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The Rationality of Islamic Sexual Ethics: Zina

“Every king has a sanctuary, and the sanctuary of Allah is what He has prohibited.”

[dropcap size=big]P[/dropcap]eople sometimes jokingly ask, why is it that driving requires a license, but you can have children without a license or any kind of certification? It is usually a lighthearted remark, but, when you think about it, this is a legitimate question. If driving or teaching at a school, practicing medicine or law, or even being a plumber requires certification, then what about something that is far more sensitive, far more significant like having children and raising them?

After all, children are our future, and the state of our society as a whole depends on how children are brought up — their morals, their sense of responsibility, their character, and so on. As the National Criminal Justice Reference Service and other extensive research studies report, children who grow up without proper parental influence are far more likely to become involved in drugs and crime, to face unemployment, not to complete their education, to fail to become productive members of society and upright human beings. This, then, has a toll on all of us, on all members of society.

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Given these high stakes, one has to wonder how any civilized society could allow its people to have children without having some kind of regulation to ensure that all children are born to competent parents, parents invested in their children’s well being and future. Isn’t it a child’s right to have a stable household and parents capable of properly raising him? Isn’t it our right as members of society to make sure incompetent, irresponsible people in our midst are not having children that they will neglect, children who will be more likely to become burdens on society and, hence, each and every one of us?

The “M” Word

Islam, of course, does require just such a license — a nikah, i.e., the marriage contract. Properly done, according to Prophetic guidance, a nikah ensures that a couple is in the best position to raise a family, with the full support of the extended family and the community at large. One of the biggest wisdoms of the nikah, as all classical scholars agreed, is upholding the rights of children and, thereby, upholding the rights of society at large.

It should go without saying that there are Muslim marriages that fail and Muslim married couples who will not make for good parents despite having had a nikah, etc. But my claim is not that every married Muslim couple will provide better conditions for raising children than every single parent household. Rather, the claim is that, overall, we significantly increase the chances of providing better conditions for raising children in the context of a marriage between biological parents than in the context of unwed parents or single-parent households. This is a claim supported by empirical data, as cited throughout this post. It is also supported by rational reflection, and ratified by the practice of human societies throughout the ages.

Furthermore, beyond marriage as practiced by non-Muslims, what distinguishes Muslim marriage is that the different Islamic legal requirements, conditions, and supererogatory elements of the nikah — as practiced by the early Muslim community and generations of Muslims thereafter — further enhance the chances of successfully raising children and contributing to the flourishing of a community and society writ large. Requiring the mahr, for example, or that the bride have a wali (according to the majority opinion), etc., all practically and, therefore, rationally contribute to the chances of success of the marriage and its ability to produce children who will positively impact the world. Tying each of these Islamic legal requirements to that overall benefit requires a detailed and extended analysis beyond the scope of this post. (I will leave it as an exercise for the reader.) But my broader argument does not hinge on that analysis. For the time being, we can proceed with the less contentious claim that promoting marriage — and preventing extramarital sex which directly undermines it — positively correlates with a whole host of public benefits.

(Of course, besides promoting public benefits, there are countless other wisdoms and rationales for prohibiting zina, i.e., premarital and extramarital sexual relationships. Classical scholars, for example, often mention the rights of men to know their progeny, the rights of women to be supported by their children’s fathers, the rights of larger kinship bonds, the rights of children in knowing their own lineage, preserving honor more generally, etc. But, for the sake of argument, let’s focus on the social impact of single parenthood and unwanted pregnancies for now, since this is the kind of reasoning that resonates in the modern liberal secular discourse that presumably cares so much for human rights, autonomy, and freedom.)

Let Me be Clear…

My purpose here is not to stigmatize single mothers or fathers or their children. Obviously there are many reasons why single parent households arise: a married couple gets divorced, a parent dies, etc. Nor is my purpose to necessarily stigmatize those individuals who engage in premarital sex in this day and age. The unfortunate reality is that most people today, especially in the West, are ignorant of the dangers and ugliness inherent in zina. Zina itself is no longer taboo, and so genuinely ignorant people should not be judged.

Rather, my purpose is to reacquaint people with the claim that, for very good reasons that have nothing to do with one’s personal religious beliefs, extramarital relations are an objective evil. By doing this, I aim specifically to counter the widespread attack on Islamic sexual ethics by liberal secular ideologues who strive to portray Islam as outmoded or even inhumane. I believe that this attack needs to be countered with clear arguments and evidence, and talking about the enormous negative societal effects of extramarital sex is a good starting point.

Also by way of disclaimer, I should say that I am aware that arguing on the basis of “society” and the overall “public good” is anachronistic from the perspective of traditional Islam. But, again, I am deliberately (yet, cautiously) using this language in order to be conversant with modern normative discourse, which often takes the form of sociological analysis.

I am also sensitive to the characterization of traditional religions as prioritizing communal benefit and modern liberalism, by contrast, putting a premium on individual autonomy. Based on this, it may seem that my appeals to public good and societal cohesion are just another way of saying that individuals must sacrifice their sexual autonomy for the sake of the overall good. In actuality, I find this supposed tension between communal well being and individualistic autonomy incoherent, since, from one perspective, what benefits people individually will, in the collective, benefit people in the aggregate and vice versa. In this light, then, abstinence is not merely a sacrifice for the sake of the collective good, but a sacrifice that contributes to the good of people in the aggregate and, thereby, the good of people on the individual level. We will also see it work the other way, viz., as contributing to the good of people on the individual level and that, in the aggregate of millions of lives, contributing to the good of people collectively. In this way, we can bypass the charge of anachronism when employing inexorably modern concepts like “society,” “demographic indicators,” “population,” etc.

Critics of Islamic Sexual Ethics

As it turns out, Islamic sexual ethics have been the target of unrelenting criticism from modernists and liberals for decades, critics who argue that Islamic law stifles the sexual freedom and autonomy of individuals by prohibiting premarital sex. If two people love each other, they argue, why can’t they consummate that love? Who is harmed by such a consensual relationship? Clearly, there are no victims, so Islamic sexual prohibitions must only be based on prudery and outmoded sexual repression. That is why, the argument continues, we must spurn these prohibitions in favor of freedom and the human right to sexual self-determination.

