By Hassan Shibly
Yes. You read that right. This is not a 13 point plan on how to merely survive a Trump Presidency. This is a plan for how we can flourish under a Trump presidency and emerge as stronger Muslims and better positioned Americans than before.
Allah never takes, He only gives. Every apparent challenge is in reality a great opportunity. He promises that with every difficulty comes multitudes of facilitation of ease. If we respond accordingly this challenge will certainly strengthen us in this life, and more importantly, in the next. The Prophet Muhammad’s greatest victories often came after his most difficult challenges. When the Prophet Muhammad acquiesced to a one sided treaty that appeared as a humiliating setback for the Muslims, the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Allah revealed “Truly We have opened up a path to clear triumph for you” and it was the challenging conditions of that treaty that facilitated the way for liberation of Mecca a short time later.
It is the Sunnah of Allah that sometimes, things appear to move backward for us to progress forward. Just like the gears of a clock must turn backward for the hour hand to move forward, or how the string of an arrow must be pulled back, for the arrow to fly forward. The challenges and setbacks we face, have the potential to push us to greater heights. Diamonds are only created after being subjected to great pressure.
Prophet Musa has many examples of this in how he dealt with both Qarun and Pharoah, both of whom have many similarities with the type of leadership we are dealing with today. Allah told Musa “we put you through many trials”—these trials prepared him for the success he ultimately had. And even the Pharaoh was used by Allah to gather people to listen to the message of Moses, and ultimately embrace and support him. Yet it was Musa’s trust in Allah that led him not to despair when those around him feared destruction and said “we are surly destroyed,” Musa’s adherence to Allah’s advice “do not slacken in my remembrance” elevated him and he replied “For sure we are not! My Lord is with me, he will guide me!” It is important to note here that Allah told Musa “I have chosen you for myself” and the following commands included speaking truth to power and challenging the Pharoah.
It was the targeting of Musa by the Pharaoh that ultimately lead to people gathering around Musa, and Musa’s challenging the tyrant of his time was a great form of worship, and it was Musa’s faith and connection with Allah that helped him overcome the challenges he faced and liberate his people.
A Trump Presidency has already brought the American Muslim community in particular and the United States in general tremendous challenges. A man was just elected President who has stated “Islam hates us,” and advocated for a ban on Muslims entering the US and requiring Muslims to register in a government database, monitoring Muslim communities and masjid, and falsely claimed that American Muslims celebrated 9/11.
This anti-Muslim rhetoric has led to a 500% increase in documented anti-Muslim hate incidents in the State of Florida over the last year, and according to the FBI a 67% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes reported to them nationwide.
Any hope his Presidency may be better than his campaign have dwindled after his appointment of hateful and ignorant anti-Muslim bigots within his administration. Since his election he has selected for senior appointments individuals who have claimed American Muslim leaders are complicity in terrorism, have called Islam a cancer and that fear of Muslims are rational, and who believe Muslims are not entitled to Constitutional protections of freedom of religion and that Islam should be eradicated.
No one can doubt the potential challenges this may bring the American Muslim community. Just as we are witnessing an increase in challenges, we are also witnessing the emergence of many people who have committed to learn about Islam, support our community, and even embrace our faith. This is our opportunity to shine and rise to the occasion. To use the audience the conversations about Islam are generating to show people who we are and how our faith can address the problems plaguing our country. To also establish ourselves as champions of civil rights and justice for all.
By following these 13 points we will surely rise stronger in the coming years:
The truth is, these 13 points would have been necessary regardless of who won the election. The community has faced tremendous challenges over the last 8 years under the Obama Administration. Islamophobia has been on the rise, while the FBI and CBP disproportionally target law abiding members of the American Muslim community. It may be that perhaps many of us put our trust in Hillary Clinton and would have gone back to sleep had she won, while the problems facing our community continue to escalate. Perhaps Trump’s victory is an important reminder for us to take a look at what is happening and to place our trust in God and invest our time and resources drawing closer to God by investing in defending our faith and justice for all.
