In the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the surprise victory of Donald Trump, Shaykh Jihad Brown asks some tough questions and paves a way forward for American Muslims.
Its 3:00 a.m.; there is a hollow feeling in the chest, but I have family, I have students. We all knew this could very well be a possibility—never inevitable but certainly possible. While there is a silver lining up there somewhere, make no mistake, it is a rain cloud. Inclement weather does not deter the “deadliest catch”. It is what we signed up for, no? Did the believers think they had yet tasted the surat ankabut that we so relish citing from the manabir for years now? Let’s find our hearts in the resolve that has led even some Alaskan and North Pacific fisherman to embrace the Deen of Islam. The job must get done and the Prophet (Allah bless him) never promised you a rose garden.
Make no mistake; this has been a victory driven by a fear for loss of white privilege. A comforting imperceptible entitlement that seems to be slipping away with a nostalgic ‘Norman Rockwell’ America that ceased to exist long before the canaries keeled over. For some Americans it certainly never existed; and Rockwell himself—as he painted—seemed to realise that in his later years. But our question must be this, will the ‘Muslim establishment’ take this moment to realise this and reconsider their taking ‘white upper middle-class suburbia’ as their ideal? Will they address the disconcerting racism and classism so prevalent in our mosques? It is a victory made possible by a regime of dumbing down the electorate. Will Muslims reconsider their more recent insistence on dumbing down all and every aspect of Islamic discourse? An electorate devoid of critical acumen will buy anything offered as panacea; as will a Muslim community believing themselves nourished by slogans and spectacles.
Yes, the ‘elites’ of Spiro Agnew and the Editor of the Harvard Law Review have been defeated. But don’t think that this is a cattle call that the ‘herd’ shall inherit the earth. Now more than ever, intelligence is important. But it will be a grounded intelligence coupled with empathy that only Islam can bring. Wisdom, hikma and a kind word, is never data, never rhetoric. An ‘information age’ is dangerous at worst, empty at best, without the third dimension. Let us desist from our cheeky courtship of post-modern nominalism—that reality and truth lies only within the words we utter. Let us consider the compelling merit of the realism offered by a human rational soul—that principles have meaning and there is a reality independent of our thoughts and language. That Allah and truth is, regardless of whether there is a human mind to conceive it.
What our Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him) wanted for new shores
We are on the cusp of a period of intense soul-searching for this country. Muslims now have an opportunity forced upon them to begin a process of soul-searching as well. Will they be able to find the authenticity of perspective, direction, and contribution this society needs so deeply from them? The programme moving forward will be to ask ourselves what our Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him) wanted for new shores; and what healing the Deen of our Creator would bring to a new society that is thirsty and suffering from its own particular forms of pain. Can we also be physicians of hearts and minds. As well as honest custodians of truth and fidelity for our own children and families?
The modern Muslim community has been one of extremes to this point. Now more than ever before we need engaged participation without assimilation; care, concern, and empathy, without sentimentality and emotionalism; authenticity and leadership without triumphalism. Here is a mā’idah disguised as a disappointment; a pasture of opportunity disguised as a tragedy. A call to what will give you life—for those who would respond. Every path to the mountain top can only begin with, “physician heal thyself.” Let’s invite one another to discover Islam as it is and not as entertaining or self-congratulating ideal; bismillah People.
The expectation is that matters should—in general—be safer than assumed for minorities, in that the Right Wing got what it wanted. There would have been more danger on the streets in the case of a Hillary win. Will xenophobes be emboldened—it is possible. Will there be new unfair policy initiatives, maybe. These things are uncertain still. But there will be no barrel-bombs. Rather than looking for the sky to fall just yet, let us focus instead on strengthening our hearts. Muslims will have to explore the merits of real, tangible, and true fraternity, solidarity, and community, not just as cozy buzz words and idealistic slogans—the furniture of our own form of jingoism. If you haven’t understood this then know that the 1980s called and said it wants its 1950s dinosaur figures back.
We all know privately, that there is a more privileged segment within the American Muslim community that has always leaned Republican; conflating economic conservatism with moral conservatism. Conflating prophetic istiqama with evangelical ‘moralising’. This ‘kool-aid’ of uncritical Muslim-establishment faith in the mythology of a Protestant Work Ethic will be a major obstacle to authenticity; if decision making weight on matters of theology, social well-being, and community direction continue to remain in such hands.
The need for real humanity
If ‘new Americans’ want to participate in basic mainstream American conversations—as ‘basic’ Americans—by all means, welcome. But Muslim please, don’t do so on the dime of ‘Islamic daawa’. Americans have historically been hopeful in the healing and uplifting promise in the Deen of Muhammad (Allah bless him). Take it outside if you don’t mind—get a room if you must—but please don’t deny us that. Americans ask—explicitly or with the tongue of their condition—for that enrichment and sophisticated depth and warmth of real humanity and godly, rabbani, insight that only you can offer; not for the cold technology or mechanical management techniques that they already have. We do not tend to expect that working class Americans are going to be saved by this enterprise they have sunk their votes into. Do you have the respect, compassion, integrity, and resolve your neighbours hope for? I still find that I am unable to relinquish my hope that you do; even though its been hard. Just really, really hard.
Know that the world turns for people who put impressing Allah and His messenger first. Everything else is window dressing. Don’t get side-tracked. The ‘labeeb’ understands that when we say we dig your taste in drapes, that we’re just making small-talk to keep it down to earth.
For those who have been optimistically looking toward ‘hope’ and ‘change’, then know that it comes in phases—and recognise phase II for what it is. Take a moment, take a deep breath, and then put on your rain poncho, grab your galoshes, and be a part of building phase III. Inclement weather doesn’t prevent the fisherman from going out on deck when the job must still get done. Look up. Downpours are an inevitable part of the open seas and the waves will get rough, and the tumult of the ocean intimates uncertainty. But look up, the constellations continue to shine with their reassuring serenity and constancy; and the heavenly bodies continue to swim in their orbits—and by the stars they are guided.