World Bulletin/News Desk
Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American Muslim Resident Scholar, thought leader and educator. After his conversion to Islam, Webb left a career in the music industry and pursued his passion in education. He enrolled at the University of Central Oklahoma, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Education.
While pursuing his bachelors degree Imam Webb studied privately with a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. After intense private training in various Islamic sciences, Imam Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he not only provided Khutbas (Sermons) and religious classes but also counseled families and young people.
After serving as Imam and resident scholar in various communities across the country, Imam Webb decided to further his education and training in Islamic Law and various other Islamic sciences. Imam Webb enrolled at the world-renowned Islamic educational institution Al-Azhar University in the College of Shariʿah. There he studied at the college and privately with leading Islamic thinkers on contemporary Islam. After years of study in the Arabic Language, he was appointed head of the English translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Masriyah as a Mufti (Jurist).
While undergoing rigorous training in Islamic Law, Imam Webb completed the memorization of the Quran while in the city of Makkah. Imam Webb has not only studied at Al-Azhar but also holds a number of licenses from traditional scholars in various sciences as was practiced in traditional Islamic law for centuries.
Imam Suhaib Webb strongly advocates for an authentic articulation of the American Muslim identity. He is a proponent of understanding the various challenges facing the American Muslim community and finding solutions based on an authentic American Muslim experience.
In 2009 his website www.suhaibwebb.com won the Brass Crescent’s best “Blog of the Year” award. Recently he was part of a delegation that visited Auschwitz to develop better understanding between Muslim and Jewish Americans. He was named by the British Government as a “Moderate Muslim leader” and was named in 2010 and 2013 as one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.
From December 2011 to March 2014 Imam Suhaib Webb served as the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center’s Imam. In April 2014 he transitioned into ISBCC’s Resident Scholar. Imam Webb has lectured extensively around the world including the Middle East, East Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America. He is also the founder and an Instructor at Ella Collins Institute. He lives in Boston, MA and is a proud Celtics fan.
M. Nurullah Ates talked to Suhaib Webb for World Bulletin about American muslims and being a muslim in the U.S.
Q-1) Can you evaluate demographic and cultural background of Muslims in US? In terms of education, ethnic background, median age?
A-1)The best resource for that would be PEW. PEW study that was done and also there is a book written by Dalia Mogahed called ‘’Who Speaks for Islam’’. These numbers show that 50% of American Muslims are from America and 50 percent are immigrants or children of immigrants. Also 37% of Muslim Americans are under the age of 35. As far as ethnicity, our Mosque alone has 90 different ethnicities. So, extremely diverse.
Overwhelming of American Muslims have college degrees. Professionally most people are moderately successful. 50 percent of the community are African American according to some studies.
Q-2) What do you think about this cultural diversity and its implication in the future? Do you think it has advantages or disadvantages?
A-2) I think there is an incredible potential where you have obviously financial potential and you see Muslims are participating in public institutions. Number two is that you are going to see the connection between older generations and younger generations. It is almost 40 percent of our community is under 40 years old. Then, definitely they are going to have different expectations and needs that are different than those who came before them.
Q-3) What do you think about the attitude of muslims towards other ethnic minorities? Like Asians and Hispanics.
A-3) You can see in California that muslims are doing a lot of work with those communities and Texas is another central place for those groups where substantial amount of them resides. But still Muslims are trying to institutionalize themselves to play a ‘‘larger game’’ if you would participate in broader societies. At least the dominant institutions, I mean institutional works are still not there.
Q-4) Do you think the diversity (variety of ethnic and sectarian backgrounds) within the muslim community has setback or potential?
A-4) No I think it is a setback. Because the lack of symmetry when it comes to religious authority of thought has led to splitting of mosques, jama’as, communities. So I would rather prefer the monolith of Turkey and Malaysia than the diversity of America when it comes to Islam. But in England you cannot compare England to America. It is another level. The divisions are in England are very much more intense level than here. It is not like here.
Even the approach to education is very problematic. If you look America, I do not know about Turkey, there is no liberal arts experience in Muslims schools. There is no history. The only history that we have is Seerah and Sahaba, when you take out Islamic historical experience what you are doing is creating the perfect modernist. You create someone who just looks life as kufr, iman, shirk, tavhid, Sunnah, bid’ah, tacveed, fiqh, usul, nahv, sarf and balagah. And these are all constructed in Aristoteles format which looks perfection. But when we bring history like history of Spain and Ottoman Empire, the history of Indians, Mongols or the history of Abbasi or Amawees, it will protect us from utopic understanding.
