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Lessons in Staying Behind – Part 4: Unconditional Obedience

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When a beloved friend turns away, it is heartbreaking. But when he is so beloved that you are willing to sacrifice for him your mother, father and yourself, it is a stab in the heart. 

Ka’b bin Malik describes the agony he felt saying,

…and I would come to Allah’s Messenger and greet him while he was sitting in his gathering after the prayer, and I would wonder whether the Prophet did move his lips in return to my greetings or not. Then I would offer my prayer near to him and look at him stealthily. When I was busy with my prayer, he would turn his face towards me, but when I turned my face to him, he would turn his face away from me.

In desperation, Ka’b examined the noble face of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). His only wish at the time was a response of acknowledgement, even if it be mere lip movement. This pain was the result of an act of disobedience to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Today, he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)is no longer among us to reprimand us if we turn away. But his commands, his sunnah, have been safely preserved for the purpose of our compliance.

He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “All of my ummah will enter Paradise except those who refuse.” They said: “O Messenger of Allaah, who would refuse?” He said: “Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise and whoever disobeys me has refused.” (Al-Bukhari)

To love our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is great and required, but greater is that he would love us had he been among us.

One of our pious predecessors, Al-Rabee’ bin Khaythama was a man of  noble character, tender speech, and good companionship. Abdullah bin Mas’ud raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) as a Companion, knew the likes and dislikes of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and told Al-Rabee’, “Ya Aba Yazeed, if the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw you, he would love you!”

How is our level of obedience and observance of his sunnah? Would it please him and earn us his love?

Although the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was of great moral character, he avoided returning the salaam to Ka’b and turned his face away in conformity with what Allah had commanded to him regarding the three men.

From this action it is derived that the Imam, scholar or leader who is obeyed may resort to boycotting a sinner in an effort to make him amend his ways and give up his sin. The use of this treatment method is conditioned on actually serving the purpose and having a positive effect, otherwise, it should not be used.

With a heavy heart, Ka’b raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) moved on.

When this harsh attitude of the people lasted long, I walked till I scaled the wall of the garden of Abu Qatada who was my cousin and dearest person to me, and I offered my greetings to him. By Allah, he did not return my greetings. I said, ‘O Abu Qatada! I implore you by Allah! Don’t you know that I love Allah and His Apostle?‘ He kept quiet. I asked him again, beseeching him by Allah, but he remained silent. Then I asked him again in the Name of Allah. He said, “Allah and His Messenger know better.’

They loved one another, but their love for Allah and His Messenger surpassed any other ties of love or kinship.

Abu Qatadah could have found excuses away from the eyes of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to speak to his dear cousin. But the believers of this city were raised between the hands of none other than a Prophet, who ingrained in the hearts a spirit of unconditional obedience to their Creator. Finding excuses to get around the commands of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was not their practice and custom.

The level of muraqabah (watchfulness) that they held is evident in this incident. Obeying Allah was not confined to the company of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and the rest of the Companions alone. They carried it in their hearts everywhere, avoiding what they were prohibited from in the most secluded of situations, knowing that Allah Knows and Sees all.

Abu Qatadah knew that Ka’b loved Allah and His Messenger, yet his only words after being asked in the Name of Allah were, ‘Allah and His Apostle know it better.’  This was not responding to Ka’b and was not considered conversing with him.

Thereupon my eyes flowed with tears and I returned and jumped over the wall.

The young strong man that he was, could no longer bear the pain of being cut off. The test was a huge one, and its intensity increased.

Ka’b added, “While I was walking in the market of Madinah, suddenly I saw a Nabati (i.e. a Christian farmer) from the Nabatis of Shaam who came to sell his grains in Medina, saying, ‘Who will lead me to Kab bin Malik?’ The people began to point (me) out for him till he came to me and handed me a letter from the king of Ghassan in which the following was written:

“To proceed, I have been informed that your friend (i.e. the Prophet ) has treated you harshly. Anyhow, Allah does not let you live at a place where you feel inferior and your right is lost. So join us, and we will console you.”

Ka’b bin Malik raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) had just received an invitation from one of the Kings of Al-Shaam, an unbeliever, of a ‘guarantee’ of protection from the ‘inferiority’ he was assumed to be facing in Madinah.

So, what was his response?

When I read it, I said to myself, ‘This too is a test.’

What an amazing man! He could have concluded that the anticipated relief from Allah had arrived, and at 33 years of age, could have proceeded in search of a new life in another land. But, because of his sincerity, Allah guided him to realize that it was part of the test and protected him from stumbling.

Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) says,

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ فَإِذَا أُوذِيَ فِي اللَّهِ جَعَلَ فِتْنَةَ النَّاسِ كَعَذَابِ اللَّهِ

And of the people are some who say, “We believe in Allah,” but when one [of them] is harmed for [the cause of] Allah, they consider the trial of the people as [if it were] the punishment of Allah. (al-‘Ankabut 29:10).

Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Meaning that their trial is leaving Islam if they are made to suffer for Allah.” (Tafsir ibn Kathir).

Here, we are taught steadfastness in the face of difficulty in the way of Allah. When taking the right path involves treading bumpy patches, will we then abandon it? Or will we follow the example of this noble Companion; remain patient whilst waiting for relief from Allah?

This big test revealed blessings in disguise. Through the reaction of Ka’b to this invitation, Allah showed the Muslims that his faith was not weakened in the face of the boycott.  It was proof that regardless of the strength of the trial he was facing, not for a moment did he contemplate leaving his religion. He was not one of weak faith, who sought status, kingdom and the life of this world. Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) says,

أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوا أَن يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ
وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ

Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested. And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars.” (Al-‘Ankabut 29:2,3).

Through a test, the faith residing in the hearts becomes evident. Al-Hasan al-Basri said: The state of a people in the time of well-being (‘aafiya) is hidden. If they are afflicted with trials, each is revealed in their true state: the believer to his true belief and the hypocrite to his hypocrisy.

Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) made it clear through this test that Ka’b was absolutely innocent from any strains of hypocrisy and remained sincere to Allah and His Prophet. This was mercy from Allah and source of coolness to the burning pain in his heart.

When weeds invade your garden, learn to look for the beautiful flowers hidden in their midst. Pick them out, so that their colors stand out and their fragrance sweetens your trial. Allah’s tests us with His Divine Wisdom; just like this test carried abundant lessons for Ka’b, it is upon us to reflect and derive the good that comes with every test we face. It is through such reflection that the pain of the trial decreases and gratefulness to Allah increases.

On the path seeking to extinguish the fiery pain of his own trial, Ka’b lit a fire; but it was one of unconditional obedience, even in the tightest of circumstances.

Then I took the letter to the oven and made a fire therein by burning it.

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Mariam is of Middle Eastern origin, raised in North America, not quite settling in one specific place. After living up in the North of North America, she has shifted continents and currently residing in a rapidly flourishing, historical city located in the desert of Arabia. She is a recent graduate of the American Open University, with a Bachelors in Islamic Studies. She believes that regardless of where a person is, writing is a tool to reach out and express that which inspires, touches and affects them. So she writes; perhaps that which inspires her will be a source of good for at least one other person.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sayf

    June 10, 2010 at 12:58 AM

    Mash’Allah, keep up the excellent work!
    May Allah reward you immensely, ameen.

    • Avatar

      Mariam E.

      June 10, 2010 at 8:49 AM

      Asalamu Alikum

      Jazakum Allah khayr for your encouragement.

  2. Amad

    Amad

    June 10, 2010 at 2:03 AM

    I don’t know why but I have goose-pimples every time I read your articles… mashallah, you really extract deep lessons and inspiration.

    This story of Ka’ab rd is one that always touches me… because of his sincerity and pain, and his joy of being forgiven… what amazing human emotions.

    I would like to add that

    From this action it is derived that the Imam, scholar or leader who is obeyed may resort to boycotting a sinner in an effort to make him amend his ways and give up his sin. The use of this treatment method is conditioned on actually serving the purpose and having a positive effect, otherwise, it should not be used.

    is something that has to be very, very carefully used, if ever. There is a tendency to abuse this. I have seen this boycott phenomenon used because of an imam or shaykh’s personal issues with other person(s). Only if there is a real, significant issue and a nearly unanimous agreement among community members already that (a) someone needs to be boycotted, and (b) that there will be actual tangible benefit of that boycott (i.e. the person is sincere Muslim who will take lesson from the boycott, not become vengeful).

    wallahualam

    • Avatar

      Mariam E.

      June 10, 2010 at 8:47 AM

      Asalamu Alikum

      Jazakum Allah khayr.
      The same condition of actually reaching a positive outcome through boycotting was mentioned in most of the sources I referred to.
      In fact, it is emphasized in the story itself, as it had such a strong impact on Ka’b bin Malik that he even felt the land around him was strange. And this is while he is a Companion and a man of strong faith. But the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) took this action based on Divine revelation.

