by Dr. Aminah Beverly (McCloud) Al-Deen
A reflection on the 24th juz’ (39:32-41:46) is timely for the African American Muslim community in several ways. This juz’ continues the conversation of juz’ 23 which, near its end, provides a parable of a man with one master and a man with many quarreling masters and asks if the two are equal in likeness. The man whose sole Master is Allah is surely not like the one with many quarreling masters. The one with many masters is always confused as the masters may represent many different and contradictory approaches to any one issue and they never lead to the path that God sets forth. Juz’ 24 extends the conversation and crystallizes it by asking us to reflect and consider what we invoke instead of God? This juz’ is a reminder that the greatest wrong is the lie against God. This juz’ also reminds us that even in this state, we may be of absolved by God, yet the very act of absolution can only come from God.
Those who are invested in lies against God often use fear and intimidation. This juz’ presents a framework for remembrance through a series of questions: Is not Allah, the possessor of vengeance? Who created the heavens and the earth? If this is so, then why call on others beside or in place of God? The juz’ then continues with an extensive coverage of Allah’s omnipotence, all the while questioning our potential and real choices of other than God to guide our affairs.
African Americans are a “tribal hybrid” people (meaning coming from many tribes) who have been plagued by many who have claimed to be masters of their fate. We have had slave masters quarreling with abolitionists and both quarreled with government leaders over the bodies and minds of African Americans. Some of us have followed leaders who claim to have answers in secular education or in vocational education or even in the simple notion of banding together to “do for self” in order to achieve intellectual and social upliftment. W.E.B. Du Bois thought that the best and brightest should be educated in western secular knowledge and then they would be able to decide the best path for African Americans while Booker T. Washington thought that Blacks should pursue the vocational arts to both do for self and prove their worth as citizens. The ensuing quarrels over which thought should prevail and which was the most worthy did not invoke any of God’s guidance and thus, both were only modestly successful in improving the lives of the Black community. Furthermore, many tended to extol the leader rather than the message, which, if righteous, is from Allah and none of these camps, in all of their quarrels, unveiled a path to God consciousness.
Emerging out of this community, African American Muslims today are tainted by this history even as they seek to be guided by God. We remain vulnerable and thus, subject to those who claim divinity or those who possess the “right’ or “true” Islam. The journey from slavery to the present, from being Muslim to an ownership of Islam as a conscious rather than inherited choice, is a journey that must be protected from those whose aim is to subvert it. In Islam there is individual responsibility and accountability for seeking and coming to know the right guidance. We must strive in the face of lies against God and fight the lies about the value of our lives in America.
African American Muslims must not be fooled by the rhetoric of power or its material presentation as ‘good living’ as it is God who is the Creator and the Determiner of real success. We must begin always anew to speak the truth about who is the arbiter of our affairs such that we cause ourselves to reflect and others to listen. We cannot afford to even keep acquaintances with the enemies of Islam nor can we afford the current rhetoric that all humans are equal. We have criteria for right and wrong, good and bad. All humans and their acts are not equal and God says so. The doers of good are not equal to the evil doers. Those who cover the truth are not equal to those who uphold the truth. The blind are not equal to the seeing. Our tumultuous history as African Americans speaks to an inherent knowledge of a higher authority and now with our conscious awareness of God’s authority we must not back away from the truth that brings. Let us consider just a current events and how we can see through our understanding.
We have witnessed a particularly vulgar campaign run by one of the major political parties. The vulgarity is not new to the African American community. In the past, African Americans have been held up as violent people and at the center of what is wrong in America that must be quelled. We know that that is a lie. This time using coded words and phrases – make America great again – are being used to name sought after outcomes. Coded words and phrases often cover the truth. But we know the truth as turning the clock back on the meager strides in race relations, affirmative action, and other progressive moves turns the clock back to an America where Black lives do not matter at all. Coded language also uses fear, such as a fear of a Muslim invasion, to intimidate Muslims into hiding their Muslimness.
Our lens says that we know the truth and that we must speak against lies from a rational framework. Who was the creator of the heavens and the earth? Can you do what God does? If not, why assert it. Ask questions, challenge those ‘hooded’ statements. Even if some Muslims want to join the side of wrong to get along, we cannot afford the eternal consequences of that move. We must be concerned with getting along with God not those in the wrong.
Near the end of juz’ 23, Allah says that the parable is a teaching tool and the Qur’ān provides many for our guidance. We cannot afford to be so comfortable with all of our conveniences that we do not pay attention to the battle between the truth and that, which seeks to cover or reject the truth that is always present. We must always use such parables as strategies of protection for our souls. Juz’ 24 concludes with a parable. It recounts the story of Mūsā who struggled in rhetoric and deed with a Pharaoh who believed he owned the world. Mūsā did not back down since he followed the guidance and trusted that he would be victorious. Like Musa, we must follow the guidance and not back down from the truth.
Dr. Aminah Beverly (McCloud) Al-Deen is professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at DePaul University. In 2006 she has founded the nation’s only undergraduate baccalaureate program in Islamic World Studies. She is the former Editor in Chief of the Journal of Islamic Law & Culture. She is currently editing The Handbook on African American Islam for Oxford University Press and working on History of Arab Americans: Exploring Diverse Roots for Greenwood Press. Her book publications include: African American Islam, Questions of Faith, Transnational Muslims in America, Introduction to Islam in the 21st Century, Global Muslims and Muslim Ethics in the 21st Century.
Dr. McCloud is a Fulbright Scholar, an advisory board member of the Institute for Social and Policy Understanding, board member of The American Islamic College, executive board member of IMAN (Inner City Muslim Action Network) and the American editor for the Muslim Minorities in the West Series for Brill Publishers.