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Tarek Fatah Does NOT Represent Me: Muslims 101 for Media

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John Smith, from the fundamentalist, excommunicated branch of Mormons, said regarding baptism rites of Southern Evangelicals…

Reverend Kathy Lisbon, a leftist, gay & lesbian, ardent pro-choice activist, representing the 10 people of the Protestant Church of Noone was asked about the use of birth-control by Catholics…

The preceding two statements are fictional, and made up for a point. They represent poor journalism standards and are inaccurate in what they are trying to represent. Why would you pick a Mormon, let alone an excommunicated one, who would not even be considered Christian by the Evangelicals, to talk about a matter (Southern Evangelical practices) that he really has no authority to discuss? And the reverse is also true. Would you ask an Evangelical southern baptist about the Mormon opinion on Caffeine? Similarly, in what capacity would the imaginary Kathy Lisbon, regardless of her claims of Christianity, discuss issues about mainstream Catholicism (which for the most part rejects pro-choice and homosexuality)?

Of course, all opinions can be sought because we believe in freedom of speech, but shouldn’t obvious disclaimers and representations be made available so that the public can distinguish between mainstream and fringe opinions? If fringe opinions are used, then at least shouldn’t mainstream views also be obtained? And wouldn’t it be fairer if the views were published in proportion to the views held? So, if 1% held a certain Islamic opinion versus 99% holding an opposite view, shouldn’t the space and press devoted to the 1% be close to 1% and not close to 90% as it is now?

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So, “media”: please start doing their homework before reporting Muslim opinion. Please STOP picking out any Muslim (by name or claim) to represent the mainstream, everyday Muslim, even if he claims “subject expertise” but is not widely followed by Muslims. And here’s why :

  1. Such reporting is inaccurate and flawed. You can not pick up a fringe element to represent a majority.
  2. It is unfair to the majority, especially when the majority may not agree with what the fringe is representing.
  3. When you pick and choose those figures, especially the ones despised and sidelined by the vast majority of Muslims, then the message you are sending to Muslims is:
    1. You (the media) will decide who represents us.
    2. You (the media) feels that Muslims cannot decide for ourselves who we want to represent us.
    3. You (the media) are creating “Uncle Toms” to represent the opinion that You (the media) want people to hear: the opinion that suits your fancy.
  4. It is important that you learn to discern between the sects of Islam and NOT choose people from a sect, whose practice is vastly different from mainstream Muslims (such as Aga Khanis/Habashis/etc.). Because most likely such a person will not be able to properly represent the mainstream Muslim opinion (even if he or she has no ill intentions).
  5. For God’s sake, recognize that apostates do NOT represent Islam. What else would you get from them other than a biased version of Islam? If bias is your angle, fine, but don’t try to make it sound as if this is how all Muslims feel! And also, please know that Qadiyanis/Ahmedis do NOT represent Muslims. They are not EVEN Muslims, and 99% of Muslims agree on this. So either go and change the mind of the 99% Muslims or STOP using these Qadiyanis as figureheads for Muslims!
  6. Finally, there are two reasons to report about Muslims these days:
    1. Critical analysis and the desire to send a message to everyday Muslims, whether it be to prevent extremism or encourage integration. Well, let me say it bluntly: it is FAILING! Just like the Western Al-Hurra TV experiment failed in the Middle East, similarly the choice of your Muslim talking-h eads will not help any such message. You cannot have “foreign” elements telling the “locals” what is right or wrong. Similarly, you cannot have fringe element telling mainstream Muslims what “Islam says”.
    2. Representing Islam to non-Muslims: Unless you want to feed the everyday non-Muslim a warped, fringe view of the Muslims, stop FINDING fringe elements to discuss what we believe and how we practice. A classic example of such bad reporting was the Hajj story by a journalist who does not even identify herself as a Muslim!

tarek-fatah.jpg

So, I am sick of Tarek Fatah‘s tirades, the Communications Director of the fringe organization Muslim Canadian Congress. The fact is that most of his positions are outright unIslamic and unrepresenting of the vast majority of Muslims. For instance, his organization endorsed same-sex marriage, campaigned against Islamic family courts, and pretty much came out on the wrong side of every mainstream Muslim opinion. So, WHY, does any of the media give ANY credibility to this tiny group of fringe nut-cases?

