Tag Archives: Self Empowerment

Islam is my life & Fashion is my passion:

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I remember when I first became a Muslim, like so many us who reverted to Islam, I went through the whole “change your name”, change your look, and essentially change who you naturally, culturally are, as a person nonsense, and so-on. After my little street-life/party & drug-scene stint, I decided that I needed to be more religious. So, after High School, I dived head-first into the Salafi-Movement. Honestly, the Salafi-Movement, initially, was a very positive thing for me personally, mainly because it propelled my religiosity, my general pursuit for Islamic knowledge, and compelled me to take Islam a lot more seriously than I had been taking it previously.

However, like so many others, who got swept up by the religious glamour & grandeur of the ideals of the Salafi-Movement (which are actually valid when properly implemented with justice), the problem was that I had begun to change in ways that were contrary to the very fundamental teachings of Salafiyyah (The Way of  the Salaf: following the religious examples of the Sahabah, the Companions of Prophet Muhammad [May Allah be pleased with them all-together] & the two generations of the Tabi`in, the Followers of the Companions [May Allah mercify them all-together]). I began to acquire this superiority-complex, which was encouraged by many of the so-called “Salafi Scholars” & popular Salafi-Propagators & “Students of Knowledge”, (the likes of Rabee` ibn Haadee `Umayr Al-Madkhali, and his subordinates, like Dawud Adib, Mustapha George, etc.), to view other Muslims, who either did not make the claim to be Salafis (those who claim to adhere to Salafiyyah) or were just not Salafi-enough, as being less Muslim than ourselves.

Then, before you know it, I was just another, ignorant & arrogant youth, just running my mouth, insulting other Muslims & people in general who were not even Muslims, with the complete green-light given to us by the Salafi leaders in our respective communities. Not only were we taught that all Non-Salafis were off-track religiously, but also, we were indoctrinated with the monstrous fallacy that the only true persons of knowledge were the “Salafi-Scholars”, from Saudi & graduates from Saudi and/or Saudi-funded Universities, or scholars & “Students of Knowledge”, from other countries who were “Salafi-Sanctioned”, and that the only way to practice the Sunnah (Prophetic-Tradition) was to do it the way the Salafis said to do it, which became so extreme-Everything that was done, from the way that I thought, to the way that I walked, to the way that I wore my clothes & especially what types of clothing I wore, were all controlled by the teachings of the Salafis-This became staple/default indoctrination (i.e. if the Salafis/Saudis didn’t do it, it’s not from the Sunnah).

We were all warned to not be like Non-Muslims, so this whole “Not imitating the Kuffar” wave came into play (the word Kuffar is the plural of the Arabic word Kafir, which means Disbeliever [someone who disbelieves in Allah, or any other crucial Islamic core theological belief, or or someone who rejects any major theological and/or religious tenet of Islam]). We were told that this was necessary for us to maintain an “Islamic identity”, but in all reality, it was nothing more than a typical control-mechanism, which meant that anything that was not Arabized and/or Saudified was therefore “Non-Islamic”. So, I went from being a free-thinker to being a robot, from being a leader, to being a religiously manufactured follower, we went from wearing sneakers to sandals, from fitted-caps to Kufis, Kiffayahs & Turbans, from GAP jeans to Daffah Thawbs (Arab long-body/full-body garments for men), from shorts to Izars (male waist-wraps/man-skirts), from Puma socks to Khuffs (Arab leather-socks). From 2000-2003, I had went back-and-forth, between Arab-dress & my regular cultural-dress. It became more & more difficult to decipher which dress was really for me.

I had to make a very serious decision, whether to keep this new-found Salafi-culture, or to revert back to my regular culture. I then decided to actually investigate this whole issue of “Imitation of the Kuffar”. I found out that what I was being taught was not at all, what was being projected by the Salafis, the truth, when it came to “not imitating the Kuffar”. I ended up learning that when it comes to fashion, from an Islamic perspective, the regulations of dress for Muslim men are not as extensive or conservative as it is for Muslim women, mainly because the parameters of our `Awrat (Private-Areas) are not the same as the `Awrat of the women, the `Awrat of men are only limited to what lies between our navels & knees, whereas the `Awrat of women extend to every part of their bodies. In fact, as long as a Muslim man doesn’t wear gold, silk, images (things primarily with eyes), transparent clothing, we can realistically wear whatever else that we want.

