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OPINION

People 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 reservations.

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 Americans."

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" religion.

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 consider this.

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!

Todd Wise
Bemidji, MN

"The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare
mothers, immigrants, and aliens, the more you can control
all the people." Noam Chomsky

 

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