During his 2015 State of the Union address to Congress, President Obama called for respecting human dignity. This call was met with applause. Obama then called for a rejection of anti-Semitism. Again, uproarious applause ensued. In the very next sentence, Obama called for a rejection of offensive Muslim stereotypes. Suddenly, dead silence. Apparently every politician and government official in the room, whether Democrat or Republican, was on board with stereotyping and profiling Muslims.
Fast forward to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. A father and mother of a slain American Muslim soldier spoke about their sacrifices for the country. And everyone there cheered and has been cheering ever since. Besides them, the convention included five other Muslim speakers including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Sherman Jackson, who both referenced hate and prejudice against Muslims in their addresses while Democratic Party members cheered.
So why the difference? What changed between Obama’s 2015 State of the Union and the 2016 DNC? Why did Obama’s call for tolerance get the silent treatment but the same call is cheered and championed a year later?
As American Muslims, should we attribute this shift in attitudes to Hillary Clinton and the DNC organizers? Should we thank them for bringing about a new commitment from Democrats for diversity and tolerance of different faiths?
In reality, our actual benefactor — the one who is really responsible for putting Khizr and Ghazala Khan on stage that night — is someone much more orange in hue.
Here is a question: Would the Clinton campaign and the DNC have showcased seven different Muslims in the course of the convention if Donald Trump hadn’t made bigotry against Muslims so central to his campaign? There is no way to tell for sure, but if we understand the nature of oppositional politics in this country, there is much to suggest that American Muslims should be thanking Trump.
The “Islam Means Peace” Rule
As in the world of physics, in the world of presidential politics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Trump’s action is that he broke a long-standing rule about how to talk about Muslims in political discourse. I call it the “Islam Means Peace” Rule (or IMP Rule for short): You can denounce “radical Muslims.” You can imply that there are “extremist” interpretations of Islam and “violent Islamists” who adopt those interpretations. But you must never, ever imply that Islam itself is the problem. You must never, ever suggest that Muslims in general are terrorists or are sympathetic to terrorism. You must insist that “Islam means peace.”
In one of the first speeches that Bush made after the 9/11 attacks, he laid out the IMP Rule and thereby set the tone for respectable political dialogue about Islam and Muslims for the next 15 years. Throughout this time, there were always the Pamela Gellers on the right and the Bill Mahers on the left who shrilly warned that the problem was not “radical Islam” but Islam itself. But these voices were roundly ignored by a mainstream media committed to the Rule. Previous Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney also stuck closely to the Rule, but Trump became the first mainstream politician on the national stage to flout IMP in his clumsy crusade against “political correctness.” Instead of limiting his remarks to the “radicals,” his pronouncements are directed to Muslims more broadly. This is why the Muslim community around the world sees Trump as an apocalyptic harbinger of doom and destruction. The good news is, as a violator of the IMP Rule, Trump is seen by other politicians, both Democrat and Republican, as well as the mainstream media in the same light that most Muslims see him: As an uncouth bigot who must be opposed at every turn.
The Power of IMP
Understanding the IMP Rule and its power is the key to seeing how beneficial Trump really is to American Muslims. The most powerful moral narrative in the American conscience is the fight against racism. Racism is seen as the ultimate evil, universally regarding as a threat to civilization. The two greatest historical manifestations of evil in the collective American understanding is slavery and Nazism, and both manifestations were animated by racial discrimination. As Muslims, we recognize this as a part of our moral compass as well, as the Prophet specifically called out the damaging ignorance and backwardness of mistreating others on the basis of skin color.
In the context of skin color, the odiousness of racism is clear, but outside that context, things become more murky. The racism narrative is so powerful that all varieties of interest groups and political parties attempt to tap into that narrative in order to mobilize people for their particular cause. The LGBT activist movement, for example, has been very explicit about this. Frank Bruni, the NYT’s first openly gay op-ed columnist, has argued that discrimination against people on the basis of sexual tendencies is tantamount to discrimination on the basis of skin color and that LGBT activists must use the language of the civil rights movement in order to advance their cause.
Muslims too have taken advantage of the racism narrative, arguing that discrimination on the basis of religious belief is tantamount to discrimination on the basis of skin color. But simply making the argument is not enough for society at large to believe that these are instances of racism and vile prejudice. The public has to be convinced that the group in question is the subject of systematic abuse, subjugation, violence, and unjust treatment in general.
