Responding to Muslim Critics
Recently I wrote about my trip to Poland and Israel over on Medium. I really encourage Americans to travel internationally as much as possible. If planned and budgeted it’s fairly inexpensive. As an example, my trip only cost me a little more than $2,000 in total. To put that in perspective, when I took my daughter on a several city road trip from Dallas, Memphis, Nashville, DC, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City in 2021 the cost was about $4,000.
The plan is to do one international trip a year and to eventually travel to all 50 states (at 41 now) and all continents. I have some ideas for next year, perhaps a UK and West Africa combo, a Netherlands and Indonesia combo, or South America; but I’m really unsure at this time. I do know that if I plan, and shop for deals, I can save and do any of them on a budget.
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I was able to find good deals on flights and my hotel in Krakow, Poland was conveniently located just off the main square in an historic building and was only about $50 a night. In Israel I stayed at two different AirBNB locations that were both around the same price. I had a $100 a day budget for food, taxis, museum admissions, and incidentals and I didn't even spend all of that money. Knowing I was under budget I splurged a little bit in my last couple of days in Israel going to nice restaurants.
To put this in perspective a lot of people go to local St. Louis area casinos and strip clubs and spend over $2,000 in a night. A trip to go see a big boxing match in Las Vegas will cost much more than that. If a person is really into fashion they may spend $2,000, or much more, every season to stock up their wardrobe. I don't go to casinos and strip clubs, and in fact I very seldom even drink, when I go to boxing matches, or any sporting events, I sit in the cheap seats (and with boxing I’m often given free tickets and media credentials), and I do all of my clothes shopping at thrift stores, outlet malls, and Amazon. So, the money I save in those areas, can be put towards things I actually like; travel, books, and food.
If there is anyone of a working-class income who has never traveled, and has always wanted to, reach out to me and I’d be more than happy to help you organize and plan your trip on a budget.
I knew that my trip was not without a degree of controversy, especially for Muslims, so I reached out to Mahin Islam of the Sultan and Sneakers podcast to do an interview. While I enjoyed the interview, and think it went well, it set off criticism in online Muslim fundamentalist circles, and particularly amongst conservative Sufis and the alt-right and White Nationalist adjacent “akh-right”. As Mahin himself told me, hosting Richard Spencer wasn't controversial because many in his audience are “closet racists and Nazis”, but hosting me is controversial because I challenge religious orthodoxies and my stance on Israel is unpopular.
Due to the backlash, Mahin was forced to do a video stating he disagreed with my views on perennialism, hadith, and Zionism. I have no problem with that as Mahin is clarifying his stances for his audience. However, I then made a response video responding to the fundamentalist critics.
I try not to get into online debates. Sometimes I get sucked in. I didn't see any criticism of my trip and interview that was anywhere close to being intelligent. All I read were the words from fearful and insecure men who can’t deal with any challenge to their beliefs without responding to name calling, insults, and threats of violence. These men swim in the same stream as those who believe it’s acceptable to murder Salman Rushdie or the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists because they insulted Prophet Muhammad, or those who support the violent crackdown on the young women of Iran who are seeking the freedom to not wear hijab or have their lives governed by an oppressive and theocratic state. These men live in fear, they know the golden age for their faith was centuries ago and they missed out, and they fear a modern and changing world and cling to fundamentalist religion, and reactionary politics, as a response.
I told Mahin I think the negative response largely came from conservative South Asian men and perhaps there's a cultural difference at play. In the American tradition, definitely since the end of World War II, and sped up since the cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1960's, individuality, free thinkers, and those who go against the grain, not fitting neatly into boxes, have often been celebrated. Most of my St. Louis audience appreciates my independent streak, informal approach, and questioning of the consensus. Within conservative Muslim circles, and even beyond, conformity is key and individualism is viewed as something negative. First there is conformity to the family and allowing them to guide your educational and career choices, then there is conformity to the culture, then there is conformity to theology and religious ideas and behavior, which could differ depending on what camp you’re in (Sufi, Salafi, Shia, etc) , and finally conformity to normative white middle-class values (once filtered through family, culture, and religion). An independent person, without any of those guiding influences or aspirations, is viewed as suspect in this light.
Despite having no negative mental health diagnosis there are Muslims who have responded I have Muslim health issues. This idea was put forward by Georgetown Professor Jonathan Brown, best known for his defense of rape and slavery, and having problematic views on race and the Arabic language. With Brown I’m not quite sure where the fundamentalism and Muslim Brotherhood promotion ends and the grift begins; but one thing I know for certain is that his categorization of me as having mental health issues is slanderous. Brown is also not a trained mental health professional and not qualified to pronounce those judgements upon anyone.
Brown gets by with a lot because he’s a professor at Georgetown and the Muslim community generally holds academics, or anyone with wealth and status, in high regard. I’d argue that the Muslim community is a little more racist on average than most non-Muslim Americans; but Muslims tend to be FAR more classist than your average American and Brown is a beneficiary of this. He’s also a poster child, along with other prominent white American Muslims, of having benefitted tremendously from white privilege.
