Throughout my life, I’ve had several encounters with Muslim immigrants to America, and many of these experiences were not positive. I had an Arab high school teacher tell me that Black people in America could never be Muslim. In a predominately Pakistani masjid that I once frequented, the community’s sooq (store) stocked skin-lightening products that promised to be “the solution to pollution.” A Trinidadian friend told me that her father said she could marry anyone except a Black man. And upon meeting me for the first time, a sister from Somalia expressed surprise that I was a Black American, given that my books were so “well written”.
As I stated in the blogs I’ve written on these experiences, I could say that these experiences scarred me for life, that I went home in tears, and that these people’s bigotry incited within me that horrible inferiority complex due to my “Blackness” and my utter inability to be accepted not only by “White America” but also by the “real” Muslims of the world. But I won’t. That would be dishonest.
The truth is I thank Allah that, thus far, He has protected me from falling into the trap of the glorified victim in response to these hurtful experiences.
For the purpose of this article, I use the term glorified victim to refer to anyone who, in response to mistreatment or bigotry, devises and/or propagates new religious teachings or scriptural interpretations, which are specifically designed to favor or “glorify” the victim in religious contexts. These teachings often purport to “challenge” existing systems of privilege within a faith tradition while in reality they merely create a new faith tradition. The teachings of glorified victims often contradict or oppose the faith they claim part of, or they contradict or oppose faith itself.
In other words, a glorified victim is someone who responds to wrongdoing with wrongdoing.
As a general rule, new religions or interpretations born from a glorified victim status have at their roots doctrines in response to something as opposed to doctrines that stand on their own regardless of circumstance.
In modern times, glorified-victim ideologies generally manifest as some form of anti-racism or anti-bigotry. The religion of the glorified victim, however, should not be confused with faiths that include anti-racism or anti-bigotry as part of their teachings. The glorified victim doctrine is based on specific anti-bigotry, whereas authentic religious doctrine is based on God’s revelations, which naturally include teachings of anti-racism and anti-bigotry.
However, ultimate religious truth points to only God and His revelation for all religious teachings.
Glorified Victims Rely on Being Victims
Ironically, glorified victim doctrines are powered almost entirely by the continuance of the very bigotry and mistreatment they claim to fight against. This is not to say that glorified victims desire bigotry and mistreatment; quite the contrary. However, it is to say that the most powerful tool that glorified victims have in gaining supporters and advocates is their ability to point the finger the other way, and thus deflect from the greater issue: religious honesty and authenticity.
But as long as glorified victims continue to have “proof” for the wrongs they’ve suffered, guilt and compassion (often incited by emotional manipulation) will cloud others’ ability to think critically such that they challenge the false religious claims of glorified victims.
In other words, to the glorified victims spreading unfounded religious beliefs, their worst enemy is true equality—because equality forces them to behave like full, intelligent human beings instead helpless, accosted victims. In this vein, they claim to want love and acceptance, but what they really want is irrational pity, as this shields them from religious accountability. I reflect on this “love shield” phenomenon in the following excerpt from my book PAIN. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah:
“Asking for theological proofs is not love,” she said—while she herself was making theological claims. So the demand for ‘love’ has now become the shield used to protect ourselves from accountability for our speech and behavior—even as we use God’s name to justify both. Thus, this ‘love shield’ allows us to tell endless lies and inflict endless wounds, while hiding behind demands of religious tolerance. Then we cower like an accosted victim in the face of any scrutiny or questioning, which we swiftly label “hate.”
I Was Almost a Glorified Victim
When I speak of the goals and thought processes of glorified victims, I am not speaking in theory. Before I took time to study Islam for myself, my beliefs were largely influenced by glorified victim doctrine, namely the “everything Black or Afro-centric is good” ideology, even when it contradicts Islam. Had Allah not guided me, I would have been part of spiritually destructive mentality that, till today, leads many practicing Muslims to excessively praise contexts of blatant shirk and immorality, as long as it makes “our people” (whether Black or Muslim) look good. In this mentality, glorified victimhood does not always manifest as overtly religious. It sometimes manifests as extreme cultural or religious pride as expressed in ostensibly non-religious contexts, such as music or entertainment. What makes glorified victimhood different from normal cultural or religious pride in contexts of music and entertainment is that glorified victimhood either obligates or praises blatant disobedience of Allah while verbally harassing, mistreating, or ostracizing Muslims who wish to obey Allah.
