My brother Dawud Walid wrote an article recently decrying an emerging “don’t judge” culture amongst Muslims in the United States. I misunderstood what he was referring to in the beginning and engaged him on twitter. I think that I see his point now, but I wanted to address a few things and explain my points in a manner that I could not on twitter.
Please note that I am not implying that Dawud is arguing for any of what I am opposing below (indeed he states very clearly that Muslims are NOT a monolith as well). I am simply extrapolating my thoughts from twitter:
Firstly, we are all the sum of our experiences in life. These experiences affect us in ways we don’t even realize. Back in the 1990s a group of Muslims and I started a small mosque in the Newark area (that continues to operate to this day) and we were immediately disparaged as “deviants” and “munafiqs” by another area mosque and their imam with the purpose of trying to destroy our efforts. An entire tape series was recorded and distributed across the English speaking world denouncing us as somehow “insufficiently Muslim”. To make a long story short, from this experience I have become very allergic to any effort to attempt to codify a single interpretation of Islam as the “real” Islam. This also informed my twitter responses to Dawud. The very same “don’t judge” type arguments were used against us by this very sectarian group.
I strongly believe that every Muslim should be free to practice Islam exactly as they see fit and I oppose any effort (subtly or otherwise) to impose a particular version or interpretation of Islam as “the” Islam. The point that Muslims are NOT a monolith needs to be emphasized REPEATED until it sticks! There is no papacy or clergy in Islam no matter what some may say. There has been and remains today an enormous range of dogmas, practices and versions of Islam that must be accommodated for us to get along peacefully. On the other hand, if a particular group/sect of Muslims want to follow a quasi-papacy, then they should feel free to do that if that is what they feel they must do. But they should not attempt to impose that upon all Muslims. This is exactly what leads to argumentation and even fighting and killing because there is very little “absolute consensus” amongst Muslims. Never has been and never will be. But we can live in peace.
Yes, all Muslims agree, for example, that idolatry is impermissible, but there are groups that accuse other Muslims of idolatry. There are Muslims groups that claim that the act of voting is idolatry. And idolators are “kufaar” and thus their blood is “halal”. Or so goes the reasoning of groups such as “Jubhat alNurah” and the “Islamic State of Iraq and Sham”.
There are indeed some Muslim groups whose goal is to obliterate heterogeneity amongst the Muslims and establish their own version of Islam as “the” Islam with themselves as the purveyors of what is and what is not “Islamic”. This is misguided and leads to sectarian war. In my very own example, I had to wear a bullet proof vest for weeks for fear of my own life.
The question comes in as to WHO is going to determine idolatry and the idolator? Who is going to determine what is to be done with that person? My answer is that each person should be left to follow their own conscience. If a person believes that smoking marijuana is harmful and impermissible (as I do), then he/she should not partake in it. If a person believes that music is haram (as I do NOT) then they should refrain from listening to it. Even as much as I may personally disagree with a neo-con like Zhuddi Jasser, I would never question his Islam or his personal commitment to God (especially since I don’t know him).
If one asks me about marijuana, I will tell them what I think and why I think they should not partake in it. But I do not see it as my job to question their Islam or to question their relationship with their Lord. So I suppose that you could say that I am certainly not “judging” that person. But that person may be forgiven while I am not forgiven for something else. I don’t know that person’s struggles or experiences. It is not my place to look down my nose at that person. Each of us would do much better to look at ourselves and try to improve upon ourselves rather than looking to see what is wrong with the other person.
I do understand Dawud’s point of view and respect it, but in my personal experience (and I know he disagrees) “judging” leads down the road to hairsplitting and fighting. We can give what we believe to be good advice and preach against evil without implying that other Muslims are irreligious (or as Dawud put it, “Unmosqued”) or somehow “inadequately” Muslim or even in some cases not Muslim at all.