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Cultural Arrogance and Ethnic Pride

ImageCall it arrogance, pride, racial pride, family pride, ethnic pride, national pride, cultural pride. That accursed sin of pride: that's what got our enemy into a hell of a lot of trouble, and that's the weapon he uses to take us with him.

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Shaikh Ali Abu Talib

The followers of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him), like the followers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny), were Divinely-guided Muslims. Today, however, Prophet Musa's followers aren't known as Muslims. Instead, they're remembered exclusively by their clan affiliation: the Children of Israel or, by the name of their clan's politically dominant tribe, Jews. God guided the Children of Israel through the efforts of Prophet Moses and The Torah. Most followers of Moses, however, had no physical access to the Torah. It was locked up and guarded in the Ark of the Covenant. Only the high priests had access.

We Muslims of the Muhammadan dispensation of Islam are privileged. We have infallible Divine Guidance sitting on our bookshelves. Nearly every Muslim has key parts of the Qur'an locked in his/her memory, and whoever can remember it can guard the entire Holy Scroll in his breast's treasure chest (74:55). Yet, like our ancient religious brethren, too many of us still manage to do the exact opposite of what's best for us. We're even known by our ethnocentric identities. We're Arabs. We're Persians. We're Pakistanis. We're African-Americans. We're known by who we are, not what we are. We're just like the Muslims of old, who still to this day are known as either Israelis or Jews, instead of Muslims.

Why? Because we tend to fear not and forget Allah (87:9) and de-prioritize God's guidance in preference to the gadgetry of the world (2:102). Thus, we tend to allow our lower nature to be influenced by the Nefarious Stoned Satan, who's dedicated to our ultimate ruin. This ancient, alien adversary isn't alone in his mission. Shaitan is constantly trying to recruit others to the Dark Side, spreading ignorance, negligence, disobedience, and oppression. The methods have not changed throughout the ages. He invents ways to incite, seduce, beguile, and corrupt. Then he uses these inventions to turn what is closest to us into his trusted and charismatic agent provocateur, which then infiltrates into our very core, the most susceptible aspect of our humanity, the easily inflated human ego. Thus, many believe that it's more important to be who our parents were than it is to be what our Prophet was. So we adopt our parent's errors rather than our Prophet's righteousness. It is our ego's fierce fiery sense of exaggerated self-worth that stinks to high heaven and can anger God to no end.

Call it arrogance, pride, racial pride, family pride, ethnic pride, national pride, cultural pride. That accursed sin of pride: that's what got our enemy into a hell of a lot of trouble, and that's the weapon he uses to take us with him. All that egotistical fool had to do was bow towards a fellow creature. The command to bow was given by the recognizable voice of God. He'd been okay if he'd obeyed. But he didn't. He thought so highly of himself that he didn't fear His Creator. He waxed proud in his opinion of himself, rebelled, then waned in God's Grace, and suffered an irreparable loss of spiritual face. He became morally bankrupted. No spiritual currency, condemned without hope of Allah's Mercy, destined to dwell forever in hell, a bad place with bad feelings and even worse smell, without vision of God's Merciful Ever Presence, cursed to his essence, existing only on hatred for those born to humanity, ultimate peace lost to eternal insanity.

What a horrible fate, an accursed state! Too proud to bow with those who bow, he failed to slay his "sacred cow." He chose to rebel, mis-stepped, and fell. Then, instead of repenting, he made an excuse, which only succeeded in tightening the noose. He said, "why should I bow to a thing lower than me? Ana Khairu Minhu – I am better than he!"

"I am better." "We are better." "They're inferior to us." "His are inferior to mine. That's why I prefer my own kind."

Ana Khairu Minhu – the father of racism? Since every Muslim knows that this is the Original sin, every Muslim I know claims not to be a racist. Is this true? Is the Muslim majority free from racist tendencies, or are Muslims like most Christians were (are?), living in a hypocritical state of denial?

What's the difference between racism and ethnocentricity? What is Ethnocentricity?

Ethnocentricity is basing your identity and self worth on a sense of pride in your "people's" traditional attitudes and behavior patterns. Islam is a Theocentric culture. Our attitudes and behavior patterns are supposed to be based on Divine guidance. But many Muslims view their religion as simply a part of their ethnic culture and guard it zealously, even when it clearly contradicts Deenul Islam (the Islamic Culture). Many Muslims refuse to modify their ethnocentric Deen to fit Islamic parameters. So even though we practice the same Islamic culture (way of life?), our various people tend not to be able to unite.

