countless others I remember the collapse of the Twin Towers as though
it happened yesterday. I was president of the FDNY Islamic
Society at the time, which filed suit against the fire commissioner
to add an Imam to the Department’s chaplaincy. I had swapped
tours to poll-watch for a Muslim City Council candidate since it was
primary day, but instead found myself standing dumbstruck amidst the
ruins of lower Manhattan that morning. By evening I had chaperoned
the remains of a deputy fire commissioner who was a co-defendant in
a week later a fire marshal who lost a dozen members of his old
firehouse questioned me at work about the Quran’s role in the
attacks. His manner was respectful but I felt defensive, and
responded no, Islam was a religion of peace. Later, my oldest
brother did the same. Unsatisfied with platitudes, he confronted me
with Quranic quotes that promoted violence against non-believers.
led to my own questioning of traditional Islamic sources.
Islam that appears in today’s screaming headlines was not the
Islam I found refuge in 35 years ago. Like debating the number
of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, it seemed pointless
for me to approach the Quran as God’s word without first
examining my own anthropomorphic presupposition of God. Only then
could I hope to assess the Quran as an incubator rather than an
incinerator for peace.
searched for a vantage point with which to resolve my crisis in
faith. This led me to revisit the Quran’s conflicted phenomenal
and political nuances that enable violence and oppression. Not
seeking to play favorites among rogues, I found parallels in
America’s historical consciousness. I needed a clearing where
religion and nationalism could be jettisoned for a social solidarity
forged from science, public reason, and human need.
Up My Boots Again
I still remember
my first multiple alarm as a probationary firefighter in Ladder
Company 12 in Manhattan. We wore heavy hip boots when we went out on
the rig, which we kept rolled down below the knee during
non-emergency travel. Part of our daily routine consisted of going
out for groceries shortly before lunchtime. We were on the way to the
market when one of the firefighters saw thick black smoke bellowing
from an occupied tenement. When it became apparent we had a working
fire in progress, the lieutenant shouted “roll’em up, we
got a job!” It was the call that threw us into action, with all
its intense, life and death urgency.
But after 9/11
“roll’em up” became a call to reflect, and left me
struggling once again with the demons of doubt and identity I
closeted when I came to Islam. Belief had become integral to my
self-esteem, and I sensed that despite the best of intentions, my
deep emotional stake would use confirmation bias and motivated
reasoning to cherry-pick facts for a foregone conclusion. I sought an
approach beyond Islamic apologetics that respected the authenticity
of Muhammad’s experience yet questioned my presupposed
infallibility of the divine.
I wrestled with
Hegel and Heidegger as well as Mulla Sadr and Mahmoud Taha for
answers, sometimes struggling through only a page or two a day. But
in trying to cast the mote of projected preconceptions from my eye, I
knew that I would never be able to sneak up behind my consciousness
with that very same consciousness. Nor would I ever be able to
circumvent the embedded and embodied experiences that invariably
colored my world. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty, I realized I could only
find in the Quran what I brought to it.
My efforts led to
understanding the Quran as an organizing principle and source of
wisdom that neither proved nor disproved anything, but coalesced
around subjective lived experience. This yielded fresh insights into
the holy equilibrium of Quranic verses that characterized Islam as a
mediation, as a ‘middle way’ that enjoined ‘those
who think’ to listen to the word and follow the best of it, and
as a step-by-step revelation absolutely contingent on interpreting
events that evolved in real time rather than as a repository of
quipped, “the man who says that he has no illusions has at
least that one.” Given the Quran purports prophets as products
of their environment, Muhammad was no doubt constrained by the mote
of his social milieu. So rather than trade one interpretation of the
Quran for another, or imagine what Muhammad experienced on the
furthest horizon of his world, I sought to emulate him by steadily
pushing the boundaries of my own. To see through the eyes of Muhammad
meant making ablution in the waters of forgetfulness.
What Does Islam Begin?
father quoted Marx with passion and vigor. I daresay a spectre haunts
America – the spectre of Islam. Not the political Islam that
parades Quranic dogma as a winner’s narrative for tyranny, but
the phenomenal Islam from which all belief, politics, and the Quran
itself emerged. This is the Islam that begins and ends in the
individual, where the command ‘Be!’
confronts an ‘it’
that is all me.
Quran’s clearly articulated recognition of its own allegorical
and foundational aspects called me to an ongoing mediation between
primordial vision and cultural norms. This led me to examine Islam as
the ground zero of pre-linguistic thought akin to the Tao that can’t
be spoken and Dasein’s ‘Being-in-the-world.’ After
concluding there was no escape velocity from the virtual gravity of
solipsism’s singularity, I began to connect the dots.
forces now shaped claims to truth and justice, not the divine. Just
as Citizens United exposed
how Capitalism ruled under the delusion of democracy at the altar of
markets and margins, Caliphates ruled under the divine right of
violence from texts only they could interpret and enforce. The social
evolution that helped dispel the Dark Ages now threatened its return.
