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Black Mass, Liberalism, and the Orthodox Paradox

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.

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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.

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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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#Society

On British Muslims & Racism: Do Black Lives Matter?

Q. As Muslims, what should our stance be on racism or racial discrimination, and should we be supporting social justice movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM)? And isn’t all of this support for BLM privileging justice for black people over others, especially when we Muslims realise the increasing Islamophobia and injustices being perpetrated against our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters around the globe?

A. At the outset, let me be clear about how I intend to engage these concerns. And that is by rooting them in mainstream teachings of Islam so as to address the issue of racism in a manner that might be meaningful in a British context, and recognised as being Islamic in a Muslim one. I have divided the response into five parts: [i] Islam & racism; [ii] modernity & racism; [iii] Britain & racism; [iv] Muslims & racism; and [v] BLM & racism.

I. Islam & Racism

Although the following verse is not speaking of the modern social construct of racism per se, it is speaking to the pre-modern concept of groupings of people related by significant comment descent; in terms of location, language, history and culture. Thus we read in the Holy Qur’an: O mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and then made you nations and tribes that you might know one another. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is he who is the most pious. God is indeed Knowing, Aware. [Q.49:13]

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The Prophet ﷺ brought skin colour into the mix in these words: ‘O mankind! Indeed your Lord is one, and indeed your father is one. Truly, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor white (ahmar, lit. ‘red’ or ‘reddish’) over black, nor black over white – except by piety. Have I not conveyed [the message]?’1

In fact, the Qur’an doesn’t only negatively condemn such discrimination, but it positively and actively celebrates diversity too: And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the differences of your languages and your colours. In this are signs for people of knowledge. [Q.30:22]

The above verses and prophetic statement, then, were a total restructuring of the moral or ethical landscape prevalent throughout Arabia at the time. True worth would no longer be determined by skin colour, lineage, or even by grandiose shows of courage or generosity. Rather, true worth would be measured by taqwa – ‘piety,’ ‘godliness’ and ‘mindfulness’ of God’s commands and prohibitions.

Once, when one of the Prophet’s wives hurled a racial slur (or ethnoreligious insult, as we might say today) at another co-wife in a state of annoyance, disparagingly called her ‘the daughter of a Jew’, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Indeed, your [fore]father [Moses] was a Prophet; your [great] uncle [Aaron] was a Prophet; and you are married to a Prophet. What can she boast to you about?’2 Again, when one companion insulted another person, by insulting his mother because she was a non-Arab, the Prophet ﷺ said to him: ‘You still have some pre-Islamic ignorance (jahiliyyah) in you.’3 Thus no Muslim has even the slightest right to resurrect the vile attitude of racism; xenophobia; tribal bigotry; or insulting people due to them being seen as the ‘Other’, when the Prophet ﷺ radically eliminated such attitudes from the believer’s worldview and relationships. Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘There isn’t a single verse in God’s Book that praises someone or censures someone due to just their lineage. Instead, praise is due to faith and piety, while blame is because of disbelief, immorality or disobedience.’4

II. Modernity & Racism

In the 1830s, Samuel Morton, an American craniologist, amassed and studied hundreds of human skulls so as to measure differences in brain size between people from various ethnic backgrounds. Morton believed he had used science to prove that white people were intellectually superior to other ‘races’. In his Crania Americana, Morton declared that not only did white people have larger brains and thus were intellectually superior to all other races, but also that black people had the smallest brains sizes and were hence inferior to all others. Morton and others used this conclusion as a ‘scientific’ justification to continue slavery in the United States and negatively stereotype black people. Many hold Morton to be the founding father of scientific racism. It’s here that, based upon this pseudo-science and on certain superficial differences in physiological traits, the categorisation of people into distinct ‘races’ begins in earnest. And while the institutional racism, racial prejudice, and white supremacy that was to follow were directed at all races in Morton’s descending hierarchy, providing adequate grounds to treat other races differently, in terms of rights and privileges, it would be black people (at the supposed bottom of the heap) that would bear the greatest and most sustained brunt of it.

