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Est. April 5, 2002
September 22, 2016 - Issue 667

Legacy of a Prophet (PBUH)?
By Kevin James

"What makes Islam so attractive to
individuals who equate honoring God
and His Prophet with carnage? How do
we enact a legacy for Prophet Muhammad
that affirms life rather than celebrates death?"

Note: PBUH is an honorific used for Prophet Muhammad as well as other prophets cited in the Quran that means peace be upon him, and that Arabic letters are read from right to left.

The transcript of the Orlando night club massacre revealed that the shooter swore allegiance to the Islamic State, praised God, and sent prayers and peace to the Prophet of God - in that order! Notwithstanding the political tradition of finding scapegoats for failed policies, every new barbaric attack against defenseless civilians underscore the Quranic adage that the outer conditions of a people will not change until they change fundamental attitudes from within. What makes Islam so attractive to individuals who equate honoring God and His Prophet with carnage? How do we enact a legacy for Prophet Muhammad that affirms life rather than celebrates death?

What Does Fidelity to Prophet Muhammad Mean?

Does fidelity to Prophet Muhammad mean killing innocents only to assume the sins of the murdered like Cain in the Quran in the deluded hope of finding a shortcut to Paradise? Does allegiance to the ISIL death cult prove one’s character, or will it betray the venality Abraham exposed in the Quran when he pointed out to a tyrant that any fool can kill, but could he make the sun rise from the west?

Does God want us to make Hajj to a land that executes people for their beliefs and trains religious police to prevent firefighters from rescuing uncovered school girls burning to death?  Is it proper for us to accommodate ritual and custom in direct conflict with the Quran’s command against compulsion in religion and the rule of necessity that places life before dogma? Or does the Prophet’s example suggest withholding patronage from a regime that poisons the minds of believers with what scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl called a Trojan-horse translation of the Quran laced with contempt and misogyny?

One can only answer such questions meaningfully from the depth of their being, just as no one can force us what to think or believe. But at least consider the notion that the sincerest form of honoring the Prophet lies in emulation, not imitation; in the restraint of swallowing the draught of one’s anger and in the depth of one’s thought rather than in body counts or in the length of one’s beard.

De-fetishizing the Quran

For those who think, listen, and reason, piety finds expression in cleaving to the lonely road of radical self-criticism and introspection in order to meet the two demands of individuation and reintegration at every juncture. Believers strive to serve God in serving humanity, where they mediate peace by bringing about mutual equity and consensus among diverse viewpoints. Those aspiring to the Prophet’s authenticity and sincerity discern the true from the false by repeatedly questioning societal norms from the singularity of lived experience. The compassionate comfort others to ease their pain and suffering as well as to build their capacity for joy and purpose.

Accordingly, Islam presents agnostic, multi-modal perspectives of truth that begin and end in the individual. The corollary to the Quran’s command to question the relevance of our forebear’s assertions is that fidelity to a religion of truth requires a continual inquiry into the tools of social control that masquerade as divine law. American agnostic Robert Ingersoll captured this struggle of critical thought against coercion in stating "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."

The Higgs-Boson particle is not God and Muhammad was but a man, yet both testify to our utmost reverence towards the unknown. Just as the Cern Hadron Collider yields profound insights into physics by smashing atoms, the Quran reveals its secrets when contemporary understandings confront conflicted verses disclosed at different times and circumstances.

Deterritorializing Islam: Thinking Outside the Ka’aba

When Karl Marx upended political economy with his labor theory of value, more than a millennium elapsed from the Quran’s distinction between the labor that creates value from the parasitic theft of value through usury. Later still, Gilles Deleuze provided an intensive analytic of immanence, difference, and repetition that Quranic verses asserted as Be! and it is, and all things are perishing save His face.

Deleuze in particular suggests a similar genealogy of thought with Prophet Muhammad in their expressions of immanence. To be sure, Deleuze was an atheist who in univocity saw being as differentiated by absolute difference in the single and same sense in which it is said. By contrast, in Tawhid Prophet Muhammad considered divine Being as absolute oneness articulated in the Quran as Say: He is Allah, the One. Yet they implicate a shared headspace where Deleuze described univocity as the strangest thought, if it can be thought at all, and where Prophet Muhammad stated that Islam began as something strange and will revert to something strange.

