People striving to find peace, who are religiously motivated but with little knowledge and often ridden by guilt are easy targets for political movements and militants who are using Islam for their political schemes.
To expose ISIS’s satanic tactics of misusing Islam to lure young women in their trap, I have interviewed a British Muslim teen who was caught by the ISIS trap but got out before she drowned. Sarah* is a young 17 year old from the United Kingdom. For her safety, I have decided not to use her real name, Twitter/Whatsapp screen shot conversations between her and other people who have joined ISIS, or disclose her whereabouts.
Sarah talks about a number of people who became friends online through Twitter 3-4 years ago. They regularly interacted on that platform and started referring to themselves as the “Asian Community” on Twitter. Over the time, hundreds joined their “Twitter group”*, many had 1000+ followers. They went through the pro Syrian War phases, many members took strong position during [the] Syrian rebellion, but earlier last year the group broke off as ISIS emerged and friends had to chose sides, while some turned into ISIS online recruiters and even took a few of them back to Syria. The Group was lost, grief was uncontrollable, friends turned foe but Sarah got out, and now wants to help keep as many girls from ISIS as she can.
UR: How long had you have your Twitter account?
Sarah: A bunch of my friends convinced me to make one around 3 or 4 years ago
UR: So you were on Twitter before ISIS?
Sarah: Yes, that’s how I got to know a lot of the people before they got brainwashed by ISIS. A lot of them went through phases with different religious or political groups before completely giving in to ISIS.
UR: What do you recall from before ISIS made an appearance?
Sarah: Before ISIS became the talk of the TL (Twitter vocabulary: the timeline) we were all a really close group of friends, not all of us knew each other in real life. Some had met up but the majority of us simply enjoyed each others online presence. We were known for our humor, no way would you scroll down your TL and not burst out laughing at the things people were tweeting. it was quite nice having people from the same religious and cultural background to talk to, at any hour of the day and i think that was what made everyone so close.
UR: How did it take a “religious” turn? Were all of you religious or were the conversations always about religion?
Sarah: Religion was always a main part of our discussions or jokes, again it is what brought us all together. These presumably “religious” Muslims who were super chill and super funny helping each other become better Muslims. Not everyone on what we called “Asian Twitter” was practicing, I remember some sisters didn’t even used to wear hijab or they would pluck their eyebrows. But after interacting with our group they started to take that kind of stuff more seriously. I think i would say it took a major turn when the war in Syria [Free Syrian Army– pre ISIS] had started and was getting more media coverage.
UR: Tell me about the conversations about Jihad or Khilafah?
Sarah: As I said after the war, the topic of conversation changed a lot on the TL. Jihad in defence of the innocent Syrians became a main topic. But not only that, both religious and non-religious brothers and sisters consistently romanticised jihad. This whole “loving someone completely for the sake of Allah and Islam” and sacrificing the “materialistic world” for jihad and the hereafter, it had such an impact on these people. The mixture of simplicity, violence and romance was a thrilling and exciting concept to them.
UR: So there were those who were already pro-Jihad (fight) and they were convincing others into it?
Sarah: Yes. There were many of those who wanted to engage in fight and they would just romanticize it and convince others, like the “J” brothers.
UR: Who were the “J” brothers?
Sarah: The “J” brothers were honestly some of the most sincere and genuine people I have ever known. They didn’t care about online popularity, they just really valued their religion and wanted to help everyone be a better Muslim. They were always advising others and getting asked for religious verdicts. But never the less after one of the brothers passed away when he went to fight for “Free Syrian Army. He went for a good cause, there wasn’t any ISIS at that time. But after his martyrdom everyone’s emotions were really high because we lost a “brother”. Then ISIS began getting really popular because of this whole khilafah thing, they began supporting and openly advocating what ISIS was doing. They had thousands of followers and i think they didn’t realise to what extent they were unconsciously bringing people to ISIS. At first it was fine but then they supported the destruction of churches and the murder of Shias and Christians etc.
UR: So is it fair to say that the people who were already pro-Jihad became the main ISIS supporters and recruiters?
