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Black Mass, Liberalism, and the Orthodox Paradox

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Daniel Haqiqatjou was born in Houston, TX. He attended Harvard University where he majored in Physics and minored in Philosophy. He completed a Masters degree in Philosophy at Tufts University. Haqiqatjou also studies traditional Islamic sciences part-time. He writes and lectures on contemporary issues surrounding Muslims and Modernity as well as the intersection of western philosophical thought and Islamic intellectual history.

This post was orginally featured on islamandevolution.com

To the outrage and dismay of Catholics across the US, atheists and Satanists at Harvard University planned to perform a “Black Mass” on campus. In an official statement, Harvard president Drew Faust remarked that, while the Black Mass is deeply offensive and “abhorrent,” the University’s commitment to free speech prevents it from intervening. For more info on the controversy, read here.

Interestingly, an analogous controversy took place at Harvard in 2006, when a campus student magazine published the infamous Danish cartoons. As an undergraduate there, actively involved with the campus Islamic Society, I remember vividly the impact the controversy had on the local Muslim community. In that case, the University administration took a similar stance to the one above, though, unlike in the case of the Black Mass, there was not an official statement from the University president nor did the then-president, Larry Summers, attend our campus Friday prayers in solidarity.

In any case,  how should we, as Muslims, feel about this recent situation and the response to it? On the one hand, it is Satanism. Anything done in the name of Satan or black magic, whether genuinely or for mere spectacle, is condemned according to the sharia, i.e., Islamic Law. On the other hand, the language and reasoning used by some commentators to condemn the event is quite similar to arguments used to curtail American Muslim rights, e.g., the right to build mosques, wear the hijab, etc. As Michael Muhammad Knight argues in his provocatively titled essay “Muslims for Satan”:

As a Muslim, I have to support the Satanists. Public revulsion of Muslims in this country is so popular that I have no choice but to stand with religions that are marked as ugly, offensive, and intolerant. Rather than join the anti-Satanist outrage and try to convince Christians that Muslims deserve to be included as “children of Abraham” or whatever, I would suggest that Muslims take a radical stand on behalf of the religious freedoms that we claim for ourselves.

Framed thusly, the tension is palpable. Should American Muslims (and Western Muslims at large) side with Satanism in the name of religious freedom or should they abide by established tenets of Islamic Law, in effect supporting Christian groups who, in other contexts, oppose Muslim rights and rail against the mere presence of Islam in the West ?

Rocks and Hard Places

This is the same tension Western Muslims feel on the question of gay rights. Many Western Muslims remain religiously opposed to homosexuality, let alone “gay marriage.” At the same time, Muslims are a beleaguered minority, struggling for a place at the societal table. Ostensibly, gays are also a rising minority, striving for public acceptance. So, in this sense, opposition to gay rights is, at least in some sense, also opposition to Muslim rights.

Of course, the analogy may not be perfect. Is discrimination on the basis of religious affiliation really the same as that for sexual orientation? One could argue that religious affiliation is fundamentally dissimilar to sexual orientation in just such a way that Muslims can remain opposed to gay rights and not undercut their own interests, all the while maintaining a commitment to liberal norms of freedom of conscience and so on. (And, of course, the converse argument can be made too: committed liberals calling for curtailment of Muslim rights while simultaneously championing gay rights.)

This is why the Black Mass event is such an interesting test case for Muslims. Unlike with sexual orientation, it is difficult to argue that Satanism does not fall in the same category as Islam. In other words, from the lens of secular liberalism, there is no functional difference between Islam and Satanism and Catholicism, or any other religion for that matter.

Orthodox Paradox

And so, here is yet another example of traditional norms butting heads with liberal values. What is the way out of this “Orthodox Paradox,” as Noah Feldman puts it? Feldman himself provided no decisive answer and seemed to have resigned himself to a “life of contradiction.” Other believers, like Michael Muhammad Knight, fall strongly on the side of liberalism. Prior to the Black Mass kerfuffle, it may have been hard to imagine a scenario where, implicitly, Muslims would be pressured to support Satanic ritual. Then again, liberalism does have this tendency to push the boundaries of traditional proprietary to blasphemous proportions. Which raises the question, what is the line? For those simultaneously committed to liberalism and religious faith, how far is too far? Is there anything left that is sacred, in the truest sense of that word?

