Of Silence, Shuyūkh, and Black Suffering – Sapelo Square
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Of Silence, Shuyūkh, and Black Suffering

By Yūsuf ‘Abdul-Jāmi’ (Jimmie Jones)


“Verily, tyrannical rulers will come after me and whoever affirms their lies and supports their oppression has nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with him, and he will not drink with me at the fountain in Paradise. Whoever does not affirm their lies and does not support their oppression is part of me and I am part of him, and he will drink with me at the fountain in Paradise.” (Jāmi’ al-Tirmidhī)

“It does not matter. Let a man help his brother whether he is wrong or being wronged. If he is oppressing others, then stop him for that is helping him. If he is being oppressed, then help him.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī & Muslim)

– The Blessed Messenger of Allāh ﷺ

I am accustomed to seeking solace from scenes of black death and dying in the depths of dhikr where my heart has hidden what hope I have left that our souls can be healed. I am accustomed to it because prayer and remembrance have been the refuge of my forefathers and foremothers ever since they first tasted and then toiled on the Ames plantation in southwestern Tennessee. My weary heart was introduced to the Islamic forms of remembrance through the guidance of shuyūkh and scholars at some of the most beautiful and beneficial spiritual retreats I’ve ever attended. Some of these shuyūkh, and their students, have demonstrated a sincerity about understanding the realities of racism that I wished was more widely shared.

But this time my hands are wet with tears and the prayer beads slip past my fingers too easily onto the floor. And as I strain to hear the guidance that I’m certain will come from the descendants of saints, scholars and servants of the sacred traditions of Sunni, Shia and Sufi, silence returns to sit besides me and smile at my pain. As black bodies struck the streets, a familiar silence strikes me again and again. I recognize it as the same silence that emanated from the majority of non-black Muslims when black people, who were experiencing the harshness of injustice, called out for solidarity and support.

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Among the words I do hear, mostly from their followers, students and admirers, are admonitions to ignore the suffering on the streets, the torrents of tears and the terrorism of tyrants that claims black innocents. Condescending caution, clothed in spiritual speech, seeks to calm me lest my anger at justice denied cost me both peace and paradise. I hear that I should have more patience and less anger. I hear that we aren’t worthy of solidarity because we respond too violently, too emotionally to oppression. I hear that we don’t have any leaders worth following and that if we would only be more like Bilal, more like “post-Hajj” Malcolm, more like the Martin that dreamed and less like the Martin that marched. I hear that as Black Muslims we should turn our efforts towards being less black and more Muslim, as if Muhammadan resemblance and blackness were mutually exclusive.

If certain inheritors of the Prophets have not inherited the urgency of the Prophetic injunction to prioritize the pain of the oppressed and aid their struggle against the slaughter in our streets, what spiritual nourishment will starving souls find? If more shuyūkh, like the perceptive and patient souls I’ve personally encountered, aren’t willing to fully engage black suffering and our legacy of a liberating black spirituality, on their own terms and as divine sustenance for the sons and daughters of slaves, how will minds and hearts ever be unshackled?

Prayer beads don’t stop bullets and the mercies of mawlids don’t suffice to protect innocents from manifest malevolence. Dhikr can and should be done while, not instead of, defending the dignity of the disenfranchised. 3248045542_5fdcb5d041_bAs Black American Muslims come into increasing contact with traditions of taṣawwuf in times of such urgent turmoil, these traditions must offer forms of remembrance that respect the balance between sanctity and struggle, represented to varying degrees of effectiveness by the lives of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Warith Deen Muhammad, Ahmadou Bamba, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.

Prophetic resemblance within the African-American spiritual context is most often predicated on how effectively this synergy is maintained during our struggle for existence against all forms of extermination. Our rituals of remembrance include a tradition of scholarship, seeking the peace and blessings of Allāh upon our beloved Prophet ﷺ, and continuing the best traditions of our righteous ancestors’ sacred struggle.

Unless sacred spaces offer solidarity and sanctuary, not just a sanctity more suited to sleepwalking past beaten bodies than struggle, what refuge from slaughter can former slaves find from terror and trauma? When some shuyūkh and their students silence the oppressed by suggesting that they occupy themselves with sanctification while soldiers of post-racial slavery slam their bodies to the streets with bullets and bombs, where are we to search for saints?

Calling for the oppressed to take up the inner jihād of Prophetic remembrance while abandoning them in their struggle for justice, which is the essence of Prophetic resemblance, is a betrayal of both. Shaming those who are suffering by asserting that their sins are the reason they are being slaughtered gives moral sanctuary to the supremacist footsoldiers of shirk.

Insisting on silent suffering as a requisite for salvation, on supplication as a substitute for struggle and demanding deference to dogma or to Muhammadan descendants, whose silence is indicative of both disengagement and distance from the black and Muslim experience, as conditions of Divine deliverance from oppression is to misrepresent the meaning of mercy.

