“Immigrants”, Immigraton And The State of Denial
“One not only needs to speak truth to power. At times, we need to speak truth to pain.” Dr. Abdullah bin Hamid Ali
In this exclusive article, Dr. Ali takes a close look at some of the recent controversies and attacks on Dr. Sherman Jackson and others on immigration policies. How has our current political climate affected relationships between Muslims of various ethnic backgrounds? Dr. Ali’s essay forces us to reevaluate how we interpret and assess our attitudes about political and social issues that impact the American Muslim community.
Dr. Abdullah bin Hamid Ali
"Immigrants", Immigration and The State of Denial
I am sure that my sarcastic and semi-hyperbolic June 6th Facebook post about the “Muslim national and social political agenda” angered many people. I am not here to apologize for what I wrote. What I am here to talk about is the state of denial and historical amnesia that plagues the minds of many Muslim organizations, academics, social activists, media personalities, and others who share their views. I will do this in the context of the “Muslim Ban,” which I only refer to as a so-called Muslim Ban because it does not begin to ban all Muslims from entering this country.
But, before discussing the “ban”, we should recognize that there is a rabid dogmatism, absolutism, and belligerence that characterizes the manner with which the aforementioned attack those who refuse to conform to their dictates regarding politics. They approach matters regarding Trump, immigration, and similar issues as if these are some newly discovered tenets of the Islamic faith, with screams of “irredeemable” every time one of our leaders has a slip of the tongue, meets with one of “their” enemies, or offers nuance to matters not so easily reconciled. One of the greatest problems with all this is that when the enemies of the newly declared gatekeepers of the American Muslim community change, everyone in the community, regardless of their unique histories and experiences, are expected to change their attitudes towards those enemies.
I’m old enough to recall the pre-9/11 years. Those were years of reckless speeches about jihad, demands to make “hijrah”, the impermissibility of voting and living in America without a “valid” excuse, and even the unlawfulness of acknowledging America’s sovereignty because it did not “rule by the Shariah.” It was when a Muslim leader couldn’t give an invocation at Congress without being accused of being a secret “Government Agent.” Join the police force? Haram. Join the military? Kafir! Now we celebrate it all, gleefully embracing our newfound “Americanness”, proud to be here while simultaneously giving new birth to a resentment reminiscent of years before that fated day which changed the world as we know it. In this regard, Sherman Jackson is correct when he says,
“Mention BDS, Trump, revolution, CVE or Black Lives Matter, and the Qur’an and Sunna don’t stand a chance, let alone fiqh or anything else from Muslim tradition. Instead, anyone who invokes any of these authorities will be dismissed as an apologist, while the demagogue crowns his- or herself the defender of Islam! This almost always includes an attempt to enshrine one perspective on Islam in America as the litmus test for all Muslims. Unfortunately, this routinely turns out to be little more than the obsessions of a subset of immigrant Muslims who have anointed themselves the ancestral guardians of Islam.”
Though likely difficult for millennials and generation Z’s to fully grasp, encouraging Muslims to vote, join the police force, military, government, pray at the state capitol, promote harmony between religious communities, and become part of the American mainstream were not always considered Islamically permissible acts. This was especially when they were being encouraged by the late Imam W.D. Muhammad—Allah show him mercy—who was a pioneer in this regard and is still not given proper credit for being such a brave visionary. In similar fashion, Dr. Jackson who himself was largely responsible for awakening “immigrant” Muslims from “racial agnosia” is once again being accused of fueling anti-immigrant Muslim hatred because he hasn’t employed “white supremacy” in the current way it is being used by the political left whose bandwagon many of his detractors have joined. To quote Dr. Jackson once again,
“But its funny, when Islam and the Blackamerican came out some fourteen years ago, many in the immigrant community condemned me for trucking the ‘alien concept of race’ into the discourse on Islam in America, as if I had abandoned Islam for the NOI. But then, as soon as they found a way to ‘weaponize’ this critique for their purposes, it gained acceptance and they became the champions of anti-white supremacy.”
