One of the reasons that Muslims who knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate marginalization have very little to say is that their argument cannot hold to a legitimate discussion. Our scriptures unequivocally reject marginalization or oppression of one Muslim people by another. This is one reason why the issue of Muslim owned liquor stores is a muted discussion in Muslim America despite its devastatingly harmful effects on our inner city neighborhoods. The neighborhoods where many of us live and do da’wah. Such a terrible blemish on the legacy of Islam in America.
So what does beer and alcohol, lottery tickets, drug paraphernalia, and pornography have to do with Muslims living in inner city America? Well ideally, the two should be worlds apart. After all, the religion of Islam is strictly against all of the above. Besides, we as a society are all too well aware of the dangers of illegal drugs, alcohol, gambling and pornography. Volumes have been written and researched about the harms of these things. However, at least for now, the two appear to be inextricably connected to one another. It seems that almost every place that you find Muslims and masaajid in inner city neighborhoods in America, you’ll find nearby, Muslim owned liquor and party stores.
Thus, in the inner cities America, where the majority of converts to Islam reside, you have two competing da’wah messages coming from the Muslim community; you have the da’wah of the masaajid and faith community, calling for worship of One God (tawheed), social stability, morality, freedom from drugs and alcohol, aversion to pornography and freedom from gambling, and then you have the da’wah from a portion of the Muslim business community that says that we are just here to make money, at any cost. Theirs is a message that facilitates and profits from the use of illegal drugs and alcohol, and encourages people to gamble away their money on lottery tickets, and buy over the counter pornography. Welcome to the reality of modern-day Muslim America; Salaamu alaikum boss, have a Hennessy.
All across this great land, thousands of unscrupulous Muslim businessmen have set up shop in poor neighborhoods populated primarily by African Americans and Hispanics where they are purveyors of alcohol, beer, lottery tickets, drug paraphernalia, and pornography, all in the name of making a buck. They cater to, and aid and abet the very harmful types of activities that our Lord, be He Exalted and Glorified, has condemned and prohibited in His Own Holy Words, and that have proven to be destructive to individuals, families and neighborhoods. Sometimes you can even find behind the cash register counter on the wall, a placard with the name Allah or the name Muhammad, as if somehow the prominent display of Allah’s Holy Name will bless their endeavor or make up for the fact that they are selling alcohol and lottery tickets.
It some cities like Detroit, Chicago, friction has developed between African American residents in these neighborhoods and the Muslim businessmen (almost all immigrants) who have set up these liquor and party stores. Regardless of how much success a person may enjoy for his or her family in these types of business, there is no blessing in it and it does not offer real success in the long run:
[“O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper”. 5:90]
The thousands of Muslim businessmen who prominently sell alcohol, pornography, lottery tickets and all sorts of drug paraphernalia in our neighborhoods and act like leeches, preying upon the addict and the alcoholic, constitutes one of the most disgusting ironies of Muslim life in America. That is undermines the teachings of our beloved religion of Islam and of the work of the masaajid in this country is an understatement. It seems that across the country, no low income neighborhood is unscathed from this scourge. Just take a walk through any of the low income neighborhoods in any major American city; Harlem, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Charleston, Buffalo, New Haven and in many others, you will find a non-nondescript Mosque attended primarily by converts to Islam and right near it you will find Muslim owned liquor stores. Even if there is no masjid in these neighborhoods, there will be Muslim owned liquor stores.
Muslims who try to invite people to Islam in these neighborhoods often face an increasingly uphill battle as they try to convince people of Islam’s moral value. As one young Muslim put it; “here we are on one corner, inviting people to Islam and explaining to them the morality of Islam, and the detriment of a 40 ounce drinking, weed smoking, crack smoking lifestyle, while there is a Muslim business on the other corner selling them everything they need to partake in that behavior”. It’s interesting to note that in my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the city that without a doubt the da’wah (call) to Islam has penetrated more than any other American city and the city where there is less opposition to Islam and Muslims than in other major American cities, all of the liquor stores are owned by the State of Pennsylvania, and the beer market is dominated by Asians and indigenous Americans. The phenomena of the Muslim owned liquor store does not exist in Philly, and probably contributes in some way to the mass acceptance of Islam amongst people in that city.
