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Aafia Siddiqui’s Brother Reflects on Ramadan: Blessings & Hope Amidst Pain and Sorrow

MuslimMatters

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Aafia, Mariam, Suleman, Ahmad - from happier times

Aafia, Mariam, Suleman, Ahmad - from happier times

Link to Full Coverage of Dr. Aafia’s Ordeal

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The following is a personal account by Dr. Aafia’s brother, Mohammad, content originally published at www.freeaafia.org

As we come to the celebration of Eid-al-Fitr of 2009, it is the 7th Eid we will celebrate without Aafia being among her friends and family. But we will celebrate. Not because we forget Aafia or because we abandon her but because there are many reasons to celebrate and to be thankful for God’s many, many blessings.

In some ways, for a long time, I could not get myself to see beyond the pain and stress of the whole saga of my sister disappearing with her three young children, and that too under such a notorious cloud of suspicion and innuendo. Celebrations or even allowing oneself to experience the simple pleasures of life seemed wrong and filled me with remorse. After all, Aafia and her children were denied these same treasures of family and friends that only freedom allows, and yet we all take for granted. So, for a long time I put myself in a mental prison with her even though it was neither productive nor therapeutic.

During the last year events have taken our whole family on such a phenomenal roller coaster ride of emotions and stress that I am amazed that we are all still here. Much of this has been played out in public and many of you have had a window into our journey. Aafia is still in a miserable place and it seems like the most powerful forces on earth are determined that she stays there. So many people come up and express sympathy but feel that we are fighting a lost cause – hoping in the face of a hopeless situation. Yet, I find reason to celebrate and have genuine hope.

One of the less publicized benefits of Ramadan is that it gives a person time to slow down and reflect. This month helped bring much into perspective. The break from the physical and mental flurry that has engulfed our family the last few months was put aside for long enough each day to give time to reflect and wonder why? – Why on earth did God do this to Aafia and us all? What did we do to deserve this? Where are the mercy and blessings of the Beneficent and Merciful God? And while I still do not know why, I do realize that there was no shortage of blessings. In fact, just as there has been so much pain that it numbs, there have also been so many blessings that they began to look routine even when some were nothing short of miraculous.

In 2003 when this nightmare began, we were isolated and “friends” began to desert us. Fear of job loss and persecution of our children was not mere speculation. We endured threats, warnings and separation of family. Then we had to mourn what we believed was the death of Aafia and her children – but we could only do so in private and in silence. Yet, God blessed us with relative safety and comfort. We learned that promises were cheap and courage and loyalty were rare. We learned to differentiate between a friend and an acquaintance. We learned to distinguish sincerity from opportunism and the painful lesson that trust is frequently misplaced.

Now, seven Eids later, we find that for each “friend” we lost, we were blessed with a multiple. Our isolation has been transformed into the support of thousands. We witnessed the miracle of resurrection as someone we believed dead was returned to life – not once but twice for us. That same Aafia who was once a pariah is now a unifying element for a whole nation. Her son, we were “guaranteed”, would spend the rest of his life in a US mental institution. Instead, he is living with family and recovering in a loving environment. This in itself would be enough to make one eternally grateful but God’s mercy did not stop here.

Twice during the past year alone, my mother was in critical condition and we were certain she would pass from us without seeing Aafia. Yet, she has recovered significantly. Whether she is destined to see Aafia free, only God knows.

On multiple occasions, supporters were cautioned to back off, but the result somehow was increased momentum. When newspapers were advised to reduce coverage, TV stations stepped in. When banners were discouraged, songs appeared. I cannot explain any of this except as God’s blessing to have brought out people we neither knew nor had the means to employ. What is even more remarkable is that the support has grown to include a broad spectrum of political, ethnic and social cross section of people – from the religious to the secular; from the poor to the elite; from the right wing to the left.

Then, just two months ago, when Aafia’s fate seemed sealed in a US courtroom, and our family was struggling to raise sufficient funds to retain decent lawyers for Aafia, the Pakistani government did something they have never done before for an ordinary citizen. They retained a team of lawyers to pursue a serious defense for Aafia. It was the sincere efforts and prayers of people like many who will read this that resulted in this historic commitment. People set aside differences to join together for a common cause. And we got proof that indeed if we do our part with sincerity, God does His part. This historic act, whatever the motivation, was surprising to the point of shock, even to us.