      So it is obvious it cannot be used with anyone, particularly with someone who is very weak in faith. The hypocrites were not boycotted, as their hearts were dead and would not feel it’s effect anyway.

  3. Avatar

    ummfatima

    June 10, 2010 at 5:33 AM

    assalamualykum dear sister,

    Jazakillahu khairaan kaseera .Subahanallah.It`s really heart softner.we often disobey and yet no remorse.May Allahtaala guide us .

    salaam.

  4. Avatar

    Amatullah

    June 10, 2010 at 7:50 AM

    SubhanAllah, beautiful piece Mariam. Baarak Allahu feeki.

    How many more parts until the end of this series? It’s really wonderful mashaAllah, jazaaki Allahu khayran.

    • Avatar

      Mariam E.

      June 10, 2010 at 8:56 AM

      Asalamu Alikum

      wa baraka Allahu feeki. To be honest, I am not quite sure how many parts are left, but as we approach the end of the story……..relief for Ka’b (radhiAllahu anhu) is near. We’ll see inshaAllah.

  5. Avatar

    Me

    June 10, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    Jazaki Allahu khairan! :)

  6. Avatar

    mystrugglewithin

    June 10, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    I read between the lines, and I could relate everything surrounding me to nothing but a tribulation by Allah swt .. for sure, your message is delivered! :>

    -jazakallah khayrun

  7. Avatar

    Cub

    June 10, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    Jazakallahu Khayr! This is so inspiring, SubhanAllah! Especially the encounter with Abu Qatada.

    Oh and the daisy pic is pretty! =)

  8. Avatar

    Abd- Allah

    June 10, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    JazakumAllah khayr!

    Sister Mariam, I would suggest that once you are done with all parts of this story, that you compile them all together as a pdf booklet so that it can be spread to others.

  9. Avatar

    Ify Okoye

    June 10, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    I love the story of Kab especially that part with Abu Qatadah, it’s so powerful and so heartbreaking.

  10. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    June 11, 2010 at 2:01 AM

    Really touching and heart-rendingly inspiring. Barak Allahu feeki ya Mariam! :)

  11. Avatar

    elham

    June 11, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    SubhanAllah,beautiful story!

    May Allah bless you for these reminders and help the believers in their trials

  12. Avatar

    Amatul Wadood

    June 13, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    Salam warat wabart!

    @ sis Mariam: JazakAllah Khair! may Allah SWT accept ur deeds and may He help you to continue ur efforts in His Name ,in His Cause!

    Stories of repentance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSfy5zP1E78

  13. Pingback: Lessons in Staying Behind – Part 5: In Temptation, a Steady Heart | MuslimMatters.org

  14. Avatar

    ummmanar

    July 11, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    jazakallah khair sis.I really love your articles.I thimk I read them each twice,but I can’t stil relay it to my friendsand family. There is so much to learn from this lesson love, patience,tolerance,friendship. barakallahu fiki keep up the good job.I am so proud to be your sis im islam.May allah(swt) reward you with jenetal firdus .

    • Avatar

      Mariam E.

      July 12, 2010 at 4:22 AM

      Asalamu alikum

      jazaki Allah khayr for your kind words. I ask Allah to accept from us and make them of benefit.

  15. Pingback: Lessons in Staying Behind – Part 6: ‘With Difficulty Comes Ease’ | allah.eu

  16. Pingback: পিছনে পড়ে যাওয়া থেকে প্রাপ্ত শিক্ষা- ৪র্থ কিস্তিঃ নিঃশর্ত আনুগত্য (অনুবাদ) | আমার স্পন্দন

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Civil Rights

Podcast: Lessons from the Life of Malcolm X | Abdul-Malik Ryan

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One of the things that happens with historical figures who continue to remain well-known and influential years after they can continue to speak for themselves is that others seek to speak for them.  Attempts are made to co-opt their legacy, either in sincere efforts for good or in selfish efforts for ideological or even commercial gain.  This is especially true of Malcolm X, who is not only a historical and political icon but in many ways a “celebrity” remembered by many primarily for his style and attitude.

The only real and meaningful tribute we can pay to Malcolm X is to follow his example. Click To Tweet

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Once, while in class at college, an Arab girl I was sitting next to said quite loudly to another, “Hey, give this paper to the ‘abdah” referring to a black girl in the class. I wondered if she was even aware of what she was saying in English. Did she think that ‘abdah translates to “black girl” and never thought of its true meaning? Did she think that I didn’t understand?

