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Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Marwa Sherbini: The Hijab Martyr

Islamophobia: a neologism that refers to prejudice or discrimination against Islam or Muslims (see Islamophobia: It Exists).

What is the real meaning, the true face of Islamophobia? On July 1st, 2009, this term took on a face – the face of a young, happy Muslimah whose only crime was that she was dressed the way a Muslim lady should dress outside her home – in her hijab. By now, the story has sent shockwaves across the globe, opening people’s eyes to the stark reality and result of undue aggression and hatred towards the Muslim community.

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The story of Marwa Sherbini, who fell victim to a cold-blooded stabbing at the hands of a German man, draws tears to the eyes of even those of firm heart. The circumstances surrounding her attack evokes confusion and pain – how could it possible have happened? And yet, like a nightmare, it did.

The Background

Marwa Sherbini, 33 and her husband Elwy Ali Okaz had been living in Dresden, Germany for Elwy’s scholarship at the famed Max-Planck Institute for Physics. While Elwy was wrapping up his 3-year scholarship, with his thesis due in the coming days, Marwa was raising her three year-old son. She was also three months pregnant with her second child.

The horrifying chain of events began with a small but significant event. Last summer, Marwa had taken her son to a park and while there, she found a young German man on the play-swing. She requested him to give the swing up for her 3-year old. The man’s reaction was bitter, resorting to unprovoked verbal abuse– calling her an “Islamist”, a “terrorist” and worse. Marwa, unlike so many others who face this everyday across the world, did not stay silent, and with her husband’s full support, took him to court over the incident.

A trial ensued and a District court found the German man (identified in some reports as Alex A.) guilty and fined him 780 €. The hateful Islamophobe murderer-to-be filed an appeal, and this hearing was being held last Wednesday. Here it is where the deadly assault took place. Just as Marwa had finished her testimony, the attacker moved across the courtroom and stabbed her – not once but eighteen times!  EIGHTEEN TIMES. May Allah have Mercy on her!

It sends chills down the spine – how could it possibly have happened? How did the attacker manage to assault her in that way? How did he manage to enter the courtroom with the weapon? And above all – why wasn’t he intercepted or stopped during his rampage?

Marwa’s husband, Elwi Okaz, made a desperate attempt to save his wife but a policeman’s bullet hit him (accidentally), and he collapsed, unable to rescue Marwa. All the while, the young son was witnessing this butchery. If one were to imagine this scenario that unfolded in the courtroom, it would truly be sickening and despicable.

The Aftermath

While Okaz was rushed to the hospital and is currently in intensive care with serious lung and liver injuries, it is unclear what has become of the attacker. News details are not readily available on the internet and whatever information is available is limited and centered on the incident itself.

On Monday, Okaz described how he was unable to save Marwa from the attacker: “Marwa is dead and I couldn’t save her,” the 32-year-old, told Germany’s mass-circulation newspaper Bild in the hospital where he is recovering from wounds suffered in the frenzied attack. “I’m so angry that the policeman’s bullet hit me and not the killer.”

It’s hard to imagine the pain that he and the couple’s family must be experiencing today.

Marwa’s brother, Tariq Sherbini, labeled Germany as a “cold” country and said, “extremism has no religion. My sister was killed simply because she wore the veil. This incident clearly shows that extremism is not limited to one religion or another and it is not exclusively carried out by Muslims… We are only asking for a fair punishment,” he said. “She was a religious woman who prayed and wore her headscarf, but she was killed because of her belief.”

The Reaction and Media Coverage

The incident has sparked angry protests, particularly in Germany and Egypt. “Anger is high”, said Joseph Mayton, editor of the English-language news website Bikya Masr. “Not since Egypt won the African [football] Cup have Egyptians come together under a common banner.”

The German government has received criticism for being so reluctant to condemn the attack when it first happened. The Government’s vice spokesman Thomas Steg had this to say: “In this concrete case we’ve held back from making a statement because the circumstances are not sufficiently clear enough to allow a broad political response,” he said, adding: “Should it be the case that this was anti-foreigner [and] racially motivated [the government] would condemn it in the strongest possible terms”.

Shocking, isn’t it? Only after nearly a whole week having passed did the spokesman go on to describe the incident as “horrible and outrageous”.

