By Aminah Al-Deen
We know from the creation story in the Qur’ān that humankind was given the unassailable power to name as a distinctive tool not possessed by others in creation.
We are witnessing a reckoning and some of us will weather it well while others will struggle. The stories in the Qur’ān each point to a moral choice: to believe or to reject. Our Prophets always presented moral choices, along with the evidence for belief and the consequences of rejection. Allah reminds us that signs have been placed all around us as evidence of not only the existence of Allah, but also Allah’s Oneness. How do we study the Book and ignore the signs?? Are we opening the Book only because we feel obligated or are we searching for guidance? We have read about the calamities, the moral choices made and the consequences that followed. Now a reckoning called a pandemic has come, but we forget what we have read. In Juz’ 13 (12:53–14:52), Allah states,
There is a lesson in the stories of such people for those who understand. This revelation is no fabrication: it is a confirmation of the truth of what was sent before it; an explanation of everything; a guide and a blessing for those who believe. — 12:111
Scientists have searched for the origins of this pandemic and blame has been put everywhere. Those who consider themselves omniscient have attempted to circumscribe its end; always prematurely. Modern medicine has realized the insufficiency of its treatments, the limitations of its research and its lack of critical thinking at a time when they have been most needed.
Are we opening the Book only because we feel obligated or are we searching for guidance?
We also did not realize that it was a reckoning. We realized that our roots in Islam needed watering but we were reaching beyond the stories, reminders and guideposts right in front of us. African Americans through the generations are known for our resiliency and our reliability in making the right moral choices. African American Muslims are an integral part of this legacy because we can read the Book and see the signs.
Whether we let you [Prophet] see part of what we threaten them with, or cause you to die [before that], your duty is only to deliver the message: the Reckoning is Ours. Do they not see how We come to [their] land and shrink its borders? God decides — no one can reverse His decision — and he is swift in reckoning. — 13:40–41
We are experiencing some notable restructurings of our Muslim life away from the influences of others who do not have our interests at heart. We are putting our heritage front and center and remembering how we spread Islam in this country. Islam in America is centered on the wisdom for making the right moral choices; wisdom which was brought to these shores in the utterances and few writings of enslaved African Muslim. It is our responsibility to build on that heritage in our unique cultural setting in this hostile place.
Islam is undoubtedly lived, not performed. We learn from the Qur’ān that relationships among Muslim tribes should be about getting to know one another with the intention of collaboration, not domination.
I once heard an African shakyh say, “Everyone carries his or her prison and her or his freedom inside themselves.” Prophet Yusuf (AS) found his freedom inside himself through his faith in Allah’s promises even as his body was in a well, as he lived among enemies and then as he was imprisoned. Surah 13,verse 11, says in part, “… Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)…”
It is our responsibility to build on [our] heritage in our unique cultural setting in this hostile place.
We were forced out of the dunya during our reckoning in this pandemic, into a “covering veil,” where we could explore those creative genes that have kept us alive for centuries in this hostile place. This was difficult at first as we wandered in our minds through routines that didn’t exist anymore. We realized that although our bodies were quarantined, our freedom was to be found inside ourselves, through our ability to hear Allah in creation. We could hear the birds, see the plants and have time to consult the Book. We could listen to the prose produced in rap, take in the works of Sacred Cypher Creatives and see sculpture, poster art and paintings. We realized that we were living in astounding times.
This time of reckoning and reflection has amplified some questions that have persisted in my mind in this last year: Who are these teachers speaking in foreign tongues while claiming to represent the thoughts and needs of me and my community? We read in this juz’ in Surah Ibrahim, “We have never sent a messenger who did not use his own people’s language to make things clear for them” (14:4). Who are these celebrity imams who can repeat what they have memorized but are unable to address the very real-life needs of the people watching them virtually on Zoom? Are they in the trenches delivering food and medicine? Are they fighting for housing for the unhoused? Are they among the protestors for justice or writing petitions advocating justice?
We must change our own condition and advocate for our own freedom. African American Muslim women have taken on real leadership roles in areas vital to our community during this reckoning.
This reflection is part of Sapelo’s Ramadan 2021 series. To read other reflections in the series click here.
Dr. Aminah B. Al-Deen is a retired professor of religious studies and director of the Islamic World Studies program at DePaul University. Her areas of expertise include Islam in America; Muslim women; Islamic studies; and the history, geography, politics, religion and philosophy of Islam. She is the author and co-author of several books, including African-American Islam (1994); A Question of Faith (1999); Transnational Muslims in American Society (2006); and An Introduction to Islam in the 21st Century (2013). She is also the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Islamic Law and Culture, and a member of the board of advisors of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.