Sarah: Yes. Not all became official recruiters but you don’t have to be officially involved with ISIS to recruit for them. Sometimes just supporting the ISIS-cause can make you an indirect recruiter.
UR: Why were all these concepts of physically fighting and sacrificing the luxurious life exciting for people?
Sarah: No offense to a lot of these people, they led such boring lives. Most of them, even my friends were really anti-social in their colleges and universities. The only fun they had was on social networking sites (especially Twitter), it gave them a lot of confidence and they did on there, whatever they felt they couldn’t in real life. So for people who led extremely monotonous lives anything out of their daily routines or understanding would be extremely exciting or infatuating, hence the attraction to the concepts previously mentioned.
Sarah speaks to young women in the following video
UR: How did you know Aqsa Mahmood? What was she like on Twitter? Was she very religious? How did she become a part of ISIS?
Sarah: Aqsa and I met on Twitter then we followed each other’s blogs on Tumblr; we had also started talking on Whatsapp and Kik. We practically followed the same people and had the same friends. She wasn’t always as religious. I remember, she was super into Harry Potter and loved music. When she started getting more into her religion she stopped plucking her eyebrows and listened to lectures on YouTube. That was when her personality and online persona took a turn. She began getting extremely involved with the war in Syria, the lectures she listened to completely changed a lot of her views. We didn’t take note of these changes or class them as extreme at the time because a lot of our other tweeps (Twitter peeps) were already like that.
UR: You also knew Hoda? How would you describe her and why do you think ISIS attracted her?
Sarah: I didn’t know Hoda for as long as I knew Aqsa but we were still pretty good friends. She was the most anti-social in real life, she barely talked or hung out with friends. From what she told us her family was pretty religious and she would always praise the way she was brought up thanking her parents for teaching her about Islam. See the thing with [our] Twitter is that the more “knowledge” you showed you had, the more popular you would be. And for someone this lonely and isolated in real life but gaining popularity on Twitter because of her online Islamically religious persona is quite obviously what drew her to ISIS as she was the type of girl they would want to lure in.
UR: So when did ISIS take over Twitter? Or start recruiting per se?
Sarah: I guess they had always been recruiting in a sense when they began advertising their activities, it was a slow sort of calling to people. Recruiting doesn’t always mean or start by openly telling people come join us. You only do that once you’ve sparked their attention, which is what ISIS did later on. They began by casually talking about defending the Muslims in Syria against oppression and Bashar’s forces. Once they built a fanbase that agreed with their theoretical concepts, they started using their media connections to share activities and went on to post of a video of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi announcing him becoming the khalifah of the Muslims.
UR: Why do you think ISIS is so strong?
Sarah: What you can say is unique about ISIS and such extreme organizations is their ability to breach the isolated members of society. The strategic maneuvers in social media interactions and engagements along with their advertisements.
Not only are they strong militarily, they have created an extremely large fanbase; they have supporters all around the globe that if ordered can cause severe damage; they’ve planted recruiters. ISIS are well connected on the outside. The people who believe in them are extremely loyal because they’re only shown the positives. They are played [by] their emotions against oppressions and given ”religious motivation” to fight against injustice. So these supporters are stuck in a circle and they’re in denial of anything negative that comes up. Using the purity of the deen, transcending it materialistically, and transforming it into a main life goal. They reached out to everyone-”whatever you wanted you would find there”.
UR: Those people who were ISIS supporters, how would you highlight their main traits? Or what made them unique in their interaction with others online?
Sarah: I don’t know all of them but the ones I interacted with on Twitter were mostly antisocial in real life. A lot of these Twitter people were not raised on religion, but when they became religious they became harsh and extremely pro-refutations. Overnight Twitter scholars, they’d showcase their religion by “advising” anyone and everyone. They are not close to their families in the sense that they cannot open up to them. And they are looking for a “higher purpose” to live for.
UR: So they are the ones who take over online recruitment job, directly or indirectly?
Sarah: Pretty much. They are isolated from their Muslim communities and distant from their families. They just spend all the time online, supporting [the] ISIS cause, making young people feel guilty for living a comfortable life, and they target those who are either newly religious and looking for religious guidance, or the teens who have cultural[ly Muslim families who cannot understand their teens etc.
