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Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Is it British to Ban the Face Veil?

MuslimMatters

By Sajda Khan (Twitter: @Sajda__Khan)

Why has Britain become so obsessed with an item of clothing known as the niqab worn by a minority of women? In the last few weeks, there has been an influx of media commentaries and heightened discourse on this issue.  Burka and niqab are two terms which are commonly used to describe a face-veil. The niqab, in essence, is a veil covering the entire face leaving the area around the eyes uncovered. The burka covers the whole body, including the face, with a mesh or voile around the eyes.

The row was prompted by Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, who refuses to meet constituents who wear the veil, and in addition tabled a Bill making it illegal to wear ‘face coverings’ in public.

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The Bill states: ‘A person wearing a garment or other objects intended by the wearer as its primary purpose to obscure the face in a public place shall be guilty of an offence.’ Following this, a college in Birmingham, introduced a ban on the niqab, citing the need to identify students on campus; a counter protest led to a swift reversal of the decision. Meanwhile, Lib Dem Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne called for a debate on women wearing face-veils in public places arguing: ‘We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression.’

A number of European countries have decried the veil as being incompatible with their secular values and they have therefore legislated restrictions that impose fines or imprisonment for those who break the law. Belgium and France have become the first European countries to impose a nationwide ban on the wearing of the face-veil in public.

It is argued that the face-veil should be banned in Britain for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it is a symbol of male supremacy and oppresses women; secondly, it hinders integration and communication; thirdly, it is perceived as a security threat; fourthly, it is not British; and finally, that it is not a religious requirement but a cultural practice adopted by Muslim misogynists to repress women.

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said in the Telegraph last month: ‘Women should be clear that the burka is a symbol not of liberation but of repression and segregation.’

There has been a history of Western politicians condemning the veil as sinister, misogynist and oppressive since the epoch of colonialism. For example, Evelyn Baring, the Earl of Cromer, who served as Britain’s first Consul General of Egypt between 1883 and 1907, believed that the veil was degrading for women and a ‘fatal obstacle’ hence ‘mental and moral development’ may only be attained by discarding this practice. Countries like Afghanistan and Iraq were invaded on the premise of freeing women from the shackles of oppression but sadly, the plight of women has not improved significantly.

The negative depictions of Muslim women are not a figment of the imagination though; Muslim women do struggle for gender equality and are oppressed in some parts of the world. These misrepresentations have been compounded by a profound ignorance of Islam and some Muslims interpreting the Qur’an to justify sexual oppression, inequality and patriarchy. But is banning an item of clothing going to emancipate these women? Muslim women are oppressed in many other ways, not necessarily by what they wear.

The debate has been exacerbated further with the Health Minister launching a review of the guidelines on face-veils within the National Health Service; surely, there is not an epidemic of veiled professionals in our NHS? Security of individuals is paramount and Muslim women who wear the face-veil are known to comply with security checks; hence there is no need to impose a general ban at airports and other public places. It is also important to acknowledge that we have extremely sophisticated new technologies that use eye recognition and fingerprints – these are more precise than face recognition.

Obsession with this simple piece of clothing is fuelling anti-Muslim sentiment

In their quest to ‘liberate’ the minuscule number of women who wear the face-veil, Home Office Minister Mr. Browne and others fail to understand that patriarchy and subjugation of women will not be eliminated by banning the veil. In fact, it will further alienate and marginalise them. Forcing women to uncover is inherently antithetical. A ban is self defeating – it will fuel anti-Muslim sentiment and sow seeds of intolerance and resentment in the hearts and minds of society. Those calling for a veil ban in Britain must not be oblivious to the aftermath of Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s draconian legislation in 2011. This has not only stigmatised Muslim women but has been a carte blanche for physical and verbal assaults on them.

One case involved a pregnant 21-year-old in the town of Argenteuil, north-west of Paris, in June last year. The woman was assaulted by two men who verbally abused her, then attacked her physically. Consequently, she ended up having a miscarriage. In addition, only days after Nicolas Sarkozy gave a major policy speech denouncing the burka, Marwa Ali El-Sherbini, a German resident of Egyptian origin, was killed in 2009 during an appeal hearing at a court of law in Dresden, Germany. She was stabbed by Alex Wiens. El-Sherbini was in the dock in a German court giving evidence of how the accused had hurled abuse at her for wearing the headscarf after she asked him to let her son sit on a swing last summer. The very same man strode across the Dresden courtroom and plunged a knife into her 18 times.

The ban in France is a breach of basic freedoms and if put into practice in Britain, will only curtail liberty and freedom of expression.

Religious Requirement or an Archaic Tradition?

There is no denying that in some parts of the world women might be coerced into wearing the face-veil and this is wrong; but there is no evidence to substantiate this being the case in Europe. Most women who veil here do so out of a sense of religious obligation. To curb the practice of forced veiling, legislation should read: ‘A ban will be imposed on those women who are deemed to have been forced to cover their face against their wishes’ rather than the current ban, which confines the religious and personal freedom of all Muslim women.

The argument that the face veil is not a religious requirement but a relic of an archaic tradition, later adopted by misogynistic Muslims, is not plausible because some of the classical and mainstream scholars of Islam unanimously maintain that the niqab is predicated upon the basic principles of Islamic law. However, there is a difference of opinion amongst the scholars; some are of the view that the niqab is not an obligation, while others consider it to be recommended or permissible.

This difference of opinion is based on the interpretation of the verses in the Qur’an that refer to the dress code of women. One of these verses is as follows:

‘…They should draw their head coverings over their bosoms…’ [Surah Nur; 31]

Those who say a woman must cover her face use this verse to argue that if God orders a woman to draw her head covering over her bosom, it implies that she will be covering her face. While other scholars state that the verse indicates wrapping the scarf around the face and allowing it to drape over the bosom.

Why is it not British to Ban the Face-Veil?

For Britain to follow the example of countries like France and Belgium and impose a ban, would be detrimental for relations between Muslims and non Muslims, creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy. It would further isolate and seclude the very women the ban is supposed to liberate. Treating innocent law-abiding women as criminals is not going to help with integration. Instead, it will increase in polarisation. Banning the face-veil will incarcerate women in their homes; it will deny them access to public space while ensuring continued male dependency; this is blatantly counter-productive to what the ban is trying to achieve.

We are proud of British traditions and values which include freedom of speech, and the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs. Banning the face-veil is not British; a great British tradition is respect for other cultures and religions – for centuries, we have been doing this far better than any other country in the world.

To ban any religious symbol be it the Sikh turban, the Jewish Kippah or the Muslim face-veil is to display narrow-mindedness and reflects an undertone of secular fundamentalism. Liberal democracy is about respect for other cultures and religions. Surely in a free society one must have the autonomy to choose; not to conform?

We need to continue to uphold our core principle of diversity: that means showing respect for difference. A fair and just society for all is built upon the foundation of upholding the rights of others even if we disagree with, or dislike the choices that they may make.

Muslim men who force women to cover and Western politicians who force them to uncover are unacceptable.

If women can chose to wear as little as they like then they should also be able to choose to wear as much as they like. Like other women, Muslim women should also have the independence to choose to wear what they want.

 

Surely the European world is entrenched in a myriad of social, economic and political concerns that have a far greater impact on society than the face-veil worn by a few women?

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                    #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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