France’s Muslims Could Learn 

“An indigenous form of Islam developed within the West – rather than influenced by leaders from abroad – is the path to integration and peaceful coexistence.”

BY TALIB SHAREEFYAYA J. FANUSIEMUHAMMAD FRASER-RAHIM

(THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN “FOREIGN POLICY,” PUBLISHED BY ANDREW SOLLINGER, NOV. 9, 2020, REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION.)

The despicable beheading of a school teacher in France by an extremist Muslim on Oct. 16, 2020 – and an attack at a church in Nice later in October – point to a troubling cultural dynamic in Europe. 

Some Muslims are bringing one-dimensional, old-world thinking to the pluralistic environments in the West, resulting in intolerance and extremist violence.

Some Muslim leaders around the globe claim this violence is a reaction to Islamophobia. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to deflect attention from the crimes by saying France and European societies were suffering from an “Islamophobia disease.” 

More recently, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad tweeted that “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past,” alluding to French colonialism.

On the other side, commentators such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali have argued that this dynamic of violence is inherent to Islam, while many academics have claimed that Muslims’ religious values inhibit their integration in Europe. 

By this flawed logic, violent conflict would appear inevitable when Muslims try to establish their faith in the West. But all of these views ignore that, for almost 50 years, a balanced practice of Islam has existed in the West, in peaceful harmony with a Christian majority, while standing firmly against extremism. 

And it developed right here in the United States, among African American Muslims. As native-born African American Muslims – steeped in the Islamic faith, but also with experience working in the U.S. military or the intelligence community – we believe that Muslims in France and other Western nations could learn from us.

Much of the world – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – has ignored our legacy. However, we have lived out a blueprint for overcoming adversity and discrimination in the West, while building a balanced Muslim identity and fighting against extremism. 

When most people think of historic and influential Muslim American leaders, they automatically think of Malcolm X, who was killed in 1965. But arguably the Muslim American with the greatest religious influence of the 20th century was a different African American who died of natural causes only 12 years ago: Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (also known as W.D. Mohammed).

W.D. Mohammed was a Muslim reformer, leader, and pioneer who taught a universal Islam that fitted American life and stayed true to the religion’s beliefs, even if it diverged from some of the thinking of old-world Islam. 

The key to this development of Islam in the United States among African Americans was that it developed organically and internally. Unlike in much of Europe and the rest of the world, where Middle Eastern or Turkish-funded mosques and Imams are prevalent, this movement of African American Muslims have not been guided by imported teachings from foreign thinkers or immigrants wedded to the old world.

The roots of W.D. Mohammed’s movement are instructive. In the mid-20th century, the most visible Muslim group in the United States was the Nation of Islam (NOI), even though many of its tenets were not really Islamic. 

The NOI in reality was an Islamic hybrid movement, mainly addressing the social, psychological, spiritual, and economic burdens on African Americans arising out of the Jim Crow experience. 

But it still represented the first nationally recognized association of Muslims in the American mainstream, especially as Malcolm X gained prominence as the spokesman for NOI leader Elijah Muhammad.

While the NOI did not espouse violence, it supported Black militancy and an ideology of Black supremacy that countered the integrationist strategy of the civil rights movement at the time. For decades, the NOI taught that the United States was evil and that Muslims should have no part of its future.

A tremendous shift happened in 1975 when W.D. Mohammed, Elijah Muhammad’s son, was selected to lead the group after his father’s death. (W.D. changed the spelling of his surname in 1989.)

(The original article in Foreign Policy can be found at https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/11/09/frances-muslims-could-learn-from-the-african-american-muslim-experience/)

ABOUT THE WRITERS:

Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is the Executive Director, North America for Quilliam International and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Intelligence and Security Studies at The Citadel. His areas of specialty are on transnational terrorist movements, Counterterrorism/P/CVE, Islamic intellectual history, Islam in America, contemporary theology in the Muslim world and African Affairs. 

In addition, Dr. Fraser-Rahim worked for the United States government for more than a decade for the Department of Homeland Security, Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center, providing strategic advice and executive branch analytical support on countering violent extremism issues to the White House and the National Security Council.

While at the National Security Council, he was the author or co-author  of Presidential Daily Briefs and strategic assessments on extremist ideology and counter-radicalization. He completed his Ph.D. at Howard University in African Studies with a focus on Islamic Thought, Spirituality and Modernity issues. 

His recent book, “America’s Other Muslims: Imam WD Mohammed, Islamic Reform and the Making of American Islam,” was published in January 2020 by Rowman and Littlefield. He is also a Security Fellow at the Truman National Security Project.

Imam Talib M. Shareef is President and Imam of the historic Nation’s Mosque, Masjid Muhammad, in Washington, D.C. He is a retired U.S. Air Force member with 30+ years, a PhD from Global Oved Dei Seminary University, where he serves as Dean and Professor of Interfaith and Islamic Studies, a Diploma from the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University, and the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Arabic and Middle East studies. 

He is a student of the late Imam W.D. Mohammed and has served as Imam in five U.S. cities and seven military locations around the world. His Majesty Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco, presented him the Kingdom’s highest Royal Medal for his outstanding interfaith leadership. 

He was the first Imam with military service to open a session of the U.S. Congress and was recognized for his service by President Obama at the White House. 

Imam Shareef was featured as a Marquis Who’s Who in America. He spoke and facilitated interfaith peacebuilding, countering and preventing extremism, and Al-Islam in America forums in Denmark, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, South America, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Germany, Philippines, Italy, and Northern Ireland.

He has traveled to the Middle East for an orientation on the Israeli-Palestinian Situation.

Yaya J. Fanusie is an expert on U.S. national security issues relating to finance and technology. He spent seven years as an analyst at the CIA, where he covered both terrorism and economic security threats.  

In 2008, Yaya personally briefed President George W. Bush on terrorism issues and he later spent time in Afghanistan where he provided analytic support to senior U.S. military officials.

Since leaving government service, Yaya has worked in consulting and in the Washington, D.C. policy think tank community. He has testified before the U.S. Congress multiple times on national security and illicit finance issues. He also runs a consulting practice that provides strategic analysis on money laundering risks for firms dealing with cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. 

Yaya is also an artist and creative writer. He produces Rhythm of Wisdom, a podcast featuring gripping nonfiction storytelling. He is currently developing a new audio series, a fictional international spy thriller where the lead character is an African American Muslim CIA officer.

Yaya received an MA in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a BA in Economics from UC Berkeley.

He embraced Islam as an undergraduate student at Berkeley and later became a student of Imam W. D. Mohammed after moving to the east coast for graduate school. Yaya and his wife Fatimah live in Maryland with their three precious children.

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