While I am at it, let me also tell you who else does NOT represent the vast majority of Muslims. I should add that there is no doubt that the fringe has a following in the fringe, and that there are followers of all sorts of nut-cases (examples: Church of Scientology, Submitters, etc.). Let me also state that the web, esp. the blogosphere probably has a disproportionate burden of extreme “Muslim” leftists, progressives, and nut-cases. A very important disclaimer: all the people in this list are not equal in their separation from mainstream Islam. Some in the list are not even Muslim, while others are Muslim and have a small following (still not close to being widespread though):

  • Irshad Manji. Do I need to say more? A must-read crucifixion by Dr. Asad Abu Khalil on DemocracyNow, and a good article on ‘Aqoul should do.
  • Thankfully, the entire slew of Islamophobic wolves who donned sheep’s clothing for the so-called “Muslim manisfesto”, provide an EXCELLENT reference list of the NOTs. ‘Aqoul nicely summarized the effort as ultra-liberal, pretentious rhetoric delivered by self-proclaimed moderate Muslims. The list includes the illustrious Muslim-bashers such as Ayan I-only-lied-to-get-asylum Hirsi, Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, Ibn Warraq and other islamophobes.
  • Stephen Schwartz. Yes, he is a “closet” Muslim, and he tries his best to make sure his Islam doesn’t effect his worldviews and probably his life. Schwartz is a follower of the Kabbani cult, and still hangs out with the remnants of Kabbani’s group and other similar extremist-sufi cults in America. He makes no secret of his neocon identity. Justin Raimondo, editor of Antiwar.com, tears him apart on “Liar, Wackball, Creep“. Our own Amir Butler has also done a fantastic job on him. Schwartz runs the non-profit organization “Islamic Pluralism”, which Louay Safi dismissed as an effort to “invent” moderate Muslims by “hardliners” trying to discredit mainstream American Muslim organizations. Safi charged that “those who are busy producing moderate Muslims have long time ago moved from the center to the ideological fringes of the American society.”
  • Khalid Abou Fadl, who makes no secret of the fact that he follows an early Islamic sect called the “Mu’tazilah” (considered deviant by consensus of the Sunni scholars). Abou Fadl has also been active in sitting in trials and cases against other Muslims! For instance, he was a witness for the prosecution against a group of Muslims in Detroit. Abou Fadl shared the prosecution expertise alongside such Islamophobes as Waleed Phares, dueling against the team of experts of an Arab Christian (Hallaq) and an Arab of Jewish/Christian heritage (Haykel) for the defense. In other words he shared a spot on the defense team with a well-known Islamophobe against other Muslims who were being defended by non-Muslims! Abou Fadl probably has more following than any others on this list, but he still holds fringe views.
  • Also, media friends, scratch off the “ex-extremists” who suddenly become your darlings for their views and historical accounts, accounts that are usually discredited not long after. Ed Hussain comes immediately to mind, and others like him. More on him here and here. One way of figuring out who not to pick for Muslims, is someone who is actively propagated and plugged for by the Islamophobes. The fact that Melanie Phillips, the notorious Muslim-bashing UK version of Robert Spencer/Horowitz praises Ed Hussein is a tell-tale sign that Ed does NOT speak for Muslims.

I will also mention some others in passing remarks: Reza Aslan, for example writes well and many of his opinions are good. But he is of Shia persuasion and obviously progressive, so he does not represent the views of the majority of “conservative” (as are most in the mainstream) Sunnis in America. Similarly, Eboo Patel, is an Ismaili/Aga-Khani, who is eloquent, but is still someone who represents a fringe section of those who call themselves Muslims. And not because they are malicious or insincere but because they have fundamentally different beliefs. I mean, Patel’s Ismaili faith doesn’t require the hijab, doesn’t require the 5-times prayers, and most of the Ismaili jurisprudence is completely different from mainstream sunnis AND shias. How can he speak for the challenges that practicing mainstream Muslims face in everyday life?

I am not advocating that the views of these fringe elements be completely ignored. But proportion and fairness should be employed, by allowing “mainstreamers” to also speak, and preferably speak more!

