Mosque opposition in Sterling Heights is about more than location

On September 10th, there’s a scheduled planning commission hearing regarding a proposed mosque off of 15 Mile Rd and Ryan Rd in Sterling Heights, Michigan.  The proposed mosque has been met with opposition in three different city government meetings within the past month.  Much of the opposition has come from the Chaldean community, a Semitic people who are Christians that originate from Iraq. Even the mayor voiced his opposition to the mosque project in part to side with the Chaldean community though he backtracked from this position in a media story yesterday.

In 2011 in Farmington Hills, some within the Chaldean community teamed up with members of the Orthodox Jewish community to oppose the Islamic Cultural Association’s (ICA) plan to establish a community center with a prayer area.  During the same year, members of the Chaldean community launched vitriolic opposition against the American Muslim Diversity Association (AMDA) which sought to establish the first mosque in Sterling Heights.  After much contention, the mosque was eventually approved.

As we stood to defend ICA and AMDA, we did not focus on the fact that much of the anti-Muslim bigotry projected at these projects was coming from within the Chaldean community.  Between regular anti-Muslim comments on AM talk radio on almost a daily basisthe Aramaic Broadcasting Network (ABN) based in Walled Lake giving platforms to the nation’s most notorious anti-Muslim bigots, and a series of mosque oppositions, it is clear that there is a serious problem of Islamophobia within the Chaldean community in Michigan.

I empathize with the suffering of Chaldeans in Iraq.  Unlike Sunnis and Shi’is, Chaldeans and Assyrians had no armed militias to protect them after the misguided invasion of Iraq by American and British troops in 2003. Christians were forced from their homes, churches were attacked and clergy were murdered. The once vibrant community of Christians in Iraq has now become almost extinct.

Sterling Heights is in Michigan, however, not Iraq.

Putting Iraq into context, the vast majority of people murdered in Iraq by Al-Qaeda and Daesh have been Muslims.  The majority of houses of worship that continue to be attacked are mosques.  The religious leaders who continue to be killed are overwhelmingly Muslims.

But again, Michigan is not Iraq.

Michigan Muslims are not responsible for the burning churches and killing Chaldeans.  In fact, the majority of Muslims in Michigan and America were opposed to the immoral invasion of Iraq which opened up the hell that caused the large uprooting of Chaldeans to Michigan after 2003.  What is also ironic is that even when it came to Chaldeans opposing AMDA and their invoking of what took place in Iraq, the congregants of AMDA are majority Bengali-Americans, their resident imam is from Pakistani heritage, and I preach there as well, an African-American veteran of the US Navy.  The opposition launched against AMDA was clearly illogical.

Much of the Islamophobia coming from Chaldeans in Michigan is counter-transference in my estimation.  Those who have come here from Iraq suffered deep trauma, and that is being transferred to Michigan Muslims who are not responsible for that trauma.  When persons go through severe trauma, there is a much higher risk that they become abusers if that pain has not been dealt with therapy.  I believe that many Chaldeans migrated to Southeastern Michigan which has a large Muslim population and that trauma was not dealt with robustly enough during their resettlement.  I’m not making excuses for the Islamophobia in their community but am looking at one of the causes that it may be addressed if there is to be path forward after September 10th.

Bigotry is wrong no matter who it is projected at.  In this era in which we are having a national discussion on race relations and legacy of white supremacy, it saddens me to see so many Chaldeans, a people of color, who are using their religious privilege in America to marginalize another community of color.

My observations on race discussion at Muslim Congress

A little over a week ago at the Muslim Congress conference in Atlanta, I helped facilitate an impromptu discussion that primarily focused on race relations in the American Muslim community.  The conversation came about due to a group of concerned sisters who wanted “real talk” with shuyookh about the epidemic of racism in the community and how it expresses itself subtly and overtly. I was then appointed to lead the conversation by a leader within Muslim Congress, Mawlana Baig.