The purpose of the IMP Rule then is to prevent the public from seeing Muslims in this light. The Rule is meant to project an image of Muslim tolerance, even celebration. This is important because, without this rosy image, many of the policies and regulations that were implemented against the American Muslim community and Muslim societies abroad in the aftermath of 9/11 would be seen for what they are: unjust targeting and systematic violence against one particular group of people.
For the public to see this treatment for what it is would make the idea of “Islamophobia” as a subgenre of racism that much more compelling to the average American, who is, due to the racism narrative, highly sensitive to anything with the slightest semblance of racial prejudice. And once the average American gets even a whiff of that and starts to see Muslims as victims, that would create a chain reaction of support and political mobilization for wider Muslim acceptance. This is why Trump has been and will continue to be a boon for American Muslims so long as he keeps up his heavy-handed, off-the-wall demonizing of Islam and Muslims.
Obama, Master of IMP
For President Obama, the IMP Rule has been monumentally important. Well-off and politically connected American Muslims are reluctant to believe this, but Obama has been a disaster for American Muslim rights. There has not been a single substantive anti-Muslim policy created under the Bush administration that has not been continued, expanded, or accelerated by the Obama administration.
In terms of foreign policy, Iraq and Afghanistan continue to suffer from the presence of a US military force. Obama’s infamous drone program has extended this death and destruction to Northwest Pakistan as well as Yemen, Somalia, and other Muslim regions. Libya, of course, was invaded under Obama’s directive and has been smoldering ever since. Under Obama, Israel felt at ease brutally pummeling a besieged Gaza in three separate operations, genocidal aggression that Obama awarded with record amounts of military aid stuffed into the pockets of the Israeli murder machine. And the failings of the Obama administration to broker peace in Syria while also tacitly supporting the bloody military coup in Egypt and the Sisi regime has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster.
Hand in hand with the terror Obama has unleashed against Muslims abroad are his domestic “anti-terror” policies, policies which for all intents and purposes target Muslims and attack their civil rights. Obama’s Orwellian CVE program, which essentially saddles the entire Muslim community with assumed guilt for terrorism, is only the tip of the iceberg. His FBI has perfected and regularized an aggressive Muslim entrapment program which was used only sparingly in the Bush years. His NSA datamines Muslim online activity and communication and feeds that information to other agencies which disproportionately and unfairly target Muslims. Local police departments have, through generous grants and guidance from Obama’s DHS, spied on Muslims and created databases cataloging Muslims and their day-to-day activities. The secret No-Fly list, which lists predominantly Muslims, none of whom have any proven ties to terrorism, has ballooned to at least ten times its size under Obama.
By any objective standard, Obama has been a much worse president for Muslims than Bush Jr. But the American Muslim community itself seems to be completely unaware of this and will bitterly deny it. This is because they have fallen into the seductive web of the IMP Rule. Obama perfected the Rule. He made the Rule into a fine art. His paeans to the American Muslim community and even Islam as a religion are unmatched. That’s why Muslims love him — no politician has spoken more glowingly and more eloquently in praise of Muslims. No president has appointed more Muslims into his administration or invited more Muslims to have iftar or Eid dinner at the White House. Clearly a president who goes out of his way to recognize and celebrate Muslims is not actively curtailing their rights and sabotaging their interests!
Alas, the truth is not as picturesque as those lavish White House iftars would lead us to believe. What Obama has proven is the efficacy of the iron fist when it is wearing a velvet glove. The IMP Rule is precisely that velvet glove, and Obama has worn it masterfully. As a result, the “anti-terror” programs — which have stripped American Muslims of so many of their civil rights and which the Bush-era Democrats denounced as the “Shredding of the Constitution” — overnight transformed into bipartisan consensus once Obama endorsed them. And it is that bipartisan consensus that has increasingly shifted public sentiment against Muslims over the past eight years, up until last year’s State of the Union, where even calls for basic civility towards Muslims were met with cold, indifferent silence from the nation’s lawmakers.
But Trump has changed all that. Trump has no patience for the niceties of velvet. His talk of monitoring Muslims and controlling their movement in and out of the country have plenty of precedent in Obama’s policies. Ironically, in fact, Obama’s policies are sometimes even worse than what Trump claims to want to do as president. The only thing that is novel about Trump is the way he talks about Muslims. And as Muslims, we should welcome this frankness. Strategically speaking, we should prefer a president who will wear his hatred of us on his sleeve as opposed to one who smiles in our face while implementing all manner of policy against us under the table. Better the devil you know.