But this argument against Islamic law is woefully inadequate. To the contrary, it can be argued that prohibiting zina clearly protects people’s freedom and autonomy and promotes human rights. How? Because such prohibition effectively curbs the number of children being born to single mothers and couples who are not in a position to take adequate care of them. This in turn benefits the interests of children and hence, the interests of society at large. If crime rates go up, for example, because one generation ago, a large percentage of children were born out of wedlock, then those higher crime rates have a direct impact on my personal quality of life. If I have to pay higher taxes because the police force has to be beefed up, again, that is an imposition on my personal autonomy and freedom, as my personal wealth is siphoned off by government agencies and social programs that are taking care of children born of the ill-advised decisions of irresponsible yet sexually active individuals.

There is all manner of sociological evidence to support this line of reasoning. As one example, consider the hugely popular, bestselling book Freakonomics. In it, the authors, Levitt and Dubner, present research that correlates the legalization of abortion in America and other countries with subsequent drops in crime rates in those countries. They explain this correlation by arguing that legalizing abortion made it easier for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies. This, in turn, meant that fewer unwanted children were born and, hence, that fewer children grew up in detrimental environments and households that would make them prone to a life of crime.

Pro-abortion advocates often use this sociological data on crime rates to argue — much to the chagrin of their conservative, pro-life interlocutors — that abortion greatly benefits society as a whole. But the obvious conclusion that goes unnoticed, however, is that these same benefits of abortion could equally be achieved simply by preventing premarital sex. The exact same logic applies — if fewer people are having sex outside of marriage, there are fewer children being born to mothers who are not in a position to provide an upbringing that will prevent those children from eventually falling into illegal and destructive behavior, and so on.

Another way to look at it is that abortion is simply one of many ways to control reproduction. Contraception is another avenue. Forced sterilization is yet another. And, of course, sexual norms against zina, as found in Islamic law, are just another way to control how people in society reproduce (primarily from the perspective of quality and not necessarily quantity). Research shows that, on a societal level, crime rates, education levels, unemployment, drug use, and future family income, all can be significantly influenced by controlling reproduction via access to abortion and contraception. Obviously, those same benefits would, mutatis mutandis, obtain by prohibiting premarital sex.

The Scarlet Letter

And what about adultery? The concept of zina is inclusive of both premarital sex and adultery. Obviously, engaging in infidelity very often leads to divorce, i.e., creating those single-parent households that are correlated with numerous societal ills. In that way, adultery indirectly contributes to those ills in much the same way premarital sex does. Even if infidelity does not lead to divorce, however, there is empirical data to suggest that the instability in family life caused by unfaithful parents can negatively impact children and, therefore, correlate with those societal ills as well.

All that being said, most people today intuitively understand that cheating on one’s spouse is wrong. Even a large proportion of individuals actively engaged in adultery admit that it is immoral and feel remorse and shame. In other words, the social taboo against adultery is still alive, unlike that of premarital sex. In the language of Islam, people today have not lost touch with that part of the fitra that rails against this particular fahisha. Given that society’s moral intuitions about adultery are still sound in this way, the need for Muslims to defend Islamic law’s prohibition of extramarital affairs is not as pressing as it is for fornication (and liwat, or sodomy).

That being said, there have been recent efforts in Western society to normalize adultery and “swinging,” as “cheating websites” are promoted by national advertising campaigns, shamelessly encouraging married individuals to find a lover (or two…) on the side. If the day comes when even adultery is seen as a harmless, victimless act, then Islamic law, which imposes capital punishment for convicted adulterers, will be in need of further defense by Muslim commentators.

The Modern World — A World of Orphans

Even without the empirical data, logically, all this makes perfect sense. It is reasoning you can understand and accept whether you are Muslim or not. And we can see this logic spelled out in the writings of Muslim jurists through the centuries as well as in the Quran itself. For example, reflect on how much emphasis Allah puts on taking care of orphans in the Quran. The orphan is one who is deprived of the great benefits that children with parents are blessed with. Logically, if orphans are considered so destitute due to not having parents, that implies that parents (are supposed to) provide an enormous, incalculable boon to children by way of nurturing them, educating them, raising them with important values, etc.

But in the modern world, a significant proportion of children are orphans for all intents and purposes because, even though they have living parents, those parents do not want them or their fathers or mothers do not feel obligated to stick around for them, or a single parent has to work full-time forcing the child to be perpetually in the care of strangers and the broken public school system, and so on. According to the CDC, over 40% of children born today in the US are born to single mothers.

The incomparable benefit that parents are supposed to be for their children is simply not there in our modern world. We live in a world of de facto orphans, children with absentee parents who end up being raised by a cold, machine-like state system that processes human beings like so much cattle. Is it any surprise that teens and adults nowadays feel no obligations or affinity towards their parents, and the Islamic injunction to respect and care for one’s parents rings hollow in the minds of many? Is it any surprise to see some of the alarming societal trends — the increase in substance abuse, the dismantling of families, the rise of extreme antisocial behavior including mass shootings — burgeoning all around us? All these phenomena are connected such that messing with something seemingly small and insignificant, like undoing the social taboo against extramarital sex, ultimately causes the entire edifice to collapse.

The Anticlimactic Prophylactic Tactic

Now, the inevitable counter argument to all this is, what about contraception? Hasn’t contraception made traditional norms against premarital sex obsolete?

Well, to begin with, let’s not forget that reducing social problems like crime, drug addiction, unemployment, etc., is only one of the many benefits of refraining from premarital sex. For the purposes of this post, I focus on that particular benefit because it aligns nicely with liberal secular reasoning. The only moral principle that liberal secular reasoning endorses is the Harm Principle, roughly defined as the idea that an act is only considered immoral if it causes harm. In fact, the Harm Principle is often used to argue against Islamic sexual ethics because premarital sex, so long as it is consensual and not incestual, etc., causes no harm to anyone, or so it is argued. But, as we have seen, there is clearly great harm to any potential children and to society at large, since it is everyone in society that has to deal with the eventual impact of premarital sex on crime, unemployment, and all the other societal ills correlated with unwanted pregnancies and single-parent homes.

Appealing to contraception in response to this, then, is meant to undercut our reasoning. If a person can have premarital sex and the possibility of conception is foreclosed, then where is the harm, really?

The answer to this is simple. First of all, who decided that the Harm Principle is the be-all, end-all of morality? If we give a cursory glance at the complex, intricate, and expansive rules, attitudes, injunctions, and nuances that constitute the moral and legal thought of even the most secular of nations and their peoples, we see that there is much that cannot be reduced to the directive: do no harm. Many notable ethical, political, and legal philosophers have concluded as much in evaluating the Harm Principle itself.