Before going into detail about what was discussed, knowing the demographics of Muslim Congress conference participants is important. The leadership and conference participants were majority South Asian.  Conference participants also included Iranian Americans, African Americans, Arab Americans and White Americans.  Though there were a few speakers such as myself who do not follow madhhab Ja’fari, the leadership and the overwhelmingly majority of conference participants follow the Ja’fari school of thought.

Going backto the actual discussion which was not on the official program and took place from midnight to 2 a.m. with my facilitation and in the presence of Shaykh Usama Abdul Ghani and Shaykh Hamza Sodagar, the following issues related to implicit and explicit ethnocentricity and racism were discussed:

Implicit:

  • Most masajid feel more like cultural centers than Islamic centers. The dominant cultural groups of boards and congregants superimpose their cultural standards and traditions in the centers, which makes those who are not from those groups feel alienated.  An example given was of an Islamic center that started off with a diverse group of people when it was small.  As it expanded and the majority of the congregation became Iranian American, speeches transitioned into majority Farsi.  A South Asian brother who brought up this specific issue says that he no longer feels welcome there. Similar sentiments were expressed by other people that experienced the same at other locations.
  • Programsand speeches which are focused on overseas matters without balancing domestic concerns. An example of this is that a South Asian sister brought up how shuyookh are quick to talk about “Takfiris” and “Wahhabis” abroad yet don’t allow platforms to discuss oppression that takes place in America such as police brutality and systemic racism.
  • Sisters moving in the prayer lines away from other sisters to pray next to someone from their own ethnic group.

Explicit:

  • Issues relating to marriage were the most discussed.
  1. A Pakistani American sister spoke about how she was harassed by family members here and abroad for two years for introducing her Pakistani American friend to a Black American Muslim brother. The sister herself was engaged to a Pakistani American man.  She was accused of violating the hadeeth of loving for your sister what you love for yourself because she was engaged to a Pakistani man yet introduced her friend to a black man who was beneath the standards that she chose for herself.
  2. A sister who is an immigrant from India married a brother who is originally from the Caribbean. She continues to be harassed by her family.  After having children, family members had the audacity to ask her if her children were scared of their own father because “he’s so black.”  Even statements about lack of pure blood have been made.
  3. A Southeast Asian sister’s marriage was broken up by in-laws because she was a different culture; their comments about her not being from them were repetitive and very specific. Comments were made about her skin color not being light enough in conjunction.
  • Stories were also shared of Black Muslim children being harassed at schools because of their blackness and not being seen as Muslim enough.
  • An Indian American brother spoke about how he was on the executive board of a masjid, and when he suggested to add an African American brother who was a “professional” to the board, he was rebuked. He was later forced off of the board for not understanding that the center was for Desis.

These issues that were discussed continue to be experienced by Muslims across America irrespective of schools of thought.  The specific examples in cases 1b and 3 are incredibly gross, and I’ve heard and even experienced my share of overt racism in the American Muslim community.

The bottom line is that racism among Muslims must be discussed openly, and leadership of masajid and Islamic organizations have to be challenged to systematically address these issues.  Since many of the leaders themselves are ill equipped or undereducated on addressing the complexity of race in America in general, which is informed by white supremacy, as well as the specific issue of implicit bias that exists everywhere in the American Muslim community, the challenge becomes getting leaders not only to acknowledge the broader issues but for them to be humble to be trained in this discourse and to allow persons who are not wearing turbans and thawbs to have trained facilitators lead these discussions.  To be more specific, Muslim women who are trained in this subject should be used as well; sexism was also a topic that was touched on in our discussion related to racism.

Just for the sake of clarity, I recently finished a 9 month fellowship through Wayne State University’s Law School on racial equity in which I was trained on how to facilitate such conversations besides my Islamic studies that relate to this issue.

Leadership has to acknowledge and be willing to change, starting with themselves on this issue.  Trainings and discussions need to take place.  Deep relationships and socialization has to take place as well outside of superficial contact on Jumu’ah Day and/or at Islamic conferences.

The struggle continues.

