A Messasge for the Blackamerican Muslim
(December 13, 2015): Sherman Jackson
"This is what I want to say to the Muslim community in America right now. The black community in America has been our Bani-Hashim from the beginning. And we as a Muslim community have squandered that capital in the black community; we’ve got to get it back!"
We have to recognize this, and we have to get it back! We have a Bani-Hashim right here. I remember right after 9/11 there was a meeting in a church in my hometown of Philadelphia – Tavis Smiley’s State of Black America – and there was one segment where Charles Ogletree of Harvard was leading the session, and he asked this question: What can we do to make Muslims feel more a part of us?
Almost before he got the question out, the Reverend Al Sharpton chimed in. Do you know what he said? He said, ‘Whoa, hold up, don’t even get it twisted…there’s not a person in this church who doesn’t have a brother, a nephew, an aunt, an uncle, a father, a son, someone in their family or close to it who’s not a Muslim. They’re already a part of us!’
And we as Muslims in America, we need to appreciate this; and we need to invest in it; and we need to preserve it. And let me say this, our fuqaha here in America, we got to get busy with something…because alliances are a two-way street. We can’t expect them to come to our aid, in our time of need, and then when they have an issue, we say, ‘Well, sorry that ain’t Islamic.’ We can’t do this. This [understanding] is part of what our fiqh in America has to produce.
Let me move on to the last two points. The other thing that we have to do is maintain, and grow, and augment the pool of allies that we have. And we have got to understand something brothers and sisters, we can’t do that without credibility. There are many people in America – and never allow yourselves to forget this... By and large, I agree with Ms. James, because I’m a black man in America too. America has its dark pages from the past, some of them very dark. But by and large, America is basically a nation of fair-minded people, when you’re able to get to them with the right kind of information.
There are many people in America that want to come to the Muslim’s defense, but they don’t know if they should; because they don’t know if some of this stuff that’s being said about the Muslims might not actually be true! I’m just keeping it real here. We have to establish credibility, and that means always speaking from a position of principle. We cannot lie to people, or misrepresent [the truth], we can’t do that just to save our hides. We have to be people of principle, so that they know when we come forth and say ‘this is not us,’ or ‘this is us’…it’s money in the bank. They can trust us, and they can come to our defense and not worry about being blindsided here or blindsided there.
And part of this…let me say something frankly here, and I’m speaking as your brother. Some people won’t tell us certain things to our faces; they’ll just go somewhere else and say it. I’m here, I’m going to say it to your face. We will never acquire the kind of credibility that we need as long as there are Muslims in America who ain’t quite sure that they want to be here. Because when you ain’t quite sure that you wanna be here, you might not see it, you emote that. People can smell it a mile away; and trust me, people are not going to live in fear because you can’t make up your mind.
We have to get clear. We are Muslim-Americans, we are here, part of this country, and we ain’t got no apologies about it! And I mean this very seriously, because this is one of those intangibles. Follow what I’m talking about? It’s not about the clothes you where – don’t get me wrong, it’s not about that – but some of you know what I’m talking about. It’s sort of like Nietzhe said, my genius is in my nostrils, I can smell it a mile away…and they can. And that makes it easier for the Islamophobes to make people believe all those negative things about us. We’ve got to get clear about that.
The second point I want to make about credibility, we’ve got to get clear about this business of the U.S. Constitution. Donald Trump says we will not let any of these Muslims in America. We respond, ‘Oh, that’s unconstitutional.’ Well where do you stand on that constitution? That’s what I’m talking about. We got to get clear; no obfuscation; no mis-representation; clear on where we stand on the U.S. Constitution.
I can feel the nervousness in the room now... Let me just offer this:There might be a problem with reconciling Islam, or Shariah, with the constitution, if the constitution set itself up as a statement of ultimate truth. Because then you would have the ultimate truth of the constitution verses the ultimate truth of Islam. But the constitution ain’t no statement of ultimate truth. The constitution is a negotiated agreement about how we’re going to arrange our political affairs. It’s got nothing to say about whether God exists or not; who is a prophet or not; is there a hereafter or not? It’s got nothing to say about that. Fundamentally, because it’s not a statement of ultimate truth, there is no fundamental clash.
Even if we might disagree with certain aspects of that constitution…the 21st amendment for example legitimizes alcohol. Let’s say we disagree with that, the Prophet (peace be upon him) entered into agreements aspects of which he disagreed with. Did that undermine the whole agreement? You know what I’m talking about. In the fundamental core [of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, for example] there was no fundamental conflict. And we have to be unabashed, unhesitating, in proclaiming that – because if we don’t, not only will we play into the hands of the Islamophobes, our allies will get nervous about us; our allies will get weak-kneed about us.
The last thing is we have to be clear about what we, the Muslim community, want in America. And let me just be clear one more time…since I’m already in trouble. I might have to test my Philly [self-defense] skills on the way out. (Laughter in the audience)
We have to make something clear: we want a dignified existence as American Muslims. We will not see progress in America by trying to replicate any country in the Muslim world. They think we want to bring Baghdad, or Karachi, or wherever, here. We are Muslims here. We want a dignified existence here. And we are going to interpret our religion in light of the realities, the challenges and the opportunities that confront us here. This is what we want in America. We’ve got to be clear about that.
The third thing that we have to have if we’re going to amass any power: economic, political, social-cultural, we have to have adab…we have to have etiquette. We are not going to wake up tomorrow morning and all of a sudden all of us are going to agree 100 percent on virtually anything. We have to have disagreement, because disagreement is the mechanism through which the best ideas come to the fore; but we must disagree with civility. We must at all costs, as a Muslim community…we must avoid the politics of personal destruction.
Just because I voice an opinion with which you disagree, you can disagree with it; you can attack the opinion, but don’t try to destroy me. Because when you try to destroy me, I start bleeding internally; and when I start bleeding internally, when the next issue comes about I can’t come and offer my hand to you, because I’m bleeding internally – you’ve alienated me. We have to be careful about this alienation. And by the way that means we’ve got to open up, brothers and sisters.
There are a lot of Muslims out there who believe in La ilaha illalah (No God but One God), Mohammedan Rasululah (Mohammed is His Messenger), and they believe in The Last Day [of divine judgment], but they may not be on the level that we think they should be on. They are still our brothers and our sisters. We have to recognize this, and deal with them as such.
My closing remarks are the following, let me just share this with you as something to put on your mind. “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in any democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power of the society.” This was written by the founder of propaganda, Edward Bernays. That’s what’s standing up against us. And that’s why we have to acquire power, because that mentality won’t listen to reason alone.
We’ve got to get unified; and we cannot mistake unity for uniformity; it’s not the same. We have to get unified, and we have to do it now. Let me close with a statement by Martin Luther King:
“In this conundrum of life and history there’s such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is the thief of all time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and rejected, with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at the flood. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, too late.”
Let us unite in mind, in heart, in body and spirit. Let us unite as a Muslim community…before it’s too late!