Finally, on what may be a controversial note for some, there are many bloggers who represent the fringe element/opinions of those perched up by the media (as embodied in the names mentioned above), some of whom are parroting the opinions of the Abou Fadls and the Tarek Fatahs. To be fair, I should add that not everything these authors write is necessarily bad or evil. In fact, some of the articles defending Muslims and Islam are good, just like some of what Abou Fadl has written is good. But when these authors delve into Islamic theology and jurisprudence and especially, the amusing attempts at “ijtihad”, then that is where we draw the line. And that is where the media cannot let those fringe opinions represent Muslims.

So, without further ado, the list includes…

After much thought, and remembering the spat last time, I decided to withhold listing website names. Readers, most of whom already know the fringe, are nevertheless free to use this space to discuss. But I would like to share some tell-tale signs about the bloggers who do not represent mainstream views and what to look for in their posts (more often than not):

  • The constant theme of “ijtihad”, when clearly the writer has no Islamic authority or training to indulge in it.
  • The constant reference to the “fatwas” and opinions of the scholars of the fringe. So, you will find multiple uses of Khaled Abou Fadl’s opinions or the opinions of other barely-known “scholars” or if known, then notorious for strange opinions.
  • Even if a blogger sticks to mainstream scholars but frequently highlights strange opinions, jumping from one faqeeh to another to another (many times of different methodologies), then consider that as a danger sign as well. I think most Muslims recognize that if one goes “fatwa-shopping”, one can find pretty much any opinion or verdict that one is looking for among the differences of opinion. That is why scholars of the mainstream forbid a person from searching for edicts that matches with his or her desires.
  • A multitude of posts discussing strange and new opinions that most Muslims have never heard of. A “new” tafsir of a verse or prodding the “latest” ruling on a matter that reverses the traditions of the majority of this Ummah’s scholars. Moreover, many times, these opinions are based on other opinions, not textual evidences. In fact, it is not strange to find “muftis” who don’t even know Arabic, and base their “fatwas” on the available English translations! An example of prodding strange opinions is the questioning of the very obligation of hijab, while this issue has been a closed and shut topic for the vast majority of this Ummah’s MAINSTREAM scholars.
  • Posts that question the authority of Sunnah, implicitly or explicitly. Or push forth the idea of “only-Quran”. This of course is similar to what has always been pushed by deviant sects offline– take away Sunnah and you can interpret Quran anyway you want!
  • Post that mock specific ahadith or open it up to questioning, simply based on the poster’s own dislike of what it conveys. An example of this would be discarding the hadith of angelic curse upon the wife who refuses intimate relations for no reason. Remember if one can reject one hadith today based on one’s desires, then what stops this person from rejecting another tomorrow? This is a door that once opened can never be closed
  • Posts that pull out one or two “funny” fatwas to mock. Many times these posters are equal-opportunity fatwa-pullers. So, they will pick out fatwas from any of the “traditional” or what they consider “fundo” scholars, be it “traditionalist”, “salafi”, etc. And then they will pick these fatwas apart and openly mock the scholar, the opinion and eventually everyone who might follow this scholar in other opinions. These posters do not have any benefit of doubt for the scholar, and forget that what is posted is usually a translation of the answer in response to a translated question, and it is entirely possible that something may be “lost in translation”. Disclaimer: MR is not one of them (for those who know what I am talking about)

Who represents mainstream Muslims then?

Many. Find someone at CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, MAS, TDC. I think the media has gotten it right a few times with Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir. But we need more of Ingrid Mattsons too. More of Siraj Wahhajs. More of Yasir Qadhis, Johari Maliks. More of Yasser Fazaqas, more of Suhaib Webbs, more of Usama Hasans, more of Mohamed AlShareefs, more of any of the Sunni Shayookh, the Shayookh of deobandis, tablighis, ahl-hadith, ikhwanis, more of any of the signatories of the Sunni Pledge and even beyond. Why? Because most Muslims are confident that these scholars have two important foundations, even if everyone doesn’t agree on ALL their opinions: (1) a firm understanding of the religion and (2) more or less in line with the mainstream Sunni opinions.

So MEDIA, if you are having trouble locating one, contact us and we’ll put you in touch with a couple!

See also: Join the “Tarek Fatah Doesn’t Represent Me” facebook group.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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.

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").

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