I am sure if you look at ISIS, you will see that their knowledge of Islam is shown to be extremely weak, like their knowledge of history. In Spain once the Muslims conquered one of the cities, they put Jewish people as the governors of those cities. This humanizes the experience. So we are teaching young people now to be perfect modernist. They have no exposure to organic history.
The embodiment of Prophetic rahmah is found in the human experiences not in the theological ones necessarily. Like for example I was taking a humanity class in college and we were studying Hagia Sophia and our professor said: ‘‘do you know that the Ottomans did not destroy the paintings of Isa (Jesus) and Maryam (Mery). And she was like ‘’is not that incredible, amazing? ’’.
If we were to ask to "some" people, the fiqh opinion on that, they will burn it down. But for the genuine Muslim-human opinion it does not say that. The Prophet (Pbuh) said my community is not agree on misguidance.
So we have human experience of the ummah that we can also learn from. This is something I am working on actually. We have collective experiences that we can learn. So in American muslim community, if you go to Islamic schools there is no history. There is no calligraphy etc.
Q-5) At that point I would like to ask that what do you think about the contribution of the converts?
I mean if we clone Timothy Winter (Sh. Abdal Hakim Murad) that would be wonderful right? (Smiles among us) What you need is that you need academics but you also need activists. So you need people like Timothy Winter who are taught leaders right, taught production. We have a lot of those people in America like Sherman Jackson but many times people get lost in academia.
You have extremely gifted people but often times there is a linguistic gap where the dialectic they may be employing is different than those masses have. So between masses and academia that is why you have popular activists to convey their message.
This is also in the history of Ashabu'l-uhdud right? As Sheikh told the boy: ''Do not tell people about me, just teach people''. The Sheikh is an academic and the taught leader whereas the boy is kind of popular activist. You need activists and you need ulema. We have a number of people like these scholars. The masses however have problem in understanding scholars due to vocabulary they are using.
Q-6) One more question. There is like a tendency among some converts they choose to live in a Muslim country rather than staying in US.
I think there is a number of reasons for that. I think the first reason is that we do not build really institutional home in US. I think first reason therefore we do not have a community like American Muslims. You do not have institutions. Number two is we are faced to deal with immigrant community that is still very much try to negotiate "Americannes". We did this 300 years ago.
Like I put a picture of a gun on my facebook wall and there was a rigid reaction by a larger community which happens to be immigrant. But converts say like ''that is great to protect yourself''. If you go to the conferences in America you know that the topic will be assimilation. I am a blonde and white guy. Assimilation? That is something important for certain people. Do not get me wrong! I was unassimilated by Wahhabi discourse. So I think when we go overseas it goes back what I said about history.
You experience human-organic, simple ideologically based practice. So if you go to Malaysia, very comfortable very simple very easy and also certain parts of Yemen there people are very easy going, like West Africa (God helped them with Ebola now). One day my ex-wife said to me, she is from Malaysia, she said the difference between American Converts in the West and those who are born muslims still overseas, you are like someone who reads the book on how to ride a bike, but I just born riding a bike. So it does make sense but we want to be in a place where we can ride it.
I think a lot of us tired from the rule based Islam, modernist Islam I talked about earlier. We find more organic Islam in Muslim countries. When I go Muslim countries I feel so relaxed. But what seems scary is that groups like ISIS and others they are brained with very modernist, fascist understanding of religion in trying to impose to all people. I mean like how do you capture Muslims (regarding Turkish diplomats who were captured in Mosul). I mean in the most primitive fiqh. How come?
Q-7) Coming to the Ella Collins. What do you say about its programs and future plans?
Ella Collins is the sister of Malcolm X. This again goes back to what we talked about earlier. Organic history with our roots here in America. Her life style was not perfect and she died in a very difficult situations. We named it ECI because she lived in this city. Our focus is primarily two areas: Number one is adult education. This includes international students too. We have 130 students now. And second component of ECI is to train Imams and scholars (men and women) to serve as pastors in American Muslim communities. Like Imam-Hatip Schools in Turkey. (Smiling)
We want to grow by ourselves, we want to have our own schools and scholars. Like you guys. You know what I love about the Turks. You have your own identity and we have to have American identity in terms of cultural bases. So we can send our kids to Turkey and you can send some of your students to here and we train them in our community. This is the cooperative effort which will work.