But as I reflected on this month, it really should not be a shock. For one thing we have experienced in our ordeal is that we too have undervalued and underestimated our heritage and people. It has become too common and acceptable to belittle and dismiss Pakistan and its society as corrupt, callous and self destructive. While there is much to justify these attributes, we also discovered the spirit of the people of Pakistan, their generosity, their passion, their frustration and their desire for peace, respect and dignity. Most of all, we were touched by the hunger for something around which to unify and regain a sense of pride as a nation. And we were humbled when our Aafia became one such symbol.

I have focused largely on the public events only because many of you have been witness to these and can testify to them. There have been many other things for which we are grateful but these will have to remain private for the time being.

To conclude, I would say that while a month of reflection has not answered why we have had to endure this ordeal, three important lessons have become obvious:

  1. Recognizing that freedom, family, sincere friends and health are the greatest treasures God has given us. Transforming that recognition into life’s priorities is a challenge we must face every day of our lives.
  2. An intimate understanding of why despair is a sin.
  3. God’s help does come but not unless one makes every human effort first. And when it does, God does indeed work in mysterious ways and often what we think is good for us is not and what we dread turns out to have unexpected benefits.

With these lessons, I will think of Aafia even more. Not as someone who brought difficulty into our lives but as someone who has helped us, in an odd way, put our priorities into perspective. And while this does not gain her freedom or ease her pain, all the events I have recounted and lessons learned are what give me reason to hope. To hope that one day, God willing, our journey will come to a happy destination and be a source for joy and hope rather than sadness and despair.

My God Bless You

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mariam

    September 21, 2009 at 4:58 PM

    JazakAllahu khayran for this article. I ask Allah to help, guide and protect Muslims around the world, including those whom we know and those whom we have don’t know, ameen.

    • Avatar

      Linda G. Richard

      December 2, 2009 at 12:46 AM

      I wonder if you have seen this – written by the brother who was there:

      THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FOUNDATION

      11006 Veirs Mill Rd, STE L-15 PMB 298

      Silver Spring, MD. 20902

      Dhul Hijjah 1430 AH

      The Challenges Confronting Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

      (From her own community)

      I had a very disturbing, yet importantly revealing, experience last weekend in New York and Connecticut when I attempted to address two large audiences on our sister Aafia’s case (the details of which should prick the conscience of us all).

      On Friday, November 20th, I visited The Muslim Center of New York (a large predominantly Pakistani populated Islamic Center in Flushing, NY) with the expectation that I would be able to have a few words with the community concerning Aafia’s case following the jumah salat. This, however, was not to be.

      After some back and forth discussion with the president, I learned that “the board” had made a decision that there would be no discussion of any type (verbal announcements, lectures, etc.) on the case of Aafia Siddiqui at The Muslim Center.

      I immediately took note of the fact that the time for jumah (at most centers in the area) was already upon us; and thus, I needed to identify another center close by that would enable me to accomplish my objective. It was then that I thought about Dar’ul Qur’an – another large (and beautiful) center that I had been introduced to a few weeks earlier. I called the president, but to my dismay, this too resulted in a negative response.

      The Muslim Center of New York and Dar ul-Qur’an are two of the four Islamic centers Imam Siraj Wahhaj strongly recommended I visit during the month of Ramadan. He felt I would enjoy vigorous support for Aafia’s case from these centers.

      What was so surprising about Dar ul-Qur’an is that I had just been there a few weeks earlier for an impromptu presentation to a few brothers, and the short presentation went exceptionally well. I received a warm and appreciative embrace by all of the brothers present, and ended up lingering in conversation with the imam and the president long after the others had gone. It was even recommended that I return in the near future to serve as guest khatib for jumah on the matter (this would have enabled me to reach the entire community).

      What happened between that initial visit at Da rul-Qur’an and November 20th? The attack at Fort Hood (Texas), and the fear-based, counterproductive reactions this attack has produced within the Muslim community (especially among leaders) throughout the U.S.

