Dr. Sherman Jackson: Authority Crisis & Muslims in America

The first half-hour is devoted to a discussion of the formation of the traditional authority and “sacred history” which informs interpretations of Islamic law and the reasons for its decline in our times. Professor Jackson cites a memorable story of his visit to an Egyptian bookstore that had priced the tafseer of the Quran by Syed Qutb above that of Ibn Katheer not because Qutb is more qualified but simply because the people find it more accessible with its modern language, references, and examples.

With the rise of the modern nation-states, the traditional independent scholars of Islamic law have been marginalized and replaced with state interpretations of the law coupled with the immense rise in literacy among the masses and increased access to books has impacted and shaped the current discussion on Islam.

In the public discourse in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, authority is often confused with and replaced by authorship. If a person can write, they are considered an authority.

The second half-hour is dedicated to which group in America has the ownership or authority to speak for Muslims, representation of Muslims in the media, and issues with the Fiqh Council of North America.

There is a feeling among Muslim Americans that the American historical and cultural experiences are discounted and overlooked by immigrant Muslims and by those overseas who claim that their interpretations are the most authentic while ignoring their own cultural and historical perspectives that have influenced their interpretations of Islamic law.

In addition to this as Tariq Nelson mentioned on his blog that many Muslim Americans feel like second-class citizens in masajid dominated by immigrants and feel a need to learn the languages, marry into, or travel to the lands of Muslims in order to authenticate or validate their own Islam since American Islam is still not seen by many to be as valid as Saudi Islam, Egyptian Islam, or Pakistani Islam.

Dr. Jackson speaks for about 45 minutes and then there is about 30 minutes of question and answers.

A must read by Dr. Jackson: Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection.

Brother Hood: (Islam in America) The authority crisis with American Muslims.

Manrilla: Authority Crisis: Who’s on First?

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Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

18 thoughts on “Dr. Sherman Jackson: Authority Crisis & Muslims in America”

  1. asalamu aleykum

    What Dr Sherman says about the Tafsir of Qutb and Imam ibn Kathir’s pricing of tafseer may be a bot misleading, perhaps one is more demanded on the other. or that one costs more to produce than the other, in fact tafisr ibn kathir is very easy to read. thats of course putting aside the notorious mistakes of Qutb in issues of aqeedah and his takfir of societies in general suggested by numerous scholars including lately dr Qaradawi. Of which deep sympathizers with sayyid Qutb rahimahu Allah usually reject.

    The book despite its obvious heresies is still sponsored by the muslim brotherhood and perhaps that’s a strong reason why its widely available

    But by no means Qutb’s tafsir is an authority nor it is written by a scholar. Despite the great meanings and beautiful use of language in his tafseer.

    What do you mean they claim their interpretations are more authentic,?! Of course they are!, this word interpretation and how it goes and how it is affected is becoming overused and silly, hundreds of years of scholarship cant be equated with a few decades of American pseudo scholarship in Islam, that is more “orientalist” than Islamic.

    When converts/reverts feel like second hand citizens in a masjid, if its because they lack knowledge and want to learn more then that’s ok, if they are treated somehow worse that aint so, to learn is a good thing and to intermarry, vist etc, usually enhances their Islam, and when I talk to study abroad after a few semesters when they come here of whom are converts, they can become very different people and much more educated and the way they approach different issues regarding deen is much more mature, regardless of the manhaj they adopt.

    To equate the status of a newly convert and a person who took the time, effort and money to educate themselves is some how bogus, and that’s not an exaggeration.( and in this case knowledge is the only factor in question )

    Again another overused term that muslimeen in America seem to have acquainted themselves to which initially rejected is Islam of specific countries, Saudi Islam, Egyptian Islam and Pakistani Islam, while I wouldn’t doubt that Islam has fundamentals that do not change in space and time, but of course the way it is practiced is.
    And for the sake of the argument yes American Islam seems the least valid !
    Simply it comes out of a context of kuffr

    From what I have seen many american muslimeen unfortunately prone to arrogance, ignorance and speaking of which that they know and know not. And do not have any respect for knowledge and hence for its people.

    Salamu aleykum

  2. Al-Hanbali

    you’ve missed the point of what Shaikh AbdulHakim was trying to say.
    ——————————
    Qutb is an easier read because it is written in a modern flowing modern language and is thus more accessible to the masses. Ibn Kathir is very technical in language and style, and to come out with a conclusion one must have basic training in the Islamic sciences.

