When I was ostracized and slandered by Muslims of my childhood community after I chose to wear a khimaar and stop listening to music, I was deeply confused. Here were people who were in the forefront of interfaith programs, community activism, and establishing movements that formed the foundation of today’s #BlackLivesMatter. They preached showing kindness and compassion to those struggling in major sin. They preached displaying love and understanding to people of all religions. And they regularly spoke about “deeper messages” and “higher truths” in everything from the Bible to well-known movies and songs.
But they could not tolerate a Muslim girl wearing a khimaar or niqaab and not listening to music.
Racial Pride As Religion
As I fell into deeper confusion and ultimately depression as a result of the continuous name-calling, harassment, and character assassination by friends and community leaders I’d trusted and admired since childhood, the fog began to clear, and what was happening to me began to make sense.
In a nutshell, their treatment of me was based on their feeling that my practice of Islam was an off-putting, embarrassing affront to them and other African-American Muslims. They felt that my decision to wear the hijab of “foreign Muslims,” to not listen to music, and to believe in Islam as it was originally taught by the Prophet, peace be upon him, was a disrespect to “our people.”
Their greatest pride and value was drawn from African-American worldly success and “progress” via acceptance in Western society, while mine was drawn from having hope for salvation in the Hereafter.
It wasn’t that I felt I had guarantee of spiritual salvation any more than they did, but my heart simply would not allow me to believe that any real pride or value could be found in anything other than this spiritual salvation.
Yes, I too had African-American pride and wanted some level of acceptance and success in society, but I did not define myself or my faith by this.
As I continued to seek some level of “peaceful coexistence” with my now former Muslim community, I kept hitting brick walls. While their imams traveled the world with figures like the Dalai Lama and the Pope to share a universal message of love and understanding amongst people of all faiths, they were calling me crazy, extreme, misguided, and even Shaytaan (the Devil) himself. While they were active in prison da’wah programs, teaching convicted thieves, rapists, and murderers about the mercy and compassion of Islam, I was hung up on whenever I called, and was being told, “Stay away from my children!”
What is going on? I kept asking myself.
Eventually I got my answer.
Righteousness As Sin
It was a difficult, painful realization to discover that, to them, the most unforgivable sin was righteousness itself.
Religion wasn’t something you sincerely believed in for the sake of your soul in hopes of entering Paradise when you die. And it certainly wasn’t something you went around “preaching” to other people, saying their salvation in the Hereafter depended on it.
In other words, religion had no connection to actually believing, living, or teaching what God said in the Qur’an or what Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, had actually taught.
And if you felt you had to believe, live, and teach what the Qur’an and Sunnah actually said you did, then you were labeled as “crazy” and “extreme,” and your mere presence in their religious and social circles could not—and would not—be tolerated.
Our Resistance To Righteousness Is Chilling
It would require a book—or a series of books—for me to adequately explain all the lessons I learned from this heartbreaking experience. But for simplicity’s sake, I’ll say this:
It is chilling how quickly and staunchly we find the good in the most blatant displays of sin and wrongdoing, and how quickly and staunchly we find the evil in the most obvious efforts of living righteously and calling to good.
Undoubtedly, it is a sign of a deep spiritual disease when you are able to eagerly appreciate the good “deeper message” in everything except what God revealed, and to eagerly celebrate the “empowerment” in the words of everyone except believers calling to Islamic righteousness.
And no, it isn’t only my former community that is guilty of this. Though my former community manifested some of its most blatant signs, my experience in various Muslim communities in America and abroad suggests that this spiritual disease (or at least some form of it) is quite common, if not the norm, in most Muslim communities.
But we obviously don’t think of our behavior in this self-incriminating way.
Instead, like my former community did, we couch our religious hypocrisy in terminology that describes ourselves as “open-minded and good” and practicing Muslims as “close-minded and extreme” (i.e. evil). We are (allegedly) spreading love and compassion, seeking kindness and understanding, and calling to peaceful coexistence. But they (i.e. the practicing Muslims calling to Islam) are being judgmental and arrogant, and “they think they’re better than everyone else.”
And the list goes on with the terms we use to build walls around ourselves to resist heeding (or even respecting) reminders about our souls.
Yet we oddly find the most praiseworthy and understanding terms for those calling us to the Hellfire.
And perhaps nothing demonstrates this religious paradox more than the almost eerie adulation by Muslims in response to the recent video releases by the singer Beyoncé.
Empowerment and Celebration for the “Deeper Messages” Taught By Beyoncé
Because Beyoncé is rather talented at speaking for herself, instead of explaining the “empowering” messages that have inspired even practicing Muslims to declare the singer’s latest releases (“Lemonade” and “Formation”) causes for celebration, I’ll quote some of her “deeper message” lyrics directly:
Who the f— do you think I is?
