Much as I would hate to admit it, I am now something of an “old head” in the American Muslim community. I accepted Islam about a quarter of a century ago and have witnessed first hand the trials and tribulations, successes and failures of mostly those converts like myself, who’ve worked to try to carve out some kind of space for ourselves in this country. The events of the past ten years or so have been particularly hard and have produced in us no small measure of confusion and cognitive dissonance as we tried to make sense of the 9-11 attacks and the subsequent fallout which resulted in the conviction and incarceration of some of our closest friends (or former friends).
The real truth of the matter is that many of us held beliefs that were just not right nor sustainable in the real world. For older heads like myself, Islam was seen as a force which militated against the racial injustices we saw and experienced in our youth, those which belonged to earlier decades in the history our country. But just as times have changed, we who are now middle-aged men and women have found ourselves forced to change, so it gives me great pleasure to see that many of the younger generation of African-American Muslim converts are attempting to avoid the many mistakes we made in our youth and which were the product of inexperience and flawed understanding.
In the process of organizing the Town Hall Meeting scheduled for May, I have had the good fortune of speaking with a number of very some sharp brothers and sisters; committed Muslims who have very soberly recognized the one great failure of past leadership, namely, their inability to form a vision of what a viable and vibrant Muslim community would mean for the totality the African-American community. That is because they accepted Islam at a time – during the sixties and the seventies – when Islam was viewed as just another dimension of the militant black struggle in this country to make America pay for her sins. It was angry, belligerent, and extremely anti-American. But it was also paradoxically characterized by a racial ambivalence, taking itself as something separate and apart from the black community and removed from the currents of black consciousness then circulating throughout the country. It was this confusion on the race question, coupled with an infusion of extremist literature from Muslim countries, that caused Black Islam to treat the issues and concerns of black America, both socially and politically, with benign neglect if not outright disdain. It is for this reason that Black Sunni Islam never enjoyed – as it does not enjoy today – the respect and adulation the Nation of Islam does, which doctrines aside, unapologetically proclaims Islam as the religion of black people.
These younger Muslims understand that the old pessimistic view of America we once held is now no longer sustainable. They have a sense of civic engagement and respect for the country that was unimaginable in the Black Muslim movement of old. They love Malcolm X but nevertheless understand that his critique of America is dated, especially in the age of Obama where it has been conclusively demonstrated that anything is possible in America if one is willing to work hard for it, even the presidency. They’ve seen waves of immigrants come to this country and prosper while we remain mired in poverty, paranoia and crazy conspiracy theories. And more importantly, they’ve come to understand that the immigrant Muslim agenda is not their agenda, and that the scourge of Muslim terrorism is directed equally against them as it is all Americans. And perhaps most importantly, they know for a fact that love and concern for the African-American community, the community that they gave them life and from which they spring, is not “nationalism’.
And so I can gladly report that contingents in Minnesota, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia are working together to make the upcoming Town Hall meeting a rousing success. It is a new vision born of a new maturity that is at stake.