The Apathy of a Religious Generation?

The Apathy of a Religious Generation? by |


Marc Manley
Marc Manley is a writer, educator and former chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the Executive Religious Director at the Islamic Center of Inland Empire in California.

Cross-posted with www.marcmanley.com

In a recent post on Facebook (excerpt below), I came across an engaging “rant” (I use rant here not as as criticism, but as praise) from a good acquaintance of mine. His words rang true to me and yet, while I felt his frustration, understandably so, I also felt that this story is somewhat more complicated than simply labeling “them”, Muslim religious leadership, as not caring. Don’t get me wrong, as a religious leader, I find our current apathy and predicament equally vexing and frustrating. But before we can proceed, I feel we first must ask ourselves to whom are we addressing here. Are we talking about immigrant imams or indigenous? For immigrant imams (or imams of immigrants), whether we like it or not, they have lived an alternative history from us. Their focus was never on America or “us”. It would be inefficient and perhaps even absurd to expect them to have the same level of empathy towards Americans in general and towards blacks in specific. And for the record, Muslim immigrants are not unique in this. What tends to offend us (i.e., blackamerican or whiteamerican Muslims) is that we expect them to have the same emotional religious notions as we do. We see the injustice inflicted by officer Darren Wilson as a universal injustice, in the same manner some Muslims see the Palestinian cause as equally universal. And while they both may indeed have rightful claims to universal injustice, the propagators of this cry for justice have lived very different realities. One aspect of these divergent histories is that many immigrant Muslims (and again, immigrants in general) still labor under the weight of unpacked baggage. What’s missing here, in my opinion, is not the indictment of their apathy, but the indictment of ourselves, indigenous Muslims, who have embraced the faith, and applied little to no pressure to our fellow brothers and sisters to awaken out of their slumber. We placed, by and large, no real demands on them to address our needs. In fact, and here’s where things may get ugly and offend some of “us”, many of “us” were complicit in our own indoctrination in their religious world views. We equally participated in this form of escapism, vis-a-vie Islam. We (those who have awakened) must come to terms that as a result of this complicity, any change that may come, will not come easily, or — God knows best — soon.

So for me, the question is which religious rulers?

If we come to agreement on our above conclusion, the problem then cannot simply be chocked up to “(poor) leadership” alone. The rank and file Muslim also shares a healthy dollop of blame. Far too many of “us” have contented ourselves to reduce religious leadership and spiritual guidance and its current manifestation to a kind of “performance art1. This has only exacerbated the “Sage on Stage” platform we have with us today. Believe me when I say that many of us are dying to do culturally-relevant religious teaching. However, when those of us in positions of religious leadership attempt to do relevant material, we are often branded as “modernist“, not by other religious leaders, but by the typical Ahmad and Mariam. When we attempt to elevate the discourse beyond regurgitation, we’re castigated as non-traditionalists.

So let us all bow our heads in shame and implore our Lord for guidance and forgiveness, for we are all culpable. And then think anew, on how one can best serve that change that so desperately needs to happen. I make no claims to prognostication, but I do not feel that success will come in abandonment, no matter how tempting it may be. Instead, I believe we must work with the system, either to change it via our voice, our presence, our pocketbook, or even ourselves, by stepping into roles of religious leadership itself.

And Allah knows best.

How shameful is it that Kobe Bryant, Josh Groban, LeBron James, Katy Perry, Cher, Pharrell Williams, and others have more to say about Ferguson and the Grand Jury decision than our own religious scholars! This is part of the reason why I have largely abandoned these individuals. I know enough of the rules. I don’t need to kiss your hand, spin around or bob back and forth singing words I can’t even understand. How are you going to remain RELEVANT in people’s lives if you can’t even muster a 160 character statement about why my humanity matters? I don’t want to hear your 1,000th lecture about how glorious we were 14 centuries ago. Shout from the rafters about how glorious I AM, WE ARE, WE SHOULD BE. A basketball player and a Vegas singer have more to say about this than someone who takes spiritual pride in having slept on sand and drinking dirty water from Goat guts? This is why your houses are empty of the young. LeBron shows he cares more about them than you! – Dasham Brooks


1. Dr. Muneer Fareed on “spirituality”: “(Modern spiritual practices have prompted) a slow, yet irreversible move away from a spirituality that (is) theocentric towards one that is increasingly homocentric.” ~ “Aesthetic spirituality differs from religious spirituality in two significant ways: it emphasizes beauty rather than truth, and more importantly, replaces traditional forms of devotion with a philosophy that plays out in the public forum not as worship, but as art.” You can read the rest of Dr. Fareed’s article, Spirituality Without God, here.


By Marc Manley, 26 Nov 2014


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