What To Do When Muslims Behave Badly

By behaving badly, I don’t mean Muslims not praying or transgressing personal morality. I mean things that violate someone else’s humanity and dignity. You know, things like genocide, terrorism, enslavement, child abuse, and violence against women. How do Muslims come to terms with the atrocities committed by other Muslims?

Should their actions cause a crisis of faith? Should we reflect upon our core beliefs to understand why the trans-Saharan slave trade occurred, why genocide is going on in Darfur, why there is still the enslavement of blacks in Mauritania, why female genital mutilation is praticed in many parts of the Muslim world inluding Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, and in some parts of the Levant and Iraq? Or should we Muslims try to defend our faith and seek the core spiritual truths. Do we explain that these actions were due to cultural practices, even though the perpetrators may sincerely believe that they are doing some actions in the name of the faith? How do we come to terms with the fact that religious ideology is used to justify all sorts of brutality?

My understanding of these issues have been shaped by my training as a Western scholar. But there is the part of me whose identity is tied up with the cultural religious complex called Islam. Although I try not to let my faith blind me from seeing historical realities, my identity shapes how I understand those realities. I have read several articles that make broad generalizations in their critiques of Muslim/African encounters and Arab/African encounters. Often Arab and Muslim are depicted as synonomous. Right now, Arabs are the only ethnic group that it seems generally okay to say vehemently racist things abou them. Many Arabs are Muslim, but clearly not all Muslims are Arabs. In fact the majority of Muslims come from Indonesia. Few people have bad things to say about Indonesians. But I digress.

I am in a society that is largely hostile to both my race and my religious beliefs and practices. Our communities tend to circle their wagons and in this defensive position we are less likely to be introspective or reform driven. Instead, any criticism from outsiders is taken as an attempt invalidate our beliefs and identity. But this does not mean that we should focus on defending our beliefs and cultural practices against important critiques. The truth of the matter is that Muslim women are still not able to secure the rights accorded them in the Shariah. There is a huge difference between High Culture, popular culture. Doctrine and ideology does not determine the actions of individuals. Instead, a full range of overlapping and conflicting interests can drive why individuals and groups choose to do certain things. What I think is important is to expose how individuals manipulate the naivete of their followers. It is important to look at the political economy of any movement. It is essential to look at the material motivations, as well as consider whether or not spiritual beliefs were sincere. And just because someone is sincere in their beliefs, that does not mean that they are not misguided. This is why it is important to move beyond the Us/Them mentality. The Us/Them mentality is really the thing that allows us to behave badly against other human beings. Anyways, that’s my thoughts for now. This meditation will continue…

Food for the Soul and Muslim Owned Liquor Stores

A food activist came to campus today. Bryant Terry had a wonderful book called “Grub” which was full of information, recipes, and historical background on healthy sustainable living. I think he was surprised to find a receptive audience. I was even surprised how many books he sold. It is not just that we are health nuts. But a lot of us know something is wrong in the world if 10 companies make 50% of the food we eat. That is like less than 200 people deciding what we process, what we digest, and the amount of energy we have. Terry was inspired by the Black Panther’s food breakfast programs for children. He does a wonderful service by bringing his message to children in the inner city.

Well, today thousands of innercity children are fed poor diets. I did some work as an intern in East Oakland where I did inventory of the food available to low income neighborhoods. Oakland issued a bunch of licenses to liquor store owners, but does little to promote businesses that truly serve the community and provide opportunities to train and develop the youth. It is surprising how few black businesses are in predominantly black neighborhoods. The institutions that be in the city of Oakland support the licenses of the Yemeni-American Cartel, ahem, I mean Grocers. But, little support has been given to providing these communities with actual grocery stores and not just full of junk food and alcohol.

I went to one of the protests against Muslim owned liquor stores, but a friend of mine had misgivings. It wasn’t really feeling her misgivings or lack of condemnation of the Arab/Muslim liquor store owners. It wasn’t a conversation I could get too much into without getting heated. I suspect a lot of immigrant Muslims had similar misgivings. They did not come out in force and represent. I think it is ironic how they will condemn this and that, but Muslims are not willing to condemn an exploitative economic institution. Especially one that preys upon the downtrodden by capitalizing on their weaknesses and nafs. This economic exchange is one that also perpetuates bad relations between Arabs and African Americans. The liquor store interaction is often the only interaction Arabs have with African Americans. And in fact, many immigrant Muslims have never seen the other side of African American life, you know, the other 75 % that is not under the poverty line. Likewise, many African Americans only experience of Arabs is the paranoid and often rude Arab liquor store owner. Ive been talked to crazy like I was some crack head ho.

So, while I’m feeling the food activism and sustainable living, the main problem is access to resources. I find it appalling how easy it is to get liquor and how hard it is for to get a fresh meal, let alone a salad. I see this as a political problem. And it is a public health problem. The African American community is plagued with health problems associated with poor diets, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heat disease. And they dont have access to good health care. I know people who want to open grocery stores in the inner city, but their endeavors receive little support. In Palo Alto, I can get in my car and drive to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Heck, I can even get to Safeway and get some fresh vegetables. But across the tracks in East Palo Alto, I heard there still isn’t a single grocery store. So, like EPA, in Oakland, there are poor families, the elderly, single mothers, and children who don’t have the same access as I have. But what is in front of them is a quick escape from their day-to-day toil of an inescapable cycle of poverty.