Liberally Confused

In the US, we have already seen federal courts rule that businesses do not have the right to refuse service to gay patrons. And religious colleges are being pressured to accommodate LGBT employees, even if their official religious doctrine opposes homosexuality. It is not difficult to imagine the same kinds of arguments — perhaps in a different context but still under the umbrella of religious tolerance/freedom — being used to argue that denominational institutions must facilitate Satanist religious needs and preferences. Not to be outdone, Europe over the past decade has unleashed all manner of liberal secular argumentation to justify everything from the banning of mosque minarets, the banning of hijab in public, the banning of religious symbols generally, the banning of halal meat, the curtailing of religious assembly, and on and on. In the Muslim world, too, it is no secret, as the aftermath of the Arab Spring amply demonstrated, that liberal secular regimes can be more than a little harsh in disenfranchising Muslims in the political and legal domain, even when the latter profess their commitment to secular norms.

Predictably, most liberal-leaning Muslims (with some exceptions) will protest that what is happening in Europe or the Arab world is not consistent with liberalism. After all, liberalism stands for freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, a vibrant and open public domain dictated by democratic pluralism and mutual reasonableness. As it turns out, all these liberal concepts are radically subjective — as subjective, ironically, as secularists believe religion to be. So, maybe European hardline legislators banning the hijab, minarets, halal meat, facial hair, etc., are acting perfectly in accordance with liberalism, and it is just that liberalism is so indeterminate and content-less that literally any kind of legislation can be argued to conform to it. Even many hardcore Islamists actively claim that the principles of Islamic Law are inherently compatible with liberal values like freedom and democracy. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood officially calls its political wing “The Freedom and Justice Party.” Even Ayatollah Khomeini after the Iranian revolution used the language of liberalism to describe the revolution and his government as fundamentally pro-freedom (i.e., “azadi” in Farsi) and pro-democracy.

So, perhaps, that is the answer to the Orthodox Paradox. Perhaps the true paradox lies at the heart of liberalism. The claim that liberal secularism is inherently problematic and even self-contradictory is not new. Numerous prominent philosophersintellectual historiansanthropologistspolitical scientists, and legal theorists have remarked at length on the essential emptiness of liberalism. Reviewing all these works in detail is not the goal of this post, but, to whet the appetite, we can broadly introduce a few of the main ideas from the literature.

The Fickle Nature of Liberal Tolerance

Ought a democratic government ban political parties not committed to democracy? Ought a liberal legal system, otherwise committed to freedom of belief, proscribe illiberal beliefs? In a phrase, is a “discriminatory tolerance” truly tolerance?

Many of the religious bans against Muslims in Europe are done using this type of rationale. The historical banning of Islamist political parties in countries like Egypt and Turkey are also done on this basis. The argument is often made that Islamic practices and beliefs are uniquely antithetical to a free, democratic society, and, therefore, for the sake of the public good, must be prohibited. Yet, by secularism’s own lights, what is inherently good, evil, beneficial, or harmful is not definitively knowable and certainly is not for the state to set in stone. The implication is that liberalism and secularism’s appeals to the public good are fundamentally unprincipled and often serve to manipulate the populace so as to serve the interests of power.

As a straightforward example, consider the US security state and its virtually endless surveillance power. State officials justify their highly invasive surveillance methods by claiming they are necessary for maintaining public safety. This means that the “right to safety” requires citizens to simultaneously forego their “right to privacy.” This kind of impasse between mutually contradictory rights is ubiquitous in secular society, and the Orthodox Paradox is but one subclass of many such conflicts. We have already discussed the “right to religion” vs. the “right to sexual autonomy” or the “right to free expression.” How about the topic of wealth redistribution, i.e., increasing the taxes on the wealthy to support welfare programs? The Right argues that all citizens, including the wealthy, have a “right to property” in that the government cannot arbitrarily impose taxation to usurp people’s property/wealth, while the Left argues that all citizens have, say, a “right to healthcare.” Obviously, free healthcare for all is impossible without significant taxation, so there is a contentious conflict here. (The underlying issue is that all rights have concomitant duties and costs. Universal security costs everyone universal privacy. Universal health care requires universal taxation. Universal freedom of speech attenuates universal freedom of religion, and so on.)