      Again looking at the time and realizing my options were rapidly dwindling, I decided I would remain at The Muslim Center and set up a table on the outside. I set up my table directly across the street from the center, and was fortunate to have a small portable loudspeaker in the trunk of my car (which served me well).

      Immediately following the jumah I raced across the street and began speaking to the Muslim congregants departing the center. Without attacking the board’s decision, I explained that the importance of the issue and the circumstance I was confronted with left me no choice but to address my Muslim brethren in the manner that I was. I touched upon some of the fitnah that Aafia had already endured, and what lay ahead; and alhamdullilah, brothers, and a few sisters, began flocking across the street to get audio CDs (on Aafia’s case), and to give thanks and encouragement for what we were doing.

      After everything was over, I went back into the center to perform two rakas of salatul asr (as a traveler), and I noticed that the musalah was abuzz with young (elementary and middle school age) brothers rocking back and forth reciting the Qur’an. As I left, I wondered to myself what kind of example are we, as “leaders,” presenting to our young?

      I thought about the words of Fahad Hashmi’s father (one of the Muslims to cross the street and greet me after the jumah). He informed me that his son grew up in this community, but he too received very little support from its leadership. Being the man that he is, he said this without a trace of malice, but with a clearly discernable feeling of deep sadness and hurt.

      The next evening (Saturday, Nov. 21st) I was in the state of Connecticut for a CAIR-CT fundraising program, and received another shocking indication of the challenges facing Dr. Aafia Siddiqui in the days ahead.

      WARNING: If you are the type of Muslim who has strong sensitivity to any criticism directed at prominent Muslim leaders and/or “Major Muslim Organizations” (or their affiliates), then you should STOP reading now!

      A number of my formative years were spent in southern Connecticut (before I moved to the Washington area). I know many people throughout that area, both Muslim and non-Muslim, I still have family there as well. Given this reality, coupled with Connecticut’s proximity to New York City, I decided that it might be advantageous for me to attend the CAIR-CT program at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell (about a half-hour drive from New Haven).

      Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding that occurred between myself and the executive director of that chapter (who shall remain nameless), during this past Ramadan, I decided that it would be prudent to access a third party within the CAIR organization for this mission. I contacted the new National Board Chairman, NC State Senator Larry Shaw.

      After a few telephone communications between myself, Sen. Shaw and his district office (much appreciation to the administrator who minds the fort at his district office), Br Shaw arranged for me to have “3 to 5 minutes” to speak to the audience on Aafia’s behalf. In an effort to show my appreciation, and to pose as little disruption to CAIR-CT’s agenda as possible, I offered (in an e-mail to the principles) to speak to the audience at the end of the program. Little did I know that this offer would result in the type of insult and overall counterproductive response that it did.

      At this point, I want to express a very, very special thanks to Azhar Usman (the critically-acclaimed comedian and founder of the Allah Made Me Funny Tour), because if it had not been for this brother I am convinced NO ANNOUNCEMENT concerning Aafia would have been made at all! Not only did I appreciate the creative way he was able to weave highly insightful and politically relevant social commentary into his presentation, I appreciated even more the sensitivity he showed for the plight of a sister he knew nothing about (prior to that night).

      The organizers had placed me at the very end of the program, AFTER Azhar Usman’s performance. (Entertainment almost always comes at the very end of a program of this nature.) When Azhar’s assistant – a young brother I knew from years back when he was a student at Howard University – learned of where they had placed me on the program, he communicated his concern to me and Azhar, and then made an attempt to have me deliver my statement before Azhar performed; but the organizers would not budge.

      As the program was clearly winding down, I personally approached the executive director of CAIR-CT with the following request: Given the fact that you all have me scheduled to speak after Azhar’s performance, it would be good if you or some other officer could alert the audience that a brief, but important, announcement will be made after Azhar’s performance. He nodded in agreement, but then minutes later willfully ignored the request. (In fact he himself said to the audience, just before his intro of Azhar, now that all the “serious business” is out of the way…here is the entertainment to cap off the evening.)

      I was standing right next to him before he went up to make that final statement. What he did, and how he did it, was deliberate and shameful. It is the type of thing that helps to give CAIR a bad name among people who should be its most ardent supporters.