1.Do not give up your identity. Our faith is the most valuable thing we have. It is also the only thing we have that can never be taken away from us. We can only chose to give it up if we allow ourselves to be intimidated by the fear and hate promoted against us. The Islamophobia Industry has spent over $200,000,000 to demonize Islam to scare Muslims away from adhering to their faith. They recognize our faith is our source of strength. As Umar (Ra) said “We are a people whom Allah honored us through Islam, and if we seek honor through other than that, we will be humiliated.” Do not let Islamophobes win by giving in to their intimidation and hiding your identity. Now is the time to respond by holding on stronger to our faith and identity. Our faith gave the sahabah strength to overcome their challenges and likewise it is the key to our strength. It cannot be taken away by anyone. Do not chose to give it up. “Do not lose heart nor grieve, for surely you will rise high if you are believers”
2. Avoid sins as much as possible and quickly repent every time you make a mistake. Do not despair because of your shortcomings. Rather use each mistake as an opportunity to draw closer to Allah through duah and istighfaar. Recognize however that unchecked sins are cited in various ahadith as a source for difficulties in life and being subjected to oppressive rulers and defeat.
- The sahabah would be told “Never fear your enemies, but fear your sins, your enemies cannot destroy you, but your sins can.”
- Umar ibn Abdelaziz would tell his soldiers “Do not be equal to your enemies in sins, for if they are greater than you in number and resources and you are equal to them in sins, then they will surely defeat you, for why should God help you?”
- Abu Bakr wrote in reply: “You Muslims can never be defeated because of being few in number. But because of becoming involved in sin, you will be vanquished in spite of being many in number. Hence guard yourself carefully against sin.”
- “As you are (as far as your actions are) so will be the rulers that will soon be set over you.” (Mishkat)
- Rasulullah said: “You people should continue to enjoin people towards the doing of righteous deeds and you should continue to prohibit them from evil; otherwise Allah will put into authority over you the worst of people to rule over you. At such time the best from among you will pray to Allah (for deliverance) and your prayers will go unanswered.’.’ (Jami-us-Sagheer)
- Rasulullah also said: “When my Ummat will begin to bear hatred in their hearts against the Ulema and when they shall make the construction of their bazaars and shopping places conspicuous and grand, and when they shall in contracting marriages consider only the possibility of accumulating wealth (instead of looking at the honesty, piety and deeds of suitable partners) then Allah will set four calamities over them: famine, the oppression of rulers, dishonesty of the officials administering their affairs and attacks by their enemies.”
- “Allah says: I am Allah besides whom there is no Deity, the Master of Kings, King of Kings. Verily the hearts of kings are under the control of My Hands. When My servants obey me, I turn the hearts of kings and rulers towards them so that they rule over them with mercy and kindness and when My servants disobey Me, I turn the hearts of kings and rulers to treat them harshly, with anger and vengeance. Thereby they mete out torture and oppression. Hence do not occupy yourselves with praying for curses upon kings and instead turn to Me in remembrance and with humility. And I will preserve you against the tyranny of the kings.”
3. Invest in Ibada: As we saw in the life of Prophet Ibrahim, Musa, and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them all, it was never having greater strength and resources that gave the believers victory over those who oppressed them. Rather, it was their spiritual strength and connection with Allah that helped them overcome the challenges they faced and attain victory over great odds. Now is a great time to remember the importance of having trust in Allah, and building a strong relationship with Allah, through our ibadah to attain the strength we need to remain steadfast and successful. It was the Prophet’s worship of Allah by night that gave him victory by day. Without Allah’s help, we cannot overcome the challenges we face. And when we face difficulties that serves as a great reminder for us to invest in reestablishing our connection with Allah through investing daily time for our ibadah. Fulfilling our obligatory prayers goes without saying, and after that also setting daily time for Dua, athkar, and recitation of the Quran, will give life to our hearts, increase our trust in and connection with Allah, and give us the light and energy we need to uplift our community. Above all it is the key to the only thing that matters: Allah’s pleasure. A study of the Quran and hadith makes clear that challenges in life serve to turn us back to him. That Allah gives us ease and goodness so that we may draw closer to him through gratitude, and he allows us to go through difficulties and challenges so that we can turn back to him.
4. Read the Seerah and other books. Reading the seerah does wonders for keeping our hearts and faith alive and strong. It also gives us hope and teaches us many lessons. Nothing we face is new. The Prophet and Sahabah have been through it all before. Reading the seerah will teach us countless lessons, keep our faith strong, and give us inspiration and wisdom to stand strong. Besides the seerah it is also important to read about the biographies of great heroes and scholars and read books that will grow our minds and strengthen our intellect and faith. Knowledge is the greatest tool we have.