UR: Who would you say start “brainwashing” the girls into leaving their homes and joining ISIS? Who was convincing these girls into idealizing jihad or marrying soldiers?
Sarah: I am not sure because I never got to that point. But what some of us gathered from Aqsa, Hoda and other cases is that once these girls are manipulated through their emotions against injustice that is happening in Syria, Iraq and similar areas then they are thrown the religion bait for inspiration, and then everything becomes easier to motivate them to make big moves.
Also, another thing I noticed is that there is a lot of “mix interaction” [free interaction between the men and women] and a lot of male recruiters sweet talk these girls once they start chatting with them on Kik or Whatsapp. Girls are also complimented on their looks and beauty.
And quite frankly, girls always have a thing for “soldiers” and here they are told that not only they are soldiers but they are fighting for a higher purpose and they need support from these girls and that these girls will play crucial role in these strong, apparently good looking soldiers’ lives.
UR: How was your own take on ISIS initially?
Sarah: I agreed with their aim of having a khilafah and helping the Syrians. The “simplicity” and “humility” in the lifestyle appealed to me a lot.
When I was hearing good things, fighting corrupt govts and trying to establish “peaceful” khilafah. But who knows if that was even true or not.
UR: So what turned you away from ISIS?
Sarah: First beheading…
As far as I was in it, I was still a person of logic and in my 17 years of religious upbringing and studying, I had never come across anything that could justify an innocent person’s beheading. I did research [on] the person they beheaded, he was a good guy trying to help our kids, kids who’d been abandoned by so-called “Muslim” governments.
Nothing justifies that beheading and let alone publiciz[ing] it so audaciously. Since when did our Prophet ever allowed anyone to behead innocent people or even enemies on the streets of Madinah?! Since when did our sahabahs allowed their kids to roll the head of a dead person? Since when did that become an “Islamic” action?
“Sabaya” they brought back slavery. No one can enslave a free person. What do they think gives them the right to do that! They started demolishing places of worship and going against basic things in our religion. This completely made me back away from the whole idea of ISIS.
UR: You were a part of the same group from where a few girls left to join ISIS. You initially supported the idea of a Islamic khilafah, yet you completely turned away from ISIS. Why do you think these girls, who joined ISIS, can’t see what you are seeing?
Sarah: Because they are stuck in a box. When you are in it, you can’t see that you’re trapped. You’re forced into doing or watching whatever is given and shown to you. Some of these girls are extremely young, and they are brainwashed. I mean for a 16 year old to make the decision to leave home, she has to be brainwashed very well and then she is dropped into such a barbaric society. It’s extremely intimidating, or to be married to a man completely invested to the cause; it is hard to escape that mentality. The psychological stress it causes makes them block everything out and just continue on.
UR: These girls who left for Syria, get married there and then their husbands die and then they get remarried. What purpose do you think females are serving in ISIS? Do you think ISIS is giving them any leadership roles?
Sarah: ISIS show the rest of the world that they are offering these girls the opportunity to do something great. When recruiting they say that the girls will become something productive in the community and have influential leadership roles. The fact that these girls are forced into marriages without even getting the permission of their wali (guardian) ISIS are making them overlook main requirements for a marriage to be valid. When the soldiers die, the women are sent back to the sister’s only maqqar (place of residence) until their mourning period is over, then they move on and are encouraged to get married again. It is basically well presented prostitution and sexual slavery. The only role they are truly playing is aid in continuous community growth and recruiting other young girls, and keep the ISIS militants sexually pleased and satisfied. That’s the role of the girls in ISIS!!
UR: Some of the girls who left for ISIS blog/tweet from Syria, and they make it sound like they are very happy and everything is good. What do you have to say about that? That even after getting a “dose of reality” they don’t wake up to reality?
Sarah: Think of it this way. When you’re struggling with something, the world doesn’t know, you smile and go through it. The girls who are tweeting from there, we don’t know the exact circumstances behind it at all!
