Tag Archives: Imam W. Deen Mohammed

Freedom of Speech in the Context of Human Relations and the Body Politic

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealings and let not the hatred of others toward you, make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety. Fear Allah, indeed Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.”
(The Noble Qur’an 5:8)

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (The Holy Bible, Proverbs 12:18)

“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.”
―Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story

What has happened in our country and around the world over the last few days has to affect the sensibilities of all right-minded and right-hearted people the world over. Our prayers go out to the families and co-workers of our citizens who lost their lives and for people in other countries who lost their lives caught in the middle of protests. Civil sensibilities have also been offended by the reckless so-called free speech of the persons who produced a hateful video.

The protests by some adherents of Islam in certain places around the globe show just how much work needs to be done to usher in a true reformation of civil society in many places where governments and the body politic are in great transition…a transition to gain their proper footing as believers in Islam in a world of new technology, communication, and intellectual rights and discourse.

Intellectual discipline tempered by an ability to withstand polar opposite views that one may even find reprehensible is directly related to one’s apparent perception of a personal locus of control. That is, how much control do I have over my life and therefore control over what affects my life. If I have a real or perceived inability to affect my own life through the ballot box, education, government and societal institutions, employment and other basic human rights (including rights for women, the poor, disabled, and elderly)…if I feel leadership and institutions have failed me, then I am more likely to respond at a base level of anger and violence when a trigger is applied that irritates that underlying feeling of helplessness.

The late American Muslim leader, Imam W. Deen Mohammed (ra) while addressing a group of leaders in his community and commenting on their responsibility to the people expressed, ‘You know you can say something to someone and if that someone perceives themselves to be of a lower socio-economic status or importance than you, then you can damage them for life….you can say something to them that will hurt them terribly deep in their soul, whereas if they said the same thing to you, you might not give it a second thought [because of self confidence or your perceived personal locus of control].’ I paraphrased his comments.

I was deeply affected by the Imam’s comments. What I got from him that day was we have to be very, very careful what we say and how we say it, and to whom we say it, especially if the person or group or community we are addressing has historical circumstances or sensitivities that have traditionally put them at a disadvantage on the world stage.

The world is getting smaller and smaller and the “developed” world is now in the backyard of the “undeveloped” world and vice versa. This new and increasingly closer proximity not fathomed in the early 20th century, but now ushered in by the emergence of new technology, communication, and trade presents a new dynamic in human relations and that dynamic must be met with a corresponding sensitivity to the psychological and sociological needs of populations affected by generations of a loss of locus of control.

The true profound reformation that is needed and that I referred to earlier is a gradual process and has historically taken at least a generation. Yet if we expect to live in the here and now as a global society in peace, we have to continually find ways to understand the problems and perceptions that are foreign to us as Americans and then develop strategies that will enable others beyond our borders to arrive to where we are as a citizenry in terms of civil discourse and the ability to listen, read or view an image without becoming enraged to the point of taking a life or destroying property.

But that is not to say that as an American citizenry, we too don’t have some homework to do or room to improve with respect to enhancing our democracy and its capacity to integrate and balance free speech with responsible speech. If one person by a single video is able to strike a match and intentionally or unintentionally light a keg of civil unrest and mayhem, a keg already made flammable by pent up frustrations that are unrelated to the video, then I believe it’s time to use the same media to encourage artists, writers, producers, journalists, and everyone to use our rights responsibly.

Think about this: We have legal restrictions on our free speech rights that prevent someone from yelling fire in a crowded theater because of the consequences. But look at the consequences of this video incident in terms of the human toll and costs to governments around the world. Now I know some will say, well it’s easy to predict the proximate consequences of yelling a false fire in a crowded theater, not to mention, there is no redeeming free speech value in doing so, and there may be other legal issues involved such as a deliberate intent to endanger a person. Fire in the theater is easier to litigate and legislate.

I understand too the slippery slope concept that if we apply similar reasoning to the video in question, the problem arises wherein “no one” is qualified, legally equipped, or has a right to question, much less determine, if the video has any redeeming free speech value and more important, no one has the right to restrict its production or circulation that is predicated upon some possible proximate negative consequence. And therein lies the dilemma. I am not sure if the producer, director, and financiers of the video could be liable under a legal theory of deliberate intent to incite violence…that’s for the legal minds to figure out.

