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Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering

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In his controversial 1973 book, Is God a White Racist?, William R. Jones sharply criticized black theologians for their agnostic approach to black suffering, noting that the doctrine of an ominibenevolent God poses very significant problems for a perennially oppressed community. He proposed a "humanocentric theism" which denies God's sovereignty over human history and impu In his controversial 1973 book, Is God a White Racist?, William R. Jones sharply criticized black theologians for their agnostic approach to black suffering, noting that the doctrine of an ominibenevolent God poses very significant problems for a perennially oppressed community. He proposed a "humanocentric theism" which denies God's sovereignty over human history and imputes autonomous agency to humans. By rendering humans alone responsible for moral evil, Jones's theology freed blacks to revolt against the evil of oppression without revolting against God. Sherman Jackson now places Jones's argument in conversation with the classical schools of Islamic theology. The problem confronting the black community is not simply proving that God exists, says Jackson. The problem, rather, is establishing that God cares. No religious expression that fails to tackle the problem of black suffering can hope to enjoy a durable tenure in the black community. For the Muslim, therefore, it is essential to find a Quranic/Islamic grounding for the protest-oriented agenda of black religion. That is the task Jackson undertakes in this pathbreaking work. Jackson's previous book, Islam and the Blackamerican (OUP 2006) laid the groundwork for this ambitious project. Its sequel, Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering, solidifies Jackson's reputation as the foremost theologian of the black American Islamic movement.


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In his controversial 1973 book, Is God a White Racist?, William R. Jones sharply criticized black theologians for their agnostic approach to black suffering, noting that the doctrine of an ominibenevolent God poses very significant problems for a perennially oppressed community. He proposed a "humanocentric theism" which denies God's sovereignty over human history and impu In his controversial 1973 book, Is God a White Racist?, William R. Jones sharply criticized black theologians for their agnostic approach to black suffering, noting that the doctrine of an ominibenevolent God poses very significant problems for a perennially oppressed community. He proposed a "humanocentric theism" which denies God's sovereignty over human history and imputes autonomous agency to humans. By rendering humans alone responsible for moral evil, Jones's theology freed blacks to revolt against the evil of oppression without revolting against God. Sherman Jackson now places Jones's argument in conversation with the classical schools of Islamic theology. The problem confronting the black community is not simply proving that God exists, says Jackson. The problem, rather, is establishing that God cares. No religious expression that fails to tackle the problem of black suffering can hope to enjoy a durable tenure in the black community. For the Muslim, therefore, it is essential to find a Quranic/Islamic grounding for the protest-oriented agenda of black religion. That is the task Jackson undertakes in this pathbreaking work. Jackson's previous book, Islam and the Blackamerican (OUP 2006) laid the groundwork for this ambitious project. Its sequel, Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering, solidifies Jackson's reputation as the foremost theologian of the black American Islamic movement.

30 review for Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering

  1. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    The fundamental question of theodicy as a branch of religious studies is one most people have considered at some point in their lives: if God is omnipotent and good, why is the world rife with so much suffering? For those who have seemingly suffered the most in history this question is particularly acute. So it is with African-Americans, a people whose ethnogenesis was itself the result of terrifying oppression and whose ethnicity has persisted to this day as one of subjugation and resistance ag The fundamental question of theodicy as a branch of religious studies is one most people have considered at some point in their lives: if God is omnipotent and good, why is the world rife with so much suffering? For those who have seemingly suffered the most in history this question is particularly acute. So it is with African-Americans, a people whose ethnogenesis was itself the result of terrifying oppression and whose ethnicity has persisted to this day as one of subjugation and resistance against a predatory mainstream society. How could an all-knowing and benevolent God allow such a thing? Sherman Jackson is one of the most learned scholars of American Islam and an African-American Muslim. This book is not however a straightforward analysis of theodicy intended for a mainstream audience: it is a highly academic text for those already conversant in the four predominant schools of Islamic theology. Jackson has explicitly written an Islamic response to a seminal text of African-American theology entitled "Is God a White Racist?" by the late theologian William R. Jones. He outlines the views of the main Islamic theological schools on the issues of predetermination, free will, benevolence and all-knowing. He is clearly interested in saving African-Americans of what he sees as the trap of being driven to atheism out of despair and anger over the wounds of history and the apparent mute acquiescence, a few have even argued connivance, of God in their historical suffering. As Jackson outlines in great detail, views differ from school to school on the questions of free will and omnipotence, with the Mutazalite school standing as an outlier in granting the greatest ambit to human agency. But all the schools essentially treat creation as an efficient cause: to varying degrees it is up to humans to commit evil or not and it is people's later dispensation to be judged according to their acts. The basic admission of moral standards that deem oppression wrong ipso facto do not even predate what we now call religion and in their absence, as Friedrich Nietzsche has demonstrated, there would be nothing to say that what counts as morally "good" would not simply be whatever the strong say is in their interest. We do have other standards however, even if some choose to ignore them. That people do and suffer evil during their time on earth ultimately amounts to a few moments of ephemerality before they return to the eternal, where those who have done wrong will be consumed with regret and woe over their actions. Of course it is one thing to simply state this and quite another to truly accept it as a rational proposition. As Jackson closes the book by noting, such an acceptance requires a direct experiential component of religion which theological study alone can never provide. I'm going to go back and read Jackson's first book about African-American Islam for a more general analysis of the subject. While this book was highly academic and not particularly accessible to lay readers, it succeeds on its own terms by explaining the issue of theodicy from an Islamic perspective. Jackson is one of the signal intellectuals of an authentically American Islam.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Faatimah

