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14 Topics All Islamic Schools Should Address During High School | Dr Shadee Elmasry

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If you or someone you know is involved in an Islamic school, please read this and pass it on. This is critical to our growth as a community.

The people in Islamic schools have been honored with the charge of teaching the deen to the next generation. Teachers have them for 180 days a year. If they have a deen or Islamic Studies class twice a week, that is 72 periods a year. If we multiply this by four years of high school, that’s nearly 275 hours of tuition.

By 7th grade, students should have completed Shamail, seerah, aqidah, and fiqh —basically the fundamentals of the religion. All of high school should then be spent wrestling hard with the shubuhaat (doubts and thorny issues) that will be thrown at them in college.

Here is a list of things that I believe can be covered by junior year, leaving all of senior year for it to marinate in their minds through a comprehensive review and a senior paper. Here’s the list (in no particular order). Please feel free to add to it in the comment section:

1 Myth or truth: The historicity of the sources. How the Quran and Hadith were compiled and preserved

2 The theology and cosmology of gender

3 Evolution: what are our beliefs regarding the creation of the first man. Animals? The concept of “Be and it is.”

4 Secular ethics: who has the authority to decide what’s right and what’s wrong? Can religion be boxed into only the home and the masjid

5 Universalism: are religions subjective? Do all paths lead to God? Or is one of them true?

6 Women in Islamic history. There is an eight volume work on female scholars of hadith. There were many more rulers and queens among and influential contributors in other fields.

7 Sexuality between fiqh, theology, and interaction. How do I interact with my gay colleague? Can I go to his wedding? How do my deal with my sister if she comes out as a lesbian?

8 Riba: what is is and how does it relate to loans and modern finance contracts

9 Marriage: the right ways and the wrong ways of going about it. Marriage related issues in the Muslim Student Associations.

10 Citizenry, Loyalty & Identity: Between faith and nationalism. How to balance our deen and it’s world-wide Ummah and our citizenry in a non-Muslim majority country, particularly one at war with Muslim countries

11 The Deluge of Temptations: the spiritual, psychological, physical, familial, social, and financial side-effects of pornography and drugs.

12 Philosophy: the “Problem of Evil,” “Can God create a rock He can’t lift?” And other failed coups. A high school senior in a Muslim school should be able to write an essay on these topics with their eyes blindfolded.

13 Liberal Reform in Islam: Is the Sunnah a source of legislation? What is usul al-fiqh? A high school junior in an Islamic school should be able to give a talk on the sources and methodology of Islamic legislation as well as the fundamental differences between the madhhabs.

14 Spirituality – students must learn to detect the signs of a dimming faith and spiritual atrophy,  as well as know the simple methods of haunting and reversing the downward spiral.

I would venture to say that thousands of American Muslims and  millions world-wide lose their iman in college. Islamic schooling is truly effective if it’s seniors graduate armed with deep and nuanced understandings of the challenges to come. We need to be a creative minority. Our seniors should enter into college with an agenda of their own (outlined in their senior thesis). We need to be the subjects of history not the objects. Instead of being the naive targets of someone else’s agenda, we need to have our own thought and our own agenda.

Be the predator, not the prey.

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Dr Shadee Elmasry was born and raised in New Jersey and studied in the Muslim world in Fez, Hadramawt, Cairo, Makka, and Madina. He completed a Masters from The George Washington University in comparative religion, then a PhD from the University of London, SOAS on “Da’wa in the Works of Imam al-Haddad.”

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Osman Umarji

    January 17, 2018 at 3:21 AM

    JazakumAllahu khair for raising these important issues to be discussed in Islamic schools.

    While I agree that children should learn all the topics mentioned, we need to address who among the Islamic school staff is capable of discussing these topics. These are topics that academics and scholars struggle to explain, in addition to the lack of consensus on many of these matters.

    Before these matters can be taught to adolescent Muslim youth, both rich content needs to be available for educators and a pedagogy for how to teach these issues. This requires a fair level of collaboration among teachers and subject matter experts.

    • Avatar

      Nabeel Hasan

      January 17, 2018 at 4:04 PM

      Muslim children in addition to everything Dr ElMasry has mentioned, need to be taught Islamic history as well. They need to know how the Khilafa was abolished in Turkey, they need to understand the colonial history and how much of every single Islamic country was under the grip of the European powers and how that caused an erosion of much of our literature, history, culture, language and overall identity of being Muslim and the concept of Ummah. However, with the minimizing of the globe through globalization, I think we have a unique opportunity to really get our children to link with the Ummah. Only then will we rid ourselves of the secular aspects of nation states and the blind faith we place on this aspect.

    • Avatar

      Fatima Ahmad

      January 19, 2018 at 7:55 PM

      -Logic/Mantiq- the basis for critical thinking, is NOT taught in public schools, or Islamic schools

      –VERY important: the study and PRACTICE of Islamic Arts, the indifference to beauty is indifference to Allah, as one Islamic Arts professor put it very eloquently in his article, The Silent Theology of Islamic Arts. (a must read for us all).

      -I agree with the above comment of Islamic History, Ottoman/ Moghul Empires.

      May Allah help us in realizing these high aspirations!

    • Avatar

      Sami

      February 12, 2018 at 3:58 PM

      Completely agree.