What If Trump Wins?
If Trump wins the presidency, the Democrats will likely latch on to the Muslim cause like never before. We saw shades of this during the Bush terms. Glenn Greenwald said it best:
“The Democrats have been opposed to so many things when Bush was President that they, since 2009, stand up and cheer when President Obama does them. I know that because I was working on civil liberties during the Bush Administration. Things like droning people to death, even Americans, on the grounds that they’re terrorists without having to go to court and present evidence. Obviously, not just keeping Guantanamo open, but continuing to imprison people without charges. These are all things, certainly spying on people without warrants, that Democrats pretended to oppose when George Bush was in the Oval Office that they now either quietly acquiesce to or vocally support now that there is a Democrat in power.”
As journalists like Greenwald have noted time and again, in the Bush days, the Democratic establishment actually took on pro-Muslim causes like closing Guantanamo Bay and opposing Muslim profiling and detention programs. But as soon as Obama became president, all that righteous concern went out the window. The Democrats no longer had any reason to oppose anti-Muslim policies once they were in power. And the GOP saw an opportunity to portray any last vestige of pro-Muslim sentiment on the parts of Obama and the Dems as being “soft on terror,” which had the expected outcome of making Obama even more reluctant to do anything substantial to roll back, much less overturn, the bevy of programs infringing on Muslim rights.
A Trump president, however, will bring that righteous pro-Muslim fervor back with a vengeance. The initiative to feature the Khan family at the DNC and the media success that followed proved to the Dems that they can once again use American Muslims as a stick to beat their GOP counterparts. The fact that Trump is so overtly bigoted, the fact that he shuns the IMP Rule so shamelessly, will only make Democrats respond with that much more sanctimonious intensity.
If Trump is president, expect a significant uptick in mosque visits from the Dems. Expect a lot more Congressional pushback on anti-Muslim policies that have hitherto enjoyed bipartisan support. Expect a lot more positive media coverage on the Muslim community in general.
Muslims are also worried that a President Trump means he will implement the ludicrous anti-Muslim policies he has proposed on the campaign trail, e.g., implementing special Muslim ID badges and banning Muslims from entering the country. This rhetoric should be taken for what it is: grandstanding bluster with no real chance of materialization. As I have argued elsewhere, the Obama administration has already facilitated far-reaching measures to catalogue and track religiously observant Muslims in this country, which is functionally equivalent to the issuing of ID badges, so Trump wouldn’t be adding much to what his predecessor has done already. Besides this, even if Trump wanted to force Muslims to get ID badges, he would face a firestorm of political opposition. Similarly with banning Muslims from the country, a proposal that even GOP leaders have denounced.
Only God knows, but to the contrary, four years of Trump could mean American Muslims as an identity group finally attain that elusive mainstream status, where it becomes politically incorrect to even imply that Muslims are inherently inclined to terrorism and therefore must be profiled, monitored, detained without charges, and controlled.
What About Hate Crimes?
Some have argued that if Trump were to win, that would vindicate his anti-Muslim rhetoric and bring out the worst in violent racists. Certainly, there has been an increase in violence directed at Muslims since Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015. But, there has also been a marked increase in terror attacks on Western soil in this same time period. The national debate on Syrian refugees has also played a significant part in stoking nativist anti-Muslim bias. Outside of Trump’s rhetoric, both of these factors could independently account for at least some, if not most, of the increase in anti-Muslim violence.
But if, God forbid, the rate of such terror attacks remains consistent over the next four years, wouldn’t it be far better to have someone in the Oval Office who is less vitriolic to Muslims than Trump?
This is debatable. In actuality, there is not a clear correlation between presidential rhetoric and tenor, on the one hand, and hate crimes and bias, on the other. Obama’s presidency provides the perfect example of this. People expected that race relations would significantly improve upon the election of the first black president, when, as it turns out, the exact opposite occurred. Anti-black racism has significantly increased during Obama’s two terms than in prior years. There has been a surge in the number of white supremacist chapters and “patriot” groups around the country, which also correlates with an increase in bias attacks against different minority groups, including Muslims.