5. Do not let ego, jealousy, suspicion tear us apart. We can’t afford to waste time on in-fighting and ego. Love each other. Wish well for each other. Support each other. Be happy seeing other communitymembers, leaders, organizations succeed. Work sincerely for Allah . Do not let ego divide us. Along with sins, nothing is more destructive to our community than in-fighting which is usually the result of jealousy, ego, or assuming the worst of each other. We cannot overcome external challenges if we are busy fighting and undermining each other. The Prophet Muhammad PBUH is reported to have said “By Allah! I am not afraid that you will worship others along with Allah after my death, but I am afraid that you will fight with one another for the worldly things.” Realize that government often engages in divide and conquer tactics to divide the community. We cannot fall for that.
6. Absolutely excel at what you do. Allah loves the strong believer more than the week believer. The stronger you are spiritually, intellectually, morally, physically, economically, socially, the easier it will be for you to benefit the community with a sincere heart and hard work. In America we are few number, and need to make sure each and everyone one of us counts and is contributing positively in society in as effective way as we can. Be the best student you can be. Stand out in your studies, profession, or interests. Use your success to represent our community the best you can and also find ways to leverage your skill sets to build greater appreciation for our faith and community through service to humanity.
7. Devote time to community service. Our deen is a deen of service. American Muslims must be visible at the forefront of projects that serve and uplift the community as a whole. Find something you are passionate about and dedicate time every week to participate: It could be Habitat for Humanity, the PTA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the local School Board or City Council, Neighborhood Watch, homeless shelter, tutoring program, NAACP, ACLU, or any other community service based institution be it part of local government or NGO. American Muslims must be at the forefront of giving back and serving our community. That is the core of our faith. It is also the best way to reflect the message of Mercy our Prophet was sent with to humanity.
8.Dawah with knowledge and wisdom driven by love and genuine care. Our faith is a gift for us and has the solutions to the problems plaguing our country such as racism and economic disparity and injustice. One of the tragedies of the American Muslim community is at best we have often been simply been calling for people to tolerate us and accept us and not outlaw our faith or discriminate against us. We are simply seeking to say “don’t hate us, don’t outlaw us, we are all the same.” That is an extremely humiliating position to be in. Instead of calling for mere acceptance, we should be proud of our Muslim identity, and with wisdom and driven by love, share with those around us how our faith can uplift and empower them. We have something our neighbors, country, and world needs. We would be selfish not to share it. Our Prophet came to share a message to liberate humanity. We must learn our faith, and be fearless in sharing it, but share it with wisdom and knowledge, while driven by love and compassion, not arrogance. And the time to share the beauty of our faith has never been easier as countless people are becoming curious and sympathetic to our faith and community in light of the increased attacks against our faith in politics and media. We are witnessing the Hamza effect, and just like Hamza declared his support for the Prophet to spite those attacking it, and became a true believer, many are committing to support our community to spite the Islamophobes attacking us and in doing that they are discovering the beauty of our faith
9. Prepare for the 2018 Elections. America’s governance was designed with a system of checks and balances to create separate bodies of those who write the laws, those who interpret and apply them, and those who execute and enforce them. The damage the President can cause is severely limited without Congressional support. What’s troubling is that Congress as it stands is currently controlled by the party of President-Elect Trump. Meaning that it will be easier for Trump to push forward his agenda and try to enact laws detrimental to our freedom and liberty. However elections for some members of the US Congress is in two years, and if the Democrats take control of the Legislature it will make it significantly harder for Trump to push forward laws harmful to our community. Get involved from now in supporting candidates for Congress and local office. Local elections, such as who is on the school board, city council, or county commission, often have the greatest impact on your life. They determine if hate groups can succeed in banning text books that speak accurately about Islamic history from Public schools or whether your masjid can get the zoning permit it needs. Furthermore elected officials often build great relationships with and hire their campaign staff and may rely on them to shape their perspectives and policies. American Muslims taking active roles in political campaigns can have tremendous long term impact both in helping elect candidates sympathetic to our community and being in a position to advice the elected officials. America’s largest hate groups are targeting local and state elected in hopes of pressuring them to pass anti-Muslim legislation and policies, deny Muslim institutions zoning permits, and demonize Islam in the public schools. Helping elect local and state officials who will not be sympathetic to anti-Muslim hate groups, and having relationships with these elected officials, can go a long way to protecting our community.