So, after learning this, and with me being me, I said to myself, “Fuck dis shit…..Imma wear what the Hell I wanna wear!!!”. Then, all Hell broke loose in the Salafi-World for me. Just because I didn’t want to dress like an Arab, I was ridiculed, mocked, made to feel uncomfortable, unwanted, ostracized, and it wasn’t until these events (I’ll explain some of them in a minute) took place that I realized that the Salafi-Movement was just like Roman-Catholic Christianity. Instead of a Pope, you have the King of Saudi Arabia, who even though is clearly in his religious practice a Non-Salafi, and if not the King of Saudi Arabia, would most definitely be considered & called a Hizbi (Religious-Heretic), the de-facto top religious figure, by virtue of the fact that every religious edict that comes out of Saudi must be personally approved by the current King of Saudi Arabia, or it’s not a go.

Then, for the first time in a long time, I started to actually think about what I was doing and what I had allowed myself to get into. I began to realize that this was exactly the way that Christians taught us how to act, just do…..don’t question, don’t challenge, and if you do, you’re not a good Christian. Well, it was just like that back in those days with the Salafis, if you questioned anything, or question any Salafi-Scholar, Salafi-Propagator or Salafi “Student of Knowledge”, then you were no longer considered a good Salafi or Salafi at all.

Okay, here’s when things got hot-and-heavy for me: As a result of my new-found fashion independence, I was immediately black-listed as a rebel, heretic, and everything else a Salafi never, ever wants to be called. This got so bad, that I almost ended up getting into fist-fights, with several Muslims, over this whole fashion issue, and to add insult-to injury, Mustapha George (whom I mentioned earlier) had actually tried to call me out during a Khutbah (weekly Islamic-Sermon given on Fridays) no-less. He had named his Khutbah for that week, “The Ettiquites of the Mosque”, when he explicitly said, “A Muslim brother should not come to the Mosque, like he’s going to a party.” Now, it was very obvious that he was taking a clear shot at me, by virtue of the fact that I was the only person in the Mosque that day, not dressed as an Arab. So, people actually started looking directly at me. This is just one particular example of how people tried to handle me, just on the issue of fashion.

These experiences from my life as a Salafi (by the way, I officially renounced being Salafi back in 2007) taught me some important things: One, be Muslim, without trying to be other than your true self. Two, don’t let anyone tell you to believe, say or do anything, regarding the practice of Islam, without exclusive, explicit proof from the Qur’an & Prophetic-Tradition-That was the main problem among the Salafi youth, being indoctrinated to don a culture that is not only foreign to them, but also having no Islamic relevance, and unfortunately, it still remains a problem that has purposely not been fixed, because some people always want dominance over others, which is pretty damn sad.

Now, on to my clothing line that I had attempted to start: In spite of the Dark-Ages of my life as a Muslim, I acquired the intense need to express myself fashionably, as a Muslim first, but also as a man of my times, as an Urban-Dweller, as a Hip-Hopper. I love fashion, and since this is the case, I feel like I’m obligated to be a fashion trend-setter, for each & every Muslim, living in Non-Muslim countries, shackled to a foreign interpretation, understanding & practice of Islam, which brings Khaleeji Clothing Co. into play: Rashaan Rashid (the brother that I had tried to get this clothing company off the ground with) & I had seen the need for Muslims (Muslim men particularly/especially) to be able to be Muslim, and at the exact same time feel to dress as they please, without being made outcasts, for not conforming to a cultural dress that is not theirs.