Of course, modern science has long since shown that brain size isn’t necessarily related to intelligence. Instead, brain size is tied to things like environment, climate and body size, while intelligence is more related to how many neurons, or how efficient the connections between neurons, are in the brain. Indeed, modern science has also largely debunked the biological basis of race, showing that there is as much genetic diversity within such racial groups as there is between them. Science now regards race as a conventional attribution; a social construct, but not a scientifically rooted or valid classification. And while today we tend to favour the term ethnicity over the arbitrary construct of ‘race’ based upon skin colour and physiognomy, race remains, for some, a focus of individual and group identity, particularly members of socially disadvantaged groups, like blacks, where it oftentimes is a source of pride and joy. All this has led many anthropologists to argue that since there is no scientific basis for race, we should just chuck the whole idea in the bin. Others say that if we’re going to continue to insist on the social fiction of racial differences, let it be based on ethical considerations that enhance justice, fairness and familiarity between peoples, not hatred, discrimination and xenophobia. In fact, this latter way of looking at ethnic or racial divides is probably more in keeping with what Islam wants for humanity. After all, God made of us nations and tribes lita‘arafu – ‘that you might know one another.’

The above, then, amidst the activities of European empires and colonialism is where such modern ideas of racial discrimination and racism were birthed; ideas and realities which still reverberate frustratingly down to these present times. Just how many ordinary white Britons internalised the racist pseudo-science over the past one hundred and fifty years or so, not because they were particularly bad or evil people, but because they believed the ‘science’, is anyone’s guess. Add to that the usual xenophobia that often exists against the outsider, the modern feats and achievements of white Western Europe which feed into the idea of white exceptionalism or supremacy, and the political utility of whipping up blame against immigrants in times of national difficulty and economic downturn, make for well-entrenched myths and discrimination against people of colour.

III. Britain &Racism

Although the history of the United States is drenched in racism; with the issue of race still being the most painful, divisive one for its citizens, it is racism in Britain – my home, and where I was born and raised – that I’d like to confine my remarks and anecdotes to. And in Britain, just as in America, while peoples of diverse ethnic minorities have undeniably been, and continue to be, victims of racism, it is discrimination against black people that is by far the more endemic and systemic.

The recent anti-racist protests that are taking place across the country aren’t just to show anger about the death of yet another black man, George Floyd, at the hands of yet another American police officer. They are also protests against the systemic racism here in Britain too. Long before racism against blacks, Asians, and Eastern Europeans, Jews as a people, and also the Irish, suffered racism in Britain. Jewish people still do.

Whilst structural or institutional racism is difficult to conclusively prove, the lived reality of people of colour, as well as statistics after statistics, or report after report, all point to similar conclusions: Britain has a race problem. It doesn’t just have a problem with casual racism (now called micro aggression; as experienced in schools, jobs or everyday life), or racism born from unconscious bias (snap decisions conditioned by cultural upbringing or personal experience); it has a problem of systemic racism too – racial discrimination and negative stereotyping within many of its key institutions: the police force and the criminal justice system deemed to be among the main culprits.

It is, of course, argued that although Britain does indeed have individual racists, and that acts of racism do tragically still occur here, but Britain itself; even if it may have been in the recent past, isn’t institutionally racist anymore. We have the Equalities Act of 2010, as one of the clearest proofs against any institutional racism.

Or the case has been put that, ever since the Macpherson Report of 1999, which came as a result of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, in 1993 – and the two words in it that stood out from the rest of the 350 page report, that London’s Metropolitan Police was ‘institutionally racist’ – Britain’s police forces have internalised the criticism and have come on leaps and bounds since then: individually and institutionally. So to describe Britain’s police forces as still being systemically racist is unjust and unfair; or so the argument goes.

Be that as it may; and while many positive changes of both mind and structure have been sincerely made, the stark, present-day statistics tell us another story. Modern Britain is a place where black people, in contrast to white ones are: 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched; 4 time more likely to be arrested; twice as likely to be temporarily excluded from school; and 3 times as likely to be permanently excluded from school; and twice as likely to die in police custody. From any unbiased standard, does this look anywhere like equality? And just as importantly, are we saying that institutional racism is totally absent from these numbers?5

For most of my life, I’ve lived on one council estate or another in East London. In my pre-teen years, I grew up on an estate in Chingford, where most of the people were white, with a few Afro-Caribbean families and a couple of Asian ones: my family being one of them. I, like many other non-whites of my generation, encountered my share of racist abuse; and for a short time, a little racist bullying too. On the whole, I got along with most kids on the estate and at its primary school, regardless of colour; and they got along with me.