What if they are being forced, watched or monitored. They might even have guns put to their heads…Nothing realistic is ever posted, neither do we hear anything negative. It’s all overly romanticised [their blogs and twitter accounts have beautiful pictures of sunsets in Syria showing how peaceful and “romantic” it is, posts about how girls get married. Marriage is portrayed as very simple without a fancy wedding gown and the mahr was just some ayahs of Qur’an, or how thrilling and romantic it is for a wife to wait for her soldier husband not knowing if he was alive or dead etc.]
Such posts don’t tell us anything, they’re trying so hard to portray normal lives but it’s so silly, the contradiction is crazy. These sunsets and food pictures you can see it anywhere…no one will move and leave everything for a sunset or the Euphrates River that considered a so called “hotspot for couples”. Let’s be honest half of these girls know they’ve made a mistake, now either they let ISIS know that they’re not into it anymore and most likely get killed or tortured or they make the most of it which is busy themselves with social networking.
UR: So it is possible that there are young women who want to run away but it is not easy for them to run away?
Sarah: Of course! Once a prey is caught in a trap, their fate lies in the hands of the hunter. So when ISIS paints the rituals such as: burning passports or cutting ties with family members who don’t agree with what is going on (like when Aqsa told her parents she would see them on the day of judgement) as brave and courageous, the girls are naturally going to go along with it. These acts isolate them and put all the power in ISIS’s hands. the fact that these girls are subconsciously forced into marriage by being told of the so called “benefits” that the “ government” provides or their aid in creating a generation that is more religious and not corrupt, strongly ties and roots them down to/with ISIS. Clearly the borders are under heavy control, and as they are so extreme, to them anyone who wants to leave is considered a traitor and will be executed. Their main objective in regards to these girls is to get them on the inside, without women they are nothing. They cannot satisfy their soldiers or keep a stable society going. They will never let these girls leave, once they are in and have realised their mistake, it is too late for most of them to turn back.
Also, keep in mind that one of the rituals that these girls have to do once they get to ISIS is burn their passports. So even if they want to run away it is almost impossible for them. But we know that there are girls who have ran away but they are too intimidated to speak about it or they don’t want to say anything to not make it hard for other girls who are thinking of leaving ISIS.
Also, there must have been other girls who are trying to run away but might have gotten caught and either killed by ISIS butchers or being tortured.
UR: If you get access to the girls in ISIS, what would you say to them?
Sarah: Honestly I don’t even know where to start. But I will ask them if they found what they were looking for. If they say, yes, then I would ask them to check their intentions, and sincerely ask Allah to guide them to the path that is pleasing to Him. I will try showing them how un-Islamic ISIS is but to be honest, if they can’t see the obvious, there is nothing we can do more than simply accepting them as gone case and just pray for them.
But if there are girls who are there and have realized their mistakes, I have one thing to say to them, “Run” as soon as you get an opportunity. And if they can’t then maybe they can serve the greater purpose by weakening ISIS from within in whatever way they can.
Lastly, I just want to remind everyone that the girls who are leaving, are not necessarily malicious, evil or with a history of violence. When there is a bigger scheme then innocent get hunted…
Usually innocent and stupid people get caught because they are stupid and they are genuinely innocent…However, their stupidity doesn’t undermine their genuine innocence.
*It wasn’t a group like Facebook group, rather certain people on Twitter who were following each other considered themselves a “group” and even gave themselves a name.
When Iblees tempted Adam to eat from the forbidden tree, he didn’t just appear in front of Adam and asked him to disobey Allah openly. That would have been too obvious and Shaytaan’s traps are almost always hidden tracks leading to haram.
Rather, Iblees coaxed Adam until he was deluded into believing that eating from that tree would make him from among the angels, “Your Lord didn’t forbid you this tree save you should become angels or become of the immortals.” After inviting them to disobey Allah, he then even swore by Allah to convince Adam of his sincerity, “And he (Shaytaan) swore by Allah to them both: ‘Verily I’m one of the sincere well-wisher for you both.’” (7:20)
Shaytaan’s tradition is to cause confusing in believers’ minds by disguising haraam with the cloak of “higher purpose”, or justifying end with impermissible means or taking permissible actions to such an extreme that they may actually become impermissible.