The obvious question, then, is: Who is the state to decide which of those rights — and the underlying human interests entailed by those rights — ought to be protected at the expense of other competing rights? And on what principled basis could such decisions be made in the first place? Would not such a basis — call it a “theory of the public good” — have to make many assumptions about good, evil, benefit, harm, and human nature itself? And here is the kicker: At what point would this theory of the public good just be, essentially, another religion or, at least, share many of the normative features of religion? After all, if nothing else, religions theorize about what is ultimately good, bad, beneficial, or harmful for individuals and society and establish normative directives on, among other things, that basis. If establishing the public good is ineluctably normative in the same way religion is normative, is separation of church and state, as liberal secularism professedly requires, even possible?

Liberalism or Theocracy: A False Dilemma

No doubt, the preceding was a fast and furious introduction to a complicated and contentious topic. The takeaway is that liberal secularism as a philosophy about the regulation of a pluralistic society and the place of man within that collective has at least several important questions to contend with, questions increasingly many academics and laymen are beginning to ask, alhamdulillah.

But, for the sake of argument, if it is determined, either practically or theoretically, that liberal secularism is not a viable system, what is the alternative? Authoritarian theocracy?

The above comments were meant to show that the distinctions between theocracy and liberal secularism are not as stark and definitive as have been conventionally understood. In any case, the decision between liberal secular democracy and authoritarian theocracy is a false dilemma. There are numerous alternative ways to organize society other than what is currently on offer in the modern world. The nation-state, after all, in its current form is a product of hegemonic modernity — going back as little as 100 years, one finds a diversity of systems. The modern nation-state, of course, is nothing more than a geopolitical meta-institution that seeks to regulate and organize a large population by way of widely applied legal and executive power. In the modern nation-state, everything from the economy, education, healthcare, food production, housing, child care, religious practice, etc., are overtly controlled by or ultimately fall under the jurisdiction of state institutions and, hence, state power. If the recent financial disasters rocking the world have taught us anything it is that the interconnectedness and broad reach of state power is dangerously fragile and inevitably corruptible. Under what other system could the misdeeds of a handful of banking institutions cause a domino effect resulting in wide scale “austerity measures” and the plunging of millions into poverty all the way across the globe?

So what are the alternatives?

Millet

More on the state and its discontents can be read in “anarchist” literature. Wael Hallaq’s recent The Impossible State is a quick read that also provides valuable insights. As for specific alternatives, commentators have pondered historical precedents as well as imagined future models. The “Millet system” is a particularly noteworthy historical example. It is a vision of a pluralistic society, inclusive of people of multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds, that consists of large communities, i.e.,millets, that self-regulate and are otherwise loosely tied together through the shared use of limited “public” services as well as commitment to a very thin set of meta-regulations that apply to the millets. The self-regulation is what sets the Millet system apart from the modern nation-state. Each millet is defined by its commitment to a normative vision and a philosophy of life, in so many words, a religion, and its legislation, adjudication, and local governance is based on that religion. Obviously, individuals are able to be a part of the millet of their choice.

In contrast, nation-states are typically organized on the basis of incredibly broad ethnic and cultural lines and regulate the population using a unitary system of “universally”-applied laws (“universally” is in scare-quotes because, of course, some segments of the population are wealthy and powerful enough to entirely circumvent laws that are, nonetheless, brutally applied to lower socioeconomic classes). As we have seen, conflicts of conscience abound in this system, and, besides, normative theories of the good are smuggled into supposedly secular political institutions and secular law despite the outward commitment to separation of church and state. The burning question that the nation-state system and liberal secularism cannot answer or even address is, why should a diverse population committed to multifarious theories of the good be coerced into subscribing to one set of laws? When Western political philosophers like John Rawls ponder how a pluralistic society can negotiate their differences using a robust discourse of public reason to determine fair laws of governance, they are attempting to solve a contrived problem. If one throws out the requirement for a unitary, universally-applied legal and political system exercising power over hundreds of millions and, even, billions of people, the question of secularism, public reason, and separation of church and state unceremoniously dissolves.

