The prominent American imam, Omar Suleiman, has issued a clarification statement publicly repenting and apologising for participating in unIslamic ritual during a solidarity march for Mexican immigrants in 2018.
The issue was first raised by American Muslim apologist and blogger Daniel Haqiqatjou in a video released on Friday 18 September.
The ritual commonly known as ‘libation’ entails pouring water or a liquid beverage on the ground as an offering to a deity or to commemorate the spirits of the deceased.
On the same day, as Muslims took to social media to criticise Imam Omar Suleiman for his participation in the libation ritual, the following statement was issued on his official Facebook page:
“Over the last several years, I have tried to engage just causes, and help others as well to do so, without compromising our theology or values. I believe in sacred activism as Imam Dawud Walid puts it, and think everyone should read his book on it which is an incredible contribution. I admired greatly the likes of Imam Siraj Wahhaj (who didn’t just offer a prayer in Congress but has cleaned up entire communities in New York) and Imam Zaid Shakir who has never shied away from the causes of fighting police brutality, militarism, playing a role even in the Occupy Oakland protests. May Allah bless those Imams for how they teach us how to engage this space faithfully, and forgive them (and us) for any shortcomings along the way.
“Multifaith work, protests, activist spaces, etc. are difficult spaces to navigate. There are certain issues we cannot turn our backs on, but we (starting with me) have to navigate with great care. Issues like systemic racism and children in cages at the border cannot be ignored. Issues of torture (Gitmo and Abughraib), and our foreign wars either waged by the American government or funded/supported by it that disproportionality impact Muslims cannot be ignored. But neither can our faith sensibilities. I don’t think forsaking those spaces is the right way for orthodox Muslims who care for these issues as the empathy we learn from the Prophet (Saw) would have us do, but are wary of the awkwardness that arises.
“Case in point, some images of a protest at the San Diego/Tijuana border protest from 2 years ago surfaced this past week that depict me and other Muslim leaders joining alongside other faith leaders in a protest in the immediate aftermath of the military tear gassing poor migrants on the other side. That protest was organized primarily by the Quakers. I have been to Juarez, Tijuana, McAllen, etc. numerous times to protest for this cause. I do not want the gravity of the mistreatment of the migrants to be forgotten especially in light of some of the new horrors that have been unveiled just this week. How do I choose whether or not a protest is worth engaging? By considering primarily what the issue is. I believe in broad coalitions, and specific issues. Muslims should only engage issues that have grounding, and never support anything as an issue religiously, politically, socially, etc. that violates the Quran and the Sunnah. That’s my organizing philosophy.
“Now with that protest like many others came the usual non-mahram awkwardness and a higher than usual share of rituals. I tried my best to avoid anything I saw objectionable on the spot, including anointing. Some of our brothers and sisters did not take a step to the side for that. May Allah forgive them for that lapse, and reward them for all the other great work they do. When I was asked last week about this protest, I expressed that I did not take part in any ritual and politely excused myself. I believed that, because though it was 2 years ago, I always try to step aside silently and be respectful while not partaking. The image of “kneeling” was literally in protest, refusing to leave the premises, as the officers pulled their guns, and not part of a prayer or kneeling to another member of the group (“hands up, don’t shoot,” which is common). The image of the holding hands in “prayer”, the specific words of which I don’t recall after the protest, was meant to be for those on the other side. If words are said that I don’t agree with, I maintain silence like I do in every other interfaith setting.
“I was asked recently about a water ritual. Allah is my witness, I hadn’t even recalled that happening because I did not see that as an act of worship but an act as part of the protest (mentioning the names of those who died at the border, not seeking forgiveness or calling upon other deities). I have seen this practice commonly in protests against police brutality and participated in an attempt to be culturally considerate, but I was not aware of any connection of that act to any other ritual (I had never even heard the word “libation” before, and neither have most people I spoke with about this). But the truth is to be accepted no matter who brings it to you. May Allah reward those who sought to bring this up to me to rectify me and purify our Dawah of pitfalls, and forgive those who may be using this maliciously. To be corrected in this world is far better than the humiliation of the hereafter. I seek Allah’s forgiveness first and foremost, and the mistakes I may make in this path are only mine. Those mistakes are mine alone, not my teachers or colleagues. I’m sure there are other embarrassing lapses to be used against me in this ongoing campaign which I don’t plan to engage in the theatre of social media. May Allah forgive me for all of them, and guide me and us to better ways. May Allah unite our hearts and ranks for good. May Allah allow us to sincerely work together and come up with frameworks and ways to champion just causes without partaking in anything that would displease Allah or diminish our participation in righteous causes. May Allah continue to give us companionship of those who are willing to point out our mistakes with sincerity in order to direct us to a better path.
“In an effort specifically to address the issue of prayer in these gatherings, I wrote this article a few months ago for Religion News. It is not perfect, but it provoked some needed conversation. Jazakumullah khayr.”