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Author Topic: Islamic Groups: The Fracturing of Islam in North America  (Read 1292 times)
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« on: Apr 11, 2009 08:03 PM »

Islamic Groups: The Fracturing of Islam in North America

A number of years ago while I was studying in Damascus, I applied for a deen intensive program that was to be held in Makkah/Madinah. I was tipped off by a friend in a high place that registration would be opening within the next day or so. So before and after classes I went to the internet cafe (there wasn’t any internet at home in Syria at the time) and checked online. The next day after school, the application was up and I spent an hour or two, or three filling it out and even went home and wrote some more stuff out on my flash drive before going back to the cafe to submit it.

I added some things I had pre-written which included an ‘autobiography’ and ‘thoughts on Islam’ and some longer essays I had written before. The application was long and thorough and I spent time filling everything out carefully and really tried to add any Islamic activities, courses, study abroad, classes, learning, shaykhs, references, organizations, everything I could think of that could help me get in. I would say I submitted it at about 5 or 6 AM US time after registration had opened at 12 AM. Over the next few weeks the program and registration was advertised and I heard from many friends who applied as well.

About 2 weeks after I submitted the application I received a polite email that I was rejected, but no reason or explanation. D’oh! You could imagine my consternation. What did I do wrong? Was I too old? Was I too young? Did I not study with shaykhs they liked? But I had studied with some of them! Did I not have any Islamic experience or did I have too much? Was I not active enough or too active? I just didn’t get it. Especially when a number of people I knew and even people in my own community were accepted months after. And I mean MONTHS! Later, a few people (again in those high places) told me that I didn’t know the ‘right’ people and I hadn’t been to the ‘right’ programs.

Last year when I attended a wedding I met a sister who was very friendly and we chatted about various Islamic activities going on in her area. I then mentioned a shaykh that I studied with and her reaction was absolutely priceless. “Him! Oh we don’t do that, we’re ____” After that, cold shoulder, she just visibly ignored us the rest of the 3 days of wedding activities. I was shocked, and am kind of still shocked that any debates over shaykhs or groups would come down to such a level where it influences personal interactions.

Over the last few years we have seen a number of organizations established by various shaykhs and groups. We have Zaytuna, Al-Maghrib, Sunnipath, Aalim, ZamZam, Nawawi, MAS, SeekersGuidance, Fawakeh, Zawiyah, Bayinnah, Sunniforum, Texasdawah, Mecca, Al Madina, etc. etc. etc. Their purpose was and is noble. They want to organize and teach Islam. I don’t discount the good work they have done and how they have changed and revitalized the knowledge scene in North America. I also don’t begrudge the formulation or ‘professionalization’ if you will of these organizations because I do believe Muslims should start paying their scholars and for knowledge in order for these to develop. But what I’m talking about are the side effects of these organizations. At times, it’s just unbelievable.

The amount of vitriolic debate across Islamic forums, blogs, in speeches, in communities is appalling. This shaykh said this and that one said this in response. This organization did this and that one did that. Oh I’m a part of thisgroup, I don’t go to thatgroup. I mean, it gets much uglier than that with words like “kaffir” and “aqeedah” and “islam” and “truth” thrown around, along with specific quotes and incidents. Some shaykhs advocate not attending other’s lectures and classes “in case they get messed up by them”. Some downright declare other teachers/teachings to be heretical. A shaykh who decides to teach at another camp (ie Suhaib Webb) is immediately declared to be a traitor. If you attend a certain group’s classes and courses, you are part of that crowd and enjoy it’s exclusive benefits like getting into certain exclusive programs or forum or mailing list. If you don’t, you’re locked out.

At one point I believed that all the debating and fighting was perpetuated by ignorant, zealous students only, but I know now that’s not true. Each of these organizations has their own agenda and “aqeedah” so to speak and by that virtue even its leadership is involved in perpetuating this fracturing of Islam in North America.

They certainly have done nothing to stop it. I don’t know how you guys feel, but I’m truly just sickened by it all. Ten years ago, Farid Munir likened ISNA - as an umbrella organization, to a mall. In the mall there were a ton of stores and anyone could choose to go into any store. And Thank God it was like this, because the day ISNA decided which stores were right and wrong and which would be closed, God help us. Well here is that day. Each organization has now decided to open up their own store, has set up its own times of business and customers, what to sell and sent out its sales fliers to its exclusive customers. If you are one of those people that are part of the club you are quite happy I’m sure. But what is happening to the bigger picture, Islam & Muslims!! What about those people who don’t want to be part of your club? What about those people who do want to be? What about those who want to benefit but don’t want to join you?

If the groups could just go back to being ’simply ways to organize’ or if the leaders of these groups would actively try to teach and institute policies to eradicate exclusivity it would help. But what shaykh or group is going to say, ‘Go get your knowledge from anywhere, go to any program , we don’t mind’. The whole reason they were organized in the first place was to do things and teach things in the way they feel is important. But now in order for the group to survive, it must retain its supporters. The group by virtue of being a group, must inherently form mechanisms to perpetuate itself. Thus, the problem is so inherent that nothing short of dissolving all these organizations would actually solve it. But how can we then build institutions and organizations without groups? Physically, financially, organizationally we need them to progress.