For my entire teen years, I lived on another estate in Leytonstone, where this time most of the residents were black. It was the mid 1970s, and it was a time when many young black people were, I wouldn’t say suffering an identity crisis, but more that they were searching for an identity. For unlike their parents, they were neither Jamaican, Bajan [Barbadian], or Trinidadian, nor did they feel (or were made to feel) totally British. Instead, young black Britons were turning to their Blackness to make sense of their place in Britain, developing a sense of collective cultural identity in the process. I felt a greater affinity to that culture, than I did any other. Voices like Bob Marley, Burning Spear, the Wailing Souls and Black Uhuru spoke to our plight and our aspirations. But whilst their conscious lyrics of roots reggae was coming out of Jamaica, it was home-grown, British reggae artists that would tell our own specifically British story: artists like Steel Pulse, Black Roots, Mikey Dread or, particularly for me, Aswad (or early Aswad, from ’76-’82). Aswad sang of African Children (which I’d swap in my mind for ‘immigrant’ children) ‘living in a concrete situation;’ in ‘precast stone walls, concrete cubicles. Their rent increasing each and every other day; Structural repairs are assessed and yet not done; Lift out of action on the twenty-seventh floor; And when they work, they smell.’ All of us youths crammed into the estate’s small youth centre, smiled, nodded away approvingly, and perfectly identified with the message when we first heard such conscious lyrics booming out at us. Whilst Marley spoke of the daily ghetto struggles of growing up in the concrete jungle of Kingston 12; Trenchtown, for me, Aswad spoke of parallel struggles growing up in the concrete situation of Leytonstone E11. We all a feel it, yes we a feel it!

Back to racism. My one little anecdotal proof of black victimisation from the police comes from the time when I was living on Leytonstone’s Cathall Road Estate. Police raids were a fairly usual occurrence on our estate as well as in the youth centre; sometimes with actual justification. In the youth centre, the police (usually with their police dogs), would stomp in; turn off the music; stamp out any spliff that was lit up; and then we’d all be told to line up against the wall with our hands behind our heads. Every time this happened, without exception, when it came to searching me, they never did. They’d simply insist that I leave the centre, or go home, which I would. I’d then usually come back half an hour or an hour later, and resume playing pool, table-tennis or bar football; or just soak up the vibes (not the spliff). Once, after a raid had happened, I came back to the centre, only for one of my close Rasta friends to advise me that it would be best if I stay home for a few days. I asked why? He told me that some people who hang out at the centre, but who don’t really know me, nor live on the actual estate, are saying that it’s odd that I never get searched and that maybe I was a grass. It would be an understatement if I said that I was scared stiff. I took the advice, and stayed away from the centre for a week, till I got the nod that things were all okay. A month or so later, and yet another raid. But this time, for me it was a Godsend: they actually searched me! I felt relieved, vindicated, and took it as a badge of honour. My point being is that throughout the ’70s and ’80s, there were countless times when I saw specifically black people stigmatised and victimised by the police.

To be honest, by the mid 1980s, with the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism doing their thing against the far-right National Front; with Reggae and Two-Tone Ska bands and gigs more and more mixing blacks and whites; and with attitudes of the young positively changing, I thought (perhaps naively) that racism in Britain would liklely be a thing of the past by the mid ’90s. Optimism, of course, is entirely healthy, as long as it doesn’t become blind to realism.

IV. Muslims & Racism

Here I’d like to speak about something that some Muslims will find uncomfortable: which is that we [non-black]Muslims need to admit the anti-black racism that infects our own communities. Sadly, racism against black people – including fellow black Muslims – is all too common among British Asian Muslims of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. Whether it is being stared at by elderly Asians in the mosque and so made to feel self-conscious, to the way we of South Asian descent use the word kala, ‘black’, in a derogatory way; or whether it’s about marriage, or thinking all black Muslims must be converts and then dishing out patronising praise to them over basic acts like making wudhu – this un-Islamic nonsense; this jahiliyyah, simply has to stop.