So this is what I am proposing on our side for the American citizenry and society…Let’s try something different with respect to encouraging responsible free speech that does not affect the Constitution. Maybe it’s time to have public service announcements (PSAs) just like we have for illegal and OTC drugs, alcohol, voting, seatbelts, etc.  PSA are often directed at behaviors we want to discourage or encourage. Perhaps we could have journalists, writers, producers, actors, athletes, religious leaders, public servants and other opinion shapers come across the TV, ipad, and laptop screen with the following (for example):

“I’m an American and I have the freedom to say just about whatever I want…I have a right and I’m proud of that right. But let me ask you, just because I have the right…does it mean it’s right to say it? Citizenship has its responsibilities. Be a responsible citizen…use your free speech wisely. Our expression can help or hurt.”

Just like I’m not a lawyer, you can tell I’m not a TV ad executive either. But I hope I made the point that PSAs could benefit us as a citizenry and even as a body politic. Such PSAs might even help temper back the daily and extreme political rhetoric coupled with personal attacks that bombard our airwaves. PSAs could benefit us at home in other ways too including helping to combat irresponsible free speech that reveals itself in child exploitation and derision of women.

I do not believe that a PSA will 100% eliminate irresponsible free speech, anymore than PSAs eliminate drunk driving, illegal drug use, high school dropouts, or voter apathy. What I do believe is that we have a responsibility as a society to not only encourage and protect free speech, but to encourage responsible free speech from inside our homes with our children, spouses, and relatives to outside in our local and global communities. I believe such PSAs can also help demonstrate to others beyond our borders what free speech means in our society and what limits we have placed upon ourselves to curtail it, and just as important, the encouragement we have for being responsible and thoughtful in exercising the right.

I believe a PSA approach sidesteps the traditional constitutional or legal barriers that have proven intractable in even protecting our own society from predatory and ethically challenged marketing and profiteering disguised as free speech advocacy. Our democracy doesn’t just improve based on changing laws or adding amendments to the Constitution. We can improve our democracy too by the way we think and the way we see one another and the world, and in the way we encourage one another to the highest level of conduct and expression.

No one credible believes anymore that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

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Faith in the Family of Man

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealings and let not the hatred of others toward you, make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety. Fear Allah, indeed Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (The Noble Qur’an 5:8)

“O you who believe!  Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor…” (The Noble Quran 4:135)

‘‘We must work on our personal behavior…I am speaking of intelligent profitable behavior. It is to behave in a certain way, to favor a good future and prosperous outlook. I am emphasizing intelligent and profitable behavior. The more serious area of behavior is caused by the way we think. Go and stand by the strength of somebody. Everyone has a good side, a good sensitivity or some good quality…Look for the good and don’t give up…The Muslim is supposed to look for something to build on before looking for something to tear down…We should remember and practice that wisdom. When having to confront each other as family, or as brothers and sisters, or as friends or strangers, remember this: Look for something to build upon before looking for something to tear down. That will help tremendously.’’—Imam W. D. Mohammed (ra)

Just like for all people, “the Islamic family is the first Muslim government for the individual. Within the family we learn that there is authority, responsibility, and accountability; we learn that there are mutual ties that bind the family and that there are duties parents owe to children and vice versa.

We learn discipline, communication, understanding, and compassion. And hopefully, within the micro government of family, we develop the social and intellectual skills to function in the macro governments of our schools, masajid, and communities. For Muslims, these systems of government are interdependent and the dome topping each is the Holy Qur’an and the life of Muhammad (S). Genesis of New American Leadership, p. 41.

Islamic government begins with the individual and the rights of the individual to realize his or her highest potential while respecting the rights of others and the society in general. Government is an essential element in the organized management of rights and resources. When there is more than one individual, the need for government becomes apparent.

There have been and still exists many forms of government from feudalism, monarchies, and theocracies, to serfdoms, parliaments, and republics. As Muslims, we believe that the Prophet established the model government during the early development of Islam in Medina and Mecca. In a political context, true Islamic government is a democratic republic.

