How Islamic is Dr.Abdullah Ali’s Black Conservatism? (Part two)


(Editorial note:  In this article, I highlight a major factual error in Dr.Abdullah Ali’s piece on critical race theory that unequivocally demonstrates that he has not studied the subject. I explain why this demonstrates lack of adab towards Black intellectuals and I assess whether Dr.Abdullah Ali’s Black conservative ideology can be considered Islamic. I further discuss why Dr.Abdullah Ali’s Black conservatism would be a hindrance upon dawah in Black communities if adopted by other Black Muslims.)

A Major Factual Blunder in Dr. Abdullah Ali’s Piece on Critical Race Theory 

On June, 13, 2019, Dr. Abdullah Ali published an article on the LampPost Education Initiative titled “How Islamic is Critical Race Theory?” The article is replete with factual inaccuracies. For the sake of being brief, I will focus on one obvious factual inaccuracy.

Dr. Abdullah Ali writes that critical race theory “is essentialist because it lumps all “whites” together into a shared experience vis-à-vis “coloreds” such that there is no distinction between the English, Scottish, French, German, Russian, Slav, Irish, Italian, Swede, Jew, etc.3”  

Dr. Abdullah Ali’s article only contains one citation to a book titled Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Degaldo and Jean Stefanic.  On page 77 of the very book he cites, it reads:  “Another aspect of the construction of whiteness is the way certain groups have moved into or out of that race. For example, early in our history Irish, Jews, and Italians were considered nonwhite–that is, on a par with African-Americans. Over time, they earned the prerogatives and social standing of whites by a process that included joining labor unions, swearing fealty to the Democratic Party, and acquiring wealth, sometimes by illegal or underground means. Whiteness, it turns out, is not only valuable; it is shifting and malleable.” 

Therefore, it is not that critical race theory essentializes whites by lumping them all together as whites in a shared experiences vis-a-vis “coloreds.” Rather, critical race theory takes into account how ethnic groups such as Jews, Irish, Germans, English etc. through their various experiences in America sought to unify around a concept of whiteness.

 Academic works such as Whiteness as Property by Cherl Harris and How the Irish Became White by Ignatiev have been thoroughly utilized by critical race theorists to explain how European immigrants to America sought to unify around the ideology of whiteness in order to reap social benefits and subjugate Black people.  

It is clear that Dr. Abdullah Ali did not bother to read the entire introductory book before endeavoring to critique critical race theory. If Dr. Abdullah Ali did read the entire book he cited then he would not make this factual inaccuracy. At most, Dr. Abdullah Ali briefly skimmed the only book he cited in the article and sought to construct a critique of critical race theory on that basis. 

Imagine, if an atheist sought to critique Islam and only skimmed an introductory section about Islam in an encyclopedia. Imagine, he only happened to read about four pillars of Islam concerning belief Allah(swt) and Muhammad(saw) as the final messenger,prayer,fasting, and hajj. Yet, due to intellectual laziness he just skimmed and skipped over the section dealing with zakat. Then imagine that he published a pseudo-academic article saying Islam is bad because it does not support giving money to the poor. This methodology is similar to Dr.Abdullah Ali’s intellectual laziness in his critique of critical race theory.  In no way, shape, or form am I seeking to draw a comparison between critical race theory and Islam.

Critical race theory is a legal field that studies institutional racism.  Islam, the way of life prescribed by Allah(swt). I only utilize this example to highlight the intellectual laziness present in Dr. Abdullah Ali’s pseudo critique of critical race theory. 

Dr. Abdullah Ali’s Lack of Adab Towards Black Community

 In light of this glaring factual inaccuracies in Dr.Abdullah Ali’s piece on critical race theory, Dr. Abdullah Ali should recant his piece. He should acknowledge it contains this factual inaccuracy and apologize for spreading misinformation to the Muslim community. When Ibn Tammiya(ra)  went to refute the Greek Logicians and Al-Ghazal(ra) went to discuss the incoherence of the philosophers, they actually had to study Greek philosophy.  Dr.Abdullah Ali’s has not bothered to study critical race theory prior to his critique.

 On a recent Facebook post, Dr. Abdullah Ali’s writes: 

“Be very clear that Malcolm, Martin, Dubois, Booker T, Douglas, Delaney, Woodson, and so many other black intellectuals and activists did not preach the doctrine of perpetual victimhood. To claim otherwise is to distort their legacy. They also did not use CRT for empowerment.”

In terms of evaluating rather critical race theory is useful to Muslims this statement by Dr.Abdullah Ali is non-sequitur. The aforementioned Black intellectuals did not use critical race theory because they did not live in an era in which racism shifted from de’jure to defacto. Critical race theory was developed by African-American legal scholars in a post-jim crow era to specifically analyze how structural racism shifted from de’jure to defacto.

It is unclear what point Dr.Abdullah Ali is seeking to make by saying the aforementioned black intellectuals did not use critical race theory.

Contemporary critical race theory has been strongly influenced by Malcolm X and W.E.B Dubois. 

Critical race theory was pioneered by a former civil rights attorney Derrick Bell. He was part of the legal team to end segregation. Bell later became a professor and noted how even after Brown vs. Board of Education that schools continued to be segregated. Bell began writing about the continuation of defacto structural racism.

