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History and Seerah

The Wahhabi Myth: Debunking the Bogeyman

Abu Reem

Published

Background:

“Wahhabism”—a term used by different people for different reasons. My purpose was to collect some of these uses to serve the end-goal of debunking the term itself. After all, if it means enough different things for different people, it really comes down to not meaning anything real in an absolute sense. Also, as you will see, the use of this term is almost exclusively negative or with implied negative connotations. Hence, you will hardly hear anyone proudly referring to himself as a Wahhabi or a Masjid named Masjid al-Wahhabi. It simply doesn’t occur. What this implies is that there is usually some emotional or prejudicial baggage with the term’s usage or some other sinister agenda.

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Conclusion:

As I prowled the internet, there was nearly an unlimited supply of Wahhabi-referring articles, analysis, discussions, blogs, etc. It would fill pages upon pages if I attempted at collecting many of them, let alone all of them. So, here are my top-ten reasons to drop this word from the dictionary, esp. the dictionary of Muslims:

10. Let’s start with the definition of Wahhabis from the Encyclopedia Britannica. After you finish reading the definition, ask yourself, “So how they are different from what Muslims should be?”

9. There is no doubt that the term Wahhabi has its historical derivation from the Sh. Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab. While his father’s name has formed one of the most defamatory labels in history, Abdul-Wahhab himself actually was not too excited about his son’s mission either. So, in some ways, the word itself is technically inaccurate. A more accurate label would be Muhammadis, and we all know why that wouldn’t work as a pejorative term. Doesn’t that say something about the term’s negativity?

8. Those that use the term Wahhabi as an ideological attack form their basis on the opinion that Sh. Muhammad brought something new in the religion to the Arabian Peninsula. There could be nothing further from truth. Historically, there is no doubt that the Shaykh’s mission was simply to revive lost practices of Sunnah and to remove polytheism. Whether one agrees with his style is a different issue. Since this article is not a discussion about the Shaykh’s life, I am going to just mention two important legacies that Sh. Muhammad left, and leave it to the reader to read further, if interested. The legacies: (a) Were it not for the Shaykh, tombs and structures upon graves would be widespread in the current Saudi Arabia. Consequently, grave-worship, yearly celebrations at these tombs would probably be as widespread (as they are in Indo-Pak, Iran, Egypt and other Muslim countries) (b) There would likely be still 4 congregations (one for each madhab) for each Salah at the Harram in Makkah! For further reading, see this article on his biography, misunderstandings about him, in non-Arabic sources, and articles by the Shaykh. An absolute must-read is a book by Natana DeLong-Bas, called “Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad”, excerpts here, and buy it here. In fact, why not read some of the Sheikh’s books and ask yourself if you really disagree with what he said. Get past the propaganda and go to the source yourself. Here’s his Kitab-ul-Tawheed, audio on the “Three Fundamental Principles”.

7. Having said that, Sh. Muhammad’s real influence was largely limited to the Arabian Peninsula, but his revivalism of Tawhid did extend beyond the borders of the Arab world.

6. Speaking of Sh. Muhammad’s revivalism, the point is that it was exactly that—revival of what was already established in the religion. There was nothing new that he brought, nothing that wasn’t found in the works of previous scholars. In fact, many Orientalists and detractors of the Shaykh claim that he was mostly influenced by Ibn Taymiyyah. Well, if so, then why don’t we just call everyone Taymiyyans? Let’s take another example. Suppose this humble servant of Allah, me i.e. Amad, goes to Pakistan and somehow causes a revival of major proportions (of course highly improbable and nearly impossible), and rids Pakistan of the disease of innovations and polytheism. Would it be then that every person who observes the Aqeedah of the Salaf after me, whether directly affected by me or not, should then be called Amadis? How absurd is that?

5. The majority of Muslims who consider Sh. Muhammad to be an esteemed scholar* do not consider him like people who consider, say Imam Abu Haneefa or Imam Malik, etc. i.e. you will not find that Sh. Muhammad left any madhab or any methodology. Thus, when you enter upon a library of a so-called “Wahhabi”, you will not find that the Shaykh’s teachings form a mainstay in either materials or practice. So, if one were to say that a Wahhabi is similar to a Hanafi in the following of Sh. Ibn Abdul-Wahhab and Imam Abu Haneefa respectively, then that would be utterly inaccurate, and with no basis whatsoever, because there is no equivalency neither in their works equivalent, nor in their following. Especially since you find people attributing and calling themselves Hanafis, while you do not find hardly anyone who call himself “Wahhabi”. [*Respect for Shaykh Muhammad among Muslims varies as with any scholar. While there is a greater respect in areas where he had greater impact (i.e. Arabian peninsula), he still garnered respect in the non-Arab world, such as among the Deobandis in Pakistan, for instance Rashid Ahmed Gangohi’s praise of the Shaykh]

4. If a label is unacceptable to those to whom it is applied, it is not used by them, is almost repulsive to them, then it is a label that is unjust, inaccurate and unIslamic, as Allah says what means “…Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed…” [49:11]

3. Almost always the term “Wahhabi” is used in a pejorative sense. It is usually intended as a slur. Many times, when Muslims feel uncomfortable with the practice of other Muslims, many times when they feel that someone is more religious than he should be, and for neo-cons, whoever practices basic Islam, is called a Wahhabi.

2. The term Wahhabi was created by the enemies of Islam in order to tarnish the movement that called for a return to pure Islam. It is like the latest term “Islamo-fascism”… would Muslims adopt this term for other Muslims now, saying so and so is an Islamo-fascist? If we abhor the adoption of what our enemies have created for us today, then we should abhor the term that our enemies created for us in the past. Also, a significant reason for rejecting this term is how these terminologies are being used to “divide and rule”. If you think that is just my imagination, then you haven’t heard of the RAND report on “Civil Democratic Islam”, a lengthy report on how Muslims should be classified; to encourage and support modernists and Sufis, and to attack the what they call “fundamentalists” (this of course is our bogey-man: Wahhabi). Here is the full report, and here is a press release summarizing the intent. RAND is of course run by neo-cons (google ‘RAND and neocons’ and you’ll get the gist). See here for articles by Abdus Sattar Ghazali on Rand‘s attempts to divide Muslims: Part I and Part II. Want to join RAND‘s efforts? Keep the name-calling going and you can get yourself a seat on the modernist or the “good traditionalist” side!