 

Read by Zeba Khan, originally posted here on Muslimmatters.org.

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#Current Affairs

When Racism Goes Viral: The Coronavirus And Modern Muslim Orientalism

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Lumping an entire people together for collective punishment, reveling in their suffering, and sniggering at their food choices isn’t an exercise in science, Sunnah, or compassion. It’s good, old-fashioned orientalism.

In the eight weeks since it was identified, the 2019 novel coronavirus has infected nearly 12,000 people in China alone, 200 of whom did not survive. Symptoms are flu-like in nature, and global side effects include acute, apparently contagious… racism.

Online, in Muslim as well as non-Muslim spaces, social media feeds are sniggering “Eww, you eat gross things! Of course you’ll get gross diseases!” In the midst of this human tragedy, orientalist tropes about the Chinese are being sloppily repackaged as health concerns over the coronavirus, and served with a side of bat soup.

Yes, bat soup.

The coronavirus in question is found in bats, and thanks to the scientific expertise of social media, videos of Chinese people consuming anything from bat soup to baby mice and rats are popping up as “proof” of the disease’s cause.

However the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans, the initial source of the outbreak seems to have originated from the Wuhan Seafood market, where a number of employees and a few shoppers were the first casualties to the infection. The 2019-nCoV is moving from person to person the same way the flu does, and what a person eats – or doesn’t eat – has no bearing on whether they contract the virus or not.

In an article titled, No, Coronavirus Was Not Caused by ‘Bat Soup’–But Here’s What Researchers Think May Be to Blame, Health.com writes:

“Coronaviruses in general are large family of viruses that can affect many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases, those viruses are also zoonotic, which means they can pass between humans and animals—as was the case with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory system (SARS), two severe coronaviruses in people.

Initially, this novel coronavirus was believed to have started in a large seafood or wet market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. But a large number of people diagnosed with the virus reportedly didn’t have exposure to the wet markets, indicating that person-to-person spread of the virus is also occurring. However, it’s still possible that the novel coronavirus began with an infected animal at the market—and then went on to person-to-person transmission once people were infected.”

Being uncomfortable with things you’ve never considered edible before isn’t necessarily a racist reaction. When my husband told me he ate a chocolate-covered cricket once, I hid my toothbrush for a week, but that’s not what’s happening right now. There is a deadly virus threatening a group of people, and the internet sees fit to make fun of them. Why? Because orientalism.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.Click To Tweet

The inferiorizing feature is step one, because in order to position yourself as a winner, the other guy has to be a loser in some way.

The otherizing is the step 2, and both steps are important because if you say that your little brother is a loser, in the end you’re still family and you’ve got his back. This would be inferiorizing, but not otherizing.

But if you say that other kind of guy is a loser, then you have no common ground. And when the other kind of guy is in trouble, you need only gloat and make nasty comments on Twitter. That’s inferiorizing with otherizing. Orientalism can be loosely translated as US vs THEM, normal versus weird, and local versus invasive foreign, or exotic.

The otherizing of orientalism is so subconsciously embedded in people that it even creates auditory illusions to maintain the “otherization” of the subject being viewed. As crazy as that sounds, everyone has their own experience. Mine for just last month played out as follows. A homeless man approached my window and said “Ma’am, do you have two dollars?”

I smiled and responded to him, “I have exactly two dollars!”

As I dug around for my wallet, he cocked his head and said, “Your accent. There’s something different about it. Something… foreign, exotic?”

“It’s Chicago,” I said, handing him two dollars.

He blinked a few times. “What’s Chicago?”

“My accent. It’s Chicagoan. English is my first language. My accent is from Chicago.”

He narrowed his eyes at me suspiciously, this gatekeeper of Chicagoness. “What part of Chicago?”

“North side, Lincolnwood area,” I said. “I grew up on Devon Ave.”

“Pulaski Park!” he beamed, pointing to himself. “I’m from Chicago too!”

We smiled at each other, basking for a moment in our mutual Chicagoness. Then I waved and drove away, adding his insistence of my  exotic“otherness” to the dozens of other peoples’ who have heard my perfectly flat, perfectly blandly midwestern accent and perceived something foreign. I call that one “hearing with your eyes.”

I have lost track of people who have tried to insist that I have an accent. One woman even went so far as to imply that I was lying about being a native English speaker, that I must have some other first language, because there’s “Something else in there, I can hear something foreign! But you’re very articulate though.”

(To form your own opinion on my exotic accent or the lack thereof, visit the MuslimMatters podcast here!)