You ain’t married to no average b— boy
You can watch my fat a— twist boy
As I bounce to the next d*ck boy
And keep your money, I got my own
Get a bigger smile on my face, being alone
Bad motherf—, God complex
Motivate your a— call me Malcolm X
Yo operator, or innovator
F— you hater, you can’t recreate her no
You’ll never recreate her no, hero
He trying to roll me up, I ain’t picking up
Headed to the club, I ain’t thinking ’bout you
Me and my ladies sip my D’usseé cup
I don’t give a f—, chucking my deuces up
Suck on my balls, pause, I had enough
I ain’t thinking ’bout you..
Middle fingers up, put them hands high
Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye
Tell him, boy, bye, middle fingers up
I ain’t thinking ’bout you
When Does Sin Ever Occur Without “Good”?
“Are you mature enough to appreciate the deeper meaning?” This is the question Muslim admirers of Beyoncé are asking whenever someone (understandably) gets upset at their declaration that Beyoncé’s latest songs and videos are “empowering” and a cause for celebration.
However, when we defend defining “empowerment” and calling for celebration in obvious contexts of indecency and immorality, I think we need to carefully consider how sin almost always presents itself in this world.
And when does sin ever occur without a deeper meaning, context, or motivation behind it? Even those committing shirk—the only unforgivable sin (worshipping false gods or assigning creation divine qualities)—do so in an alleged effort to draw closer to God.
“[They say], ‘We worship them only that they may bring us near to Allah’” Az-Zumar (The Troops) 39:3.
So is it so hard to believe that humans are committing other [lesser, even if major] sins for understandable purposes, and even arguably “good” reasons?
It is rare to non-existent that a human being sins for the sole purpose of doing evil and hoping to land in Hellfire. This is why sin is often spoken about in the context of “temptation,” and why those who’ve dedicated their lives to misguidance and corruption are often described as believing they are living right.
“Say, ‘Shall We tell you [of] the greatest losers with respect to [their] deeds? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought they were acquiring good by their deeds. They are those who deny the ayaat [signs, proofs, and lessons] of their Lord and the Meeting with Him. So their works are in vain, and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall not give them any weight” Al-Kahf (The Cave) 18:103-105.
He also says,
“And when it is said to them, ‘Make not mischief on the earth,’ they say, ‘We are only peacemakers.’ Verily, they are the ones who make mischief but they perceive not” Al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2:11-12.
We simply are not created to do evil for the sake of merely indulging in evil. Humans invariably self-justify more than they self-correct, repent, or admit their sins. Thus, we almost always commit sin or wrongdoing in a context that can be (and often is) rationalized and understood with a “higher purpose” or “deeper meaning” attached to it.
Even my former community felt their slander and mistreatment of me was serving the “higher purpose” of inspiring me to appreciate “where you came from.”
Likewise, it is completely understandable that those who find “empowerment” and cause for celebration in Beyoncé’s obvious verbal and visual immorality see some “deeper meaning” or “higher purpose” in her expressions, especially since she couches this evil in expressions of homage to African-American causes and empathy to suffering and marginalized women worldwide.
Yet no matter how much good we sprinkle in our evil—or even how much more good we do in comparison to our evil—God has made it undeniably clear that any evil can land us in Hellfire.
Look To Your Soul
Do not misunderstand me. This is not a blog to convince everyone to stop listening to music or to shun Beyoncé. This isn’t even a blog I wanted to write. My general approach to famous personalities with obviously different moral codes than mine is to not mention them at all. They have their life path, and I have mine. So I choose to focus on the latter.
If Allah grants me the opportunity to meet them in real life or work with them on a mutually beneficial project, I’d be happy to share my thoughts and talk about Islam.
But what this blog is about is a call to us to carefully look at the state of our own souls.
If our immediate reaction to obvious evil is to humbly or fervently celebrate the good and label it “empowerment”—while our immediate reaction to anyone expressing disagreement with this obvious evil is to become angry or critical, or to label them “judgmental” and “arrogant”—then we are showing signs of a heart dangerously rusted in spiritual disease.
And no, I don’t consider myself immune. None of us are. On more occasions than I like, I’ve seen signs of this spiritual disease within myself. And it terrifies me, as it should any believer.
That’s why I decided to write this blog: to caution myself and other Muslims to be very careful regarding the path we are treading with our souls.
“But Everyone Has the Right to Express Themselves!”
Unfortunately, even exhortations to fear Allah and guard our souls from corruption do not penetrate the hearts of many Muslims whose hearts are filled with love of “empowering” entertainment that they consider positive self-expression, irrespective of the obvious sinful or sexually exploitive contexts.
“But everyone has the right to express themselves,” they claim. “And we should support and celebrate that!”
And my response is simply this: If every expression of oneself is valid and cause for support and celebration, then that includes mine.
So I ask you to humbly (and fervently) support and celebrate my “deeper message” of calling us all to self-reflect and purify our souls—and to find empowerment in faith in God and repentance for our sins.
Or is open-mindedness and celebration of “empowerment” reserved only for messages conveyed through clear sin?
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Copyright © 2016 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.
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Copyright © 2016 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.