Theology Thursdays: Exclusive Q & A With Dr. Aminah Beverly McCloud, Professor, Islamic Studies in Religious Studies, DePaul University (Part II)
Last week we published part one and today, we continue, with the second and concluding portion of our interview with Dr. Aminah, McCloud, Director of the Islamic World Studies Program and Professor of Islamic Studies in Religious Studies, Depaul University.
Cedric Muhammad: What, in your mind, are the salient characteristics that distinguish the post-9/11 environment from previous eras for Muslims?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: The post-9/11 environment is heavily laden with extreme hatred of Islam and fear of what Muslims will do in the future. This is not to say that there has not been a hatred of Islam and a fear of Muslims. The difference now is that Mr. Bush’s binary rhetoric – us and them, good v evil- has given both the haters and the fearful license to express their feelings without sanction or reprimand. Everyone, including Christian ministers and scholars, Jewish leaders and scholars, even prominent Hindu researchers such as V.S. Naipul can now castigate everything about Islam and Muslims without being held liable for either truth or accuracy. The lack of reprimand ushered in has opened the door for attacks on other minorities too; particularly Blacks and Latinos. One blatant set of examples are those made by news reporters about Black people in New Orleans in the wake and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This door will never close again. American Muslims, all of them, have replaced the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China as the bogey-men to watch, deport, deprive of basic rights. Muslims are distorting Islamic precepts to try to change minds and keep non-Muslim Americans from killing them.
Cedric Muhammad: What do you think is the root cause of what is referred to as terrorism?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: The root cause of terrorism is a combination of injustice and greed. President Bush asserted that the people who flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon committed acts of terror because they hate our freedoms. I doubt that but I would say that our freedoms have not driven us to act justly in the world or at home. I have not ever read of a powerful society which acted justly being attacked for anything nor have I read of greed leading to anything other than injustice. Muslims who can escape the injustices in the Muslim world seem to thrive on western freedoms though they do not understand them. Much of what is happening today is in response to continued injustice along with some who take advantage of the atmosphere to create further injustice. We have a history of supporting those who will let us have our way with their countries’ resources. It is important to note that without the assistance of Muslims who are corrupt and those Muslims who benefit from that corruption, we would not be able to do what we do.
Cedric Muhammad: What do you think of this exchange (see the links below) and controversy which took place on the late Jude Wanniski’s website a few months ago?
Islam, an Evil Religion?
Evil Muhammed? Evil Islam?
An Islamic Scholar Responds
Dr. Aminah McCloud: Answered in your first question. This is an example of the outright attacks on Islam that are largely inaccurate. Dr. Blankenship’s response was to the point and accurate which means that those haters will ignore it.
Cedric Muhammad: What are your thoughts on the writings of Western Islamic scholars and described experts on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), men like Bernard Lewis, as opposed to those of years, decades and centuries past – men like Sir William Muir and Washington Irving? Is their scholarship and spirit the same?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: Let me first say that there are few Muslim scholars of Christianity, Judaism or Hinduism. Peculiar isn’t it? There are numerous non-Muslim scholars of Islam. That alone is strange. Westerners claiming mastery of Islam have also asserted that their research is impeccable as it is objective. Some have gone out of their way to provide their readers with the appearance of objectivity and accuracy all the while demonstrating bias. While I can not speak of what is in their spirits, I can say that their scholarship is both informative and biased as they can not convey Islam as the truth and they are left with phrases such as "Muslims say" or "Muslims believe" indirectly saying that they are deluded. For some of those scholars, such as Bernard Lewis; their narrations of ancient history are really quite good. However, when writing about modern or contemporary issues, they can not help but write in their own fears and hatreds as we have now read.
Cedric Muhammad: You have done quite a bit of work in inter-religious dialogue. Do you think, from a theological perspective there is a basis for a Christian to accept Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a prophet, and the Holy Qur’an as a divine scripture and revelation from God?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: This is a difficult question because the aim of inter-religious dialogue is not to convert your dialogue partner as that would destroy the conversation. Christians do not have to accept Prophet Muhammad. As long as they believe in one God and do good works without using those works as bribes for conversion, according to the Qur’an, Allah will decide their fate on the Day of Judgment.
