Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Andrea Elliott profiles 3 young American Muslims, including me, in her most recent article, Generation 9/11, about the generation that came of age in the post-9/11 decade.
It’s humbling to read your own story told by someone else. More reflections later, God willing.
Andrea Elliott has written a revealing profile of Yasir Qadhi, an influential teacher and imam amongst some conservative western Muslims. Overall, I think Elliott offers the reader a fascinating window and insight into a little known and much maligned segment of the Muslim community, however, the repeated references to Salafiya seem to have missed the mark.
…But Qadhi had another life. Beyond the gothic confines of Yale, he was becoming one of the most influential conservative clerics in American Islam, drawing a tide of followers in the fundamentalist movement known as Salafiya…
I’ve never been fond of the word “cleric” and have become even less so after reading it repeatedly throughout this article. While a cleric may rightly be defined as “any religious leader ” it seems that word is most often reserved for Muslim imams, leaders, and religious activists. Later on, more neutral terms like “theologian” and “preacher” are used, “Arguably few American theologians are better positioned to offer an authoritative rebuttal of extremist ideology.”
I will concede that I don’t see much difference in aqidah (theology), fiqh (jurisprudence), and methodology between those who would like to be called Salafi, orthodox, or conservative. However, within many Muslim circles, the Salafi label is viewed in an exceedingly negative light and has been for quite some time. While many conservative Muslims proudly assert their claims to orthodoxy and to following the ways of the salaf, the earliest generations of Islam, due to the excesses of the Salafi movement, many reject the label Salafi for themselves. Today, the few that do still claim the Salafi title for themselves have a tendency to view people like Yasir Qadhi with his ever-evolving views (evolution, in this sense, is a good thing) as having sold-out or gone astray from the straight path of Islam. An Islam largely informed by the historical political, religious, and social mores of Saudi Arabia.
A more accurate assessment might be that Qadhi draws followers from a diverse group of largely conservative Western Muslims. His story is like so many of ours, the child of immigrants, to whom much was given and much was expected, having come of age trying to find a balance between the competing forces of our fiercely Western and our parents’ back home identities. Fluent in the vernacular of Westerners, with a sharp and critical mind, and an engaging and lucid manner of speaking, writing, and teaching, it’s easy to love his work. I still remember the first time I heard a Yasir Qadhi lecture. A friend had given me his The Story of Ifk about the slander of Aisha and I was immediately drawn into the story, captivated, I listened to all four parts. Not only did Qadhi have flawless English, a sometimes rare but important quality but he told the story with such detail and intensity that one could not help but be moved. Afterward, I remember asking my friend for the name of the speaker so I could find more of his lectures online.
In the basement of the religious-studies building, Qadhi settled into an empty room, flipped open his MacBook Pro (encased in Islamic apple green) and dialed in to an Internet conference call with more than 150 of his AlMaghrib students. “I want to be very frank here,” Qadhi said, his voice tight with exasperation. “Do you really, really think that blowing up a plane is Islamic? I mean, ask yourself this.”