“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do.” -Qur’an chapter 4: verse 135
Chapter 4:135 requires all people who believe in G_d — in order to do justice by all parties of concern — that we be firm, unwavering witnesses regardless of who is involved. Let’s tell the whole truth — against or for — the persons of interest, even if it be against or for yourself, your parents or those well-established, or the disenfranchised. Is this rule of justice as outlined in the Qur’an being applied in this conversation about Kyrie Irving?
Irving retweeted or forwarded a social media message titled, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America.” Probably most folks reading this have forwarded social media posts without vetting their full content for hurtful or damaging comment that may be within the post; however, as with Irving’s case, when the harm is brought to our attention we apologize. Once aware of his error he said, “I am an OMNIST and I meant no disrespect to anyone’s religious beliefs … the ‘Anti-Semitic’ label that is being pushed on me is not justified and does not reflect the reality or truth I live in every day. I embrace and want to learn from all walks of life and religions.”
In this statement Kyrie was defensive, but also he was open to learning from others. But, apparently this attempt of reconciliation on the part of Kyrie was not good enough. A question to ponder is, in light of antisemitism being the driving force in this discussion, what does Judaism teach about receiving and accepting an apology from one who is in Irving’s position? How many times and how many ways — according to Judaic standards — must Irving apologize to resolve this issue?
Antisemitism is a hyper-sensitive issue, and properly so. The denial of the Holocaust is wrong. The denial of any people’s sufferings is wrong. The rejection of a people’s histories and narratives is wrong, even when multiple (and variant) accounts are claimed by more than one set of people for a particular history. This is the difficult challenge that the controversial movie, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” presents.
There are strong undercurrents flowing in the defending of Irving, especially after he publicly apologized twice. American justice, the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment’s freedom of speech, protects Irving — regardless if we agree or disagree with him. Irving, as with all Americans, has freedom of conscious, freedom of religion, freedom of thought. Let us remember that Irving publicly distanced himself from the film by saying it does not “reflect my morals and principles.”
For many within the African American community, our defense of Irving is also our declaration — not a plea or a request — yes, a declaration that we can and we will independently apply our intellects, using our own brains to come to our own conclusions, opinions and resolutions on matters that effect our families and communities. Many in the African American community feel that Irving is being punished because he is unapologetically using his own intellect, a right denied to his (our) ancestors who could not exercise that basic inalienable right that our Creator endowed upon every child of Adam. Many folks outside of the African American experience may not appreciate how important that is to the continual rise of the children of Africa, who have made America their home; a rising out of the mental and spiritual slavery that continues to haunt and stifles their existence and their future holistic growth. Quit making Irving the latest prototype of what can happen to one who wakes up, stands up and dares to speak up!
No one can take Irving’s manhood in the process of remedying his ill decision in forwarding a social media post. In the minds of many African Americans, the way this whole thing is being played out is that of Irving being tied to a public whipping post, as an example to send a message to instill fear in anyone who dare to speak their mind.
The Qur’anic instructions to, “Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor,” must be applied in defense of Irving, not for any errors he may have made in the process. Nonetheless, it is very unfair to accept his two sincere apologies that resulted in a three-way deal with him, the Brooklyn Nets and the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), then to reject that deal because the ADL suddenly declare Kyrie wasn’t sincere enough. Not even the National Basketball Association (NBA), nor their league and the players’ association, have agreements on how to handle social media posts, especially such posts that are shared without commentary, as with Irving’s situation.
Irving was quite clear. He affirmed, “I oppose all forms of hatred and oppression and stand strong with communities that are marginalized and impacted every day. I am aware of the negative impact of my post toward the Jewish community and I take responsibility.” Later he said, “I do not believe everything said in the documentary was true or reflects my morals and principles.”
He added, “I am a human being learning from all walks of life and I intend to do so with an open mind and willingness to listen. So from my family and I, we meant no harm to any one group, race or religion of people, and wish to only be a beacon of truth and light.”
So why is Irving still being punished? That is a question the NBA and ADL need to answer. Irving is the product of a people who have been lied to and lied upon for such a long, long time until when even a glimpse of a new truth is shone upon us — glimpses that shame the lies we’ve been taught — while simultaneously giving us a sense of dignity and direction; that, for African Americans, is a special moment. Don’t punish the Kyrie Irvings of America for being excited and feeling good as they explore information that has been denied to their people. Let them — as all people have done — learn from their mistakes without being punished. That is justice, not a five-game suspension from the NBA or public shaming.
As Americans, as human beings, we all must be conscious of fighting hatred in all of its forms. No, we will not always agree. G_d made us that way; nonetheless, at a minimum, we must tell the truth regardless of family ties or community status.
Michael “Mikal” Saahir is the resident Imam of Nur-Allah Islamic Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 317-753-3754.