بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
A few weeks ago, while browsing through the internet, I came across a lecture on the Lamp Post Productions website given by a renowned scholar of Muslim law and theology, a personal hero of mine, Dr. Sherman Abdul-Hakim Jackson, entitled : the Beginnings of Modern Shirk? The gravitas of the title and the fact that an esteemed scholar like Dr. Jackson even dared to deliver a lecture on such a crucial and sensitive topic grabbed my attention and compelled me to purchase it. Don’t worry. I don’t intend to advertise for Lamp Post Productions. I will say, however, that they do employ people of scholarly caliber to disseminate knowledge over the internet medium. After listening to it, I fully believe I got my twelve dollars worth, but in reality, decent, thought-provoking lectures are invaluable–priceless. “Seek knowledge,” the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم (“May God grant him honor and peace”) said, “even in China.” I can’t say I went to China, but I can say I went to the internet. Maybe it’s not as good as a trip to China, but it will suffice.
Now, to be sure, I lack the vast knowledge base and the eloquence which Dr. Jackson possesses. My own inadequacies notwithstanding, I’ll try–the operative word being, try–to summarize his thoughts on this issue, insha’Allah. I’m doing this because I believe, as Dr. Jackson does, that the implications of White Supremacy for both Muslims, both White and non-White, and non-Muslims, both White and non-White, are far-reaching and extend beyond the realm of crass race baiting and racially motivated violence and into the more insidious regions of acquiescent domination. I would encourage anyone interested to purchase the lecture and to listen to it, at their leisure of course. You may not agree with his arguments, but you’ll be stimulated nonetheless. I guarantee it.
To begin, let me pose three serious questions, and hopefully the religious (I count myself among this ilk I assure you) won’t castigate me for doing so. The first being, what is the physiology of a god? How does a deity work? And the second, more important question, is this: what does a god in our day and age look like? I mean, for the most part, excluding maybe in some remote areas of the world, one would be hard pressed to find, in our modern or post-modern society (depending on your views), idols atop a physical dais with devotees prostrating themselves to them and offering them animal sacrifices, right? Yet, in the Qur’an, as well as in the Old Testament in the form of the First Commandment, we are admonished against the action of shirk, associating and/or worshiping other beings aside from God. “VERILY, God does not forgive the ascribing of divinity (shirk) to aught beside Him, although He forgives any lesser sin unto whomever He wills: for he who ascribes divinity to aught beside God has indeed contrived an awesome sin. [4:48]” Lastly, given the serious nature of shirk as the only unforgivable sin in Islam, it seems imperative then that we should be judicious about it. We should be on our guard, but against what?
Here’s what I think and Allahu’Alim (God is Knowledgable and therefore knows better).
Contrary to what many would claim, be they religious or not, in our world today, there are many gods, many goddess, and many idols amongst us, more perhaps than the three-hundred-sixty idols which inhabited the Ka’bah during the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. But these deities don’t look like Zeus or Hera or Isis or Osiris or Anubis. All those gods have physical manifestations: statues, paintings, etc. The gods of our day, however, do not have physical manifestations; rather, they primarily manifest themselves metaphysically, as in, quite literally, beyond the physical realm: they are ideas, conceptions, notions, and perceptions that have lodged themselves in our minds and hearts; they are ideas, conceptions, notions, and perceptions that we feel we need to appeal to, that we feel we need to submit to, that we feel we need to make sacrifices to for appeasement, that we feel seek validation from in order to feel whole, in order to feel valued, in order to feel a sense of honor, purpose, and meaning. These gods feed off our fitrah, our natural disposition to worship, to deify something that is beyond ourselves. These are the gods themselves; this is their physiology. I believe it’s these beings that we must combat, and the battle field, will be not external to us, but within our very hearts and souls.
The task, if I’m right, will not be an easy one to confront. Why? Well, let’s think about it: the idolatry of the past is too palpable even to justify its own existence within the mind of the Muslim (or the Christian or the Jew for that matter). We immediately would reject it as idol worship. On the other hand, if idols are invisible, if they come if the form of certain ideas that have fixed themselves in our psyches and hearts, if they possess a degree of transparency because of their acceptance by us, then the endeavor becomes more difficult because then we just accept them as being true, thereby raising those ideas beyond critique into the ahistorical realm where only God Himself is supposed to reside. In this formulation, nearly anything could be a god. As Ali Shariati asks in his book Religion vs. Religion, what are the gods that we make for ourselves: our culture, our money, our beauty? In a similar vein, Erich Fromm states his book You Shall Be as Gods: A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and its Traditions, what’s needed is a study of the things human beings take as gods-what he calls idology, the study of idols-not a study of God, theology. Whatever the case maybe, perhaps now, more than ever, we must be vigilant against shirk, so imperceptible it has become.
Now, with that said and done, I would say the three chief gods of our day, analogous to the three chief goddesses al-‘Uzza, Manat, and Al-Lat during the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, would be materialism, scientism and White Supremacy as defined by Dr. Jackson. I’ll deal with White Supremacy in this blog. Perhaps I’ll tackle the others later, insha’Allah.