Of course, as already underscored, neither my nor Jackson’s critique is directed against all “immigrants.” But, for those to whom it applies, I would add that when the Lamppost Education Initiative premiered Jackson’s talk on white supremacy as modern day shirk (subtle idolatry), it was maligned by many of the same “immigrants” as overly racial. Now that it’s in vogue, all the “woke” Muslims are alleging that Jackson and others are collaborating with “white supremacy.”
Let’s not act as if Jackson’s aforementioned sentiment was born in a vacuum. There are plenty of “indigenous” black Americans—even many that I have alienated for not being as sympathetic to their sentiments towards “immigrants” and “whites”—who have stories of negative experiences with Muslim “immigrants.” Many of them are resentful of what they perceive as the immigrant domination of the public narrative on Islam, which they characterize as self-serving and willfully omitting indigenous black Americans from the national conversation. It is not that every claim of immigrant Muslim “racism” or “marginalization” is to be uncritically accepted as established fact. That this sentiment is so widespread should serve, however, as a sign that something is really amiss in our community and demands honest dialogue, instead of the current dismissiveness which insists we focus all our attention on Palestine, the UAE, and Trump’s immigration policies. That sort of dismissiveness or denial is what makes it possible for “immigrants” to consider a Palestinian woman’s opinion about what might be “offensive” or “condescending” toward blacks to be weightier than the black person’s statement of solidarity with his own people. It is also what drives many of them, like their leftist “friends”, to consider “real black people” to be those who accept “perpetual victim status.” It would seem that these “immigrants”, like so many “woke” whites, have “out-blacked” blacks and have greater knowledge of just how oppressed we are than we do ourselves. This is consistent with studies about the “new left” who are much stronger and less compromising on racial issues than black people generally are. I don’t recall any of them seeking the counsel of black American Muslims before they formed an alliance with BLM anyway.
Once again, I am only speaking of the “subset of immigrant Muslims” that Jackson pointed to in his recent defense. It goes without saying that there are a growing number of collaborative efforts between “immigrants” and indigenous black Americans to make us all proud. However, there is still a long way to go. Continued progress will demand from all of us to turn down the volume a bit to hear one another. True fraternity and lasting harmony can only be secured through dialogue and principled discussion rooted in mutual respect and a passionate pursuit of our Lord’s good pleasure.
Who’s Being Tribal?
Jackson is accused of validating “white supremacy.” However, Muslim adoption of the self-referential label of “people of color” reinforces the perennial specter of the “oppressive white man” and the permanent “victim/oppressed” status of all others. The only good white people, accordingly, are those who acknowledge the existence of “white privilege”, “white supremacy”, and the inherent foundational evilness of America and Europe. These are all racially-informed tropes. It is, further, much more affirming of white supremacy than anything that I or Jackson has said or done. That’s because as long as we are “the colored people” and they are the “white people”, the superiority and domination of “whites” and our presumed inferiority are reified. This is all a byproduct of the unwitting embrace of Critical Race Theory (CRT), which is nothing more than the Nation of Islam’s “white man is the devil” doctrine wrapped in candy-paper.
Returning to Dr. Jackson, many readers missed the fact that he qualified his reference to “immigrants” by saying, “a subset of immigrant Muslims.” Doesn’t that mean that he excluded the majority of “immigrant Muslims” from his analysis? Perhaps, those who reacted negatively should consider the possibility that they are being “tribal” and “jahili”, because there is no reason to be offended by “racialized” references if one has truly transcended race. The fact is that many have not. That’s precisely why we need to pay more attention to what Dr. Jackson has to say on this topic.
