It’s Been a Long Time
True indeed. I did intend to step away from In This Journal for awhile. Typically, when I do my journaling, whether with pen and pad or for the blog, I like to do it out of doors. I find it easier to get into my groove with the sky over head and the sun in my face, while breathing fresh air and listening to the birds do their thing. As most folks in the US know, we have had a long and harsh winter nationwide. Being down South, the weather wasn’t as nearly brutal as it was for my Yankee compatriots, but it was still difficult to string together more than a couple of days of decent weather in which I could get outside and get on the “Launch Pad” and unscrew the lid off the wig.
I was recently surprised, however, when I saw that my last Journal-Blog entry was on Septermber 30th. Even with my intention to shut it down for the cold season, I wondered why I had stopped so early (we had about another 5 weeks of decent weather down here after the last entry)? The other factor that led to my cessation of Journal-Blogging was that I am (in the Journal) entering another phase in my life. I am moving to Philadelphia, and I felt a need to give more thought to how I would approach my Philadelphia experience.
I strive to write sincerely and honestly. I know that I have my own set of biases, but I like to think that I can be fair and objective enough to recognize and acknowledge those biases when I express them. Philadelphia was a challenge for me personally on many levels, and it took a long while for me to gain some objectivity about that experience. Reading Journal entries from my early days in Philly also brought a lot of things to the surface that I hadn’t given much consideration to in a long time. Some of the naivete and shortsightedness of the time would be comical—if it weren’t so painful. In spite of the challenges and pitfalls of my Philadelphia experience, Philly, no doubt, was a place from where I benefited from tremendously regarding traditional Islamic knowledge and the people I met. By the knowledge, maa-shaa’ Allah, I was transformed, and the friendships I made have endured more than two decades later.
One of the reasons for this blog, and God-willing forthcoming book, is to contribute to the nearly non-existent Muslim-American literary tradition. This is especially true for the African-American Muslim. In spite of the hundreds of thousands of African-Americans who have professed Islam as their religion since the assassination of Malcolm X nearly 50 years ago, African-American Muslims have left practically no literary tradition behind. We have oral traditions that might be exchanged in post-Jumu`ah ciphers or “urban legends” about the exploits of some of the older Brothers back in their younger days, but there is practically nothing written and preserved about the Muslim American experience written by Sunni Muslims. One academic book comes to mind, and what Umar Lee wrote (although, he’s not an African-American, he’s very familiar with the black (inner city) experience and is sympathetic to it) about the East Coast Wahhabis are about all I know of.
One of the problems of not having a literary tradition is that the history and experiences of those who preceded us disappears when they go to the grave. Their insight and advices are lost, and the living are left to the same trials and errors of those who preceded them—and the same mistakes are repeated. As a result, typically little traction is gained and even less progress is made. Instead of having an increasingly expansive vision of oneself and place in the world, the African-American Muslim finds, at best, that he’s just trying to maintain the unsustainable status quo of his ethnic forefathers in Deen.
The legacy of the African-American Muslim is all the more in jeopardy given that many of the second generation Muslim youth are only tangentially connected to the religion that their parents converted to. For many of the African-American youth, their ethos and identity is largely derived from the pop culture and the streets and not from the Qur’an and Sunnah or the learned and the righteous Muslims who came before us. It is unlikely that a young African-American in the midst of a deep identity crisis engrossed in street life and little knowledge or attachment to Islam will be able to produce a third generation of functional Muslims. Hence, if that third generation Muslim does wish to be observant, he (or she) typically has to go back to square one to figure things out… if they are lucky.
With that said, within the ethnic tribe and beyond, there are Muslims (and non-Muslims) who wish to know and understand the American Muslim experience. By leaving a literary legacy, the succeeding generations of Muslims can gain a sense of continuity with the past. They can learn from our mistakes, and surpass us in learning, piety, and their efforts to share the message of Islam here in America. I hope, “In This Journal,” can be part of this much needed legacy.