Category: Religion

Religion

Dar ul-Islam: Principle, Praxis, Movement

By Kamal Hassan Ali

The following is an excerpt from the book Dar ul-Islam: Principle, Praxis, Movement by Dr. Kamal Hassan Ali, professor of Ethnic and Gender Studies at Westfield State University.

This seminal work by Dr. Kamal Hassan Ali is rooted in his personal involvement with the Dar ul-Islam movement’s efforts to promote the religious and social remedies of Islam in America. In this excerpt Dr. Ali introduces readers to the socio-political context in which “the DAR” emerged and the first principle which he argues inspired the DAR’s work, Tauhid.

To truly understand essential aspects of the indigenous American Muslim community embodied by the Dar ul-Islam Movement, one must look to a learned analysis of racial upheavals in the 1960s, to the socio/cultural rise of descendant Africans in the American Diaspora, and to the antecedent variations of American Islam. The early leadership of the Sunni Muslim community known as Dar ul-Islam, active from 1962 through 1983 in Brooklyn, New York, namely Sheikh Rajab Mahmoud, Sheikh Yahya Abdul-Kareem, and later, Hajj Hasan Ali Muhammad, Bilal Abdullah Abdur-Rahman and Sheikh Isma’il Abdur-Raheem among others, were certainly conversant in this history and were keenly sensitive to ways in which the lessons learned through praxis could be filtered through the lens of the sunnah, or Islamic tradition, and integrated as part and parcel of an Islamic movement. Clearly, the humanitarian goals of liberty and liberation, of freedom from oppression through community organization, activism, and a preoccupation with resolving potentially fatal lapses in social justice systems are bedrock to the establishment of any Muslim community even remotely predicated upon the establishment of the Prophet’s traditions (Peace be upon him). In fact, the efficacy of any Islamic community worthy of the name must, by its very nature, adhere strictly to these basic principles.

The early Muslim community established by our Noble Prophet and his Companions—the first Muslim generation—stands as testimony to this view of Islamic authenticity, of what is, and what is not “Islamic,” as do the subsequent societal incarnations of the Caliphatur-Rashidun, or the four “Rightly Guided” Islamic Republics overseen, in turn, by Abu Bakr as-Saddiq, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, “Uthman ibn al-Affan, and ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib (May Allah be Pleased with Them). It is to the examples established by this Islamic orthodoxy that the early activists of Dar ul-Islam (alternatively known as “the DAR”) turned to construct the criteria that would be used to judge the validity, the relevance, the applicability, the usefulness of any idea, practice, action or program to be included within the Movement agenda. In this way, bida, or the inclusion of un-Islamic innovation, could be avoided, and the pristine practice of Islam amongst inner-city Muslims across the country who aspired to DAR inclusion could be ensured.

It should be understood that the goal of the Movement, simply put, was to formulate and implement a wholly Islamic environment that would enable this community of practicing believers to attain the ultimate spiritual end: Paradise. Any and all aspects of the movement program were, at bottom, carefully constructed objectives aimed at achieving that singular goal. In other words, the primary goal of Islamic praxis was—and is—to please Allah, subhana wa t’ala, or God, the Glorious, the Most High, to gain His favor and, by so doing, attain success in the Life and the Next. This is the din, or “religious culture” established by the Prophet Muhammad as guidance for all of humankind, and is the fountainhead of the material, moral and spiritual revolution taught by the great litany of prophets, healers, exemplars of virtue, of peace and social justice from Adam to Noah, from Abraham to Muhammad (Peace be upon them). These ideas were not, in the Dar ul-Islam context, mere platitudes or slogans; rather, they were real life behavioral objectives, acted on daily, with all of the rigor, focus and fortitude that has come to be associated with the genuine practice of Islam over time.

This notion of liberation via strict adherence to the Islamic orthodoxy, or sunnah, of the Prophet Muhammad cannot be emphasized enough, and has, in fact, been grossly de-empathized in the few serious studies extant aiming to illuminate essential aspects of the Dar ul-Islam community, arguably the largest and perhaps most significant indigenous Muslim community in American history.