What is White Supremacy and how does White supremacy come into play here? First let’s talk about what White Supremacy IS NOT. According to Dr. Jackson, White Supremacy is, emphatically, NOT the ideology represented by groups like the Klu Klux Klan (their ideology is too brazen to be accepted by Whites and non-Whites, especially non-Whites), is NOT a throwback to the days of the Black nationalist movements (“White man is the devil” stuff), is NOT an exclusively American phenomena, and is NOT an automatic tendency within all White people NOR is it necessarily absent within all non-White people. As a side note, some of the most destructive critiques of White Supremacy have come from the pens of people who could potentially be beneficiaries of White Supremacy since they self-identify as White, like Matthew Frye Jacobson and Richard Dyer to name a few. Also, in Dr. Jackson’s estimation (and mine as well), the biggest proponents of White Supremacy may not even be White. As such, White Supremacy is really not about race or White people per se, but it is instead about a constellation of ideas with a nature such that rather than you fighting against it, you fight against yourself since the effects of White Supremacy are that you internalize the idea that you are abnormal, retrograde, and inferior if you are a non-White or that you are normal and superior if you are White. Thus, if you are a non-White, you would have to change things about yourself to get the validation, recognition and respect of those who are representatives of White Supremacy. This is something much more subtle, much more insidious, and much more ubiquitous as a global phenomena.
To summarize Dr. Jackson, White Supremacy results when Whites (Europeans and their extensions, Americans, Australians) are able to suppress or hide their histories, their socializations, their economic considerations, their cultural evolutions, thereby elevating their specific genius, their sensibilities, their perceptions and prospectives on the world, their values, their virtues, their vices, their principles, their ingratiations, their repulsions, their hopes, and their fears as being THE standard, as being normal. Not better. Normal. With this elevation, Whiteness, though not intrinsically bad, achieves a form of transparency and becomes something that is beyond explanation and beyond critique. As a result, it is Blackness, Hispanic-ness, Arab-ness, Persian-ness, Indian-ness, Malay-ness, Chinese-ness, etc that must be explained, interpreted, and substantiated through the lens of the White West (by the “West” I’m referring to again Europeans and their extensions), hence ideas like Orientalism and whole sciences, for the most part, such as anthropology. This creates a false regime of validation, in other words, a false god because instead of seeking validation, purpose, honor, wholeness from God, you instead are tempted to seek validation, substantiation, vindication from the West either by demeaning your own existence as a non-White OR by elevating your own existence as a White.
Moreover, if you deny the existence of White Supremacy, you effectively raise it beyond critique, which further exacerbates the problem even more because it means that we cannot even engage in a conservation about it. If no one is willing to acknowledge its existence, then, if in fact it does existence, it becomes free to lurk in the background. This point is critical for Muslims, particularly Immigrant Muslims, since they tend to be, in Dr. Jackson’s opinion (and mine as well), racially agnostic. For whatever reason, any mention of race or racism invokes an immediate reaction of negation of their part. Be that as it may, my point is this: we, as a community, have reached a precipice, a proverbial fork in the road: we can either garner the courage needed to address this issue for what it is or we can simply ignore it and presume everything is hunky-dory like we tend to do with other important issues (like domestic violence, for example). The choice must be made. Though I’m realistic enough to believe in the miraculous, I somehow doubt we’ll have this conservation.
It should be mentioned that this notion of White Supremacy doesn’t mean everything the West says and does is wrong or intrinsically evil. After all, some of what the West propounds, though imperfect, can be housed within Islam, such as democracy, women’s rights, human rights, etc. Also, it certainly doesn’t mean everything White people say and do is wrong or intrinsically evil. This would be utter nonsense. In addition, it also doesn’t mean that everything the non-White world does is right or intrinsically good. As a convert, I can say there are some cultural practices that are outside the vein of Islam, maybe even outside the vein of reason itself. It also doesn’t mean everything non-White people say and do is right or intrinsically good. This too would be utter nonsense. But it very well could be a source of shirk if one believes in his or her heart that those ideas can only be understood on the terms set by the West and if one seeks the validation of the West by appealing to their set of standards as the rubric through which all of humanity should be measured.
Lastly, this is the key jihad of our times, I think. If we don’t tackling this issue, if we aren’t willing to come to terms with the demons that have been planted in our hearts, then I’m afraid history will indeed be doomed to repeat itself because White Supremacy doesn’t need a White face to perpetuate its dominion. All it needs is acceptance on our part. This is it and nothing more.
I pray my pen, or my keyboard, hasn’t gotten the better of me. Anything good that I’ve written is from Allah سبحانه وتعالى (“Glorified and Exalted be He”); all else is the result of my own inadequacies. May we be protected from the false gods of our times. May we only seek validation from God. May Allah سبحانه وتعالى be please with us, insha’Allah. Amen.
Peace Itself and Peace to all.