Friday, January 05, 2007

Sherman Jackson


Sherman Jackson came to Singapore the week leading up to Christmas.

I found him to be a most inspiring and interesting person.

Here is a writeup on him in Wikipedia.

It was Divine Providence that brought him to Singapore.

Well, for me, at least.

You see, about a week before that I was at my weekly visit to Wardah Books, wasting my time chatting with Ibrahim and wasting my money buying books that is taking up waaaay too much space at my bedside.

Being the world's biggest fan of Imam al-Ghazzali, was shocked to discover that there was one book in English that I did not have.

Of course, I had to buy it.

It was entitled On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam: Abu Hamid al Ghazali's Faysal al Tafriqa, translated by Sherman Jackson.

After reading it, I immediately became tickled to know what else Sherman Jackson thinks, and so went back to Wardah Books and bought Islam and the BlackAmerican : Looking toward the Third Resurrection.

I read that book at one sitting, and reflected what learning points can be drawn from the Black american Muslim experience.

It is an interesting case study of da'wah and religiocultural evolution.

His observation is an interesting one. The Blacks became Muslim first under the famous Nation of Islam movement. This was a highly successful movement, and the first truly indigenous Black American movement in history.

This was because the black American person was a stranger in a strange land - he was the same as a white person in language, culture, dress, etc. but he was not accepted in the same way as a white person is.

There were early attempts to return to Africa - and as such nations such as Liberia was formed - but Africa proved too far away to have any influence on the black American.

And because the centuries of slavery have deliberately forced the black slaves to throw away and forget their African culture and identity, Africanism is as alien to the black American as it is to the white American.

However, to be free from slavery was one thing, but being shackled to the culture, language and religion of their former slavers was not true liberation.

This led to a psychology of protest in the black American - and this, together with the alienation of the blacks from mainstream America - was a potent combination of the cocktail that was the success formula of the Nation of Islam movement.

Through the Nation of Islam movement, the black American had something that was uniquely his, that he could be proud of in the face of the white world, and be able to claim that he was no longer their cultural slaves anymore.

A sense of ownership.

That's what is important.

That is what is missing amongst the marginalised sections of our community - the Chinese and European and Eurasian Muslims.

Islam is seen as a Malay-owned religion.

You know that technically it is not, but for all intents and purposes it is so in our country.

In order to draw the non-Malays of Singapore into the fold of Islam, we must craft a new Singaporean Muslim identity that is independent of the Malay identity.

So far we have been thinking of addressing our non-Malay brethren by having more facilities in English such as classes and books in English, but I think that is not enough.

A model must be formulated that can be adopted by a Singaporean who wants to be Muslim without need to be Malay.

This must transcend merely the language issue, it must cover other marks of identity and culture, such as dress, behaviour, art, music, etc.

This issue was realised by our early ulamaks (see my previous posts when I said that reading the books on Islam by Shaykh al-Banjari or Shaykh Falimbani, it was almost as if they describe the Prophet (saw) as a Malay man instead of an Arab).

If we can now evolve a discourse in da'wah where we can do the same for the non-Malay Singaporean, Insha Allah, we have a new tool that would be effectual in bringing the religion of Truth to our neighbours and friends in this country.

3 comments:

ihsan said...

It is still not very clear to me exactly how the non-Malay Muslims here feel marginalised. Maybe I should start asking my convert friends. The complaint I often hear is the language barrier, which unfortunately, is not going to be solved so soon, because we still have a large Malay-speaking non-English speaking community. It may sound like a small issue, but if you notice, when an ulama' comes to Singapore, most of the time, the translation is only in Malay, so that's one problem.

As for little things, like not using terms such as "Malay-Muslims", I think we really need to work on it, coz it really sounds unwelcoming, yet we use it so often, especially in the media, as though it's no problem at all.

Developing a local Muslim culture would be a great feat since it's even questionable whether Singaporeans have a culture!

I guess it's also to do with how we treat the converts on the individual level. For example, a person like Al-Marhum Ust Abdillah was so close to the Malay community that sometimes people forget he's an Arab. If only we can reach out to them like that, perhaps then, some things can change for the better...

MudPie said...

What a wonderful point you made about al-Marhum Ustaz Syed Abdillah, and I would add al-Marhum Ustaz Syed Semait as well.
Thanks for putting your thought into this. Keep thinking and challenging yourself.

MudPie said...

I hope I am not being misunderstood. There can be a Malay sector in the Muslim community. We just need to beef up a second sector, that's all.