Brown is weirdly obsessed with me even though his life appears to be very successful and he’s yet to have his #Metoo moment. Even people who like him have remarked to me how odd this is. Marc Manley, who is also obsessed with me, has failed in every area of his life; never embraced as a popular Muslim leader, fledgling imam career (that he isn’t even qualified for to begin with), failed marriages, financial issues, struggling with issues of identity, health issues, and just all around Marc is struggling in life and obviously unhappy. He’s precisely the kind of fearful man who needs to cling to religious fundamentalist thinking in order to make sense of things and not harm himself. Marc has descended into online antisemitic rants, quasi support for Donald Trump, short of the full-blown Trump support and covid-denial of some of his fellow travelers on the akh-right, and his rants at me are from a point of pain and misery. Perhaps, there is an element of jealousy as well. We’re about the same age, converted around the same time, and have seen most around us crash and burn, but I’ve displayed the independence and courage to call out the damaging affects of fundamentalism, religious extremism, and fantasy and he hasn't.
My suggestion for Marc is good food, some good Cali weed, take a trip up to Napa and enjoy the nature and California wine, take a good book to the beach, listen to some good music, continue to get in shape and jump on Bumble. That’s gonna be a lot more beneficial for you than worrying about me, going on antisemitic rants, and popping a blood vessel railing against Muslims you have theological and political differences with.
There are also some very dimwitted Muslims who’ve read my recent piece, and watched the recent video with Mahin, and concluded I must be an agent. I know you guys aren't that smart; but let me help you out. An informant or agent doesn't take unpopular positions or try to stick out because their goal is to get along with everyone in order to know as much as possible. At the top of the list of things an agent wouldn't do is say they’re a Zionist because immediately most doors and spaces in the Muslim community become closed. I don't care about any Muslim doors and spaces being closed to me because I have no interest in the Muslim community or any mosque. All I care about are my Muslim friends and our relationships and my circle is small. I seldom step foot in a mosque if it isn't Ramadan, Eid, or a class and I wouldn't lose a wink of sleep over never stepping in one again.
Calling anyone who you disagree with an agent stems from four things. One- most Muslim immigrants come from authoritarian countries where intelligence agencies play a large role in society, including in mosques, and this fear of agents is passed onto their kids. Two- the cultural epicenter of Black American Islam is in overpoliced inner-city neighborhoods and as the popularity of Islam, and religion in general, is declining in the Black community, the only steady and reliable source for new converts is from prison. Three- white Muslims are generally distrusted and this is one reason I advise white people to not convert to Islam. No matter what you do, no matter how much water you carry and ass you kiss, you’ll never be fully trusted and accepted, so why bother? Four- while I believe Muslims have fallen off the government radar in America and are no longer seen as a real threat we did have a number of years after 9-11 in which the Muslim community was heavily policed. Informants were used and hardly any of them were white. They were overwhelmingly Muslims with immigration or legal issues.
In local St. Louis news….
Our hearts are broken over our beloved Cardinals losing; but the beauty of Autumn is here, episodes of the Informal History STL podcast will resume soon, and the Blues will soon take the ice. I’d also like to send my condolences to the family of my childhood friend Mike Swearengen, who recently died. One of the realist of the real. A good dude all around and a true Kinloch O.G. . We have a lot of great memories together and he’ll be missed.
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I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.
Yes, Umar’s religious views are theologically problematic within orthodox Sunni Islam. His views on Israel are definitely unpopular within the mainstream Muslim community. But then again, I don’t know of anyone that is looking to Umar for religious guidance or foreign affairs?
These views shouldn’t take away from his insightful and thought-provoking commentary on the American Muslim experience. Commentary that unapologetically discusses important issues that need to be addressed (but often are swept under the rug) such as how race, class, economics, culture, and politics are at play within the community—and often woven in with cautionary tales of hypocrisy, corruption, discrimination, racism, misogyny, political posturing, elitism, and colonialism. Putting the problematic views aside, Umar’s writings provide a perspective that is often invisible within community dialogues but at the same time helps Muslim community leaders and activists raise the bar in terms of the quality the of communities they are building.
So what is the fuss all about? Could it be that some folks who are uncomfortable with these issues criticize Umar’s personal views to perhaps delegitimize the otherwise valid points he makes about the shortcomings of the Muslim community? I recommend everyone to look beyond Umar’s controversial outlooks to see the wisdom he offers in his commentary on the American Muslim community.
Lastly, what I would say to Umar is to not even bother with responding and naming those that are calling you out. You should already know the value your writings offer and that they offer benefit to those mature enough to be honest and realistic about where our community is. Peace.
"No matter what you do, no matter how much water you carry and ass you kiss, you’ll never be fully trusted and accepted, so why bother?" Because fitting in and being accepted isn't why we become Muslims.