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Should American Muslims Reconsider the Liberal Alliance?

Can American Muslims engage in the political milieu of the modern Democratic Party while maintaining the line that they are merely electing ‘the lesser of two evils’ without inhering any of the ideological commitments concomitant with liberalism?

Mobeen Vaid

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Background

As a result of the Bush years and a neoconservative ideology that disproportionately favored policies curtailing the rights of Muslims domestically and interventionism on the international stage, American Muslims have, for the bulk of the last decade, overwhelmingly affiliated with the Democratic Party. This affiliation came to the forefront in the 2004 Presidential Election when 76% of American Muslims supported John Kerry while only 7% supported President George W. Bush.  Having been a historically Republican voting bloc, the political realignment exhibited by American Muslims was so drastic that John Zogby characterized it as “virtually unprecedented” at the time. American Muslim support for the Democratic Party intensified during the 2008 Presidential Campaign, as 89% of American Muslims voted for then-candidate Barack Obama. Four years later, President Obama’s re-election campaign was widely supported, again, with a nominally lower 85% support from the American Muslim community, a number nearly identical to those who formally affiliated as ideologically liberal.

The Muslim community’s political realignment has not only been evident in the context of presidential elections, but is also on full display vis-à-vis contributions and volunteer hours for liberal democrats, Facebook posting and re-tweeting of liberal politician and pundit statements, along with shifting opinions within the American Muslim community on topics such as gay marriage, evolution, abortion, and related topics. This dynamic is what I have termed “the liberal alliance” which represents the political, social, and ideological commitment to liberalism, which American Muslims have and continue to make en masse.

As of late, political discussions in the American Muslim community have placed this relationship under the microscope, with critics centering on President Obama’s domestic and foreign policies that have, in large part, not been a significant departure from that of his neoconservative predecessor. In fact, a number of his policies have been systemically worse, engendering a bipartisan consensus around issues that were historically viewed as uniquely conservative. Military interventionism, curtailment of domestic freedoms, and protections for Wall Street executives and firms guilty of fiscal malfeasance stand today as the prevailing positions of both Democrats and Republicans alike, with rare exception.

Given this reality, the question begs itself as to what American Muslims should reasonably do – if indeed the best chance for political viability is uncritical support for a party whose platform is virtually identical to its counterparts (at least in regards to core ‘Muslim’ issues such as domestic surveillance, indefinite detention, Guantanamo Bay, interventionism, Israel/Palestine, etc.) then is it really worth participating at all? Should Muslims ‘throw away their vote’ and cast ballots for third-party candidates that have no chance for victory?

Red/Blue Dichotomy

Perhaps the first component of this discussion that needs addressing is the simplistic nature of political engagement that has dominated Muslim communities for the better part of the last decade. Though not uniquely Muslim, the tendency to view politics as a blue/red proposition is, without question, problematic. In this framing, Republicans are frequently caricaturized as representing the worst that their party has to offer, whilst Democrats are brandied as ‘pro Muslim’, in seeming ambivalence to said candidates’ public statements and voting record.

Muslims need to realize that the red/blue dichotomy is a false one, and that political debates are little more than theatrics that depend on factors above and beyond substance. Journalists, political pundits, and candidates frequently employ what is termed manufactured outrage by taking a perspective that is nominally different than their opponents but presenting the two sides as being representative of a deep philosophical divide.  The utility in doing so is that it provides the illusion of real debate while implicitly structuring what constitutes politically permissive discourse.

Accordingly, the strictures of permissive political discourse work to marginalize alternative voices as fringe or otherwise eccentric while yielding a citizenry that is largely obedient, a dynamic Chomsky articulated when he said,

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

In addition, American Muslims need to view politicians for who they are – politicians, not friends, family, or community members. Politicians are rarely principled enough to be ‘pro-Muslim’ or ‘anti-Muslim’, rather they are apt to act on that which is politically expedient at a given point in time. The fact that certain members of the Democratic Party and liberal establishment advocate on behalf of Muslim causes has more to do with a shared political adversary than a common moral/ethical paradigm.

This is even more so when it comes to political commenters and satirists.  Yes, there is little question that political commentators and satirists such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and others serve as proportionately more balanced brokers of political conversation than their right-wing counterparts. That said, even the best pundits are not inherently aligned with mainstream ethical Muslim commitments (and it would be unreasonable to expect them to be such). When Stewart, Colbert, Maddow, Maher, and the many other liberal political commenters portray arguments against gay marriage as ontologically inferior and borne out of an outmoded world of theism run amuck, they critique not only the ‘religious right’, but frankly, the ethical framework outlined in the Qur’an. The secular framework wherein Muslims and fellow co-religionists are cornered into abdicating their theistic commitments in assessing what to advance in the context of positive law is a fickle distinction, one that Noah Feldman terms the “Orthodox Paradox” and Daniel Haqiqatjou wrote extensively on in this post last May.

Perhaps more problematic than the desire to consistently reformulate traditional Islamic commitments to coincide with modern secular liberal sensibilities, is the likely outcome of such a syncretic theology.  If American Muslims persistently recast Islam in light of secular liberal values, how can they expect to fend off the spread of secular liberal movements against theism? Can American Muslims engage in the political milieu of the modern Democratic Party while maintaining the line that they are merely electing ‘the lesser of two evils’ without inhering any of the ideological commitments concomitant with liberalism?

So What Should We Do?

Given the aforementioned challenges, what should be the structure of future engagement?

For one, American Muslims should reconsider the liberal alliance, at least as it is currently constructed.  This means critically addressing the areas of incongruence between liberalism and Islamic Law, as well as engaging in informed discussions concerning the range of contemporary challenges facing civic society beyond the red/blue dichotomy. American Muslim leaders cannot afford to merely parrot red/blue talking points when discussing current events without expecting that same discourse to pervade the congregation. In addition, American Muslims need to prioritize their ethical/moral commitments over the desire for acceptance, understanding that although strategic compromises need to be made in the process of political participation, not every compromise is worth making or representative of a modern ‘Hudaibiyah’ moment.