Many years ago, Imam Mohammed stated that democracy in the Islamic context does not simply mean freedom (blind passions and ambitions to do as we please no matter the outcome or effect on others) as we have been given in American contemporary culture. Instead he commented that freedom is the ability to think, to reason and to develop the intellect responsibly.

Free-[dome] means a free mind and it implies some structure and authority for our thinking and decision-making. Dome means head, the top portion of a structure; the crown. As Muslims, we are free to move within established boundaries—to be ‘‘free thinkers’’ as long as we have something guiding our thinking (something to serve as a dome over the intellect).

Our freedom is the ability to develop the individual and society within the established boundaries of Qur’an and Hadith without stifling the creative processes of reasoning, rational discourse, and the presenting of opposing view points. Free thinking does not mean irrational thinking, poor reasoning, or spiritual extremism that serves neither the individual nor society well. Genesis of New American Leadership, p.40.

Once we understand the natural order that God wants, we can make real progress as an individual or a group. Many developments during the last part of the twentieth century are manifestations of the natural development toward interdependence.

The specialized sharing of information in cyberspace via the world-wide web, the interlinking of macro-economics among the nations, and the emergence of free-market economies and democratic reforms are not accidental. These interdependent characteristics are an outgrowth of the natural development toward mutual cooperation, shared outcomes and the gradual elimination of virtual domination by the few. Allah (SWT) denies domination to all who seek it.

Interdependence is not served by racism, extreme nationalism, ethnicism, religious intolerance and other xenophobic tendencies. Despite occasional bumps along the global path of human relations, humanity is moving further away from racism and destructive nationalism. The world is becoming the neighborhood that the great reformer, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others envisioned”…(Genesis of New American Leadership, p. 42.) The question is what are you and I doing to help the ‘neighborhood’ along? What is our masjid doing? Is the American Muslim Community sufficiently interdependent to help usher in the next level of reformation and progression for the global community?

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

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Trusting in the Group Intellect: A Critical Component of Faith – Part 1

“While the European renaissance was a result of the intellectual power of Al-Islam, the Muslim community struggled under its periods of intellectual repression. I believe after review that the beginning of the decline of the Muslim empire after the 13th century, although attributed to various secondary causes, resulted from a fundamental error committed by many Muslim governments: the rejection of the group intellect as a governing authority in Al-Islam.” Genesis of New American Leadership, p. 95.

When we talk about faith, we normally have the discussion within the context of faith in the Creator. For Muslims and Christians whose native tongue is Arabic, we say faith in Allah (the Most High). But there is another component of faith that is essential to group dynamics and progress at every level of human relations…and it is that the leaders and the followers must have faith in the group intellect.

And when this faith component is absent, the group’s progress will be stifled.

How important is trust in the group intellect? To answer the question, it is helpful to ask first, how important is trust in the individual intellect?

“G-d has not created anything better than Reason, or anything more perfect or more beautiful than Reason. The benefits which Allah gives are on its account, and understanding is by it; and Allah’s displeasure is caused by it; and by it are rewards and punishments. Verily a man has performed prayers, fasts, charity, pilgrimage, and all other good deeds; but he will not be rewarded but in proportion to the sense he employs.” (Prophet Muhammed, pbuh)

Another word for trust is faith. I may say I trust you, or I can say I have faith in you. But trust is a bit more nuanced and goes beyond faith. Trust can be a noun or verb and the fact that it can be turned into an action is the difference I am referring to. If I say I trust you, it means I am willing to demonstrate my faith in you in a tangible way:

1. Allowing your voice to be heard.
2. Allowing you to contribute your knowledge, skills, abilities, and proposed solutions.

And not only allowing you, but trusting that you have the sensitivities, the sincerity, and the capacity to contribute as well or better than me. And unless you demonstrate some flaw in character or competency that endangers the group, I should help create the environment or shared freedom space, as Imam W. Deen Mohammed (ra) phrased it, for you to contribute.

And I should believe in the fruits that will occur from your contribution. I should believe that G-d will bless your contribution to be beneficial. I should have that expectation, just as I have that expectation of my own contributions.