Even the Court spokesman Christian Avenarius had told the AFP news agency that the murderer was a “fanatical xenophobe.”

On the other hand, Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country’s foremost Jewish group, pointed to the slow response of the German government and media: “I was surprised that the media and political reaction was so limited,” he stressed after visiting Elwy Okaz husband in hospital. “All those who dismissed Islamophobia as a false debate in recent years were wrong.”

The Hijab Martyr

She is being remembered and honored as “Shaheeda Hijab”, the Hijab Martyr and there has been immense support, according to Islamonline.net, for their proposal to organize the World Hijab Day in her memory.

The real focus is, of course, on the factors that led to this terrible tragedy. Islamophobia, unchecked and dangerous, is being cited repeatedly by Muslim groups to be the root cause of the trouble. Some are pointing to the fact that growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe, bolstered by illegitimate remarks on the burqa by French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is serving as the foundation for such incidents (see this post on Sarkozy’s remarks, a post that links to many other posts on the issue of hijabophobia). This event has come to light in the media for the brutality it describes.

But the real question is: are there other Hijab martyrs out there? How are they suffering? What are the realities that Muslims face in Europe, and by extension other Muslim-minority states, just because they dress in a certain manner?

The silence in the media over this unique and harrowing incident also gives rise to another question that is on many people’s lips: what if the situation were in reverse? Or what if a Jew had been targeted in this way due to anti-Semitic sentiments? Would the coverage have been more extensive in that case?

In the words of one Twitterer: “RIP Marwa al-Sherbini. Allah Bless You! Unfortunately, if the situation was reversed, way more people would have heard about this atrocity”.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun

Footnotes:

  1. http://www.tayyar.org/Tayyar/News/PoliticalNews/en-US/128916144584326055.htm
  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/07/german-trial-hijab-murder-egypt
  3. http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&pagename=Zone-English-News/NWELayout&cid=1246346205190

Photo Credit: AP

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Ameera is a final-year medical student and blogger based in Karachi, Pakistan. Having been born and raised in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, her approach towards her Deen has always been rooted in a basic understanding from authentic sources, which was further polished during a three-year weekend course at Al Huda Institute. Her interests, though, seem to know no bounds and range from a passion for the culinary arts and travelling, as well as following current affairs and global happenings. She feels being able to be part of MuslimMatters is one of the major blessings of Allah(swt) upon her, for it has given her a chance to learn and grow.She also maintains her personal blog at http://duskanddawn.wordpress.com.

#Current Affairs

Democracy, Citizenship, And Islamophobia: The Making Of A New India

When tracing the political genealogy of modern India after its partition in 1947, historians identify the two defining principles used by the state as secularism and democracy. Yet the idea of India, post-1947, a newly born nation-state and now-market of 1.4 billion people, as a home for multiple religious, ethnic and linguistic denominations continues to unravel under the contradictions of historicity.

While the Union of India was historically seen as a progressive multi-ethnic secular democracy, throughout the past few decades the policies and politics of inequality for minorities, violent objectification based on castiesm, virulent manifestation of Islamophobia, and clampdown on all forms of democratic political dissent show a paradoxical paradigm shift from its founding principles.

Tracing the Genealogy of Partition

In the early years after independence, the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the ruling Indian National Congress (or Congress Party) advocated for an Indian brand of secularism designed to hold the country’s disparate communities together under one roof.

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This idea was formally attested in the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution of India enacted in 1976, the Preamble to the Constitution proclaim that India is a secular nation. 

Yet this idea of a nation that tolerates religious and ethnic minorities was contradictory of Hindu nationalist ideology, first collated in the 1920s by V. D. Savarkar in Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?. Savarkar defines India culturally as a Hindu country and intended to transform it into a Hindu Rashtra (nation-state).

Hindu nationalists view India as a Hindu nation-state not only because Hindus make up about 80 percent of the population but also because they see themselves as the rightful sons of the soil, whereas they view Muslims and Christians as the outcome of bloody foreign invasions or denationalising influences.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen argues in his path-breaking work The Argumentative Indian:

“the enthusiasm for ancient India has often come from the Hindutva movement—the promoters of a narrowly Hindu view of Indian Civilization—who have tried to separate out the period preceding the Muslim conquest of India.”