Context

To illustrate the primacy of Islamic orthodoxy in the belief, understanding and practice of these essentially revivalist efforts, it may be useful to present our analysis of the Dar ul-Islam movement’s action agenda in the light of, firstly, the fundamental principles of Islam as revealed in the Holy Qur’an, as implemented by the Prophet Muhammad and as prescribed within the Five Pillars of Islam; secondly, the way in which each principle found meaning through praxis; and lastly, a summary of the implications of that practice within the DAR movement. Naturally, the broad objectives of certain of these efforts, Muslim schooling, for example, fit comfortably within more than one of these fundamentals. However, the use of this conceptual matrix  may serve, nonetheless, to illustrate the Movement’s determination to build community under the strictly Islamic umbrella of the Book of Allah, and the tradition of His Prophet.


The First Principle – TAUHID

Testifying That There is no god but Allah, Who is One, Without Partner; Muhammad is His servant and Messenger

“Allah is He, than Whom there is no other god; Who knows (all things) both secret and open; He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Allah is He, than Whom there is no other god; the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace (and Perfection), the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Irresistible, the justly Proud. Glory to Allah! (High is He) above the partners they attribute to Him. He is Allah, the Creator, the Originator, the Fashioner. To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare His Praises and Glory: and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” (The Holy Qur’an, 59:22 – 24)

Narrated Mu’adh ibn Jabal: the Prophet (PBUH) said, “O, Mu’adh! Do you know what Allah’s right upon His slaves is?” I said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” The Prophet said: “To worship Him (Allah) Alone, and to join none in worship with Him. Do you know what their right upon Him is?” I replied, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” The Prophet said, “Not to punish them (if they do so).” (Sahih Bukhari)

Praxis

The early Dar-ul-Islam leadership was meticulous in the clear expression of tauhid as fundamental to the belief and practice of Islam. It is important to note here that several historical, predominately African-American quasi-Islamic organizations and movements, from the Moorish Science Temple at the turn of the century to the Nation of Islam in the 1930s, among others, laid claim to Islamic legitimacy but failed to observe tauhid as a basis for either their system of belief, their religious practice, or their organizational development. It is, after all, the bearing of witness to the reality of at-tauhid , the attestation, or shahada, stipulating “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah; and I bear witness that Muhammad in the Apostle of Allah” that one becomes Muslim, or indicates her/his intention, publicly and before witnesses, to practice Islam. With the acceptance of Muhammad (PBUH) as the apostle of Allah, comes the obligation to follow his Way, and the establishment of Islam as “a way of life” predicated on the belief in Allah, and example of that belief expressed in the life of the Prophet.

Following new “shahadas’”—as Muslim acolytes were often called—acceptance of Islam, it was movement practice, for them to engage in a rigorous learning process that included learning classical Arabic, the lingua franca of Islam, for the purpose of reading, reciting and memorization of the Holy Qur’an; devoting oneself to the obligatory, merciful demands of salaat, which require every practicing Muslim to pray the ritual prayer at specific times at least five times each and every day; familiarizing oneself with hadith, or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (what he said, did, allowed or prohibited); embarking on the protracted study of sira, or the history of the Prophet and the early Muslim communities; and at least a functional understanding of shari’ah, or Islamic law, which is derived from the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet, the way of life prescribed as nominative in Islam. If, while engaged in this rather demanding, disciplined intellectual and spiritual process, the new adherent maintained regular attendance at Friday, or jumu’ah prayers, and began to “hang out” among the Dar ummah, or congregants, he might be asked to sign a pledge or make bai’ah to uphold the basic precepts of the shari’a, as interpreted through the leadership and administration of the Imam and the Amirate.

 


KamalDr. Kamal Ali was born in Springfield, Illinois is married and has three children and eleven grandchildren.

“Sent home” from Howard University for his Black Panther rants, Kamal Ali then moved to New York, where he hooked up with the wrong crowd and was headed for big trouble. Then he learned of the Dar-ul-Islam community and quickly became a contributing member of the Movement.

He was an early proselytizer of the faith to angry young African Americans, helping to direct their hatred toward the Dar-al-Harb, or “house of war” and the eternal enemies of Al’lah and his Apostle.