Like the Wizard of Oz, the political will to power spoke its dialects
of fear and control behind curtains of certainty wheresoever one
apperception, misperception, or perlocution, I came to believe the
Quran arguably reflected Muhammad’s questioning of the status
quo from a primordial perspective he experienced as the presence of
God. But in consecrating momentary vision into a political
achievement, the Quranic architecture for requiting evil became an
evil itself. The Islam inclusive of all thought from which
Muhammad spoke truth to power devolved into a power that sought
control over all thought and speech.
Islam that began as a noesis without a name became a name without
noesis, while the Quran that began as a noetic artifact cannibalized
its genesis. Elites used the authority of tautology to divine
vicegerency that effectively crucified phenomenal Islam to the cover
of the Quran.
Whereas my father
spoke of workers alienated by fetishized commodities to the extent
that a Capitalist would sell you the rope with which to hang him, I
saw parallels to Caliphates who fetishized the Quran in a way that
alienated believers from voice and perceptual faith.
Faculty of Islam
the outset, neither East nor West comes to the banquet of unity with
clean hands. From the self-gratification of power each indoctrinates
citizens with the myths that hold heroes and martyrs in its thrall;
both result in symmetries of violence projected into the retinal
blind spot they call truth.
it became apparent to me that Muhammad saw Islam as an innate
operative capacity shaped by the reciprocity between inceptual
thought and the world writ large. In a narrative related by Abu
Harair, Muhammad asserted that all children are born with a natural
of Islam, but his parents convert him to Judaism, Christianity, or
comported with the Quran’s alethic faith that drew me to Islam
in the first place, where our natural disposition sought truth and
rejected falsehood prior to any social imprinting. I found further
support for a faculty of Islam in verses that characterized Islam as
a religion of truth and described accordingly the generic qualities
of Muslims who prefigured Muhammad.
discovered a marked example of cross cultural parallelism in
phenomenologist Edmund Husserl’s use of “natural
attitude” to describe our innate capacity to question and
believe. Surely Husserl would find merit in the Sufi metaphor of
Islam as clear water that takes the shape and color of its container.
I poked and prodded the Quran and prophetic traditions, I was struck
by the way Muhammad insisted on Islam’s epistemic grounding in
human perspective. The inspiration of I
am as my faithful servant expects me to be grounds
God in anthropomorphic projection. My goose bumps from the muezzin’s
call to prayer no longer descended from heaven but were embedded and
embodied in feelings from lived experience. Even if you can walk on
water, your feet get wet.
then came across Merold Wesphal, who noted that as human beings we
can never encounter God “face to face” but only through
an “earthiness” invariably informed by body, culture, and
language. This gave me a perspective of a Prophet who
self-consciously expressed meaning from within the milieu of the
Arabic terms and culture that grounded him.
is no God but Your God in Dualism’s House of Mirrors
became clear to me that just as Citizens
United severed the jugular of true
democracy by deigning human status to corporations, endowing the
Quran with divine status aborted individuated free inquiry. With
God’s word encapsulated as the ultimate authority, the self’s
sleight of hand concealed its ‘earthiness’ as the Quran’s
true source of political power.
Muhammad made clear his mortal nature, a nomological Quran as God’s
literal word poses the greatest threat to a regenerative,
self-actualizing Islam. Rather than emulate his vision quest by
seeking inspiration for our own, we defame Muhammad by outsourcing
meaning to ruling elites and wannabes. In mockery of Quranic appeals
to question the empty naming of inherited norms, critical thought
abdicated the throne of reason to political Islam’s five
pillars of fear, oppression, rigidity, coercion, and elitism.
that no finite mind can discern omniscience in dualism’s house
of mirrors, such unrepentant self-worship dams the Quran’s
agnostic-existential currents behind the hubris of narcissism and
conceit. Thus begins the slippery slope that ends with God’s
self-anointed ministers of truth exploiting text to unremorsefully
execute apostates and dissidents. Followers of Jihadists who derive
sanctimony from their power over life and death forget Abraham’s
test to his tyrant interlocutor as to whether he could also make the
sun rise from the west.
saw that the corollary to the unlettered Prophet who could neither
read nor write lay in the men and women who heard, recorded, and
compiled the Quran. Out of intellectual honesty I could no longer
ignore that all meaning, power, and effect in the Quran were
amplified by diverse perspectives such as class, lineage, and gender.
appreciated the full spectrum of subjective and objective thought
captured by Nietzsche’s there are no facts only interpretations
and comedian Bill Maher’s you are entitled to your opinions but
not your facts. The word God alone signified highly subjective
meanings that exposed language’s inherent ambiguity.
