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The Muslim Response To Islamophobia is Destroying Us From Within

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American Muslims are scared and rightfully so. Many are worried about what the future might hold with Trump’s presidency and the increase in public expressions of Islamophobia being spewed right and left. While fear is a valid emotion and is necessary in waking us up out of complacency, it can also lead to negative consequences.

As we read throughout the Quran, all communities of believers are tested with fear-inducing trials. Faced with these tests, successful communities stay united on a shared commitment to God and His religion in spite of the fear. This is often easier said than done. Maintaining commitment to one’s faith and its tenets is not easy in times of trials (fitan) and, oftentimes, fear and anxiety can cloud the decisionmaking process. For Muslims today, anxiety about Islamophobia has the potential to lead our community down a dangerous road. To see how this happens, we only need to refer to the Quran and its account of Bani Israel. In many instances, a strong sense of fear led Bani Israel to directly disobey God’s commandments, which in turn led to ruin (for example, as described in Surah Yunus: “But no one believed Moses, except [some] youths among his people, for fear of Pharaoh and his establishment that they would persecute them.” [10:83]).

Fear Factor

We see the same dynamic in religious and ethnic communities today. An eye opening article recently published in The Federalist is provocatively titled “How Liberalism Destroyed the American Jew.” The article describes how Jewish American political and moral choices over the past several generations have resulted in a thorough loss of faith. A Pew study cited in the article asked Jewish American respondents: What does it mean to be Jewish? One might imagine that the answer would have something to do with believing in God, reading the Torah, or following Abraham and Moses. These points, however, do not factor into Jewish identity according to the majority of the Jewish Americans surveyed by Pew whereas “eating traditional Jewish foods” and “having a good sense of humor” do. The two religious features a minority of respondents did recognize as part of their identity was “caring about Israel” and “observing Jewish law,” but the latter was at the bottom of the list. Other common features of their identity Jewish Americans noted include “leading a moral life” and “working for justice/equality,” though these, of course, are not values unique to Judaism.

What does all this have to do with fear? Well, it is important to note that “remembering the Holocaust” is the overall number one component of Jewish identity that seventy-three percent of Jews recognized. Is it a coincidence that this component has to do with fear? Is it a coincidence that remembering the one greatest act of anti-Semitism, i.e., the Holocaust, is what most Jews consider to be what being Jewish is all about?

There is a clear connection between the remembrance of the Holocaust being the number-one feature of Jewish identity and the fact that the rest of the list has little to nothing to do with Judaism as a theology and more to do with cultural practices and general values that are endorsed by the dominant American culture at large. Fear is a potent motivator. Fear is a potent justifier. Virtually anything can be justified if one believes that the alternative is the Holocaust.

In contrast to the Jewish community, however, the majority of the American Muslim community has not had genocide in its history (though segments of the American Muslim community, such as Black, Native, Bosnian, and Palestinian American Muslims, among others, have). Undoubtedly, American Muslims must be vigilant in the face of any threat. At the same time, the community must be aware of how preparing for a threat can have unintended negative consequences on the community’s faith. For example, making exceptions to, bending, and even discarding otherwise well-established religious principles all become possible if one feels, even remotely, that the spectre of genocide looms. And if the possibility of genocide is on the table, then one can justify to oneself doing anything to embed oneself into the status quo, avoid being politically incorrect, avoid sticking out, avoid going against the grain of the dominant culture, all in order to minimize any hostility by society at large. All of the community’s political, social, and cultural decision making is potentially short-circuited by this fear. Of course, none of this is to say that fear is not a perfectly valid, justified emotion. It certainly is and can be used to accomplish great good. But the question is, even when it is justified, how does that fear affect everything else?

Muslim Identity Means Hijab and Hummus?

Recent sociological and anthropological research examines precisely this question. Numerous studies analyze how “minorities” react in the face of “cultural anxiety” due to widespread bigotry and discrimination. What these studies show is that cultural anxiety is positively correlated with two things: 1) “ethnic essentialism” and 2) “multicultural ideology.” In laymen’s terms, this means that when a minority group feels threatened by the dominant group, they will, first of all, double down on those aspects of their culture and values that they believe to constitute the essence of their group identity. Second, they will increasingly tend to endorse multiculturalism, namely the view that a healthy society should treat all groups within it equally and that the presence of such groups enriches society overall.