The case for  secularism, with its own historical pitfalls, really started to shake when Hindu nationalists populated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its various ideological affiliates and started promoting a starkly different worldview; envisioning India as a majoritarian Hindutva nation-state, not a country with diverse multi-religious and cultural history.

The question of the viability of India’s secularist tradition, and the tensions inherent in these competing visions of Indian nationhood have come to the fore in recent years, since the BJP’s landmark electoral victory in 2014. 

Politics of Otherisation 

After India’s parliament revoked article 370 in Kashmir (called out as constitutional blasphemy), it passed a bill in the parliament offering ‘amnesty’ to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries.

It was a major step towards the official marginalisation of Muslims that would establish a religious test for migrants who want to become citizens, solidifying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda.

The bill offers citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), argued “this will give sanctuary to people fleeing religious persecution”, while forcing Muslims, many of whom do not have any official documentation, of re-registering as Indian citizens.

This is one more step towards realising the grand project of creating a Hindutva Nation.

Arundhati Roy, one of India’s most famous writers, compared the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to the Nazis’ 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which blocked Jews from German citizenship. 

The ruling BJP government itself includes the Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji) political party, which actually sought inspiration from Nazi Germany.Click To Tweet

In 1967, Bal Thackeray said, “it is Hitler that is needed in India today,” in an interview to Time magazine. In 1993, he said, “If you take Mein Kampf and if you remove the word “Jew” and put in the word “Muslim,” that is what I believe.”

This new reality of India clearly manifests the reductionist understanding of religion and use of politics as a means to achieve religious goals inspired from the Hindutva theology with all institutions working in tandem to promote the politics of exclusion. 

Take the case of the Babri Mosque in the city of Ayodhya, which was demolished by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992. Then, last year India’s Supreme Court awarded the disputed site to Hindus for the construction of a temple for the Hindu deity Ram.

Hindu hardliners, including BJP supporters, say that Ram was born at the site of the Babri Mosque, which was built 460 years ago during Mughal rule in the subcontinent.

The unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court in the Ayodha dispute“gives precedence to faith and belief over available documented archaeological evidence”, according to Kashmiri political analyst Sheikh Showkat Hussain.

The case of the Babri Mosque dispute, if read in continuation of other steps taken by the BJP government is another move towards the delegitimisation of Muslims’ citizenship. 

Just as it is illustrated in Brad Evans and Natasha Lenard’s Violence: Humans in Dark Times,the increasing expression and acceptance of violence-in all strata of society has become a defining feature of today’s world.

In December, while China was fighting the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, the government of India was dealing with a mass uprising by hundreds of thousands of its citizens protesting against the brazenly discriminatory anti-Muslim citizenship law it had just passed in parliament.

There was punishment to be meted out to Delhi’s Muslims, who were blamed for the humiliation. Armed mobs of Hindu vigilantes, backed by the police, and attacked Muslims in the working-class neighborhoods of north-east Delhi. Houses, shops, mosques and schools were burnt and more than 50 Muslims were killed.

Covid and Islamophobia

While much of the international response to the coronavirus pandemic was unity and shared responsibility, , the battle against Covid-19 in India metamorphosed into Muslim-bashing.

Coming just weeks after pogroms based on religious hatred ended up 36 Muslims dead in Delhi, the outpouring of intolerable tweets manifest how concerns over the coronavirus have merged with longstanding Islamophobia in India, at a time when the Muslim minority — 200 million people in a nation of 1.3 billion — feels increasingly targeted by the ruling Hindu nationalists.

Since March 28, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad have appeared nearly 300,000 times and potentially seen by 165 million people on Twitter, according to data shared with TIME by Equality Labs, a digital human rights group.

Coronavirus is just “one more opportunity to cast the Muslim as the other, as dangerous,” says Ali, an assistant professor of political science at JNU in Delhi. 

Antagonism towards the minority community, which had already spread its tentacles in society, intensified amidst the nationwide lockdown. By singling out an Islamic religious congregation as a major source of the spread of the infection, the authorities inflamed communal tensions and reports of Islamophobia poured in from various quarters across the country.

The mainstream media has incorporated the COVID story into its 24/7 toxic anti-Muslim campaign. An organisation called the Tablighi Jamaat, which held a meeting in Delhi before the lockdown was announced, has turned out to be a “super spreader”.