1. And the top reason is that Wahhabis has different meaning to different people. The data collected here proves that Wahhabis means so many different things for different people, that in the end, it doesn’t mean anything real at all. As one example, let’s just take the Indo-Pak region: Deobandis call the Ahl-Hadith Wahhabis, and in turn Braelwis call Deobandis Wahhabis. And to top it off, the Western neo-cons or the progressives call all of them Wahhabis! With an origin inaccurate, with usage incoherent, and with connotations divisive and slanderous, is it not time to bury this term, once and for all?

Usages:

Some of the blog readers I polled provided good thoughts. Here are some uses of the term Wahhabi that I was able to compile. Of course the list will fall far short of the copious use of this term (practically by everyone for everyone). As you go through it, you will likely see some common themes, and perhaps a common thread. However, the common thread and themes affirm my hypothesis that the usage is driven more by a hatred of Islam’s practice at any level, than a real ideological affront.

Muslim Usage (I use the term Muslim loosely)

· Let me preface the discussion with an old report from the dictatorship of Uzbekistan, whose president may have been more worthy of the gallows than Saddam was for his rampant human rights abuses and mass murders. According to Igor Rotar of Keston News Service, in the wake of a visit between 15 and 20 May (2002), to the Uzbek city of Bukhara, the Uzbek authorities are not simply not opposing the spr ead of the Naqshbandi order but, on the contrary, are doing all they can to support it. “In Soviet times it was even more dangerous to be a Sufi than simply to be a Muslim – the police got rid of such people right away,” the imam- hatyb of the mosque next to Naqshbandi’s mausoleum, Bobodzhon Rahmonov, told Keston on 16 May. “But now we do not have any problems with the state. For example, the chairman of the state committee for religious affairs, Fazil Sobirov, belongs to the Naqshbandi order. Moreover, we are working with the state to show people how wrong the Wahhabi outlook is. We explain that the building of mausoleums in honor of holy Muslims – something the Wahhabis oppose – is not against Islam.” The Law on the Exercise of Religion, promulgated on May 1st of 2003 states: “The wearing of prayer garments in public, such as the Islamist veil for women, is forbidden.” “There are beards and beards,” says Shoazim Minovarov, deputy chairman of the government’s Committee on Religious Affairs, who describes the more copious facial hair of Islamic fundamentalists as emblems of revolutionary zealots. According to reports by human rights groups, during the broad waves of anti-Islamic repression in 1992 and early 1998 a full beard could be enough to get a man arrested. So, for Islam Karimov, Wahhabis represent anyone that practices his religion properly.

· A young teen sister from ‘Musings of a Muslim Mouse” communicated a thought she considered un-intellectual, however, the simplicity of this thought provides deep insight: “I don’t have anything intellectual to contribute, just personal experience – my father runs an Islamic centre (well, he used to, in our old city – we moved a few months ago and now he’s running a small Madrasah for kids), and many people who didn’t like what he said and taught called him ‘Wahhabi’ – simply for saying things like, pray 5 times a day, give zakaah correctly, fast properly in Ramadan, cancel your vacation to Disneyland and go for Hajj instead, women should wear correct hijaab, men should grow their beards, everyone should follow the Sunnah!” As you can see, what Islam Karimov terms as Wahhabis is similar to what this sister’s father ran into. Well, at least he is safe in the non-Muslim Canada versus the “Muslim” land of Uzbekistan.

· Abdal-Hakim Murad is particularly vitriolic about the “Wahhabi” bogey-man. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, instead of giving a fair chance for investigations of who was responsible, etc., he did what the rest of the neo-cons did, blame “Wahhabis”. In his article here, he pointed to the great wisdom of Kabbani that was duly ignored by America. I wonder what he wanted the government to do. Arrest the leaders of 80% of America‘s mosques, which Kabbani claimed were run by Wahhabis? Abdal-Hakim’s hatred for certain Muslims is unfortunate (even if he doesn’t agree with their methodology); instead of discussing the root-cause the fanaticism and the terrorism (i.e. Israel & other injustice upon Muslims), he chose to attack Muslims. Br. Usama Hasan (son of Suhaib Hasan) tears down Abdal-Hakim’s arguments in this article.

· The Sufi Yursil commented on the blog that anyone who didn’t think the Ottoman Empire was legitimate and deserved a rebellion, is a Wahhabi. So, by this logic, a “non-Wahhabi” could technically be one who follows “Qur’an and Sunnah” without a madhab, as long as he believes that the Ottoman Empire was illegitimately removed from Arabia. In other words, Yursil claims the historical context, rather than ideological. The Sufi, Waqf Ikhlaas, books seem to agree, as seen in this article on the web. Other historical accounts of Wahhabism discuss Sh. Abdul Wahhab as the cornerstone of this movement. That may sound obvious since the term bears the Sheikh’s name, but the fact is that the ideological front is the more popular basis for the term’s usage.

· “Sheikh” Abdul-Hadi Palazzi of the Italian Muslim Embassy also considers pretty much all mainstream Muslim organizations and Sheikhs to be Wahhabi. In this article, he talks in length his love Israel, and his denunciations of Wahhabis in India (Deobandis), Saudi Wahhabis, MSAs (according to him, a student branch of Muslim Brotherhood- a Wahhabi movement). On his website, completes article devoted to Wahhabism, including one especially for Sh. Qaradawi.

· AICP, the organization run by the Habashis (Ahbaash), a recently created deviant sect in the Muslim world, has a little video speech on google, fire displayed in the background as the speaker spews hatred, and poison on the fictional “Wahhabi” group. Interesting how a group, considered deviant (see here and here) by the majority of the Muslim world, is attempting to revile other Muslims!

Neo-cons/Right-wingers/Misc.

· LotaEnterprises blogger reports that Stephen Schwartz basically calls anyone who isn’t a follower of Hisham Kabbani or Shia, as being Wahhabi. Mr. Schwartz, a convert to Sufism (Islamic Sufism or just ‘plain-old Sufism’??) has a website, islamicpuralism.org where he runs a “Wahhabi-watch” section. The list is expansive including CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, MAS, MSA… hmm, what’s left? Oh yes, the Islamic Supreme Council of Kabbani. What a joke! Here is an article where he points fingers at Yusuf Islam, Hamza Yusuf, and Siraj Wahhaj, another one here more at Hamza.111CCC

· Robert Spencer’s Jihad-watch website is mostly directed at a “Wahhabi-hunt”. Like Schwartz, there is hardly anyone that isn’t Wahhabi. Here is the CAIR-hunt, here is the ICNA, ISNA, MSA-hunts.

