As we move foreword in our endeavors to build a strong and vibrant Muslim community in America, at some point in time – and I am convinced the time is now – we must address an ugly truth that we’ve all known to be true yet are too embarrassed to admit, namely, that our community is full of criminals. I didn’t say “reformed criminals”, for that would be one thing. No, I’m talking about a dark subculture that has somehow managed to harmonize completely lawless activity with a Muslim identity.
At first this would appear an oxymoron, a complete contradiction in terms, but it is true, and has been for an incredibly long time. We must confront this issue head-on, and break the back of this perverse culture which has retarded our growth and development for far too long.
Along the east coast corridor of the United States – New York, New Jersey, Philly, Baltimore, and DC – God only knows the percentage of Blackamerican Muslims who are either incarcerated, on parole, or have a criminal record. The numbers are absolutely staggering. This is because one of the few places an African American Imam can earn a full time living is as a “prison chaplain”, not a university professor, writer, businessman, or any other middle-class profession for that matter. This creates a very serious imbalance in the kind of brothers who come to populate the Blackamerican masjids, since the only “skill set” most of them seem to have is robbing, raping, beating, and murdering – crimes they continue to commit even after being released! There are no institutions on the outside to inculcate in these men any real sense of manhood, responsibility, integrity, honesty, and respect for the law.
Where are our real estate brokers, professors, lawyers, health care workers, teachers, accountants, business executives, government employees, the kinds of people you need to build a balanced, healthy and strong society. How did Blackamerican Islam come to be identified with the criminal underclass and what is the ideology that produces this strange orientation? Why is it so common, for example, to hear talk of “rival jamaats”, “karate and military training”, “security teams”, “co-intel-pro”, “the police and F.B.I.”, the “evil system”, and all manner of bizzare conspiracy theories? Where does this stuff come from? Where is the emphasis on education, maintaining gainful employment, respect for ones wife and family, and genuine remorse for one’s unsavory past? Again, how is it conceivable that a dispute between two Imams, in a masjid no less, ends up in bloodshed and death (as what happened at the Yasin Masjid in 1974)? What is it about our understanding of religion that creates this sick, dysfunctional culture? Can we imagine, for example, a heavily armed “security team” from 1st African Methodist Church led by its pastor going to 2nd Missionary Baptist Church to physically harm or even kill its parishioners?
In my humble judgement, a significant aspect of the problem can be traced to an inordinate glorification of Malcolm X and his legacy. Even though for most of his short, public career he was a dedicated member of the NOI, he nevertheless came to be seen as the “convict-turned-Muslim” archetype, later turned stereotype, which we are all familiar with. It is for this reason that even today his autobiography is one of the most widely-read books within our nation’s correctional facilities. It is this book which leads many of these convicts to accept Islam. Of course no one is saying that there is anything blameworthy about brothers accepting Islam in the joint. Not at all! However, the image of Malcolm X (and his criminal past which he always reminded his audiences of) looms so large in the consciousness of Blackamerican Muslims that he completely overshadows other equally note worthy personalities like Congressman Keith Ellison or the Police Chief of Philadelphia, Sylvester Johnson, for example. In other words, Malcolm cannot be the end-all be-all of Muslim heroes or role models.
Most importantly though, we must root out the pernicious ideology which says that the “kafir system” under which we live is illegitimate and not worthy of respect. All these romantic, Utopian notions of the “Islamic State”, “The return of the Khalifah”, and all other unrealistic dreams must be dispensed with. My own view is that after affirming the five “pillars of Islam” everything else is suspect. Of course that is an exaggeration, but not much. We must divest our Islam of all this imported political ideology, and return it to its message of monotheism, worship, goodness, kindness, compassion, mercy, fellow-feeling, and love for humanity. THIS IS THE TRUE MESSAGE OF ISLAM, not all that political crap like we see overseas.
Once you teach brothers who are already given to lawlessness and living on the margins of society, that the system is illegitimate, their crazy minds come to rationalize all manner of nefarious dealings. The idea here is that “I’m harming the system to bring down the system”, but in truth they remain nothing but criminals. Any foul deed becomes “halal” if it is perpetrated against the “kafirs” to enrich the “Muslims”. Robbing a bank for example, according to this twisted logic, becomes an act of virtue inasmuch as the wealth of the “kafirs” is decreased while that of the Muslims is increased. All of this kind of crazy non-sense must be exposed for what it is, a gross perversion of this great religion. Last I checked, we are followers of the final Prophet and Messenger to humanity, not Red Beard the pirate!
In conclusion, let me just say that it is time for us to fly straight and get our house in order. We must reject the “boot-leg”, criminal culture that has for all practical purposes been accepted by Blackamerican Muslims. “Boot-leg books, CDs, clothing, purses, movies, sweat shirts and tee shirts are the common wares of Muslim vendors everywhere. This has to stop. The hour has arrived for all of us to become productive, law abiding citizens, and useful members of society.