But even if, for the sake of argument, we were to accept the Harm Principle as our sole basis for judging sexual relationships as immoral, we would still be able to arrive at —  or at least approximate — the norms of Islamic law. This is because “harm” itself is a very general term that can encompass any number of things. As it turns out, harm is a rather subjective concept, and even beyond personal subjectivity, the notion of harm can be very culturally specific in that what one culture sees as harmful, another finds innocuous, and vice versa.

But even if, for the sake of argument, we limit ourselves to modern Western culture, we can still identify a number of clear harms associated with so-called “sexual freedom.” In her book, A Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit reviews numerous studies showing the debilitating repercussions upon individuals’ psyches, particularly those of young women. She cites bulwark feminists admitting that, “Girls today are much more oppressed [than they were prior to the sexual revolution]. They are coming of age in a more dangerous, sexualized and media-saturated culture.” Another scientific study she cites discovers that sexually active unmarried teenage girls are three times as likely to report that they are depressed. But depression is only part of it — eating disorders, low sense of self-worth, higher suicide rates and various psychological disorders are all positively correlated with premarital sexual activity, especially for females.

On a more conceptual level, Shalit wonders how casual sex, dating, and hooking up could ever be considered good for women. As many world religions and past cultures recognized, to limit men’s access to sex is prime leverage and a unique source of power for women. Why would modern “liberated” women relinquish that power so cheaply by having sex with a man who has shown minimal to no commitment to her (or to any potential children)? Not surprisingly, with the rise of casual sex, marriage rates have plummeted, as men simply see no reason to get married. And the idea that women want sex the same way men do and that they respond to casual sexual encounters in the same way men do has been thoroughly debunked by scientific research that shows how, even neurologically, women are especially harmed by “no strings” sex.

So, on multiple levels, we see that a reasonable case can be made for the Islamic prohibition of zina. And all the while, we have been assuming that access to contraception is effective at reducing unwanted pregnancies. But, in fact, this is a faulty assumption because, if the existence of contraception coupled with widespread sex education were enough to prevent unwanted pregnancies, why has single parenthood continued to rise decade after decade for the past 50 years, such that single-parent households have tripled since the 1960s? Is it that three times as many people in the present day want to raise a child alone and face the monumental financial and emotional burden that that task involves? Not likely.

And finally, I began this post with an analogy about different kinds of certifications and licenses. When you look at airplanes, they have had autopilot for decades — that does not mean pilots do not need to be certified before being able to safely fly a commercial jet! Similarly, the existence of contraception does not annul the need for a person to be licensed (via marriage) in order to safely engage in sex. In both cases, multiple lives are at stake, and, naturally, the greater the stakes, the greater the need for regulation.

The Rationale of the Hudud

Before starting let me just make the disclaimer that my intention here is not to make a political or juristic argument in support of implementing hudud in any present country or community. Furthermore, my intention is not to justify or defend the implementation of hudud as it is practiced in various parts of the Muslim world today. The complex questions of if and how hudud are applicable and operationalizable in a modern nation state generally or in a particular country specifically are best left to qualified legal scholars, theologians, and policy makers.

Separate from the practical considerations of fiqh and siyasa, my concern is purely with the moral dimension of hudud, specifically as it was practiced historically by the Prophet 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his Companions. The historical record is clear that the Prophet 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his Companions enforced hadd punishments for sexual misconduct: stoning and lashing. Many modern people, whether Muslim or not, are appalled by this and take this as evidence that Muhammad ibn Abdullah 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was not the Messenger of God and that Islam is not a religion of peace but rather one of barbarity. Given this, it is necessary for Muslims to address what is ultimately a moral concern on hudud. And as it is a moral concern, the best way to address it is not with the hackneyed apologetics about hudud being inapplicable without a legitimate caliphate, etc., but with moral reasoning and argumentation completely separate from the dicey conversation about how different, often superficially Muslim regimes enact hudud within their messy political contexts in the modern world.

The difficulty people today have with the notion of hadd for zina can be broken up into three distinct moral questions.

1. Is premarital and extramarital sex immoral?

2. If so, should that immorality be a matter of criminal justice, i.e., subject to prosecution and penalty by authorities?

3. If so, what is appropriate punishment?

Let’s address these questions in order.

As for the immorality of zina, this is what I have made a case for throughout this post, using reasoning that even proponents of liberal secularism can countenance, if not outright accept.

As for question two, i.e., whether zina should be a matter for policing and the courts, we should acknowledge that premarital sex is very much a public concern. If we accept the immorality of zina, as per question one, and we recognize that zina is certainly not a victimless crime and can have devastating public consequences when practiced on a large scale, then why shouldn’t enforcement and judicial process be on the table? In fact, it would be irrational for us to recognize all the harms associated with zina and then not think that some form of public sanction should be involved to deter destructive behavior, and so on. And, of course, Islamic law has detailed procedures that clarify what this enforcement and judicial process entail, e.g., court structure, evidentiary standards, how to deal with false accusers, sentencing, etc.

Once we agree that zina is immoral and ought to be criminalized, the question remains of what punishment is most in accord with justice. Now, it is helpful to recognize that the question of how criminals should be punished is one that Western ethical and legal philosophers have not come to any consensus on. Different theories speculate as to whether enforcing justice should be punitive, retributive, preventative, expiatory, reformative, etc. Even the question of capital punishment itself is hotly debated to this day.

So, if we have already begun to make a case for why zina ought to be publicly regulated, as per question two, and if all that remains is the question of what form that regulation should take, then a number of options present themselves. Different cultures historically have had various unique methods to punish those who violate norms and break taboos. If we limit ourselves to Western culture and recent history, incarceration is the most widely used punishment (or “rehabilitation”). Recently, however, Peter Moskos, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice has written a very persuasive book defending the practice of flogging. In Defense of Flogging deserves to be read in full, but Moskos summarizes the main arguments here. He argues that, while many today believe that corporal punishments such as lashing are “cruel and unusual,” in actuality, the prison system is far more brutal, excessive, and even tortuous. He asks readers whether, given the choice between five years in prison and ten lashes, which would they choose? By asking us this, Moskos forces us to question whether lashing really is as severe as we might first suppose. Overall, Moskos convincingly undermines the conventional view of lashing, and his book has been recognized a “Favorite Book of the Year” by Mother Jones and earned Moskos recognition as one of Atlantic Magazine’s “Brave Thinkers of 2011.”