      One would think that in a program that featured such highlighted accomplishments as “religious liberties behind bars” (as it pertained to “halal meat” for inmates); hijab related “employment harassment;” and “school bullying” (Muslim students being teased as “towel heads” and the like), that this chapter would welcome an opportunity to publicly embrace something as weighty as a Muslim sister being detained and abused by a government for over six years.

      Not so, unfortunately. It was Azhar Usman who immediately after the conclusion of his performance (as people were leaving their seats and heading for the door) implored the audience to remain behind for a few more minutes to “hear an announcement about an important civil rights case involving one of our sisters.”

      CAIR’s penchant for embracing politically safe issues has caused it to be largely irrelevant on many of the major challenges confronting Muslims in America today. While the shameful spectacle that unfolded at that hotel on Nov 21 resulted from the decisions made by the officers of that chapter, it does reflect upon deficiencies that are well known throughout the organization. (And I say this without malice; only with a sincere desire to see CAIR do better.)

      The Major Muslim Organizations (as they are euphemistically known) – CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, MAS, MANA, MPAC, MSA-National, etc. – should be in the forefront of the campaign to generate support for this long suffering sister. Prominent leaders in America, as well as masajid and centers in the New York Tri-State area (esp. large, well established centers) should be actively involved as well. Muslim journalists and news media should be beating the drums of awareness for the upcoming trial.

      Imam Siraj Wahhaj (the Amir of MANA) has already pledged and demonstrated his support for Sr. Aafia. (We are still waiting on other leaders within MANA to do the same.) Muslim organizations, large and small, while vigorously condemnatory of any Muslim transgression that makes the national headlines, have been as quiet as church mice when it comes to American government transgressions against fellow Muslims.

      This has to end! This case involving Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is one of the most abusive and precedent-setting cases confronting Muslims Post 9/11. It involves the political imprisonment and TORTURE of a young Muslim woman – a mother, a daughter, a sister in blood, and a sister in Islam.

      With what I experienced in New York and Connecticut last weekend, I don’t feel a whole lot of optimism for what lay ahead; and I’ve been around long enough to know the following. If Aafia Siddiqui goes to trial and is convicted – and the Muslim community (generally speaking) is viewed as having stood in fearful paralysis on the sidelines while the oppressive drama played out – the precedent that began over six years ago, with her disappearance and subsequent detention, will have been completed, and we (as a community) would be complicit.

      It’s long past due for the Muslim community to stand up and push back. If not now, when…and at what cost?

      As Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) is reported to have said: “Three classes of men are cut off from the blessings of Paradise: Oppressors; those who aid and abet oppression; and those who tolerate oppression.”

      May ALLAH (SWT) fortify and preserve us.

      El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan

  2. Avatar

    xx

    September 21, 2009 at 7:03 PM

    Tears kept rolling down my cheeks as I was reading this. I pray that Allah swt makes this trial a means of purification for you and ur family.

  3. Avatar

    mystrugglewithin

    September 21, 2009 at 7:08 PM

    From Surah Al-Talaq (#65): “.. And for those who fear Allah, He (ever) prepares a way out [2] And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And if anyone puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is (Allah) for him. [3]

    Every time I see exaggerated celebrations in Pakistan for worthless reasons, I tend to regret my nationality. Every act of disregard that we portray in our lifestyles when you and many like you are suffering, Wallahi, we’ll be asked for it on the day of judgment.. May Allah SWT be with your family.

  4. Avatar

    The Free Aafia Campaign

    September 21, 2009 at 9:19 PM

    Asalaam Alaikom,

    Just wanted to drop by and thank Muslim Matters for the coverage of this article and the long history of support that this blog and its readers have shown to Dr. Aafia and all missing and detained persons.

    We’d also like to encourage your readers to join Dr. Aafia’s family website’s email list and feeds. The content is regularly updated and reflective of the families concerns.

    http://www.freeaafia.org

    May Allah accept from all of you, reunite broken families and relieve the suffering from their pain.

    The Free Aafia Campaign

    • Avatar

      abu abdAllah Tariq Ahmed

      September 22, 2009 at 4:45 AM

      Getting the e-mail updates from http://www.freeaafia.org has been my best way to keep up with developments in this case. Every MM reader should sign up. Alhamdolillah the updates will encourage you to do good, too.