I bore witness to Shahadah’s “no God but Allah” I
instantiated a God particular to Muhammad’s phenomenal
experience. But as the dialectic of language presupposed an absolute
universal grounded in the Prophet’s particular intention, “no
God but Allah” merely privileged my own personal concept of
God, filling an already overcrowded idol temple rather than probe the
entropy of awareness.
became clear to me that the Quran’s many syntactical gaps
required readers to interpolate meanings in a way that projected
their own God into the Quran. There is no lack of irony that Jacques
Lacan’s objet petite a
- the projection of unconscious content into an ‘other’
of one’s self – finds perhaps its greatest expression in
Allah and the Quran.
or Heuristic – Will the Real Quran Please Stand Up?
came to understand the Quran as a repository for multimodal
perspectives that illustrated the tension between phenomenal
experience and intersubjective meaning. The Quran’s epochal
character lay not in my projected preconceptions but as an epoche for
understanding the topology of projection. The synecdoche of G_d
invariably reverberated between noun and pronoun in my own cephalic
acknowledged consciousness’ contingency on content wherein the
gravitational pull of dark matter invariably shaped contingent
worldviews. Appropriately called the Unseen (Al-ghayb) by the Quran,
if all the world’s oceans were ink we could never exhaust the
words written from the black hole of our inmost content. But in
contrast to the testable theories informed by Cern’s large
hadron collider that continually questions dated understandings, a
presupposed Quran as God’s word reduces it to a crucible that
merely smashes rocks together and names the sparks truth and light in
in the transparency of experience, heuristic bias projected a
parallax view of me serving a God I created. Whatever comforts of
illusion this mirror image provided me, 9/11 gave me a sobering
account of its catastrophic social consequences. I urgently needed to
go beyond a reliquary Quran for an approach that encouraged ecologies
of critical thought.
Pal’s sci-fi classic The
Forbidden Planet captured how even
Robby the Robot and space age technology fell before the Id,
Dr. Morpheus’ primal fears projected by a technology that
caused an advanced civilization to self-destruct. I related it to
that metastasizes geometrically with each new war on terror. Michel
Foucault proved prophetic with his insight that the real enemy is the
fascist in all of us that loves power and desires “the very
thing that dominates and exploits us.” I found special
significance in the Quran’s assertion that the condition of a
people will not change until they change that which is in themselves.
to the Dangerous Shapes in Trojan-Horse Translations
Heidegger deemed transference to the Id “the most dangerous
shape,” where one can surrender and dedicate one’s life
to an “other” that is greater than itself “piece by
piece and limb by limb.” Evidenced by Heidegger’s
surrender to Hitler’s Nazi party, neither secular nor religious
world views are immune.
saw the epitome of dangerous shaping surface in radically different
translations of the Quran published by the King Fahd printing
complex’s less than a decade apart. In contrast to the
temperate tone of Yusuf Ali’s 1989 version, the freely
distributed 1998 Hilali-Khan translation struck me more as a handbook
for misogyny and world domination than a religion of peace. In an
essay aptly entitled “Corrupter’s of God’s Word,”
UCLA Islamic Law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl characterized the 1998
version as a “Trojan-horse translation” laced with
hate-filled rhetoric directed towards women and other faiths.
interest in the 1998 version piqued post-9/11 after speaking with a
firefighter at a Rockefeller Center fire prevention demonstration. He
related that earlier in the week someone handed him an elegant
looking copy of the Quran gratis, but after reading the first few
pages he promptly dumped it into a nearby trash can in disgust.
painfully reading it cover to cover, my journey in Islam would have
likely reached a similar end had I not previously encountered the
earlier Ali version along with translations by Muhammad Asad and
Marmaduke Pickthall. Although I am against the censorship of book
burning, this version of the Quran would kindle well in any fireplace
alongside Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Social Consequences of Anthropomorphism
Jung saw the narrative of Moses and Khidr as symbolic of the
transformative process one undergoes in dropping social conventions
in arriving at self-knowledge. I see the parable as a double entendre
for the dangers of anthropomorphizing God.
Moses and his servant resolutely sought the junction of two seas.