These dynamics accurately describe the internal discourse within the American Muslim community since the September 11th attacks. Obviously, Islam is not a culture per se and Muslims are not an ethnicity, but the underlying concepts still apply given that, from a secular perspective, Islam can be considered a set of values, beliefs, and practices, which is what secular academic discourse considers a culture to be for the most part.

That caveat aside, it is beyond dispute that American Muslims have felt a great deal of “cultural anxiety” due to, not only Islamophobic attitudes in American society generally, but also due to hostile government measures that have targeted Muslims and their institutions. The anxiety and fear felt by the Muslim community has led to both essentialism and multiculturalism. Feeling pressure from the dominant American culture has had (what is from an Islamic standpoint) a positive effect of making Muslims more embedded in their Muslim identity, in a word, more “unapologetically Muslim.” At the same time, American Muslims have adopted more of a multicultural attitude as they have become more socially and politically engaged. For example, since 9/11, Muslim involvement in interfaith events, interfaith coalitions, etc., saw a massive increase. Muslim involvement in mainstream political groups and coalitions also jumped. The language of Muslim leaders, imams, and speakers has also been suffuse with expressions of multiculturalism, diversity, relevance, engagement, etc.

While anxiety and fear drive these tendencies of essentialism and multiculturalism, the two are often opposing forces. This is because multiculturalism is characterized by coming together on the basis of shared interests and other commonalities whereas essentialism is characterized by emphasizing differences in order to distinguish one’s own group from the dominant majority. How is this tension resolved?

For American Muslims, the danger is that this tension could result in a deliberate de-emphasis and minimization of those beliefs, values, and practices of Islam that most directly conflict with the dominant culture while overemphasizing specific Muslim cultural markers. This would allow Muslims to maintain some form of a unified, essentialistic identity — even though, primarily, it is cultural rather than religious identity — while also integrating themselves within the larger American milieu and its institutions, which, for the most part, tolerate and even celebrate cultural diversity but not theological, ideological, or ethical diversity. We have seen some signs of this in context of Muslim involvement with certain American political parties in recent years. And again, the example of Jewish Americans proves instructive. As a community, Jewish Americans have a very strong sense of identity and group cohesion, i.e., due to their essentialism, while also being well integrated socially, politically, and culturally, i.e., due to their multiculturalism. In other words, they have resolved the essentialism-multiculturalism divide. But as the previously cited Pew study discovered, the resulting Jewish identity has little to do with the particulars of Judaism as a religion.

Muslim and Atheist at the Same Time

This secularization of Jewish identity also explains the phenomenon of “Jewish atheism.” Not all Jews agree that one can be a Jew without believing in God. Nonetheless, Jewish atheist institutions have become a well established and growing part of the overall Jewish American community. This is not surprising given that half of all Jewish Americans have doubts about God’s existence.

We see similar trends in the Muslim community, as new labels like “ex-Muslim” and “atheist Muslim” have been adopted by people who consider themselves “culturally Muslim” but “theologically atheist.” Neologisms like “atheist Muslim” only make sense if “Muslim,” like “Jew,” is rendered as an ethnic or cultural label, one among many. Of course, the Arabic word “Muslim” itself means “one who submits [to God]” and theologically to be Muslim, in truth, has certain requirements in terms of belief and practice. But these requirements are set by God and communicated through revelation. But from a secular perspective that denies the existence and/or relevance of God, “Muslim” can be deployed in whatever way convention dictates. By this standard, even “Muslim Jew” or “Muslim Christian” should be a linguistic and conceptual possibility.

Ultimately, “cultural anxiety” in the form of Islamophobia will continue to pressure Muslims to secularize and racialize their Muslim identity. As a community, we need to be well aware of this pressure so that we can recognize its signs and strive to resist it. By surrendering ourselves to a crippling fear of anti-Muslim bigotry, we risk losing our very souls. Rather, we need to channel that fear into positive practical and spiritual avenues, namely Islamically-informed activism as well as increased reliance on and fear of God Almighty.

To think of it differently, if there are extreme Islamophobes in the world who want to stamp out Muslims as a religious community, there are two methods to do so. One method would be to deport, intern, or kill Muslims through acts of bigotry or even genocide. The other method would be to create conditions that are conducive to the erosion and dissolution of Muslim faith, such that, eventually, being Muslim has nothing to do with the religious values and norms of Islam. We should ensure that, in our heightened concern for combating the first method, we do not forget to combat the second equally nefarious, equally destructive method as well.