Secondly, American Muslims need to severely attenuate the current fervor tied to national elections.  There is no act of political participation less meaningful than voting in presidential elections, as the Electoral College renders 90% of the states decided well before the election date.  In a contentious year, three or four states are legitimately in play, whereas in most years the states that may actually swing one way or the other are the one or two which candidates tend to focus their efforts on.  If American Muslims find themselves residing in a swing state, then casting a ballot for president makes sense and assessing candidates electability within ones moral framework should indeed be done, even if that means relenting to the ‘lesser of two evils’.  Otherwise, American Muslims in non-swing states should consider voting for third party candidates or perhaps refraining from casting a presidential ballot.

Thirdly, American Muslims should embrace Oppositional Politics as part of a broader engagement strategy.  No one is proposing that Oppositional Politics be “the platform” for American Muslims, but it should certainly be a component of the broader strategy – you can read my earlier post on this for more details concerning it.

Cognate to Oppositional Politics is support for issues ‘uniquely Muslim’: Guantanamo Bay, interventionism, drones, Mohamed Soltan, Aafia Siddiqui, global conflicts (Syria, Gaza, etc.), and related areas of concern need to be issues that American Muslims feel no compunction advocating on behalf of.  American Muslims cannot allow intimidation or domestication to curtail their ability to advocate for policies deemed politically inconvenient, even as a beleaguered minority. A platform devoted to remaining within the safe timidity of populist liberal politics whilst circumventing politically contentious topics engenders a political climate of fear and passivity. Organizations that pursue such an approach risk alienating their constituency and losing legitimacy within the American Muslim community.

Lastly, American Muslims should heighten their involvement in local politics. This is not only with respect to elections for local congressional candidates and state government positions (school board, etc.), but with respect to outreach, community engagement, and interfaith programming. Amaanah Refugee Services in Houston, IMAN in Chicago, and ICNA Relief represent successful models of community outreach programs, and interfaith coalitions such as Shoulder-to-Shoulder pioneered by ISNA have demonstrated what can be accomplished when we work with other faith communities to advance areas of shared values. Though it has been emphasized time and again, the imperative to support our local communities cannot be understated, and if we are to have any chance of carving out a dignified future for ourselves and our children, we must ensure that we genuinely care about those around us and wish them good.

In doing so, we pray that Allah allows us to fulfill our covenants to Him, live up to the moral responsibility concomitant with being the Best of Nations, and manifest the injunction to:

Let there be from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful.” [3:104]

Ameen.

And Allah Knows Best.

Mobeen Vaid is an activist in his local community, regularly delivering khutbahs and volunteering with Muslim non-profits. He is a student of traditional islamic sciences, and is a contributing writer for MuslimMatters.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    September 15, 2014 at 1:10 AM

    Praise be to Allah, this is a great subject.
    Being as brief as I can. The argument that there is no difference in the two parties is an old canard. The Republicans seethe at the thought of Obama. They call him a closet Muslim and accuse him of treason and malpractice. Democracy is a process that moves incrementally. American Muslims will not reach a magical point in time where we are instantly liked and respected all at once by all of America.
    The only trap we have to be wary of is the trap we have in the black American community. We vote 93% for the Democrats and it causes our votes to be taken for granted. If there is a small difference it is that the Republicans are extremely pro-business, while the Democrats are slightly less pro-business, which means they are for more government aid for the less well off. Some argue that too much aid for a lazy national community. Others say, the fight to reduce aid represents a meanness among white America aimed at blacks and immigrants.
    Clearly the strongest anti-Muslim rhetoric comes from the right. To say that God is a choice is not a lie. God gives us a choice of if we choose to believe. The American political right means to make Christianity the only choice and to suppress alternative forms of belief. It’s why they say we are sleeper terrorists. They never want to debate the theology that tells them to worship a man. The only debate the right has about Islam is the debate where they say Islam is not a religion, but that our faith is a criminal enterprise that should be outlawed in the 50 states.
    In America, politics make strange bedfellows. Either we stand with the gays politically because America gives us the freedom to pray or be gay, or we stand with the Republicans, who say America is a Christian country founded on Christian principles. Either way, there is no Muslim party on the horizon about to take over the US political system. Today our argument is over our freedom to be Muslim. Gay is popular politics in America today.
    But I would argue that the same principle that allows gay marriage has the potential to legalize having more than one wife. This is the way it works. Back in 2000, we tried standing with the right wing moralists. We then found out that when we follow our Prophet, they consider us more immoral than the gay people.

    • Mobeen

      Mobeen

      September 15, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      Salam GregAbdul,
      I pray you are well. To respond briefly to your points:
      – Re: Difference btwn the two parties. My point was not that there is no difference, but that the difference is far greater rhetorically than at the policy level. This has been played out time and again, and you can see the article I linked to concerning the topic in my article which I think explains this dynamic well.
      – Re: Republican obduracy. I think you’ll find the voting record of Democrats under Bush, particularly when they were a congressional majority, to be remarkably similar to that of Republicans under Obama. The two parties are political adversaries, and political grandstanding, personal attacks, etc. are commonplace in Washington. Efforts to make either appear morally upright are specious at best.
      – Re: the Right and Islam. I don’t know if you are attempting to disagree with me, but this is the point I made in the first line of the article (“As a result of the Bush years and a neoconservative ideology that disproportionately favored policies curtailing the rights of Muslims domestically and interventionism on the international stage”). If not, I think we are in agreement here Alhamdulillah.
      – Re: standing with gays. I don’t think I’m following. Are you suggesting that voting down propositions to support gay marriage or otherwise opposing it will render us unable to practice our religion?
      – Re: polygyny. Though I’ve heard this argument before, to borrow your own term it is a bit of an ‘old canard’. I don’t think anyone in the Muslim community seriously views polygyny as a strategic priority, and in fact would venture to guess that an opinion poll in the community would overwhelmingly oppose polygyny. This is an extension of how it is viewed in society, and if such a situation were to change, it would have to be a result of us advocating for it, which I dont think will happen anytime soon.
      – In general, I think your points represent a larger attitude in the community which caricaturizes the right via its most vitriolic rhetoric while excusing the same from the left. As I mentioned, my personal belief is that we should engage politically as an extension of our values, and that should mean seriously looking into third parties, especially in presidential elections where the impact of our votes are nominal due to the Electoral College. Locally we can have a much greater impact if organized, and in local elections you will find the situation with politicians and their views of our community far more nuanced than what you are describing concerning Republicans, but this will require a shift in priorities for our community as local politics does not inspire the same concern at the moment.