May Allāh ﷻ preserve His saints, scholar-warriors, steadfast servants, and the legacy of His Prophets, peace be upon them all. And May He strengthen, encourage and deliver the oppressed and persecuted among his servants from every affliction and injustice into His mercy and everlasting peace.

“O Allāh, make me better than what they think of me, and forgive me for what they do not know about me, and do not take me to account for what they say about me (Allāhumma-ja’alnī khayran mimā yaẓunūn wa-ghfir lī mā lā ya’lamūn wa lā tu’ākhidhnī bimā yaqūlūn).” —Abū Bakr aṣ-Ṣiddīq


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Yūsuf ‘Abdul-Jāmi’ (Jimmie Jones) was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. He is currently serving on the board of the Muslim Wellness Foundation to reduce stigma associated with mental illness, addiction and trauma in the American Muslim community. As a Muslim, an African American and a father with ADD, he engages in advocacy efforts around mental health, race, culture and spirituality. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife, an educator and a doula, and their three children.

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  • As Salaam Alaikum, this article made my heart jump for joy, because this brother articulated EVERYTHING I’ve been thinking, experiencing,and trying to say, may ALLAH continue to bless this brother with success

  • I sincerely disagree with this article on two fronts and a few quotes from it will help me explain why. Not that much of Arab and Indo-Pakistani culture isn’t full of Shirk but our Afro-American is especially liberal and full of Roman/Western decadence and shirk.

    “I hear that as Black Muslims we should turn our efforts towards being less black and more Muslim, as if Muhammadan resemblance and blackness were mutually exclusive.”

    You blatantly and unnecessarily mixed culture with color in this quote. The great majority of the original Muslim Arabs were what we would call black today, black like many black Africans. So please don’t confuse the issues.

    “Shaming those who are suffering by asserting that their sins are the reason they are being slaughtered gives moral sanctuary to the supremacist footsoldiers of shirk.”

    But our suffering IS because of our sins. Allah makes that clear as the case for ALL people. And it is clear as day on all accounts. We are NOT the same people of the fifties and sixties. Even then we had some key issues. The first issue is that we love the dominant race that we claim oppresses us and really just want to be like them in all their perceived glory and power. In this day and age I would call what White America does to Black America, Native America and Tan America sinful disdain and apathy, but because of the very nature power and advantage, even psychological, you cannot ask or convince your enemy to be fairer to you. And you can’t scream, stomp, harass and harangue them about it. European American society, White European derived society and all human societies to an extant are based on individual, tribal and ethnic competition. Solidarity is the first thing that is needed. Why is there no real black solidarity, and no where near what existed in the 50’s and 60’s, because we accept the same disdainful, overly materialistic, liberal and Satanic values that plague White America. We basically want the right to do what they do and to be seen as they are. This is nonsense, and we get what we deserve. We also get what we deserve when our youth engage in a rebel culture that violates and flies in the face of any sense of respectability, decency and civilization. And Muslim Afro-American youth are the most entrenched in this low life culture. It’ s not about rebelling, it’s about rising and improving ourselves despite adversity, here or elsewhere.

    “I hear that I should have more patience and less anger. I hear that we aren’t worthy of solidarity because we respond too violently, too emotionally to oppression. ”

    I see the youth every day. Afro-American and urban youth of color are generally ‘full of it.” They act like pure rebels and low-lives and aspire to be feared and then cry and whine when the authorities have to deal with them as low lives, rebels and people who inspire fear. We as Muslims DO need to be more patient and less angry. We as Afro-Americans DO respond to violently and too emotionally to adversity and in the face of the enemy. That DOES give the enemy ammunition. They will use propaganda against us anyway, but why should we be confirming to them that we are honorless and savage people. To youth these days ‘savage’ is a virtue. Get it? We ARE also at fault and no foreign community who comes from a society with a sense of decency and honor will take up the cause of a rebellious, emotional, unruly and morally decadent people. When we focus on changing our way and living in more conservative and honorable ways things WILL change for us.

  • السلام عليكم
    الحمد لله
    Thank you for the insightful words.
    It is going to be important for we as a people to place ourselves on the map, and not be dependent on others to recognize us.
    We have to continue to doing the work of building our community, and providing the necessary resources to address the Trumatic experiences of our community members.
    It starts with prayer, and we have to see prayer as fuel that propels us into action.
    الله أعلم

  • I stand with you my brother. I am a south asian muslim lady who was at RIS and I want to speak up so you know you’re not alone in feeling dismayed. I love my black muslim brothers and sisters. I owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for the black muslim community has been in the past, and is currently and will continue to be inshallah some of the foremost spiritual giants and leaders of our community; the bravest ones in speaking up against injustice. Black muslims have always conducted themselves with such dignity and strength even when everyone sought to rob them of their dignity. We as an ummah need you and your leadership badly and I stand with you and I will follow you. You are the true heroes and scholars in our community.

  • As Salam alaikum warahmatu Allah wabarakatum malyun mara Akhy.

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