Another allegation launched against Jackson was that he appealed to anti-immigrant Muslim tropes in his response to an AlJazeera opinion piece maligning him and multiple others as politically impotent. Ironically, those responses were precisely those of the sort he decried in the piece and predicted. But, once again, instead of acknowledging his bona fides, his detractors simply shrugged off any assertion that “immigrants” might be consciously attempting to dominate the narrative as “Jahili”, “tribal”, or simply a deflection from the accusation of undermining Muslim safety by taking part in CVE.
Who’s Being Racist?
That many of his detractors claim to “ally” with the Left and BLM in their anti-Trump crusade brings with it a largely overlooked subtlety, which is that they traffic in anti-black and anti-white tropes. Compare the following two statements:
“Whites are no different nor better than blacks. Blacks can do anything that whites can do. There’s nothing holding them back but themselves.”
“Blacks have suffered systemic oppression since the founding of America and continue to do so. They need our help and support to secure justice and full equality.”
Which of the two would you consider racist? Keep in mind that the Oxford Dictionary defines racism as, “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”, rather than the novel critical race theory’s (CRT) finagled “race (viz. “whiteness”) coupled with the power to dominate,” whereby many exclude non-whites from the capacity to be racist, since only whites supposedly have power.
The first statement is commonly heard from conservatives. Notwithstanding the reality of historical institutional discrimination, it is a noncontroversial statement and reinforces complete equality between whites and blacks. It is, therefore, not racist. The second statement, on the other hand, generally issues from progressives and the many Muslims (immigrants and others) working with them. By insisting that blacks “need help and support” is to fundamentally suggest that blacks are an inferior race and can do very little—if anything at all—to improve their condition on their own, especially without the help of the very people responsible for their historical plight, “white” people. What also feeds this notion is the faulty perception that “most” or “all” blacks are poor. Close to 30% of blacks in the US are classified as poor, which leaves the more than 70% majority in the category of middle class and rich. Due to this negative stereotype, one finds such Muslims (immigrants and other non-blacks) stating that blacks’ greatest strength is their ability to claim victim status like no other. This appeals to many blacks, of course. It is, nevertheless, a regular but subtle exercise in racism and one of the grossest “micro-aggressions” one could commit against someone like me. I find the suggestion that my greatest strength is in me claiming perpetual victim status to be utterly absurd. Furthermore, perennial victimhood claims betray the teachings of our heroic black civil rights exemplars who asked us to be self-reliant, assertive, and empowered collectively.
Back to the ‘So-Called Muslim Ban’
One not only needs to speak truth to power. At times we need to speak truth to pain. And, no pain can be greater than being separated from a loved one, especially a spouse or a child. It is a terrible ordeal. I, personally, due to government error, had to wait a full 2 years for my wife’s visa to be approved. That notwithstanding, immigration, especially in the American context is a not facile matter which can be resolved by flimsy appeals to the Sunnah, asking the question “What would the Prophet do?”, turning a mosque into an asylum zone, and being opposed to ICE.
For as long as I can recall taking notice of what is happening in national politics, the solution to illegal immigration has been a conundrum. Fencing and walls have always been part of a bipartisan solution. And, the “camps” we currently decry were actually built under Obama who some referred to as the “deporter-in-chief.”
All American presidents are charged with protecting the security of our borders. For that reason, I reject any assertion that there is no valid legal or moral basis for Mr. Trump or any other president trying to keep people out of the country who would enter illegally. Of course, I, like others, am not fond of the idea of splitting up families. The crisis at our borders, however, directly or indirectly affects us all, and most Americans would like to see it solved.
Certain Muslims were outraged by my assertion that his barring citizens of multiple Muslim countries from US entry was justifiable and morally defensible. And I get it. I remember him saying “Islam hates us.” I also remember that his earlier iterations of the Muslim ban targeted more than the number of countries currently on the list. However, there are some important points and questions that need answering:
- Have we responded to the so-called ‘Muslim-Ban’ as believers should? It’s not as if the proper way to deal with separation from a loved one has no moral analog in our religion. There are, in fact, many precedents of family separation. How about Prophet Ibrahim, his wife, and son? Or, Prophet Ya’qub, Yusuf, and his brothers? Peace be upon them all. The proper response to tribulation is patient endurance, not wailing, excessive outrage and exclusive appeals to the creation.