All in all, we can provide reasoned justification and explanation for hudud when it comes to all three questions. While hudud in response to zina may at first have seemed completely alien and inhumane, upon further reflection it is rendered at least minimally reasonable by way of these considerations. And that was the point of this entire exercise — we wanted to articulate a rationale for the hudud that a modern person could see as reasoned and within the bounds of moral possibility, even if ultimately that person cannot endorse Islamic law himself. In Western universities, for example, a student will study many varieties of legal and moral theories, and while that student may not feel compelled to accept the theories his professors teach him, the student has to admit that those theories are at least worthy of study and that reasonable people can agree to disagree on the applicability and acceptability of them. This is one way Muslims who do endorse Islamic law can speak to their interlocutors about things like hudud without worrying about being taken for irrational, barbaric, mindless, religious zealots. Reasonable people can disagree.

Conclusion

What we have seen is that, even if one is not religious per se, the rational merits of prohibiting premarital sex and adultery are more than evident. And all the sociological evidence supports this.

To summarize, premarital sex is not a victimless crime, as many of us have been led to believe. It is a major crime that most modern nations have allowed to run rampant despite the vast human toll. This in turn affects the crime rate, it affects the percentage of the population that requires government assistance through welfare, unemployment benefits, etc. — in effect, it makes people far more dependent on the state, thus increasing state power exponentially, as tax collectors draw increasing amounts of wealth from the population to foot the bill for these social assistance programs. It is no wonder that modern nation states have shown no interest in upholding the sexual ethics that human societies have depended on for thousands of years.

In sum, we can make a compelling case for why Islamic sexual ethics are rationally and ethically viable compared to the liberal secular alternative. This is not to say that the wisdom (hikma) of avoiding zina can be reduced to the reasoning explicated here or that the applicability of Islamic sexual ethics in an individual’s life depends on rationally working out such arguments. Rather, we want to speak against the notion, entrenched in modern society, that religious sexual norms are simply irrational, primitive taboos. In actuality, we believe that our religion is the best guarantor of human interests broadly and, epistemologically, this fact is accessible to the rational mind upon reflection. At the very least, even if someone does not ultimately agree with all this reasoning, he can admit that it is reasonable. And that is enough to characterize Islam’s sexual ethics concerning zina as rational and not simply prudish, close-minded, backwards, cruel, and all the other cheap adjectives used to denigrate Islamic law vis-a-vis modernity, liberal secularism, etc.

Ultimately, the significance of talking about the rationality of Islamic sexual ethics is that we, as Muslims, can be confident that Islamic norms can be defended specifically from the perspective and in the language of the dominant moral philosophy of our times, i.e., liberal secularism. Unfortunately, many Muslims are not aware of these kinds of arguments and, therefore, take a fideistic attitude towards much of Islamic law, i.e., they accept Islamic norms on faith and little else, implicitly endorsing the modernistic view that these norms are pure “religious taboos” with little rhyme or reason to recommend them to a thinking mind. Against this, various arguments such as the above can be deployed to rationally satisfy Muslims and non-Muslims alike who may not be intellectually convinced of the moral and rational viability of a 1400 year-old religion. Once the mere viability and reasonability of Islam and Islamic law is accepted, then a more fruitful debate can take place regarding the superiority of Islam as an ethical, societal, spiritual system and way of life — guidance for mankind from the Lord of all that exists.

 

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#Current Affairs

Open Letter To Muslim Activists And Organisations In The US On Engagement With The Structures Of Policing

Recently, I have been messaged privately by a number of activists in the US, who are concerned about the ways in which prominent Muslim institutions in America engage with various forms of law enforcement, whether it might be the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the FBI, or even with programmes within the rubric of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Although based in the UK, I have had the privilege of being involved in the legal and political defence of those detained in the US as victims of the global War on Terror. This has led to a journey of understanding the role that is played by law enforcement agencies in the construction of these cases, but also within a wider security industrial complex. 

I write this letter because I want us to think about the ethics of engagement with law enforcement. When it comes to the policies and practices of the global War on Terror, the extent of cross-fertilisation between the UK and US is profound, making their pathology of securitisation one that requires us to learn lessons in resistance collectively. 

In the US, even more than the UK, there exists a violence within policing that is almost unparalleled. This violence does not uniquely impact Muslims, but has a long history that is tied to the ways those outside of the white majority in society are deemed ‘Other’, and is most manifestly apparent in its anti-Black racism. If we start from the premise that the law itself, and the administrators of the law, the police, prosecution services, judges and indeed juries, all play a role within the structure of racism and discrimination, then to what extent can we actually seek to engage with that system? 

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As Muslims, what is our own positionality in relation to the work that we do? For those of us who claim to be involved in the work of defending Muslims and Islam, we must recognise that we are not doing anyone any favours by doing this work. This is a unique opportunity and blessing that we have been privileged with, one that any number of other people could have been invited to do. Furthermore, we do not own this work or our institutions, the collective body does, and so we are answerable for all that we do, at all times. Expectations of trust without scrutiny are unwarranted, as we cannot claim to represent the interests of our communities, without first holding ourselves open to being held to account. Whether it is money, engagements, positions, or whatever the matter might be, we have an obligation to answer the concerns of the community when they are being raised because we cannot claim to represent them while there are doubts over us. We do not own this work, we are responsible to it. 

There are arguments that are often made by those who seek to build relationships with law enforcement, that ultimately without engaging, there won’t be any chance for changing the system. Thus, they claim that meetings with the FBI and DHS serve the purpose of correcting the flaws within the system. I want to think through the efficacy of these interactions, because ultimately, I think this is where many disagreements may exist. I hope to capture the usual arguments that are made, and to provide brief responses that I pray can help us think more acutely about the problem, and the solution.

  • “The police are necessary; they keep us safe.”

Before we take on any other subject, we need to think about policing, and the claim that it is a necessity, that it keeps us safe from those who might wish us harm. Largely, police do not stop crime from taking place, as much as they are part of a process of criminalisation after crimes have been committed. Keeping society safe requires addressing the root causes of crime, a prospect that goes well beyond the notion of policing – in fact, particularly within the context of the US, it could be argued that the structurally racist system of policing and punishment has only served to increase levels of disenfranchisement. Saying that we need the police to keep us safe, is akin to passing the buck, it means that we are less interested in doing the hard work that needs to be done for the whole of society to become safer. Resorting to the police, only serves to solidify its structure as a necessity. My own organisation CAGE has been attempting to provide some leadership in this regard, and our work has shown that there can be ways of reducing the threats to society as a whole, that exist beyond surveillance policing.

