State of the Union rings hollow without people power

Jan 29, 2014, 12:00 pm

Dawud Walid: State of the Union rings hollow without people power

Last night’s State of the Union address resonated with me on many levels. though much of it was not as ambitious as previous addresses. President Barack Obama’s talk of having a commitment to immigration reform and closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility this year, however, rang hollow.

In the beginning of President Obama’s first term, when the House and Senate were under Democratic control, he had the perfect opportunity to push immigration reform through. He didn’t.

Some say that he spent all of his political capital early on passing the stimulus package and health care reform, which is debatable. Given how divided Capitol Hill has become on issues as simple as extending unemployment insurance and keeping the government’s doors open, I don’t see how immigration reform will be passed this year, even though it’s in the best interests of our country and both the Republican and Democratic parties’ political viability.

Regarding Guantanamo, President Obama signed an executive order regarding its closure shortly after being sworn into his first term, yet it’s still open. The lack of political will even within Obama’s own Democratic Party to close it is a major part of this continued national embarrassment, which has violated the human rights of hundreds of detainees.

Continued speeches regarding immigration reform and closing Gitmo reflect more as a lack of leadership by the president and his own party, not simply Republican obstruction. Moreover, these two issues also reflect insufficient mobilization among political progressives who are not Latinos, Arab Americans and American Muslims due to other issues that have been given precedence or viewed as more important.

The State of the Union speech really reminds me that the power for true change is in the hands of the people. As long as there are more people calling up their congressmen and the White House, who want neither comprehensive immigration reform nor for Gitmo to be closed, there will be no movement, even if the majority of Americans want them.

Past the flowery speeches, we have to make those words ring true which President Obama spoke last night. Otherwise, we’ll hear them again and again as we’ve heard them for the past five years without much changing on the ground.

How ‘Don’t judge’ has taken a wrong turn among American Muslims

There’s been a trend in recent years in the American Muslim community of people invoking “Don’t judge” when they see fellow Muslims questioning certain speech and behaviors as being outside the Islamic bounds.  In my anecdotal observations, the major swath of those primarily invoking this phrase come from the “Unmosqued,” meaning those who have a connection to Islam without necessarily having an attachment to institutions based upon inadequacies within their structures and/or behaviors of their members.  While there is a tendency among too many Muslims to expect a monolithic understanding or practice of Islam, “Don’t judge” has also been used as a phrase to minimize certain matters that have been Divinely legislated in which there have always been consensus and as a means of paradoxically painting those who do not agree with their whims as being intolerant.

People are judges, but not the Ultimate Judge

“We judge with the outward while Allah is connected to non-apparent matters” – Prophet Muhammad (prayers & peace be upon him and his family).

We are not supposed to make judgments to assess persons’ human value, their intentions and their after-lives.  Allah (Mighty & Sublime) gave all humans intrinsic dignity upon their creation; thus, none should dehumanize others.  He (Mighty & Sublime) is also the All-Knowing who fully knows matters of the hearts, which are secrets between His servants and Him in which (wo)men can not totally ascertain.  People also don’t know the status of others’ after-lives, for they can’t even be 100% sure of their own status once being lowered into their own graves.

We, however, are to make individual judgments as a natural function of intellect in order to advance, in a healthy manner, our own individual selves, families, groups and society as a whole.  Likewise, we are to make judgments in order to keep ourselves safe from personal injury and that which causes harm to the common good.  All societies have judges to enforce the law when people step outside of the boundaries of what has been legislated by governments compromised of (wo)men.  These judges have criterion in which there are parameters that differentiate right from wrong.

Al-Qur’an, Prophetic Statements and Absolute Consensus of Early Muslim are Criterion

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are from the ingrates[Al-Qur’an 5:44]

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are from the wrongdoers – [Al-Qur’an 5:45]

And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are from the transgressors[Al-Qur’an 5:47]

The three ayaat stated above directly refer to the People of the Book but are also warnings for Muslims.  Those who decided to act upon their own whims while ignoring or covering up what Allah (Mighty & Sublime) revealed are referred to as “Al-Kaafireen,” “Al-Thaalimeen” and “Al-Faasiqeen.”  The word “Al-Kaafireen” or ingrates means those who covered the Divine truth given to them; therefore, they showed a lack of gratitude for that which was revealed to guide them towards success.  “Al-Thaalimeen” or wrong-doers means those who have committed wrong because they took matters out of their proper places in which they were ordained to be.  All three of these groups mentioned were those who professed belief in One Deity and had “religious” affiliations yet were spoken of in these terms.  In these are signs that we can go astray from the path by not judging matters by what was Divinely revealed.

