Monthly Archives: September 2010

Friday Sermon: The Rights & Responsibilities of Brotherhood Pt. 8: The Dignity of a Brother

Delivered by Shaykh Jihad Hashim Brown on 22 January 2010 in Abu Dhabi

To Listen:

To Download: 22-01-10_Brotherhood pt 8 – The Dignity of a Brother


Are Muslims Afraid of Their Own Shadow?

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown ~ 25 Sept 2010 ~ The National, Abu Dhabi

(This is the full, unedited version)

When we used to be American Muslims we hated our own freedom. In the phrase

of the time, “they hate our freedom,” American Muslims were both the “they” and

the “our”. Such a contradiction in terms is probably a good sign that there’s

something awry with the original premise. Not that that helps much in a country

that counts amongst its most popular shows, “Are you smarter than a fifth


Now that the fear mongering in American right‐wing circles has gone viral

amongst the entire public, will Muslims succumb to the same fear? Will Muslims

begin to fear Islam just as much? Will they begin to fear their own selves? The

symptoms have begun to manifest.

The reason for this escalation of what is being called “islamophobia” is all too

familiar. Historically, when societies have gone through disaster or crisis they

have turned on their minorities like the pogroms of 19th century Russia or

Japanese internment in the 1940s. It is an almost ritualistic scapegoating

exercise that hearkens back to ancient times.

Americans are going through a period of uncertainty. Economic downturn and

joblessness are causing them to feel scared and question their future. It is

unfortunately unsurprising that they would seek out a scapegoat when the

impotency of right‐wing politicians to provide the promised solution shows


But if Americans are uncertain about themselves and their future, and happen to

lash out in desperation, it shouldn’t be a cause for Muslims to be uncertain about

their own selves or spiritual culture.

Unfortunately, in an unprecedented loss of nerve, many Middle‐class and elite

Muslims have contracted more islamophobia than the islamophobes. Distancing

themselves from their own religious and cultural identity in a bid to “pass” or fit

in. Even some Muslim countries are trying to marginalize religious practice and

culture or sweep it under the rug altogether as if it were a condition to prove

their worthiness to be picked from the line outside on the pavement to cross the

velvet ropes into the club of glamorous nations.

With the rapacious bellicosity of the state of Israel, the “self‐hating Jew” is a

historical relic. You now have the self‐hating Muslim all decked out for the

minstrel show.

Muslim elites have always tried to distance themselves from their religious and

cultural identity. But never to any avail. Leaving Islamic institutions and native

cultural discourse to embarrassing “lay‐readers” or fixated radicals eventually

backfires on us all.

Instead, Muslims should embrace a robust identity and invest in a rich heritage

that promotes a dynamic, effective, and ‘switched‐on’ discourse. When tomorrow

they sit at the table when company comes, everyone will see how beautiful they


Muslims could gain from the advice of francophone American writer James

Baldwin, in a letter to his nephew in America, “Please try to be clear, dear James,

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no

basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The

really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that

very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these

innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history

which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be

released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable

reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know

better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they

know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this

case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their


New Taboos and Lost Words

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown ~ 18 September 2010 ~ The National, Abu Dhabi

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a global village. At least not when you’re from the wrong side of the tracks. People are constantly trying to judge you through the lenses of their own glasses. Didn’t their mothers ever tell them that it’s not good to share your prescriptions with others? It will ruin your eyesight and cause myopia.

Myopia, that’s the best way to describe the village when people start forgetting how to be good neighbours, or just become downright ignorant. People need to listen, understand and comprehend before shooting off at the mouth.

Hubris, self-indulgence, and narrow-mindedness have joined forces with irresponsible media and the scholastically impaired to give us all a new catalogue of taboos. As Muslims, we are losing meaningful words from the vocabulary of our worldview as they are being rebranded and re-shuffled by self-appointed pundits who have not thought to make an effort to understand them.

In our effort to join the cosmopolis of the new global village we are losing our words along the way. Words like “jihad”, rebranded by one-eyed “experts” in the valley of the couch potatoes as “holy war”. How do you get holy war from the linguistic root, “j-h-d”? It used to mean, “to make an effort”. Within the classical teachings of Islam it always meant, “to expend every effort to do what is right and preserve what is good”. Now one might say that “good” is a subjective construct. But come on, lying, cheating, and hurting others, other than Wall Street and a few transnational corporations … most normal people the world over are in agreement that those things are not good.