· This list would be remiss without the addition of Daniel Pipes. He is Schwartz’s partner in crime. Here is his attack on ISNA and CAIR.

· Of course, this list is never-ending, other examples include O’Reilly, Krauthammer, Glenn Beck, Steve Emerson, etc.

· There is certainly not any certainty about who leaked the Obama-madrassa connection, but the story doesn’t end there. In fact, this “madrassa” may have been “Wahhabi”. Wow! Wahhabis are becoming a great political power, even though they don’t technically exist.

· Yasir Qadhi recounted a recent incident where during the course of a conversation with a very high ranking government official, this official mentioned ‘wahhabis’. When Yasir asked him to define this term, who did HE mean? He said, ‘Aren’t those the guys that want to establish the Sharee’ah?’ And that should give readers an idea of the ignorance of this issue even among the elites of America.

“Objective” Sources (Encyclopedias, etc.)

· Wikipedia has some interesting info. on Wahhabism. They claim this ‘movement’ is the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc. Interestingly, they also mention that Wahhabis are also known as Deobandis in Pakistan. Here I would like to quote an interesting note from Ingrid Mattson, who still unfortunately refers to Wahhabis as something of a real thing, but at least she makes an attempt to be reasonable:
“This is not a sect. It is the name of a reform movement that began 200 years ago to rid Islamic societies of cultural practices and rigid interpretation that had (been) acquired over the centuries. Because the Wahhabi scholars became integrated into the Saudi state, there has been some difficulty keeping that particular interpretation of religion from being enforced too broadly on the population as a whole. However, the Saudi scholars who are Wahhabi have denounced terrorism and denounced in particular the acts of September 11. Those statements are available publicly.” [CNN interview]

· Encyclopedia Britannica (15th edition):“Members of the Wahhabi call themselves Al-Muwahhidin, ‘Unitarians’, a name derived from their emphasis on the absolute ‘oneness of God’ (tawhid). They deny all acts implying polytheism, such as visiting tombs and venerating saints; and advocate a return to the original teachings of Islam as incorporated in the Qur’an and Hadith (traditions of Muhammad), with condemnation of all innovations (bidah). Wahhabi theology and jurisprudence based respectively on the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah and on the legal school of Ahmed ibn Hanbal, stress literal belief in the Qur’an and Hadith, and the establishment of a Muslim state based only on Islamic Law.”

Media

· BBC Middle East analyst, Roger Hardy, in his analysis on ‘Wahhabi Islam’ takes exception to Deobandis inclusion in Wahhabis. He reminds everyone that even Saudis don’t use the term.

· Obviously I am not the first one to take a crack at the term’s (“Wahhabism”) usage. Haneef Oliver has written a book, aptly named “The Wahhabi Myth”, and runs a website with the same name. The main theme in the book seems to be distinguishing Wahhabis (he equates them with Salafis) from the terrorists, rather than attacking the term itself. Nevertheless, there seems to be useful information in the book/website. However, Br. Oliver carries some of his own baggage with a narrow-minded “Salafi” approach, so “buyer beware”.

· PBS has a few different people talking about Wahhabism, including the Saudi Shia-dissident Ali al-Ahmed, who says that Saudi Wahhabis say that they will be the only ones entering heaven, all others are kafirs. I guess Ali got some special information that no one else has yet been privy to!

Copyright information: Feel free to distribute article as long as it is properly credited, and a link to the original article is provided.

Acknowledgements: Yasir Qadhi, Ruth Nasrullah, and Omar Usman for reviewing and providing valuable comments.

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Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

#Islam

Dr Yaseen Mazhar Siddiqui: An Obituary Of A Scholar of Seerah

Meraj Din

Published

A leading scholar of Islamic studies with focus on Seerah literature and history, he unconventionally broke many stereotypes—both orthodox and modern and all his life epitomized the cause of Islam on the intellectual front.

With the death of Yaseen Mazhar Siddiqui, at the age of 76, Muslims in South Asia lost one of the most respected and leading scholars of Islam. A graduate of, and now professor at Aligarh University is less known in the West for his 29 books than for his Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts at the Aligarh Muslim University, India, published in London in 2002 by the Furqan Heritage Foundation. An eminent Muslim religious scholar, academic and historian who served as director of the Institute of Islamic Studies at Aligarh Muslim University. Siddiqui was a well-placed and reputed figure of great spiritual and intellectual insight recognized on national as well as international level. Siddiqui was instrumental over the past 30 years in the framing, development and streamlining the influence of Islam in Aligarh Muslim University. To commemorate the outstanding services of Hazrat Shah Waliullah and to promote the Islamic values, the Institute of Objective Studies instituted an Award known as “Shah Waliullah Award” to honour eminent scholars who have done outstanding work in Social Sciences, Humanities, Law and Islamic Studies. The fifth Shah Waliullah Award was rightly conferred on Prof. Mohd Yasin Mazhar Siddiqi, as the renowned scholar for his contribution to Sirah and Historiography in Islamic Perspective in 2005.

Siddiqui was an exceptionally modest and humble man, with an intellectually engaging and honest commitment to Islam, away from self-eulogizing claims of pseudo-intellectualism. His commitment to Islam, which occupied him for his whole life, left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of people across territorial boundaries. One thing all this illustrates is Siddiqui’s intense sense of duty — a sense that he unthinkingly expected his colleagues to share. Siddiqui’s well-stocked mind, clarity and unflinching intellectual honesty devoted to respond the questions of Orientalist scholarship on Sirah literature and subsequent other corollaries. He had little time for Islam’s own accounts of its origins rather his interest revolved around “Qurʾān and Sirah” and its role in shaping the worldview of Muslims who are struggling to makes sense of their identity amid the challenges emerging from dominant discursive colonial Eurocentric episteme. Leaving the conventional hollow claims, without efforts to prove how and why so much sanctity is attached to Islam and its sources—Qurʾān and Sunnah/Sirah being the primary one, he reckoned, to fill the gap using contemporary sources and knowledge of Hadīth, from orientalist and now its pedigree of modernist claims. This task required both personal and intellectual bravery. As he knew the central beliefs of Islam, such as the way the Quran took shape, the place of Sirah, its underlying methodology, he was equally aware how outside scrutiny has tempered the flare, especially when the conclusions are expressed in a witty and sardonic style. His soft way of speaking, affectionate manner and hospitable nature made him a much-loved figure. Because of his erudition most people who came in contact with him thought of him as a teacher; many saw him as a spiritual mentor. With his humble appearance, it was easy to mistake him for a country bumpkin.