But, of course, no state would ever relinquish its exercise of power and control over hundreds of millions and billions of people. In reality, that is true “freedom” — in the universal, not liberal sense — i.e., not being under the thumb of a muscular state that dictates one’s entire life through an expansive legal code and a strong police and military presence ensuring compliance with brutal force. In this way, liberalism serves state power against the interests of individuals and communities by taking attention away from the inherent authoritarianism of the nation-state and redirecting it to superficial non-issues like, is a government a “democracy” or not, is there adequate “free speech,” etc., issues that would not exist in the first place were the underlying nation-state paradigm eclipsed or fundamentally revised.

Orthodox Paradox Revisited

If nothing else, Islam’s apparent conflict with Western liberalism has caused no shortage of undue psychological stress to well-meaning Muslims. Beyond curtailing of Muslim rights, liberal secularism has caused a crisis of faith for many Muslims around the world who are surprised to discover that a 1400 year old religion does not perfectly mirror the idiosyncrasies of a particular modernist political and moral philosophy. The crisis becomes especially acute when this political philosophy is embedded into the modern ethos so deeply that it is taken by the masses as universally and exclusively good, leaving no room to imagine, let alone pursue, alternatives. In sum, this is the Orthodox Paradox, and it can be resolved by problematizing the liberal secular paradigm and the nation-state upon which it is premised.

To bring it full circle, Muslims and people of other faiths should not have to choose between staying committed to their deepest moral convictions, on the one hand, and the ability to live lives free of disenfranchisement, harassment, and the curtailing of rights, on the other. If the game requires us to choose between Satan and state oppression, there is something deeply wrong with the game.

Daniel Haqiqatjou was born in Houston, Texas. He attended Harvard University where he majored in Physics and minored in Philosophy. He completed a Masters degree in Philosophy at Tufts University. Haqiqatjou is also a student of the traditional Islamic sciences. He writes and lectures on contemporary issues surrounding Muslims and Modernity. Email Daniel here .

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ali

    May 20, 2014 at 1:41 AM

    The author mentioned Michael Muḥammad Knight. I couldnt tell if the author was for or against what Michael Muḥammad Knight wrote in the article that was linked. It was vague.

    Because if the author of this article agrees with Michael Muḥammad Knight, then we have a problem.

    Lets not forget that Michael Muḥammad Knight is a part of the “Five Percenter” sect of Islam, where they claim that the founder of that sect is god

    I am questioning MuslimMatters ideology. I am all for “discourses” and discussions, but you have to be careful what you promote as it can lead many astray.

    Who is selecting the articles here on MM? A few days ago there was an article that was removed after commenters (including myself) pointed out that the story was not authentic

    Who is selecting these articles.?

    Are they even reading the articles that are being posted?

    • Avatar

      Dawud Israel

      May 20, 2014 at 11:59 AM

      The article didn’t really have much to do with Michael Knight…but probably not the best person to quote either.

      di.

  2. Avatar

    hiba

    May 20, 2014 at 4:39 AM

    “If the game requires us to choose between Satan and state oppression, there is something deeply wrong with the game.” Strong.

  3. Avatar

    markibnmark

    May 20, 2014 at 7:06 AM

    Michael Muhammad Knight is not a Muslim. Just take one look at his page on Amazon if you don’t believe me. The guy is a professional provocateur and (supposedly) a Five-Percenter who believes the Black Man is God. Pretty much every public stance he takes goes against the grain of Islam and the Muslims in general.

  4. Avatar

    Dawud Israel

    May 20, 2014 at 12:17 PM

    We Muslims do not need a coherent answer to the “orthodox paradox.” When it comes to Islam, suddenly its about liberalism and right/wrong, and it all gets too abstract to be meaningful. But in the real world, where even the most learned academics don’t follow these principles to the letter, these things are not as important as money and power and respect. If there is no money or power in the picture, these liberal arguments are used as filler excuses.

