“But every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again. That is why every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration.” ~Herman Hesse, Demian (from the Prologue)
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
First and foremost, I am a Muslim, one who submits–or at least tries to submit–his will to the One Being to which all existence is contingent upon, indeed, the very Well-Spring of being itself. In a world that has come to malign this word, this concept, of submission and servitude to something that transcends the realm of human reason and the norms of human perception, to say such a thing might invite harsh criticisms, laughs, jeers, stares (especially for women who don the traditional head covering, the hijab) and–of course–the occasional Islamophobic rants from both right-wring conservatives and left-wing liberals. But nevertheless, I say it quite unabashedly and with much pride. Why? Because Islam mandates upon those who subscribe to its teachings that they should hold themselves to higher standards. It’s a noble endeavor, even upon failure, to remain steadfast to dignifying principles, especially when such principles are in short supply it seems. Who wouldn’t, in their right mind, want to ascend to some higher, aspire to something greater than mediocrity and uniformity? Wait. Perhaps I shouldn’t ask this question, for fear of receiving an answer.
Semantics asides (if that’s even possible), what does it mean to be Muslim? What does being Muslim entail? Perhaps I lack the qualifications even to answer my own questions; it wouldn’t be the first time and probably won’t be last either, insha’Allah (if God so wills). Yet I can offer a humble glimpse: it means being a part of a faith community that has an academic temporal span of approximately fourteen hundred years and spiritual temporal span going back to the righteous and God-conscious among our early progenitors; it means being a part of faith community whose presence encompasses all corners of the globe; it means being a part of faith community that orients itself, physically, mentally and spiritually, towards the same destination. (Whether or not we orient ourselves successfully is an entirely different discussion). It means all these things, but above all else, it means living a dignified human existence and assuming the dignified role in the saga of history given to us with the endowment of the reason and volition, a daunting task, such that even the heavens and the mountains refused to accept it: “Verily, We did offer the trust (of reason and volition) to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up – for, verily, he has always been prone to be most wicked, most foolish. [33:72]” Yet this jihad, this inner-most struggle against the dark recesses of our souls, is worth our time, resources, and energy.
In the same vein, I also happen to be a convert (sometimes erroneously referred to as a “revert”) to Islam from Roman Catholicism. The circumstances which lead to my conversion are worth mentioning, but not here. Perhaps I’ll also write about this one day, insha’Allah. Being a Muslim convert is both an honor and a privilege, which, I believe, I’m scarcely worthy of having. And it’s also not an easy task : sometimes the acting of submitting is met with lackluster success or none at all; other times, it’s a taxing choir just to coexist with the variegated peoples of the world who comprise the Muslim community. More often than not, born-Muslims and over-zealous converts don’t make the situation any easier. But, al-hamdu’ilah, (“Thanks and Praise be to God” like Hallelujah in Hebrew) this jihad is also a beautiful one, one worth participating in. Maybe in the near future, I’ll author a blog entry about this too, insha’Allah. Suffice to say, at the very least, I took a road less traveled and it has made all the difference.
And so I proclaim: I am a Muslim. Whatcha gonna do about it? Nothing? Good. That’s what I thought. Thus the first half of the equation is complete.
Secondly, I am a young, Southern, Black man in America, and as such, the reality of the history of Blackamericans, being what it is, trails behind me wherever I go. Just as I cannot escape the inevitability of death–and apparently taxes–even so, in this so-called post-racial era of American history, I cannot escape the wake of historical circumstances that sired me and my people. So I don’t even try to; rather, I revel in it. Why fight the inevitable when you can embrace it instead? To embrace who and what you are is, I think, one of the best anodynes for the existential woes sourced at our society’s flagrant messages of artificial beauty and materialistic conceptions of self-worth. A Muslim mystic named Yahya ibn al-Mu`adh al-Razi (try saying that five times fast) once said, “He who knows himself knows his Lord.” And of course, there’s always the perennial wisdom of the Qur’an, which states, “…and be not like those who are oblivious of God, and whom He therefore causes to be oblivious of (what is good for) their own selves: (for) it is they, they who are truly depraved! [59:19]”
As a side note, I hate being called African-American. Absolutely hate it. For me, it would be the equivalent of calling a person of Arab or Persian descent White or calling a Pakistani person Indian. Not that I have qualms with Africans, quite the contrary in fact; it’s just that all the markers that one would normally use to define a person are, for me, centralized around America: my culture is here, my language is here, my ancestry is here, and my history is here. In this sense, there’s nothing African about me whatsoever, not even my skin is African because, like most Blackamericans, like most Americans period (whether they are wont to admit it or not), I’m an amalgamation of different peoples with different hues: Europeans, Native-Americans, Africans, etc. Also, given our presence in the Americans for four-hundred years, I believe we should be conferred with a similar indigenous status conferred to many Whites, since many Blackamericans have been in the States just as long, if not longer, than many populations with the honorific title of White. Besides, you wouldn’t normally call White-American people European-Americans, at least for the most part; you’d simply call them Americans or White-Americans. Why not extend the same privilege to Blacks?
And so I proclaim: I am a Black man. You gotta a problem with that? If you do, I suggest you take it up with God. He made me as I am. Thus the second half of the equation is complete.
Now that the construction of these scant and simplistic images are finished, let us try concatenate them. What do you get when you cross the conception of a Muslim with a Blackamerican? What is the result of the intersection of the historical and cultural phenomena of Islam and the historical and cultural phenomena of the Blackamerican? (Enter drum roll). The answer: you get a Blackamerican Muslim. Ta da! Big surprise, right? No? Yeah, I know. A bit anti-climatic perchance, I’m not ashamed to say, but profound nonetheless. The labyrinthine threads of history have intersected in such a unique way as to give to me, in all my complexities, a genesis. I exists, within the prism of history, and my very existence, humble though it may be, is a miracle itself, a sign pointing toward something much greater. “Unto every one of you have We appointed a (different) law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but (He willed it otherwise) in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto, you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. [5:48]” The same can be said for the person reading this blog entry as well. You are a part of the saga of human history as well. We are all the merest shadow of something much greater than ourselves. Learn from it. Embrace it. Be it. You might a catharsis in it. I know I did.
Where does that leave us now? I can’t speak for you, but as for myself, I, with all my faults, anxieties and insecurities, stand here, a Blackamerican Muslim in the 21st century with the sun rays of the future casting the shadows of my past. I don’t know where I’m going or how I’ll get there. As far as I’m concerned I’m not required to know. I think I’d rather not know. I do know, however, that the universe is expanding with power*, that history is still unfolding and that more will be revealed, insha’Allah. Time keeps moving on. Life goes on. The world moves on, going towards finality. We are beings-unto-death, as Martin Heidegger put it. So it goes.
As such, I’m a work in progress, a poem in motion, a masterpiece in the making. So join me. Walk beside me and be my friend. We’ll both grow in the process. We’ll both become masterpieces together. It’s our destiny. I promise.
“O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware. [49:13]”
Peace Itself and Peace to all.
*From Qur’an [51:47]: “AND IT IS We who have built the universe with (Our creative) power; and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it.” The expansion of the universe suggests the continuation of time itself, as well an increase in the chaotic nature of the universe (Second Law of Thermodynamics). Therein lies a sort of scientific analogy of Heidegger’s statement that we are beings-unto-death.