Preface (Post #1)

In this Journal

Praise and thanks to the One, the Perfect, and Eternal Creator, Who is beyond all need or comparison.  May the peace, and the blessings, and the honor be upon our noble Prophet and Messenger, Muhammad. May the Creator broaden and deepen our knowledge and comprehension, guide us to the paths of goodness, and enable us to live and die in a state of Islam.

PREFACE

In this Journal: An Account of a Traveler to the Hereafter contains the reflections of the author’s readings from his journals that he has kept for more than 25 years.  Upon doing some serious soul searching at the beginning of the past summer (2011), I realized I had to make some decisions about how I wish, God-willing, to spend my time, so that I could pursue those things I am passionate about, while God-willing, earning the reward from my Lord.  I decided that I had to: “look inside my heart and write.” I concluded that writing could potentially be the best way I could use my time, clarify my thoughts and share them, be engaged in da`wah,[1] earn reward from my Lord, and help me address some of the mundane duties I have… God-willing.   

While at the height of that soul searching, I was in western Pennsylvania at the annual camp of the organization I work with.  The class schedule was such last year that I could spend a couple of afternoons at our cabin site in relative solitude and get down in my (at the time current) journal working out in my mind what I wanted and needed to do.  While sitting there on top of a small hill, I looked down the slope to an old baseball/softball field that had long fallen into disuse. I was reminded of my youth and playing little league baseball during the summer. Perhaps, it was the air of the North (I’ve been living in the South for the last decade, and the air just isn’t the same down here), the contours of the hills, the trees familiar to my beloved Western Massachusetts, the quiet, the solitude, the barakah (spiritual blessings) of the lessons, or all of that and more, but I was able to vividly entertain in my mind’s eye children who may have played on that field in the 70’s and maybe 80’s.

What had happened to them?  How many of them, some older than I am now, have simply gone forth into adulthood only to live lives of quiet desperation, feeling that the hopes and promises of their youth had either abandoned or betrayed them?  How many of them had passed away having never felt their existence had any purpose?  Did any of those children who once played there go on the proverbial quest to find the purpose of life—did any of them find and convert to Islam?  Were there any Muslim children (i.e., from Muslim families) who once played on that field?  Were they able to maintain their identity as Muslims—and pass that identity on to their children?  I could have been one of those children—what would be my story to tell as an African-American convert to Islam?

A portion of the Memphis youth crew and I departed from that camp early to attend the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) convention in Chicago. Although I don’t feel the barakah and intellectual intensity at ISNA that I feel at our camp, what ISNA certainly has is an incredible amount of energy.   Tens of thousands of people—most of them young—filled with excitement about Islam.  Many of these young people want to be involved in spreading the word of Islam, but there is a lot of confusion in the American Muslim community about some of the most basic matters of Islam—even confusion in elementary doctrinal matters. In seeing those youth, and then considering the youth with whom I’ve mentored here in Memphis, it is clear that if the masses of young Muslims were to learn traditional knowledge and gain doctrinal clarity, they could be a tremendous asset to the society, and Muslims could contribute to America in ways that are now inconceivable.

One major problem for Muslims in America is that we have little to draw from that would illuminate the path for us. I don’t mean that we don’t have the example of the life of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wasallam) or from the Companions, or from the righteous scholars and heroes of the past.  What we lack is literature about the challenges of being Muslim in the West today.  And I don’t mean literature produced by people merely with Muslim names, or nominally Muslim, or those who adhere to heterodox ideologies.  After the tragedy of 9/11, I have seen the titles in bookstores about “American Muslims,” but in browsing the books or the reviews of such books, it becomes evident that many of those authors are not well educated in traditional Islamic knowledge and seem to be suffering from identity issues and inferiority complexes.

We, as Muslim Americans, need something that will root us to tradition, especially to our intellectual and scholarly Islamic tradition, yet keep us flexible and relevant, so that we can meet the challenges we face in this fast changing world.  As for literary legacy, Muslim Americans have the Autobiography of Malcolm X, but that was first published nearly half a century ago. In spite the profound influence it had on me and many other people I know who have converted to Islam, it does not provide the clarity in the detailed matters of doctrine that I was longing for.  Malcolm, to his credit, made no pretense to extensive Islamic knowledge, and he was taken from us before he could have expanded his learning. If nothing else, Malcolm had a capacious mind and showed us the courage to grow, and he pointed the way to the Haqq (i.e., to Islam), but in reading Malcolm X there is a sense that something is missing—something is incomplete.

Furthermore, there is a lack of continuity with the experiences of the Muslims who emigrated from the “old countries” in recent decades or those convert Americans who  have been Muslim for 40 or more years, and the experiences of the Muslim youth of today—in post 9/11 America.  As a result, those youth are frequently struggling to find a sense of purpose and identity that they shouldn’t have to, simply because those who have preceded them have not transmitted the knowledge of Islam to them in a relevant manner.  We lack a sense of continuity, in part, because Muslims in America have not produced an adequate literary legacy.

I knew while I was at the ISNA convention that I needed to write.  I needed to tell the story of an American Muslim, one who has, by the Grace of Allah, acquired a modest degree of traditional Islamic knowledge.  And I had the advantage of having kept a journal for most of my life.  Although I was eager to get started with this “life project,” as soon as I got back to Memphis, I decided that I would resist myself for another month and start reading my journals from cover to cover in Ramadan (I don’t know how many there are, but I would guess that there are more than fifty spiral bound notebooks).  In this Journey is in essence a journal about my journals and my impressions as I read them.  I hope, in-shaa’ Allah[2], that this work will be transformed into a more comprehensive autobiography that can contribute to the Muslim literary legacy in America.  In the meantime, I humbly offer this to the reader.  May this work help to guide you and grant you clarity and understanding.  And may Allah Almighty grant me the sincerity and unity of purpose in this work so that it may be a means for my salvation and safety in the life to come.

diary-and-pen-on-a-white-background-Stock-Photo-book-address Praise and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.


[1] Da`wah in Arabic literally means, “invitation”, but here and throughout I am using the term to refer to the “invitation to Islam”—that is, educating people about Islam.

[2] The Arabic phrase “in-shaa’ Allah” means “If God wills.”  This is typically said by Muslims whenever they intend to do (or hope for) something.  The future is hidden from us, and very often the best laid plans and strongest efforts are foiled.  This phrase reminds us that everything that occurs is created by Allah, and the prudent thing to do is to rely upon the One (Allah) who makes everything happen.

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