by Mahmoud Andrade Ibrahim
وَأتُوا البُيوتَ مِن أَبوابِها وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُم تُفلِحونَ
Enter houses through the proper doors and fear Allah that ye may prosper. (2:189)
There is the Quranic injunction to enter houses through their proper doors (2:189). The direction given in this verse is certainly related to the etiquette used by the desert Arabs of the 7th century. There seems to have been some question as to whether it was permissible to enter an un-occupied dwelling. There has been many explanations by the commentators of both Quran and hadith to illuminate the circumstances surrounding the occasion of this particular revelation, that is not the scope of my interest at the moment. This verse is usually commented on in the current literature related to manners.
I am interested in the phrase, ‘enter houses through their proper doors’ and the many meanings that it brings to mind for me. First of all, it is a reminder that whenever we undertake some task or project we should carry out the necessary preparations in order to achieve our desired result or else our commitment to the task under discussion is not solid. The idea of course is there is a proper way to do everything. There is a proper way and then there is the so-called short-cut. The short cut seems to be the easiest, least costly in terms of time and money and appears to be the ‘path of least resistance’ but in the overall, the short-cut can cost more in terms of loss of time and effectiveness and you just might have to go back and do it right anyway.
Think of your medical doctor, would you feel confident knowing that he or she hadn’t finished medical school, that the degree hanging on the wall was the result of the ‘hook-up’ and not because of the ‘due-diligence’ necessary for such a medical honor. Would you feel safe and secure in front of a judge with a lawyer who obtained his law credentials by watching 22 episodes of Law and Order on network television with commercials? No, of course not.
So why am I so keenly interested in 'proper doors', well , its because when I look around at the various ingredients that have sustained our struggle since the arrival of the first Africans on these shores, I am acutely aware that we have survived because we found these proper doors. For example, I know that we would be less developed had we not fully incorporated the courage, talents and brain power of our women. In the work necessary to construct healthy, sustainable communities that have the ability to weather the social storms as we have witnessed in America, through the middle passage, slavery, Jim Crow and now through the current Law and Order template, the black community could not have come this far without our womenfolk. Black women have been the back-bone of the black church,the civil rights struggle and black radical organizations and they deserve a place at the Muslim table. So it is my position that Blackamerican women are one of the proper doors that is necessary for the construction of a self-contained wholesome American Muslim Community.
Another proper door as far as I am concerned, as it affects the Blackamerican Muslim community is the way in which the community masjids are configured. I’m now talking about the organizational structure of the masjid. When we look around at the examples of the black church in the various communities through- out America, they are governed by a board of directors that is appointed or elected by the congregants. These churches have ‘long legs’, that is, longevity. Why, because the congregants feel that by participating in the governance of the church they have a vested interest in making sure the church is successful. Masjids, at least in the Blackamerican experience, are not set up this way. Yes, the articles of incorporation necessitate a structure, so most masjids have at least that. However that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about a board of 5 or 7 community folks, men and women, that actually draw up policy and procedures for the direction and sustainability of the community. This board would determine the direction of the masjid (community), draw up budgets, decide methods of reporting back to the community, pay salaries, if necessary, etc. In many black churches, the board is the body that chooses the pastor and the deacons and can replace them as the need arises. Somehow we have gotten the idea that once an imam is chosen, he’s there for life.. An outdated concept in my humble opinion and one that does not have a long shelf life, at least not in America. Islam is not a personality cult and what the Muslim community wants to ensure is , not so much one imam, as much as one direction and that would be determined by the board of directors.
Finally as long as we are talking about proper doors, each community must have, as its priority, a place to send their children for school. It is my belief that unless we have schools that we have paid for and send our children to, paying the tuition and generally supporting their education well into high school, we haven’t really been serious about preserving Islam as a way of life. The Clara Muhammad schools are already in existence and should be fully supported where possible and their five generational track record speaks for itself.
All of these doors are necessary to preserve Islam as a viable way of life in America. Some people reading this piece will feel threatened by some of these ideas. I don’t think anyone should be. These ‘proper doors’ are our goals, our objectives, they are there so that we can compete in the marketplace of lifestyle options with halal living. There will be those who oppose these ideas, who are stuck in the past and who have no clue about what to do with the communities they are responsible for. Remember ‘old prisoners have to be coaxed out of their cells’. As we begin to stand on our own and take the survival of our communities into our own hands, the nay-sayers will be convinced only by our successes. These 'proper doors' are the doors to our future. And that future begins today !
We ask Allah to guide us, not to our past but to our future ! AMEEN