Compliments like “You’re so articulate!” or “You’re so different!” give you partial credit for your exceptionality, while still discrediting every other member of your general race, religion, region, or hemisphere. The left-handed compliment has a long history, and follows a predictable pattern. Take, for example, this excerpt from The Talisman, a crusade-genre fiction published in 1825.

In this scene, our gallant, invading knight finds himself unable to defeat the enemy “Saracen,” aka – Muslim defender of the Holy Land. In grudging admiration, the knight concedes:

“I well thought…that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange it is to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it.”

Translation: “Your people and your religion are the spawn of satan, but not you. I speak not thus of thee in particular. You’re so cool for Muslim!” Spoiler alert: turns out it’s Salahuddin.

From the crusades to colonialism to America’s chronic invasion of Muslim lands, the misrepresentation of people from Over There is both a cause and effect of policy decisions. Orientalism creates the “bad guys” necessary to justify the “good guy” response by “proving” the bad guys to be so weird, inferior, and intrinsically bad that it becomes necessary to call for the good guy cavalry. That gives the good guys permission to take over the resources that the bad guys are too incompetent to manage anyway, and overthrow the governments they’re too stupid to run, and free the women that they’re too barbaric to appreciate.

One excellent reference on this is Dr. Jack Shaheen’s brilliant documentary Reel Bad Arabs, which summarizes a hundred years of Hollywood’s orientalist portrayal of “Arab Land,” a mythical, exotic, treacherous, incompetent, and seductive place, whose capital city is apparently Agrabah which, in 2015, a public policy poll found that 30% of GOP voters were in favor of bombing.

Another side effect of orientalism is the refusal to allow for individual accountability and the insistence on collective blame. “Western” men who harm and oppress women are rightly labeled as jerks and abusers who don’t represent Western morals, ethics, or ideals through their individual actions. Same for white racists, extremists, and criminals in general.

However, Muslims jerks who do the same are awarded representative status of the entire Muslim population (1.9 billion) and Islamic tradition (1441 years). The perception as all Muslim men based on only the worst of them seems ludicrous on paper, and such generalizations are no longer acceptable to make about race, but are still perfectly popular to make about minority religious groups.

Orientalism enables the belief that Muslims are terrible terrorists who are terrible to their women. If they say otherwise, it’s because their religion is terrible and lying about it is part of the religion too. They don’t deserve their own lands or resources, they’ll just use them for more terribleness. We should go in there and save them from themselves! And also, make lots of predictable, idiotic romance novels and movies in which a poor, beautiful Oriental Female is rescued through the power of Love and Freedom. Because just as violence is the natural state of the Muslim man, oppression is the natural state of the Muslim woman. Miskeena. Habibti.

Human beings can be horrible to each other. No ethnic, religious, or racial group is any exception. The problem arises when individual horribleness is elevated to collective attribution, and that collective attribution is used to justify collective punishment, as well as collective suffering.

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)?Click To Tweet

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)? What about snails, frog legs, crawfish, chocolate covered ants, and those tequila-inspired lollipops with an actual worm candied in the center?

The filtering effect of orientalism means that our weird foods – be it maghz masala and katakat– are quirky and fun, but their weird foods are disgusting and totally cause to celebrate infectious disease.

If the tables were turned and a deadly coronavirus originated from say, Saudi Arabia, would it be alright to ridicule Muslims for what they ate, or how they lived? What if that specific coronavirus actually originated in camels.

Yes, camels. The Islamophobic internet would have a field day with that one. Yes, we ride camels and prize camels and even eat camels – and they’re delicious I might add – but if a deadly virus originated from camels, found its way into humans in the Middle East, and from there caused death and destruction in other countries- would it be our fault? Would we deserve scorn? Would the suffering and death of our people be justified by how “gross” it is that we eat camels, even if only a few us actually do, and the rest of us prefer shawarma?

Pause for dramatic emphasis. Open the Lancet. Read.

“Human coronavirus is one of the main pathogens of respiratory infection. The two highly pathogenic viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, cause severe respiratory syndrome in humans and four other human coronaviruses induce mild upper respiratory disease. The major SARS-CoV outbreak involving 8422 patients occurred during 2002–03 and spread to 29 countries globally.

MERS-CoV emerged in Middle Eastern countries in 2012 but was imported into China.

The sequence of 2019-nCoV is relatively different from the six other coronavirus subtypes but can be classified as betacoronavirus. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can be transmitted directly to humans from civets and dromedary camels, respectively, and both viruses originate in bats, but the origin of 2019-nCoV needs further investigation.