  • “Some law enforcement institutions are safe to work with, while others are dangerous.”

When thinking of the institutions that are responsible for policing, we need to consider their functions, and the way in which they fundamentally approach communities. The FBI, as just one example, has spent incredible resources in undermining what it deems to be subversive activities since the inception of COINTELPRO. Coming into the War on Terror, that programme found its way into every aspect of policing Muslim communities, but particularly through the use of entrapment. For those who make a favourable distinction between the way the FBI operates as opposed to other institutions like the CIA, then they only need to speak to my colleague Moazzam Begg and many others who have related the ways that the FBI have been entirely complicit in programmes of arbitrary detention and torture

The above only begins to touch on the functions that other institutions serve, particularly in the post 9/11 period. Perhaps the most galling example of an institution created for the purpose of securitising Muslims is the DHS, which in its conception, inception and practise, has legally discriminated against Muslims whether citizens or not. It is important to remind ourselves, despite our own normalisation of the harm, that nearly every single profiling stop whether coming into or leaving the US or UK, is an act of racism – even if they provide you with a sandwich or prayer rug to ‘soften’ the experience. Yes, the system is the way that it is, but we suffer a daily collective amnesia that results in us normalising the systemic discrimination we are forced to endure.

  • “A more diverse or culturally aware police force that includes Muslims will improve the system.”

As in the UK, we’re told feel-good stories about the non-Muslim community police officer who is willing to fast a day in Ramadan and even to break fast with the community at Iftar time. The thing about this token police officer, is that he really has no ability to overturn the structure that he is a paid up member of. Three roads away, his colleagues are profiling young black men on the streets, but equally worrying,  his colleagues are placing pressure on some of those same black men and other congregants in the mosque to spy on the community in order to extract information. The point is, that attempting to normalise relations with institutions that fundamentally not only mistrust us, but are actively involved in harming us is not engagement, it can only be seen, at its most generous, as pacification. Yes, maybe that individual officer you engage with might think twice before brutalising a member of the community, but think of what we give up in that moment too…we hand them the excuse that they (institutionally) have met with us, and heard our concerns. 

  • “CVE exists to tackle all forms of extremism!”

With increasing calls for the defunding of policing taking root, this opportunity should not fall short of pushing towards abolition of the security, military and prison industrial complexes. These structures reinforce one another in the way that they understand the communities they primarily focus on. In that sense, we have already seen a shift towards the marketing of Countering-Violent Extremism (CVE). This is a programme that is rooted to a DHS narrative of securitisation – in both its conception and practise, it is about Muslims. There is a stark difference, between those who are structurally racialised and marginalised feeling aggrieved, as opposed to those, within the majority of society, whose disenfranchisement is supported as a narrative within all the institutions of power. The source of White supremacy is mainstream. 

Claims that CVE is there to tackle all forms of ‘extremism’ are simply a marketing tool, otherwise every single racist statement that was ever uttered by a conservative or liberal would be covered. When it comes to white supremacy, the bar for what is considered to be unacceptable, is effectively at the point of violence. With Muslims, the structure of CVE operates at the point of belief or overt markers of ‘Muslimness’. This is important, because the idea that CVE funding can be flipped so that Muslims can do good with it is nonsense and should never be opened for discussion by any Muslim individual or organisation that claims to represent the rights of Muslims. 

  • “Muslim cooperation with law enforcement is about harm reduction.”

Ultimately, engagement is a calculus of risk that is being made by those who are engaging. The claim that they are working with law enforcement suggests that the specific and limited needs they are hoping to raise or change, are worth the normalising of relations with these violent structures. This is often presented as a benefit over harm calculation, that in the minds of those engaging, there will be a tangible benefit that emerges from the interaction. The question is, however, for who? From my working life and many studies that have been conducted on law enforcement, there has never been any reversal of policy that has been so significant as to justify such a relationship – the system largely remains the same, and in fact it is normalised and built upon further with the next piece of legislation or policy. 

  • “Are you suggesting engagement is always wrong?”

The point of this call is not to claim that there is never any point in engagement, but rather that any engagement should take into account the structural violence that is taking place, and so the calculus of risk should be based on discernible change, rather than limited to brokering understanding and good feeling. Increasing understanding might help to make a single law enforcement officer, or a few others potentially less hostile in their interactions, but they are still part of the system. 

Recommendations on transparent engagement: 

  1. What I would propose in terms of interacting with the state, is that any interaction should only ever take place with those who have the ability to actually implement a structural change at a policy level, if it is to ever happen at all. 

This should only ever take place with policymakers and legislators, and my suggestion is not with anyone within law enforcement itself while the structures remain as they are. The reason I say this, is because the greatest harm is in the structure of legislation and policymaking, not within the carrying out of the duties that have been imposed. At the very best, working with law enforcement might ameliorate the conditions of a small minority, but it is the structure that turns us all into second class citizens. So ultimately, this is a call for a radical approach of total non-engagement with law enforcement officials, and a call to unite towards more meaningful approaches of change. 

  1. Communications should be made in writing to accompany any meeting, and the response should also be given in writing – this is to ensure that the communities we claim to represent are aware of our interactions, and the interactions that are being made are transparent. 

The process of transparency with the community is crucial, because it will inevitably keep us honest in our approach and hold us up to the scrutiny and ethics of our entire communities. It will also provide a necessary barrier with any representative of the state if they should ever try and use divisive colonial tactics of preferential treatment of one group over another, as they attempt to maintain their hold of power over us. Furthermore, for those who are most harmed by the violence of the state, they will understand better why an individual or organisation has chosen to interact with a structure that harmed them, and so will be able to make a better informed judgement on whether any engagement might normalise the harm they previously or continue to suffer. 

