Saying No Way to Being Native and Muslim
From TI_Muslims Yahoo
Group Saturday, June 20, 2009
By Todd Wise, Bemidji, MN
I worked with the L/Dakota for six years and even participated in the
sun dance and many ceremonies, such as "inipi."[sweat lodge] I remember
speaking with an American Indian Muslim in Spearfish, SD who thought I
had done a "major shirk." My own wife, who is also Muslim, also had some
Several years ago I had written on Black Elk (Black Elk Reader,
Syracuse U. Press 2000) and had also did an interview directly with
Hilda Neihardt who was at the original Black Elk interviews and also had
been adopted by that family and acknowledged the wisdom of what is now
called the "Red Road."
If you haven't read Black Elk, you might find it interesting. The
imagery of his vision when he was only a nine year old lasted him all of
his life and had lived through most of all the major turning points of
traditional Lakota society.
Black Elk was a Roman Catholic Cathecist for the rest of his adult
life, after the Lakota were pinned in on the Pine Ridge Reseravation,
following Wounded Knee. He was credited by Roman Catholic priests for
converting "over 400" people to Catholicism. He was called by his
baptised name of "Nick" in that setting. Even though this is a part of
his life it is also certain that he practiced his traditional religion
all of his life and never stopped. That is what the report of "Black Elk
Speaks" is about. He articulated his involvement in Lakota tradition and
religion towards the end of his life. He followed it with another book
called "The Sacred Pipe" that outlines religion even more clearly.
The book has been called by Vine Deloria as the "bible for Native
Black Elk is an important case study for this question you raise
about "No Way" for American Muslims and that "Islam is not the Red
Road." Black Elk maintained that the Lakota accepted the Christian
Religion because "it already fit" with what they "already knew." Now we
all now very well that while the Lakota could embrace the Christian
religion in some key ways, they also rejected much of it. It is
important to note that not a single Lakota priest was ever ordained in
the Catholic Church after all the involvement that religion had. The
colonialism and the "White man" culture in it are grotesque and
apparent. Indian people know that very well. I don't know if you people
have heard of "historical trauma" research.
At any rate, however you want to explain it, there is definitely a
huge amount of culture that affects how we approach religious
traditions. If you read people like H. Gadamer and Habermas, Merleau
Ponty... it is comprehensive. ... total emersion. How you approach Allah
is thoroughly shaped by your language and culture...
When Black Elk says it "fit with what we already knew" so we
"recognized the truth of it" that is an important insight. When he
remained "bi-cultural" or even "bi-religious" that is also instructive.
They guy lived all his life and when he wrote those two books about his
life and didn't mention one sentence about his involvement with the
Christian religion, it had many in the Catholic setting completely
baffled. But, for Indian people.... it was not surprising at all, since
they had been completely taken over by another culture with "their"
Finally, if you look at what is now called "the red road," it is very
simple and basic. For example, the red road that crosses the black road
is considered "sacred" because it tells where a person is living a good
life. When the black road of everyday difficulty comes your way, when
you have hard times, that is important because it "shows" you where you
need to readjust and get back on the red road. The Lakota religion is
very spiritual and humbling. There are points of correction.. . For
example, the "black road" has nothing close to what is referred to in
Islam as "evil." It is more of a lack of balance..."everyday difficulty"
rather than "evil."
So... one response to this issue is to see that Islam builds on what
is already there. The Indian person that says "red road isn't Islam" is
just ignorant of Islam. Tell him/her about Islam... the guy will start
saying eventually, oh yes we know that, we follow that... Then, he might
come to he point of saying there is something more here. I should
There are HUGE problems in Indian country. Sexual abuse, adultery,
substance abuse, suicide..... .. Places where the Lakota religion came
into being have worst statistics in all of the world for these problems!
Now, yes the colonialism is responsible and the missionary in roads...
all of it. But, there is also a point that can be made for how the
culture "adapted." If it had been Islam that the Lakota people first
met... think of it. First... no alcohol.. that problem right there would
have saved them. Second, take care of your females....no sex outside of
marriage... another huge safety valve for when the people came in
contact with the outside world. Third, no suicide... wham...another
safety valve. Also, facing the mix of Constantine and Christianity that
is in the West... Wham...another safety valve. Muhammad (peace be upon
him) already faced that crap in the 7th century. Islam could surely help
Indian people on how to dismantle Christian ideology and its use by the
state and popular culture.
One other point...
When you approach someone that seems to know and practice their
religion fairly well, you have to ask yourself how to explain your own.
I find that if you really acknowledge the truth of another religion
and then have the other person recognize that you "see" it and also
respect that what is true and good in it, that you do have a door open
to something that may not be so apparent in their religion and how Islam
might offer something,
I found the Lakota "religion" to be a beautiful poetic approach to
life. The "straight path" of Islam is not unrelated to what the Lakota
call the "good red road." There are points in Islam that are moral and
instruction given by Allah, so you have some things that are not simply
summarized by the Lakota phrase "in a good way." Harmony and balance can
only get you so far with things that are evil.
There is a lot to it.. .keep the dialogue going!
"The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare
mothers, immigrants, and aliens, the more you can control
all the people." Noam Chomsky