Daniel Haqiqatjou was born in Houston, Texas. He attended Harvard University where he majored in Physics and minored in Philosophy. He completed a Masters degree in Philosophy at Tufts University. Haqiqatjou is also a student of the traditional Islamic sciences. He writes and lectures on contemporary issues surrounding Muslims and Modernity. Email Daniel here .

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abdul-Rahim Adada Mohammed

    February 20, 2017 at 11:47 AM

    Well written!

  2. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    February 20, 2017 at 12:58 PM

    Excellent piece! Jazakumullahu khayran, Br. Daniel. I would only add to it by making a point I have previously made in other fora (such as your Facebook page), namely: I think it is dangerous for us as Muslims to continuously think of, talk about, and present ourselves as a “minority” as opposed to a “religious group.” Now, obviously, since only about 1-2% of Americans are Muslim, that makes us indeed a “religious minority.” But do we see ourselves primarily as a “minority” (that happens to have a religion, sort of) or as a “religion / religious community” (that happens to be numerically in the minority)? In other words, are we a “religious MINORITY” or a “RELIGIOUS minority”?

    The former very easily plays into the trend that you are warning against here, for a “minority” can literally by anything (just as long as the community is not a numeric majority). An Islamic *religious* community, on the other hand, can certainly not just be anything, since its very identity is explicitly tied to a *religious* commitment to Islam. What defines the religious community as such has nothing to do with numbers. As such, the definition, its operative terms and entailments, etc., would be the same whether we are a minority or majority. That is, we are essentially defined by the same beliefs, practices, and moral commitments whether in New York or Cairo, Copenhagen or Kuala Lumpur. And this is a totally different way of thinking about ourselves, defining ourselves, determining community boundaries, and presenting ourselves to others than doing so primarily as a “minority” among minorities.

    I think a major sign of whether we define ourselves primarily as a “minority” or as a “religion” can be seen in our attitude towards da’wa. A “minority” is content just to have its rights protected, be given a seat at the table among other minorities, and, eventually, to fuse into the melting pot with little substance left and only cosmetic markers of difference to betoken the “uniqueness” of their identity. An Islamic religious community, on the other hand, believes strongly that it exists (both in minority and majority situations) in order to bear witness to a specific truth, embody that truth meaningfully in its personal, professional, social, and political engagements, and, crucially, call other people to that truth (with, of course, wisdom, beautiful admonition, and sound argument, as Allah has commanded us in Surat al-Isra’).

    The last part of this for me is that, as I have mentioned before, I continue to think, especially in these troubling times, that we should demand our rights in the U.S. specifically as a religious group demanding its explicit constitutionally protected guarantees of religious freedom, integrity, and practice, and not as some random “minority” that is seeking rights “as a minority.” Whether there are 200 Muslims in America or 200 million, the founding documents and commitments of this country explicitly guarantee my rights, as an American, to practice whatever faith I want. Not only does that, in my view, provide a much stronger legal, social, and cultural basis for seeking our rights under this particular political order, but it also reinforces our view of ourselves as a religious community defined by its belief in and practice of its religion. Playing the minority card has the potential directly to undermine this.

    As a closing remark, I think CAIR, for example (and from what I have been told), has taken an interesting and overall principled approach here. A local CAIR representative explained to me once that if a Muslim had been fired from working in a bar for being Muslim, they would not take up the case since they would not fight for the “right” of a Muslim to work in a bar in the first place (since it’s haram). If the same Muslim were fired from a department store, on the other hand, they would take it up. Similarly, a case came up of a transgender Muslim “female” who wore niqab and was discriminated against at work. Since the discrimination was based on the niqab and the person’s identification with Islam, they took up the case. Had it been a question of discrimination on the basis of being transgender, they would have declined, since Islamic law does not recognize the validity of transgenderism to begin with. This, to me, clearly bespeaks an engagement on the basis of operative Islamic religious principles, rather than a conception of Islam and Muslims as nothing more than a self-identifying minority community.

    May Allah guide us all to what is right in these trying times. Ameen!

    Wassalam,
    Ahmad B.

