Muslim & Critical Race Theory: A Response to Abdullah Andalusi’s Poor Sequel.

 An association fallacy is an informal inductive fallacy which uses an irrelevant association (often by appeal to emotion) to assert that the qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another. It is sometimes called guilt by association, honor by association, hasty generalization, or a red herring. While there are instances where generalizations are valid there are gross abuses of this syllogism which deserve the label fallacious. Abdullah Al Andalusi’s latest assault on our intellect comes to us in form of his second article Why Muslims Do Not Need Critical Race Theory (Part 2) and the sequel leaves us just as befuddled.

Let us start with the title of his articles “Why Muslims Don’t Need Critical Race Theory.” What Muslims is Andulusi speaking for? It bears pointing out here that the Ummah is not homogenous or monolithic. It is comprised of every categorization of human being that exists with varying needs. African-American Muslims make up the largest single demographic of Muslims in America. The history of Islam in the Americas and certainly the United States begins with the black experience (even before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade). Thus, it is to be expected that the political tenor of Islam in the U.S. be centered on African-American’s experience with racism and that everything from the dawah to the epistemology would reflect the existential concerns of black people. The spread of Islam since the days of the Prophet (saws) was an organic process due to its ability to strike the necessary balance with the indigenous needs of the people who embraced the message. The Arabs, to their credit, did not act as cultural imperialist during the growing the Islamic world. On the contrary the implementation of fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, was ultimately left to the natives who grew their own scholars who passed fatwas which took into account the culture, history, and generation of the people they guided. Such wisdom seems absent among today’s public Muslim intellectuals. Abdullah Al Andalusi seems to think that African-Americans should take his understanding of their experience in America over their own and subordinate their communitarian interests to the wider interests of the non-black Muslims who to be honest have never showed a concern for the trials and travails of black Americans.

He accuses critical race theorists of asabiyyah (loosely translated as ‘nationalism’ or ‘tribalism’) and fostering division within the Muslim community but what Abdullah Al Andalusi ignores the fact that African-American Muslims who employ critical race theory have always been at the forefront of Muslim issues from Palestine to Kashmir. Black Muslims (and even those who aren’t Muslim) are the staunchest supporters of Palestinians and use the theoretical framework of critical race theory to cast the Zionist oppression of Palestine as white imperialism and the U.S. outsourcing of racism.[i] Black Muslims’ “asabiyyah” is actually pan-Muslim extending across racial and ethnic divisions within the Muslim world. We have carried the burden of Third World Solidarity but instead of building on this legacy Abdullah Al Andalusi’s ignorant criticisms of black political thought have widened the fissures. The very title of his article callously disregards the overlapping identities of black Muslims who must deal with both racism and Islamophobia and how critical race theory has enabled them to see parallels of their experiences and those of Palestine and Muslim immigrants. Racism and Islamophobia are twin forces which stem from white America’s desire to reinforce a white ideal that America was predicated on since inception (I detailed this phenomena in my second article Critical Race Theory and the Muslim West in which I describe cultural racism). So, when Andulusi says Muslims don’t need critical race theory he both marginalizes the immediate concerns of African-Americans while presumptuously speaking for them.

Now,Abdullah Al Andalusi’s association fallacy was the central problem with his first article Part 1. Seeing that his Part 2 more of the same it is the problem with his latest. His thesis is that because critical race theory is even tangentially connected to Marxism and post-modernism critical race theory is essentially Marxist and postmodernist. Just because B and A have C in common does not make all Bs Cs. Those who insist on making this case carelessly ignore the fault lines within the social sciences. I spent much time refuting this charge. My statement in Critical Race Theory and the Muslim West sums up my defense. I write: “In reality, there are no Marxian or postmodern elements in Critical Race Theory that are so overbearing that the theory is consumed them and cannot work without them.” I challenged them to identify what of Marx  does CRT employ that contradicts the foundation of Islam. His responses amount to trying to induce an “illusory truth effect. This refers to a glitch in the brain that equates repetition with truth. It is a cognitive bias that can explain why this article is not much different from the first with same dearth of evidence.

Here he responds to my articles saying:

“In response to my previous article, some pro-CRT Muslims claimed that CRT and neo-Marxism and post-modernism are not necessarily connected in all things, and that it is possible to “leave the bad and keep the good”. This argument demonstrates basic naivete and ignorance by some Muslims on CRT’s ideological basis, and how it uses those bases to “look” at the world. CRT is not a tool for studying race-based discrimination, but a biased, ideological theory and movement that may, in fact, hinder attempts to objectively assess problems and therefore provide solutions.