Borders were often drawn along lines of ethnic proximity. And often these borders are protected zealously, to guard against ethnic and cultural contamination. Cultural bigotry and racism fall under the same sin. Cultural bigotry is more politically correct though. Instead of saying, "We're better than y'all because our skin color makes us better," cultural bigots say, "We prefer to be with our own because we're used to our culture. I'm not saying mine is better than yours. I just like mine better than yours because that's yours and this is mine. I'm not a racist. I'm just exercising my right to choose."

Arrogance?

Well, we do have freedom of choice in the Wild Wild West. But is freedom of choice the real issue? Or are these cultural obstacles just another form of Ana Khairu Minhu that keeps us from obeying the command?

God Commands Muslims to unite and bow together in prayer (3:103). But we don't. God commands us to make known Islam's Divine Guidance (3:187). But too many of us simply disobey the orders because they don't jive with cultural and ethnic expediency. Too many of us zealously insist, and violently resist, any change to the generational preservation of our ethnocentric cultural attitudes and behavior even if they are clearly un-Islamic (2:87-92). But we're not racists. Right?

Let's face it, many believers' cultural bigotry is just as bad as many Christians' racial bigotry. Sunday is the most segregated day of the week in America. Why? Because even though the churches have integrated, and the schools have integrated, and the work place has integrated, the places of worship have not. And that goes for mosques, just as much as it does for churches and synagogues. There's the Irani Masjid over there. The Afghan Masjid over there. The Khoja Masjid over there. The Pakistani Masjid over there. The Lebanese Masjid over there. The Iraqi Masjid over there. And the African Americans don't have a Masjid, but they're somewhere else too.

Our people need to examine their souls and admit that one form of self-deluded ism-schism is as bad as another. Racism, nationalism, tribalism, elitism, are all Satanically-induced sicknesses. They're psychic weapons of mass spiritual destruction. These spiritually toxic attitudes keep neighboring Muslim nations, and neighbors from uniting and gestating into a unified, sanctified Muslim Ummah, the Devout Kingdom of God on Earth.

More than any other weapon of Satan, Pride is that evil psychic poison that corrupts our spiritual humors the most. Pride makes it difficult to trust the people of knowledge, heed the Book of God, obey the command to bow with those who bow, and unite to fulfill the covenant between Our Holy Father Abraham's Nation and Allah (which is to make the Divine Guidance of God Known to humanity). Twenty years ago, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was one of the most humble of those who bow and one of the best converters of Divine Guidance into workable sociopolitical strategy, advised the believers living in the United States to organize and uplift the Mustazafeen of this nation. The Mustazafeen (helpless people) were identified as the African-Americans.

Imam Khomeini made that statement between 1981 and 1984. As of Winter 2002, I don't know of one group of faithful Muslims who were born in Muslim countries, to believing families, and immigrated to the West, who have created a single program to accomplish that task. Not one. I have never seen or heard of one Masjid established in an African-American neighborhood, attended and funded by highly educated, affluent, foreign-born believers who came to America during the continuing Middle Eastern "brain drain" migration. I have not seen one group of faithful Muslim immigrants strategically move en masse into an African-American neighborhood to form a congregation in order to propagate the Religion. Not even the majestic Islamic Center Of American in Dearborn, which is located directly across the street from one of the largest African-American neighborhoods in America. I don't think they've had ten black converts in 30 years. Not even through marriage.

Is the good advice of our wisest adviser completely ignored as an exercise of cultural preference? If that's the case, what do pork-eating, Eurocentric secularists have in common with Halal-eating, South Asian Muslims? So why do "the Brains" that have drained into the West choose to live exclusively in white neighborhoods surrounded by people whose culture is altogether different from theirs? Most immigrant believers say they feel safer in white neighborhoods. Really? Why? How was such a prejudiced conclusion formed? Has any one of them ever lived in an African-American neighborhood?

In truth, there are far less crazies in black neighborhoods who hate Muslims than in white neighborhoods. People in African-American neighborhoods are used to seeing women dressed in Hijab. Many blacks have at least one Muslim relative. How foolish is it to think that every black neighborhood is gang-infested or poor. So excluding black neighborhoods from one's options most definitely is not a safety issue.