It is not befitting for a believing man or believing woman that when Allah and His messenger decree a matter that they have an opinion about it, and whoever disobeys Allah and His messenger have clearly gone into manifest error[Al-Qur’an 33:36]

Oh you who believe! Obey Allah, obey the messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it back to Allah and the messenger if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and is the most excellent interpretation –

[Al-Qur’an 4:59]

Though there is much room for interpretation on some issues, there are specific matters that are not subject to reinterpretation of permissibility, which have been made clearly unlawful in Al-Qur’an, by the Prophet (prayers & peace be upon him and his family) and agreed upon by his pious family and descendants and righteous companions.  Those who believe in Al-Qur’an are obligated to obey the Prophet (prayers & peace be upon him and his family) on that which can be authenticated through sound transmission, which does not contradict Al-Qur’an.  Similarly, the absolute consensus of the early community of how specific matters were understood that agree with these two are confirmation.  It is only natural that the Muslims who recognize these authorities will base what is correct and incorrect within these parameters.


The Folly of Moral Relativism in Post-Modernity

“Don’t judge” is influenced by the post-modernist trend of moral relativism, meaning that individuals can claim that everyone has the right to individual “truths” and that these constitute a singular truth.  In other words, everyone can have independent “truths” and to negate others’ “truths” is being dogmatic and judgmental.  Hence, for those who state that anything that clouds judgment for non-medicinal purposes such as marijuana is forbidden according to Islam and should not be legalized, these are considered closed minded people.  For those who say that they are not in favor of same-sex marriage because Qawm Lut received the greatest punishment including the wife of Lut (AS), who was a monotheist that did not take issue with that sexual behavior and lifestyle, these people are incorrectly labeled as homophobes.  Thus, those who uphold the sacred, which does not jibe with particular worldviews based upon obtuse individualism’s right to define what “truths” should be accepted are deemed as being judgmental and intolerant people.   This postulation is complete nonsense, for even those who put forth such claims make judgments about those who don’t accept their worldviews.

One of the greatest challenges to American Muslims is the erosion of particular values due to many of us compromising Islamic mandates and seeking to be accepted by the status quo and/or coming under the influence of secular post-modernism.   Enjoining right and forbidding evil is a non-negotiable part of the Islamic faith, which is an individual obligation (fard ‘ayn) as well as a community obligation (fard kifaayah).  We are not to desist from our morals and ethics due to changing public opinion polls and the rise of intellectual currents that seek to eliminate the sacred from the public socio-political discourse.  We are to present an intellectual discourse based upon our text absent of hostility and harshness.   This should be non-negotiable for all of us.

Dawud Walid: Agema, Patterson fiascos summon need for GOP internal reform

JAN 22, 2014, 2:00 PM 

Dawud Walid: Agema, Patterson fiascos summon need for GOP internal reform

The recent fiascos pertaining to racist discourse from Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson highlight the need for the GOP to systematically encourage diversity and robustly eschew race politics as a top priority for its own survival.

Republican U.S. Representatives Candice Miller, Fred Upton and Justin Amash have called for Agema to resign his position in part to his most recent anti-Muslim comments.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville has been even more firm by saying that Agema should be kicked out. That Agema was elected to his post without major uproar within the GOP, given his controversial history as a state representative of making false claims that Dearborn is infested with “sleeper cells,” his introduction of anti-Islam legislation under the guise of an anti-foreign laws bill, his birtherism and other extremely divisive stances, however, just reflects how soft the GOP has been on bigotry.

Patterson, who also has a history of boorish and divisive rhetoric, has not received the condemnation that Agema has within the GOP for his latest offensive talk. Patterson, however, is just as big of a problem for the Republican Party as a solidifier of the frame that the GOP is the not the party for non-white folks.

Just in case you missed Patterson’s interview in the New Yorker Magazine, he’s quoted as saying:

What we are going to do is turn Detroit into an Indian Reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.

Given that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed “Our nation was born in genocide” as it relates to Native Americans, Patterson’s comments seem even more racist as we just celebrated MLK Day. Making reference to a majority population which is Black being herded like cattle with ethnic cleansing of Native Americans is one of the most outrageous comments that I’ve seen from an American politician in my lifetime. His words read more like a quote from the infamous 1960s-era Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Bull Connor than a 21st century politician in a northern metropolitan area.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s call for civility in his State of State address and his MLK Day message were nice, but don’t reflect real leadership that the GOP needs in this area. The top Republican in state government needs to call people out by name and make an unequivocal call that the GOP must have an honest internal conversation about the bias too many within it project. Anything less is just playing around and not giving serious attention to eradicating the voices of intolerance within the party.