This idea of trust in the group intellect is a theme that occurs throughout the Qur’an and the Life Example and Recorded History of Mohammed the Final Prophet (peace be upon him). The benefits of trusting in the group intellect has also been proven in human history as an advantage in societal development. Groups, organizations, institutions, societies, etc. that do not value trust in the group intellect cannot build long-term sustainable civilizations today. I say today because like the individual soul and intellect that develops over a period of time, the group intellect also develops over a period of time. The collective intellect of man today is not the collective intellect of man a thousand years ago. One thousand years ago, the biggest problem facing the human intellect was literacy.

Now literacy is still an issue in certain places of the globe, but the biggest problem facing the collective intellect today is a voice crying out like sounding clay tempered with the heat of frustration in that those very voices are not being heard. Today the problem facing the collective intellect is how best to structure evolved systems of leadership, governance, and accountability that trust in the group intellect and respect the voice of the common man. It is also the biggest problem in our masajid, the biggest problem in our national Islamic community, in our nation, and in the world.

Consider this for a moment: What was the catalyst of the struggle against the human being and the attempt to bring about the destruction of G-d’s man from the very beginning? In Islamic and biblical theology, the source of the destructive prejudice and unfair discrimination against man began with a creature who felt man did not deserve the leadership role. In the Qur’an, Iblis becomes the satan that challenges G-d’s plan for man and humanity, not on the basis that Iblis did not have faith in G-d.

The satan did not express disbelief in G-d, he expressed by default a disbelief in the Plan of G-d, because of his arrogance that he was better than man. Satan or shaitan was blinded by his own arrogance, in his belief that he was better than man. Remember we have been taught that man means mind. In Islam, Iblis approached the collective Adam and tried to get him to disobey his Lord. Iblis by default was also ignorant of G-d’s plan and by extension the ability and capacity of man to carry out great work. Satan did not believe in man, even though he believed in G-d. Now the odd thing about this conundrum of belief is that one can say he believes in G-d, yet fail to trust in Him with all his heart and soul and faith.

We as believers have to trust that the Word of G-d is true and that G-d, since He created us, knows us better than we know ourselves; and we can know only by His Grace and ultimately, He knows best. In Al-Islam, one of the attributes of the Creator is that He is Al-Mu’min, The Believer. He is the first to believe. Believe in what. Believe in what He has created and in the capacity of what He has created to fulfill its role…to live up to its potential. In Al-Islam, G-d believes in man.

Now it was G-d Who gave the gift of the intellect to the individual. Didn’t He also give the gift to the group both implied and explicitly?

We are cautioned in Qur’an on two personalities (types) who lived during the time of Jahilliyah or the Period of Ignorance that refers to the devolution of human civilization following the mission of the Christ (peace be upon the noble Messenger and his mother) until the advent of the Revelation of Qur’an. The two persons are Abu Jahl (father of ignorance) and Abu Lahab (father of arrogance); the arch enemies of Al-Islam.

In reality, Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab have been around much longer than the Dark Ages, and they are mentioned in the Qur’an for all times as arch enemies of Al-Islam and the Life Example of Muhammed (pbuh) to warn humanity that if we want darkness, backwardness, and ignorance, and if we wish to be so arrogant as to reject what G-d has given us as a gift, then

1. Deny the right of the group intellect.
2. Lose faith in the group intellect.
3. Don’t trust the group intellect.

And what are some of the actions that typify a loss of faith in the group intellect:

1.Subjugating half of the group intellect by gender and denying them even the right to literacy, much less an education.

2. Subjugating other parts of the group intellect and denying them a voice in the affairs of state based on their color, caste, and religion.

3.Failing to prioritize the allocation of the public treasury to make education affordable at all levels (from pre-school through graduate education) to all citizens.

4. Succeeding to governing leadership by genetic birth right and essentially espousing the de facto declaration that only those who come from my loins are wise and sincere enough to lead.

5. Investing more in prisons than you do in education.

The list above is not all-inclusive. Are there signs in your masjid that the group intellect can’t be trusted? Are there signs in our national Islamic community life that the group intellect can’t be trusted? Are there signs in the international ummah that the group intellect can’t be trusted?

–To be continued.

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

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