Some immigrants say they opt to live in white neighborhoods because whites neighborhoods have better schools than black neighborhoods. Even if it was true, which it isn't, wouldn't that give us an even greater opportunity for propagating Islam? The need for better schools gives us reason to establish Islamic schools in the "hood" and follow that up with viable centers of Islamic spiritual and moral development and inter-cultural socializing that would open fresh vital markets for creative business ventures with a potentially huge, and grateful, workforce. If this makes sense to you, then ask yourself the question: why hasn't it manifested anywhere in the United States of America, Canada, or England? Racism?

Racism is an ugly, ugly disposition of the soul. Sane people don't want to see themselves as being that shallow and deformed of spirit, even if they are. But racism, or one of racism's siblings, like nationalism, elitism, tribalism, or some other kind of ethnocentric cultural blindness, are the most common forms of what the Christians call "the Most Deadly Sin". We call that sin Takabbur – arrogance and false pride. Allah said through His Holy Prophet Muhammad that "All humans are as equal (in their humanity) as the teeth of a comb. And the best of you is best in Faith and good works." The Prophet's top companions were teenagers and two ex-slaves, one black and one Arab. He chose the best rather than the richest, the old heads, or the blue bloods. This is how the original Faithful Muslim Core was kept pure and free from the corruption of worldly values and ambitions.

So why have our immigrant brothers and sisters established ethnocentric conclaves here in the West? Is it because you fear that your ethnic gene pool or cultural integrity might be irreparably contaminated if you articulated with us Darkies? Which is worse, disobeying because of cultural bigotry or disobeying because of racial bigotry? Regardless, too many of my dear fellows in faith and their wives live where they live and half-practice Islam with minds closed to obvious dynamic Da'wa (propagation) strategies because they consciously want to make sure that their daughters and sons don't marry my sons and daughters. I personally believe it's more racial than cultural. Honestly, ask yourself if you would prefer that your daughter marry a good, highly-committed, devout, knowledgeable believing black man, or a nice, semi-devout, not-so-knowledgeable or committed member of your own ethnicity?

I believe that this is the root of the 100 years of negligence to our duty to make Allah's Divine Guidance known to the poor and oppressed of America, Canada, England, India, and Africa. I believe that this grotesque disfigurement of soul has made it impossible for my Islamically fraternal kin to move into neighborhoods populated by people who look like me. It is this racist madness that keeps our people from making efforts to help bring these dark-skinned folks back to the Culture Of God that their ancestors lost through the most horrible oppression ever perpetrated in the history of this planet: the 200-year African-American trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

I believe that it is this vile and ugly spiritual attitude that keeps our people from establishing Jamaats based on brothers organizing and consistently attending Salat in congregation, especially Salatul Fajr, Magrib, and Isha every day. Why? What does an ethnocentric attitude have to do with establishing Salat? Allah has said very clearly in His Holy Book that the establishment of a highly compassionate and reverent Theocentric community would most certainly be difficult, except for those who are humble (2:45). Ethnocentricity ain't humility. Humility is the exact opposite of false ethnic pride, false national pride, false gender pride, and false racial pride. Humility is the exact opposite of false pride in one's social status. Humility is the exact opposite of false pride in one's economic status. Humility is the exact opposite of false pride in one's educational status. Humility is the exact opposite of false pride in one's income bracket. Humility is the exact opposite of any kind of false pride festering in one's ego about one's own deluded since of self worth. Humility is a spiritual superpower. Arrogance, or false pride, is the epitome of spiritual weakness. Pride weakens a soul until it is so debilitated that it cannot hear the voice of its own conscience.

It is the number one cause of spiritual death. Prophet Muhammad said that "No one can enter the Garden Of Paradise with even one speck of Arrogance, or false pride, in his or her soul." Arrogant pride keeps our people from seeing beyond the divisive borders and unintelligent strategies drawn by foolish, error-preserving elders and colonizing, growth-stunting oppressors. History shows us that ethnocentric Muslims fought so hard to maintain their ethnocentric political dominance that they sided with racist, antagonistic non-Muslims to kill their Muslim political rivals, only to be double crossed time and again by more powerful Kuffar who were even more ethnocentric than they. Those old superiority complexes and ancient caste bigotries are still carried on in today's Brain-drain-a-stan, USA.