We must speak to our elders about their anti-black racism. We need to respectfully discuss why so many of our mosques continue to make black Muslims feel unwelcome, or drive them away, and what can be done about it? Yet while our masjids are undeniably masjids; ‘Most mosques function as “race temples” created as enclosures for single ethnicities, and their mono-ethnic and introspective leadership are generally unfamiliar with any novelty occurring outside their silos.’6 Such ‘race temples’ are where Ethnic Islam rules the roost, even at the cost of shari‘ah race equality, sirah hospitality, or sunnah unity.

But racism isn’t just an issue with South Asian elders? It lurks in the hearts and minds of my generation too; and maybe that of my children’s? It’s less the stares or the ignorance about Black achievements, and more the negative stereotyping; post-colonial complexes; desperation to whiten-up; or outright racism when it comes to marriage. Here as an Asian Muslim parent, I’m happy for my daughter or son to marry – religiously speaking – some adamant fasiq or fasiqah – especially if they are of a lighter complexion: but I could never accept them marring a godly, well-mannered, responsible Black person! But we convince ourselves we are not racist: after all, I love the sahabi, Bilal. I weep when I read Bilal’s life story. My good friend, Bilal, is black. But the proof is in the pudding, and the truth is that we need to move beyond tokenism; beyond Bilal.

Those Muslims who make an issue of colour; whose racist or tribal mindsets lead them to look down upon a person of darker colour or treat them unequally, let them consider the son-in-law of the Prophet ﷺ, and fourth Caliph, sayyiduna ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. The classical biographers all state: kana ‘ali adam, shadid al-udmah – ‘Ali was black, jet black.7 Or take our master ‘Umar who is also described in the same terms.8 The colour, adam may refer to skin complexion which is dark brown, like a native American; or darker still, like in native Australian aborigines; or jet black, like many Africans. When the phrase, shadid al-udmah is added, ‘extremely dark’, then there’s no mistaking what is meant: a person who, for all intents and purposes, is black. Such a description seems quite usual for the Arabs among the sahabah. Black skin is also the colour of the lady with whom the whole Muhammadan saga begins: our lady Hagar (Hajarah); she was a black Egyptian. Or consider the Prophet Moses, peace be upon him. Our Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘As for Moses, he was tall and dark brown, as like the men of al-Zutt.’9 The Zutt were a well-known tribe of tall dark men from the Sudan.10 After knowing the above, if we are still going to look down at people merely due to their darker complexion, then what ghustakhi; what mockery and disrespect will we be possibly drowning in?

Islam is neither racist nor colour blind. It wants us to understand that skin colour has no intrinsic worth, only piety does. Yet at the same time, it allows us to celebrate differences in a way that does not offend Heaven, and in a way that causes us to offer joyful thanks to the One Who is the Maker of all Colours.

Islam is neither racist nor colour blind. It wants us to understand that skin colour has no intrinsic worth, only piety does. Yet at the same time, it allows us to celebrate differences in a way that does not offend Heaven, and in a way that causes us to offer joyful thanks to the One Who is the Maker of all Colours.Click To Tweet

So let’s have the conversations. Let’s have some serious introspection. Let’s listen to what Black Muslims have to say. Let’s desire to be healers, not dividers. Let’s educate ourselves about the reality of Black lives in general, and Black Muslim lives in particular. Olusoga’s Black & British and Akala’s Natives are good places to start. Sherman Jackson’s Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering is, with its theological insights, a must read. Above all, let’s work towards not just being non-racist, but anti-racist.