One of the most obvious examples of this is the excessive praise that the singer Beyoncé received following the release of the videos Formation and Lemonade. To be clear, I am not discussing people’s personal admiration or appreciation for the singer and her phenomenal talent, as personal recognition of powerful art and extremely talented entertainers is a natural human tendency (irrespective of haraam content). I am not even criticizing anyone who likes her music and performances. Here, I am speaking specifically about glorified victim mentality, which in this case manifests as an excessive level of admiration and appreciation that effectively makes admiration and appreciation for Beyoncé a religious obligation. Naturally, glorified victims would never use this terminology to describe their beliefs and behavior, but this does not make the description any less accurate.
In pro-Beyoncé glorified-victim ideology, Muslims who do not praise and appreciate the singer “as she deserves” are accused of having sick hearts—a belief that bears uncanny similarity to the Islamic belief system regarding those who do not praise and appreciate Allah as He deserves, thus resulting in spiritually sick hearts. Amongst Muslims whose praise of the singer have crossed Islamic bounds, friendships are cut off as a result of frustration with “blind people” who don’t appreciate her talent; social media posts are made blasting anyone who dislikes and criticizes her “empowering” songs and videos; and Muslims are called to openly praise her shirk as moving and beautiful because it highlights “African spirituality.”
No, I’m not talking about friendly, harmless disagreement here. I’m talking about a full-fledged intolerant ideology that ignores all Islamic limits and in fact requires either ignoring or transgressing them. To those unfamiliar with the “BeyHive” (which has a very active Muslim segment), this might sound quite preposterous. And I would agree. But I assure you that this pro-Beyoncé glorified victim ideology is very, very real—hence my blog “What Muslims’ Celebration of Beyoncé Says About Our Souls.”
Western Culture As Glorified Victim Ideology
A phenomenon of nearly all glorified-victim doctrines is that they start off as relatively innocuous and even praiseworthy movements: “We’re only fighting against mistreatment, marginalization, and oppression by [insert privileged group here].” However, they eventually graduate to teaching specific religious doctrine that establishes belief systems that oppose or reinterpret the Qur’an and Sunnah for their own selfish purposes. Some glorified victims achieve this while remaining affiliated with orthodox Sunni Islam.
In the glorified-victim ideology rooted in Western culture worship, Muslims use Western anti-religion ideology to replace the Qur’an and Sunnah as the criterion in determining right and wrong, or in determining the norm with which everything else is compared. Consequently, everything in Islam that incites distaste in White American society is either reinterpreted, denied, or labeled “no longer applicable in modern times.” This is the glorified-victim ideology of Muslim apologists whose Islam is dictated more by seeking a positive Muslim image in the West than by seeking the pleasure of Allah in the Hereafter.
Because this ideology is backed by people of power, namely White America in non-Muslim circles and affluent Arabs and Desis in Muslim circles, it is far more destructive and insidious that that of the pro-Beyoncé glorified victim ideology that I discussed earlier. Ironically, those who adhere to the Muslim apologists’ glorified victimhood often berate the pro-Beyoncé Muslims for their un-Islamic beliefs and behavior, often under the umbrella of music being haraam. However, in truth, much of their disdain is linked more to anti-Black racism than it is to Islamic evidences.
Given that both White America and Arab/Desi Muslim immigrant cultures hold a disdain for African-Americans, holding up immoral Black people as an example of shame and wrongdoing comes quite naturally to Muslim apologists. Many of these apologists go as far as to approve of their own un-Islamic cultural practices and music while labeling Black culture and music (especially rap and hip-hop) as reprehensible and forbidden, even when musical instruments and immorality are not involved.
To be clear, I am not interested in contributing to the age-old music debate, as it is completely irrelevant in this context. The point I’m making is that the glorified victimhood of privileged Muslims, who are predominately Arab and Desi immigrants to America (and their descendants), manifests itself in ways that conflate anti-Black racism with religiosity while at the same time presenting violations of the Qur’an and Sunnah (which glorify their own cultures and religious insecurities) as Sunni Islam itself.