Rebel Flags in Michigan and White Supremacy

A colleague of mine who is a Native American sent me this yesterday.

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Obviously after the national stories about removing the Confederate Flag in the wake of the Charlestown terror attack, capitalism dictates that the demand for the rebel flag has increased which means there is money to be made.

Meanwhile at the camp ground close to Chelsea, Michigan, a white man just put up a flag at his trailer.

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The neighboring trailer is resided in by an African American family.  I was informed that upon the raising of the flag that the African American family left the camp.

Mind you that in the whole discussion about the Confederate Flag and southern heritage, Michigan was not part of the Confederacy.  Moreover a significantly large percentage of white Michigan’s residents trace their lineage back to immigrants from Germany, Netherlands, Poland and other European lands who were not residing in the States at the time of the Civil War.  Thus they cannot even invoke the whole southern pride nonsense.

People are flying this flag and wearing this symbol as an expression of white supremacy.

If you lacked doubt about the meaning of this flag and the power of intimidation that it has, I hope that you get it now.

Rebellion in Early Islamic History & Recent Protests in Baltimore

I’ve been reflecting on the unrest that took place not long ago in Baltimore in which a big to do was made about a CVS being burned down.  Many in the American Muslim community even picked up the meme of focusing more on property damage than the police homicide of Freddie Gray.  Upon reflection of the burning of the CVS, I thought several times about an event in early Islamic history related to the burning of buildings as a form of protest.  I’m sure that some people will be offended by the comparison that I’m about to make.  The comparison is not to give proportionately nor is it an endorsement of CVS being set ablaze.  It is, however, an acknowledgment of the drastic measures that people can be made to feel compelled to implement when oppression is systematic and widespread.

In the early Islamic history, there is no doubt that the most oppressed family was the Alawiyyeen, meaning the family Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (KW) and his offspring.  Most of his sons, grandsons and subsequent generations were imprisoned and/or martyred through stabbings, beheadings and poisonings.  Some of their names are Al-Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA), Al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA), Zayd bin Ali bin Al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA),  An-Nafs Az-Zakiyyah Muhammad bin Abdillah bin Al-Hasan bin Al-Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA) and Musa Al-Kathim bin Ja’far bin Muhammad bin Ali bin Al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA).  The suppression and crimes against them started under the government of Bani Umayyah and continued under the government of Bani Abbas.

Within this context, Abdullah “Al-Ma’mun” bin Harun Al-Abbasi was the ruler of the Muslims.  He beheaded his own brother, in fact, to ascend to the throne, which illustrates how vile the political leadership of Muslims had become.  Though outwardly appearing to give felicity to Ali Ar-Rida bin Musa Al-Kathim (SA), who was from the Alawiyyeen, he too was involved in oppressing them as well. Moreover under Bani  Abbasi, there was the oppression of Zanji people meaning black Muslims in Iraq, which also led to the famous Zanji rebellion.  This is the contextually era of many uprisings including the extreme actions of a man by the name of Zayd An-Nar (RH).

According to Abu Nasr Al-Bukhari, As-Samarqandi, Fakhruddin Ar-Razi and others, Zayd An-Nar was the brother of Ali Ar-Rida bin Musa Al-Kathim.  Zayd was given the title An-Nar, meaning The Fire, because while in Iraq during the rule of “Al-Ma’mun,” he rebelled against Abbasi authority in Basrah, which later included burning down the homes of Bani Abbas and their immediate supporters.  Zayd was subsequently imprisoned.

My point of bringing Zayd An-Nar into the discussion of Baltimore is that systematic oppression will lead to rebellion including destruction of property owned by those who are seen as being active participants or complicit in oppression.  Sometimes, extreme measures are taken by the marginalized to amplify their grievances with those who hold positional power.  Definitely the numerous rebellions by the Alawiyyeen starting with Al-Husayn bin Ali and Zayd bin Ali bin Al-Husayn are not directly like the event which we saw in Baltimore.  It is to say, however, that when the majority of society turns a blind eye to systematic oppression, there is guaranteed to be responses that appear extreme and “criminal.”  Extreme circumstances eventually breed extreme responses.  This is evident in the story of Zayd An-Nar.