This openness for novelty and the unanticipated suggests that the cure for the Muslim world’s metastasizing oncology of violence lies in the critical ontology of thought. Whereas Martin Luther decentralized Christianity due to the abuses of the medieval Catholic Church, Fitra - Islam’s natural disposition to question, predict, and test - self-corrects when we internalize Prophet Muhammad’s attitude in real time rather than rely on rote and recitation. Thus, long before the Michel Foucault called for reexamining the very presuppositions of power relations with which we construct social reality, the Quran argued against circular reasoning with empty names.

Solidarity against Oppression Begins with the Face in the Mirror

One finds in scripture what one brings to it. In this regard the Quran functions best as a tool for self-discovery rather than a cloistered reliquary for gods we create. Oppression is worse than slaughter because it engenders more slaughter, which headlines reinforce with sickening regularity. Do we nonetheless continue to walk on the same tired anachronisms handed down generation after generation, or emulate the Prophet’s resolute openness by shaking the very ground upon which we stand?

Moribund political Islam repeatedly misuses the Five Pillars as a cover for fear, oppression, rigidity, coercion, and elitism. Why not instead access the Prophet’s primordial plane through questioning, understanding, empiricism, selecting, and testing?

Indeed, this sedentary hierarchy we call religion constitutes no more than an incarnate of the status quo challenged by the Prophet.  Given that Mecca’s ruling elite deemed Prophet Muhammad a heretic for opposing their moral bankruptcy, Islam demands a fundamental attitude of apostasy each step of the way.

Alif-Lam-Mim and the Eternal Return of Allah

In light of his inability to read or write, one could imagine Prophet Muhammad achieved greater facility in accessing the pre-linguistic ‘other’ of his self during periods of isolated introspection. If he indeed gained his greatest insights from the plane of immanence during those wee morning hours when his mind was sharpest, an alternative to magical thinking would be that Prophet Muhammad encountered Allah as relational, wherein neuroscience modularity suggests he processed a parallax view of his self as God’s presence.

Allah by itself indicates the essence of this relation to the extent that the always solitary Alif signifies the finite intellect confronted by the repetition of Lam as eternal, which ends with Ha, ostensibly for He as a simulacral Allah. What’s more, the seemingly random muqatta’at – those various combinations of Arabic phonemes that introduce select surahs – offer another example in so far as they indicate the Prophet’s pre-individual impressions of differential increments of intensity.

Tellingly, Alif-Lam-Mim, the most frequent formulation of muqatta’at, also prefaces the second and longest surah, The Cow. Given that it contains some of Islam’s most important duties and strictures, at least consider that Prophet Muhammad associated the subliminal relationships between the intellect, the eternal, and the open-ended letter Mim (), which at first blush appears to be the precursor of the question mark.

The Undiscovered Country

At base, neither French philosophers nor Saudi clerics hold a monopoly on truth. Just as the solitary birds flying in formation cast the shadow of Attar’s god-like Simorgh, Jacques Derrida’s democratic promise attains to the extent that each individual perspective finds voice and recognition. It becomes incumbent on us all, therefore, to harness the epochal character of the Quran as an incubator rather than an incinerator for peace.

Unlike the myth of originalism that fuels the exceptionalism of America’s constitutional oligarchy, the legacy of Prophet Muhammad will depend on whether people of different stripe can come together in a messianic opening of their own making. Extremism will collapse when we discover the Seal of the Prophets within as an affirmation of life and point of departure rather than an endpoint that becomes ever more tortured over time.

Come, make ablution in the waters of forgetfulness to see through the eyes of the Prophet. Then let us dare to think the strangest thought, envision what the eye has never seen, and explore the entropy of awareness where we can drop the pretense of identity politics that order according to accidents of birth. In the land of Being where there are no borders, nous sommes Muhammad. Guest Commentator Kevin James is a former firefighter and supervising fire marshal with the New York City Fire Department who responded from home to ground zero on 9/11. He was one of several Muslim Americans profiled in the PBS Documentary Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet. After retiring from the FDNY in 2002 he was accepted into the Revson Fellows at Columbia University and later graduated from Columbia Law School as a Stone Scholar. He interned with the Center for Constitutional Rights as an Ella Baker Fellow in 2005 where he assisted in fighting racial discrimination in the FDNY on behalf of the Vulcan Society as well as finding legal counsel for Guantanamo detainees. Contact Mr. James and BC.




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