      • Avatar

        GregAbdul

        September 15, 2014 at 1:25 PM

        May Allah reward you for your response.
        The main point I try to make about politics is that we will have to forge unsavory alliances in order to create effective coalitions. The gay marriage movement is not political process where people are using massive numbers to pass legislation. It is instead, a legal movement, where gay men and women are going into court and standing on the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. At the right time, a similar case can open the door for polygyny based on religious grounds. Properly understood, this polygamy would be used, by well-off Muslims, solely to aid women in distress, which is my understanding of the Sunnah.
        Where democracy can be corrupted, and the American corruption we see, is when politics turns into PR campaigns based on disinformation. The argument against the Democrats is that Obama as extended and enhanced Bush’s evils against Muslims. Yet the President over and over says he is not fighting Islam and seeks Muslim alliances against the enemies of Muslims. When a group of Muslims decides to be Kharajites, any enemy they have is my friend. I am not with Al Awlaki. I am not with Bin Laden. I am with those who go after such people.
        Today Muslims sit in the middle of a huge Western disinformation campaign called “the Islamic State.” To take the worst of any people and project those worst people as normative of any community is a clear act meant to promote hatred. This is being done by a white-controlled society and it is aimed at people they consider not-quite white, just as the worst black Americans are projected as showing a core within the black community that is essentially anti-social and uncivilized.
        In politics, it is about direction and small movement towards a great end. The issue of the American Muslim position politically in America will depend on where each of us sits as individuals. Those of us who are better off and run businesses will want to do sadaqa and prefer it to progressive taxation. Those of us, who are not so well off, will prefer the government coming in, taking money from the well-off and giving aid.
        Either way we should never lose site of Hate Inc. There is a Western movement, led by demagogues, out to deny Western Muslims the basic freedom of choosing our prayers as free people. Those who would deny us that freedom are overwhelmingly fundamentalist evangelicals and secularists in the conservative movement, just as most KKK members vote Republican. Each person is a composite of many competing needs. I don’t ‘mean to sound holy.
        For me, I know I get grief from Americans in general and white managers in particular because of my faith. I live in the South. I am not crying or saying I should not do a better job of managing people at work so that they are more accommodating.
        However, when I see a group consistently working to deny me my freedom to pray to God, free from coercion and compulsion, that issue by itself trumps said groups economic and foreign policy platforms. My primary concern is not Guantanamo, which does not hold even 200 people.
        In order for us to really grow Islam in America, we must first establish the legal fact of us having a right to be Muslim in America and the West. This is not a settled question. Let’s be honest. Our sisters take off hijab and brothers shave and won’t wear kufis because there are a bunch of “civilized” people out there claiming they believe in freedom, who will punish us for being open about our faith and most of those people reside in the Republican party. If I have to move one issue based on joining with someone not like me and do the mandatory compromising of my values I have to do to be a part of a larger coalition, I do so for individual freedom for Muslims. This is my primary agenda item that I choose over a group of moralists who all too often tell me that Islam is inherently immoral.
        Finally, I agree with Dove. The best action for any person in the West is to work locally. That is where you get the biggest bang for your minutes and money spent.

  2. Avatar

    Muslim Dove

    September 15, 2014 at 7:28 AM

    Great article! In terms of national election, we need to prioritize the issues that we care about, based on their relevance and significance to our lives. Does gay marriage or abortion affect my daily life or policies that single out Muslims to spy on them in their homes or mosques? While we may have some shared religious teachings in common with the conservatives, in no way those commonalities translate to any type of affinity toward the Muslim community or political policies of common interest. If they had their way, they would have no qualms about stripping Muslims from the constitutional rights that are afforded to us. If you think that is an exaggeration, just look back into Herman Cain’s (a GOP presidential candidate) views on Muslims, but more importantly the views of many GOP members in congress.

    I would’ve loved to see a bit more emphasis on local politic in this article. It is apparent to me that the most Anti-Muslim politicians come from local congressional districts. Although, Muslims are still a tiny minority of US population and we are spread out throughout the country, we should try to become active in local politics as much as we can and expose the Anti-Muslim local representatives for the voters to see.

    • Mobeen

      Mobeen

      September 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM

      Salam Muslim Dove,
      Jazakum Allah khayr for the reply. My own feedback:
      – Re: what affects ones daily life. I would argue that yes, the daily life of Muslims in America has and will continue to be affected by the gay rights movement and abortion. As for policies that single out Muslims to spy on them, you do realize that these are policies that have been championed and protected by Democrats just as much as Republicans? In fact, Obama and his administration has expanded the warrantless wiretapping programming dramatically, strong-armed telecoms that resisted, and blocked judicial conversations concerning the program under the auspices of national security.
      – I tried to emphasize the need for us shifting our priorities to local politics at the end of the article. The article was not an attempt to be definitive or exhaustive, but rather to animate the conversation on our political engagement as it has and continues to currently play out. At the moment, local politics is not given its due, and I think the recent siege on Gaza brought to the fore how many politicians from districts with significant Muslim populations sided with Israel. One can only assume this is likely because they don’t see the Muslim vote as a threat, and organizing locally to impact and affect elections where we have large Muslim concentrations would certainly be to our benefit.