They forgot a fish they were to eat on a rock that “took its
way into the sea and disappeared from sight.” Moses retraced
his steps, only to find Khidr at the juncture, a being with direct
insight into God’s will. After a series of incongruous events
in which he admonishes Moses to patience, Khidr finally explains the
divine motives behind his acts.
saw the two seas as symbolic of the intersection of unconscious and
conscious, while the fish represented Moses’ latent
individuated ‘other’ projected as Khidr. But I see the
question of the parable’s intended meaning as highlighting the
risks inherent to the gap between textual intent and social
example, one of Khidr’s incongruous acts consisted in killing a
seemingly innocent young man, which Khidr later justified by the
grief he would have caused his pious parents. While the summary
execution may signify individuation to some, to those predisposed it
provides a license to kill in God’s name. The ambiguity in
meaning affords a gap for the fascist in us all to masquerade in the
shadow of the divine. Thus the wisdom of another tradition that warns
if you meet the Buddha on the road to enlightenment, slay him!
saw how ambiguity created profound conflicts for a text revealed in
real time. The Quran became increasingly more strident after Muhammad
fled Mecca for dear life. Where one verse states there shall be no
coercion in matters of faith, another calls for slaying non-believers
wherever you may find them in the face of military threats that
confronted the fledgling Muslim community. In light of the Quran’s
occasions of revelation and its confession that there is a time limit
for every message, it became clear to me that a religion of truth
demands that reason trumps dogma bound to time, place, and
of the Muslim affectionately call Jalal ad-Din Rumi’s Mathnawi,
his poetic insights into scripture, as the Persian Quran. I believe
Rumi captured the primacy of perspectival thought when he uttered
“you are your very thought - if your thought is a rose you’re
a garden of roses, if it’s a thorn you’re but fuel for
the stove.” I saw you are your
very thought as the proverbial
lampblack that illuminated heaven, earth, and even the Quranic ‘face’
before which all things perish.
scholar Quentin Lauer noted that “what God reveals to man in
thought is as much revelation as what God reveals to man in
Scripture.” I found support for Lauer in Quranic verses that
reveal an immanent God closer to you than your neck vein, in a God
that veils itself from all human being that must reveal through
inspiration, and that when you remember God, God remembers you.
later discovered that Hegel drew on Rumi in developing the dialectics
of negation and affirmation. The dynamic structure of ‘no God
but Allah’ now assumed an intense, personal import for me
against the political agency of theocratic Gods.
to a religion of truth and the middle way required respecting beliefs
as Islamic due to organic understandings contingent on lived
experience rather than State approval. From Rumi I saw that the
prerequisite for working through the infantile disorder of sectarian
violence required decentering the Quran as an unreflective authority
that always, already reflects on first sight.
world is a play, a children’s game,
you are the children.”
speaks the truth.
you haven’t left the child’s play,
can you be an adult?
purity of spirit,
you’re still in the middle of lust and greed
other wanting, you’re like children
at sexual intercourse.
rub together, but it’s not sex!
same with the fightings of mankind.
a squabble with play-swords.
purpose, totally futile.
kids on hobby horses, soldiers claim to be riding
Muhammad’s night-horse, or Duldul, his mule.
actions mean nothing, the sex and war that you do.
holding part of your pants and prancing around,
Truths in America’s Effective History
the incipient stages of American involvement in Vietnam, I read about
the exploits of Marines and told my father I wanted to enlist when I
was old enough. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said he
wouldn’t let me come home in a body bag so Texaco could drill
in the Gulf of Tonkin. He prescribed Perlo’s American
Vietnam: The Inside Story of a
Guerilla War, and essays written by
the most decorated Marine of his era, Major General Smedley D.
learned how Declaration of Independence ideals veiled the forbidden
truths behind our lust for natural resources, new markets, and cheap
labor. Among predominantly Muslim populations, America’s cold
war struggle for strategic oil reserves exploited the Quran’s
polar tensions between tyranny and human rights. Yesterday’s
Gulf of Tonkin became today’s Persian Gulf and Straits of
taught me how the CIA subverted Iran’s self-determination by
imposing the brutal Shah, which paved the way for the exiled
Ayatollah Khomeini to seize power. In today’s contentious
negotiations to constrict Iran’s uranium enrichment, it seems
more fitting for America to first apologize to the Iranian people for
facilitating the rise to power of an equally oppressive regime.
Otherwise we assert an impoverished moral authority belied by
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Iraqi citizens sickened by the depleted
uranium of American smart bombs.
the time I became a firefighter we armed the Taliban against the
Soviet Union, who later turned those same weapons on American troops.