10. Facilitate for more lawyers to emerge from and serve our community and report civil rights violations. Go to law school. Clerk for a judge. Get a few dozen friends together and commit to support the creation of a full time attorney to work with a local Muslim organization to represent and defend our community. Play any part you can to strengthen our community’s legal defense. With the current administration it appears unlikely that our community can get far via lobbying the administration. The administration may in fact try to pass laws or enact policies and actions that are against the supreme law of the land, the US Constitution. Our biggest defense will be to challenge such laws, policies, or actions via the courts. The administration may have the votes it needs in Congress to pass laws that target our community and it may even have sufficient public support to continue the government’s engagement of actions that hurt our community, but challenging such laws and policies via the courts may be our best defense. The US Constitution is our protection against tyranny and oppression by the government, and investing in a strong legal team to defend our community by challenging laws, polices, and actions that are against the US Constitution may be the strongest defense we have. When it comes to those in power, our job is to hold them accountable, not to seek their pleasure. It is critical that we do not allow our rights to be violated and that we are sure to report to our civil rights organizations each and every violation of our civil rights.
11. Increase Media Presence and Interfaith Engagement: The overwhelming majority of the public know nothing about Islam nor do they know any Muslims. Educating the public and building strong relationships is critical. Every Muslim community must have institutions or at the very least, individuals, well trained to speak to the media and proactively engage the media to make our community voice heard on a wide array of issues. Furthermore social media, and the use of features such as Facebook Video and Facebook Live, make it very cost effective to produce content that can go viral and be viewed by thousands if not millions. Consider supporting institutions to leverage such opportunities or make the most of them yourself if you have or can work with people that have the skillset as well as wisdom for appropriate messaging and narrative crafting. While outreach via the media and social media is important, on the ground relationship building is necessary. Time must be invested both in developing relationships with those who know and are sympathetic to our community and engaging with those who have yet to have the opportunity to meet a Muslim. Effective media engagement and interfaith outreach can help us foster an environment where there will be less tolerance towards elected officials, laws, and policies that threaten our liberty. When it comes to the public, our job is not to win arguments, but to win hearts.
12. Commit at least one dollar a day to the community. Allah describes the hypocrites as those who do not give even the little. Abstaining from contributing even a little is dangerous for our community because if everyone contributed a little, our community’s financial needs would be met. The Islamophobia industry has spent over 200 million dollars to demonize Islam in America over the last few years. However, if the 7 million American Muslims spent one dollar a day to challenge Islamophobia, that would be 210 million dollars a month dedicated to the cause. Four our community to flourish, our mosques, schools, dawah institutions, community service and charity organizations, and organizations committed to defending our rights and representing us need to be well funded. Every Muslim should select a masjid, school, dawah institution, charity, and civil rights organization for the community and commit at least one dollar a day to each or combined, but commit something regularly and consistent. The Prophet Muhammad taught that the best deed is the most consistent even if it is small. And Allah swt warns us to “spend in the path of Allah and not lead ourselves to destruction.” If Islamophobias are spending millions to turn popular opinion against Islam and we do not each spend a little to counter that, we will indeed place ourselves in a destructive position as we suffer the consequences of anti-Muslim laws, policies, and actions from the government. But if we all do a dollar a day, our community will have the resources it needs not only to protect itself, but to win hearts through having the resources to serve the public.
13.Take safety seriously. Every day we hear of a mass shooting, a hate crime, or other acts of violence. It is important that we do not allow ourselves to become victims. Take a personal defense class. Consider keeping on you a means of personal defense. Arrange for your local mosque or school to have a safety and security audit and training.
