Islamic Salon: Are DC Muslims building the BlackAmerica’s Muslim intelligentsia?

One of my friends pointed out that living in Cali I was pretty much living in an intellectual wasteland for African American Muslim intellectuals. Even with two other Black Muslim women from other parts of the Diaspora in graduate school, our schedules too hectic to come together. I didn’t have many peers to share my ideas, build on my research, or to find support. Even though my personal background and experiences had influenced my research direction, I had no one to share the insights I found in my research or make my research relevant to broader issues in the Muslim world. My friends and adviser said that I would likely find a support network outside of academia, through continual exchange online and academic conferences. Slowly I’ve been working on building a peer group, where the respect is mutual. I’ve been looking for people who are intellectuals and activists, people committed to asking deep questions in order to think about creating a better future.

That’s when I began to reach out through blogging. While there have been some amazing sites that have shown promise, I have been disappointed by the distracting posters who follow up discussion with uninformed and counterproductive commentary. Ultimately, I know the limitations to open discourse on blogosphere. I have found promising and civil discourse in academically based discussion groups. What is clear is that we need high standards for our discourse. Moreover, we need real human exchanges with discussion groups, work groups, and writing workshops.
So, today, when someone forwarded me a link to AbdurRahman’s latest post. I was happily surprised. Here’s a brief account of what’s going on in DC:

Imagine for a moment that you’re a highly educated African-American living in the segregated Washington, DC of 1895. Modern distractions like radio and television haven’t been invented yet, and most other avenues for culturally rich and intellectually stimulating entertaiment have been racially proscribed. What do you do? This was the predicament facing the elite members of the race at the close of the 19th, and beginning of 20th centuries. In those days, education meant a heavy dosage of Latin, Greek, or French, great familiarity with the classics of western civilization – like Shakespeare and Plato – and usually the ability to perform a difficult piece of music on either piano or violin.

In learning to cope with the injustices of segregation, these educated Blacks turned inward and developed their own avenues for cultural and intellectual expression. They formed debate clubs and literary societies, attended plays ( held usually in churches), and wrote books and papers. However, one of the more important outlets they turned to – one which we are attempting to rediscover in the Washington D.C. of 2007 – consisted in holding lively and engaging programs in each others homes.

So often we hear that our masjids maintain an atmosphere inhibiting free discussion and thoughtful debate, a lamentable state of affairs. Most masjids, whether African American or immigrant, usually follow some type of “line” ( some ideological Kool-Aid they want you to drink), and all topics not sanctioned by the administration are strictly prohibited. But the home “salon”can be the perfect remedy to combat the intellectual and cultural stagnation that so many Muslims are experiencing today.

Here in the nation’s capital, Muslims are beginning to meet not only in homes, but in little coffee shops as well. Some attend to hear the short lectures and the discussions that follow, while others go simply to find a mate, and that’s o.k. too.

I really hope this idea catches on. After reading Sherman Jackson’s work on BlackAmerica and talking with several up and coming leaders, I am convinced that we need to go back to the drawing board. While we may look at faulty ideologies and failed movements, I think this is an exciting time for Muslims in the West. I believe we may be on the brink of some cutting edge thought. Our thoughts in exchange with the thinkers coming from Muslim majority countries may really help provide some real world solutions to the problems that we face all over the world.