    It was the same in the early days of Islam. Mushrikin argued why the Qur’an was not revealed to a great man of the two cities (Qur’an 43:31). Muslims were helpless until Hamzah and Umar embraced Islam and even afterwards there respect slowly increased.

    I don’t advocate pursuit of the dunya but we need to find a way to be respected without compromising our religion.

    di.

  5. Avatar

    Razan

    May 20, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    Assalamu alaykum,

    Don’t jump to conclusions, please – I didn’t see any support of Michael Knight, whoever he may be, in this article.

    Instead, I read an extremely interesting article pointing out the various paradoxes underlying modern liberalism and secularism, from an extremely well thought out and academic standpoint! I find that as Muslims we tend to be at a loss to confront issues such as liberalism because we don’t seem equipped to see the philosophical standpoints that it stands on. It’s extremely important for articles like these to be more widely read (as ‘ivory-tower’ as they may be at times) so that Muslims understand that the dichotomies being presented to us, such as ‘barbarism’ vs. ‘modern enlightenment’ are simply untrue, by deconstructing them.

    Thank you for the article! I shared it with some friends – I am a student of human geography, and so many issues that you mention are only beginning to be grasped by many people worldwide, particularly those who wish to develop their countries or peoples in methods that are not western.

  6. Avatar

    Edward Kefas

    May 21, 2014 at 6:07 AM

    Basically after all this learning and intelligence, we are urged to unite tactically with Satanists and the LGBT, because they ostensibly support minority rights, even though we could instead align with the kitabi on abortion, usury, peace, family, justice.– thus making Islamic moral teachings inferior to our need for ‘acceptance’? Alliance with the people of Black magic ?

    this is a disease of the heart, or disingenuous promotion of the enemy’s agenda.

    No, our natural allies are the Orthodox Christians and Jews against the pagans and Satanists.

    • Avatar

      Hyde

      June 26, 2014 at 9:39 AM

      Strange times have called for strange bedfellows. To think degenerates are protecting my rights…makes me feel wonderful. NOT.

  7. Avatar

    Hyde

    May 23, 2014 at 7:09 PM

    Beautiful…very well said well indeed.

  8. Avatar

    atqhdyn

    May 24, 2014 at 3:38 AM

    Sorry, can someone help?? How do I share articles from MM on Facebook? There’s only a like button available.

    Jazakallah khayr

  9. Pingback: The God of Liberalism - Obama News Report

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#Current Affairs

Zahra Billoo Responds To The Women’s March Inc. Voting Her Off The New Board

Zahra Billoo

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Women's March Board

Earlier tonight, I was voted off the Women’s March, Inc. national board. This followed an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination.

The past 48 hours have been a spiral of bad news and smear efforts. Part of the smear campaign is motivated by opponents of the Women’s March, because the organization has traditionally challenged the status quo of power and white supremacy in our country. However, much of the campaign is driven by people who oppose me and my work challenging the occupation of Palestine, our country’s perpetuation of unjust and endless wars, and law enforcement operations targeting the American Muslim community.

The Women’s March, Inc. is an organization I once held dear. I spoke at the first march, spoke at regional marches every year after, spoke at the convention, participated in national actions including the original Kavanaugh protests, and worked to mobilize Muslim women for their efforts.

During the past few years right-wingers, from the President’s son to the Anti-Defamation League and troll armies, have targeted the Women’s March, Inc. For so long, I’ve admired their resilience in speaking truth to power, in working together, and in never cowering. Over and over again, the co-founders of Women’s March, Inc. put their lives on the line, winning power for all women in all of our diversity. The Women’s March, Inc. that voted me off its board tonight is one that no longer demonstrates the strength that inspired millions of women across the country.

To see and experience its new leaders caving to right-wing pressure, and casting aside a woman of color, a Muslim woman, a long-time advocate within the organization, without the willingness to make any efforts to learn and grow, breaks my heart. This isn’t about a lost seat, there will be many seats. The Women’s March, Inc. has drawn a line in the sand, one that will exclude many with my lived experiences and critiques. It has effectively said, we will work on some women’s rights at the expense of others.