It is so important for Muslims in the West (Non-Muslim countries specifically) to take ownership over their own practice of Islam, the first way to acquire authentic knowledge, in the context of the Arabic-Language, to free ourselves of being shackled to any peoples’ or country’s relative, subjective, culturally biased interpretation, understanding & practice of Islam (i.e. learning the Arabic-Language, so we will be able to equip ourselves with the tools to go into classic Islamic works, to gain benefit for ourselves, as opposed to relying upon biased/inaccurate translations of classic texts, or relying upon biased/inaccurate translated lectures & classes) which takes a little more time, and another way is to free ourselves from being unnecessarily & unjustifiably fashionably shackled to any foreign peoples’ or foreign country’s clothing.

And, this is exactly what Khaleeji Clothing Co. had aimed to accomplish at the time: To give Muslims in Non-Muslim countries the confidence to dress the way that they want to, without scrutiny from those who don’t even live among us, yet have influence/control over us. We want Muslims to know that as long as whatever you’re wearing is Islamically-Compliant, then no one else, Muslim or Non-Muslim has the right to have an opinion about whatever you choose to wear, period.

When my business partner first approached me with the idea of helping him with starting this clothing line, I was honestly very apprehensive. I’ve seen a lot of Muslim clothing companies in the past, and those coming up, and I wasn’t very impressed, because I just saw that a lot of Muslim clothing designers were just revamping and/or modifying Arab-style trends. I wanted to be as distant from Arab-clothing, as well as Arab-style fashion influence as possible.

But, then I started to let the whole idea of me becoming a clothing-designer grow on me. I began to envision that I would have a perfect opportunity to display Islamic-Fashion, in a suitable context, for Muslims outside of the Arab-World. It became very important for me to speak on behalf of Muslims, who want to be Muslim of course, but don’t want to feel that they have to be Arabs, in order to be Muslims. In fact, I remember having a tense discussion/debate/argument, with another Muslim, about the whole idea of Islamic-Fashion. He had asked me, “Hey, when did Muslims stop wearing Kufis?!!!”, and, of course as only I can responded sarcastically, “When we found out that Kufis are not religiously required!!!”. That started this long, drawn-out talk, between two brothers & myself, basically they were double-teaming me about this issue, they were clearly pro Arab-domination, while I wasn’t. It even got to the point where one of the brothers said, “African-Americans don’t even have a culture.” (keep in-mind that he himself was an African-American). This literally knocked me off of my feet!!! I was so disgusted by his statement, which intensified the already deep-rooted tense conversation between the three of us.

The more that I gave the idea of being a part of this clothing company a thought, the more I began to realize that I could push a completely different mindset, that is very revolutionary. This new mindset would compel Muslims outside of the Muslim-World/Arab-World to accept the obligation & opportunity to define themselves in an Islamic context, instead of having foreigners defining them. The last thing that we as Muslims in Non-Muslim countries is to be told how to dress.

As Muslims in the West, we need to be defined by our current condition, which is not only unique in the history of Muslims, from among the Ummah (Nation/Community) of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), but also unique to our own outlooks about the world & life, outside of the Muslim-World/Arab-World. Yes, we are all Muslims, but we don’t have to think the same, talk the same, walk the same, act the same, or dress the same. Being unique is very important for a Muslim, and a Human being generally. Our individuality is what makes us who we are, and our uniqueness has value, and that uniqueness must & should be celebrated, not denigrated, by ethnic/cultural dominance, which has absolutely nothing to do with the tenets of Islam.

This is why Islam is my life, and Fashion is my passion: My existence in this Universe & my life on Earth, as a Human being, is predicated on worshipping Allah, the Lord of the Universe, and Fashion is something that helps me, as a Muslim, to acquire the freedom to express myself as an individual, without being worried about whose approval I have to seek. I no longer worry about how people view my fashion-sense, and I no longer wait or seek the unnecessary religious scholarly & not-so-scholarly approval of anyone: If I wanna wear jeans & tees, then Imma wear jeans & tees; if I wanna rock a two-piece or three-piece suit, then that’s what I’ll rock; if I wanna sport a cardigan or track-jacket, then Imma sport a cardigan or track-jacket.