Those who favor the position that music is haraam are quite vocal in their view that music is unilaterally forbidden and, as aforementioned, often cite the immorality or rap and hiphop as proof of the evils of music. They sometimes go as far as to equate the very definition of “haraam music” with only American songs, while allowing their own “cultural music.” You’ll find zillions of lectures on the topic of music being forbidden, so much so that many Muslims are genuinely unaware that there exists a legitimate minority opinion that music that involves no indecency or immoral lyrics is permissible.
Meanwhile, these same anti-music Muslims completely ignore the Qur’an and Sunnah narrations regarding the warnings and prohibitions against leaving the land of Muslims and settling amongst non-Muslims. These warnings and prohibitions are much more firmly established in Islam than the view that all music is haraam, but it is very rare you’ll hear lectures about these warnings.
Why the religiosity surrounding music but no such concern about pledging one’s life to the flag of a country that persecutes Muslims as a matter of course? Because their Islam is tailored specifically to meet the needs of their own culture, even if indigenous Americans suffer as a result (hence their vilifying of American music while accepting their own). Also, as they maintain connection to their culture, they desire to be viewed as fully American at the same time (hence the widespread acceptance of attaining Western citizenship even when there is no Islamic need to immigrate). And it is not coincidental that these choices also allow them to continue their anti-Black racism under the guise of Islam, hence the endless fatwas classifying nearly every African-American cultural expression as “imitation of the kuffaar” even when no immorality is involved in the art, music, or entertainment.
The transgressions of influential Muslim apologists are much more harmful than that of pro-Beyoncé extremism mainly because their ideology uses the Book of Allah and prophetic statements as the platform to discount or deny the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah (or to discount or deny the validity of other points of views, like those in African-American culture). Yet their apologist, un-Islamic (and intolerant) teachings are widely accepted as Sunni Islam in the West.
Naturally, except for sharing the spiritually destructive admiration for Western culture, Muslim apologists are not a monolithic group. Thus, they have both overlapping and opposing beliefs amongst themselves. Nevertheless, they do generally share one common belief rooted in Western culture worship: their obsessive need to reinterpret the definition of Islamic marriage and “women’s rights” such that polygyny is either forbidden, outdated, or presented as “disliked” or “not preferable” in Islam.
Because this glorified victim ideology (which points to the wrongs of patriarchy and “bad men”) is taught by some of the most respected and celebrated Muslim imams in America (who seek to appease Western culture), this un-Islamic belief system goes largely unchallenged, even though it violates teachings of the Qur’an itself.
Other popular glorified-victim beliefs of Muslim apologists include the redefining of hijab to mean only “modest dress” without a head covering, and the inclusion of non-Muslims as believers who can enter Paradise even after having rejected Islam on earth. In the latter belief, I’ve never met any other believers in “the Abrahamic faiths” who feel the need to apologize for believing that their religion represents ultimate truth in front of God while seeking to adjust the reality of the Hereafter to appease disbelievers in their faith.
Unfortunately, many Muslims are more than happy to show White America that they are willing to deny or apologize for their Lord’s teachings if it means they’ll earn “cool points” as American citizens (or hopefuls).
However, it is important to point out that there are indeed many Muslims in America (including African-American, White, immigrant, etc.) who do not fall in the category of any of these groups. Just as there are African-Americans who appreciate their culture without crossing Islamic bounds in overpraising talented singers and entertainers, there are also Arabs and Desis who appreciate their cultures without crossing Islamic bounds in silencing legitimate disagreement, participating in anti-Black racism, or favoring Western culture over authentic Islamic practice. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us, there will always be a group of Muslims upon the truth, and that group includes people of all colors, backgrounds and ethnicities.
We’re All Flawed, We’re All Hurting, and We All Need Patience
Here is something to remember about the progeny of Adam, whether convert or born-Muslim, or layperson or scholar: We are all flawed, we are all hurting, and we all need patience, within ourselves and amongst each other. But just as a person’s privilege due to skin color, wealth, or status does not give them right to dictate the lives of others, our suffering (or glorified victimhood) does not make us the authorities of Allah’s religion. We have no more right to define “Islamic faith” due to our suffering (or religious inferiority complexes) than others do due to their privilege.
In the end, humility and submission to God is what is required of all believers; and it is God, and God alone, who defines that belief.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of more than fifteen books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the newly released self-help book for Muslim survivors of parental and family abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You, with contributions by Haleh Banani, cognitive behavioral therapist.