Lured by the promise of a pipeline to access inland oil, we
negotiated with the Taliban in the months leading up to 9/11 despite
their oppression of women and basic human rights. I imagined the fate
of America if England had armed the South during our Civil War to
secure cheap cotton, despite their own ban on slavery.
in 1985 we turned a blind eye to Sudan’s military dictator
Jaafar Numeiri after he publicly hanged the 76 year old socialist
religious leader Mahmoud Taha for apostasy. Taha’s sole crime:
opposing Numeiri’s harsh imposition of Shariah law after
Numeiri made a personal choice to stop drinking. Symbolic of the
deep-seated hypocrisy that stokes mistrust and violence against the
U.S. abroad, America would have condemned Numeiri had he executed a
Jewish or Christian leader. But with the scent of oil in the air
Reagan welcomed Numeiri at the White House scant months after Taha’s
lived Dr. King’s words that he would rather swing at the end of
a rope than live under tyranny. An unsung pacifist on par with
Gandhi, he worked for self-determination against colonialism within
the contours of Sudan’s ethos. Both student and critic of Marx
and Hegel, Taha epitomized Muhammad’s exhortation to seek
knowledge from cradle to grave. He sought the very social reforms as
those the U.S. tried to impose on Iraq after Gulf War II. Notably,
Numeiri was ousted from power and Taha’s sacrifice commemorated
as Arab Human Rights Day despite U.S. inaction.
America intermeddles in Syria’s internecine warfare, we
conveniently forget sticking our head in the sand when it suited our
oil strategies to let Iraq gas Kurds and Iranians. We also whistled
Dixie when the Irgun terrorized Palestinians to establish Israel
under the banner of Zionism akin to the genocide of indigenous
Americans marketed by Manifest Destiny.
too, is our own use of chemical weapons in Vietnam. Memories have now
faded of lush rainforests despoiled by Agent Orange, and its
pernicious effects on Vietnamese civilians and American soldiers
alike. ‘Better dead then red’ was the slogan back then,
which was somehow supposed to assuage the American conscience
assaulted by televised images of children burned alive by Napalm or
point-blank summary executions.
correspondence from Ho Chi Minh betrays the utter absurdity of the
war. A New York Times op-ed by Tuong Lai revealed that after fighting
alongside U.S. troops in World War II, Minh wrote to President Truman
seeking an alliance that we ignored. This, despite expressions of
admiration for the same Declaration of Independence ideals that
America disastrously waved the flag for in Vietnam.
General Smedley Butler and the Marine Corps Enforcers
imperial diplomacy recalls Major General Butler’s comments
prior to his death in 1940. He decried American adventurism, and gave
a firsthand account of how the Marines provided military muscle for
Big Oil and other corporate interests to go abroad unmolested. He
called war a racket and even compared the Marine Corps to Al Capone’s
Chicago rackets. Placed in the context of Blackwater’s antics
in Iraq and the U.S. backed Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, Butler
exposed a mercenary savagery that conspicuously operated off-camera
on par with the barbaric acts of cruelty Jihadists openly air.
saw convergence between crew-cut generals serving plutocracy and
bearded ideologues exploiting religion as a rallying cry against
foreign incursion. Given that America continues to partner with
functionally apartheid and fascist states, chickens will come home to
roost and innocent lives lost so long as the corporate lust for
profit underwrite violence, oppression, and the denial of
abject living conditions of large Muslim populations belie the false
dichotomy beneath the ‘clash of cultures’ rationale for
hatred towards the West. The violence in reaction to mockery of what
Muslims hold sacred drill deep into to the colonialism that drained
natural resources, propped puppet regimes, and used a straightedge to
draw artificial borders that exacerbated conflicts among indigenous
feel it grossly unfair to blame the oppressed for acting out against
perceived oppressors when large swaths of populations cope with
depression due to the lack of basic needs such as food, shelter, and
medical attention. Can we express surprise at ritual burnings of the
American flag when barefoot children skim oil from puddles of water
to survive along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border? How long can we
ignore the raw hatred of civilian populations living in constant fear
of mini-9/11s from drone strikes that kill innocent civilians and
poison their land with depleted uranium?
the Elephant in the Room
began to appreciate the Quran’s mode of progressive revelation
that presented truth as process akin to Hegel’s assertion that
truth was a result rather than a freshly minted coin. Verses
repeatedly emphasized how mortal prophets emerged from their cultural
milieu to present argumentation within the language and norms of
their audience. I saw an analogue with Hegel’s recipe for
persuasive discourse wherein we must penetrate
the opponent’s stronghold and meet him on his own ground; no
advantage is gained by attacking him somewhere else and defeating him
where he is not.
encounter with astral phenomenon illustrates how the Quran presents
the temporal nature of truth. He first espied a star and deemed it
God, then the moon, and finally the sun. When the sun sets below the
horizon, Abraham awakened to the limits of perspective for attaining
heuristic bias invariably colors one’s objectivity, mutual
expression and recognition become key elements for addressing social
concerns. In contrast to Jihadists who destroy sacred signposts of
antiquity, the Quran articulated respect for differences in ritual
expression as indigenous to nations and tribes. Hence its
admonishment to revile not what others hold sacred.
the parables of Abraham and Moses represent individuals coming to
truth, I viewed the contemporary conundrum as achieving consensus
among diverse parties. How do we fuse the horizons of Saudi
Islamofascism and Taha’s social-Islam; America’s
parasitic capitalism with inclusive participatory governance?
scholar Farid Esack points out there can be a marked difference
between the way scripture functions in the lives of believers apart
from clinical assessments. I take Esack and Hegel to mean that
obsolete norms must be allowed to evolve from indigenous perspectives
such as Taha’s The Second
Message of Islam rather than imposed
Quran’s dynamic structure as a progressive revelation lends
itself to leveraging such social evolution among predominantly Muslim
populations. Just as Thomas Jefferson called for revisiting the U.S.