Abdullah Ali has demonstrated incredibly poor adab towards black intellectuals by seeking to refute an academic field dedicated to studying defacto structural racism without even bothering to read it.  

Dr. Abdullah Ali has stated that that police in America are not systemically racist. What adab does this show to the Black victims of Jon Burge torture rings, families of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and the multiple black victims of stop and frisk? 

Dr. Abdullah Ali has stated that irresponsible behavior from Black people and not slavery/institutional racism is the major cause of Black-white wealth disparity.

What adab does that display towards impoverished Black communities?  There are a litany of negative stereotypes and pathologies one must hold which are in violation of Islamic adab in order to make such positions.

Dr.Abdullah Ali like his boss at  Zaytuna, Zaycoona College named Hamza Yusuf have made statements that demonstrate a wholesale lack of adab towards oppressed Black communities. Hamza Yusuf can pontificate about complex European philosophical views such as Kant’s categorical imperative, Nietzsche’s will to power, and Aristotelian ethics but thinks “black on black crime” is a valid response to police brutality.

Unfortunately, like in the movie Django Unchained where Samuel Jackson plays the House slave and Leonardo DiCaprio plays the slave master, Dr.Abdullah Ali comes out and makes the same talking points as Hamza Yusuf on police brutality and defends Hamza Yusuf’s decision to join forces with the anti-Black Trump Administration.

An Islamic Critique of Black Conservatism and the Dawah of Malcolm X 

Dr. Abdullah Ali subscribes to a reactionary brand of Black conservatism in which acknowledgment of the prevalence of  structural racism and its negative impact on Black socio-economic mobility is misinterpreted as “a doctrine of perpetual victimhood.” 

 Based upon Dr.Abdullah Ali’s reactionary embrace of Black conservatism he absurdly goes on to deny that structural racism plays the most significant factor in the Black-White wealth gap. Dr.Abdullah attributes “irresponsible behavior” as the primary cause of Black-white wealth gap.(A claim I refuted in a previous article

 Reactionary Black conservatives advocate that Black people should “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” and “take self-responsibility” to improve their lives without government handouts. 

Yet, the persistent denial by Black conservatives that defacto structural racism continues to exist with tangible impacts on the quality of life of Black people would actually preclude Black people from taking full self responsibility for improving their lives. 

As an illustration of this, a brainwashed Black brothers in the hood can stop drinking forties, stop partaking in gang violence, refrain from pre-marital sexual intercourse, stop utilizing drugs, and undergo all necessary moral changes that black conservatives(as well as myself) advocate for.

Yet, such aforementioned moral transformation in inner-city Black communities alone cannot stop redlining, blockbusting, environmental racism, predatory lending, and other manifestations of de facto structural racism detrimentally impacting the quality of life in Black communities. 

The Black Conservatism of Dr.Abdullah Ali cannot inculcate in Black people “self responsibility” because it denies the reality of systemic structural racism.

Henceforth, it denies the responsibility of Black folks to eradicate and organize against defacto racism. The Prophet Muhammad(saw) taught:

 Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” (40 Hadith Nawawi 34) 

Critical race theory is an academic field that allows us to see how racism shifted from de’jure to defacto. It exposes the illusion of a post-racial society. Ideally speaking, Black Muslims should be the leaders in this endeavor in exposing the evil of de facto systemic racism. We should be working to change it. We should be speaking out against it. At minimum, we definitely should be hating it in our hearts.

Dr.Abdullah Ali does not even hate the systemic defacto structural racism facing Black communities in his heart because he does not acknowledge that it exists.

The reactionary Black conservatism of Dr.Abdullah Ali shares no relationship with the political philosophy nor the dawah of Malcolm X.

In Malcolm X’s autobiography, he would often go out in the streets speaking to drug addicts, prostitutes, pimps, gang members and seek to recruit them in the Nation of Islam.

As Black people in the urban ghettos abhorred the racial discrimination they faced by White America, Malcolm X  would articulate how adherence to Islamic ethics and morals would assist them in a meaningful struggle against white supremacy.

Pursuant to the political philosophy of Malcolm X, the Black Muslim tradition is simultaneously able to accept the existence of a reciprocal impact of white supremacy upon the environment of Black Folks and also the necessity of Black communities to undergo moral transformations via Islam to confront white supremacy.

Unlike the reactionary Black conservatism of Dr. Abdullah Ali, the Black Muslim tradition has never denied the reality of structural racism nor told Black folks that by acknowledging its impact upon their environment that they are engaging in “perpetual victimhood” and whining.

Professor Shareef Muhammad, director of the Black Dawah Network, has stated:  

Unless the Deen is made politically relevant to the people you are inviting it will not take or fail to develop as an effective force for social change. This was the reason for Elijah Muhammad’s success[in influencing inner city black communities]. Not the aqeeda of the NOI but its unflinching attack on white supremacy and the social ills that afflict its victims.

Dr. Abdullah Ali’s reactionary embrace of Black Conservatism with its denial of systemic defacto racism precludes him from teaching the Islamic sciences that pertain to the application of the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) in ways that meet the social, political, cultural, and economic realities of Black people.