    • Avatar

      Malick

      March 7, 2017 at 10:28 AM

      Great, great points, brother Ahmad B. Very insightful. The true thing is that American islam, or better yet Muslim Americans, or perhaps I should say Islam in America will never fully mature as a political force and therefore a religious one until Muslims understand the dichotomy between RELIGIOUS minority and religious MINORITY.
      What is missed when that distinction is lost is exactly as you say, surviving versus thriving, maintaining versus growing, a one room mosque versus a 10000 square feet mosque with minarets, parking, a community room and an attached cemetery, voting for the candidate we fear the least (if we even vote) versus advocating and surrogating for our candidate.
      These times we live in highlight it very effectively. The reason islamophobia is trending and the president, his cabinet, his generals, elected officials and the media may speak so aggressively and disparagingly about islam is because they sense that as a religious MINORITY, american muslims are weak communally and politically. Which is also why every potus, yes, including and especially Obama, may support the obliteration of Muslim countries abroad while pretending to be very islam friendly, and because we see ourselves still as survivors, we fail to exercise our rights to demand a cease and desist in our country’s ongoign war against our brothers, whether in Syria or in Palestine.
      And if one doubts the above, let us ask whose preference is enforced between the Jewish minority and the Muslim minority, and why.

  3. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    February 20, 2017 at 1:51 PM

    As a follow up to my previous comment, the CAIR examples are quite instructive and serve to show how each of these positions / orientations really does have teeth, meaning we need to think very carefully about how we conduct our affairs and manage our discourse.

    The CAIR paradigm, by applying an ethical, legal, and moral filter derived from substantive Islamic faith commitments, might actually turn down a discrimination case brought to them by a believing Muslim, if taking up the case might have the effect of restoring someone to a haram position or activity, thus endangering that person’s akhira. (From this perspective, in fact, the Muslim bartender’s firing was, in the larger scheme, nothing short of a mercy from Allah, a wake-up call to spurn him on to finding halal employment. I suppose one could make the argument that nevertheless, from a purely American legal perspective, we should object to the firing as long as it was motivated by anti-Muslim bias on the part of the bar owner. There might be something to this, and in an ideal world, the guy wouldn’t have been fired through discrimination and hopefully a well-meaning Muslim could have gotten through to him at some point to convince him to change his employment for the sake of Allah. But given limited time and resources, CAIR declines the case due to the moral dubiousness of the occupation to which their intervention would be seeking to restore the Muslim.)

    Same goes with the case of the “transgender” Muslim wearing a niqab but discriminated against for being transgender. An ethically informed Muslim set of criteria actually leads to a declining of the case, although the person involved is a Muslim and has been “discriminated” against. This outcome would be appalling, however, from the perspective of Islam as an essentially racialized / ethnicized minority community with little to no normative content of its own that is distinct from the dominant secular liberalism. From this perspective, the transgender Muslim “female” is doubly discriminated against, doubly vulnerable due to the “intersectionality” of belonging simultaneously to two distinct *minority communities*–the Muslim community and the transgender community–and for that reason, the person’s case, if anything, should be preferred over others and put at the top of the list.

    So here we have two very different–in fact opposite–outcomes, both of which are consistent with some underlying larger stance on who we are as a community and what that means. Given that the results are contradictory, however, and that each stance may even rise to the level of looking repugnant from the other perspective, we really need to think very carefully about what we’re doing here, why, on what terms, and with what likely long-term effect.

    Again, kudos to Br. Daniel for pointing this out all so clearly and concisely!

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    Daniel Haqiqatjou

    February 20, 2017 at 6:48 PM

    Wa iyyakum, Ahmad B. I agree that conceiving ourselves as a “minority” is potentially problematic given that that term signals an ethnic or racial status. I tried to caveat this somewhat in the essay, but not as fully as you have in your comment, so jazakumAllah khayran for that.

    Regarding your point about appealing to principles of religious freedom, does this mean that Muslims should also stand up for the right of, for example, Satanists to practice Black Mass and other rituals of desecration that they understand as private religious practice? Would Muslim advocacy organizations, such as CAIR, have to be committed to defending and standing with Satanists and other religious groups under the banner of religious freedom? To what extent can we invoke religious freedom without also committing ourselves to a kind of pragmatism that this post takes issue with?

    Point being, I’m not sure that shifting our discourse from one of “minority rights” to “religious freedom” avoids the problems this post is concerned with, namely Islamic principles taking a back seat in lieu of political expediency.

    I agree that we should understand ourselves as a “religious community.” The Islamic conception of itself as a religion, however, is much broader than what American or European secularism is willing to earmark for the sake of “religious freedom.” If we constrain our understanding of religion to only that which modern secularism allows for and delimits as “religious,” sooner or later, we will hit up against the same confusions and the same problems. We need to move beyond these categories altogether.