Musa Al-Jawn: Pious & Knowledgeable Revolutionary

Musa  Al-Jawn (RA) was a transmitter of Islamic knowledge and a mujahid in the early generations of the Ummah.

Musa  Al-Jawn was a Hashimite and the son of Imam Abdullah bin Al-Hasan bin Al-Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib (AS).  He was described as having black/aswad skin.

Regarding his character, Abdullah bin Ahmad bin Hanbal stated that Musa Al-Jawn was a righteous man.  Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi and Adh-Dhahabi stated that Yahya bin Ma’in viewed him as trustworthy pertaining to his narrations of ahadith.

Ibn Khaldun states that Musa Al-Jawn participated with his brother Imam An-Nafs Az-Zakiyyah Muhammad bin Abdillah (AS) in an uprising against the first Abbasi khalifah Abu Ja’far Al-Mansur.  It is also narrated that by Al-Bayhaqi that he was imprisoned, beaten and martyred in prison in the uprising; An-Nafs Az-Zakiyyah was also martyred in the process.  Malik bin Anas (RA) supported the uprising of An-Nafs Zakiyyah as well as a later one by his brother Imam Ibrahim bin Abdillah (AS), which led to Imam Ibrahim being martyred like his brothers; Malik was subsequently imprisoned and beaten for his support of the Hashimites.

Shaykh Abdul-Qadir Al-Jilani (RH), Hanbali jurist and father of the Al-Qadiriyyah order, has Musa Al-Jawn in his family tree.

Qanbar: Emancipation to Martyrdom

One of the early Muslims from the righteous followers of the Sunnah was Qanbar (RA).

Qanbar was a young black male, who was freed from slavery by Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (KW). Qanbar is written about in several books relating to his person to narrations with him mentioned them; some of those who mentioned him are Abdur-Razzaq As-San’ani, Abu Ya’la Al-Musuli, At-Tusi, Al-Mizzi and ibn Hajr Al-Asqalani. Moreover, he is referenced as being one of the closest followers of Imam Ali (KW) during his government. He was in Al-Kufah, Iraq during the khilafah of Imam Ali (KW) when Imam Ali (KW) was martyred.

Qanbar was a man who stuck closely to the truth and spoke out against oppression. Due to his noncompliance with the oppression of Bani Umayyah after the martyrdom of Imam Al-Husayn (AS), Qanbar was martyred by the brute governor of Iraq named Al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf, a man who was also responsible for the martyrdom of the great black tabi’i named Sa’id bin Jubayr (RH).

Mamtur Al-Aswad: Student of the Companions in Bilad Ash-Sham

Mamtur Al-Aswad was from the 2nd generation or Tabi’in. He was also referred to as Abu Salam Al-Habashi (the Abyssinian) even though his roots are from the Himyar tribe in Yemen. In earlier generations, sometimes Arabs with light skin would be referred to anyone with darker skin as Habashi as Abu Salam was described. Perhaps Abu Salam contained maternal Habashi roots given that Yemen had been occupied by Abyssinians for years prior to the birth of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS).

Abu Salam was a student of learned companions of the Prophet (SAWS) including ‘Ubada bin As-Samit (RA), who was also black. He resided in Bilad Ash-Sham (Greater Syria) and relayed ahadith that he learned.

During the khilafah of Bani Umayyah under Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan, Muslims began to return back to tribal attachments in a strong way in which non-Arabs were seen as needing to be attached to an Arab tribe. In Tadhhib Al-Kamal by Al-Mizzi, it is stated that Mu’awiyah confronted the grandson of Abu Salam in Damascus, who was black in appearance, asking him who was his grandfather. He replied that it was Mamtur meaning Abu Salam. Mu’awiyah then asked him to who he was attached as if he was not an Arab. He then got angry with Mu’awiyah because he was an Arab.