  3. Avatar

    GC66

    September 15, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    I believe as Muslims in America we should refrain from voting on the national level.

    Doing so, either way, contributes to an anti-Islamic rhetoric to Muslims over all.

    The local way is the way to get “some” results to favor the Muslim community, but this still is an obstacle in many communities because many people will not vote for candidates with a foreign name other than what they recognize as to be American.

    Voting on the national level is only a ruse anyway, as the vote is meaningless and gives people a false sense of control.

  4. Avatar

    Tariq Ahmed

    September 16, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    Very timely, Mobeen. Jazakumullahu khayran. Politics governs America: it drives the mentality of the legislators (from Congress to the City Council) and the executive (from Presidents to Mayors). Politics influences at a minimum the decisions of judges who hope to advance in their careers, because federal judges are chosen by politicians and local judges are often elected by the public. So as responsible members of society, Muslims cannot afford to be naive about politics, not when critical ssues like health care reform and racial justice affect the lives of every American, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

    We also have to mature as a community, or at least our leaders do. We should not allow ourselves to be devoted to any political personality per se, whether it be the next Ronald Reagan or the next Bill Clinton. Rather we should be the voice of reason when others are willing to let a charismatic leader shred the Constitution or sacrifice the rights of any minority.

    We should realize that no political party is immune from the ills of politics, and thus we should always be the ally of those persons who strive to do what is good, to establish justice for all, to establish fairness in the marketplace, to protect the weak and the oppressed from being ravaged by the powerful. And we should support them without respect to political party as far as that is tenable.

    As for how we support them, votes, money, and manpower are the most powerful currencies of a political realm. Politicians cannot accomplish anything without votes that get them into office, nor without the votes of other legislator-policticans to advance their policies. Money pays for the campaigns that spread the politicians’ messages. But so much money floods politics now that even veteran politicians worry that displeasing the sources of money will bring on a well-funded challenger. The most underrated commodity is manpower: volunteering in campaigns, working as staff if a person chooses to dedicate themselves fully, these can be used to “get out the vote” or spread the message one block or telephone call at a time.

    A mature strategy appreciates the assets of our community, uses them in the most responsible manner, and on behalf of campaigns that truly benefit the community.

  5. Avatar

    Thaer Momani

    September 18, 2014 at 4:44 PM

    Wonderful Analysis!

  6. Avatar

    fiqhonomics

    September 20, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    “Properly understood, this polygamy would be used, by well-off Muslims, solely to aid women in distress, which is my understanding of the Sunnah”. You are naïve. Polygeny is rampant, and here in South Africa 9/10 cases result from affairs and/or in the serious deprivation and neglect of the original (if not all) households. Muslims, who enjoy considerable rights here, have actually engaged the kuffaar legislators in attempting to CURB polygeny, based on the abuse of women and children it so often entails. Considering these realities, the last thing Muslim women and children need, is laws enabling polygeny.

    • Avatar

      GregAbdul

      September 20, 2014 at 7:26 PM

      People abuse laws. The big thing I have been thinking about lately is that the private business enterprises we encourage in the name of freedom often allows merchants to practice and maintain their prejudices. The merchants are alone with customers in their shops and they, like all human beings are given wide latitude in deciding how they will treat each individual customer. Ten years ago, this caused a bunch of minorities with bad credit to get sucked into a housing bubble in which they overpaid for homes they could not afford. My point? We make laws and bad people take advantage of them all the time. Then we go back and rewrite and fine tune the laws. Polygyny is the Sunnah and the Quran allows it. So we don’t have a right as Muslims to banish it. The right approach for South Africa, I can only guess. You live there, so you are the expert on where you live, but to put in place income requirements on polygamists or heavy penalties on abusers instead of banishing behaviors are examples of fine tuning. Business facilities prejudice. However no one is saying business is evil and should be banished. we put in laws making it illegal for businesses to discriminate. In the same way, if a man wants more than one woman, irregardlesss of the law, those men usually find a way have more than one woman. Islam simply demands that the man be financially responsible for his wives and kids. If men in South Africa are not being responsible about the wives and children in their care, they are no different than the men who marry one wife and do not take care of their responsibilities and we should show them social disapproval and create laws that discourage irresponsible behavior in men. That has nothing to do with whether the man has more than one wife.

      • Avatar

        fiqhonomics

        September 27, 2014 at 5:53 AM

        Monogamy is also sunnah. In any event, polygeny is a non-issue in as much as very few men, especially in Western countries, can afford to provide nafaqah for one household, let alone more than one. Enter the fiqhi innovation of the misyaar marriage. Furthermore, in cultures where “companionate” marriage (i.e. husband and wife are “best friends”) are the cultural norm, women are simply not as likely to accept such an arrangement – and, given women’s relative financial independence, compared to “traditional Muslim societies”, they have more clout to determine the conditions under which they remain married – either by divorcing the polygynous husband, or exerting enough influence for him to divorce the additional wife. So even in your hypothetical example of wealthy men, it would be advisable to consider the status and independence of the first wife. Also, look up r-selection and k-selection.

  7. Avatar

    Hyde

    September 20, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    *sarcastic clapping* I have been saying this for past five years or so; don’t trust these liberals. They will come after you after they have their hands washed with these Evangelical/republicans. Very timely essay.

    I am a proud Muslim, who DID NOT vote for Barack Hussein Obama and would never do. The Muslims that did, I hope they hug their children at night when they go to sleep, because they are many of their faith that can’t, because their children are dead.