In conclusion, now is the time to hold strongly to our identity and not be intimidated by those who hate us. We must avoid sins which are a cause for difficulties and bad leadership, and invest time in strengthening our connection with Allah through personal ibada. Nothing we face is new, and we can find hope, inspiration, wisdom, and strength by studying the seerah of our beloved Prophet PBUH. Most importantly, we cannot let ego, greed, and jealousy divide us. We must excel at whatever it is we do and use our skill sets to serve others and represent the community in the best possible ways. We must recognize our faith is beautiful and has lots to offer our country and it’s up to us to reflect and share the beauty of our faith with others. It is critical that we are involved in the next set of elections to do our part to elect those most beneficial to our community and country and develop strong relationships with them. We must however invest in a strong legal defense to challenge government laws, policies, and actions that are contrary to the US Constitution. We also must increase our visibility in the media and engage in more cross cultural and interfaith outreach, as now more than ever, the public recognizes the danger of Islamophobia and is committing to stand with us. We must also commit to a consistent monthly amount to support our institutions and also take basic self-defense and security precautions. Through all this inshallah we will emerge as beacons of light, hope, and justice for all even in the most challenging of times.
Hassan Shibly is a civil rights attorney and Chief Executive Director of CAIR-FL, a non-profited committed to promoting understanding, challenging Islamophobia, and defending civil rights for all people regardless of race or email@example.com
Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.
Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?
This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:
1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens
When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.
Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.
This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.
2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower
The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.
While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.
3) Military aid and complicity of tax-payers
US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.
Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”
Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.
4) The Israeli lobby
The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.
5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history
This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.
Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.
The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.
Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good
For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad , are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.
Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.
Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.
The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.
As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.
From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.
Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.
Muslim individuals and families
- Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
- They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
- Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
- They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
- They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
- They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
- They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.
Muslim bodies and institutions
- Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
- By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
- It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
- Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
- Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.
Seyran Ates, A Sixty-Eighter In Islamic Camouflage
By Dr Mohammad Usman Rana
In their orientalist enthusiasm to reform Islam, in the sense of reconciling Islam with the always changing ideas and goals of liberal values, Western European liberals and neo-atheists are searching high and low for persons who may serve as Muslim alibies for their project. For many years Ayaan Hirsi Ali was given this role but now the relay baton has been handed over to the German-Turkish activist Seyran Ates.
Does not believe in religion
Ates is of current interest in Norway because her book by the Norwegian title Islam trenger en seksuell revolusjon (Islam needs a sexual revolution, originally published in German in 2011)* was just released in Norwegian translation. Ates is well-known primarily because Western media have hailed her as a freedom fighter among Muslims since she opened a so-called liberal mosque in Berlin in 2017 and titled herself a female imam.
Obviously, Ates is part and parcel of an essential debate about the future of Muslims in Europe as it is a fact that a lot of traditional mosques in Western Europe have a big job to do in order to become more relevant to young Muslims, that is, more inclusive and adapted to a European context. Not least the issue of women’s rights is rightfully important to many people in the Muslim world, whether they are liberals or conservatives. In the midst of all the praise, Ates receives in Western media one essential question is however forgotten: What Islamic credibility does Ates have? In line with postmodern nihilism where concepts, ideas, and identities are emptied of meaning and content, the fact is ignored that Ates in her book points out that she believes in God but not in religions. She has no Islamic theological education and explains that she has recently started taking courses in Islamic studies and Arabic in order to be more credible among Muslims.
This is not only the case with Ates. It is a general weakness of so-called progressive and liberal Islam (reformers) that the movement lacks a foundation of religious and theological structure; it is rather founded on personalities with a political mission.
More journalists than worshippers
In her book about Islam needing a sexual revolution, Ates applauds European Christians’ dissociation from the church after 1968. Paradoxically, she later opened a mosque for Muslims. Further, she praises secularly thinking individuals as the most honourable people.
This is why the question should be raised whether the mosque, the imam title, and other religious references are just an Islamic camouflage for what can be understood as a political secularisation, assimilation and liberalisation project by Ates and her supporters. Due to the missing religious credibility and seriousness of this commitment, it should come as no surprise that it has little appeal to European and German Muslims.
When the New York Times visited the mosque, its journalists reported that there were more journalists than worshippers present. She has, on the other hand, a strong appeal among extreme right-wing anti-Muslim thinkers and movements in Europe. It is noteworthy that Ates received a solidarity claim from the extreme anti-Islam German AfD party, and has been praised by the infamous anti-Muslim blog of “Human Rights Service” in Norway.
The positive development aspect is missing
Why should German and European Muslims listen to an activist who attacks the fundamental principles of Islam and in her book paints a stereotypical image of the world’s Muslims?