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      Ahmad B.

      February 20, 2017 at 7:44 PM

      Salam Daniel,

      Jazakumullahu khayran for your response. I see the problem you are pointing out about using religious freedom. I still think it’s a better tack overall for internal purposes, as it reinforces in our own minds that we are a religious group seeking to practice our religion. The secular system itself can’t distinguish between Islamic tawhid and Satanism (no more than it can distinguish, say, between a synagogue and a gay bathhouse–both are equally just “institutions” of different “minority groups”), and we should, in our macro critique, point out that weakness of the system.

      We do, however, have some internal criteria for judging what is an authentic religion for political accommodation purposes, and I suppose it would make sense for us, true to our values, to rely on those in choosing what rights and for what groups we would actually stick our neck out on the line for, march down the street holding placards for, etc. I would, by these criteria, wholeheartedly support the right of Jews, Christians, and other groups traditionally seen by Muslims as “religions” for political purposes (including Zoroastrians, Hindus, and others by extended definitions of “ahl al-kitab” and “ahl al-dhimma”), but probably wouldn’t do so for groups that we could in no way conceive of as a legitimate religion, such as Satan-worshipers.

      Would that be considered “hypocritical” by the terms of the system? Perhaps. Is it a neat solution and a comfortable situation to have to be in? No. But the system itself will never be in full conformity with Islam (especially where Muslims are in a non-majority situation), which means that we will never be able to be fully true to our principles without awkwardness, charges of hypocrisy, etc.

  5. Avatar

    Belal Mobarak

    February 20, 2017 at 8:55 PM

    Jazakah Allah khair, love your thoughts and analyses.

  6. Avatar

    Ibrahim

    February 20, 2017 at 10:38 PM

    Really good piece, brother. I’ve never doubted your work once because you have always been principled mashaAllah. Keep up the good work!

  7. Avatar

    Alt Islamist

    February 21, 2017 at 1:29 AM

    So after a long intellectual articl this is your reply? You my friend are living a sad life

  8. Avatar

    Quazi

    February 21, 2017 at 8:22 AM

    May Allah reward you Br. Daniel. Very timely reminder. Previously in facebook, you had alluded to the danger of unrestricted endorsement of LGBT and other movements. On top of that I will add – I am worried that young Muslims in the west somehow getting an implicit understanding of perennial viewpoint (all religions are equal), although our Imams/leaders are not saying any such thing explicitly. But in the absence of enough teachings that clarifies that Islam is the only accepted religion by Allah, unrestricted cooperation with other faith groups is a big danger. I know that Prophet (SAW) took help from non-Muslims. However, it was made abundantly clear in his teachings that Islam is the only truth. So, yes – we should collaborate with other faith groups based on common moral principles, such as resistance against discrimination, opposing liberal sexual education policies, but in the long run we should be extremely careful about what message our youth is getting about some fundamentals of Islam.

    • Avatar

      Daniel Haqiqatjou

      February 21, 2017 at 4:54 PM

      I agree that there is also a potential for confusion in context of some kinds of interfaith activity. But I haven’t seen much evidence of Muslim youth converting to other faiths. A large proportion seem to be following the general trend among millenials at large of leaving off religious affiliation altogether. Of course, seeing Islam as “just another religion, like all the rest” might very well contribute to that trend. If all religions are equally valid, then none of them are, especially in light of the “freedom” and comfort afforded by modern thought, modern values, and modern ways of life, which make religion in general and Islam in particular with its rituals and religious requirements seem irrelevant and hardly worth the trouble.

  9. Avatar

    Omar

    February 22, 2017 at 3:09 AM

    Really great reminder Dr J. Its especially important for me and others to think about building and supporting institutions and resources that will act to preserve our faith and its beautiful principles for ourselves and children.

  10. Omar Husain

    Omar Husain

    February 22, 2017 at 1:24 PM

    Mashallah, your writings are always on point. So often we are busy trying to explain what Islam is not, that we forget what it actually is. I love how you constantly stress never to lose ourselves. On another note, I will referencing this article Inshallah at jumah. #teamwork!

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#Current Affairs

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.

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israel, occupied Palestine

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.

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#Society

Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
  4. 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.

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#Current Affairs

Seyran Ates, A Sixty-Eighter In Islamic Camouflage

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seyran ates

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.

Public pillory

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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