Change, thankfully, is in the air. For urban, millennial Muslims, and those of a generation younger still, these older ethnic divides are more and more of an irrelevance in their lives (though I’m not sure how much this applies to those raised in ethnic silos in Britain’s less urbanised cities). Such millennials have heard the stories of the intra-ethnic fighting; the anti-black racism; the token hospitality to black Muslims, but without ever giving them a voice; and the fruitless attempts to make the ‘race temples’ more inclusive, and how after decades, it’s a case of banging heads and brick walls. So owing to this, they are seeking to create more inclusive, culturally more meaningful spaces; away from all this toxic, ethnic Islam. Surely that’s where the rest of us should be heading too?

V. BLM & Racism

The Qur’an says: Help one another in righteousness and piety, help not one another in sin or transgression. [Q.5:2] Between this verse and the hilf al-fudul pact the Prophet ﷺ upheld and endorsed even after prophethood, we have a solid religious basis for supporting any individual or group working for issues of social justice: be it for Muslims or non-Muslims; be it led by Muslims or non-Muslims.

The Black Lives Matter movement has proven itself to be a powerful and effective vehicle over the past five years to demand reform in terms of anti-Black racism; with their current focus on justice for George Floyd and his family. Thus, how can Muslims not support it? Of course, we cannot give any organisation carte blanche support. Religiously, we Muslims cannot give unconditional support to anybody save to God and His Prophet ﷺ. Given that BLM has a few stated aims that are inconsistent with Islam’s theology (‘freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking’ is one of them, for instance), our activism must be guided by sacred knowledge and illumined by revealed guidance. Our intention is not supporting BLM, as such. Instead, it’s a case of making a stand against injustice, in this case anti-Black racism: supporting those individuals or organisations that are likely to be the most effective in achieving this goal. (It should go without saying, that we can work for justice for more than one cause or more than one set of people at the same time). And this is what the above verse and the hilf al-fudul pact have in mind. And just like the BLM describes itself as ‘unapologetically Black’, perhaps some of us need to be a tad more unapologetically Muslim?

But let’s take our focus off such theological nuances for now, and tie a ribbon around the whole thing and say: Let us, at least in spirit and in principle, if not in body, fully support Black Lives Matter as a cause, more than as a movement, in seeking to resolve structural racism; get justice done for all the George Floyds and all the Stephen Lawrences; and to get people to reflect on their own attitudes to racism and the racial ‘Other’ – ensuring our knee isn’t on the necks of others. We should support the overall goals of any grassroots movement that is working for a fairer, more just and tolerant Britain for everyone: black or white. Of course, for that to happen, from a Black Muslim perspective, anti-Black racism as well as an ever-growing Islamophobia must be tackled. Currently in Britain, God forbid that you are ostensibly a Muslim and Black!

Racism affects all people of colour. But when it comes to Black people, they face a unique anti-black prejudice as the ultimate Other, propagated both by white majorities and even other ethnic minorities. As a marginalised community South Asians, no doubt, have their own prejudices thrown their way. But they are not the same lived experiences as that of Black people. And while it can be easy to lump everyone together and perceive ourselves as having a shared trauma, statistics show that this equivalence is not really true.

In closing, I’d like to thank my youngest daughter, Atiyyah, for inspiring me to revisit and renew my ideas on anti-black racism; and my friend, Dr Abdul Haqq Baker for prompting me to write this piece, offering invaluable suggestions, and then reviewing it for me.

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Ahmad, Musnad, no.22978. Ibn Taymiyyah declared its chain to be sahih in Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (Riyadh: Dar Ishbiliyah, 1998), 1:412.

2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3894, where he declared the hadith to be hasan sahih.

3. Al-Bukhari, nos.2545; 6050.

4. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:230.

5. GOV.UK: Black Caribbean Ethnicity Facts and Figures.

6. Abdal Hakim Murad, Travelling Home (Cambridge: The Quilliam Press, 2020), 49-50.

7. See: Ibn ‘Asakir, Tarikh Madinat al-Dimashq (Dar al-Fikr, 1996), 42:24.

8. As per Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, al-Isti‘ab fi Ma‘rifat al-Ashab (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1971), 3:236

9. Al-Bukhari, no.3438.

10. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 8:61.