  1. While transparency is important, it is crucial that before any engagement takes place, that those with expertise in these areas are consulted. Communities have a wealth intellectual resources and well-informed critical voices – these voices should be consulted by any community leader, imam or organisation prior to any communication with authorities. As mentioned in point B, victims and survivors bring their own lived experience of being impacted by these institutions, and so consulting them too will always be crucial to providing a human insight into how policies and laws are harmful. Without consulting those who have been impacted most heavily, we risk losing the nuance of the ways in which harm can occur. 
  1. A final recommendation for those who claim to represent the interests of Muslims, but have a background that was part of the system of violence against us: they must make their current position in relation to their previous work clear, and do it publicly themselves. This is integral to their claim to transparency, and therefore to their credibility. While forgiveness and growth are important in the work we do, trust and confidence are both far more important. Without being able to trust those who represent us fully, the community will always feel undermined by the system, and those involved in its defence. It is possible for someone to have worked in projects that were harmful and then to change their mind or opinion, but they must also make clear what they were involved in, and publicly state its wrongfulness. Expectations of trust without clarity, are unreasonable. 

Ultimately these points can be summarised into: transparency, consultation and accountability.

Concluding remarks 

As discussed throughout this letter, the first premise that we need to challenge, is one that thinks of policing (in particular) as existing in a benevolent or neutral space. We need to appreciate that in its identity and creation, the very function of surveillance policing is not to keep society safe, but rather the function of policing is as a form of disciplining society, through arrest and ultimately prosecution. Considered at its most fundamental level, our relationship to policing should start from a position of questioning the practise and ideology it is built on.  

As Muslim individuals and organisations seeking to assist the oppressed, there is a duty that comes from being in this space that means any claims of representation cannot take place in the absence of understanding how our decisions have an impact in the complete structure of oppression. Small wins for one town or local community are meaningless while people continue to be arbitrarily detained, tortured and even killed. The oppression that is taking place is a structure, and without centring our responses to the entire edifice, we will continually risk normalising this system by reaching for small changes that only serve to temporarily make us feel less hostility from the state in the course of its violence. 

Finally, I pray that these words are taken in the spirit they have been written, from a brother who has benefited a great deal from the long history of activism and radical thinking that has emerged from the US. Inshallah I hope that we can all advise one another towards what is better based on our knowledge and experience, but chiefly, that we can work with one another in order to protect all those who are oppressed, ameen. 

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#Current Affairs

Racism And The Plagues of Egypt – Coronavirus And Racism: America’s Two Pandemics

Introduction

The fight against anti-Blackness has once again hit the global stage, and American Muslims have a central role to play in the movement of racial justice. The spiritual history of America is a history of Black Muslim voices. Mansa Abubakari, a West African King, landed in South America almost 200 years before Columbus began the massacre of the indigenous population.[1] The biggest migration of Muslims to America was the slave ships where scholars fought to teach Islam to their enslaved communities. Modern Islamophobic attacks such as the Muslim Ban of 2016 are not just Islamophobic, but also deeply racist because it denies the humanity of the previous generations of Muslims. Black Muslims have carried the mantle of preserving Islam in America and have fought for racial justice for last four centuries. The immigrant Muslims who arrived during the last 50 years were a direct result of the civil rights movement that allowed immigration from Muslim majority countries. The fight for racial justice is a Muslim fight. We owe it to the generations of Muslims before us to continue their work.

The 400 years of struggle for racial justice in America can be compared to the Children of Israel’s fight for emancipation from Pharaoh’s Egypt 3000 years ago during which the country was hit by a number of plagues. Sheikh Mendes and Imam Dawud Walid have recently referenced the story of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him), whose demand to Pharaoh to, “Let my people go[2]” is well known in many religious circles fighting for racial equality in America. [3] The Quran discusses of the plagues of Egypt in the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) in Surah Al-A’raf. “So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people.” [7;133] The plagues of Egypt are similar to the current coronavirus pandemic in that they made systemic oppression clear for all to see. The goal here is to explain the relationship between the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

First, the name of the surah will be discussed. Then, the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will be put into context with the story of the other prophets mentioned in the surah. The events leading up to the Plagues of Egypt are explained and compared to the current American pandemics. Finally, there are recommendations for how to make our community spaces antiracist. A few Black scholars have been quoted throughout as to elevate their voices, and to provide some much-needed groundwork for readers who might be unfamiliar with these great American Muslim scholars. For further reading, Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler compiled a far more exhaustive list of Black Muslim narratives in the BlackIslamSyllabus.

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To put this verse into perspective we must first reflect on Surah A’raf as a whole, and I encourage everyone to read and contemplate the surah in depth. The A’raf, mentioned in ayah 46, are an elevated place on the Day of Judgement where people of no consequence get stuck. They watch as others are sorted towards Heaven or Hell. The people of the A’raf are not evil, but they also would not leave their comfort zones to actually commit to righteousness. Their comments to the people of Paradise and the people of the Fire are mentioned in the Surah, but do not earn a response because they are then, as they are now, people of no consequence.

The surah begins by telling Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to not feel distressed by forcing people out of their comfort zones, and warns of previous peoples who were destroyed as they slept in their heedlessness. And how many cities have We destroyed, and Our punishment came to them at night or while they were sleeping at noon. [7;4] We cannot go back to the previous norm when Black people were suffering alone, while non-Black people could comfortably enjoy their lives whilst ignoring—and even benefiting from a system built on—the suffering of their Black brothers and sisters. A critical mass of people must refuse the continued oppression and the suffering of others for the current system to change. American Muslims should do more than give lip service to their Black brothers and sisters.

Anti-Blackness in Human History

The first prophet mentioned in the surah is our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), whose name indicates his dark black skin. And We have certainly created you, [O Mankind], and given you [human] form. Then We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam”, so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was not of those who prostrated. [7;11] [Allah] said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” [Satan] said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from mud.” [7;12] Satan hated our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) for the form Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave him, which included dark black skin. Anti-Blackness is as old as humanity itself. Dr. Bilal Ware has spoken extensively about the satanic nature of racism. Claims of superiority based on a birthright are rampant throughout human history. Egyptians claimed superiority over the Children of Israel based on where they were from centuries before. Jahili[1] Meccan society claimed superiority based on lineage. The American system claims superiority based on proximity to whiteness. These are characteristics determined at birth and are beyond any human being’s control. Such claims of superiority are counter to the Islamic ethos that sets the value of individuals based on their relationship with God alone. And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” [7:172] Many other prophets and their specific fights against the oppressive power structures are referenced in the surah, which illustrates the continuity of the struggle between the children of Adam and Satan.