Gareth Bryant/2013

The Muslims need to serve the people:

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On the night of June 4th & the early morning of June 5th, 2011, I participated in the annual “AFSP: Out of the Darkness Overnight” Anti-Suicide walk, in New York City. I didn’t even realize how important this walk that I had committed myself to was, until I actually got to the starting point of the walk, in Brooklyn. The walk hadn’t even started yet, and I was just jolted with anxiety & excitement, not knowing how this whole event would play out. There were all types of people there, at this walk, from all over the country & around the world. They were there to lend their support to put an end to Suicide, at all costs. However, there was one group of people who were not in attendance at this walk……it was us, the Muslims; we were nowhere to be found!!! It’s so ironic how something as prevalent & important an issue as Suicide, or this kind of walk, could possibly be the furthest thing from our agendas-It’s not something that we even think about, or are concerned about.

We are so pathetically distant from real issues in our society, like Suicide-I can say for myself, as an individual Muslim, that this walk is incredibly significant to my ability to be of better service to Allah, as His servant, as well as being of better service to my Human race. As Allah says, “From that which we’ve imposed upon the Children of Israel is the following: Whomever kills a person, whom has killed no one, nor has caused corruption within the Earth, it’s just as though they’ve killed killed all of Humanity. Yet, whomever saves them, it’s just as though they’ve saved all of Humanity.”.(Noble Qur’an: Chpt.5, V.32). It’s a proven fact that Suicide-Awareness indeed saves lives!!! There were so many people here, all for the same objective: to save people from making the mistake of taking their own lives. Even if only one person was saved because of this walk, it would be worth it.

This walk was absolutely amazing, to say the least!!! Every step on this this 18-mile journey was an excuse for me to reflect on this precious gift that Allah has given us called life. This walk was in fact a celebration of life itself; my fellow participants, from every part of this nation, all had individual & personal purposes for committing themselves to this walk, along with a valid narrative to boot. I had the awesome privilege of meeting & conversing with some of the most humane, amusing, and positive people you could ever find on the planet-Take actress/activist, Mariel Hemingway, for example, who lost 7 of her own family members to Suicide. In spite of her tremendous loss, she displayed such fortitude, that I very much admired her for. And, she shared her personal story of familial tragedy, with such an immense level of grace, honor & dignity; she’s also a strong advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide-Prevention as well, which is the organization that annually sponsors the “Out of the Darkness Overnight”.

During this walk however, I still felt isolated, alone, and disappointed. Everyone had a walking team, or at least family or friends to walk with, but I didn’t have anyone initially with me walking, nor a walking team; I was just by myself. I tried very hard to conceal my immense anger and disappointment at the Muslim-Community, our leadership & organizations particularly. I reached out to at least 5 major Muslim institutions of Islamic-Learning, Muslim advocacy groups, and leadership councils…..none of them showed the significant want, or care, to partake in this cause, or endorse me, or even help me to spread awareness about this walk. When I sent out e-mails to these institutions, groups, councils, and organizations, they didn’t even have enough courtesy to reply to me and say they were not interested-I received zero responses, from at least 98% of those whom I contacted. But, in spite of all of that, I made it my business to commit to this walk, and to do it by myself, because you know what they say: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”.

Honestly, there were in fact instances where I wanted to just quit this walk, because of lack of support for it, from my own community. However, after every mile, and after every check point/rest stop, and all in between, there were people, congratulating us for the miles that we had already walked and encouraging us to walk even more. These people, the AFSP staff, volunteers, family members of those who were running, family members of those who committed Suicide, all of them gave us so much encouragement to go on and finish this walk. It was so wonderful having them there to instill encouragement to complete our walk.

But, there’s one thing I can say, walking by one’s self does have its advantages-Whenever people would ask me as to who, what, or why I was walking, I had the splendid opportunity to express myself individually, as an individual Muslim. Everyone whom I had told that I was walking on behalf of the Muslim-Community were absolutely ecstatic, and I could see the surprise, and delight on their faces; they were shocked that a Muslim would even be there, and at the exact same time, they were so happy that a Muslim was there. For those whom I came in contact with, and told that I was representing the Muslim-Community, it was a good feeling for them to know that somewhere out there, at least one Muslim actually cares about this cause, and this may have been the very first time that many of them have even met a Muslim. But, it shouldn’t have been just be me who cares, it shouldn’t have been just me out there, all of us should care, and all of us should’ve been there!!!