The only alternative I see, is for us, we the people, who are part of these organizations, who attend these programs, who apply to them, is to protest. And by protest I mean to stop engaging in the politicking, the argumentation, the this-group-versus-that-group mentality, the my shaykh vs. your shaykh debate, and to advocate for transparency and non-exclusivity. Who makes up these organizations, who attends them? We do. We need to stop “being the problem we seek to change.” Let’s stop being exclusive and country club like and start standardizing some fairness policies. Let’s break the cult of personalities by seeking knowledge for the sake of seeking knowledge, not based on who teaches it or where. Why do we attend only certain programs? Who cares if this shaykh isn’t in your camp, can you not benefit from him? Why do we travel thousands of miles to go to something when there is that brother at the local corner mosque who has been teaching this subject for the last 10 years, when that local sister who knows Tajweed has no students? We need, sigh hate to say this in a recession Smiley, but what we need, is to start shopping freely at the mall again!

ps i just realized i’ll probably now be blackballed from every north american organization, but please just take this as naseeha for the future. check yo’self b4 u wreck yo’self as my students say.
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« Reply #1 on: Apr 11, 2009 08:41 PM »

Asalamualaikum wrt wb,

All praise be to Allah, Lord of the Universe.

May I add a few comments to your nice article?

1.)  Islam will never fracture, for it is the religion of truth revealed by Allah, who has taken it upon Himself to protect His religion, Allah says:  "We sent down the Dhikr and We are Protecting it."  Islam is the religion of Allah.  No one can ever harm it or fracture it or change it. 

2.)  The nature of people is that they differ in their inclinations and understandings, however there are broadlines that Islam laid down, within which difference is mercy, and outside of which is misguidance.

3.)  We must be sincere to Allah in seeking guidance, and not idolize individuals.  Imam Malik said, while pointing towards the grave of the Prophet pbuh, "We take and reject from all people, except the occupant of this grave."

4.)  We must have adab and respect for the Ulema, for they are the inheritors of the Prophets.  However, this does not mean we take their word over the Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh.

5.)  These broad lines are called:  The People of the Sunnah, they are the ones who fulfill the following conditions, which have been agreed upon by all rightly guided scholars of all time:

1- They accept the Quran is the main source of guidance for humanity.

2-They accept the Sunnah is the second main source of guidance, it explains, adds too, clarifies, and sometimes abrogates what is in the Quran. 

3-They do not place anyone's opinion above the opinion of the Prophet, pbuh.  Allah says, "Oh you who believe, do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet."

4-They are people of moderation, between the Jews and the Christians, between the Dunya and Akhira, between denying Destiny and relying solely upon it, between excessive worship and laxity, Allah says, "This Ummah of yours is a Middle nation (one of Justice, balance, moderation, etc.)" 

May Allah make us from them.

Inshallah you will be rewarded for your application to the religious program.  Your reward will be in accordance to your sincerity in seeking the beneficial knowledge.  Allah will reward according to our intentions, and what obstacles that come in our way, that is a test from Him.  May Allah grant you much beneficial knowledge and open the pathways for you to increase your knowledge, and use you to spread beneficial knowledge.

And Allah knows best. 

Be merciful to those on earth, and the One in the Heavens will be merciful to you.
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« Reply #2 on: Apr 12, 2009 07:50 AM »

Asalaamu Alaikum  bro

The amount of vitriolic debate across Islamic forums, blogs, in speeches, in communities is appalling

You know, I actually think we are very fortunate in the Madina in that we don’t have this level of vitriol.

I’m a member of another Islamic forum online and frankly I can’t believe the things that are said and the *way* they are said given that we are all Muslims.

Unfortunately this *group* mentality is something which has evolved over the years and I guess it gives an individual a sense of belonging and a sense of self worth from the attachment he/she has to his/her group.

That being said, I wish people would listen to the statements outlined below and wholeheartedly agree:

Who cares if this shaykh isn’t in your camp, can you not benefit from him?

We take and reject from all people, except the occupant of this grave."

I remember being told as a kid to be respectful when someone offered advice. If you agreed with what they said, you could benefit, inshaAllah, and if you disagreed you could simply choose to ignore it.

The real crime, however, would be to ignore something, from the outset, based on *who* was imparting the advice. That indeed would be foolhardy.

Say: "O ye my servants who believe! Fear your Lord, good is (the reward) for those who do good in this world. Spacious is God's earth! those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure!" [39:10]
« Reply #3 on: Apr 13, 2009 05:46 AM »

peace be upon you

This attempt of yours to bring sense to Muslims is commendable.

I will relate here something about the founder of Tableeghee Jamaat, although I am not very fond of the Tableeghee Jamaat. By their own admission the founder was not a particularly learned man, and the book followed by the Jamaat has serious lapses in Hadith, again admitted by the shaykh who wrote it.

The story goes that Maulana Ilyas, a disciple of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi, visited a place called Meewaat. He found both Muslims and Hindus in the area, but for all practical purposes they were indistinguishable from each other. Both worshipped idols, dressed the same, married by the same custom, etc. but those who called themselves Muslims were vehement in maintaning that they were different from the HIndus.

In what way are you different from the Hindus, asked Maulana Ilyas?

The claimant to Islam took him to his house where he had placed his idols, and told him: "The Hindus are unclean. They adorn their idols with cow dung and urine. Our idols are clean. We make them from clean mud or wheat flour.

Then he showed him his kitchen. Our stoves are plastered with clean mud; theirs are plastered with cow dung.

"Keep the difference", said Ilyas and came back thinking how to bring the Meewatis back to Islam.

Thus was the Tableeghee Jamaat born, and it has been instrumental in bringing many Muslims back to Islam.

It is unfortunate that over a period differences among groups become so entrenched that they start excommunicating each other. The Prophet (saw) told us of this splintering, but we must continue to fight against that tendency. That mutual excommunication is making the Ummah weak and subject to exploitation.

The four major schools of taqleed, and non-taqleed are ahlus-Sunnah wa al-Jamaah, and Shah Abdul Aziz also refused to pronounce takfeer on the shia.
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