Why Do We Always Split?

Posted: December 23, 2007 in Uncategorized

“United we rise and divided we fall” as the old saying goes. Yet despite repeated admonitions in the Qur’an to stand together and work for the common good of Islam, African American masjids have historically displayed a distressing pattern of fracturing and spiting apart. We all know of course that it is only through maintaining strong, cohesive communities that vital institutions come into being, but all of that is completely undermined by this disturbingly persistent trend. In this post I’ve attempted to identify some of the critical factors which account for this divisive tendency.

In the first place, Muslim civilization itself has completely failed to formulate a workable theory for political succession, on any level; national, state, or local. This lack of a political theory on the macro level directly impacts the affairs of Muslims on the local level, especially those of our masjids. The history of dynastic “succession” in the ummah is one of endless coups, plots, schemes, Machiavellian machinations, and bloodshed. Viewed from this broader perspective, it is easy to understand why Muslims lack a workable protocol for the transitioning of power. There simply is no historical template on how to do it.

Another endemic problem is the proprietary – “Imam for Life” – mentality that afflicts perhaps most (and Allah knows best) African American so-called “Resident Imams”. In essence, these leaders come to view their respective communities, both in terms of the people and assets, as their own personal property. Unsurprisingly, this can often be quite literally true, with the jamaat’s property legally held by the imam, his family, or cronies, leading to still further questions of transparency and accountability. Under this type of Stalinistic regime, the imam becomes essentially a beneficent (or not so beneficent) strongman, and a personality cult is formed around him as opposed to any strong organization. This type of dictatorial structure does not – and indeed cannot – accommodate any talented, energetic up-start, who would be quite naturally viewed by the leadership as a mortal threat. In this instance then, one of the men has to go – usually the up-start. He will either leave, taking those whom he has recruited from the community with him, or the imam’s “security team’ will summarily put him out. (For further notes on this important point look for my coming post entitled “In the Glow of Love” – I’ll explain the name later).

Another factor which accounts for the fracturing and splitting is dissatisfaction with incompetent Imams. When the sermons become tiring, uninspiring, or just void of beneficial knowledge, the people – in their spiritual hunger – will invariably turn to others for their nourishment. Failure to “re-up” on ones Islamic knowledge (that is of course if one ever had any to begin with) is the perfect way for an imam to invite challenges to his leadership. I myself have listened to many incompetent imams and the ignorance uttered from their mouths was simply breathtaking. Furthermore, too many imams positively refuse – or are just unable – to develop proficiency in the Arabic language. They don’t fully appreciate that in this information age, laziness and weak scholarship are not acceptable. In order to address this problem in the future, a process must begin to professionalize the position of imam. Aspirants to the office must be made to undergo a rigorous program of Arabic, Quranic commentary, and jurisprudence, to be awarded a degree upon its completion. All of this assumes that we indeed have an educational program that might admit these brothers, which of course we do not. But we must develop one (inshallah).

Also, when an imam feels secure in his Islamic knowledge and knows for as-surety that his community respects him for his erudition, he will no longer see other gifted brothers in the community as threats to his position. He’ll become their teacher and mentor, and find ways for the community to benefit from their talents.

It is a fact that African American Muslims expect the imam to know everything about running an institution, when all he may be really qualified to do is teach religion. Here too we find fertile ground for division, for what do you do when the imam wants to play the role of accountant, administrator, architect, business manager, and so on, but positively lacks any qualifications to do so? Again, the solution here is professionalization and the adoption of corporate structures that delineate clearly job descriptions and hold people accountable.

Another source of trepidation for the imam is the lack of any kind of retirement package. Has anyone ever really thought about this? If, for example, a man has given many years of his life to the service of Islam as an imam, is he going to now give up that position as an old man with no retirement benefits. Isn’t it fair for him to ask,”what shall I do after this”? It is precisely for this reason that many younger brothers, those who perhaps nurse the desire to be an imam themselves, are forced to “start their own thing”. The old imam, who is fearful and has nowhere to go, will not give the young man any play.

Finally, the primary reason that most people find it impossible to work with others comes down to nothing more than ego-mania. Unfortunately, for many brothers being an imam is just another way to become a celebrity, to have people buy their CDs and shower them with praise. For these types, they must always be the “star of the show”and the center of attraction. Pride, the deadliest of all spiritual sicknesses, makes his head fat and his ego over-blown, and in self-love he cannot countenance anyone else sharing the “limelight”. It is these sick individuals that always cause the most trouble in any community. If they are the up-start, you’ll see them always trying to gain a following amongst the community. If they’re the imam (God forbid), you’ll see them always trying to take credit for any good that is done, whether they had anything to do with it or not! Let us all remember that we are here to serve Allah, in the hope that He will accept from us our deeds. None of us should ever believe that we are “all that”, but rather, let us humble ourselves and try to work collectively for the betterment of this religion, humanity, and of course ourselves.

  1. Mary Ann says:

    Great article.

