Having only recently finished Dr. Jackson’s book, Islam & The Problem of Black Suffering, I’m still digesting the core messages, tenants, and topics that he addressed. Prior to reading the book I had assumed that the book was going to be, more or less, a book that spoke to the sensibilities of Blackamerican Muslims and less so to everyone else. Suffice it to say that I was wrong.
Dr. Jackson’s work is truly unique. It serves as a response to William R. Jones’s Is God a White Racist?, wherein Jones questions a theology that promotes an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God, and states that such a premise can not effectively respond to the charge of divine racism. Dr. Jackson’s work responds to Jones’s critique through the framework of the four primary theological divisions in sunni tradition- Mu’tazilism, Maturidism, Ash’arism, and Traditionalism. In doing so, Dr. Jackson covers the major tenants of each school and goes on to describe how each school responded to questions about human suffering in relation to the divine.
At no point in the book does one get the feeling that Dr. Jackson is showing bias to any of the schools of theology, and beyond simply supplying an academic exercise, Dr. Jackson leaves one with a profound appreciation for our tradition and its ability to respond to the wide array of theological questions facing people today. He also touches on the social dynamics within both the Muslim and non-Muslim community; namely, identity, and the challenge of carving out a dignified existence for Blackamericans that does not have to live up to a criteria set up by dominant society.
The level of sophistication present in Dr. Jackson’s work is a rarity among works by Muslim academics; in demonstrating an ability to articulate theological positions that are centuries old, Jackson asserts himself as one of the premier Muslim academics of our age. He presents his book as one of substance backed by a comprehensive study of history and a seemingly sincere attempt to present the facts in a neutral manner. At a time when we are bombarded with overt and covert messages to convince us to take one position or another, the style of Dr. Jackson’s book truly makes it a refreshing read.