A series of prophets (peace be upon them] are briefly discussed with striking similarities in the messages they delivered to their people. All the prophets teach their people about the Oneness of God and called them to rectify the vices that were specific to their society. The mala’a, or the elites, in each of their societies were mentioned as those who fought the prophets. They did so to maintain their chokehold on power, not because of a theological difference. The elites in Meccan society did not fight Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) until he began publicly preaching. They did not care that he prayed differently from them. They feared that his message would make them equal to people they belittled and disparaged. Similarly, it was the elites in Pharaoh’s court who demanded he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. This was a direct result of the magicians publicly declaring their belief and turning public opinion against Pharaoh’s magic, one of the pillars of his power. Similarly in America, the institutional structures of racism need to be dismantled.

Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)

The story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) begins with the demand mentioned in the introduction, “so send with me the Children of Israel.” [7;105]. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) shows Pharaoh and his elites the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has sent him with. So Moses threw his staff, and suddenly it was a serpent, manifest. [7;107] And he drew out his hand; thereupon it was white [with radiance] for the observers. [7;108] They refuse his message and demand a public contest with magicians in hopes of spinning the narrative in their favor. They fail miserably when the magicians recognize the truth and publicly declare their belief in the Lord of Prophet Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) despite Pharaoh’s threats of torture. Pharaoh said, “You believed in him before I gave you permission. Indeed, this is a conspiracy which you conspired in the city to expel therefrom its people. But you are going to know.” [7:123]

This now leads us to the discussion of the plagues, and how they came about. After that public humiliation, the elites around Pharaoh demanded that he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. [Pharaoh] said, “We will kill their sons and keep their women alive; and indeed, we are subjugators over them.” [7;127] Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a book specifically addressing how the White supremacist system feared a successful Black presidency and responded with an increased level of racism. As a spiritual response to this heightened oppression, Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) preached patience during the struggle because he knew Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would deliver them.  The people of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) complained about the increased pain they were now experiencing as they had been suffering for years before a messenger was sent to them. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) asked them to develop their spiritual strength and prepare themselves for a time when they would be empowered and would need spiritual discipline. Shaykha Ieasha Prime has recently called on the ummah to be increasing its spiritual strength as they organize against anti-Blackness.

The Economic Downturn

Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tested the people of Pharaoh with an economic downturn. “And We certainly seized the people of Pharaoh with years of famine and a deficiency in fruits that perhaps they would be reminded.” [7;130] These circumstances are very similar to the economic recession of 2008, and as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Whenever something good would happen, the people of Pharaoh would claim credit for it, and whenever something bad happened, they would blame Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his people. But when good came to them, they said, “This is ours [by right].” And if a bad [condition] struck them, they saw an evil omen in Moses and those with him. Unquestionably, their fortune is with Allah, but most of them do not know. [7;131] And they said, “No matter what sign you bring us with which to bewitch us, we will not be believers in you.” [7;132] This rhetoric is very similar to the wave of nationalism that took over the world in the last few years. It is used by nationalist political leaders, who blame marginalized groups for the economic recession. However, the oppression of those marginalized communities was a preexisting condition that was exacerbated and exploited by nationalist leaders.

The Plagues

Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent them the plagues, “the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood” [7;133]. These were such overwhelming tests for Pharaoh. He was a man that claimed to be a god, but the True God was now sending him something that destroyed the riches he had built and could not be blamed on someone else. It revealed all of his lies. The plagues sent to Pharaoh were specific to the land of the Nile that depended on the production of agriculture and built imposing monuments. It is difficult to look grand when your fields are flooded or consumed by locusts, your water turns to blood, and you and your monuments are covered in lice and frogs. Similarly, the coronavirus pandemic exposed the faults in our health care system, the shortcoming of our food supply, the fragility of the economy, and the deep racism that is embedded into the entire system. The people who were deemed essential to work were treated as sacrificial and were forced to choose between paying for food and rent or risking exposure. They were offered empty platitudes that did not include the protective equipment they needed, increased financial compensation, or health care if they were to fall ill.

Coronavirus attacks the body’s ability to breathe, and it has been widely reported to have affected communities of color far harder than any other group. Black Americans are far more likely to have asthma due to highways going through their neighborhoods, and therefore more likely to die from Covid-19. This is a direct link to a racist system of redlining and highway construction that took away their ability to breathe. Black Americans are imprisoned at disproportionally high rates where social distancing is impossible. There are many false assumptions about the imprisoned population. The truth is that more than 90% of all cases never go to trial, and an accused person’s ability to defend themselves is almost impossible with exorbitant amounts of money. Many Muslims now claim affiliation to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him. Covid-19 could be killing the next Malcolm X in prison this very moment. All that without even discussing the economic impact of coronavirus on communities of color that if left unchecked will widen the racial wealth gap. The scarcity of food and resources that were created by the plagues undoubtedly affected the Children of Israel and not just their oppressors; however, the end result of plagues was justice for the oppressed.

From Eric Garner to George Floyd, Black Americans have been fighting to breathe in America. The Arabic word nafs which is usually translated to a soul/self has the same root word as nafas, which means a breath. So, a more accurate translation of nafs is actually a breathing soul. Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a nafs (breathing soul) unless for a nafs or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he/she had slain humankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he/she had saved humankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. [Surah Al-Ma’idah; 32] American Muslims have tended towards the medical profession as a means of fulfilling the above verse in saving people. We should be focusing the same level of energy at saving populations by fighting both the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

Naming the Oppression

The coronavirus epidemic and the recent public murders of Black Americans created a tipping point that did not exist before. Former NBA player and prolific author, Kareem Abdul Jabbar said, “it feels like hunting season is open on blacks.” The murder of George Floyd was so egregious that groups dedicated to preventing police accountability called for Derek Chauvin to be held accountable. America was force to collectively acknowledge the murder of a Black man at the hands of a police officer. Corporations who peddled in racism were issuing apologies when they saw the tide of public opinion turn. The murder of George Floyd made America look the ugliness of racism in the eye. Of course, police brutality and racism did not begin with George Floyd nor did it end with him. Many more people lost their lives at the hands of the police during the protests. For every name we know, there are countless others we do not know. Police brutality is a leading cause of death for Black men in America. Even if we do not know their names, every victim leaves behind a family to mourn their loss while knowing that the murderer not only walks free, but wears a uniform that allows him to continue to kill without consequence. May the brave young woman who took the video receive Divine reward and healing for her bravery. May the burning in the heart of every mother who lost a child be granted Divine patience and healing.