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Born in India in 1944 in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of United Provinces of British India. He graduated in the traditional Dars-e-Nizami (pure religious textual studies of Islamic texts) studies from Nadwatul Ulama in 1959, and Master’s in literature from the University of Lucknow in 1960. He passed the intermediate exams from the Jamia Milia Islamia in 1962 and then acquired a B.A. in 1965 and B.Ed. in 1966 from the same University. In 1968, Siddiqui recieved a M.A. degree in History, M.Phil. in 1969, and Ph.D. in 1975 from the Aligarh Muslim University. Yasin Mazhar Siddiqui benefited from great teachers like Maulana Rabi Hasni Nadvi, Maulana Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadvi, Maulana Ishaq Sandelvi K. A. Nizami, Abd al-Hafīz Balyāwi and Rabey Hasani. Anwar was welcomed as an independent member of various advisory committees and expressed pride in the research done in the field of Sirah.

Professor Siddiqui wrote more than 40 books and 300 research articles in Urdu, Arabic and Persian. His publications and presentations have reverberated throughout the discipline of Islamic studies and social sciences, profoundly shaping the scholarship of a new generation of scholars as they develop a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and critical approach to Seerah and history. He was well known for the great quality and high calibre of his originality of research in Islamic studies and all related subjects. He was recognized as one of the compelling and intellectually grounded voice on Seerah studies.  As a scholar and teacher, he embodied and followed strong moral and political principles, and formulated new ways of understanding the subject of Seerah, history, religious freedom, and the rights of religious minorities. His writings on the Prophet and his teachings garnered wide acclaim. He wrote extensively in reputed literary journal, ‘Nuqoosh’ and got international ‘Nuqush Award’, ‘Seerat-e-Rasool Award’ and ‘Sirah Nigari Award’. Two of his most popular works are Muslim Conduct of State and Introduction to Islam. The first book was Ehd-e-Nabwi mai Tanzīm-e-Riyāsat-o-Hukūmat and the second book The Prophet Muhammad: A Role Model for Muslim Minorities has gained such wide acclaim—mainly for the reason that its contents are divided into chapters (which stand on their own as a monograph) which deal with related specific subject matter. It is easy to understand how his style of presentation has endeared the book not only to common folk, but also to the people who would like to gain a reasonable insight into the true spirit of the teachings of Islam.

Almost every country outside the traditional Muslim “heartlands” asserts Siddiqui in his book ‘The Prophet Muhammad—A Role Model for Muslim minorities is home to a Muslim minority population today. For such Muslim communities, the political perspectives reflected by the corpus of traditional fiqh are of little or no relevance, and can even be hugely problematic. Siddiqui therefore takes it upon himself to develop an understanding of Muslim jurisprudence that is particularly suited to their context, making a valuable contribution to the limited, but slowly expanding, corpus of writings on fiqh al-aqalliyat or fiqh for [Muslim] minorities. Siddiqui argues that the basis of fiqh for Muslim minorities must lie in the Makkan period of life of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his companions, a period of around thirteen years when the Muslims were a minority and did not enjoy political domination. In many senses, their position resembled that of Muslim minorities today. Muslim minorities need to see the role of the Prophet and the early Muslims in that period as a model for them to emulate, Siddiqui suggests:

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had close personal ties with several non-Muslims in Mecca, and Muslim minorities, Siddiqui advises, must emulate him in this regard and must have “excellent social relations with non-Muslims” (p. 194).

As Siddiqui succinctly puts it:

Muslims all over the world, especially Muslim minorities, have to prove that they are the best community, devoted to the cause of protecting mankind against suffering and blessing everyone with happiness, regardless of caste, colour or creed. Their position is of the best community and their duty is to serve mankind […] Their presence must guarantee help for everyone, especially of their non-Muslim country. However, this cannot be affirmed merely verbally or by recounting old stories. They have to prove it by their conduct. (p. 194)

This monograph and his other works are a brilliant contribution to the on-going debates about fiqh for Muslim minorities. It provides valuable insights for developing new and more relevant understandings of Islamic jurisprudence in Muslim minority contexts, envisaging the possibility of reconciling Islamic commitment with Muslim minority-ness, an issue that has largely escaped the attention of Islamic scholars but one that has sometimes been, and continues to be, a troubling one for many Muslims living as minorities. Siddiqui’s diverse and intellectually engaging work that speaks eloquently to a wide spectrum of readers with different backgrounds and interests. To use terms such as “monumental”, “one-of-a-kind”, and “exceptional” to describe this work is not exaggeration. A committed Muslim, throughout his career Siddiqui maintained the principle of genuinely evidence-based research. Dapper and courteous, he was a highly effective communicator, quoted widely in the local context  as well as cited in academia.

A direct criticism to his work also emerges from scholars who assert that in his Introduction of The Prophet Muhammad—A Role Model for Muslim minorities’ Siddiqi (p. 62) formally describes himself as a humble and error-prone human being. However, he then proceeds to negate the worth of all previous biographies of the Prophet, claiming that these ‘conventional’ authors used ‘outdated methodology and lines of argument’. Consequently, according to him, all previous studies of the Makkan period were ‘markedly inadequate’ and ‘the entire life history of the Prophet remains to be analysed’ since ‘no biographer of his has ever given thought to this obvious fact that the Makkan period of his life represents the phase of subjugation’. Therefore, Siddiqi considers the conventional treatment of the Makkan and Madinan periods of Islamic history as ‘downright pernicious’ (p. ix). One wonders indeed whether the author is aware of some of the most popular biographies of the Prophet—beyond the classical ones: Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham, and Ibn Kathir—including the works by Muhammad Hamidullah, Muhammad Haikal, Martin Lings, Karen Armstrong, and Tarik Jan, all contradicting his assertions.

With quite a serious criticism on his assertions about various aspects of mis-reading the Seerah of the Prophet there still remains a lot to be talked about his contribution to diverse areas of Islamic Studies. And though he is no longer here to share his thoughts, he has done enough to enable us to think with him. Certain towering intellectuals become integral to the vey alphabet of our moral and religious imagination. They live in those who read and think them through-and thus they become indexical, proverbial, to our thinking. Siddiqui lived so fully, so consciously, so critically through the thick and thin of our times that he is definitive to our critical thinking, just like Mustafa Azami, Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, or other Muslim luminaries are. He was – and remains – a brilliant intellectual, whose legacy of rethinking certain conventional assertions around Islam and efforts still reverberate today and will continue to do so.