CRT lacks objectivity because it is a self-described movement based upon an originally Marxist, materialist theory of society and justice.

Therefore, the first contention of this article is that CRT is not an objective explanatory tool, because it applies pre-formulated explanations to the topic of race, based on neo-Marxist and post-modernist understandings of justice, oppression, and society that originated in 19th century England (where Karl Marx studied as the main basis for his thoughts on “Capitalist” societies).

The second contention of this article is that although CRT may not explicitly contain ideas that contradict foundational Islamic beliefs, like belief in One God, it is fundamentally based upon premises intractably connected to Neo-marxism and Post-Modernism, that contradict the Islamic worldview.”

 

Where he says “CRT lacks objectivity because it is a self-described movement based upon an originally Marxist, materialist theory of society and justice” he is throwing out terms without qualifying there use. First, CRT does not have to be objective. The demand for objectivity is itself subjective since it is used by bias people to support their bias. I suppose Abdullah Al Andalusi believes that his criticism of CRT is objective. Secondly, he fails to do in this article what he failed to do in his first which is give us the examples of the materialism which he stubbornly claims is intrinsic to CRT. CRT is “based upon an originally Marxist, materialist theory of society and justice.” How? He just makes the claim with no qualification. It’s as if he thinks by repeating the same thing over and over we will eventually forget that he hasn’t presented a shred of evidence in the way of examples that illustrate this erroneous claim.

Abdullah Al Andalusi writes: “Therefore, the first contention of this article is that CRT is not an objective explanatory tool, because it applies pre-formulated explanations to the topic of race, based on neo-Marxist and post-modernist understandings of justice, oppression, and society that originated in 19th century England (where Karl Marx studied as the main basis for his thoughts on “Capitalist” societies).”

He says: “CRT is not a tool for studying race-based discrimination, but a biased, ideological theory and movement that may, in fact, hinder attempts to objectively assess problems and therefore provide solutions.” All movements are biased. That is what movements are advocacy for an issue as they are on one side or the other of an issue. Since when do movements or agents of change have the expectation of being objective? If you are on trial as a defendant and let us say for the sake of this example that you are innocent why would you want your attorney to be objective? Where could this be coming from other than an inherent anti-black bias that seeks to deprive African-Americans of political advocacy by burdening them with being objective? His claim that CRT hinders attempts at “objectively” assessing problems masks his true sense that racism against African-Americans is not a specific problem requiring targeted redress. What does he say the problem is then? He never actually tells us nor does he address America’s rap sheet of anti-black violence and discrimination that grows by the hour and is well documented.

Maybe Abdullah Al Andalusi is unfamiliar with the social sciences and politics for that matter. Total objectivity is itself a fiction of the modern world. There are sides to every issue. CRT sides against white supremacy and the systematic oppression of black people. The suggestion that my survival should be hostage to some ideal standard of objectivity that has never been realized anywhere in history is absurd and this remark highlights what many have found egregious about  Abdullah Al Andalusi’s  take on this subject which his insistence on individualizing racism and relegating it to theory so that there is no need for praxis.[ii]

Abdullah Al Andalusi says something very strange. He writes CRT is not an “explanatory tool” because “it applies pre-formulated explanations to the topic of race…” Don’t all explanations use recognized categories and theories in which to operate? This “pre-formulated explanations” that he refers to have another name: Discourse. That’s what an “explanatory tool” is. It is part of the discourse on the subject. The fact that it applies pre-formulated explanations to the topic of race is especially non-sensical since his entire article is using “pre-formulated explanations” of race for his references on race otherwise how are we supposed to know what he is talking about when he says ”African-Americans,” “poor whites” etc. This is not a genuine criticism because it is not invalid to use the categories of race to explain how race operates within a particular space, time and is understood within a discourse.[iii]