ISIS, the Hizb-as-Shaytaan, has also used the same tactics on many minds. Firstly, the members/recruiters portray to be very sincere and people of knowledge, quoting work of Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Taymiyyah and others to fool young minds into thinking that the knowledge being given to them is authentic, as many of these the girls being recruited by ISIS have recently started practicing Islam. Next, young minds are made to feel guilty because they haven’t done anything to help the suffering Muslims in the oppressed lands, rather live a luxurious life in the west. Then the idea of khilafah, jihad and physical sacrifices for the so-called “higher purpose” is thrown in, while misquoting the rewards in hereafter to bring them to a “religious high”. It is easy to strike when the iron is hot.
Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.
Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?
This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:
1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens
When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.
Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.
This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.
2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower
The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.
While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.
3) Military aid and complicity of tax-payers
US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.
Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.
4) The Israeli lobby
The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.
5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history
This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.
Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.
The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.
Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good
For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad , are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.
Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.
Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.
The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.
As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.
From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.
Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.
Muslim individuals and families
- Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
- They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
- Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
- They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
- They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
- They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
- They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.
Muslim bodies and institutions
- Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
- By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
- It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
- Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
- Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.
Seyran Ates, A Sixty-Eighter In Islamic Camouflage
By Dr Mohammad Usman Rana
In their orientalist enthusiasm to reform Islam, in the sense of reconciling Islam with the always changing ideas and goals of liberal values, Western European liberals and neo-atheists are searching high and low for persons who may serve as Muslim alibies for their project. For many years Ayaan Hirsi Ali was given this role but now the relay baton has been handed over to the German-Turkish activist Seyran Ates.
Does not believe in religion
Ates is of current interest in Norway because her book by the Norwegian title Islam trenger en seksuell revolusjon (Islam needs a sexual revolution, originally published in German in 2011)* was just released in Norwegian translation. Ates is well-known primarily because Western media have hailed her as a freedom fighter among Muslims since she opened a so-called liberal mosque in Berlin in 2017 and titled herself a female imam.
Obviously, Ates is part and parcel of an essential debate about the future of Muslims in Europe as it is a fact that a lot of traditional mosques in Western Europe have a big job to do in order to become more relevant to young Muslims, that is, more inclusive and adapted to a European context. Not least the issue of women’s rights is rightfully important to many people in the Muslim world, whether they are liberals or conservatives. In the midst of all the praise, Ates receives in Western media one essential question is however forgotten: What Islamic credibility does Ates have? In line with postmodern nihilism where concepts, ideas, and identities are emptied of meaning and content, the fact is ignored that Ates in her book points out that she believes in God but not in religions. She has no Islamic theological education and explains that she has recently started taking courses in Islamic studies and Arabic in order to be more credible among Muslims.
This is not only the case with Ates. It is a general weakness of so-called progressive and liberal Islam (reformers) that the movement lacks a foundation of religious and theological structure; it is rather founded on personalities with a political mission.
More journalists than worshippers
In her book about Islam needing a sexual revolution, Ates applauds European Christians’ dissociation from the church after 1968. Paradoxically, she later opened a mosque for Muslims. Further, she praises secularly thinking individuals as the most honourable people.
This is why the question should be raised whether the mosque, the imam title, and other religious references are just an Islamic camouflage for what can be understood as a political secularisation, assimilation and liberalisation project by Ates and her supporters. Due to the missing religious credibility and seriousness of this commitment, it should come as no surprise that it has little appeal to European and German Muslims.
When the New York Times visited the mosque, its journalists reported that there were more journalists than worshippers present. She has, on the other hand, a strong appeal among extreme right-wing anti-Muslim thinkers and movements in Europe. It is noteworthy that Ates received a solidarity claim from the extreme anti-Islam German AfD party, and has been praised by the infamous anti-Muslim blog of “Human Rights Service” in Norway.
The positive development aspect is missing
Why should German and European Muslims listen to an activist who attacks the fundamental principles of Islam and in her book paints a stereotypical image of the world’s Muslims?
There is no denying that Ates addresses a number of important challenges for Muslim women. Still, her arguments become oversimplified when she confuses female-hostile habits in the East with Islam and completely forgets the positive development today’s Muslim women in Europe experience where they, as opposed to their mothers’ generation, receive a university education, have a career, and choose whom they want to marry.