To be clear, anti-semitism is indeed a growing and dangerous problem in our country, as is anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia, ableism, sexism, and so much more. I condemn any form of bigotry unequivocally, but I also refuse to be silent as allegations of bigotry are weaponized against the most marginalized people, those who find sanctuary and hope in the articulation of truth.

In looking at the tweets in question, I acknowledge that I wrote passionately. While I may have phrased some of my content differently today, I stand by my words. I told the truth as my community and I have lived it, through the FBI’s targeting of my community, as I supported families who have lost loved ones because of US military actions, and as I learned from the horrific experiences of Palestinian life.

In attempting to heal and build in an expedited manner within Women’s March, Inc., I offered to meet with stakeholders to address their concerns and to work with my sisters on the new board to learn, heal, and build together. These efforts were rejected. And in rejecting these efforts, the new Women’s March, Inc. demonstrated that they lack the courage to exhibit allyship in the face of fire.

I came to Women’s March, Inc. to work. My body of work has included leading a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization for over a decade, growing it now more than six-fold. In my tenure, I have led the team that forced Abercrombie to change its discriminatory employment policies, have been arrested advocating for DACA, partnered with Jewish organizations including Bend the Arc and Jewish Voice for Peace to fight to protect our communities, and was one of the first lawyers to sue the President.

It is not my first time being the target of a smear campaign. The Women’s March, Inc., more than any place, is where I would have expected us to be able to have courageous conversations and dive deep into relationship-building work.

I am happy to have as many conversations as it takes to listen and learn and heal, but I will no longer be able to do that through Women’s March, Inc. This action today demonstrates that this organization’s new leadership is unable to be an ally during challenging times.

My beliefs drive my work, and I am not seeking accolades or positions of power. These past few days have been the greatest test of that. My integrity, my truth, and my strength comes from God and a place of deep conviction. I will continue my work as a civil rights lawyer and a faith-based activist, speaking out against the occupation of Palestine and settler-colonialism everywhere, challenging Islamophobia and all forms of racism and bigotry in the United States, and building with my community and our allies in our quest to be our most authentic and liberated selves.

Onward, God willing.

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#Current Affairs

The Duplicity of American Muslim Influencers And The ‘So-called Muslim Ban’

Dr Joseph Kaminski

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As we approach the beginning of another painful year of the full enforcement of Presidential Proclamation 9645 (a.k.a. ‘the Muslim ban’) that effectively bars citizens of several Muslim majority countries from entering into the United States, the silence remains deafening. As I expected, most of the world has conveniently forgotten about this policy, which thus far has separated over 3,000 American families from their spouses and other immediate relatives. In June 2019, the Brennan Center of Justice notes that: The ban has also kept at least 1,545 children from their American parents and 3,460 parents from their American sons and daughters. While silence and apathy from the general public on this matter is to be expected— after all, it is not their families who are impacted— what is particularly troubling is the response that is beginning to emerge from some corners of the American Muslim social landscape.

While most Muslims and Muslim groups have been vocal in their condemnation of Presidential Proclamation 9645, other prominent voices have not. Shadi Hamid sought to rationalize the executive order on technical grounds arguing that it was a legally plausible interpretation. Perhaps this is true, but some of the other points made by Hamid are quite questionable. For example, he curiously contends that:

The decision does not turn American Muslims like myself into “second-class citizens,” and to insist that it does will make it impossible for us to claim that we have actually become second-class citizens, if such a thing ever happens.

I don’t know— being forced to choose exile in order to remain with one’s family certainly does sound like being turned into a ‘second-class citizen’ to me. Perhaps the executive order does not turn Muslims like himself, as he notes, into second-class citizens, but it definitely does others, unless it is possible in Hamid’s mind to remain a first-class citizen barred from living with his own spouse and children for completely arbitrary reasons, like me. To be fair to Hamid, in the same article he does comment that the executive order is a morally questionable decision, noting that he is “still deeply uncomfortable with the Supreme Court’s ruling” and that “It contributes to the legitimization and mainstreaming of anti-Muslim bigotry.”