In Surah A’raf, the people of Pharaoh also acknowledged their oppression of the Children of Israel, and they vowed to stop oppressing them. And when the punishment descended upon them, they said, “O Moses, invoke for us your Lord by what He has promised you. If you [can] remove the punishment from us, we will surely believe you, and we will send with you the Children of Israel.” [7;134] We know that the people of Pharaoh reneged after the plagues were lifted. But when We removed the punishment from them until a term which they were to reach, then at once they broke their word. [7;135] So We took retribution from them, and We drowned them in the sea because they denied Our signs and were heedless of them. [7;136] Pharaoh in his arrogance witnessed all of the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) including the staff, his hand, and the plagues. He then witnessed the Red Sea split, and still he followed Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) into the sea until he was drowned. His hatred blinded him, and his racism killed him.

America is now at the same moment of realization. Of course, Black Muslims have never been unaware of racism. It is a privilege for non-Black Muslims to learn about systemic racism rather than experience it firsthand. The ability to see right from wrong is not guaranteed for us. Arrogance can blind us as it has blinded Pharaoh and his army. I will turn away from My signs those who are arrogant upon the earth without right; and if they should see every sign, they will not believe in it. And if they see the way of consciousness, they will not adopt it as a way; but if they see the way of error, they will adopt it as a way. That is because they have denied Our signs and they were heedless of them. [7;146] The ability to see the racism is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). May we be protected from spiritual blindness. No Muslim in America should be able to claim a lack of awareness of systemic racism any longer. No should they continue to favor their comfort zones over our love for our Black brothers and sisters and assume they will be forgiven. And they were succeeded by generations who, although they inherited the Scripture, took the fleeting gains of this lower world, saying, ‘We shall be forgiven,’ and indeed taking them again if other such gains came their way. Was a pledge not taken from them, written in the Scripture, to say nothing but the truth about God? And they have studied its contents well. For those who are mindful of God, the Hereafter is better. ‘Why do you not use your reason?’ [7;169]

Fighting the Oppression

Pharaoh claimed to be god, and White supremacy is the false god of our time. It is built into our psyches, our financial systems, and our power structures. Statues were erected to idolize those who upheld it. White supremacy is a system where lighter skin makes people smarter, more trustworthy, and more beautiful. We know this is a lie on its face, and yet it breads anti-blackness that is deeply engrained into everyday life. Fighting anti-blackness is a spiritual struggle, and we should make sincere intentions to fight it in all its forms. We must stand with the people of righteousness who fought for the abolition, civil rights, and an end to colonialist exploitation.

White supremacy in America is in a housing system that segregates people and exposes them to pollutants in their air and their water. It is in an education system that funds or defunds schools based on that segregated housing, and uses the police as an extreme punishment for a child’s infractions. It is in a judicial system that criminalizes poverty and imprisons those who cannot afford bail. It is in a prison system that forces people to work without financial compensation and is protected by the Thirteenth Amendment. Plans to fight the coronavirus pandemic were halted because communities of color were more likely to be affected in yet another disturbing attack. White supremacy is so deeply engrained that it leads some to harm themselves by bleaching their skin and burning their hair in hopes of appearing more like their oppressors. It is everywhere including our spiritual spaces.

Muslims often quote ayah 48:13 and the last sermon of Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) with pride that the tradition stands firmly against racial injustice. While Islam itself does, Muslims often unfortunately do not. One of my community members recently shared a story about entering a masjid in hijab, and being asked if she was Muslim. What was even more egregious is that after a discussion, the family that asked concluded that because of her black skin, she was in fact NOT Muslim despite praying in a masjid. Many of the non-Black Muslims were shocked to hear this, but the truth is that I have never met a Black Muslim who did NOT have a racism in the masjid story. Ask the Black Muslims in your circle about their experiences, and the flood gates will open. You will also see the hurt and betrayal in their eyes for having to endure racism inside their places of worship. Apologize to them for not listening sooner and thank them for being willing to teach you and trust you to want to be better despite their trauma.

Call to Action

It is not enough for anyone to not be racist; we must be anti-racist. Acknowledge the anti-blackness you have internalized within yourself and have those difficult conversations with your family members. Ustadha Zaynab Ansari speaks about the pathological ideologies of how black bodies are viewed in America.  Join and support organizations like the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and the Muslim Alliance of North America. Embrace a Black Muslim ethos of viewing Islam as a theology of liberation. Support Black scholars and the Black masajid. Invite them to speak not just about anti-Blackness, but on their areas of expertise in Islam, history, community development, etc. Demand that the immigrant masajid be antiracist. Black Muslims should be on the Board of Directors and on the Zakah committee to ensure the equity of those spaces. Hire a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion expert to have a difficult conversation about race in your organization. If the Black Muslims do not share their experiences of racism in the masjid, it is not because they did but happen, but because they do not trust the community to care to change it. Build that trust and build coalitions of communal healing to end the segregation of masajid into Black and immigrant masajid in the first place. The way out of the pandemic is to take care of those who are most vulnerable. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “You are given rizq sustenance based on the most vulnerable among you.” Communities who have turned the tide have done exactly that. Learning to be anti-racist is one of many steps we can take to lift the difficulty our communities are facing. We need at least be as non-discriminatory as the virus that only sees a human body.

Anyone who is not Black has benefited from the theft and subjugation of generations of Black Americans. We should not meet Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) having sided with an oppressor. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says, “Oppression is layers of darkness on the Day of Judgement.” We can choose to follow the prophetic path, or we can choose to let our racism destroy us. And for every nation is a [specified] term. So when their time has come, they will not remain behind an hour, nor will they precede [it]. [7;34] There will be an accounting for our society as a whole, and there will be an individual accounting. Those who follow Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will enter eternal gardens and those who follow Pharaoh will enter an eternal fire. And the people of no consequence, those who choose to do nothing, will sit on the A’raf.

[1] This story is mentioned in West African oral histories

[2] “Let my people go.” (Exodus 5-1: NIV)

[3] The plagues of Egypt are discussed differently in the different Abrahamic faiths. “The Christian and Jewish traditions discuss the angel of death taking the life of the first-born son from every family in Egypt except those who left a marking on their doors so the angel of death could pass over them.”

[4] Jahili is a Quranic descriptor for Pre-Islamic Arab society. It is derived from a root word meaning ignorance.

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Gender Relations

Loving Muslim Marriage Episode 10#: Do Angels Curse the Wife Who Refuses Sex?

It is often heard that the Prophet said that if a man calls his wife to bed and she refuses him, that the angels will curse her until the morning. There are a lot of ways that people understand this, but what is the right way of understanding this Hadith?

Join us with Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jandga to talk about this commonly mistranslated, misunderstood narration.

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