is this.
We have to understand that our aim, our mission, our goal in society is always to make Islam relevant, meaningful and transformative. And that means meeting society where it is, without compromising our principles. We have to erect out of the Quran, out of the Sunnah out of tradition, an understanding of God that can actually speak to the people where they are going to stop now. So let me conclude.
Because there was one other point that I wanted to make actually two other points that I wanted to make, but I won't be able to make them. And let me then just conclude very, very quickly, because there are a number of issues, theological issues that we got to confront the issue of theodicy, Sheikh Faraz talked about that this morning, you have all kinds of things happening in American society, you know, 27, little kids, five, six year olds get gunned down. Now you got hurricanes. Now in Oklahoma, you know, you got all kinds of things going on. Modern people have an idea of God, as that entity, which always and must do that, which is best or good for human beings. And when things
like this happen, all right, it challenges the whole idea, the whole enterprise of belief in God. And whether we like this or not, this is where we live. And we too, will have to produce answers to these kinds of problems. Right? I have a little book,
slamming the problem of black suffering, you know, it's a first step, it's a little attempt. But these are some of the kinds of things that we will have to confront in American society. Finally, that's not the only thing but I'll just use this as the final.
As a final point, because it's very real. I mean, when we say, you know, what is the function of theology? mean, one of the things that we have to get very serious about here in America is how do we get the cardinal principles of the Quranic discourse, to make not only sense, but to have transformative meaning in American society?
All right, do we continue to simply translate Iman as faith?
What is Terhi in a modern context, what is Schilke in a modern context, is not bound to idols, what is it?
What are these things in a modern context? Right, that can have transformative meaning in the current
Next up American society. These are some of the challenges that we have to confront. And none of these challenges. And this is what I wanted to say something about spirituality, you know, none of these challenges are going to be successfully confronted on the basis of this alone.
Because the reality is, is that we're going to have to negotiate the answers to these questions with reigning paradigms, existing ways of thinking existing ways of thinking and feeling in our own society. And that means that we have to have filters
that will empower us to let in the good, and the keep out the bad. And we have to understand this about these filters. And this is my last point really is this this is probably the most important point I want to make all in all afternoon, we have to understand something.
will only be as effective
as our spiritual state is healthy.
If we are spiritually anemic,
then we won't have the constitution to set up effective filters, we will either reject things that don't need to be rejected or we will accept things that should not be accepted.
Only when this thing, this thing right here, only when that is strong. Only with that as strongly attached to God. Only one that has inside of it uncompromisable commitments and principles. Will we be able to set up the kinds of filters that we need to negotiate faith, theology, and religion and spirituality in America? Does that come along with some other