  8. Avatar

    Ramy

    November 1, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    Good article brother Mobeen.
    Reposted on Muslims4Liberty just in time for election day:)
    http://www.muslims4liberty.org/should-american-muslims-reconsider-the-liberal-democrat-alliance/
    JAK

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#Current Affairs

Kashmir: Gateway in Turmoil

Abu Ryan Dardir

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A dark day looms over Indian-Administered Kashmir, a Muslim majority region at the heart of a dispute between Pakistan and India. The two countries are at odds over its governance, with direct impact to the welfare and security of the Kashmiri people. On Tuesday 8-6-19, the Indian Parliament passed a bill that strips Kashmir of statehood and places them under indefinite lockdown.

“Kashmiri leaders are appealing to the world to stop the imminent genocide of Kashmiris. Genocide Watch in Washington, DC has already issued a Genocide Alert for India, the so-called “largest democracy in the world” because it has cancelled citizenship of four million Indian citizens, mostly Muslims. This reflects the early stages of a genocide in process.” –Soundvision.com

Kashmir is home to massive energy resources, such as oil and natural gas, non-ferrous metals, uranium, gold, and is abundant in hydropower resources. These too are factors considered in the political movements of India and China. Kashmir’s geopolitical advantages are no secret, and adding China to the political struggle makes three countries trying to benefit from Kashmir’s geographical position.

Kashmir neighbors the Xinjiang Uyghur borders, and China has played a role in both areas. China’s stronghold on Xinjiang revolves around access to Europe and Central Asia. China needs Kashmir to access the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Kashmir is landlocked between China, Pakistan, and India. Pakistan hopes to use infrastructure built under the CPEC initiative to connect by land directly to both China and Central Asia. With that said, Pakistan wants to take advantage of its geographic positioning by serving as a gateway to Afghanistan, then Central Asia, using the CPEC corridor (the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor), which has parts of that corridor that go through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

This is upsetting India. India’s ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, made a comment in an interview about CPEC saying it “violates our territorial integrity. India believes the CPEC project undermines Indian sovereignty because it passes through a Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir that is still claimed by India.” India also fears the chances of a People’s Liberation Army presence or even a Chinese naval base in Pakistan’s Gwadar seaport, as part of the CPEC corridor.

India has been working on its own project, International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), it is intended to link trade routes between India and Central Asia, Russia, and Europe. Unlike its competition (Pakistan and China), India is unable to directly trade through the land to those regions using INSTC. To make this corridor successful, India will need to collaborate with Iran and use their ports.

India needs Kashmir, and Modi is using hateful nationalism to get the people to support his actions. The part of Kashmir that is needed is not under India’s control, and must be occupied in order for India to have direct access to Central Asia, Russia, and Europe. 

Birds of a feather flock together.

Israel’s Minister for Construction and Housing Yifat Shasha-Biton, while addressing a conference of Indian realtors’ body Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI), called India an “economic power” with whom Israel shares common values.  India using colonization tactics has made allies with the Israeli government, a master on occupation and oppression. 

“Kashmir is under siege…do not let the enforced silence drown our voices.”:

Please keep the people of Kashmir in your prayers. We cannot sit idly while this occupation continues. SoundVision has shared 5 things anyone in America and Canada can do. 

A message from a Kashmiri

“Around 10 pm, a message flashed across our phones announcing that, as per the request of the central government, all domestic networks were to be shut down indefinitely. All mosques, any place equipped with a loudspeaker, began announcing total curfew from 5 am tomorrow……..

You have stripped us of our rights and incited unrest yet again into a peaceful and beautiful place. This time, I pray, you will not escape the international consequences your actions deserve. Rest assured Kashmiris will not break and Kashmir is not gone. Our stories, our language, our heart and our people are stronger than any country can dream. Even under these circumstances, I am sure inshaAllah one day we will be free. One day, Kashmir will be free.” Sanna Wani via Twitter

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#Islam

Muslims for Migrants | A Joint Letter By Imam Zaid Shakir & Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Zaid Shakir

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migrants

Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) said, “He who gives respite to someone who is in straitened circumstances, or grants him remission, Allah will shelter him in the shade of His Throne, on the Day of Resurrection, when there will be no shade except its shade.” (Tirmidhi, 1306)

He also said, “There is no leader who closes the door to someone in need, one suffering in poverty, except that Allah closes the gates of the heavens for him when he is suffering in poverty.” (Tirmidhi, 1332)

The message is clear, the way we treat the most vulnerable of Allah’s creation has consequences to us both individually and collectively, and both in this life and the next.

As the humanitarian crisis at the southern border deepens, there is a deafening silence from most corners of the American Muslim community. One might ask, “Why should that silence be concerning?” Shouldn’t the nation of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) who was himself an orphan and a migrant sent as a mercy to the worlds be the first to be moved with the images of children in cages? Migration and asylum are God-given rights that individuals and nations would do well to respect. These rights are affirmed in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah upon him).

Concerning migration, the Qur’an states unequivocally: 

As for those whose souls the angels take while they are oppressing themselves, the angels will say to them, “What was your former state?” They will respond, “We were oppressed in the land.” The angels will counter, “Was not Allah’s earth spacious enough for you to migrate therein.” (4:97)

 The oppression referred to in this verse specifically focuses on persecution because of faith, but the general meaning of the wording can accommodate any form of oppression which involves the denial of a person’s Divinely conferred rights.

Migration lies at the very heart of the prophetic tradition in the Abrahamic religions. Abraham himself was a migrant. His son Ismail was a migrant. The Children of Israel along with Moses were migrants, as was Jesus. Not only was our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) a migrant, he twice sent many of his Companions (May Allah be pleased with them) to Ethiopia to seek the protection of the Negus. The fact that the Muslim calendar is dated from the migration of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) from Makkah to Madinah indicates the lofty place migration has in the life of the Muslim community and in the consciousness of its members. 