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#Society

Non-Black Muslims Will Need To Do More Than Post Hashtags And Attend Rallies To Combat Anti-Black Racism

The events of the past two weeks have highlighted the disastrous outcomes that emerge when racism and white supremacy interplay with police brutality. The unbridled aggression by the police results from ineffective and insufficient sanctions on police power and authority. The casual murder of Mr. George Floyd by a police officer, filmed by bystanders and security cameras, is the spark that apparently allowed for more citizens to galvanize and echo the cry that “Black Lives Matter.” In response to this, various Muslims and Muslim groups and organizations have come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and have attempted to raise their version of awareness.

Data from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) in 2020 show there is a strong support from the Muslim community towards building coalitions with Black Lives Matter movements, with 65% of Muslim respondents to a nationally representative survey indicating support, more than any other faith group measured.

 

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Although another ISPU survey administered in 2017 indicates there is strong Muslim support for the Black Lives Matter movement in general (66%, higher than any faith group measured that year, and the general public), there are questions around how much of this is performative, perfunctory and merely playing to the popular theme of the moment. Black Muslims and Black Americans – in general – have consistently experienced anti-Black treatment at the hands of non-Black Muslims in business, social and religious spaces. In ISPU’s 2017 American Muslim Poll, 33% of Muslims who identify as Black or African American reported experiencing racial discrimination at the hands of another Muslim. Although Black Muslims are more likely to report racial discrimination from outside their faith community (56% vs. 33%), one cannot ignore the issue of intra-Muslim racism, especially since the experience is often far more painful when it comes from a fellow believer.

Since protests began in late May, various non-Black Muslims and non-Black Muslim-led organizations have attempted to speak up and lend their voice to the issue. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are just a few of the organizations that have made statements, hosted events or co-sponsored events to help raise awareness of racism. Muslim organizations have over the years consistently addressed oppression – mainly in other countries. There have been hundreds of rallies and protests against oppression that have occurred in non-White Muslim countries. Additionally, Islam as a theology, calls on us to depise oppression and challenge it. Therefore, it is understandable that non-Black Muslims and non-Black Muslim organizations would eventually see the need to speak out against oppression of minorities in America, and now specifically African American and Black Muslims. But it has taken many generations to get here, even though oppression has been a bedrock of this nation for centuries.

For many years, non-Black Americans championed the causes of non-Black Muslims but seldom the Black Muslims. For many decades, Black Muslims have called the Adhan, raised money for foreign causes and highlighted foreign issues. The support and respect have seldom been returned or reciprocated to the Black community. Although the faith and approximated-shared experiences may at times allow for empathy from non-Black Muslims toward African Americans and Black Muslims, non-Black Muslims and organizations continue to fail to be real purveyors of justice when it comes to the oppression of African Americans and Black Muslims in America.

For years, various organizations have hosted or publicized events that do not have Black Muslims on their panels. The line-up changes once the community pushes back. In a number of cases, there is a connection between anti-Black racism and the exclusion of Muslim women, particularly Black Muslim women. The exclusion of Black Muslims from the public and national discourse on the American Muslim experience, is an example of the anti-Black racism that is not interpersonal, but systemic in the Muslim community. This is important to note, because an event is seldom conceived or approved by one individual.

In one example from less than a month ago, two national organizations were prominently featured as co-hosts. We can then safely say that at least two people (we can assume with a fair degree of certainty that it was more) saw the line-up and the final ad for the event and still chose to publicize the event. One of the speakers then chose to decline to participate and recommended an African American Muslim woman replace him on the panel. That multiple Muslims were involved in the planning of this event and approved the final list of speakers while choosing not to correct or be more just in their representation of Islam in America points to this issue of anti-Black racism as not merely being interpersonal, but systemic. This is just one example of many. ISPU data collected in 2017 illustrates that Black Muslims experience a higher rate of intrafaith racial discrimination than non-Black Muslims, with 33% reporting that a fellow believer discriminated against them because of their race in the past year at least once. (Figure 2)

Muslims Experience Racism From Other Muslims as Well as from the General Public.png

In this past week alone, I have had to personally deal with acts of anti-Black racism while talking about the importance of addressing racism in this country. In one incident, I was invited to be part of a newly formed coalition. Attendees were majority African American Muslims, but there were also non-Black Muslims (white and minorities) scheduled to be in attendance or helping to organize. One non-Black Muslim was effusive in how they communicated with me during the day. However, once I began pushing back on how the event was being organized, their tone shifted to dismissive and rude. I struggled with naming this anti-Black racism because, as a communication scholar, my default is to look at the theory behind why we communicate how we do. So even as we experience it, we still try to find reasons not to believe it.