Cedric Muhammad: What are your personal views and beliefs regarding Muslim theological discussions regarding the coming of the Mahdi and the return of Jesus (Isa) the Messiah?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: I do not have any concrete views on the Mahdi. There have been many great men and women who come to right the Muslim community and the world. They have not as of yet been successful. We are persistent in our wrongs. My personal view is that we had better answer for our actions and establish our practices before the Day of Judgment which will happen.
Cedric Muhammad: Do you accept the so-called ‘Salafi’ argument that the Muslims in the immediate generations after Muhammad were the best or most pious? That argument is based, by some, on the following hadith from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): "The best of people is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them (i.e. the first three generations of Muslims)." [Reported by Bukhari and Muslim - Mutawaatir]. I also suspect that you have heard some refer to the Prophet’s reportedly stating that ‘three generations after me would not be of me’. Do you think that this means the world of Islam has deviated from the path laid down 1,400 years ago?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: Muslims in the immediate generations after Prophet Muhammad seemed to have spent their time codifying the religion and undoing what the prophet did that went against their culture. Certainly those women and men who had the fortune of living in the community of the Prophet were the best, not the succeeding generations. For example, after the Prophet died, the rights of women went down the tube as did justice in contracts. Much of the Islam of Prophet Muhammad and certainly the Islam of Qur’an is ignored as it does not support the actions of many Muslims today. We are wardens of each other rather than lights for the world. We are bogged down in minutia of practices rather than leaders for justice.
Cedric Muhammad: What is your position on the basis of the Shi-ite and Sunni split? Do you think that the Shi-ite’s have a valid point in their view that Ali was improperly denied the caliphate beginning with the election of Abu Bakr in ‘succession’ to Muhammad of 1400 years ago?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: Actually since both sides have produced unjust societies, I do not care who is right. I do not honor this historical split. When you look at it, those who became Sunni, killed the family of the Prophet and those who are Shi’I reconstructed inherited leadership. How can any of this be right?
Cedric Muhammad: Are you familiar with the debate over Dr. Rashad Khalifah’s argument that there was a mathematical code in the Holy Qur’an? Do you have a position regarding the validity of his claims, the quality of his scholarship, and the reaction he received?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: I can not answer this as I am only vaguely familiar with Dr. Khalifa’s arguments. Muslims have identified the mathematical integrity of the Qur’an hundreds of years ago.
Cedric Muhammad: I would like to know your thoughts regarding three men who are credited with providing the theoretical basis for what has been referred to as the modern Political Islamic or Islamist movement: Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, Mawlana Mawdudi of Pakistan, and Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. Do you think that a synthesis or synergy of what they offered is on balance productive or counter-productive?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: Sayyid Qutb and Mawlana Mawdudi (Egypt and Pakistan) both well-studied laymen who saw the aftermath of colonialism and ensuing corruptions in government along with the increasing unIslamic behavior of the people in their respective societies. Both sought to clarify the values of west in efforts to make distinctions between the Islamic way and the ways of others. They attempted define and analyze the assertions of the west and the detrimental aspects of western practices for their societies. Both advocated a return to a "pristine Islam." Some of what each decried about the west is even decried in the west but the wholesale characterization of the west as without merit was not accurate and some of what they asserted were Islamic tenets were not accurate. For example, Mawdudi asserted that women were inferior and weak-minded. This is certainly not what the Qur’an asserts. Qutb cast all of the United States as in a state of Jahiliyyah (state of ignorance). This is casting a net far too wide. Anger over colonialization and the partition of India for Mawdudi and the colonialization and resultant impotency of Egypt for Qutb led both of them to try to reform their communities and the chosen enemies were a lack of religious consciousness on the part of Muslims and the evil west. Khomeini is a little different on some levels. He was a scholar and religious leader who had been sent into exile by an American supported government which acted in the best interest of America and not Iran. His revolution was successful because of this. In the aftermath of western influences he led a suppression of all things secular. He seemingly could not find a balance that all were comfortable with and of course, the wealthy fled or were exiled. The masses seem to have struck a sometimes easy, sometimes uneasy tone with Khomeini’s successors who have also been scholars and religious leaders until most recently. Egypt and Pakistan are still steeped in corruption, ignorance and unrest. Iranians, on the other hand, seem to have more of a say or are demanding more of a say in their governance. Much of the complaining we hear is from the elites while we rarely hear what poor Iranians think. Both Pakistan and Egypt are unstable and increasingly hostile places to live. Iran seems to be charting its own course fighting off yokes that other powers want to place on them.
