This reflection is part of Sapelo’s Ramadan 2020 series. To read other reflections in the series click here.
By Frederick Al-Deen
Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem
In this reflection on Juz’ 28 (58:1-66:12 Imam Frederick Al Deen asks a very important question and gives his answer.
Question: How does one create a successful Muslim community?
I found myself struggling to answer that question when I was elected the leader (Imam) of a community of African American Muslims. At the time, Imam WD Mohammed had recently been declared leader of the former Nation of Islam (NOI). In his new role, he had initiated several reforms and had redesigned roles for former national figures of the group, including members of the “Royal family” of The Honorable Elijah Mohammed. Changes were made in the staffing of national programs and there were other changes made. From where I stood, what resulted was a chaotic situation. In my local community, I was elected to office after a problematic and intense struggle to have the sitting Imam removed. Several aspects of the administration had to be re-adjusted and new office procedures implemented. Bills had to be paid. The ranks were filled with people whose loyalties were attached to personalities, groups, the old NOI, and tradition. Prayers had to be learned along with efforts to replace the literature in use with The Qur’an. Imam WD Mohammed had an ambitious ten-point program to be implemented. Activities had to be established in the areas of Education, Government/Politics, Arts, Recreation, Economics and Collective Buying, among others. Change was the word that best described the situation confronting this new iteration of African American Islam for this particular group.
I use the term “group” loosely for as I stated before, not everyone was down with the changes. The title of Imam and its traditional duties were poorly understood. Minister was the preferred title. The center of local religious learning was centered around these revered Ministers, but now the “Imam” required reeducation for the rank and file, based on the Qur’an and its Arabic. Sajdah was a near insurmountable hurdle for some time and Qur’an did not roll off of the tongue with as much familiarity as did the Actual Facts. There was not too much appreciation for the setting aside of the suit and bow tie or sisters’ opportunity to bring long-standing complaints of domestic discord to the Imam. In this context of change, many who lost preferred positions were in despair. And, as the durability of the changes became clear, that despair and envy turned to rebellious opposition.
There was not too much appreciation for the setting aside of the suit and bow tie or sisters’ opportunity to bring long-standing complaints of domestic discord to the Imam.
In this recounting of my experience perhaps the reader can see similarities between the changes my community experienced and the situation that confronted the newly independent community under the leadership of our beloved Prophet (SAAWS) as they attempted to settle in Yathrib as a formal ummah operating under a newly minted constitution. How, was the question, were they to become a successful community according to the Covenant? The issues that my African American community confronted mirrored those they faced. At the core of which were these concerns: just treatment of wives; the proper decorum in assemblies based on equity; how to interact with Muhammad as a leader; the proper attitude to assume with community members, some relatives and associates who opposed the ummah’s success.
In Surah al-Hashr (59), Allah extols the goal of unity and describes the process to expel traitors like the Bani Nadir. He (SWT) provided directions about how to react to efforts to equitably distribute war booty. Precautions when dealing with hypocrites were issued. The believers have the names of Allah rehearsed to them as a reminder of His Supremacy and the rewards of reflecting on them during times of crisis and confusion.
In al-Mumtahanah (60), the need for guidance in cases where respected people and/or relatives remain resistant to worshiping Allah is provided. This is an emotional and therefore sensitive issue. Fault lines in community unity often occur along it. Allah provides guidance using the example of Prophet Ibrahim when he prayed for his father and his people. Allah warns that forgiveness is not to be sought for combatants against us. As an African American, I bristle when some among us extend unrequested forgiveness for persons such as the remorseless murderer of praying Christians at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
It is equally important to focus on how the community treats women. As interest in Islam grew and as NOI members gravitated to the new iteration of our community, we had to discern their needs, their marital status, as well as identify who they were and the depth of their loyalty. This is similar to the experience of the Muslims of Medina as members of other communities sought refuge in the city and in the faith. Following the Qur’an’s prescriptions, once the women (and male refugees too) are vetted and found safe, they were permitted into the Medina community with appropriate standing.
As an African American, I bristle when some among us extend unrequested forgiveness for persons such as the remorseless murderer of praying Christians at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
In Surah al-Saff (61) we are reminded of the fulfillment of the Covenant. Some among the followers of Musa and Isa (AS) broke ranks and such disunity is caused, in part, by the hypocrisy that is caused by injustice, loss of or gain in wealth as well as by family issues. And so the goal of fulfilling the Covenant can be lost. Unlike some among the followers of Musa and Isa (AS), Muslims are expected to be firmly behind the leader.
In Surah al-Jumu’ah (62), such firmness should be clear in the behavior of the believers at the Friday salah. Jumu’ah is a solemn and critical event because it is when the signs of Allah are rehearsed. Accordingly, it requires decorum -Ghusl, scent, best attire, unhurried approach to the site of salah, and focus on the words of the khatib. In the era of COVID-19, Muslims confront how to be loyal to the guidance to “come to prayer” while preserving their health. May Allah guide us. Some have called those who stay away from the masjid in this pandemic munafiqun, yet this action does not rise to the level of a munafiq outlined in the surah of that name found in this juz’.
Rather, God describes the munafiqun as those who: offer the greetings as a curse; openly commit wrongs and determine that the obvious lack of punishment immediately following their sin confirms Muhammad was not a prophet; arrogantly make a show of wealth before the poor to break their spirit so as to induce them to hypocrisy. But Allah reminds us in al-Taghabun (64) of the inevitability and Justice of Judgement Day. Therein the wrongdoers shall lose as the believers gain.
As the juz’ began with the question of incorrect divorce (zihar), it concludes with the chapter of the correct form of divorce, al-Talaq (65). Focusing actions on Taqwa, men and women have the proper process of divorce outlined; and in so doing, reiterating the special concern to be paid to the rights of women as a core concept in achieving the successful Muslim community. In Tahrim (66), we are reminded of the prophets’ marital intrigues and of the fact that marriage is sacred but not inviolable.
And Allah knows and speaks the Truth.
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Imam Frederick Thaufeer Al-Deen has a graduate degree in Political Science and Public Administration. He served seven years as a commissioned officer in the military. He is the Imam at the Southwestern Muslim Community and a Certified Federal Correctional System Imam. His publications include the following, Questions of Faith for Muslim Inmates, and How to Raise Black Boys that Live. He is also a visiting Jumu’ah Khatib, and is the Eid Khatib for the Southside Islamic Community. Imam al-Deen is the CEO of Urban Mediation and Arbitration and host of “Conversations” Podcast. He is a Hajji.