On the other hand, more recently others have shown open disdain for those who are angered about the ‘so-called Muslim ban.’ On June 6th, 2019, Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, a Senior Faculty Member at Zaytuna College, Islamic scholar and the founder of the Lamppost Education Initiative, rationalized the ban on spurious security grounds. He commented that,

The so-called Muslim ban, of course, has us on edge about his potential. But, to be fair, a real Muslim ban would mean that no Muslim from any country should be allowed in the US. There are about 50 Muslim majority countries. Trump singled out only 7 of them, most of which are war torn and problem countries. So, it is unfair to claim that he was only motivated by a hatred for Islam and Muslims.

First, despite how redundant and unnecessary this point is to make again, one ought to be reminded that between 1975 and 2015, zero foreigners from the seven nations initially placed on the banned list (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) killed any Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and zero Libyans or Syrians have ever even been convicted of planning a terrorist attack on U.S. soil during that same time period. I do not think these numbers have changed over the last 4 years either. If policy decisions are supposed to be made on sound empirical evidence and data, then there is even less justification for the ban.

Second, Bin Hamid Ali comments that ‘the so-called Muslim ban, of course, has us on edge about his [Trump’s] potential.’ Whoa… hold on; on edge about his potential? For the millions of people banned from entering the United States and the thousands of Muslim families connected to these millions of people, this ‘potential’ has been more than realized. To reduce the ‘so-called Muslim ban’ to just targeting ‘war torn and problem countries’ is to reduce our family members—our husbands, wives, and children—to (inaccurate) statistics and gross stereotypes. Are spouses from Syria or Yemen seeking to reunite with their legally recognized spouses or children any less deserving to be with their immediate family members because they hail from ‘problem countries’? How can one be concerned with stereotypes while saying something like this? Is this not the exact thing that Abdullah bin Hamid Ali seeks to avoid? Surely the Professor would not invoke such stereotypes to justify the racial profiling of black American citizens. What makes black non-Americans, Arabs, and Iranians any different when it comes to draconian immigration profiling? From a purely Islamic perspective, the answer is absolutely nothing.

More recently, Sherman Jackson, a leading Islamic intellectual figure at the University of Southern California, King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and Culture and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity, also waded into this discussion. In his essay, he reframed the Muslim ban as a question of identity politics rather than basic human right, pitting Muslim immigrants against what he calls ‘blackamericans’ drawing some incredibly questionable, nativist, and bigoted conclusions. Jackson in a recent blog responding to critiques by Ali al-Arian about his own questionable affiliations with authoritarian Arab regimes comments:

Al-Arian mentions that,

“the Muslim American community seemed united at least in its opposition to the Trump administration.”  He and those who make up this alleged consensus are apparently offended by Trump’s so-called Muslim ban.  But a Blackamerican sister in Chicago once asked me rhetorically why she should support having Muslims come to this country who are only going to treat her like crap.

These are baffling comments to make about ‘Trump’s so-called Muslim ban.’ Jackson creates a strawman by bringing up an anecdotal story that offers a gross generalization that clearly has prejudiced undertones of certain Muslim immigrants. Most interesting, however is how self-defeating Jackson’s invocation of identity politics is considering the fact that a large number of the ‘blackamerican’ Muslims that he is concerned about themselves have relatives from Somalia and other countries impacted by the travel ban. As of 2017, there were just over 52,000 Americans with Somali ancestry in the state of Minnesota alone. Are Somali-Americans only worth our sympathy so long as they do not have Somali spouses? What Jackson and Bin Hamid Ali do not seem to understand is that these Muslim immigrants they speak disparagingly of, by in large, are coming on family unification related visas.

Other people with large online followings have praised the comments offered by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali and Sherman Jackson. The controversial administrator of the popular The Muslim Skeptic website, Daniel Haqiqatjou, in defense of Jackson’s comments, stated:

This is the first time I have seen a prominent figure downplay the issue. And I think Jackson’s assessment is exactly right: The average American Muslim doesn’t really care about this. There is no evidence to indicate that this policy has had a significant impact on the community as a whole. Travel to the US from those four countries affected by the ban was already extremely difficult in the Obama era.