Additionally, history records the massive migrations of those Muslims who fled from oppressive, tyrannical, violent rulers or invaders. One of the most famous examples we can relate in this regard is the massive westward migration of those escaping the advancing Mongol hordes. Among those refugees was the great poet, Rumi, who along with thousands of others fled his home in Balkh, located in present-day Afghanistan, eventually settling in Konya, in the heart of Anatolia. Others migrated for economic reasons. The historian, Richard Bulliet, theorizes that the economic collapse of Khurasan, a once-thriving Sunni intellectual hub in eastern Iran, led to the migration of large swaths of its population to Syrian and Egypt. In his view, the many scholars among those refugees led to an intellectual revival in the lands they settled in.

As for asylum, it can be granted by both the state and an individual Muslim to individuals or groups. The foundations of this principle in prophetic practice was established during events which occurred during the conquest of Makkah. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), as the de facto head of state, issued an oath of protection to the people of Mecca when he declared, “Whosever enters the house of Abu Sufyan is safe. Whosoever casts down his weapons is safe. Whosoever closes his door [and remains inside] is safe.” (Sahih Muslim, 1780) Ibn Ishaq’s version adds, “Whosoever enters the [Sacred] Mosque is safe.” (Narrated in Sirah Ibn Hisham, 4:35)

Those enjoying these protections from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) had not committed a crime and although they had not traveled to another land seeking refuge, the description of their land had changed from one under the authority of the Quraysh to one under the authority of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him). In this “new” land they were being guaranteed safety and subsequently freedom even though they had not yet embraced Islam.

 A related event is Imam Ali’s sister, Umm Hani, granting asylum to al-Harith bin Hisham and Zuhayr bin Ummayya that same day. When faced with the prospect of their execution by her brother, Imam Ali, she locked them in her house and went to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) to inform him that she had granted them asylum. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) responded, “We grant asylum to those Umm Hani has granted asylum to and we protect those Umm Hani has extended protection to.” (Sirah ibn Hisham, 4:42) In other words, the entire Muslim community, globally, is bound to respect the oath of protection or asylum granted by even an individual Muslim.

This idea of the entire Muslim community respecting a grant of asylum extended by even a single Muslim is strengthened by the Hadith:

 The protection of the Muslims is one and the least of them can grant it. Whosoever violates the asylum extended by a Muslim upon him falls the curse of Allah, His angels and all of humanity. Never will an obligatory or voluntary act be accepted from him. (Bukhari, 3172)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) praised the Ansar of Madinah for how they loved those that migrated to them and preferred them even over themselves. (Quran: 59:9) They bore no resentment to those that migrated to them and sought reward only from Allah for sustaining them. They knew that supporting those in need was only a means of goodness in their lives rather than a burden. These powerful Islamic teachings have been codified by our scholars into a sophisticated system of amnesty, asylum, and respect for the status of refugees.

Hence, when we view the sickening conditions those migrating to our southern borders are exposed to, we should be touched and moved to action knowing that our religion grants those fleeing persecution, oppression, or ecological devastation, the right to migrate and to be duly considered for asylum. Our actions, however, must be based on principle and knowledge. We should further vigorously defend the dignity our Lord has afforded to all human beings, and our obligation to assist those who are suffering from recognized forms of oppression.

We must also understand that the rights to migration and asylum have been codified in the most widely accepted Muslim statement on human rights: The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, Article 12; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 14; the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (ADRDM), Article 27; and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), Article 22. The United States is a signatory party to the UDHR, and by way of membership in the Organization of American States (OAS), reluctantly accepts the authority of the ADRDM and the ACHR, although she has never ratified the latter two.

Our view on this issue should also be informed by the knowledge of our own country’s history as a nation of immigrants in the Native’s land. It should further be shaped by understanding the way nativist and white supremacist tendencies have fueled xenophobic and exclusivist policies and how in many instances our sometimes misguided policies have created many of our most vexing human rights challenges. It must also be informed by our obligation as American citizens.

For example, we need to understand that the overwhelming majority of families, children and individual adults arriving at our southern border from the “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are fleeing intolerable levels of violence. That violence is not just that of ruthless street gangs, such as MS-13, it also emanates from government-sponsored death squads, many of which were organized and trained by the CIA or the US military at the former School of the Americas based at Fort Benning, Georgia. The infamous Battalion 316 of Honduras was an American-trained death squad responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial killings in that country during the 1980s and into the 1990s as well as the kidnapping and torture of thousands of Honduran citizens during the same period. These death squads are beginning to reappear in the wake of a wave of right-wing regimes assuming power throughout Latin America.

The combination of American political and economic pressure through the mechanisms of neocolonialism used to control and systematically under-develop former and present “banana republics,” the International Monetary Fund (IMF), plutocratic regimes increasingly beholden to Washington DC, integrating the violence of both death squads and drug cartels into their crushing of both popular dissent as well as any attempts at economic diversification and stratification help to create the conditions producing the waves of migrants moving towards our southern border. Long before they sought to cross our borders, our borders crossed them.

Long before they sought to cross our borders, our borders crossed them.

Despite the history, the way that the Trump administration has chosen to deal with the current crisis, largely for cheap race-baited political gain, has challenged the God-given rights to migration and asylum, exacerbated the humanitarian crisis at the border, and diminished the standing of the United States internationally. It is critical to understand, however, that just as the policies producing the floods of migrants from parts of Latin America are not uniquely a product of the Trump administration, Trump is not the first racist to occupy the White House. We could mention Richard Nixon, who famously embraced Kevin Philip’s “southern strategy,” to wrest the south from the control of the Democrats; we could mention the KKK-loving, segregationist, Woodrow Wilson; we could mention the slave-driving, genocidal ethnic cleanser Andrew Jackson, as well as others.