Recently we’ve witnessed anti-Muslim demonstrators holding up placards with the word “sharia” painted to appear like dripping blood. Wow, what’s “sharia”? Is it an evil set of draconion rules and regulations hell-bent on suffocating our happiness? Is it a catch-all for all things we think are mean or clash with our own “me generation” pop culture? Sharia used to mean a pathway that leads to a source of water. The Quran says, “from water We have made every living thing.” It also says: “For everything [in the cosmos] we have made for it its own sharia.” So if your Sharia is not leading you to something life-giving and wholesome, then it is not a Quranic sharia.

Look, I don’t mind if we criticise “the radicals”. Even though “radical” used to be a word held in somewhat high regard in the 1980s. It’s the bending and manipulating of our words and concepts that I have a problem with.

Because words like these are being made into new taboos, and with the help of visual media to be associated with viscerally negative connotations; there is an assumption that it is socially incorrect to use them. Muslims now feel they must adopt these assumptions by jettisoning these words, and unfortunately, the real and correct concepts behind them. In their own minds they are replacing them with the “re-definitions”.

This is very tragic. It’s not the way to rectify extremism or achieve enfranchisement, because where will it end? Even “hijab” has become a taboo concept at every metal detector, randomly, of course. What’s next, “mosque”, the Quran, your name?

The only viable solution is for Muslims to reclaim these words and re-establish the original concepts behind them. To retreat from our identity and the meanings that underpin it will secure complete loss. To move forward will require resolve, courage, intelligence, sensitivity and foresight.

If we retreat, the extremists win. Both the ones that run around with guns in the Ozarks or rant out their latent racial angst at “tea-party” rallies and the ones that run around with guns in caves in Afghanistan or bite and burn flags at pointless demonstrations.

Muslims Between Labels & Identity

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown | 04 September 2010 | The National, Abu Dhabi

A myriad of affiliations abound in the life of a Muslim. Some people identify with their country, some with their favourite sports club. Others identify with their ethnicity or tribal loyalties, still others with their career or preferred musical genre.

But all these operations of “identifying with” are only skin deep. They can only go so far to explaining who a person actually is, let alone their worth as a human being. They are more like labels, brands or tags by which a person can be categorised in the appropriate file.

The question of “identity”, however, is a much different and deeper issue. First, it is one of the primary investigations of metaphysics in philosophy. It has to do with the essence or quiddity of a thing, meaning the qualities that fundamentally make it what it “is”, and without which, it would lose its identity.

In Arabic we call this the huwiyyah, the innermost dimension of a person that indicates his reality. The term mahiyyah is also used to refer to “that by which a thing is what it is”.

For example, Muslim scholastics accepted the definition of the human essence as “the rational animal”. But “animal” in Arabic means anything infused with life, hayawan. So it would mean a living rational entity. Or in the case of the human being we could say “the rational soul”; as ensoulment is the key differentiator from common animal life; and the rational mind is actually a faculty of the soul.

The 20th century German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, referred to the state of being particular to the human person as da-sein, “being there”; the defining principle of da-sein is that it is the only thing conscious of its own being, and for whom its own being is an issue for it.

Any discussion of Muslim identity must begin from this level of inquiry. It must be about “being” something, beyond labels and sound bites. Allah refers to people of spiritual consciousness as ulu albab, people of core, people of substance. This is more than a fashion, or a “stylisation”. For example, the realisation of ultimate unicity is defining for the Muslim. The consciousness that everything is returning to a single point of causal-ontological unity, and that this is the source of equilibrium in the universe.

Another example is that the meaning of peace in Islam comes from the human being’s submission to the natural order of the universe. Only the human being can resist order. So when he relinquishes resistance, he comes into harmony with the rest of the cosmos.

It is from here that the meaning of human being in Arabic obtains. Insan is the one who has achieved inner harmony by becoming fully human and so everything in the cosmos finds comfort (uns) in him.

When it comes to identity, finding the right place to begin the discussion is the goal. All I can offer here is a start. Bringing it to a conclusion is for others. Regarding the essence of the Muslim, the Prophet Muhammad famously described a good companion as like a perfume vendor. Even if you don’t purchase anything you still come away smelling fragrant just from his company.

Perfumes are made from the distilled essence of the plant or flower from which they come.These thoughts echo in the words of the poet who said, “If the fragrance of His remembrance is diffused in the West, and in the East is a sick man, he willed be cured from his illness.”