Cedric Muhammad: What are your thoughts on the Organization Of Islamic Conference (OIC)?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: I do not yet have an opinion as I have not seen a concrete viable or productive product.
Cedric Muhammad:What do you make of Turkey’s attempts to join the European Union and the reaction it has caused in those countries?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: I think the forced secularization of Turkey was a mistake. Europe does not want anything outside of its worldview in the European Union as of course it has a right to regulate its members. Even poorer Truly European/Christian states are presenting problems and the wealthier states are also fighting. Turkey’s fight to join the union reminds me of Black Americans trying to get White Americans to accept them as equal humans deserving of equal rights and opportunities.
Cedric Muhammad: I wrote something years ago that received a lot of attention. It was called, ‘The Thong vs. The Veil’. It challenged the perception that Muslim women were oppressed when compared to American women. What are your thoughts on what I wrote and on the position and struggle of women within Islam?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: I do not compare oppressions as a way to open discussions on women but I sincerely appreciate the accurate history lessons in this article. I intend to use it in class. The hypocrisy of the United States government and its female pundits in their rhetoric about freeing people after they kill them is at an all time high. What women in a society do is surely within the worldview of that culture. In the U.S. women are not in the streets protesting their lower wages for equal work. They are also taking off even more clothes, a pitiful sight of some bodies, as they make their bid to be noticed. The pathology is evident but they are not asking for treatment. The physical presence of women in positions of power has never meant that they have power. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was a rogue group, well-intentioned at first who succumbed to their own ignorance and destroyed a society in the interim. This is not the first time Afghan society has suffered extremes and won’t be the last as we are proving. Our form of democracy is not a panacea for everyone’s ills. Their society might be better off with another form of governance and would certainly be better off without out support for corruption. Our rhetoric of assistance is hollow as we are after access and resources which the majority of the people are not willing to turn over to us. This is a real democratic claim that we are unwilling to accept. Most of the Afghan women who ran hospitals, participated in government, etc. were not concerned with the plight of their poorer sisters either as evidenced in the extremely high illiteracy rate among females. Class is a category that we seem to forget. Many of the women who fled Afghanistan could do so because of their class. Muslim women are as free and as oppressed as other women. Freedom in the U.S., as you pointed out, seems to mean taking off clothes. I agreed wholeheartedly that this is peculiar giving all the things freedom could mean. Women who cover themselves are not necessarily either free or oppressed unless there is a threat to life if they do not cover themselves. I do not think that neither clothing nor the absence of clothing has anything to do with freedom. A woman who takes off her clothes in public is ill and whether she knows it or not, in need of medical attention. A woman who lives in a society that forces her under the threat of death to wear a cloak, lives in a society that is ill and in need of medical attention. Both extremes are pathological. Your article poses some provocative questions that we all should think and talk about. Muslim women have to decide to be Muslim and learn what that is. God does not oppress and if they find that Muslim men do, then they have got to decide who they worship.
Cedric Muhammad: Sister, we thank you so much for the honor of interviewing you. What might we expect from you in coming days and years?
Dr. Aminah McCloud: I have just finished reworking a text on immigrant Muslims in America and am completing a text on American Muslim women. I hope to get the book on women finished by the end of Ramadan so that I can work on a book on the Nation of Islam. Our program in Islamic Studies at DePaul is growing nicely and we hope to graduate two students in 2006. There are lots of things on my platter. The difficulties are in resources. I want to be a regular contributor to your site as I have found a wealth of wisdom and intriguing questions and comments here. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.
End of Part II
Please read Part I of this interview
BlackElectorate.com viewers are welcome to e-mail Dr. Aminah McCloud directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, October 27, 2005