I have always been bothered by the enormous shift from the world of Eastern Europe Jewry to the new suburban Jewry. In its wake it has left a void of many aspects of Judaism and much of the new approach seems geared to keep God out of one’s life. Jews in their myopia tend to see it only as a Jewish or Orthodox problem, but it alters all American religion. Many Christians have noted this change from old-time religion to the new faith and attempted to discuss the new Suburban Christian, and they grasp the ironies. I recommend for the ironies – Albert Hsu, The Suburban Christian. There several other works with similar titles. But no one has yet to fully put their finger on the issues involved in the change. So it was important to see a Muslim also bristling again this immense change by making fun of Suburban Capitalist Islam.
To understand this, know that ilm means knowledge in the sense of both law and reason for the law. Rambam’s Mishneh Torah and his Guide are both fiqh and the study of which is knowledge( ilm.). When you read this substitute year in Israel, study of halakhah, shul classes for his references. In rule #12 those are references to the messianic age, in the sense that suburban orthodoxy does not acutely wait for a messiah. The author makes fun of the acquisition of knowledge and not having it interfere with one’s life. One can master halakhah and keep it out of one’s life. There is no more growth and piety. He makes fun of how their right wing is mainly characterized as those violating the materialism. History is avoided.
The author makes fun of how one can study much “contemporary law” and one can debate for weeks whether something is permitted or forbidden but that debate obscures the real issues that one is no longer living in the religious world of the past. In this set up, “Knowledge’ has been set up as this idealized form of certainty and conviction.” offering self-justification and a sense that one has the answers. Finally, these classes have degenerated into self-help and a commodity for marketing.
Any of this sound familiar?
“Suburban Capitalist Islam” – List of Beliefs
1) American culture is the primary definition of the way we dress, the food we enjoy, the entertainment we seek (Movies, TV, video games).
2) Islam can be understood practically as a filter of the ‘bad’ aspects of the American lifestyle out of ones life. The bad aspects are the obvious haraam (forbidden actions). It can also be an encouragement of the ‘good’ aspects of American life.
3) Since Islam is a filter of good and bad, one needs to obtain ‘ilm’ (religious knowledge) in order to learn how to behave. Studying ‘ilm’ is paramount in Islam, and most ‘ilm’ is in Arabic.
4) What is taught by people in classes at seminars and ‘events’ is a translation and summarization of what is considered ‘ilm’.
5) Your status is defined by how much of this seminar-event-based ‘ilm’ you know.
9) What defines a good Muslim is how well integrated he is with Suburban-Middle-class Society (job, wife, kids, house) plus the combination of his ‘ilm’
10) With real ‘ilm’ we can combat a Non Suburban-Capitalist-Islam. The end result of Non Suburban-Capitalist-Islam is a lifestyle absent of the luxuries and principles of Suburban Capitalist Islam, primarily #1.
11) Suburban Capitalist Muslims are moderate. They are moderate because they are largely indistinguishable from non-Muslim Americans within the workforce, except for a beard/Hijab and some dietary requirements.
12) Imam Mahdi (AS) and the Dajjal are topics of events far in the future. They are so far that they are largely understood as metaphors without meaning.
13) Islamic history is something left to be studied in a superficial manner, because most of Muslim history is filled with various mistakes and evil people. It is far more important to learn about the primary sources of ‘ilm’ and attend more seminars.
Suburban Capitalist Islam is inherently an American cultural product. What most Muslims in the West experience as the Islamic message is actually American culture filtered through certain Islamic injunctions. Under this paradigm, Muslims are able to argue day in and day out over details as to which particular filters/knowledge/’ilm’ they should apply in their lives, while ignoring the overarching logical breakdown and inconsistency between their belief system and their actual lifestyle, filled with TV, video games and shopping.
What are the youth to do with themselves while they are struggling in being ardent abstainers from these aspects of Western society? Surely, Islam must provide some alternative?
Largely this gap has been filled with the pursuit of ‘knowledge’. The message has been that through knowledge you are empowered to controlling your own Islamic future. While knowledge has been important to Muslims since the time of the Holy Prophet (S), it is only now that we see studying being associated so directly with piety and spiritual progress. ‘Knowledge’ has been set up as this idealized form of certainty and conviction. The more knowledge you get/purchase/sit in, the more everything about Islam makes sense, the more easier it becomes to justify the abstaining from the few ‘bad’ things surrounding us and also rationalizing our largely Western lifestyle as being halaal. And doesn’t everyone want self-justification and doesn’t everyone desire for it all to make sense.
Most of these ilm-sessions are set up as the Islamic equivalent to very secular self-help seminars. This cultural stand-in has allowed for competing institutes and community programs to emerge, each giving their own message of specific information-based knowledge. And it should be carefully noted that what is being peddled is information-based knowledge versus knowledge of the self or other forms of tacit knowledge which was how much of Islam was implemented in Muslim lifestyles.
A primary consequence of this Western approach towards Islam is the productization of ‘Ilm’, religious knowledge. What does Western society bring if not the concept of marketing? Catchy slogans, professional videos ads, hype-machines and superstar personalities have been built up to bring ‘Islamic knowledge’ into our lives. No one could deny, if given the opportunity , ‘American Muslim Institutes’ would be clamoring for some sort of witty ad selling their wares during Superbowl commercials. Frankly, if given the opportunity, they would want their own team and hijab-laden cheerleaders.