Moving on. After subjecting us to his red herrings he then says something astonishing. After incessantly calling CRT Marxist and Postmodern and citing this as the reason why Muslims must reject it and dodging my challenge to point out the Marxian and postmodern elements in CRT that contradict Islam he finally writes: “that although CRT may not explicitly contain ideas that contradict foundational Islamic beliefs, like belief in One God, it is fundamentally based upon premises intractably connected to Neo-marxism and Post-Modernism, that contradict the Islamic worldview.”” It is as if Abdullah Al Andalusi stops beating up the straw man and punches himself in the face.  If CRT does not explicitly contain ideas that contradict foundational Islamic beliefs, as he admits, then what exactly and specifically in CRT? He makes reference to its connection to Marxism and post-modernism as sufficient but it is not. We would have to reject everything that is not explicitly Muslim or Islam based on this logic. The fact that he admits in his own article that these theories do not obtrude on CRT’s compatibility with Islam is a tacit concession. If he admits this then what’s the significance of bringing up Marxism and postmodernism? And, since he admits that nothing in CRT actually contradicts Islam then why do we need to read the rest of his article or even continue with this debate? He conceded the point. The point that we’ve been making all along. He says:”…it is fundamentally based upon premises intractably connected to Neo-marxism and Post-Modernism, that contradict the Islamic worldview” but the foundational Islamic beliefs, like belief in One God are the Islamic worldview so if there’s nothing in CRT that is “Neo-Marxism and Post-Modernism” that “explicitly contain ideas that contradict foundational Islamic beliefs” then what is he saying is the “premises” that it is fundamentally based upon that contradicts the Islamic worldview?

When the opponents, like Abdullah Al Andalusi, criticize CRT for not being rooted in an “Islamic epistemology” and yet are active in the politics of Western countries where they reside they are hypocritically embracing the epistemological framework of Western democracy and the liberal ideas that it is founded upon. Their call for an ideal “Islamic epistemology” is a stall tactic that is designed to preserve a domesticated Islam that does not challenge the power structures. They do not wish to combat white supremacy so as not to disrupt their position vis-à-vis the white power structure. These criticisms of CRT are not from an Islamic perspective but a partisan perspective where the end goal is to place Islam and Muslims in the Far Right of the political spectrum of Western countries. The black Muslim tradition and black political thought is seen by these ultra-right Muslims as an obstacle they seek to thwart by appealing to Muslims’ pietistic sensibilities. They are classic assimilationists which makes their critique that CRT is un-Islamic through its connection to Western thought laughably ironic.

[i] Asabiyyah is social unity or group cohesion. Like everything in Islam the Prophetic warning of Muhammad (saws) is to not let it overtake one’s adherence to obedience to Allah. The oft-quoted hadith on this subject: Jubayr ibn Mut’im reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “He is not one of us who calls to tribalism. He is not one of us who fights for the sake of tribalism. He is not one of us who dies following the way of tribalism” (Sunan Abī Dāwūd 5121). The Prophet’s (saws) definition of asabiyyah is to assist your people even when they are wrong, which is a sin. Ibn Khaldun used the term asabiyyah to denote social cohesion which is an absolute necessity for a group to unify to form a society. The Prophet (saws) qualified for us what our relationship with our people should not be. Those who charge African-American Muslims with violating the Prophetic conditions are dishonestly categorizing any and all advocacy by African-Americas for themselves as assisting our people in wrong all the while these same detractors come from nations of their own.

[ii] Do not confuse being just with being objective. “Objectivity” would require that you have nothing at stake or any investment. Indifference towards injustice is not the official stance of Islam.

[iii] Andulusi claims that Derrick Bell simply transposed the ideas of Marx and Postmodernist thinkers to his new creation Critical Race Theory in order to suggest that Critical Race Theory is unimaginative and is just a Critical Theory rip off. This is what I identify as a latent racism in how black intellectuals are taken to task. Ironically, the same dismissive criticism was made of the Muslim world during the Golden Age of Islam. Orientalists claimed that Muslim philosophers and thinkers just copied the Greeks. Indeed, the claim among non-Muslims is that the Prophet (saws) just took from the People of the Book. Bell did not blindly adopt Critical Theory, Marxism, and Postmodernism. It is incomprehensible to some to conceive a black thinker critically engaging the ideas of the white people and discerning what they find valid and what they do not. They say W.E.B Dubois was Marxian but never say someone who adopts the perspective of Dubois as Duboisian.

 

Professor Shareef Muhammad

Shareef Muhammad (Frank Beane) is a content curator and historian who teaches history and Islamic Studies as an adjunct within the college and university system in Georgia. Shareef currently works with the Black Dawah Network as  the director of the theological department of Black Dawah Network. Shareef believes that Islam is a force for change as well as spiritually transforming and that the religion can serve as the bulwark for ameliorating the social conditions of African-Americans.  In 2015 Shareef was chosen to be a chief consultant on the After Malcolm Project which is a digital oral history archive that conducted interviews with African-American Muslims from the Civil Rights Era and collected artifacts. Their work was featured in exhibits at both Kennesaw State University and at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta Georgia. In 2018 the project project was adopted by George Mason University. Shareef holds a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in History from Central State University and a Masters degree in History from Kent State University where his thesis entitled The Cultural Jihad in the Antebellum South which details how enslaved African Muslims preserved their religious and cultural identity in bondage.

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