Liquor, beer and drinkable intoxicants are a 50 billion dollar industry and Muslim liquor store owners are amongst the wealthiest and most affluent members of our communities. Many of them try to justify their businesses by saying that they are not selling to Muslims while others offer no justification at all and simply retort that this is America and they can do whatever they want. Some are marginally repentant when asked about it and say that they are only trying to support their families and many say that part of the proceeds from their liquor sales is to support poor Muslims in their home countries. Still no matter how you look at it or try to rationalize it, the prominence of liquor and party stores that sell in addition to high priced groceries; beer, wine, liquor, lottery tickets, and drug paraphernalia is not a good thing and does not represent what the majority of Muslims in America want to be known for.
This issue is particularly disturbing and troublesome to American Muslim converts, many of whom live in these neighborhoods. Why is that? You might ask. Well the reason is many converts to Islam in America have come from a lifestyle that includes alcohol, drugs, gambling, and sexual promiscuity. So the notion that fellow Muslims would come to this country, a place where there are so many opportunities to be in any business you want, and make it their business to sell alcohol, pornography, drug paraphernalia, and lottery tickets in neighborhoods that we live in and that are already suffering from the ills of these products, is absolutely reprehensible. It’s sickening! Imagine if during the time of the Prophet (SAWS), people converted to Islam and found that the Muslims, people who they look up to and admiring the faith they profess, were in their neighborhoods promoting idol worship, selling idols, selling swine, and selling alcohol!
In a recent Lotus Tree Poll conducted on a prominent social network, over 90% of respondents felt that the existence of Muslim owned liquor stores in America’s inner cities is a detriment to the da’wah to Islam. 93% felt that it contributes to the negative image of Islam in America, and nearly 96% feel that is takes away Allah’s blessing. One has to wonder if some of the turmoil, famine, poverty, and unrest that we see today in Muslim countries is not a result of the ways we are handling our affairs. It’s bad enough that Afghanistan, a Muslim country, is the #1 producer of heroin and is responsible for 75% of the world’s opium production according to the New York Times and other sources. Now we have Muslims business owners right in our own back yard, profiting and contributing to the ills of drug addiction and its deleterious effect upon our communities.
[Mischief has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned, that ((Allah)) may give them a taste of some of their deeds: in order that they may turn back (from Evil).” 30:41]
As the world grows smaller, we as Muslim must increasingly concern ourselves with events and actions that not only affect individual Muslim but have a profound impact upon modern Muslim civilization; here in the United States as well as abroad. Muslim Americans must take a clear and decisive moral stance against this plague. Many converts and indigenous Muslims have tried and some have made a little headway. However, I doubt very much that we will ever get a handle on this issue until the immigrant community as a group stands up to this behavior and makes it unacceptable. Many of these liquor store owners have served on boards of masaajid and Islamic Centers are touted in the Muslim communities as examples of successful Americans.
This is a difficult issue to address, and nearly half of the people in the Lotus tree Poll mentioned earlier, felt that there is an unwritten taboo against speaking about it publicly. However, whether you care to accept it or not, this is indeed an issue of consequence. There has been a long-held belief by many of the Muslim businessmen who sell alcohol and drug paraplegia that since we are in the United States, our divine religious and spiritual laws of morality and common good do not apply. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is not a matter of anyone being holier than thou, or an unwarranted attack upon Muslim business in America. This is merely a reminder that Allah is our Lord; we are accountable to Him, Islam is our religion and that we, not withstanding our faults because all of us are only human, have a standard of righteousness and morality that we must attempt to uphold, despite the way the world is moving. Every people shall have their time upon this earth. This is our time, and what we do, does in fact matter. And Allah knows best. Imam Abu Muhammad Luqman Ahmad
Imam Luqman Ahmad is the Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom and Executive Director of Mosque Without Borders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org