    That is the difference between the two, a difference of accessibility. He’s not saying Qutb is better in substance.
    ————————————–
    Al-Hanbali said: “What do you mean they claim their interpretations are more authentic,?! Of course they are!”

    again you’ve missed the point. Any juristic opinion that is based upon custom (‘urf) is subject to the confines of the time and place it is given in. Rulings based on the ‘urf of kuwait will not have the same meaning, effect, or importance if they are brought to the states or anywhere else for that matter.
    Jackson’s example of “reasonable accommodation” fits in here, because there are no specific rules for prisons in Islam. Convention dictates what is exceptable and what is not. At one time in Islamic history prisoners were not allowed to pray Jumu’ah because the rulers were oppressive and chained them to walls, etc.
    America, not as despotic in these areas as some would like to think, accomodates prisoners and their religious beliefs, so for a shaikh to give the fatwa that Jumuah is not obligatory on a prisoner even though he has the freedom to practice it is a less valid opinion in light of the ‘Urf of america.
    ———————————
    On converts

    Converts feel like second hand citizens in Masjids because the Islam of many Muslims is shrouded… no let me reverse that … the nationalism of many Muslims is shrouded in Islam.
    The sectarian attitude that many Muslims show converts is the same that they show undesirable people in their own countries, and if I recall your blog correctly, then you are treated the same way in Kuwait by your Kuwaiti brethren, simply because you are 110 and not 220 as they say in Saudi.
    So the issue is bigger than merely learning about Islam. Muslims will not accept the word of a convert in religious issues (not always but for the most part) simply because they feel better then them by virtue of having been Muslim longer and from a “Muslim” culture.
    —————————
    You said “And for the sake of the argument yes American Islam seems the least valid ! Simply it comes out of a context of kuffr”

    Excuse my brashness brother, but this is the stupidest thing that a person could say. I guess the Sahabah’s Islam is least valid as well, seeming that it came out of the context of Kufr.
    ——————————
    Al-Hanbali said:
    “From what I have seen many american muslimeen unfortunately prone to arrogance, ignorance and speaking of which that they know and know not. And do not have any respect for knowledge and hence for its people.”

    Sorry but for the most part you will find American unwilling to cowtow to people that are propped up as shaikhs when in reality they have no grasp on reality and are eating off the community for a job.
    In America we need people who can tell us how and why, and not just “do this because we, the glorious Muslim culture that sheds it light on the world is doing it.”

    Yes Americans can be arrogant and are prone to thinking out loud (which does constitute speaking without knowledge at times), but at least they are thinking, which is something that cannot be said for many people of the “Muslim world” who regardless of the correctness of its actions or not are slaves to their respective cultures and will never give them up, regardless of the evidence.

  3. Asalamu alaykum,

    Al Hanbali: Your response exemplifies the problems and issues which Dr. Jackson highlighted with respect to Muslims from Muslim countries vis-a-vis Muslims in America. Hood soundly rebutted your comments so I will not add much except to one point.

    That women cannot legally drive in Saudi is somehow seen as valid not because the Quran and Sunnah stipulates this condition but because their culture and customs dictate so but when an American uses his or her culture and customs such as in organizing the prayer space in masajid to accommodate both men and women, it is immediately seen as lacking in validity by others in a way that would not be the case if the Muslims in question came from a Muslim country.

  4. Asalamu aleykum
    Hood
    I wouldn’t disagree much about the tafsir of sayid qutb, even if I did , its not really meaningful to debate it.
    ———————————————————-

    Al-Hanbali said: “What do you mean they claim their interpretations are more authentic,?! Of course they are!”

    While not every matter in fiqh is like the maters of prison you can still make your argument but not to a general extent. The first Prison in Islam was when Omar ibn al khattab bought a house in Mecca that was owned by Safwan ib Umayah, there are plenty of fatwa based on early doings of the sahaba, but when I speak of interpretations I do not intend fatwa , but juristic ruling outside the realm of space and time. A fatwa is based on fundamentals of deen and the reality perceived by the MUJTAHID not the MUQALID if the reality percived by the mujtahid is true then the fatwa applies if it is not then the fatwa is short and needs to be carried out by someone who does understand. Not all juristic opinions are based on urf as you say, in fact there is a difference of opinion regarding urf in the fundamentals of fiqh in the four math-ahib.my point is what you label as cultural Islam is much more rich in scholarship than the western not even worth mentioning due to the vast discrepancy.
    So when you doubt that those with more knowledge in the east and in Muslim lands are equally or less valid in their interpretations coz their reality is different, then indeed you have missed the point, they have the tools for interpretative conclusion and they have their own reality, while your “scholars” do not have the interpretative tools and may understand reality, I wonder how many of these scholars will stand under jarh wa tadeel to be even trustworthy..

    In other words Americans need to produce serious scholarship in Islam and they wont find any 3elm in their lands so they need to travel to gain it,

    —————————————————-
    On converts I agree its very complex, and when you speak of muslimeen you speak of muslimeen in other countries they do not necessarily have the manners of Islam that will be welcoming to those who embrace Islam.
    —————————————————————-
    “Excuse my brashness brother, but this is the stupidest thing that a person could say. I guess the Sahabah’s Islam is least valid as well, seeming that it came out of the context of Kufr.”

    Your statement is fallacious, the sahaba are the best of mankind after prophets and messengers, and they were taught by the best of creation He salla Allahu 3alayhi wa sallam whom taught them their religion directly from Allah.
    The american context is far needy of description. And “Culturally Muslim ” contexts of this day and age are still way better. You lack a moral environment not even an Islamic one, you hardly have any one to teach you your deen, and those who have knowledge in your eyes need to strive much far in their acquiring of knowledge.