    Dr Jackson draws on the book "Is God A White Racist?" by William Jones to tackle the issue of suffering; God's culpability; human culpability. Jones book was written from a Christian theological perspective, Jackson writes from an Islamic theological perspective looking at 4 major schools within Islam: Mutazilite, Traditionalist, Maturidi and Ashari to tackle the questions of theodicy: why does God allow what he allows? It is written and structured clearly and introduced very well. Some backgrou Dr Jackson draws on the book "Is God A White Racist?" by William Jones to tackle the issue of suffering; God's culpability; human culpability. Jones book was written from a Christian theological perspective, Jackson writes from an Islamic theological perspective looking at 4 major schools within Islam: Mutazilite, Traditionalist, Maturidi and Ashari to tackle the questions of theodicy: why does God allow what he allows? It is written and structured clearly and introduced very well. Some background in Islamic theology would be helpful as this book is very academic and targeted at those who are somewhat conversant in the questions of theology and theodicy. You can really have a discussion with the text. Happy reading!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Arman Firman

    Dr Jackson has worked really hard for this book. I don't understand why he doesn't write more on theology! Dr Jackson has worked really hard for this book. I don't understand why he doesn't write more on theology!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rashid Yasin

    An important book on theodicy that I will most likely want to read again to better understand. I really appreciated the way that the book is cleanly organized by following different schools of thought and elucidating a coherent summary of their perspective on why God allows suffering and how free will is consistent with a just, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent nature. The grounding in the reality of oppression of BlackAmericans is an important and a useful lens to view the implications that these An important book on theodicy that I will most likely want to read again to better understand. I really appreciated the way that the book is cleanly organized by following different schools of thought and elucidating a coherent summary of their perspective on why God allows suffering and how free will is consistent with a just, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent nature. The grounding in the reality of oppression of BlackAmericans is an important and a useful lens to view the implications that these high level theological ideas have for how to live our lives and organize our society.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ebadur

    The Islamic studies/aqida/theological side to each chapter on Mu'tazilism, Ash'arism, Maturidism and Traditionalism (Athari or Hanbani) creeds are really heavy. The end of each chapter where Dr. Jackson puts these schools of theology into conversation with William R. Jones, author of "Is God a White Racist?" is where Dr. Jackson's brilliance really comes out. I LOVE his first chapter on "The Formative Development of Classical Muslim Theology" which contextualizes the development of these schools The Islamic studies/aqida/theological side to each chapter on Mu'tazilism, Ash'arism, Maturidism and Traditionalism (Athari or Hanbani) creeds are really heavy. The end of each chapter where Dr. Jackson puts these schools of theology into conversation with William R. Jones, author of "Is God a White Racist?" is where Dr. Jackson's brilliance really comes out. I LOVE his first chapter on "The Formative Development of Classical Muslim Theology" which contextualizes the development of these schools of theological thought in human history!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Vika Gardner

    Prof. Jackson does a masterful job of describing the problem of suffering in the four major Islamic theological schools and then working within the idea of the suffering of Blackamericans. The majority of this work could be used to study the idea of God and His omnibenevolence and omnipotence in Islam. Anyone interested in a careful but clear presentation of the idea of God in Islam will find this new work well worth the time put into it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Khalil Muhsin

    A fascinating work that demonstrates the depth of our Islamic scholars as thinkers

  8. 4 out of 5

    Habeeb Akande

    Excellent book, highly recommended

  9. 4 out of 5

    HACER

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ahmad

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ali Harfouch

  12. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Burnett

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alak Kais ;)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mazen

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hanaa

  17. 4 out of 5

    Khalil

  18. 4 out of 5

    Zayn Gregory

  19. 5 out of 5

    Abu'L Hassan

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  21. 5 out of 5

    Haroon

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hussam Aitelqadi

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ali Abdullah

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sophia

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rashad Fields

  26. 5 out of 5

    Imran

  27. 4 out of 5

    Yasser

  28. 4 out of 5

    Samir

  29. 5 out of 5

    Fae

  30. 4 out of 5

    Faysal

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