That is being used to stigmatise and demonise Muslims. The overall tone suggests that Muslims invented the virus and have deliberately spread it as a form of jihad.India has continued with this claim of being a progressive secular democratic nation even though systematic pogroms have been going on against the Muslim population. Islam and Muslims seen as an immediate ‘other’ die a silent death under different pretexts. 

“One of the key features of anti-Muslim sentiment in India for quite a long time has been the idea that Muslims themselves are a kind of infection in the body politic,” said Arjun Appadurai, a professor of media, culture and communication at New York University who studies Indian politics.

“So there’s a kind of affinity between this long-standing image and the new anxieties surrounding coronavirus.”

The left-leaning newspaper The Hindu published a cartoon showing the world being held hostage by the coronavirus—with the virus itself depicted wearing clothing associated with Muslims.

The Nehruvian secularist project and Modi’s communal project are not fundamentally all that different, in that both demand India’s minorities to “integrate” into the national majority which means giving up their socio-cultural way of life.

Modi’s model is to make all minorities homogenous by saying everyone is a Hindu and, therefore, they have to stop being anything else. The other is a secular model whose template is taken from the dominant religion, Hinduism, and, therefore, is cast upon everyone.

Arundhati Roy accused the Indian government of exploiting the coronavirus in a tactic reminiscent of the one used by the Nazis during the Holocaust. 

“The whole of the organisation, the RSS to which Modi belongs, which is the mother ship of the BJP, has long said that India should be a Hindu nation. Its ideologues have likened the Muslims of India to the Jews of Germany,” Roy said.

“And if you look at the way in which they are using Covid-19, it was very much like typhus was used against the Jews to get ghettoise them, to stigmatise them.” Click To Tweet

Hatred against Muslims continues after the massacre in Delhi, which was the outcome of people protesting against the anti-Muslim citizenship law.

Now, under the cover of Covid-19 the government is adamant to arrest young Muslim students; already Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zargar and Umar Khalid have been booked them with anti-terror Laws like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

It seems the idea of India being the largest secular democratic country has disguised an organised Islamophobia campaign and an institutional oppression of Muslims that has existed for decades.

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Africa

Top 10 Books On Black Muslim History

The history of Black Muslims seems to be trapped between Bilal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and Malcolm X. While these are particularly bright supernovas in the pantheon of giants from Muslim history, they are far from being the only stars in that history.

Recent events have meant that many Muslims want to actively close that gap in their knowledge of Black Muslims. This isn’t just an academic interest, it is one of the recurring pieces of advice given by Black Muslims themselves when asked what the rest of the Muslim community can and should do to actively fight against racism in all its forms.

When you don’t know the story of a people, it becomes easy to belittle or even dehumanise them.

So here, in no particular order, are my Top 10 books on the history of Black Muslims in the English Language.

  • Centering Black Narrative: Black Muslim Nobles amongst the early pious Muslim by Dawud Walid and Ahmed Mubarak

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There are many reasons why tokenising Bilal ibn Rabaah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) is embarassing. One of them is because there are just so many other Black Sahaabas out there to talk about. This great book showcases so many of the greatest generation who, we may not have realised, were black. I actually did a prior book review on this that you can check out here.

  • The history of Islam in Africa edited by Levtzion & Pouwels 

This is less a book and more like a mini-encyclopaedia. This is for the serious student of history and a good reference book. If you want to tell the difference between the Songhai and the Sanussi or want to tell apart the different Tariqahs – this is your encyclopaedia. I mean book.

  • Illuminating the Darkness: Blacks and North Africans in Islam by Habeeb Akande

Habeeb Akande is one of the most prolific Black Muslim writers out there on a range of topics. This book offers a sweeping narrative dealing with history, social issues like interracial marriage and the concept of race as dealt by scholars such as Al-Suyuti. As expected, this book is well researched and well written so a good primer for those new to the topic.

  • Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa by Ousmane Kane

Timbuktu and West Africa was for a time one of the richest centres of Islam in terms of wealth and intellectual tradition. To read about this time read this book by the Harvard professor Ousmane Kane. To all those who believe in the idea of racial superiority, you’ll be quickly disabused of that notion when you realise that this is the intellectual depth of a book about the intellectual depth of Black Muslims in West Africa.