- Is immigration and entrance to America a human or civil right? No. It is not. Again, the aim is not to sound insensitive. But, when one is insisting that all Muslims must be anti-Trump due to the ban from a limited number of countries, one is peddling in demagoguery. No country in the world to my knowledge allows foreigners to freely pass their borders without being a citizen or acquiring a visa. Why should America be any different? If we are truly concerned about the welfare of those who cannot enter our country, it would be more productive to focus on ways to alleviate any suffering caused to those denied by increasing our support for charities which support refugees.
- Is everyone from the seven countries affected by the ban? No. American citizens and green card holders—while allowing for anomalies—are free to return to their home countries and back to the US, which means that while family members are barred from entry due to not being citizens, those who are not barred from reentry are 100% free to go visit their loved ones. This is extremely important. Can we honestly say it is “forced exile” or “permanent separation” when one is free to leave and reenter the country at any time? Other than extraordinary cases, non-citizens are merely “inconvenienced” in light of their ardent desire to have one’s family members join them in America. All else distorts reality.
- Is the ban temporary? Yes. Trump will not be president forever. Eventually the ban will be lifted. And, as believers, Muslims should respond to God’s tests as He expects us to by anticipating the rewards He promises for our patience.
I would argue that the threat Trump poses to Muslims is overly exaggerated by the mainstream media which presents him as the devil incarnate. Muslim anti-Trumpers, likewise, are incapable of highlighting more than very limited immigration challenges as examples of how he brings daily hardship to the lives of Muslims or any other ethnic minority for that matter. While some are affected by the Muslim ban, and Trump’s slavish service to the likes of Netanyahu are disturbing, has the life of the average American Muslim, or the life of the average Muslim in Gaza, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Kashmir or other war-torn or occupied Muslim lands been rendered substantially worse under Trump than it was under Obama’s administration? Would things be substantially better had Hillary triumphed in 2016?
To repeat, the full Muslim embrace of our Americanness is largely a consequence of the post-9/11 world. Now, many take offense to being called “immigrants” when there was once a refusal to see one’s self as an actual citizen and the country we live in as a legitimate country. Islamophobia means “an irrational fear of Islam.” All fear of Muslims is not irrational, especially if the only thing one knows about Muslims or Islam is DAESH, Qaeda, and other violent Muslim groups. As of December 2015, there were, reportedly, 30,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. And, the great majority of them were from the Middle East and the Arab world. Others joined them from multiple Western countries in Europe and the US. To downplay this as an innocuous threat, especially after something as major as 9/11 and as organized as DAESH, is to live in denial. When the average American learns of the rhetoric and worldview of many “immigrant” leaders of the community at that time, they are rightfully “Islamophobic.” It is easy for the opposition party to ignore that threat as any major terrorist attack would not occur on their watch. The party in power does not have that luxury.
In spite all of that, a major part of the burden for the chaos that ensued and led to the tragic carnage and dispersion of these unfortunate populations falls on us keyboard revolutionaries cheering the rebels on during the “Arab” Spring encouraging them to contribute to the violent upheaval of their societies. It was easy for us to be so brave, then, and so self-righteous, now, as we once again go back and forth about conditions in places we do not live. It is also easy to be in favor of open borders while simultaneously locking our own doors, building higher fencing around our homes, installing high tech alarms and cameras, and purchasing firearms, while not inviting the very “asylum seekers” to share with us the homes where our families live instead of directing them to the floors of churches and mosques.
May Allah give us the leadership we need whose wisdom aids us in always finding lasting solutions to upheaval, polarization, and chaos. May He grant us and them mastery over our emotions and passions so that we never act impulsively without proper knowledge and without considering all the possible ways to help those in need. And, may He make us harbingers of peace, not oracles of doom.