  5. Avatar

    Farhan

    September 22, 2009 at 11:44 PM

    Sad, very sad.

    May she be free soon

  6. Avatar

    Madeeha

    September 23, 2009 at 2:48 PM

    Chapter: An-Nisa (The Women)
    Verse: 75
    “And what reason do you have for not fighting in the cause of Allah, to rescue helpless oppressed men, women & children, who are crying, ‘ O’ our Lord! Take us out from this town whose people are oppressors & send us a protector by your grace & send us a helper from your presence’. ”

    May Allah protect her & ease her difficulties & re-unite her with her family & all children asap with complete health & iman (Aameen)

  7. Avatar

    Mohammad Aquil

    September 25, 2009 at 6:15 AM

    Assalamoalaikum
    I really respect your patience and believe in ALMIGHTY ALLAH. May ALLAH unite your sister Aafia to you safe and healthy. (Ameen).

  8. Avatar

    amina

    October 3, 2009 at 7:25 PM

    SubhanAllah !

    “On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear…”(Surat al-Baqara,2:286)

    It is said that the hardest of trials in this world are endured by the Prophets.
    Then by those who resemble them in their Imaan and actions.

    But there is eternal hope for true believers .

    “How often, by Allah’s will, has a small force vanquished a big one? Allah is with those who steadfastly persevere.” (Surat al-Baqara, 2:249)

    May Allah grant you and your family the highest and most beautiful place in Jannat-ul-Firdous!!
    Aameen.

  9. Avatar

    flubber

    February 2, 2010 at 5:56 PM

    never saw a woman like her
    never will
    wow

  10. Avatar

    just another ayesha

    April 10, 2010 at 4:48 AM

    if Allah wills, she’ll come back.

  11. Avatar

    Duulla

    October 25, 2013 at 8:12 PM

    Salam,

    I feel my self …….. simply regretting.
    I want to convey short message to the “daughter of nation”!

    1-she should revise Quran whatever she remembers, I believe this will change this prison for her to be the exact place Allah wanted her to be, and this is an honor and chosen by none ……….. but Allah him self. Once she practice this, she will be guided unbelievably how to proceed. Although I am writing this point here but I believe …….. she must be doing this all over the time! even before all this started. Inshallah she is really the one blessed!

    2-remember when “peace treaty/sulah hudebiyah” was made between Muhammad s and kuffaar of Makkah, There was a point in the treaty that prisoners escaped from Makkah will be returned to the prison in Makkah. Agree to this point by Muhammad s and his companions was just unacceptable by human brain, but they knew Allah is the most wise! ……………… What happened after all, kuffar of Makkah could not bear it more, they broke the promise! the treaty! because when they kept muslims as prisoner, these muslims were able to spread the message of truth and in result more people were getting to Islam ………………….. we should not forget that even a small issue that brought to us by Islam is just full of guidance! …………………………. She may be in total isolation, but her particular act will just not tease the contacting person but Inshallah it will be downfall for Islamic enemies as there very own people start becoming muslim! This will be counted in minus instead of plus in their own work ………….. Allah is the best planner! same thing happened in sulah hudebiyah treaty between Muhammad s and Kuffar of Makkah, Kuffar could not bear more and they just broke the treaty by them selves!

  12. Avatar

    Ali

    May 25, 2015 at 5:20 PM

    Please give me updates of what is happening concerning dr siddiqi

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#Current Affairs

The Disenfranc(e)hisement Of Muslims And Why We Need To Stay Focused

Shaahima Fahim

Published

France is currently enjoying its turn in the limelight of the current news cycle, constantly feeding journalists, pundits, activists, religious leaders and laypeople with material to justify more and more stage time.

“We don’t believe in political Islam that is not compatible with stability and peace in the world,” President Emmanuel Macron is quoted to have said, blind to the fact that the very specific brand of politicised liberalism he currently wields, is ironically only holding that olive branch further out of reach.