Constitution by each new generation, the Quran repeatedly questioned
blind obedience to past generations with facts on the ground. A
religion of truth can no longer function as a religion per se but as
a de facto science that recognizes its answers as tentative and
testable. Only then can Quranic appeals to reason and Muhammad as the
seal of the prophets be properly contextualized as points of
departure rather than celestial orbs in the night sky.
Original Position: A Messianic Opening without a Messiah
law school I learned about John Rawls’ ‘original
position’ and this seems a good place to begin dialogue.
Conceived as a thought experiment to address fairness in social
policy, Rawls felt that agreements reached after stakeholders already
knew their social status were inherently unjust. His original
position forced diverse stakeholders to use public reason to achieve
consensus from behind a veil of ignorance where participants were
shorn of the power relations acquired from morally irrelevant traits
such as race, gender, and creed. I found comfort in a footnote where
Rawls cited Taha and his student Abdullahi Ahmed An Na’im to
illustrate how secular and religious aims could be reconciled.
was later struck by the writings of Jacques Derrida, who
wanted to rethink social relations from a messianic opening sans
Messiah. Egalitarian discourse would operate within the finality of
an event that could never be anticipated rather than an imaginary
Rapture or Paradise. The Quran hinted at such
discourse in Surah Ash-Shura (Consultation) by bidding Muhammad to
bring about equity in mutual viewpoints in the Asad translation.
it seemed to me that the major import of original positions and
messianic openings lay in inculcating empathy for others rather than
mere thought experiments. This comports with early Meccan verses that
called on Muhammad to show care for others based on his experiences
as an orphan alongside others that chastised him for ignoring the
sincere inquiries of a blind man while trying unsuccessfully to
persuade an influential Meccan.
Dalai Lama exemplified such openness with his willingness to abandon
Buddhist tenets when contradicted by scientific consensus. He
accorded respect for a neuroscience that increasingly shows we are
hard-wired for temporal causality as one among many traits that
enhanced human survival. Indeed, whereas the God we project into the
Quran exercises its universal power each day, the constituting self
seamlessly originates and recreates reality in the event horizon of
can never transcend the transparency of experience to peer into the
cutting-room transformation of chaos into competing Bayesian odds
that predict, project, and correct. In order to legitimate political
action, therefore, the Islam contingent on perceptual faith needs to
cabin projection for prediction and correction to reach consensus.
While individual beliefs call for Constitutional protection so long
as they don’t hurt anyone, social cohesion demands policies
forged from debate and demonstrable proof.
Alain Badiou termed this process “truth procedures;” my
father would tell us to ‘jump in the pit and match the wit’
at raucous dinner debates. Only then can we hope to overcome the
cognitive dissonance expressed by the five blind men who defined the
same elephant differently based on touch.
the extent that the Quran heralded a religion of truth, its relevance
needs to be tethered to the way we process information as diverse
operants. Not unlike Hegel’s ladder for coming to truth, the
Quran calls on believers to think for themselves based on insights
accessible to reason gleaned from history and natural phenomena.
metaphor’s role as the building blocks for knowledge, the
Quran’s dynamic, temporal character present it as a metaphor
for truth rather than an immutable truth. I saw cohesive political
action become contingent on every singular voice much like the birds
seeking Attar’s legendary Simorgh
who, unbeknownst to them, their
collective shadow constituted the very creature they sought when they
flew in formation.
Infidelity of Self-Identity versus the Singular Death
understanding Islam as a constituting consciousness, I saw the
apostasy inherent in self-identity such as Sufi, Sunni, and Shia.