From 1970 until 1977 he served on the Muslim Prison Committee, assigned to The Bronx House of Detention, Riker’s Island, and Green Haven Correctional Facility, a maximum security facility in Stormville, New York, helping to redirect the energies of dangerous criminals and sociopaths toward a constructive jihad in the way of Al’lah.

Dr. Ali is the Imam of the Ludlow Correctional Center and a professor at Westfield State University.

This seminal work, Dar-ul-Islam: Principle, Praxis, Movement, by Dr. Kamal Hassan Ali is rooted in his personal involvement with the largest indigenous effort to promote the religious and social remedies of Islam in America.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the Dar ul-Islam movement

 

Religion

The Relevance of Black American Muslim Thought

By Margari Aziza

The Muslim American community is held together with the belief that there is no God but the One True God and that Muhammad is His prophet. Muslims share daily patterns of worship, rituals of birth, marriage, and death.

As one of the most diverse faith communities, Muslim Americans come from various ethnic, socio-economic, and cultural backgrounds. Sometimes there are various articulations of Islam  due to different political, cultural, and religious orientations.

Some estimates go as far to say that there are 5 million Muslims in America. According to census data and information provided by mosques and community centers, Muslims in America make up .5% of the total population in America. Keeping it conservative, that equals just under two million. This still represents a significant number. CAIR reports that the ethnicities of mosque participants can be broken down to 33% South Asian, 30% Black American and 25% Arab, 3.4% sub-Saharan African, 2.1 European (i.e. Bosnia) 1.6% White American, 1.3% South-East Asian, 1.2% Caribbean, 1.1% Turkish, .7% Iranian, and .6% Latino/Hispanic. Other reports indicate the number of Black Americans may be even larger.

Regardless of the numbers, there is no clear ethnic majority in American Islam. But these numbers raise some important issues: Who has the right to speak for American Muslims? Who are the real Muslims? Who will define the agenda for American Muslims? These questions have often been central to a debate that has emerged about the Black American/immigrant divide.

Over the years, many Black American Muslims have been at the forefront of articulating Islamic thought for the growing American Muslim community. But this seems to have changed as a dominant narrative has taken over.

In America, there is fierce competition over resources which has led to some voices getting silenced in deciding the agenda for American Muslims. Within mainstream media, the Muslim American experience is about the immigration and assimilation experience. There is little press coverage or interest shown in the media on converts or the multi-generational Black American Muslim families.

Sylvia Chan-Malik uses the term, “foundational blackness” to describe how contemporary Islam in America can best be understood by transnational affiliations that link gender, class, and religion, but also with its relationship with blackness. However, Black American Muslim foundations go back further, with memories of African Muslims enslaved in the America, even predating the formation of the United States.

There are also Sunni communities dating back to the 60s, such as Dar al-Islam movement. Some communities have origins much earlier, such as Quba Institute with roots in the 1930s Izideen village in New Jersey. Yet, consistently, there continues to be a portrayal of Islam as a foreign religion, with only internationalist interests. For over a century, some Black Americans have looked to African cultural legacies, addressed local issues, and have maintained transnational networks and ties, to articulate religious thought that is African, Islamic, and uniquely American.

While it is true that Black American Muslims were often drawn to Islam in an attempt to articulate their own cultural identity outside of the dehumanizing ascribed identity of Black inferiority, Black American Islam is thoroughly embedded in the American tradition. From the proto-Islam movements of the early 20th century, to the Black separatist movements of the 1960s, heterodox communities, and orthodox communities with leaders from or trained abroad, many Muslim communities sought to address social ills in America and globally. In particular, racism, economic and social inequality, economic exploitation, and family instability are on the main agenda of many Black American Muslim leaders.

Before 9/11, some of the most prominent voices in American Islam were African Americans, including Warith Deen Muhammad and Siraaj Wahaj. Their status as citizens afforded them the privilege to critique American society and foreign policy, without compromising their Americaness.

