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Sunrise Over the Euphrates: Sarah’s Story of Asian Twitter, ISIS, Guilt and the Targeting of Young Women

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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

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muAvVeHFxFQ[/youtube]

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.

ummreemisisarticle

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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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?

ummreemisis2

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.

[divider]-[/divider]

When Iblees tempted Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) 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 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) 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.

 

Umm Reem (Saba Syed) has a bachelors degree in Islamic Studies from American Open University. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi. She was one of the founders of Daughters of Adam magazine and remained the publishing director until 2007. She had been actively involved with MSA, TDC, and other community activities. She has also been actively involved with the Muslim women of her community spiritually counseling with marital and mother-daughter issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities, including special workshops regarding parenting and issues related to women.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    M.Mahmud

    June 14, 2015 at 10:41 PM

    I have heard that inshaa Allah a number of our brothers who were misled refused to fight once they realized their guns would be pointed at Muslims.

    I remember reading they were literally shot dead for that.

    May they get the highest rank in Jannah. Murdered by Khaawarij for refusing to kill Muslims.

    • Avatar

      Shabeeb

      July 9, 2015 at 3:10 PM

      SubhanAllah this is very insightful may Allah bless you for shedding light on the vicious nature of this group.

  2. Avatar

    Faadiel

    July 14, 2015 at 9:10 AM

    This is eye opening ecspecially since its from muslim girl who almost got trapped. I like many others have also wondered what ISIS recruits could possibly be telling these teen girls.

    The answers that Sarah gives are also well formed, see appears to be a smart girl and open minded about things.

    Since ISIS have killed so many muslims, I believe its more a responsiblity of muslims to put a stop to ISIS once and for all Insha Allah. Ameen.

    • Avatar

      Stardusty Psyche

      July 15, 2015 at 5:50 AM

      Brother Faadiel,
      I appreciate that you feel so strongly that Muslims must put a stop to ISIS. But ISIS has their own Islamic scholars that use words from the Qur’an and the Hadith to justify the actions of ISIS. How can Muslims counter or contradict such justifications?

      • Avatar

        Wali

        November 13, 2015 at 10:28 AM

        Dear Stardusty Psyche,
        While you are correct that ISIL does use Quran and Sunnah to justify their actions, they do two things very much in common with Islamophobes who want to portray Islam as an unjust, brutal, and violent religion.
        The first is the they cherry pick verses, copy and paste them to suit their needs and then point them out. For example one that both groups love to use is the Quran 2:190-191 “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.” However they both will not quote further. The following verses command a halt to fighting if the enemy forces agree to stop fighting, ” And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah . But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.” Islam does allow for fighting however, the Quran and Sunnah give very strict rules on who to fight, how to fight, where to fight, and what to do after the fighting. Here is a list of some of the rules:
        -Fight only soldiers who are fighting you ( Quran 2:190)
        -Do not harm women, children, the elderly, clergy, and noncombatants (Sunan Abu Dawud, Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal)
        -Do not cut down trees or destroy the land ( Sahih Bukhari)
        -Do not mutilate corpses (Muwata of Imam Malik)
        -Do not break a promise of peace (Muwata of Imam Malik)
        -Do not torture or mistreat POWs (Quran 76:8-9)

        The second thing that both groups do is to take things out of context. For example if I were a football coach and during a game I told my players to go and destroy the other team, we know exactly what I am taking about. I want my players to go and win, not let the other team get the ball back, and to play hard. However if one of my players took what I said and blew up the bus with the opponent team still in it and tried quoting me, everyone would know that he is wrong and that what I said was significant and relavent only for that particular instance. Again both groups love to use this ayah of the Quran, ” And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Quran 9:5″ However this was revealed during the time when the pagan tribes of Arabia vowed to join together to elimante the Muslims, so the Muslims were given permission by the All Mighty to fight these aggressive tribes whenever they encountered them.

        Finally most of the so called scholars of ISIL are not scholars. They are the equivalent of someone watching Grey’s Anatomy along with a few pages from a medical text book and saying that they are qualified doctors. they have no proper Islamic educational training, many of them have never even read the entire Quran. The few exceptions who are there are extremely fringe elements whose arguments are as weak as a house built by playing cards yet they make a facade that they are the greatest scholars who ever lived.

        In conclusion the best way to defeat their arguments is to use the Quran and Sunnah against them. They quote verses from the Quran to justify their behavior, and in turn we do the same to show how their behavior is a grave sin. Furthermore we would ask them for the exogensis which they would fail to use.

        Hope this helps.

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#Current Affairs

Kashmir: Gateway in Turmoil

Abu Ryan Dardir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds of a feather flock together.

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

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

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

A message from a Kashmiri

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

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

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#Islam

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

Imam Zaid Shakir

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migrants

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

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

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

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

Concerning migration, the Qur’an states unequivocally: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Launchgood.com/migrants, migrants, Muslims

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

Imam Zaid Shakir, Imam, Lighthouse Mosque

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

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

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Muslim organizations, Muslim groups

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

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

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

The Involvement Of Muslim Groups

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

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

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

Spreading Ignorance

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

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

immorality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Law Enforcement Approved Islam

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

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

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

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

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

Muslim Groups Were Taken for a Ride

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

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

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

Do Your Homework

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

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

Muslim Leaders Should Stand Strong 

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

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

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

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

Note: Special thanks to Mobeen Vaid.

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