Two distinguished Islamic scholars participated in an open dialogue and discussion with approximately 300 students, faculty, and community members last weekend at the Muslim Students Association's annual Eid Dinner.
The theme of the dinner, "Spirituality and Social Justice," focused on two important concepts and explained the diverse crowd of attendees. Aminah McCloud, a professor of Islamic Studies at DePaul University, and Umar F. Abd-Allah, Ph.D. '78, of the Nawawi Foundation conducted the discussion.
The panelists began the dialogue with a reflection on the life of Malcolm X, the slain Muslim convert. McCloud said that Malcolm X was a tireless champion of social justice, and he continuously worked to promote social justice in both the African American and Muslim communities. Malcolm X's conception of social justice, McCloud said, was one that strove to improve his community and surroundings, and entailed working with orphans, the impoverished, and others. She stressed that social justice is an active process, and noted the dangerous tendency by men in the Muslim community to intellectualize social justice. "Acting justly doesn't require a great deal of thinking and searching for grand causes," she said. "Causes are all around us and we just have to make time to assist others."
Abd-Allah echoed McCloud's sentiments. Social justice, he claimed, goes beyond the individual. He augmented the discussion on social justice by focusing on the Sufi tradition of Islam, explaining that Sufism is the practice of taming the ego and the promotion of the other.
Spirituality and social justice, Abd-Allah concluded, are not distinct disciplines, but are in fact inseparable. "Spirituality and social justice go together," he said.
After completing their opening remarks, the panelists fielded questions on a variety of topics, from segregation in Chicago's Islamic community to Elijah Muhammed, although the topic of many questions was the current state of Muslims and Islam in America.
Several discussants felt that Muslims have a tenuous place in America, pointing to instances of discrimination and deportation.
Abd-Allah was critical of the Bush administration's domestic and international policies. He said that while American Muslims are among the most prosperous Muslims in the world, few of them speak out against injustices. "Do something," he said in response to a question on prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, "but do something intelligently."