Muslim Americans and America’s History of Rebellion
January 13, 2016
“I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”. – Thomas Jefferson
Many American Muslims are concerned about what is viewed as a rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment, in our country would benefit from understanding the history of rebellion in our country. The act of rebellion is one of the oldest American traditions there is. If it weren’t for rebellion, there wouldn’t be a United States of America. One thing that we Americans do, and do often, is rebel. We are a nation of rebels and potential rebels.
The Declaration of Independence itself was an act of rebellion. Before that, there was the Boston Tea Party Rebellion in 1773. In the late 1600’s Mennonite Quakers peacefully, and quite nobly I might add, rebelled against the institution of slavery. Throughout our history there have been slave rebellions, gender based rebellions such as the suffrage movement which spanned more than half a century, policy rebellions such as the anti-draft movement during the Vietnam war. The Civil War itself was an act of rebellion. Even after the South surrendered to the North, there were still mini rebellions popping up all over the place.
We’ve had rebellions with funny sounding names like the Jaybird-Woodpecker War (1888-89), and rebellions named after people like the Howard Jarvis rebellion (1978), or the John Brown rebellion at Harper’s Ferry. In the United States, anyone can start a rebellion. You don’t have to have a PhD or a master’s degree, or need a lot of money or political clout to start a rebellion. You don’t need any one’s permission, and there is no special license required to rebel against something in the United States of America. As long as there is no violence, most rebellions will usually run their course, and looking back, even many of the violent ones had merit and were vindicated.
American rebellions are most commonly against some kind of governmental authority and what is perceived as tyranny, injustice, or the abuse of power, like the Black Lives Matter movement, or federal overreach like the Green Corn rebellion of 1917, or the recently resurfaced Sagebrush rebellion of 2016. If you rebel against an existing law, you might get arrested, but then again you might end up changing the law, which was the eventual outcome of Sister Rosa Parks’ personal rebellion in 1957. Some rebellions are settled in the courts without too much fanfare, and some are seen as major milestones, such as the Amistad rebellion of 1839. You can be rich, poor, working class, middle class, or have no class at all and start a rebellion, and you don’t have to be a Sheikh, an Imam, Mullah, or a scholar. It is not required that you have a large organization with plenty of money backing you to start a rebellion, although it usually helps. Nevertheless, we are Americans and we will rebel against something if we feel it threatens our way of life.
We’ve had different types of rebels and rebellions with no fixed set of rules which govern their methodology. However, there are a few common threads that you will find throughout most American rebellions. They most often are directed at an authority, they are usually principled endeavors with intelligible objectives, they are exclusively home grown, and they all share the principles of freedom, liberty, and a clear idea of what it means to the rebel to be an American. Sometimes a rebellion is a singular act and nothing else; such as Marlon Brando’s refusal to accept the Academy Award in 1973 for his role as Don Corleone in the Godfather (one my favorite movies of all time). Other times a rebellion is nothing more than a silent gesture as in the raised fists of the African American Olympic medal winners in 1968. A person need not rebel for the sake of being different or just for the heck of it, but hey, this is America, and no one can stop you. Still you don’t want to be the proverbial ‘rebel without a cause’. Interestingly enough, the act of rebellion does have a basis in Islamic law. Sometimes a rebellion is compulsory (wajib), whereas at other times it could be prohibited (haram) depending upon the circumstance.
The American tradition of freedom, individual liberty, and each individuals’ personal understanding of their own Americanism is something that every American Muslim political or advocacy organization needs to understand; especially when they want to tell others what they can or cannot say, which religion people are allowed to criticize or not, or if they want to exert control over their faith group, or illegitimately claim to represent all Muslims, hijack the multiple narratives of American Muslims, or attempt to redefine our identity without asking our permission to do so. These are traditions of freedom and liberty, and have been the catalyst behind every single American rebellion big or small, and by failing to respect and understand them you just might end up with a rebellion on your hands. American style rebellions do not go away easy, and cannot be shot down by rhetoric. So its not wise to simply dismiss rebels by calling them all islamophobes, bigots, or Muslim trouble makers (for the Muslim ones) because that will not likely end the rebellion. It just might add fuel to it. An unanswered critic, can easily turn into a rebel.
The national American Muslim campaign to eradicate islamophobia is characterized by disregarding any criticism of Muslims, and shipping it off to the imaginary gulag called islamophobia while being in denial about our own moral and behavioral issues. This campaign by the way, is not a rebellion, it’s a reaction, and an ill-conceived reaction at that; which is why there has been virtually no progress since it began roughly fifteen years ago. American Muslims themselves can come up with dozens of legitimate points of criticism when speaking about themselves behind closed doors, so how is it so implausible that non-Muslims could have a valid gripe about our community, our politics, our hypocrisy or our moral flaws? Even our own sacred scriptures affirm that as Muslims we are flawed beings capable of error and moral lapses. Anti-islamophobia advocates commit intellectual dishonesty by categorizing any and every criticism of Islam, Muslims, or Muslim immigrants, as islamophobia. I have nothing against legal immigrants, Muslims or otherwise, as long as they mean us (Americans) no harm, and I am not an expert on the topic.
Fighting islamophobia has seemingly become a religion of it’s own, and an a well-funded industry unto itself. It targets not only those who may be bigoted for no good reason, but those who have serious and legitimate concerns, those who are looking for honest answers to questions, and even those who themselves are Muslims whose way of life is also threatened by political Islamist organizations who purport to speak for all American Muslims without authority or any democratic process that legitimizes their representation of Muslim America. This is not in the best interest of Islam as a religion, nor in the best interests of our country that values individual liberty and identity. What many American Muslims regard as islamophobia or targeted criticism of National Muslim immigrant led political and advocacy organizations by White, Latino, and African American Muslim converts, as well a whole slew of non-Muslim Americans — is simply another principled American rebellion in the works, albeit with multiple points of origin.
Political Islamism, which I have written about elsewhere, threatens my way of life as an American Muslim and I’m merely documenting my status update that I am officially in rebel mode. The sad reality is that if the American Muslim community would have spent the time and energy engaging in honest and principled dialogue with other Americans and in bridging the gap between immigrant Muslims and indigenous American Muslims who have a lot more experience being American than those who just landed here twenty and thirty years ago, we probably would not be having this conversation.
American born Luqman Ahmad is a life-long Sunni Muslim, the son of converts to Islam. He is a writer, consultant, and patriot, and has been the Imam of a Northern California mosque for twenty years. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation (NAIF), a founding member of the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations (COSVIO), and the author of the book “The Devils Deception of the Modern Day Salafiyyah Sect”, a detailed look at the ideology which forms the mindset of ISIS and other extremist groups. He has written blog posts challenging ISIS, Anwar Awlaki, and BOKO Haram on his blog, imamluqman.wordpress.com. He considers himself a fair-minded individualist, and the sentiments shared in this article are his own and not representative of any of his professional affiliations. He can be reached at email@example.com.