Scattered Pictures: Reflections Of An American Muslim is a collection of scholarly essays written by Imam Zaid Shakir on a range of issues confronting Muslims today.
The book opens with Shakir’s personal story detailing his spiritual journey into Islam. Born in Berkeley, California, Shakir moved from housing project to project across the country, living in California, Georgia, and Connecticut, before attending college at Central Connecticut State University as a “part of a minority equal opportunity program.” His experience in the projects led him to search for a change through religion, as “surely God would provide the guidance that would lead to a better way.”
His path to religious enlightenment first guided him to Christianity, but he explains that he “came to despise Christianity, seeing it as the ideological wing of a European expansionist imperialist agenda.” Following his disillusionment he spent time exploring atheism, communism, and the black liberation movement.
Dropping out of college, he enlisted in the armed forces and spend time in Denver exploring transcendental meditation, yet he gradually became “increasingly unfulfilled” with eastern mysticism. A well-intentioned friend lent him “Islam in Focus,” and Shakir writes that “In Islam… I found all of my answers.” He spent much time studying Islamic texts and scriptures, and this background work is seen peppered throughout Scattered Pictures.
Shakir’s foundation of Islamic loyalty is built on an underlying anti-Americanism which permeates his reflections. Stationed in Turkey at the time of the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution, Shakir wrote the following:
…as I learned more of the revolution, I was attracted to its ideals, the uprising of the oppressed, the opposition to American imperialism (the Great Satan), the government of the righteous jurists and the rejection of the world order imposed on developing countries by arrogant European powers and their surrogates. These messages found a receptive heart and an open mind…”
On the American endeavors in Afghanistan and Iraq, Shakir states that “these campaigns will likely bring immediate military victories but long-term political disasters.” Embittered and angry, he also asserts that the United States government—“The Great Satan”—has an “increasingly problematic indifference… towards respecting the civil liberties and other basic rights of its Muslim and Arab citizens.” He attributes “many of the problems facing humanity” to “increasingly hegemonic western institutions,” specifically:
• Crushing national debts;
• Grinding poverty;
• Growing disparities between the rich and the poor;
• The continued and accelerating destruction of the environment; and
• The exponentially-enhanced ability for humans to kill each other with increasingly sophisticated and deadly weaponry.
Shakir also describes the “current American policy” as one of “violent confrontation, vilification, and isolation” and states it “will only increase the socioeconomic polarization, environmental destruction, and militarization that will combine to produce further instability and violence in the global system, especially in the Muslim world.”
Scattered Pictures also includes an essay explaining Shakir’s views on the principle of Jihad. Entitled “Jihad is not Perpetual Warfare,” Shakir explains that “the idea of jihad as both voluntary and non-expansive has existed since the earliest days of Islam.” He asserts that “Our claim that there is a reading of jihad that argues against perpetual warfare is not a novel one,” and expounds upon an interpretation of the “Verse of the Sword”—the specific text in the Quran most widely used to define jihad—that contextualizes its meaning to only include fighting the polytheists of the day, rather than the Jews and Christians.
In other essays he emphasizes the importance of peace, stating that “One of the loftier objectives of our religion is to introduce into the world an ethos that facilitates the spreading of peace at every level.” He also encourages Muslims not to solely focus on achieving political domination of a particular nation-state, and instead to remember that “ours is a battle for hearts and minds, not territory.”
Shakir describes the “attainment of power” as a “means toward an end,” and advocates moving beyond the nation-state to facilitate an Islamic global order of sorts.
Scattered Pictures also includes essays focusing on Islam and nationalism, Zionism, Arab human rights, and trees, among others. Highly reflective, Shakir’s mostly needless verbosity demonstrates his love for writing and showcases his understanding of Islamic theory. Don’t let the title fool you, however, for the “Reflections of an American Muslim” has nothing positive to say about America.