    Care to share more about what your idea of an African American Muslim community can be?

    I’d like to see support groups for mental illness, divorce/single parents, grief and loss, money management, and parenting groups.

  2. MaryAnn says:


    I really enjoy reading your blog. Thank you for being so positive, and optimistic about our condition. You are really a fresh of breath air in the blogsphere. It’s nice to see some one project growth and focus on moving forward. Thanks again.

    Allah’s blessings.

  3. sulayman says:

    The article addressed many issues that many people have ignored or overlooked. It is dangerous and unwise for us to pay little or not interest in the interaction between African American Muslims and their immigrant neighbors. In order to build a solid community of Muslim believers ther great divide must be bridged.It takes time and patience to do so. Let us start with what we know and build on what we have Bravo Brother Muhammad and please do not fall into the trap of the opponents of the Muslims who look for wedges to split and divide us.


  4. ABU SULIMAN says:



    “I’d rather see a Khutbah than to hear one any day,
    I’d rather one should walk with me than just to show the way;
    The eye is a better pupil and more willing than the ear;
    Advice may be misleading, but examples are always clear.
    And the very best of teachers are the ones who live their creeds
    For to see good put into action is what everybody needs;
    I can soon learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done.
    I can watch your hand in motion, but your tongue too fast may run.
    And the lectures you deliver may be very fine and true,
    But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.
    For I may misunderstand you and the fine advice you give,
    But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.”


  5. Sulayman,

    With all do respect to you brother, I am quite tried of this line of thinking. I’m sure that you mean well,…however. It is not now, nor has it ever been, African American Muslims who’ve been guilty of what you call “driving wedges”. I write about what I know. The fact is that I know very little about the inner workings of the immigrant community because they’ve been the ones to “wedge” me out. African American Muslims don’t even have the power to drive any “wedges” because their leadership is so completely beholden to the immigrant establisment and very rarely speaks up for our issues. Is this untrue?
    As I have meticulously noted in my 5 part series on “Why Blackamerican Muslims Don’t Stand For Justice”, the immigrant Muslim community, who have millions of dollars in reserve, created scores of orgainzations and never once had to answer charges of “driving wedges” from African American Muslims! I am a free Black man (al humdulillah), and don’t in any way feel the need to apologize for simply living. I totally reject your line of thinking on this point. Let us finally grow up and cast off this slave mentality, and realize once and for all that there is no such thing as a “I’M JUST MUSLIM” Muslim!! This is nothing but mere escapism. It is the failure to recognize that African American Muslims have problems that other communities don’t suffer that is “dangerous” and “unwise”
    Finally, if there is going to be a “soild wall” of brotherhood between the communities, it will be because the immigrant brothers and sisters learn to leave off some of the not-so-pleasent beliefs (read racism here) that many of them hold about us. Maybe when they decide to build a masjid in an urban setting instead of the “Boonies” – ie. as far away from Black folk as possible, and not accessible through public transportation- that the “wedge” you’re so concerned about will close. Why is it that whenever Blackamerican Muslims try to get their act together someone will come along with this utter non-sense.
    I will not be silent any longer (inshallah).

  6. Kwame Madden says:

    Why is it that some brothers have the Imam for life syndro-
    me .I can recall attending one Masjid were the rent was not paid for almost a whole year. Fortunely the mangenment did not remove us occupants at the time. How this happened was that there was no transparencThis particular Imam refused even to have a shura my aself and two other brothers were deemed trouble makers for questioning this abhorrent pratice.Those of us who had ideals to help the move the community forward were shot down.Brothers and sisters who had certain skills to help move the progress forward were not utilized.Unfortunely this particular community has not been able to move out of this one bedroom apartment almost after 20years of being in existence.This tragedy just not just pertain to this particular community but many across the country.I know one immigrant community were the Masjid was shut down during Ramadan.There was a major dispute betweem the founder of the masjid and congregants.The authorties had to intervene.Then want about the sick patheic statements by some when there Masjids were forced to closed and made excuses that those who are on the minhaj are always put to a test .The real truth was that those who are upon the minhaj need to be more inclusive.The sahabah were a unique generation and many had different specialties.Not all of them were erudite in islamic knowledge.But the rightly guided caliphs and and governors of the differenent areas stiill utilized them to advance the islamic movement.As you know were all not going to be scholars.Money is always a oproblem in most Africian American communties.We should put forth a nation wide educaution initiative to focus on the next generation.This should be a 25year program.Educaution has been looked as trying to imitate the kuffar by some.You have written about this brillantly in your previous posts.Those who wish to be Imam for life need to reexamine the postion they been put in.The ideal muslim society by Dr.Muhammad Ali AL-Hashimi published by the international publishing house is excellent work .It is must read on how the muslim society should function and put forth justrice.

    Keep up the goodwork,your frenidship to me in the last few years has meant alot.Iqaamatiddeen must be established.May Allah bless you Bro.Abdur Rahman, and your book be guide for us to correct our mistakes.

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