  • The Black Eunuchs of the Ottoman Empire: Networks of Power in the Court of the Sultan by George Junne

In almost every Muslim Empire, the Sultans and rulers might change but there is a constant presence just off centre if you look closely enough. Eunuchs, who were often but not always of Black heritage, were right there at the centre of power. While the institution that brought them there was horrific and inhumane, the power they wielded was serious and far reaching. This book goes through the lives of a group of Black Muslims who shaped the Muslim world in ways that may surprise you.

  • The African Caliphate: The Life Work & Teachings of Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio by Ibraheem Sulaiman

In a part of the world that gave us the world’s richest known person, great kings and warriors – you have to be pretty special to stand out. Usman Dan Fodio was more than special. He was one of those people who excelled as a military leader, a teacher and a person. He revived the sunnah and stands as one of the giants in the history of Islam. Learn about the man they call simply “Shehu.”

  • The Caliph’s Sister: Nana Asma’u, 1793-1865, Teacher, Poet and Islamic Leader by Jean Boyd

History tends to be His story far too often. It is the history of great men doing great things. 50% of the world is missed out with women far too often playing cameo roles as femme fatales or spoils of war. Well, the story of Nana Asma’u bucks this trend. She was not just a towering figure. If her father conquered lands, Nana conquered hearts. Learn about her story. Herstory – get it? Just read the book.

  • Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas by Sylvaine Diouf

The story of how enslaved Muslims struggled to hold on to their faith and values, to not just survive but to actually thrive is fascinating and should be required reading. While there are other books that deal with the subject in a more detailed manner, this book is accessible and touches on all the main themes from revolts to literacy levels. Ms Diouf does a lot to shine a light on one of the darkest institutions in Islamic history.

  • Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser

It is a measure of the man that despite being the greatest sportsman of all time, it was still only the 2nd most interesting part of the life of Muhammad Ali. How this young scrawny kid from Louisville went from being Cassisus Clay to one of the most recognisable human beings on planet Earth is not just a biography of a superstar but the story of the struggle of a people, the many missteps on the road to that struggle and the ultimate redemption that awaited. Long after the name of the Presidents and Kings of his era will be forgotten, the name of Muhammad Ali will live on.

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley

For me, even though it speaks to a specific person, place and struggle, this is by far the greatest of all the books out there on the history of Black Muslims . This is the denouement of a centuries long struggle for the survival of faith against the greatest odds and how slavery, racism and enforced conversions all came crashing down when one man of rare intelligence decided that it was time to overcome “by any means necessary.” If you have not read it, what are you waiting for? It will change you.

As I argued in a previous article called Erasing Race: Problems with our Islamic history, the history of Islam without Black Muslims isn’t really a history at all.

Whether you decide to read any of these books or check out some YouTube videos or articles about the history of Black Muslims, let us all educate ourselves. Only then will we all be able to start helping to build a more just world. Only then will we all be able to breathe.

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#Current Affairs

This Eid And Beyond Boycott Goods Made With Enslaved Labor Of Uyghurs Even If It Is Your Favorite Brand

Bidding farewell to Ramadan, celebrating Eid?

Well, the Muslims of East Turkestan under Chinese occupation had neither Ramadan nor will they have Eid…

Not only that, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) run government has transferred Uyghurs and other ethnic minority citizens from East Turkestan to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Nike, Gap, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Carters and others. Read Uyghurs for Sale for more information

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CCP is also pressuring governments across the world to extradite Uyghurs back to occupied East Turkestan.

Here is what you can do to help them:

Action Items

  1. Keep making dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world.
  2. Boycott Chinese products! Do not be complicit in slave labour. Start with focusing on the companies in the graphic. Share it with #SewnWithtTears, #StopChina, #BoycottChina. Write to them and demand that they do better.
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause. Learn more at SaveUighur.org
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China.
  5. Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui; Chinese Christian; or Tibetan Buddhist.
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China.
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by granting either citizenship or refugee/asylee status. Stop the “extradition/repatriation” of Uyghurs to China!
  9. Get your universities/endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies. 

Read a greater discussion of action items in A Response to Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments on the Uyghurs, which also contains a greater discussion on East Turkistan’s history and its current situation. A condensed Arabic version of the article can be found here

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