Alas, it was just me out there, one Muslim, by himself, and even just as an individual, I made a positive impact on people that I came in contact with. Just imagine, if the Muslim-Community had a significant presence there? It would have been such a powerful Da`wah power-play, for people to know that we empathize with them, and want to be part of the solution to this major problem plaguing America. We all owe it to Allah, then to our fellow man, to be a part of this particular walk and movement, to put an end to Suicide. The grand involvement of the Muslim-Community in this walk would most definitely place a positive imprint on the minds & hearts of the people who would witness us there. It would be a tool that we could’ve used to help us clarify the negative stigmas about Muslims being inherently religiously violent, that serves as every-day slander in popular media upon our religion, as well as the general character of the Muslims.

When we’re seen participating more often at these types of events, promoting the general preservation of life, then it would turn the tides of how we’re viewed in America and across the world. Participation in a walk like this would place us in a different light, as caring individuals, who respect, honor and celebrate life. We must all make a more valiant effort to involve ourselves in the society that we live in, to paint a better image of Islam & Muslims, through our actions, as well as contributing to the general betterment of our society, by being of better service to the people.

My perils of being a Muslim in America:

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Being Muslim in America is exactly what it is, being Muslim in America. You always get the weird, threatening stares from people on trains, buses, platforms, sidewalks, for either having a beard, Hijab/Jilbab, Niqab, or any other physical indicator, that tells people that you’re Muslim, or “looks Muslim”. Even though I’ve lived in the U.S. my whole life, I feel so very different & distant from so many people, even those whom I’ve grown up with. We sit around & chill and relax, then tell jokes & what not. Then, some person, or several persons always breaks out the typical “Muslim-Jokes”, which are funny sometimes, inappropriate a lot of times, down right disrespectful many times, and rather awkward all of the time.

However innocent these jokes may actually be, those telling these particular jokes are in fact expressing a great amount of subliminal hatred, fear, ignorance and insecurity, concerning all-things Islam & all-things Muslim. This is not always easy or simple to deal with-Knowing that people actually live in fear, just because of the very sight of you as a Muslim, is very disheartening. Even aside from all of the achievements that Muslims have made for our Humanity, in History generally and even for this country, we’ve still been categorized as a foreign people. We live in such a heighten state of fear of Muslims, that it’s so difficult for us to even assimilate into our society the way that many Americans say that we should. Many Americans have been feed the lie that if Muslims are in fact allowed to assimilate into American society that we’re going to commit a hostile takeover & immediately establish Islamic-Law.

Now, firstly, our jobs as Muslims are not to establish Islamic-Law in a place where, by nature of this government, it is not even compatible the U.S. Constitution-This is a secular society, and everyone already knows that Secularism & Religion naturally don’t mix anyway. However, we as Muslims do in fact wish & want to be defined by our Islam, as being Muslims, and not just by our citizenship status, as being Americans. We’re not just Americans, we’re Muslims first. Of course, all Muslims view Islamic-Law as being superior to any other political system, religious or secular. However, when the Muslims live in a land where the Oneness of Allah is not even established, and/or there’s immense debauchery & decadence, then by nature of our Islamic-Principles, we can’t try to accomplish one thing without completing another.

We do want Islamic-Law to reign supreme, because Islamic-Law is the only way to enact true justice for all, all over the planet. However, first things first-Muslims must at all times first contribute to the betterment of our societies, where we may reside. But, if we’re being painted as a people who want to conquer, as opposed to people who want to make people’s lives better, we’ll never get the true chance to provide people with the better alternative of Islam. And, honestly, that’s the reason why we’re being portrayed so negatively.

Money-controlled media wants the American people to possess constant disdain for Islam & Muslims, in fear of the fact that once more Americans start to embrace Islam, they’ll begin to see the true beauty of Islam, rather than the negative portrayals given to the American people, in order to keep Islam as a representative of something inherently negative. Now, how does all of this fit into my life, as a Muslim. Well, I’ve lived here my whole life, as an American, and since I’ve been a Muslim, even before 9/11, I’ve been the subject of ridicule by my family, my neighbors, my classmates, various members of my former Christian community, and the list goes on & on.