What makes Trump unique, as Greg Grandin emphasizes in his latest book, The End of the Myth, is that Trump is a racist who has appeared at a time America is no longer, via conquest or economic domination, expanding her frontiers. With the ensuing erasure of the myth of American exceptionalism, the “American people” can no longer point to our global economic or political domination as the difference between “them” and “us.” 

Unable to deflect our nagging national problems, one of the most vexing being the race issue, by looking outward, large numbers of white Americans are turning inward with xenophobic frenzy. That inward turn creates a focus on outsiders who threaten “our” rapidly disappearing “purity.” Hence, the border, symbolized by the wall, becomes not just an indicator of national sovereignty, it becomes a symbol of white identity. A symbol Trump invokes with seldom matched mastery. Vested with the passion emanating from the defense of an embattled race, innocent brown children taken from their mothers and imprisoned in overcrowded, feces-stained gulags become easily dismissed collateral damage.

Generally speaking, the same playbook that has been employed against the Muslim and other immigrant communities, specifically refugees from the Middle East, has been employed against the immigrant community as a whole. In far too many instances, America’s destructive foreign policy leaves helpless populations running to our shores, increasingly to be dehumanized and disregarded again in order to pander to the worst of our domestic propensities.

Launchgood.com/migrants, migrants, Muslims

So we call upon the Muslim community to not only assist in efforts to support our migrant brothers and sisters but lead the way. Get involved in advocacy work, support immigrant justice organizations, join the sanctuary efforts and lend yourself and your wealth in whatever way you can to be at their aid. By the Grace of Allah, we have launched a campaign to reunite as many families as we can. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) said, “Whoever separates a mother from her child, Allah will separate him from his loved ones on the Day of Resurrection.” (Tirmidhi, 1566) We hope that in reuniting families, Allah will reunite us with our beloved ones on the Day of Resurrection, and specifically with the beloved Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) in the highest gardens of Paradise.

Imam Zaid Shakir, Imam, Lighthouse Mosque

Imam Omar Suleiman, Founder & President, Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research

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Were Muslim Groups Duped Into Supporting an LGBTQ Rights Petition at the US Supreme Court?

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Muslim organizations, Muslim groups

Recently several Muslim groups sent an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court to support LGBTQ rights in employment.  These groups argued“sex” as used in the Civil Rights Act should be defined broadly to include more types of discrimination than Congress wrote into the statue.

A little background. Clayton County, Georgia fired Gerald Lynn Bostock. The County alleged Bostock embezzled money, so he was fired. Bostock argues the real reason is that he is gay. Clayton County denied they would fire someone for that reason. Clayton County successfully had the case dismissed saying that even if Bostock is right about everything, the law Bostock filed the lawsuit under does not vindicate his claim. The case is now at the Supreme Court with other similar cases.

The “Muslim” brief argued the word “sex” should mean lots of things, and under the law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), LGBTQ discrimination is already illegal.  American law has developed to provide some support for this argument, but there have been divisions in the appellate courts. So this is the exact sort of thing the US Supreme Court exists to decide.

The Involvement Of Muslim Groups

In Supreme Court litigation, parties on both sides marshal amicus briefs (written arguments) and coordinate their efforts to improve the effectiveness of their advocacy, there are over 40 such briefs in the Bostock case. Groups represent constituencies with no direct stake in the immediate dispute but care about the precedent the case would set.

The Muslim groups came in purportedly because they know what it’s like to be victims of discrimination (more on that below). The brief answered an objection to the consequences that could come with an expansive definition of the term “sex” to include gay, lesbian, and transgender persons (in lieu of its conventional use as synonymous with gender, i.e., male/female). In particular, the brief responded to the concern that “sex” being defined as any subjective experience may open up more litigation than was intended by making the argument that religion is a personal experience that courts have no trouble sorting out and that, like faith, courts can define “sex” the same way.

While this may be interesting to some, boring to others, it begs the question:  why are Muslim groups involved with this stuff? Muslims are a faith community. If we speak *as Muslims* is it not pertinent to consult with the traditions of the faith tradition known as Islam, like Quran, Hadith and the deep well of scholarly tradition?  Is our mere presence in a pluralistic society enough reason to ignore all this and focus on building allies in our mutual desire to create a world free of discrimination?

Spreading Ignorance

In July of 2017, the main party to the “Muslim” brief, Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), was expelled from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention bazaar.  I was on the Executive Council of the organization at the time but had no role in the decision. The reason: MPV was dedicated to promoting ignorance of Islam among Muslims at the event. The booth had literature claiming haram was good and virtuous. Propaganda distributed at the table either implied haram was not haram or alternately celebrated haram.

For any Muslim organization dedicated to Islam, it is not a difficult decision to expel an organization explicitly dedicated to spreading haram. No Muslim organization, composed of Muslims who fear Allah and dedicate their time to Islam can give space to organizations opposed the faith community’s values and advocates against them in their conferences and events.  Allah, in the Quran, tells us:

immorality

Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows, and you do not know.

It would be charitable to the point of fraud to characterize MPV as a Muslim organization. That MPV has dedicated itself to promoting ignorance of the religion within the Muslim community is not in serious dispute.  The organization’s leader has been all over the anti-Sharia movement.

Discrimination against Muslims is bad, except when it’s good 

The brief framed the various organizations’ participation by claiming as Muslims, we know what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. This implies the parties that signed on to the Amicus petition believe discrimination against Muslims is a bad thing. For at least two of the organizations, this is not entirely true.

MPV is an ally of another co-signer of the Amicus petition, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).  Both have records that show an eagerness to discriminate against Muslims in the national security space. They both applied for CVE grants. Both have supported the claim that Muslims are a national security threat they are somehow equipped to deal with. I have written more extensively about MPAC in the past; mainly, it’s work in Countering Violent Extremism and questionable Zakat practices.