How do we explain this seemingly paradoxical increase in racism and violence under Obama? Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center suggests that much of the increase is tied to the anxieties of beleaguered working-class and middle-class white people who have suffered due to increasing income inequality and other economic factors. As these groups perceive society to become more diverse and less white, they react with anger and violence directed at those minorities imagined to be most threatening. In this way, paradoxically, a black president in power can increase anti-black racism while a white conservative, even bigoted president in power can actually decrease it.
A Trump presidency could have the same effect on anti-Muslim bias. Having him in office would do much to appease these racist white factions, which would lower anxieties and ease tensions, potentially resulting in less negativity towards Muslims and mosques.
Hate Crime Under Obama: The Case of Park51
As further insight into this dynamic, consider the year 2010, which saw 53 mosque attacks that year, whereas 2015, the year of the rise of Trump, saw 78 (data and bar chart below can be found here). Back in 2010, ISIS had not yet emerged and there had not been a single major Muslim-related terror incident in the US or Europe that year. 2015, in contrast, saw ten of them with death tolls in the hundreds and nearly around-the-clock media coverage throughout the year, not to mention the Syrian refugee crisis to boot. Why, then, was 2010 a horrendous year for American mosques with such a seemingly Muslim-friendly president in the White House?
Well, this was also the year of the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, where a Muslim community center and mosque, Park51, was planned to be built two blocks away from the World Trade Center site. There was an uproar from both Democratic and Republican national leaders arguing that building a mosque in that place was a “violation of sacred ground.” At first President Obama seemed to support the building of the mosque, but after getting blasted by Republicans, he later backtracked and clarified that he would not comment on “the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.”
This incident perfectly encapsulates the dynamics of American political discourse surrounding Muslims. When Republicans are not in power, they have great incentive to portray Dems as soft on terror and, like trained puppies, the Dems respond with cold indifference, if not outright callousness, to Muslims and their interests. This creates an antagonistic bipartisan consensus on Muslim issues which further feeds public paranoia and an atmosphere of anti-Muslim hate, which inevitably leads to mosque attacks and other acts of bias.
What If Clinton Wins?
A Clinton presidency would further anger white supremacists and other bias groups, making them feel like the walls are quickly closing in on them. This could have devastating results, as the GOP would, in the interests of oppositionalism and reactionary politics, shift further in the direction of nativism and racially-charged rhetoric in order to capitalize on the raw emotions of their disaffected base. They would also continue to paint Democrats as soft on terror, as the anti-Muslim elements across the country would be incensed, not quieted, that their beloved crusader failed in his White House bid.
In reaction to this, Clinton would shift right as well, which would all but ensure the continuation and likely expansion of Obama’s anti-Muslim policies. Of course, this would all be done with smiles and White House iftars galore, i.e., the IMP Rule in all its slimy glory.
Even without this shift, Clinton has more than proven herself to be hostile to Muslim interests, both abroad and at home, even more so than Obama, which is saying something in itself. Like Trump, she has embraced the term “radical Islam” and believes that a muscular surveillance state is key to national security and fighting “homegrown terror.” She has proven herself to be an arch-Zionist, even more antagonistic to Palestinian life than Bush, Obama, or Trump. Her hawkish stance toward the Middle East should be enough by itself to give any conscionable Muslim pause for concern. She has demonstrated support for the US-funded dictators across the Arab world, and has even befriended them.
Does all this mean that Muslims should vote for the odious Donald Trump? Muslims should definitely consider voting third party in at least the non-swing states. But if one is planning to vote for either Clinton or Trump in a swing state, then hopefully I have presented good reasons to consider voting for Trump over Clinton in particular. In strategic terms, sometimes going against the most outwardly obvious path is what will yield the most fruit at the end.
And, of course, there may be other reasons unrelated to Muslim interests to support Clinton over Trump, though as commentators like Mobeen Vaid have argued, American Muslims need to reconsider their reflexive alignment with liberals, while developing a political culture which is based on or at least informed by their religious values, instead of simply parroting “Red vs. Blue” political bickering.
Putting these concerns aside and focusing on the issue of which candidate, Trump or Clinton, is relatively better for Muslims in the short and long term, there is no question.
Kashmir: Gateway in Turmoil
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
Muslims for Migrants | A Joint Letter By Imam Zaid Shakir & Imam Omar Suleiman
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 , 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 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.
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
Were Muslim Groups Duped Into Supporting an LGBTQ Rights Petition at the US Supreme Court?
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?
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:
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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