He cultivated with joyous attention her relationships with family and friends. He mentored, as one of his students mentioned once, with remarkable care and intensity, demanding their best work, listening, responding with a sharp generosity, coming alive in thought, and soliciting others to do the same. He immersed himself, in illness and heath, in reading the Quran post morning prayers and transformed himself and transmitted the values of thought and love, leaving now a vibrant legacy that will persist and flourish among all whose lives were touched by his life and work.

May Allah Almighty bless him with the loftiest of abodes in the Gardens of Firdaus in the company of Allah’s beloved Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and grant all those who cherished him patience.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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#Current Affairs

Racism And The Plagues of Egypt – Coronavirus And Racism: America’s Two Pandemics

Dr Amina Darwish, Guest Contributor

Published

Introduction

The fight against anti-Blackness has once again hit the global stage, and American Muslims have a central role to play in the movement of racial justice. The spiritual history of America is a history of Black Muslim voices. Mansa Abubakari, a West African King, landed in South America almost 200 years before Columbus began the massacre of the indigenous population.[1] The biggest migration of Muslims to America was the slave ships where scholars fought to teach Islam to their enslaved communities. Modern Islamophobic attacks such as the Muslim Ban of 2016 are not just Islamophobic, but also deeply racist because it denies the humanity of the previous generations of Muslims. Black Muslims have carried the mantle of preserving Islam in America and have fought for racial justice for last four centuries. The immigrant Muslims who arrived during the last 50 years were a direct result of the civil rights movement that allowed immigration from Muslim majority countries. The fight for racial justice is a Muslim fight. We owe it to the generations of Muslims before us to continue their work.

The 400 years of struggle for racial justice in America can be compared to the Children of Israel’s fight for emancipation from Pharaoh’s Egypt 3000 years ago during which the country was hit by a number of plagues. Sheikh Mendes and Imam Dawud Walid have recently referenced the story of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him), whose demand to Pharaoh to, “Let my people go[2]” is well known in many religious circles fighting for racial equality in America. [3] The Quran discusses of the plagues of Egypt in the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) in Surah Al-A’raf. “So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people.” [7;133] The plagues of Egypt are similar to the current coronavirus pandemic in that they made systemic oppression clear for all to see. The goal here is to explain the relationship between the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

First, the name of the surah will be discussed. Then, the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will be put into context with the story of the other prophets mentioned in the surah. The events leading up to the Plagues of Egypt are explained and compared to the current American pandemics. Finally, there are recommendations for how to make our community spaces antiracist. A few Black scholars have been quoted throughout as to elevate their voices, and to provide some much-needed groundwork for readers who might be unfamiliar with these great American Muslim scholars. For further reading, Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler compiled a far more exhaustive list of Black Muslim narratives in the BlackIslamSyllabus.

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To put this verse into perspective we must first reflect on Surah A’raf as a whole, and I encourage everyone to read and contemplate the surah in depth. The A’raf, mentioned in ayah 46, are an elevated place on the Day of Judgement where people of no consequence get stuck. They watch as others are sorted towards Heaven or Hell. The people of the A’raf are not evil, but they also would not leave their comfort zones to actually commit to righteousness. Their comments to the people of Paradise and the people of the Fire are mentioned in the Surah, but do not earn a response because they are then, as they are now, people of no consequence.

The surah begins by telling Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to not feel distressed by forcing people out of their comfort zones, and warns of previous peoples who were destroyed as they slept in their heedlessness. And how many cities have We destroyed, and Our punishment came to them at night or while they were sleeping at noon. [7;4] We cannot go back to the previous norm when Black people were suffering alone, while non-Black people could comfortably enjoy their lives whilst ignoring—and even benefiting from a system built on—the suffering of their Black brothers and sisters. A critical mass of people must refuse the continued oppression and the suffering of others for the current system to change. American Muslims should do more than give lip service to their Black brothers and sisters.

Anti-Blackness in Human History

The first prophet mentioned in the surah is our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), whose name indicates his dark black skin. And We have certainly created you, [O Mankind], and given you [human] form. Then We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam”, so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was not of those who prostrated. [7;11] [Allah] said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” [Satan] said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from mud.” [7;12] Satan hated our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) for the form Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave him, which included dark black skin. Anti-Blackness is as old as humanity itself. Dr. Bilal Ware has spoken extensively about the satanic nature of racism. Claims of superiority based on a birthright are rampant throughout human history. Egyptians claimed superiority over the Children of Israel based on where they were from centuries before. Jahili[1] Meccan society claimed superiority based on lineage. The American system claims superiority based on proximity to whiteness. These are characteristics determined at birth and are beyond any human being’s control. Such claims of superiority are counter to the Islamic ethos that sets the value of individuals based on their relationship with God alone. And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” [7:172] Many other prophets and their specific fights against the oppressive power structures are referenced in the surah, which illustrates the continuity of the struggle between the children of Adam and Satan.

A series of prophets (peace be upon them] are briefly discussed with striking similarities in the messages they delivered to their people. All the prophets teach their people about the Oneness of God and called them to rectify the vices that were specific to their society. The mala’a, or the elites, in each of their societies were mentioned as those who fought the prophets. They did so to maintain their chokehold on power, not because of a theological difference. The elites in Meccan society did not fight Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) until he began publicly preaching. They did not care that he prayed differently from them. They feared that his message would make them equal to people they belittled and disparaged. Similarly, it was the elites in Pharaoh’s court who demanded he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. This was a direct result of the magicians publicly declaring their belief and turning public opinion against Pharaoh’s magic, one of the pillars of his power. Similarly in America, the institutional structures of racism need to be dismantled.

Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)

The story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) begins with the demand mentioned in the introduction, “so send with me the Children of Israel.” [7;105]. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) shows Pharaoh and his elites the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has sent him with. So Moses threw his staff, and suddenly it was a serpent, manifest. [7;107] And he drew out his hand; thereupon it was white [with radiance] for the observers. [7;108] They refuse his message and demand a public contest with magicians in hopes of spinning the narrative in their favor. They fail miserably when the magicians recognize the truth and publicly declare their belief in the Lord of Prophet Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) despite Pharaoh’s threats of torture. Pharaoh said, “You believed in him before I gave you permission. Indeed, this is a conspiracy which you conspired in the city to expel therefrom its people. But you are going to know.” [7:123]

This now leads us to the discussion of the plagues, and how they came about. After that public humiliation, the elites around Pharaoh demanded that he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. [Pharaoh] said, “We will kill their sons and keep their women alive; and indeed, we are subjugators over them.” [7;127] Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a book specifically addressing how the White supremacist system feared a successful Black presidency and responded with an increased level of racism. As a spiritual response to this heightened oppression, Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) preached patience during the struggle because he knew Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would deliver them.  The people of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) complained about the increased pain they were now experiencing as they had been suffering for years before a messenger was sent to them. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) asked them to develop their spiritual strength and prepare themselves for a time when they would be empowered and would need spiritual discipline. Shaykha Ieasha Prime has recently called on the ummah to be increasing its spiritual strength as they organize against anti-Blackness.

The Economic Downturn

Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tested the people of Pharaoh with an economic downturn. “And We certainly seized the people of Pharaoh with years of famine and a deficiency in fruits that perhaps they would be reminded.” [7;130] These circumstances are very similar to the economic recession of 2008, and as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Whenever something good would happen, the people of Pharaoh would claim credit for it, and whenever something bad happened, they would blame Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his people. But when good came to them, they said, “This is ours [by right].” And if a bad [condition] struck them, they saw an evil omen in Moses and those with him. Unquestionably, their fortune is with Allah, but most of them do not know. [7;131] And they said, “No matter what sign you bring us with which to bewitch us, we will not be believers in you.” [7;132] This rhetoric is very similar to the wave of nationalism that took over the world in the last few years. It is used by nationalist political leaders, who blame marginalized groups for the economic recession. However, the oppression of those marginalized communities was a preexisting condition that was exacerbated and exploited by nationalist leaders.

The Plagues

Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent them the plagues, “the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood” [7;133]. These were such overwhelming tests for Pharaoh. He was a man that claimed to be a god, but the True God was now sending him something that destroyed the riches he had built and could not be blamed on someone else. It revealed all of his lies. The plagues sent to Pharaoh were specific to the land of the Nile that depended on the production of agriculture and built imposing monuments. It is difficult to look grand when your fields are flooded or consumed by locusts, your water turns to blood, and you and your monuments are covered in lice and frogs. Similarly, the coronavirus pandemic exposed the faults in our health care system, the shortcoming of our food supply, the fragility of the economy, and the deep racism that is embedded into the entire system. The people who were deemed essential to work were treated as sacrificial and were forced to choose between paying for food and rent or risking exposure. They were offered empty platitudes that did not include the protective equipment they needed, increased financial compensation, or health care if they were to fall ill.

Coronavirus attacks the body’s ability to breathe, and it has been widely reported to have affected communities of color far harder than any other group. Black Americans are far more likely to have asthma due to highways going through their neighborhoods, and therefore more likely to die from Covid-19. This is a direct link to a racist system of redlining and highway construction that took away their ability to breathe. Black Americans are imprisoned at disproportionally high rates where social distancing is impossible. There are many false assumptions about the imprisoned population. The truth is that more than 90% of all cases never go to trial, and an accused person’s ability to defend themselves is almost impossible with exorbitant amounts of money. Many Muslims now claim affiliation to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him. Covid-19 could be killing the next Malcolm X in prison this very moment. All that without even discussing the economic impact of coronavirus on communities of color that if left unchecked will widen the racial wealth gap. The scarcity of food and resources that were created by the plagues undoubtedly affected the Children of Israel and not just their oppressors; however, the end result of plagues was justice for the oppressed.

From Eric Garner to George Floyd, Black Americans have been fighting to breathe in America. The Arabic word nafs which is usually translated to a soul/self has the same root word as nafas, which means a breath. So, a more accurate translation of nafs is actually a breathing soul. Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a nafs (breathing soul) unless for a nafs or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he/she had slain humankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he/she had saved humankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. [Surah Al-Ma’idah; 32] American Muslims have tended towards the medical profession as a means of fulfilling the above verse in saving people. We should be focusing the same level of energy at saving populations by fighting both the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

Naming the Oppression

The coronavirus epidemic and the recent public murders of Black Americans created a tipping point that did not exist before. Former NBA player and prolific author, Kareem Abdul Jabbar said, “it feels like hunting season is open on blacks.” The murder of George Floyd was so egregious that groups dedicated to preventing police accountability called for Derek Chauvin to be held accountable. America was force to collectively acknowledge the murder of a Black man at the hands of a police officer. Corporations who peddled in racism were issuing apologies when they saw the tide of public opinion turn. The murder of George Floyd made America look the ugliness of racism in the eye. Of course, police brutality and racism did not begin with George Floyd nor did it end with him. Many more people lost their lives at the hands of the police during the protests. For every name we know, there are countless others we do not know. Police brutality is a leading cause of death for Black men in America. Even if we do not know their names, every victim leaves behind a family to mourn their loss while knowing that the murderer not only walks free, but wears a uniform that allows him to continue to kill without consequence. May the brave young woman who took the video receive Divine reward and healing for her bravery. May the burning in the heart of every mother who lost a child be granted Divine patience and healing.

In Surah A’raf, the people of Pharaoh also acknowledged their oppression of the Children of Israel, and they vowed to stop oppressing them. And when the punishment descended upon them, they said, “O Moses, invoke for us your Lord by what He has promised you. If you [can] remove the punishment from us, we will surely believe you, and we will send with you the Children of Israel.” [7;134] We know that the people of Pharaoh reneged after the plagues were lifted. But when We removed the punishment from them until a term which they were to reach, then at once they broke their word. [7;135] So We took retribution from them, and We drowned them in the sea because they denied Our signs and were heedless of them. [7;136] Pharaoh in his arrogance witnessed all of the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) including the staff, his hand, and the plagues. He then witnessed the Red Sea split, and still he followed Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) into the sea until he was drowned. His hatred blinded him, and his racism killed him.