The mortality of SARS-CoV has been reported as more than 10% and MERS-CoV at more than 35%.”

MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome –Coronavirus emerged in 2012, traveling from bats to camels to humans, killing 35% of the people who contracted it. It originated in Saudi Arabia and found its way across the continent all the way to China. So could the Chinese internet have been justified in ridiculing our deaths because we ate camels?

Could they legitimize posting “gross” videos of whole, pit-roasted camels? Could they say it was science, not racism, as they moved on to our other “gross” foods, like locusts and the dhab lizard?

Read more about the Sunnah of the Dhab Lizard.

Locusts and lizards have as much to do with MERS-CoV as mice and rats have to do with 2019 novel coronavirus, but doesn’t our grossness in general mean we deserve our fate?

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.Click To Tweet

Orientalism is alive and kicking both of our communities in the teeth — Chinese and Muslim – but to further complicate the matter, there’s the ongoing genocide of the Uighur Muslims in China, and that’s rooted in orientalism too.

The Chinese government has imprisoned 3 million Muslims in concentration camps, a number equal to the entire Muslim population in America. It is not unexpected that some people wishfully assume the 2019 novel coronavirus epidemic to be the comeuppance that the Chinese government deserves for its cruelty, but that’s sad and wrong on many, many levels.

People cheering the coronavirus on fail to understand a few very big, very important things about the situation. I will list them, because the internet is no place for subtlety and these points have to stand out for those who would sail over the entire article so they can trash it in the comments. They are as follows:


  1. The entire population of China is no more responsible for the actions of its government than you are for yours. If you hate Donald Trump, his border wall, the separation of families, the Muslim Ban, cuts to medical benefits, and corruption in general but STILL live in America, then you understand that a great, frustrated, and powerless mass of citizens can have little to no effect on its government’s choices. Such is politics. Such is life. Such is China too.

    This guy is all our fault specifically. So I hope we all die of the flu.

  2. The coronavirus’s lethality is exponentially higher in people with poor health and weak immune systems. Like the flu, the coronavirus is overwhelmingly most lethal to children and elderly. The coronavirus is not targeted at, nor limited to the Chinese leadership for its crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, that is not how epidemics work.
  3.  The spread of Coronavirus – like all respiratory infections – is greatly accelerated through close living quarters as well as poor sanitation and hygiene. The 3 million Uighur Muslims interred by the Chinese government are imprisoned in distressingly cruel, cramped, and unhygienic conditions. Their close proximity as well as population density mean that if the virus makes it into the captive population, hundreds of thousands – if not millions of Muslims – would die. Don’t root for the coronavirus. It does not discriminate based on religion or race, even if you do.

And now we come full circle. When Muslims ridicule the Chinese for “being gross,” they are simply echoing the same racist, Orientalist talking points that labeled the Chinese – and later the Japanese – as the “Yellow Peril,” a filthy, faceless, monolithic mass deserving all of our scorn and none of the individual considerations that we insist on for ourselves.

Given the abuse that Muslims have been subject to by orientalist tropes, it should make us all the more aware of its dangerous cultural impact. We know what it’s like to be looked down on, laughed at, and blamed for our own suffering. We know what it feels like to have our foods gagged at, our accents mocked, and our cultural clothing turned into Halloween costumes.

Worse still, we know, very painfully and very currently, what it looks like for an entire people to be treated as a disease in and of themselves. China has declared Islam to be a contagious disease, an “ideological illness,” and on this very basis is it holding 3 million Muslims hostage. In an official statement loaded with situational irony, the Chinese Community Party officially stated,

“Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.

… There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. That is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind … Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology and not seeking treatment is like being infected by a disease that has not been treated in time, or like taking toxic drugs … There is no guarantee that it will not trigger and affect you in the future.” – source

The dangers of racism and orientalism are real, and the victims number the millions. Knowing how much damage orientalism causes in our community, we must commit to never, ever stooping to the same ideologies that are used to justify our own oppression. No matter how many bats people eat, or how evil their government can be, people are individual people. We stand on equal footing, equally deserving of respect, compassion, and acknowledgement of our humanity.



The Orientalist mindset that diminishes and distances us from each other strips us of our dignity, whether we are its victim, or its the perpetrator. Such racism is antithetical to the Prophetic compassion and mercy that Islam demands from us as Muslims. When Muslims celebrate the suffering of innocent people as some sort of epidemiological revenge for the suffering of innocent people, that’s not Islam.

That’s prejudice.

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