Lebanese don't want to be with Iraqis. Iranians don't want to be with Pakistanis. None of the immigrants want to be with the African-Americans. The African-Americans and European-Americans don't want to be with each other. The rich definitely don't want to be with the poor, and the poor think that poverty gives them some special automatic access to spiritual superiority. Satan's ism-schisms have turned our communities into a disunited, racist, ethnocentric, and elitist lizard swamp of stagnant, unimaginative, do-nothing, arrogant divisiveness.

My dear brothers and sisters in Faith, Allah's advice is no longer locked away in some guarded sanctuary. It is sitting on our book shelves, and it has been analyzed and "strategized" by the most brilliant, and gifted men and women that God ever created. Will we turn from our ethnocentric foolishness and succeed? Tauba (repentance) is a revolution (turning) of one's consciousness, conscience, and behavior away from error and towards righteousness. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) states in Nahjul Balagha that this spiritual revolution consists of six components:

  1. Regret for having sinned
  2. Determination to avoid the sin in the future,
  3. Fulfilling the neglected duty,
  4. Discharging the trust if there is any
  5. Making the ego feel ashamed for revolting against Right,
  6. Feeling sorry for having ever enjoyed the sin.

And I would like to add a seventh pre-revolutionary condition. Before one can turn from a wrong, one must come to realize that one has done wrong. This essay was not written out of spite. This essay was written out of love for my brothers and sisters in faith. If this kind of Takabbur does not apply to you, Masha'Allah! But if it does, I pray Allah blesses you to feel as bad, sorry, filled with regret, ashamed, and determined to turn this thing around.

Allah colored us differently with different racial features so that we can tell each other apart, "that we might know one another" (49:13). That's the only way that race or ethnicity or tribal affiliation or coloring matters.

Actually, we are all one race –  human. And as Muslims, we all share the same nationality and culture in the eyes of God. As children of Adam, we are all brothers and sisters in humanity. Race is nothing more than an aspect of personal identification. Likewise, economic status is only a test of stewardship. In reality, everything belongs to God. Even high moral rank is an undeserved blessing, which provides more duty than it does privilege. The moral high ground is not inherited from generation to generation. We are all born within the nature of submission to God's Will.

But each generation must strive and maintain Truth-loving, steadfast associates in order to Islamically succeed spiritually, socially, economically, and politically, and become rich in faith, and righteous deeds. Let's strive together for total success in this life and the next. Let's turn away from the Satanic sickness of arrogance and pride, and recognize our interdependence on one another, and our total dependence on Allah.

"Oh Allah! You have not created us differently, and brought us together in this foreign land for no reason. So move us on the Path of Everlasting Favors, and save us from the Fire's Punishment."

Shaikh Ali Abu Talib is a revert to Islam and a former student of Imam Mubarak Hassan, Sayyid Masoom Abidi, and Ayatollah Murtadha Qazwini. He is the co-founder and organizer of Jamaatul Muqeemoonas Salat, GrassRoots Calling, and the QINA (Qur'anic Institute Of North America) Projects.

About Shaykh Ali Abu Talib

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  • Sister Nandi Najwatii

    I have spoken on this before you may use my comment.
    Nandi

  • Servant

    Assalaamu Alaykum,

    This is a great article which I hope will open the eyes of many believers… Thank you.

  • A Muslim

    Thank you for sharing, we all have seen all the points u mentioned, we all have lived with it and we all have heard about it. We all know that these things exsit and we know there is a problem. My question is this: What is the solution, how can we solve this problem? What is our duty about this and what is the duty of young generations who are living in the U.S. with these families and even with our own family, and even with our own culture?

  • Ditto Ditto Ditto!

    Sadly this is very true. My parents were from Pakistan, Allah bless their souls. I married an Iranian who cares little for culture, similar to myself. I pray our 3 children also find spouses based on good faith and piety, and not on cultural affiliations. But I fear that even the young generations adapt to their parents bigoted views “We are Iraqi, Lebanese, Persian, Indian”.

    Where are the true believers? Who love for the sake of Allah?

  • AliReza

    Salam Aleykum Honourable Shaikh,

    Thank you for pointing this out. If I am not mistaken, at least one of our Imams (A.S.) is believed to have had a black mother and therefore may have looked more like Shaikh Ali than us.
    The next time you feel even a flinch of a haram feeling or attitude towards others based on anything other than their devotion to Allah SWT, think that you are desrespecting your Imams A.S. and Inshallah Allah will cure you of the disease of racism/superiority complex etc.