Seyran Ates’ project is not about a necessary contextualisation of Islam’s holy texts in a European reality, maintaining the characterisations of the region. The project is rather about a total change of Islam. In her book, Ates justifies such a change by creating strawmen with sweeping generalisations about Muslims. She, for instance, writes that ‘it is a fact that Muslim men have a considerable problem with our free world’, and that ‘Islamic politicians do not distinguish between religion and politics’ – without mentioning the widespread authoritarian secular tradition in Muslim countries in modern times such as in Turkey and Baathism in Syria and Iraq.
Less sexual restraint
Ates’ main argument in Islam needs a sexual revolution is that Muslim men and women are sexually oppressed because sexuality is defined as a blessing and source of love only within – and not outside of – the frames of marriage. The rule of intimate relationships being reserved for marriage meets with unison agreement from Muslims from different schools of thought; Ates, however, absurdly calls it an expression of “fundamentalist” Islam. In this view, Seyran Ates disagrees with the well-known American feminist Naomi Wolf who, after having travelled in Muslim countries, believes that this marital channelling of intimacy, in fact, strengthens sexuality and family ties at the same time.
The German-Turkish author wants less sexual restraint, more promiscuity and a liberal attitude to nakedness, in line with the ideals of the sixty-eighters. Seyran Ates praises the sixty-eighters’ revolution as an ideal for Muslims. Although the #metoo campaign, which can be said to have brought to light the negative consequences of the sexual revolution, was released after Ates’ book was published, it makes her attitudes to this revolution seem somewhat doubtful. The heritage of the sixty-eighters is not only freedom and equality but also the breaking up of the family as well as selfishness and decadence. It is also ironical that someone like Ates, who claims religious credibility, calls attention to Alfred Kinsey, the atheist sexologist who believed in open relationships, as a model for Muslims.
Ates’ book is mainly about freedom, a personal freedom in the name of value liberalism and sixtyeighters. A well-known American intellectual, Patrick Deenen from the University of Notre Dame, however, criticises such a perception of the concept of freedom believing we should ask ourselves if freedom can really be defined as human beings pursuing their instincts more or less uncritically. Deenen maintains that human beings are then in effect unfree and slaves of their instincts, while real freedom is achieved if we manage to free ourselves from being governed by human appetites.
Seyran Ates and her non-Muslim supporters seem to have no understanding at all of such a definition of the concept of freedom. Even more problematic is that they want to make their sixty-eighters’ liberal values absolute, believing Muslims must adhere to them if they wish to belong to modern society. Harvard professor Adrian Vermeule calls this form of liberalism aggressive because it only tolerates itself and no differences of opinion. It maintains its rituals in the form of checkpoints of ‘correct’ opinions in particular about sexuality, gender, and identity. Disagreeing with this can result in reprisals in the form of public pillory or even legal steps.
Obsessed with removing the hijab
When Muslims are met with such absolute-making of liberal values it is like an extension of colonial cultural imperialism when French and British colonial masters wanted to westernise Muslim populations, believing it was the only way of making them civilised. Some of them were obsessed with removing Muslim women’s hijabs, just as Seyran Ates is. The British consul general in Egypt, Lord Cromer, was a representative of this view. He wanted to free Muslim women from the hijab while at home in the UK he was ardently against feminism and women’s suffrage (source: Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press).
Worth noting is also that extensive surveys by Gallup Coexist Index among West-European Muslims show that they are far more religious than the majority population. Similar findings in relation to Norwegian Muslims were made by Bushra Ishaq in her book Hvem snakker for oss? (Who speaks for us?) from 2017. Considering these figures, it would be utopian as well as illiberal to expect Muslims to opt for a liberal values morality. On the contrary, it should be expected that religious European Muslims understand their religious practice as belonging to a Western context, that they value equality and that they support the liberal state governed by rule of law that actually allows people to live according to liberal as well as conservative norms of value.
*The original German-language version of the book, Der Islam braucht eine sexuelle Revolution: Eine Streitschrift, was published in 2011
Dr Mohammad Usman Rana is a Norwegian columnist, author and a commentator on Islam
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