America is now at the same moment of realization. Of course, Black Muslims have never been unaware of racism. It is a privilege for non-Black Muslims to learn about systemic racism rather than experience it firsthand. The ability to see right from wrong is not guaranteed for us. Arrogance can blind us as it has blinded Pharaoh and his army. I will turn away from My signs those who are arrogant upon the earth without right; and if they should see every sign, they will not believe in it. And if they see the way of consciousness, they will not adopt it as a way; but if they see the way of error, they will adopt it as a way. That is because they have denied Our signs and they were heedless of them. [7;146] The ability to see the racism is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). May we be protected from spiritual blindness. No Muslim in America should be able to claim a lack of awareness of systemic racism any longer. No should they continue to favor their comfort zones over our love for our Black brothers and sisters and assume they will be forgiven. And they were succeeded by generations who, although they inherited the Scripture, took the fleeting gains of this lower world, saying, ‘We shall be forgiven,’ and indeed taking them again if other such gains came their way. Was a pledge not taken from them, written in the Scripture, to say nothing but the truth about God? And they have studied its contents well. For those who are mindful of God, the Hereafter is better. ‘Why do you not use your reason?’ [7;169]

Fighting the Oppression

Pharaoh claimed to be god, and White supremacy is the false god of our time. It is built into our psyches, our financial systems, and our power structures. Statues were erected to idolize those who upheld it. White supremacy is a system where lighter skin makes people smarter, more trustworthy, and more beautiful. We know this is a lie on its face, and yet it breads anti-blackness that is deeply engrained into everyday life. Fighting anti-blackness is a spiritual struggle, and we should make sincere intentions to fight it in all its forms. We must stand with the people of righteousness who fought for the abolition, civil rights, and an end to colonialist exploitation.

White supremacy in America is in a housing system that segregates people and exposes them to pollutants in their air and their water. It is in an education system that funds or defunds schools based on that segregated housing, and uses the police as an extreme punishment for a child’s infractions. It is in a judicial system that criminalizes poverty and imprisons those who cannot afford bail. It is in a prison system that forces people to work without financial compensation and is protected by the Thirteenth Amendment. Plans to fight the coronavirus pandemic were halted because communities of color were more likely to be affected in yet another disturbing attack. White supremacy is so deeply engrained that it leads some to harm themselves by bleaching their skin and burning their hair in hopes of appearing more like their oppressors. It is everywhere including our spiritual spaces.

Muslims often quote ayah 48:13 and the last sermon of Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) with pride that the tradition stands firmly against racial injustice. While Islam itself does, Muslims often unfortunately do not. One of my community members recently shared a story about entering a masjid in hijab, and being asked if she was Muslim. What was even more egregious is that after a discussion, the family that asked concluded that because of her black skin, she was in fact NOT Muslim despite praying in a masjid. Many of the non-Black Muslims were shocked to hear this, but the truth is that I have never met a Black Muslim who did NOT have a racism in the masjid story. Ask the Black Muslims in your circle about their experiences, and the flood gates will open. You will also see the hurt and betrayal in their eyes for having to endure racism inside their places of worship. Apologize to them for not listening sooner and thank them for being willing to teach you and trust you to want to be better despite their trauma.

Call to Action

It is not enough for anyone to not be racist; we must be anti-racist. Acknowledge the anti-blackness you have internalized within yourself and have those difficult conversations with your family members. Ustadha Zaynab Ansari speaks about the pathological ideologies of how black bodies are viewed in America.  Join and support organizations like the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and the Muslim Alliance of North America. Embrace a Black Muslim ethos of viewing Islam as a theology of liberation. Support Black scholars and the Black masajid. Invite them to speak not just about anti-Blackness, but on their areas of expertise in Islam, history, community development, etc. Demand that the immigrant masajid be antiracist. Black Muslims should be on the Board of Directors and on the Zakah committee to ensure the equity of those spaces. Hire a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion expert to have a difficult conversation about race in your organization. If the Black Muslims do not share their experiences of racism in the masjid, it is not because they did but happen, but because they do not trust the community to care to change it. Build that trust and build coalitions of communal healing to end the segregation of masajid into Black and immigrant masajid in the first place. The way out of the pandemic is to take care of those who are most vulnerable. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “You are given rizq sustenance based on the most vulnerable among you.” Communities who have turned the tide have done exactly that. Learning to be anti-racist is one of many steps we can take to lift the difficulty our communities are facing. We need at least be as non-discriminatory as the virus that only sees a human body.

Anyone who is not Black has benefited from the theft and subjugation of generations of Black Americans. We should not meet Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) having sided with an oppressor. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says, “Oppression is layers of darkness on the Day of Judgement.” We can choose to follow the prophetic path, or we can choose to let our racism destroy us. And for every nation is a [specified] term. So when their time has come, they will not remain behind an hour, nor will they precede [it]. [7;34] There will be an accounting for our society as a whole, and there will be an individual accounting. Those who follow Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will enter eternal gardens and those who follow Pharaoh will enter an eternal fire. And the people of no consequence, those who choose to do nothing, will sit on the A’raf.

[1] This story is mentioned in West African oral histories

[2] “Let my people go.” (Exodus 5-1: NIV)

[3] The plagues of Egypt are discussed differently in the different Abrahamic faiths. “The Christian and Jewish traditions discuss the angel of death taking the life of the first-born son from every family in Egypt except those who left a marking on their doors so the angel of death could pass over them.”

[4] Jahili is a Quranic descriptor for Pre-Islamic Arab society. It is derived from a root word meaning ignorance.

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#Current Affairs

Will The Real Aya Sofia Please Stand Up?

Dr Muhammad Wajid Akhter

Published

They say history is the biography of great men and women. Well, history is also the story of great buildings. This case is rarely more painfully obvious than when it comes to identity of The Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofia (“the Holy Wisdom”).

Church, Mosque, Museum: the Aya Sofia has lived under many guises over the years and each transformation came hand-in-hand with momentous political change. This year, it was no different.

By reverting to the previous designation of Aya Sofia into a mosque, the Turkish courts have set off a firestorm of controversy across the world. It is understandable that faithful Christians would object. The sense of loss they must feel is the same feeling that many Muslims get when they see the Grand Mosque of Cordoba’s conversion into a cathedral. However, what is confusing is that some Muslims are also conflicted – or even downright hostile – to the idea of the Aya Sofia being used as a mosque.

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Why are they upset? Is there weight to their feeling that this was an act that was against the laws and spirit of Islam? How true is it that this was pure political theatre?

A summary of the arguments are detailed below as each point reveals a great deal about us as Muslims today and our current mentality:

The Vatican – a clear example of Museum and Church buildings in one

1. “It should just remain a museum…”

The Aya Sofia IS remaining a museum. The ruling states and the government echoes that it is a mosque and museum but, unfortunately, if you read the headlines you will be given the impression that the museum is being destroyed. This is not the case.