Unfortunately, with the France-Macron issue, we find ourselves stuck in torturously lengthy debates over the many hypocrisies of the French laïcité, or going back and forth yet again trying to correctly define the newest terminology (‘Islamic Separatism’) coined for our apparently many-tiered brand identity, refusing to acknowledge the reality check in the room. That all those answers have already long already been writ.

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Macron’s message to Muslims is clear: You Are Not of Us. And in unabashedly endorsing the parading of offensive caricatures of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) — knowing with full certainty the distress this causes for Muslims the world over- and cracking down on prominent Muslim charities and even anti-Islamophobia organizations. Macron is shouting it out from the rooftops; seemingly unafraid of any potential repercussions.

And why should he be? In a political climate where Donald Trump  is the leader of the free world, where Britain is no longer part of the EU, and the highly-respected Merkel soon on her way out, Macron is enticed by the notion that if he plays his cards right, he may well be in contention to be seen as the strongman of Europe.

Liberal Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Although there is so much more to unpack geopolitically, this only partially explains why Macron’s beef (not halal, of course) with France’s Muslim community is not new. Long before the Samuel Paty brouhaha, Macron has been stirring the proverbial pot of anti-Muslim sentiment by shutting down over 70 mosques, schools, and private institutions in the name of neatening up France’s secular identity. Domestically, having only barely earned his presidency when the country went to the polls last, Macron has now chosen to conveniently stretch the limits of his party’s liberal stance in order to drum up support when up against the far-right Le Pen in 2022. And when anti-Islam rhetoric is being employed in a secular political agenda, you know now is the time to be really concerned.

It becomes evident then that Macron too is operating from an all-too-familiar political playbook which calls for the weaponization of Islamophobia for political gain, in a bid to cover-up the deeper underlying issues of the state; and if that comes from smearing an entire civil society under the guise of countering radicalization, so be it. The same playbook has already been passed on by one too many hands, and if we fall into the trap of treating each incident in isolation, there looms the threat another great (Muslim-specific) pandemic.

Leaves of the Same Book

We recognize the same machinations from some of the pages China has earmarked, where the Chinese state is currently incarcerating of over 1.3 million Uyghur Muslims in a network of brutal concentration camps across what China calls Xin Jiang 9occupied East Turkestan. This under the official guise of countering separatist tendencies. Further south, a few leaves too have been taken and applied by India’s Modi  — notoriously known to have come into power flaunting his hard-line nationalist agenda—, in the passing of the blatantly anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and his ruthless ‘handling’ of the people of Kashmir. These examples representing only a small segment of an extensive readership.

Currently Muslims the world over are being distracted into believing that the demonization of Muslims is a very Macron-specific issue, and that we can wash our hands from the matter once through. The very specific French pastry mould that cuts out the definition of a ‘good’ Muslim (apolitical and unseen), and the increasing elasticity of laïcité, is in reality just a modified version of attempts at Muslim disenfranchisement and erasure we are witnessing the world over; only in this instance disguised by very French accents.

We have witnessed many an example where scare-mongering against Muslim minorities and immigrants has done wonders for winning votes in elections and referenda, and although the situation of Muslims in France does appear particularly bleak right now, taking offense too can be a surprisingly effective catalyst in tackling an unfair world order. As concerned bystanders from afar, we the oft-silent majority -and our non-Muslim allies-, should most certainly invest in efforts to counter instruments of institutionalized Muslim bashing  — in specific, and minority bashing in general- that is increasingly being mainstreamed.

Many jaded activists will testify that this movement too shall pass, with the oppressed yet to be left behind in the dust again. While most likely true, instead of cynically questioning whether or not these movements, petitions, and demonstrations are going to eventually produce results, we need to show up while the coals are still hot. Better still, with the blinders off. In reading up, speaking to those on the ground, keeping abreast of developments, and pressurizing our governments, we stand a chance at greater staying power for this cause now, and for a re-fuelled sense of purpose against Muslim-directed atrocities being committed anywhere else.

Secularism has never killed anyone, tweeted Macron callously, simultaneously blacking out pages from France’s bloody history and wiping clean the blood from his own hands.

Au contraire, Monsieur President. Au contraire.

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#Current Affairs

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

Meraj Din

Published

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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Top 10 Books On Black Muslim History

Dr Muhammad Wajid Akhter

Published

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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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. 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.

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