ISLAM IN AMERICA SCATTERED PICTURES: REFLECTIONS OF AN AMERICAN MUSLIM By IMAM ZAID SHAKIR [Zaytuna Institute, 186pp., 2005]
IMAM ZAID SHAKIR’s journey began as a disenchanted youth living in the housing projects of America; places where dreams are dispelled, hearts exhausted and lives fragmented. Instead, from these seeds, Imam Shakir developed an unshakable desire for social justice and common good, culminating into one of the most important voices for Islam in the Western world.
This biographical account is the first essay in Scattered Pictures, a compilation of essays and articles by the Berkeley-born Imam. “The Making of a Muslim”, the opening essay, sheds light on what gave him hope and purpose, reveals his own personal struggles and doubts, and discusses what led him to reconsider his beliefs of God. He describes the questions and quandaries he faced and unflinchingly admits his own misconceptions in his path to Islam and even within it, to a faith that brought back tradition, balance and humanity.
Scattered Pictures is a collection of fourteen essays powerful in their essence and eloquence. This first book by a widely respected intellectual and much loved teacher, analyzes and reconciles the convergence of Islam and the West and is of lasting relevance to the betterment of the Muslim and human community. Reminiscent of his direct, honest and riveting style of speech, each page delivers vivid, absorbing detail and effective information.
With the sensibilities of a professor, the insight of a writer and the heart of a scholar, the Imam leaves the reader with the practical, untainted guidance of traditional Islamic ethics and law on many unresolved and often unspoken matters. Though written through the lenses of an American, Western Muslim, Imam Shakir’s serious and thoughtful reflections are applicatory and beneficial to many societies in our hyper-globalized world.
“We Are All Collateral Damage” was written after the London bombings of 7th July 2005 and begins with a poignant poem. It speaks of the collective humanity that is destroyed with each act of violence and the misguided policies of governments that so ineffectively fight the war on terror with further indiscriminate brutality. In “Abraham’s Story”, Imam Shakir writes of the need for leader-ship that follows the unconditional devotion, deep reflection and selfless obethence of the Prophet Abraham, may peace be upon him. Hc writes: “So let us go forward and rededicate ourselves to the worship of God and the service of humanity. Let us thank God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon us with every ounce of energy we can muster, from the bottom of our hearts and from the depths of our soul … Let us also remember that God does nothing in vain. Our being Muslims at this critical juncture in history is not without purpose …”
In “Islam and the Question of Nationalism” the Imam offers an incisive analysis of the concept of nationalism and concludes with realistic, tangible evidence and suggestions of how Islam can foster positive action in the promotion of civil rights and social and economic equality. “Islam, the Prophet Muhammed and Blackness” is a serious and well-informed examination of the notion of blackness in Islam and Muslim society and explores the attempts of the Prophet Muhammed, may peace and blessings be upon him, to eradicate the schisms of race.
Among the other difficult and often-times controversial topics addressed in Scattered Pictures include: “Not Muslim Zionists”, “Flight from the Mosque”, “Jihad is Not Perpetual Warfare”, “American Muslims, Human Rights and the Challenge of September 11” and “The Issue of Female Prayer Leadership”. In his writings, the Imam presents unvarnished truths, dismantles selective and revolutionary reinterpretations of Islam and examines contemporary dilemmas and bigoted misconceptions of Islam. He has an academic’s breadth of knowledge and understanding, approaching sensitive issues intelligently, respectfully and reverently. Moreover, Imam Shakir’s critiques are compelling and valid, while his solutions are insightful and optimistic, citing Islam’s underlying success as a global religion.
Scattered Pictures is a book of utmost importance, brimming with deep concern. The former professor and member of the United States Air Force ardently pleads for the reassertion of conventional values of traditional Islam and a return to the authentic sources of the Qur’an and hadith. This advice must be heeded to break free of recurring and abjectly self-destructive patterns of behavior and thought. In these tumultuous times, these are issues that if left unaddressed could continue to spiral downwards into serious political, social and religious discord.
In his book, Imam Shakir expresses hope that his words will motivate Muslim individuals and communities to resolutely undertake as a vital priority, affirmative action to prevent needless barriers in society and the inducing of negative connotations of Islam and Muslim peoples. He writes: “… It should reveal to the reader the richness of both the Islamic intellectual heritage and the depth of traditional legal thought. For Muslims, it is hoped that this examination will also engender a healthier respect for the scholars of this tradition and encourage more deliberation and deliberateness before speaking, oftentimes flippantly, on very serious and consequential issues … It is my hope that your understanding of what Islam says regarding the issues examined here will be deepened. More importantly, it is hoped that your understanding about what Islam might say on many other related issues will be similarly enhanced. If that is the case, I praise God, for all good and benefit arises from His boundless grace …”
Scattered Pictures is undoubtedly a book that will be difficult for readers to disregard, Muslims and nonMuslims alike. Its messages are relevant to anyone interested in the conscious culmination of a healthy and harmonious understanding of humanity within and across all global borders.