Any & every form of negative imagery about Islam & Muslims will always affect me, as long as I’m still alive, whether those negative things are true or false. As an American, the onslaught of negative portrayals of Islam & Muslims has definitely affected even myself, to the point where one day, I was on a train, this was after the NYC MTA came out with the “If you see something, say something” poster adds, I saw some persons who were visibly Muslims, I mean like these guys had beards & stuff-They were also foreigners, and this shows you how dangerous lies are, that if you tell a lie enough times, people will begin to believe it. I started to notice how just by their Middle-Eastern appearances, even I, as a Muslim began to be leery of them. And, that’s when I realized that even Muslim-Americans are affected by this great body of lies.

Even myself, even though people know that I’m Black, the fact that I’m Muslim makes them view me as someone who’s a foreigner, these are people that I knew before I even became a Muslim that I’m referring to, by the way. Anyone who’s seen me with the past 8 years, or is a friend on Facebook, knows  that I’ve got a big beard. So, every time that I’m in a Federal/government building, a restaurant, a movie theater, an amusement park, or any where that I may be, I’m constantly view in a disgusting manner. And, I can feel how people view me, without them even having to say anything.

Their body language speaks volumes. Now, when a white woman clutches her bag when I’m sitting next to her on a train, I no longer think that she’s afraid of a Black man who may rob, or rape her. Now, I know that she’s afraid of a Muslim who might blow up the train. It seems a bit childish or even amusing to think this way, but for me, and hundreds of thousands of fellow Muslim brothers, just like myself, who refuse to be defined by the Non-Islamic societal standards of how a man should look or dress, or how much facial-hair one should have, we have been made open targets for ridicule, denial of jobs, discrimination among our peers, co-workers, schoolmates, etc.

This has gotten so serious, that even some of our Muslims sisters won’t even marry a brother who has a long beard, or even a beard period, and this is part-in-parcel of the negative propaganda that we as Muslims have allowed to invade our minds & hearts. For example: In 2010, I was pursuing a Muslim woman for marriage. And, she ended up calling things off, because she asked would I ever consider cutting or shaving my beard, and I said no. She then took the position that because of this particular conversation that we had that I was “too religious” for her, which is really like a code-word for calling me an “Extremist”. And, of course no one wants to be with someone who an “Extremist”. But, the irony is that out of all of the other valid reasons to not want to marry me, she purposely chose my beard as a reason-So, now I’m being indirectly labeled by my own fellow Muslims, as being an “Extremist”, just because I won’t shave my beard…..wow!!! Well, this is my story, it’s a never-ending struggle, but the struggle is always worth it.

The reasons why I write:

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Unfortunately, I was not very vocal or expressive, when I was young. So, there’s a lot of things that I could’ve & should’ve shared with others, that are now lost in time, because I chose not to preserve them literarily. However, after I became a Muslim, and especially within this past decade, I’ve developed the courage, creativity, want, and will to write.

There are so many benefits about writing, not just poems, or novels, or even short stories. It’s just the fact that writing allows me the ability to express myself freely and, the ability to transfer my thoughts & feelings from pen to paper. And, the best thing about that is when you do write, you release stress, you get an opportunity to let out negative energy in a positive & productive way. You also get to challenge the extent of your own intelligence & imagination.

Aside from even those things, which are valid, generally, for myself, writing allows me to explore myself, to dig up old thoughts & feelings that I’ve buried for about ten to twenty years, and am finally willing & able to mentally & emotionally unearth those things. It’s actually very scary, because there are some things, within all Human beings, that we would rather leave  dead & buried. But, then, if you don’t let those things go, through letting them out through some type of channel, they can and will consume you eventually.

Honestly, I find that writing is a great form of self-therapy. I get the chance to reflect upon my own flaws & ills, I get to self-examine my own problems, and I get to learn more about myself, as a Muslim, as a Man, and as a Human.