Many of my colleagues and friends actually agree with aspects of the GOP platform. However, as long as the Republican Party appears to be weak on eradicating racism and discrimination against minorities in general, it will never get a sizable percentage of votes from those who I know.

Given shifting populations demographics, the GOP must change or slide into the realm of unelectability outside of small, White segregated districts in the near future.


INTRA-MUSLIM RACISM: Confronting ethnic slurs and racism among American Muslims



Intra-Muslim racism is an issue often swept under the rug in the American Muslim community. Some of its manifestations are overt while its varying expressions tend to be more subtle. In order for us to be the community, which Allah (swt) describes as “the best nation brought forth from humankind” [Qur’an 3:110], we must put forth the same, if not more, intellectual and social energy, in confronting intra-Muslim racism as we do when confronting Islamophobia.
A hurtful symptom of the disease of racism among us is seen in the derogatory terms that are used by many Muslims to describe people of various racial groups. From my observations it appears that Black Americans are the subjects of the majority of this name calling. It is not uncommon for Arabs from the Levant to refer to Blacks as abeed (slaves). In the South Asian community, Blacks or people with darker skin are sometimes referred to negatively as kallu (Black person). In the Somali community, it is also not uncommon to hear other Blacks being called jareer (nappy head) and adoon (slave). And even among some Nigerians and Ghanaians, there is widespread usage of the word akata (wild animal) to describe descendants of their former enslaved tribesmen who are Americans.

There should be zero tolerance for these offensive terms or other names that attempt to relegate any ethnic group to a perceived status of inferiority. To demean, ridicule and/or call people names which the subjected group finds offensive are clearly forbidden in Qur’an, “And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames.” [49:11] The point is not simply to refrain from using slurs but to not speak about fellow humans in a way that insults. 

An example of this relates to a well-known hadith pertaining to the companions Abu Dharr (ra) and Bilal (ra). As narrated by Al-Bukhari and others, Abu Dharr (ra), during a dispute, insulted Bilal (ra) by calling him “Son of a Black Woman.” This was meant to put Bilal (ra) down, as his Abyssinian mother was a slave, though Abu Dharr was, himself, a Black Arab, as described by At-Tabari, ibn Hajar and others. Prophet Muhammad (saw) then told Abu Dharr (ra), “You’re a man with some of the characteristics of the Era of Ignorance/Pre-Islam (Al-Jahiliyyah).” Abu Dharr (ra) then went to Bilal (ra), placed his face on the ground and offered for Bilal (ra) to step on his face to atone for his verbal offense.

Since the companions of the Prophet (s) had racist tendencies that needed purification, surely it should come as no surprise that our generation, which is far removed from the Prophet (s), needs spiritual purification and social remedies to counter the disease of racism. Simply saying Islam is against this illness is not sufficient. From the above example of the Prophet (s), the issue was confronted in public and attempts were made to restore justice to the offended. 

Irrespective of faith, Blacks tend to be viewed in society as the wretched people who are not as beautiful as those with lighter skin. Confronting our own weaknesses and admitting that our community also has shades of racism that are institutionalized are difficult admissions. This especially holds true when racism is perpetuated by “People of Color,” who have been discriminated against historically from colonialism, illegal occupation and post-911 America. While some might think such racism is benign, it is racism that has divided the American Muslim community. It is problematic because racism is rooted in positional power, which prevents certain groups from having a voice or equal deference and authority within a community. I have witnessed new reverts to Islam who have been run out of the Muslim community due to racism.

We need a holistic approach for dealing with this issue, which includes individual introspection, regular community and organizational discussions, as well as more purposeful and meaning social gatherings, which are multi-ethnic aside from big annual conferences. I am committed to being a part of such conversations and social events. I challenge all of my brothers and sisters to renew their commitment to ethnic equality within our community and to check those within our own cultural groups that are actively and passively perpetuating racism. This will require moral courage in the face of uncomfortable moments, but Islam calls us towards freedom, justice and equality that we may be the model community that Allah (swt) calls on us to be.

Dawud Walid is the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) and member of the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC) Imams’ Council. Walid previously served as an imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit, Michigan and the Bosnian American Islamic Center in Hamtramck, Michigan.