What Haqiqatjou seems to not realize is that while travel from these countries was difficult, it was not as ‘extremely difficult’ as he erroneously claims it was. The US issued 7,727 visas to Iranian passport holders in 2016 prior to the ban. After the ban in 2018, that number dropped to 1,449. My own wife was issued a B1/B2 Tourist visa to meet my family in 2016 after approximately 40 days of administrative processing which is standard for US visa seekers who hold Iranian passports. On the other hand, she was rejected for the same B1/B2 Tourist visa in 2018 after a grueling 60+ day wait due to Presidential Proclamation 9645. At the behest of the Counselor Officer where we currently live, she was told to just finish the immigration process since this would put her in a better position to receive one of these nearly impossible to get waivers. She had her interview on November 19, 2018, and we are still awaiting the results of whatever these epic, non-transparent ‘extreme vetting’ procedures yield. Somehow despite my wife being perfectly fine to enter in 2016, three years later, we are entering the 10th month of waiting for one of these elusive waivers with no end time in sight, nor any guarantee that things will work out. Tell me how this is pretty much the same as things have always been?

What these commentators seem to not realize is that the United States immigration system is incredibly rigid. One cannot hop on a plane and say they want to immigrate with an empty wallet to start of Kebab shop in Queens. It seems as if many of these people that take umbrage at the prospects of legal immigration believe that the immigration rules of 2019 are the same as they were in 1819. In the end, it is important to once again reiterate that the Muslim immigrants Jackson, Bin Hamid Ali and others are disparaging are those who most likely are the family members of American Muslim citizens; by belittling the spouses and children of American Muslims, these people are belittling American Muslims themselves.

Neo-nationalism, tribalism, and identity politics of this sort are wholly antithetical to the Islamic enterprise. We have now reached the point where people who are considered authority figures within the American Islamic community are promoting nativism and identity politics at the expense of American Muslim families. Instead of trying to rationalize the ‘so-called Muslim Ban’ via appeals to nativist and nationalist rhetoric, influential Muslim leaders and internet influencers need to demonstrate empathy and compassion for the thousands of US Muslim families being torn apart by this indefinite Muslim ban that we all know will never end so long as Donald Trump remains president. In reality, they should be willing to fight tooth-and-nail for American Muslim families. These are the same people who regularly critique the decline of the family unit and the rise of single-parent households. Do they not see the hypocrisy in their positions of not defending those Muslim families that seek to stay together?

If these people are not willing to advocate on behalf of those of us suffering— some of us living in self-imposed exile in third party countries to remain with our spouses and children— the least they can do is to not downplay our suffering or even worse, turn it into a political football (Social Justice Warrior politics vs. traditional ‘real’ Islam). It seems clear that if liberal Muslim activists were not as outspoken on this matter, these more conservative voices would take a different perspective. With the exception of Shadi Hamid, the other aforementioned names have made efforts to constrain themselves firmly to the ‘traditional’ Muslim camp. There is no reason that this issue, which obviously transcends petty partisan Muslim politics, ought to symbolize one’s allegiance to any particular social movement or camp within contemporary Islamic civil society.

If these people want a ‘traditional’ justification for why Muslim families should not be separated, they ought to be reminded that one of al-Ghazali’s 5 essential principles of the Shari’a was related to the protection of lineage/family and honor (ḥifẓ al-nasl). Our spouses are not cannon fodder for such childish partisan politics. We will continue to protect our families and their honor regardless of how hostile the environment may become for us and regardless of who we have to name and shame in the process.

When I got married over a year prior to Donald Trump being elected President, I vowed that only Allah would separate me from my spouse. I intend on keeping that vow regardless of what consequences that decision may have.

Photo courtesy: Adam Cairns / The Columbus Dispatch

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Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.

Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.

Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.

The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.

As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.

From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.

Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.

Muslim individuals and families

  1. Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
  2. They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
  3. Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
  4. They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
    • They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
    • They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
    • They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.

Muslim bodies and institutions

  • Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
  • By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
  • It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
  • Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
  • Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.

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