MPAC’s CVE  program, called “Safe Spaces,” singled out Muslims as terrorist threats. It purported to address this Muslim threat. In June of 2019, MPAC’s academic partner released an evaluation Safe Spaces and judged it as “not successful” citing the singling out of Muslims, as well as a lack of trust within the Muslim community because of a lack of transparency as reasons why the program was a failure. Despite its legacy of embarrassment and failure, MPAC continues to promote Safe Spaces on its website.

MPV was a vigorous defender of MPAC’s CVE program, Safe Spaces.  MPV’s leader has claimed the problem of “radicalism” is because of CAIR, ISNA, and ICNA’s “brand of Islam.”

Law Enforcement Approved Islam

In 2011, former LAPD head of Counter-Terrorism, Michael P. Downing testified during a congressional hearing on “Islamist Radicalization” Downing testified in favor of MPV, stating:

I would just offer that, on the other side of the coin, we should create opportunities for the pure, good part of this, to be in the religion, such as the NGOs. There is an NGO by the name of Ani Zonneveld who does the Muslims for Progressive Values. This is what they say, “Values are guided by 10 principles of Islam, rooted in Islam, including social equality, separation of religion and state, freedom of speech, women’s rights, gay rights, and critical analysis and interpretation.” She and her organization have been trying to get into the prison system to give this literature as written by Islamic academic scholars. So I think there can be more efforts on this front as well.

Downing was central to the LAPD’s “Muslim Mapping” program, defending the “undertaking as a way to help Muslim communities avoid the influence of those who would radicalize Islamic residents and advocate ‘violent, ideologically-based extremism.” MPAC was a supporter of the mapping program, which was later rejected by the city because it was an explicit ethnic profiling program mainstream Muslim and secular civil rights groups opposed.  MPAC later claimed it did not support the program, though somehow saw fit to give Downing an award. Downing, since retired, currently serves on MPAC’s Advisory Council.

Ani Zonnevold, the President and Founder of MPV, currently sits on the International Board of Directors for the Raif Badawi Foundation alongside Maajid Nawaz and Zuhdi Jasser.

MPV has also been open about both working for CVE and funding from a non-Muslim source, the Human Rights Campaign, and other groups with agendas to reform the religion of Islam. It’s hard not to see it as an astroturf organization.

Muslim Groups Were Taken for a Ride

Unfortunately, Muslim nonprofit organizations are often unsophisticated when it comes to signing documents other groups write. Some are not even capable of piecing together the fact that an astroturf organization opposed to Islam, the religious tradition, was recruiting them to sign something.

There are many Muslims sympathetic to the LGBTQ community while understanding the limits of halal and haram. Not everyone who signed the brief came to this with the same bad faith as an MPV, which is hostile to the religion of Islam itself. Muslims generally don’t organize out of hostility to Islam. This only appears to be happening because of astroturfing in the Muslim community. Unfortunately, it was way too easy to bamboozle well-meaning Muslim groups.

Muslims are a faith community. MPV told the groups Islam did not matter in their argument when the precise reason they were recruited to weigh in on the case was that they are Muslim. Sadly, it was a successful con. Issues like the definition of sex are not divorced from Islamic concerns. We have Islamic inheritance and rules for family relations where definitions of words are relevant. Indeed, our religious freedoms in ample part rest on our ability to define the meaning of words, like Muslim, fahisha, zakat, daughter, and Sharia. Separate, open-ended definitions with the force of law may have implications for religious freedom for Muslims and others because it goes to defining a word across different statutes, bey0nd the civil rights act. There would be fewer concerns if LGBT rights were simply added as a distinct category under the Civil Rights Act while respecting religious freedom under the constitution.

Do Your Homework

Muslim organizations should do an analysis of religious freedom implications for Muslims and people of other faiths before signing on to statements and briefs. A board member of MPV drafted the “Muslim” Brief, and his law firm recruited Muslim nonprofit organizations to sign on. CAIR Oklahoma, which signed up for this brief, made a mistake (hey, it happens). CAIR Oklahoma’s inclusion is notable. This chapter successfully challenged the anti-Sharia “Save our State” law that would have banned Muslims from drafting Islamic Wills. Ironically, CAIR Oklahoma’s unwitting advocacy at the Supreme Court could work against that critical result. For an anti-Sharia group like MPV, this is fine. It is not fine for a group like CAIR.

CAIR Oklahoma is beefing up their process for signing on to Amicus Briefs in the future. No other CAIR chapter signed on to the brief, which was prudent. CAIR chapters are mostly independent organizations seemingly free to do whatever they want. CAIR, as a national organization needs to make sure all its affiliates are sailing in the same direction. They have been unsuccessful with this in the past several years. CAIR should make sure their local chapters know about astroturf outfits and charlatans trying to get them to sign things. They should protect their “America’s largest Islamic Civil Liberties Group” brand.

Muslim Leaders Should Stand Strong 

American Muslims all have friends, business associates and coworkers, and family members who do things that violate Islamic norms all the time. We live in an inclusive society where we respect each other’s differences. Everyone is entitled to dignity and fair treatment. No national Muslim groups are calling for employment discrimination against anyone, nor should they.

However, part of being Muslim is understanding limits that Allah placed on us. That means we cannot promote haram or help anyone do something haram. Muslim groups do not need to support causes that may be detrimental to our interests.  Our spaces do not need to be areas where we have our religion mocked and derided. Other people have the freedom to do this in their own spaces in their own time.

Some Muslim leaders are afraid of being called names unless they recite certain words or invite particular speakers.  You will never please people who hate Islam unless you believe as they do.  Muslims only matter if Islam matters.

If you are a leader of Muslims, you must know the limits Allah has placed on you. Understand the trust people have placed in you. Don’t allow anyone to bully or con you into violating those limits.

Note: Special thanks to Mobeen Vaid.

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