There is no denying that Ates addresses a number of important challenges for Muslim women. Still, her arguments become oversimplified when she confuses female-hostile habits in the East with Islam and completely forgets the positive development today’s Muslim women in Europe experience where they, as opposed to their mothers’ generation, receive a university education, have a career, and choose whom they want to marry.
Seyran Ates’ project is not about a necessary contextualisation of Islam’s holy texts in a European reality, maintaining the characterisations of the region. The project is rather about a total change of Islam. In her book, Ates justifies such a change by creating strawmen with sweeping generalisations about Muslims. She, for instance, writes that ‘it is a fact that Muslim men have a considerable problem with our free world’, and that ‘Islamic politicians do not distinguish between religion and politics’ – without mentioning the widespread authoritarian secular tradition in Muslim countries in modern times such as in Turkey and Baathism in Syria and Iraq.
Less sexual restraint
Ates’ main argument in Islam needs a sexual revolution is that Muslim men and women are sexually oppressed because sexuality is defined as a blessing and source of love only within – and not outside of – the frames of marriage. The rule of intimate relationships being reserved for marriage meets with unison agreement from Muslims from different schools of thought; Ates, however, absurdly calls it an expression of “fundamentalist” Islam. In this view, Seyran Ates disagrees with the well-known American feminist Naomi Wolf who, after having travelled in Muslim countries, believes that this marital channelling of intimacy, in fact, strengthens sexuality and family ties at the same time.
The German-Turkish author wants less sexual restraint, more promiscuity and a liberal attitude to nakedness, in line with the ideals of the sixty-eighters. Seyran Ates praises the sixty-eighters’ revolution as an ideal for Muslims. Although the #metoo campaign, which can be said to have brought to light the negative consequences of the sexual revolution, was released after Ates’ book was published, it makes her attitudes to this revolution seem somewhat doubtful. The heritage of the sixty-eighters is not only freedom and equality but also the breaking up of the family as well as selfishness and decadence. It is also ironical that someone like Ates, who claims religious credibility, calls attention to Alfred Kinsey, the atheist sexologist who believed in open relationships, as a model for Muslims.
Ates’ book is mainly about freedom, a personal freedom in the name of value liberalism and sixtyeighters. A well-known American intellectual, Patrick Deenen from the University of Notre Dame, however, criticises such a perception of the concept of freedom believing we should ask ourselves if freedom can really be defined as human beings pursuing their instincts more or less uncritically. Deenen maintains that human beings are then in effect unfree and slaves of their instincts, while real freedom is achieved if we manage to free ourselves from being governed by human appetites.
Seyran Ates and her non-Muslim supporters seem to have no understanding at all of such a definition of the concept of freedom. Even more problematic is that they want to make their sixty-eighters’ liberal values absolute, believing Muslims must adhere to them if they wish to belong to modern society. Harvard professor Adrian Vermeule calls this form of liberalism aggressive because it only tolerates itself and no differences of opinion. It maintains its rituals in the form of checkpoints of ‘correct’ opinions in particular about sexuality, gender, and identity. Disagreeing with this can result in reprisals in the form of public pillory or even legal steps.
Obsessed with removing the hijab
When Muslims are met with such absolute-making of liberal values it is like an extension of colonial cultural imperialism when French and British colonial masters wanted to westernise Muslim populations, believing it was the only way of making them civilised. Some of them were obsessed with removing Muslim women’s hijabs, just as Seyran Ates is. The British consul general in Egypt, Lord Cromer, was a representative of this view. He wanted to free Muslim women from the hijab while at home in the UK he was ardently against feminism and women’s suffrage (source: Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press).
Worth noting is also that extensive surveys by Gallup Coexist Index among West-European Muslims show that they are far more religious than the majority population. Similar findings in relation to Norwegian Muslims were made by Bushra Ishaq in her book Hvem snakker for oss? (Who speaks for us?) from 2017. Considering these figures, it would be utopian as well as illiberal to expect Muslims to opt for a liberal values morality. On the contrary, it should be expected that religious European Muslims understand their religious practice as belonging to a Western context, that they value equality and that they support the liberal state governed by rule of law that actually allows people to live according to liberal as well as conservative norms of value.
*The original German-language version of the book, Der Islam braucht eine sexuelle Revolution: Eine Streitschrift, was published in 2011
Dr Mohammad Usman Rana is a Norwegian columnist, author and a commentator on Islam
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