Respecting the authenticity of Muhammad’s vision need not be
mutually exclusive against collaborating to meet the contemporary
social challenges posed by wealth disparity, climate change, and
foreshadowed the Arab Spring by advancing democratic reforms and
women’s rights in the Sudan. Armed with the insight of his The
Second Message of Islam, Taha saw
the Quran’s dormant humanist currents as springing clauses that
would overcome force and coercion at the proper time. In an
age of dirty bombs and escalating sectarian violence, that time has
one believes, the rewards and punishments of an afterlife have proven
an abysmal failure in this respect. Having spent one too many tours
at the Cornell Burn Center listening to the screams of burn victims
undergoing skin grafts, I cannot entertain a merciful God imposing
hellfire on anyone for an eternity.
and exceptionalism offer no exit either. Whether stars and stripes,
crescent and star, or six pointed star - no matter how well
articulated as manifest destiny, the word of God, or the chosen of
God - flags epitomize land and ideology as more important than people
and need. In The Inoperative Community, Jean-Luc Nancy
provided a sobering admonition against the myths that drive war
Generations of citizens and militants, of workers and servants of the
States have imagined their death reabsorbed or sublated in a community,
yet to come, that would attain immanence. But by now we have nothing
more than the bitter consciousness of the increasing remoteness of such
a community, be it the people, the nation, or the society of producers.
However, this consciousness, like that of the “loss” of community, is
superficial. In truth, death is not sublated. The communion to come
does not grow distant, it is not deferred: it was never to come; it
would be incapable of coming about or forming a future. What forms a
future, and consequently what truly comes about, is always the singular
singular death forced me to rethink radical finitude as a touchstone
for the sanctity of life. Between the denialism of magical thinking
and the nihilism of radical finitude lay Nancy’s ‘being-with,’
the basic human need for community in sharing the pain and ecstasy of
being singularly alive. In ‘being-with,’ the will to
meaning that stands helpless before the endless span of time when we
are beings unremembered can take refuge in the simpliciter of Be!
and it is.
As I absorbed the
impact of Nancy’s thought I toyed with a refrain from Jimi
six turned out to be nine, I would not mind;
the Kaaba were round not square, I would not care;
one knows what I’m talkin’ about; no one knows what I
will never believe as I believe, nor will I believe as you;
the one who’s gonna die when it’s time for me to die,
let me live my life the way I want to.
Solidarity beyond Scripture
to an Islam contingent on perceptual faith rests the fecundity for
actualizing all faiths beyond scripture. This comports with Chief
Luther Standing Bear’s insight that after all the world’s
religions are expounded in fine books with finer covers, each and
every one of us will have to ultimately confront the great mystery on
read in the Gospel of Thomas that Jesus was not concerned as to
whether the flesh was born of the spirit or more miraculously the
spirit of the flesh, but with the marvel of such wealth making its
home in such poverty. The Buddhist parable of the raft then came to
mind. After fording the rivers of turbulence and uncertainty, the
sage advised the novice seeker to cast her raft ashore rather than
carry it on her head for the remainder of the journey.
love, the late Sufi Master Javad Nurbakhsh arrived at a place where
no trace of love remained. So too with texts. Whereas scripture
addresses relations between human beings and the unseen, the ongoing
task lies in nurturing and refining those very relations in real time
lest we tote weighty tomes on our back like the Quran’s
proverbial donkey. Rather than type people as for or against, why not
view their visage as a mirror instead?
in Furtherance of Social Justice
Gadamer opined that an omniscient presence must rely on the infinite
reference points of individual consciousness along its circumference.
This made sense to me, for how else could a God who could not feel
pain and joy dispense divine justice to beings who did not ask to be
born. Jewish oral tradition posited compassion in the new day that
dawns when you look in the eyes of the person before you and say
“this is my brother” or “this is my sister.”
Given the closeness of DNA between Israelis and Palestinians, this
may literally be true.
the truly just will recognize the sobriquet of ‘Chosen’
as a weighty responsibility to be earned through acts rather than
conferred by DNA and ontopology. Only then can a lasting example be
set for the rest of the world by applying ‘Never Again’
to all people and refusing to steal the land and dignity of
Palestinians due to an accident of birth.
seeking fidelity to Muhammad’s way will swallow the draught of
anger as prescribed by the Prophet rather use the tyranny of violence
against every imagined slight. They will do no harm nor return harm
for harm, and follow the Quranic prescriptions of speaking to others
in the most kindly manner, repelling evil with that which is better,
or simply walking away from the hurtful conduct of others.
martyrs will realize there is no short cut to paradise and renounce
taking the life deemed sacred by the Quran. They will sear into their
hearts that the murder of one person is the same as killing all
humanity and fear taking on the sins of the murdered like Cain in the
Quran. True martyrdom will eschew headlines for altruism in the
ultimate self-sacrifice of living to serve God by improving the
material conditions of all people.
just as former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali refused to step foot
in Vietnam, the truly righteous will forsake ritual for human rights.
Whereas I continue to find meaning in prayer and fasting, I will
refuse to make Hajj in Mecca so long as Saudi Arabia executes
apostates, criminalizes dissent, and allows uncovered school girls to
burn to death out of a misogynistic modesty.
there is no easy formula for social solidarity other than toiling
shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe towards a society that builds the
capacity for equality, pacifism, and human rights. This invokes
‘being-with,’ in using finitude and self-reference as
touchstones to empathize and walk in the shoes of others just as the
Quran commanded Muhammad. Failure to do so will cede any hope for
community to a wasteland of depersonalized political identities that
consume us all.