The protest tradition of many leaders helped forge a space for the next generation of immigrant and descendant of immigrant Muslims Americans to assert themselves in the public sphere. Following the events of 9/11, there has been an increasing silencing of Black American Muslim voices: a combination of little to no media acknowledgment of BAM’s as well as a systemic neglect on the part of immigrant Muslims.

Over time, Black American spokespeople were gradually eclipsed as national Muslim organizations with strong immigrant interests sought to assert their agendas and provide the dominant narrative of immigrants assimilating to American values.

In contrast to the hegemonic narrative that has rendered them invisible, Black American Muslims are vital to the health of this diverse Muslim community.  They have also continued to make great strides politically, socially, and culturally. This includes two Black Congressmen, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, the growing prominence of intellectuals and scholars, most notably feminist scholar, Amina Wadud, and Aminah Beverly McCloud, who wrote African American Islam,  Sherman Abdul-Hakeem Jackson, and Zaid Shakir.

There are also many young scholars, such as Jamilah Karim, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, and Intisar Rabb. There is a large wave of Black American Muslim leaders who have demonstrated mastery of Islamic sciences and have graduated from Muslim institutions of higher learning, including Abdullah Ali, who earned a degree from  Al-Qarawiyin University of Fes.

Black American Muslims have made cultural gains including a feature-length film, “Mooz-lum,” and prominent Hip Hop artists, including but not limited to Lupe Fiasco, and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def).  The Abdullah brothers shared their story of taking time off from the NFL to perform the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj). The fencer,  Ibtihaj Muhammad, was the first Muslim woman to compete for the United States in an international competition and win a medal.

Black American Muslims are very much part of the fabric of America and often play a daily role in interfaith dialogue, as many of them have family and loved ones who are non-Muslim.

Black American Muslims are vital to the health of this diverse Muslim community.

Black American Muslims have used their social capital to critique American foreign policy, Islamophobia, and erosion of American civil liberties. As a group, Black American Muslims are far from nativists, as many identify with and relate to  numerous international and transnational Muslim communities. They are much more likely to attend a mosque in which another group dominates, showing their willingness to assimilate into an immigrant dominant mosque.

Black American Muslims participate anti-war protests, critique extra-judicial killings through drone strikes in Chad, Mali, Yemen, and Pakistan, raise money for war refugees in Syria and alleviate suffering in natural disasters in Somalia and Pakistan. Yet  pressing social issues in their home communities, such as economic inequality, street violence, and family instability, play a large role in their everyday lives. Crime, poverty, and marriage are common issues raised in the Black American Muslim discourse from the minbar to the lecture hall. These issues also shape their outlook, which in turn causes them to be empathetic to the plight of others at home and abroad.

Perhaps the flexibility of thought can be tied to the Black American  Muslim identity, which is comprised of multiple intersections.  They are connected to many faiths and ethnic groups as part of this nation building project that we call United States of America. They are connected to many faiths and people who were either forcibly or willingly migrated to other lands  as part of the African Diaspora. They find connections with people on the African continent, and Black communities in South America and the Caribbean. They are also connected to people all over the world in  a multi-ethnic global community, ummah. These connections have given Black American Muslims a unique juncture to relate to and speak on various issues and causes. Black American thinkers continue to be influential in defining American Muslim thought, as they connect their day-to-day lives with Muslims globally.

It seems to be willful ignorance on the part of the media, scholars, and some organizations to overlook these important contributions and connections. The occlusion of Black Americans despite the continual relevancy of Black American Muslim thought makes it especially important to document this  intellectual heritage. Indeed, we must go beyond documenting the life histories of major Muslim leaders and begin to study transformations in Muslim American thought.

I look forward to the next wave of scholars who study Black American Muslims, such as Donna AustonZaheer Ali, and others who will shed light on roots of Black American Islam. These scholars can help us look at the ways in which Black American Muslims drew upon their intersecting identities in their interpretations of textual traditions in ways that address their global and local issues. I look forward to future studies of our rich intellectual traditions and the insights  that these brilliant scholars can bring to the discussion about American Islam.


Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and acting programming director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and Muslims Make it Plain. She is a volunteer at ICIE, an adjunct professor, blogger, editor and freelance writer with articles published in SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, and Spice Digest.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Margari’s blog.