A New Season

29 Sep

“Fordson,” the Muslim Football film made a little splash around the 9/11 anniversary here in New York. It got more attention than the mini terror alert that was reported days before, right on time. Good sign?

Can well practiced sports teams offer a more positive image of the legend of the Fall than the teams that hijacked planes on that day? Can (Muslim) football finally compete with the war on terror as an aspect of American harvest ritual? 

Or, rather, is the real collective ritual simply a staring at a screen, any flickering screen, as at the campfire in the vast primeval night of our ancestors?

Perhaps we American Muslims have enough myths and symbolic enactments and enough distractions. And we are about to enter more deeply into an election year, God help us! But this flickering unconsciousness is a global problem.

I just read in the New York media how the Pakistani media is currently demonizing the USA. And we know how little confidence the USA (and many of our fellow citizens) place in Muslims, Arabs, and Pakistanis. The communication gap is widening. What to do?

The “Peace and Dialogue” mafia will continue in dreamy but persistent efforts to build trust, regardless of policies, as if mutual understanding will lead to agreement on the issues. It is nice and sometimes noble but does not seem to be working and we can and do go round and round. While we’re at it, why not teach every football huddle in America to do Dikhr? Work directly on the spirit and the still point of all the turning…

I hope our hearts can still speak to other hearts. But lack of energy, unbalanced energies, can reduce our natural love of humanity to hunger and resentment. An inner/outer strategy is called for.

Beyond sustaining interfaith dialogue and developing more effective civic engagement, we Muslims would do well to expand our intrafaith conversations; including not only dialogue but also explicit differentiation, since there is no way we can all conform to the same views. Nor should we.

It would be healthy, however, to define down the “Kuffar” concept, which can be so destructive to living in a pluralistic culture. Too many scholars carry heavy and outmoded intellectual baggage and too much of our tradition is obscurely understood. The issue of religious reform should not be relegated to the margins. Progressives and Traditionalists need to talk and listen to each other. We need to clean house if we don’t want to hear a knock at the door at five am.  Should law enforcement be the only approach?

And beyond media-friendly dramatic prophesy and narrative arc, we as Muslims need to develop more nuanced thinking as well as more centralized and accessible centers of public conversation. Our populations are unfortunately used to their conspiracy theories and politics of blame. And we have had prophets, both true and false, in high places and low. The prophets will always be run out of town after their 15 minutes of fame, regardless of their worth. Instead, we now need teachers of nuanced thinking, good examples who might teach us how to transform ideals into specific action steps to create a more just and humane society. We also need to create stronger institutions, but not to build bureaucracies.

And the words of our Prophet, peace be upon him, should be distinguished from all the commentary. What is the spirit and logic of his life and service? What are the deepest meanings of the Revelation?

Though our laws are based on the US constitution let us all oppose the virulent and absurd attacks on Sharia in this country. I recently signed a statement by Muslim leaders and activists that affirms the value and importance of Sharia. That said, I would most likely disagree with many of the other signers in my interpretation of these laws. But I stand with them.

I am not an “Originalist” regarding the Constitution nor am I regarding the deen. Harsh punishments must make way for efforts to educate and guide the spirit. There should be no compulsion in religion—that really diminishes its spiritual value.

But Unity is elusive indeed. The tendency is for almost every Muslim leader to create a locus of power around him or herself as if we are all competing warlords fighting over some mountain valleys, not serving a vast and disaffected minority population in the richest country in the world.  We have many little leadership circles of that huddle in the field but don’t play as a team. However the opposing team is well organized and we know who they are. The ball is in our hands!

The reader is most likely part of the problem. So am I. We might blame the internet, and handheld devices, for helping to distract us on the field. More and more information may stimulate the brain but is not freeing our minds. But the minutes are ticking away. God is everywhere but our actions also matter. Now.

The season turns and I look up to see leaves like cornflakes brown and dry against the milky bowl of sky. It’s time to wake up. Time to stop debating possible plays and get in the game—and God willing throw that “Hamduillah” pass up and over and across.


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