Planting the Tree…
1973 NYC Board of Ed photo grabbed my attention this spring when I
finally sorted through items salvaged from my mother’s home in
Red Hook after Hurricane Sandy. Despite not having a coat, she glowed
in the December air at a tree dedication for Martin Luther King in
front of an elementary school where she taught in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Marian Anderson and Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X, were in
attendance, and the hope reflected in their faces reminded me of
Muhammad saying that if you are planting a tree when the end of the
world comes, finish planting the tree.
photo sent a shiver of pride up my spine and I began to truly
appreciate what a remarkable person my mother was. Her activism did
not emerge from some academic or ideological vacuum, but through a
lifetime of sacrifice and struggle. At a time when interracial
marriage was still illegal in many states, she married my black
father against the wishes of her Jewish parents. Her family doctor
went so far as to warn her that she would develop a brown stripe
across her abdomen if she had children. Yet here I am.
father had a wry sense of humor. He sent her to Sunday school so she
would learn why Jews were discriminated against. She sold trees for
Israel as a youth, but regretted it when she learned of their
treatment of Palestinians. Then she planted more trees to commemorate
black heroes such as King and Malcolm X during the turbulent 70’s.
nursed my father through the trauma of World War II at the hands of
redneck shipmates as well as German U-boats. She stood by him through
four children, Jim Crow, the betrayal by so-called comrades during
the McCarthy era, and ultimately Alzheimer’s to which he
succumbed. And whether my brother wore a yarmulke, my sister went to
Sunday school, or I embraced Islam, she loved us all the same and in
her wisdom let us each find our own way.
recalled her simple, heartfelt lines written on the fly outside a
Brooklyn detention center housing South Asian detainees post 9/11.
After marching more than a mile in the blustery cold with a bum knee,
billboard, and too many stents in her arteries to worry anymore, she
DOES UNITY MEAN
unity mean going back to the Joseph McCarthy period when fighting for
desegregation in a Brooklyn school ––– where the
fast classes were "lily white" and the slow classes mainly
minority students ––– meant a visit from the FBI
and a lost job,
helping tenants fight their landlord meant a visit from the FBI and a
speaking out for Peace at a rally during the Cuban Missile crisis
meant a visit from the FBI and a lost job,
being a shop steward during a strike that was lost meant
from the FBI to a series of jobs, and being fired over and over with
15 minutes notice,
one's friends and relatives were afraid to visit if one were a
community activist for fear they would lose their government jobs,
Civil Rights, the Human rights were violated over and over.
to me means:
for Understanding and Friendship among all people
to see that people in our country and around the world are free from
want ––– that they have adequate food, clothing,
shelter and medical care
to see that the Civil Rights, the Human Rights of all people are
protected regardless of race, religion or country of origin.
is why we are here today. That is why we will continue to rally and
be active until these goals are met.
in the Pit and Match the Wit
Christian community betrays its own rich spiritual existence when it
clings to pictures, or defines itself by the ideas of an imperfect
original community, or fixates on the sayings “of the actual
took Dorrien’s take on Hegel as equally valid for a historical
Islam that kneels before the Quran and Prophetic speech rather than
discern relevancy and truth in real time. Although Hegel wrote from
an undernourished Christian ethnocentrism, another Dorrien quote of
Hegel captures the essence of any religion of truth as the dynamic
self-determination of reason: Religion
is for everyone… Religion is the manner or mode by which all
human beings become conscious of truth for themselves.
agnostic Robert Ingersoll went further to address the power relations
that inhibit reason: When a fact can
be demonstrated, force is unnecessary; when it cannot be
demonstrated, an appeal to force is infamous. In the presence of the
unknown all have an equal right to think.
seems to me that the ongoing moves in so-called democracies and
religions of truth require dissolving winner’s narratives in
the waters of public reason. Natural and man-made catastrophes kill
innocent and sinner alike, where sinners are invariably defined by
winners. As the late Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe noted in a 1994
interview, “There is a great proverb – that until the
lions have their historians, the history of the hunt will always
glorify the hunter.”
Dasein, and Islam are birthrights for all regardless of
borders. The promise of Quran and Constitution
lies in their human capital with all their flaws, warts, and restless
dispositions. Prioritizing living
relations over accumulating things dead, overcoming the myths
of markets and martyrdom all demand an open market of ideas free of
coercion. And when conflicted interests barter for social goods,
promote the good and mitigate harm in a level arena where
stakeholders must jump in the pit and match the wit on merit.