In the past everybody came to America and tried to conquer it, take it. Those ideas still around but isolated everybody because they do not speak to a broader context. Al-Maghrib and Zaytuna are doing good job in this sense. For example we teach Hanafi School of fiqh in ECI so we can bring one from Turkey. I brought one of my classmates from Al-azhar to teach Shafi mazhab. She is an alim. It was great for our sisters to see a woman scholar. Cooperation would be fantastic in this way. If I come to Turkey that is the one of the goal i.e. to build this bridge. Next year we are going to open our seminary. We will be opening with a seminary school. We will have 10 fellowships. It will be 2 years program. Then they can do 3rd year in Turkey.
You will have a guy in Turkey after 2 years he can come here and we can expose him like drug counseling care, sex abuse, we will expose him in America that will make him such a more dynamic scholar. I have been in Turkey I saw all the gay people. They might be good people though. Prophet (Pbuh.) told us that people are like metals. You have to dig a metal. But if we cant speak to them we do not have the right to justify them.
I met one time with a really secular person, I mean atheist, in Turkey. He was asking that why I converted. I said him when do you think Islam what do you think about it? He said Wallahi things like Al-Qaida. His understanding of Islam was really like this and no wonder why he is not Muslim. Then when I explained him why I converted Islam that is because of Rahmah.
You know what he told me, he was just crying, and telling me I never heard this before. I think what would be good to do is try to foster the cooperative model by sharing our best practices and best values.
For Turkish students as I said once they come here, after completing 2 years in Turkey, they can advance their skills. We can have them mentor like Rabias and priests they can see these advanced jewish community members. Their administration was like White House. Perfect! We can have them also to work in prisons and in colleges.
Does ECI has an accreditation?
In order to get a state accreditation you need to sacrifice your curriculum. The other challenge I believe is that muslims should first accredit themselves. We need to define what is right in our community and wrong. We should have first internal accreditation.
Q-8) Being in Boston do you think beneficial because you have such a high number of students?
The students here are not actively coming to Mosque so like after 4 years they are gone. They have a huge academic pressure like in Oxford. That is the reason why I may relocate to like DC or similar places where more substantial population of Muslims are stable. And also here in Boston even in MA the muslim population is under 50.000. So it is not a big community. Not like Bay area or Virginia or New York city. New York city has a ridiculous number of mosques reaching to 300.
Q-9-)In US, some values and laws that are contradictory to muslim values like mortgage, gay marriage, huge consumption. How do you see this?
Whatever Allah made is haram is haram. And whatever is halal is halal. So political alliances with people like who are pro-gay marriages and how to deal with them those are the job of political scientists and social scientists not the job of Ulema. Ulema, we do not know about the politics. We should stay out of politics. We should be advisers in political issues like ethical religious positions. But once it comes to political strategy we should be quiet. Those of the decisions that should be made jointly, this is not a fatwa this is a community decision.
As far as mortgages things like that, that is the fatwa. We have North American Fiqh Council and AMJA those are the institutions that make fatawahs. Some of the issues like these, ulema should not have explicit voices. But they should shape the ethical aspect of it. So we need to have institutions that are going to service to these needs.
If the institutions are anemic then the result would be anemic. These institutions should be independent, well-funded, accountable and effective. So we are in the process of building these institutions. This is the age of institutions for American muslim community. It takes time but it needs a strategy too. Look at the Catholics and Jewish communities. What they were able to do is that they went beyond institutions not just for their community, they began to build institutions for the rest of society as well. They humanized themselves. Every major church in America runs hospital, why? Muslims have still not created functional institutions for themselves let alone the rest of society.
The second component what makes us very different than the Jewish communities, Catholic communities or Hindus etc. is that we have people in our community who want to destroy America. This is a problem. And who want to kill people. People will say Zionists Jewish people kill too. But they do not say explicitly. Israel did not come out and said we are going to kill Gazans. They say we are fighting with Hamas; even though we know what does that mean in broader context but the language they use very intelligently.
There was a senate in Oklahoma last week who said muslims are cancer in this society. If he was to say this for any other religious community, they would fire him. But we are too busy with imams on facebook and criticizing them all. The goal of ECI is to create institution that functions at high level.Last Mod: 18 Aralık 2014, 18:23