The world is full of buildings with dual functions. The White House is the seat of government and the residence of the President. The Vatican is a museum, a church and the home of the Pope. St Paul’s Cathedral is a tourist attraction as well as functioning church. If Muslims alone were somehow exempt from the ability to combine museum and mosque in one building, then that would be very strange indeed. Yet that is exactly what opponents of the mosque designation are saying.

What opponents for the reversion of the building are arguing for is not for the preservation of the museum – in fact, it will be more accessible than ever by becoming free and open till the late evening – but for the prevention of worship in a building that was built and intended for that very purpose.

2. “It was illegal to turn it into a mosque in the first place…”

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing: many Muslims quote the example of Umar (R) and his treatment of the Church of The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In fact, this is the number one excuse used by many so-called Muslim intellectuals who lazily have projected their own biases on to our pious predecessors. They say, not without a little pious sanctimony, that Umar (R) exemplified that Islam is not a triumphalist religion and – though he could have converted the church into a mosque – he chose not to.

For most of history, it was common practice that any conquering army gained full ownership of the conquered lands. Islamic law was actually quite progressive in this regard, stipulating that property in surrendered lands would remain with their owners and not the conquerors. It was only if a land was taken without surrender, according to Imam Al Qurtubi amongst others, should their properties be forfeit. Jerusalem surrendered and Damascus surrendered. Constantinople – despite multiple attempts requesting it to do so – did not. Therefore, Islamically and according to the norms of the time, the conversion of the Church into a mosque was legal.

This is highlighted by the case of a district of Constantinople called Psamatya (present day Koca Mustafa Pasha) whose residents surrendered to Muhammad Fatih separately. The area had the highest density of extant churches, since none were touched or taken over.

Muhammad Fatih and The Patriarch Genaddios discussing the patriarchate

3. “But it has been a museum for so long now, so why turn it back?”

Some sources say that they have found evidence of the Church being purchased by Muhammad Fatih with his own money. The evidence has yet to be verified by external sources although it is accepted by the Turkish authorities, but even if you withhold it, the established status of the entire complex as a Waqf (Islamic endowment) is definitive. Waqfs cannot be unilaterally taken over or converted to another use.

The reality is that the conversion of the Aya Sofia from mosque to museum was a highly contentious decision taken in a manner that went against the then legal, moral and spiritual standards. It was a state sanctioned action to satisfy a political objective of the hyper-secular post-war Government. This was an injustice and it is not a good look to say that an injustice should be allowed to continue because it has been there for over eight decades.

4. “We don’t need more mosques in Istanbul…”

Would anyone think it reasonable if their local mosque was taken over unilaterally by the Government and then, when they ask for it back, they are brushed off by officials saying, “there are lots of mosques in the city and many are half empty: we are keeping this one.” Of course not. So, if it is not good enough for you, why should it be good enough for anyone else? In fact, this was the argument used by the RSS in taking over the Barbari mosque in India.

A mosque is not a property like every other. It is owned by Allah and not something we are allowed to rationalise or barter away. Allah has no need for even one mosque, but that does not mean we should stop building them or start giving them away. To go by the utilitarian argument, then anything that is not in full use by its owner is fair game for someone else to usurp. We would never accept this for our possessions so how can we accept it for something that does not belong to us?

The hadith about the conquest of Constantinople and praising Muhammad Fatih

5. “This is all a politically motivated…”

Every decision in a public sphere is political, or can be construed to be political, in some way. Building the Aya Sofia into a magnificent cathedral was a political decision by Justinian. Turning it into a mosque upon conquest was also a political decision by Muhammad Fatih. Stopping prayers in the mosque and converting it into a museum was a political decision by Mustafa Kemal. And now, returning the building to use as a mosque and museum is also a political decision by the current Turkish state.

The question is not whether it is a political act to convert the building: it will always have a political dimension. The question is whether you like the politics of someone who was praised by the Prophet ﷺ in a hadith and turned it into a mosque (Muhammad Fatih) or someone who insulted that same Prophet ﷺ as an “immoral Arab” and turned it into a museum (Mustafa Kemal.)

Pick a side.

The Grand Cathedral of Cordoba – formally the Grand Mosque

6. “This will hurt the feelings of non-Muslims and make us look bad.”

This is perhaps the only real argument of them all that has any weight to it. All the previous arguments are intellectual (and less than intellectual) smokescreens for the desire to not hurt the feelings of others – especially when we need all the friends we can get. This is understandable given our current geopolitical situation. This is also why you are more likely to find those Muslims living as minorities objecting to the change of status, reflecting their own precarious situations in their respective countries.

However, if looking at it objectively, we see that this argument also has limitations. Muslims are equally if not more hurt at the ethnic cleansing that took place in Andalusia. Does that mean we get the Al-Hambra or the Cordoba Mosque back? What about the Parthenon – since that used to be a mosque – conquered by the same Muhammad Fatih? What about the Kremlin, where St Basil’s Basilica was made from bricks of a Tatar mosque? And can we have the Philippines back while we are all trying to not offend each other?

Making decisions such as these on the highly subjective grounds of causing offence is not only impractical, but untenable. Many expressions of Islamic faith outside a narrow paradigm of what is palatable to specific audiences, can be seen as offensive to some. If we were to make decisions based first and foremost to protect the comfort of others, you would end up with a set of groundless rituals rather than a faith. It is the equivalent of changing your name to Bob instead of Muhammad since you were worried that even Mo was too exotic. Sometimes, the proper practice of our faith and upholding of our cultural and historical traditions will upset others not because what we are doing is deliberately offensive or wrong, but because we have different values and different standards.

Conclusion

What is most upsetting about the change of use for the Aya Sofia is the double standard at play. Athens has not even one mosque whilst Istanbul has hundreds of churches and synagogues: yet the Greeks are calling the Turks intolerant. The Roman Catholics plundered the Aya Sofia of all treasures and took them to St Marks church in Venice (where they still are to this day): yet it is the Pope that says that he is distressed at the Muslims – who preserved the Byzantine inheritance- for turning it into a mosque and Catholic churches calling for a day of mourning.

All the commentators calling for it to not be converted back into a mosque are also correspondingly mute regarding the Granada Cathedral built on site of a mosque, or the Barbri Mosque turned temple in India, or the Al Ahmar Mosque turned into a bar in Palestine.

But this is human nature and they will shoot their shot. Nonetheless, as Muslims, if we are against the reversion of the Aya Sofia to be a mosque again, then we really need to take a long hard look at ourselves. Just as Muhammad Fatih conquered Constantinople, we need to conquer our own ignorance, our own inferiority complex and our own insecurities.

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