    Americans need to step back and realise where they stand, they need to learn, and once they are not even willing to travel, strive, suffer, struggle for knowledge as all scholars did and at many times felt as strangers and were strangers to where they traveled, then americans are not worthy of knowledge nor will they ever have it, till they realise what they need to do, if americans cant help themselves then it’s a pity that you become judgmental to those who try to help.

    All these Islamic countries with muslim majority populations were not muslim at some point nor they did have islamic scholarship. When they gained knowledge and made strong communities and their sincerity was felt they were worthy of being called scholars then they were trusted.

    It all sums up to, gain knowledge! The way it was gained because you will never come up with a better way to gain it

  5. Hanbali Said:
    “….while your “scholars” do not have the interpretative tools and may understand reality, I wonder how many of these scholars will stand under jarh wa tadeel to be even trustworthy…”
    “…In other words Americans need to produce serious scholarship in Islam and they wont find any 3elm in their lands so they need to travel to gain it,…”
    “…In other words Americans need to produce serious scholarship in Islam and they wont find any 3elm in their lands so they need to travel to gain it,…”

    These are only suppositions, have you traveled and lived in the west to know that we have no one of scholarly calibre?

  6. I just can’t get over the fact that a) he managed to use Juha (Nasruddin Hoca for Turks) to open a speech and b) how much he reminds me of Danny Glover in this clip (I’m getting too old for this…) 🙂

  7. The sectarian attitude that many Muslims show converts is the same that they show undesirable people in their own countries, and if I recall your blog correctly, then you are treated the same way in Kuwait by your Kuwaiti brethren, simply because you are 110 and not 220 as they say in Saudi.

    As an aside, Hood, is it true that the 220/110 thing for denoting tribal and non-tribal Saudis has its origins in 220v and 110v power supplies?

  8. Al-Hanbali:

    I am sorry brother, but you are coming off as very condescending while missing the entire point.

    Let me see if I can break it down for you:

    When we convert to Islam, it is expected – by people like yourself I presume – that we also adopt the said culture and/or political positions of the dominant ethnicity of the masjid in which we convert.

    One of the simpliest examples that I have given is that converts can’t like bacon (halal of course) and eggs anymore and must start liking humus or olives in order to be a “real” Muslim.

    If a convert was, before becoming Muslim, a community activist (neighborhood watch, clean ups, helping homeless) they must stop all of that and start to talk about the issue of [fill in country here] …

    You even mentioned, what I mentioned about the need to intermarry into a Muslim culture to “enhance one’s Islam”

    The point is that a convert does not have to pick a country and adopt it as their own upon becoming Muslim.

    Needless to say, some things will obviously have to be dropped if it is haram, but I don’t have to start liking tea after my meal in order to become a “complete Muslim”

  9. salam alaikum,

    I agree with al-hanbali that islam in Muslim countries has had centuries to develop while Islam in America is no more than 30 years old. And yes, American Muslims should travel to muslim countries to find out how, in their history, those muslim societies came out of their ignorances and jahiliya to transform themselves. But there’s no application of their cultural norms in the American society, so we end up back at the point Dr. Jackson made, that American Muslims have to take care of their own islam. With due respect to muslims back home, they cannot dictate how we live our lives here. Cultural imperialism always fails.

  10. Assalamalaikum,
    I think differentiating the priorities of American Muslims and foreign Muslims is rather simplistic. See the hadith on the Muslim Ummah being one body – if one part hurts …
    to say that all foreigners turn their noses up at American Muslims again is a harsh generalization – many American Muslims are guilty of the same arrogance towards foreigners. It all comes down to knowledge – whether you’re here or there. Muslims need to know their religion (aqidah, history, FIQH, etc.) so they can at least know what un-Islamic elements inform their understanding of Islam whether from here or abroad.

    And to say that America is so different than x Muslim country again can be misleading. You can bet whatever you have here it’s there as well – along with mass access to books you also have mass access to almost everything – the world has become a village. Moreover, to say that our roles as Muslims at the individual level in different locations (and times even!) is not connected at the Ummatic level (through time and space), I think, is dangerous.

    I like the point S. Jackson makes about the role of mass access to books – it is empowering in a way but also leads to problems like we have here – everyone seems to have things figured out. Are we any less guilty, I wonder.

  11. This is a complex issue. Indeed some immigrants do treat converts as lacking knowledge. However I guess many immigrants fear the spread of heretical islam among converts, specifically what happened with the early experiences of American Muslims specifically the NOI. Indeed knowledge is power, so Dr. Jacksons point that knowledge is so widely available, should alay immigrants’ fears. In fact these days many immigrants do acknowledge that some converts have a better understanding of Islam than themselves. People Dr. Jackson, however he himself traveled to Muslims lands and gained knowledge…so…

    It kind of reminds me of the Muhajir and Ansar in Medina. Who can argue one group were better than the other?

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