In a second incident, a number of individuals with religious duties were discussing the topics of engagement for our upcoming meeting. A non-Black Muslim of color indicated that they wanted to discuss another topic in addition to Black Lives Matter and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. I responded stating that the way in which the statement was worded was hurtful and represented an erasure of the lived experience of Black individuals in this country. The response was further dismissal and glossing over of the experience, even after other non-Black Muslims attempted to redirect the individual and encourage them to focus on anti-Black racism. The person’s initial response was clearly rooted in anti-Black racism–even if unintentional–as to this moment, it does not seem like the person understands how their initial statement and subsequent responses continue to perpetuate anti-Black racism. In the end, the individual did agree that they will also focus on Black Lives Matter in our next meeting as long as we were willing to focus on other issues in future meetings.

These various types of aggressions against Black Muslims in Muslim spaces continue to place a burden on the Black Muslim community, particularly the African American Muslim community. I am a Black Muslim who has spent over half of my life here in America. However, I also know that as an immigrant, I sometimes experience a different level of privilege as a result of my immigrant status.” It feels like I am seen as different from African American Muslims at times. Anti-Black racism among Muslims is layered, insidious, systemic and interpersonal. The approaches to addressing anti-Black racism and to supporting Black Lives Matter Movement cannot be sporadic or occasional. It will require painful discussions, robust analyses and purposeful action to continue the changes that have gained some momentum in this moment.

There are many who are already doing the work to bring meaningful change and awareness. Non-Black Muslims will need to do more than post hashtags and attend rallies. To address racism, it is important to use valid tools, invite and connect with the appropriate people and support active organizations. Supporting any Black organization is not the approach. There needs to be a seeking out and supporting of organizations, individuals and tools that do or support anti-racism work in our communities.

  • Organizations to research, work with and/or fund long-term: MuslimARC (Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative), Muslim Wellness Foundation and the Black Muslim Psychology Conference, Black Muslim COVID Coalition and Sapelo Square. These are just a few to begin with. There are more. Research. Find them. Support them.

  • Individuals to learn from and grow with: Ms. Margari Hill, Dr. Kameelah Rashad, Dr. Donna Auston, Imam Dawud Walid, Sr. Ismahan Abdullahi, Imam Mik’ail Stewart Saadiq, Imam Nadim Ali and many, many others. Many of these individuals are currently engaging in a lot of scholarly work, community support and community keeping. Research their work, look up events when they are slated to speak and give talks, and engage them in that way as a start. If they or their organizations have opportunities where you can pay them to do a presentation that is in the normal scope of their operations, then do that. I would urge you not to offer them a mere stipend. See what it takes to have professional development for an organization and compensate accordingly. There are many other non-Muslim intellectuals who are doing work and have written extensively. We have intentionally named Muslims and Muslim organizations in this piece.

    • There are some non-Black Muslims of Color who are also doing significant work that can help individuals of particular cultural backgrounds understand the underpinnings of their own anti-Black racism.

    • Dr. Mona Masood is doing great work facilitating discussion on anti-Black racism among diasporic populations from South Asia particularly.

    • Dr. Sylvia Chan-Malik also researches Black Muslims and offers classes on combating racism. These classes are specifically targeted for a non-Black cross-section of the community.

  • Tools to employ:

    • The Black Islam Syllabus, developed and curated by Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler, is an extensive list of scholarly research and writings, movies, poetry, TV shows, websites, essays and hashtags. This is a great place to begin.

    • Identity Politics podcast, co-directed by Sr. Makkah Ali, can provide insight into issues around race and identity in the Muslim community.

There are many other resources available that can start or enhance the process of working to combat anti-Black Muslim racism, bolster support for Black Lives Matter initiatives and draw us closer to being a community and nation that truly values each other with equity.

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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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