  2. Avatar

    Imran

    January 17, 2018 at 2:47 PM

    Thank you for this list; it’s helpful, and unfortunately not brought up nearly enough. I would add the importance of encouraging the three physical components of education that comes to us by way of hadith: teach your children swimming, horseback riding, and archery. There is benefit in other sports, but these have particular spiritual benefits that we can be assured are prophetic.

    Another glaring problem in our curriculums is the lack of very good history books. I’d say Destiny Disrupted might be a good book for high schoolers, but the most important thing is understanding the roots and development of Western culture as well as the causes of decline of Muslim civilizations. It’s of critical importance that Muslims know at what point in history they stand, so that they may learn what it is they must do, bi’dnillah.

    And Allah knows best.

  3. Avatar

    Maryam

    January 18, 2018 at 10:35 AM

    What about purification of the heart?

    • Avatar

      Farid

      January 18, 2018 at 1:26 PM

      I appreciate this effort of making the issues available for teaching contemporary Islam in schools for students who are in a panic state. More importantly, caliber muslim intellectual borad dealing worldwide islamic issues should be set up to tackle the burning problems in muslim world. Backwardness of muslims is the cost of lack in group efforts. And we muslims have ideas but these ideas grow and exhibit without utilisation. Unity is what ummah atfirst place represents for.

  4. Avatar

    Usman Quraishi

    January 18, 2018 at 3:39 PM

    i think this is expecting too much from high school children. they should focus more on secular studies to get into good college and enhance their critical thinking skills. Nowadays, high school students have short attention span and are pretty immature

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      January 19, 2018 at 1:51 AM

      And covering these topics from a young age might exactly be the solution to the problem you are stating.

    • Avatar

      Raadiya Shardow

      January 29, 2018 at 11:52 PM

      Not only is that statement offensive, it is false. You have no idea the capabilities and intellect of high school students when they actually put effort into it. Look at other programs across the country, AP and IB classes all have this amount of rigor or more. Why can’t the same bar be applied to a crucial subject like Islamic Studies? When we start dumbing down our future, we have already lost.

  5. Avatar

    Muniba

    January 18, 2018 at 7:20 PM

    Although these topics are truly important and relevant, I must assert the importance of instilling the basics of faith and understanding of the deen both intellectually and emotionally in children in much younger stages.
    Although we focus a lot on the youth, part of the problem is that children are growing up only knowing Islam as a list of requirements, words recited in Arabic, and a list of prohibitions.
    Someone who grows up armed with only the above, yet emotionally vested in non-Muslim cultural norms may not find it worthwhile to sort through the more complex “youth” topics.

  6. Avatar

    Irfan Farooqui

    January 20, 2018 at 11:59 PM

    Masha-ALLAH the topics are very comprehensive. However along with them please provide the resources also.

  7. Avatar

    Md Nayeem

    January 23, 2018 at 10:06 AM

    You have pulled out some points, which are really need in our education institutions, even, not only for Islamic school but also in Islamic state school. Unfortunately it is happening alter, i.e. our Islamic schools have been following basic schools curriculum as to be modern. My brother!! you made some valid points, these are very essential to guide our advance mature child. These should be the very first tuition to get through our child as a decent human being in this growing secular & nasty society. Hope for the best in future,,,may Allah help us to imply these all….

  8. Avatar

    Amos

    January 23, 2018 at 1:30 PM

    They say that education is wasted on the young.

  9. Avatar

    LWR

    January 23, 2018 at 5:41 PM

    Several points come to mind after reading this excellent post and the comments which follow it:
    1. Many of the older Muslims in the U.S. were not born or brought up here, but our Muslim youth were born here and are being brought up in the United States. If we, as serious and caring Muslim adults, leaders, guides, and educators, truly want to prepare our youth to take pride in an identity which is often misunderstood, and which has been – especially recently – the subject of attack and concentrated misinformation, then we owe it to them to give them the wherewithal to do so. This very much includes the tackling of the post’s topics… and more.
    2. This should not be considered a “fluffy, liberal” extra tacked on to traditional Islamic educations. It is absolutely critical that these issues be addressed head on, in an atmosphere which is non-judgmental and non-threatening. I have been in Islamic education for many years and have witnessed first-hand the disillusionment, sense of betrayal – and bewilderment our Muslim youth face at college and beyond after leaving the protected confines of their Islamic school and/or community.
    3. It is NOT serving our Muslim youth, our Muslim Ummah, or even the future of Islam in the United States, to ignore these thorny issues. Bottom line: If they are not getting their answers from knowledgeable, conscientious, understanding adults, they most certainly WILL ask others! And they often don’t like the answers that they get. The Internet is a Pandora’s box of information, and misinformation. Shameful but true: American, anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination is widespread. When we send our youth into such situations unarmed, uninformed, and/or under-informed, they SUFFER – a LOT!

  10. Avatar

    Habib of LWR

    January 23, 2018 at 7:40 PM

    having worked a number of years with troubled youth and being a father of three I can assure you that the muslim youth that are insulated from reality due to over protective parents (this not exclusively an issue with muslim parents) who feel they are preparing children for adulthood are preparing them to venture out into the world (college for instance) ill-equipped and thoroughly enabled setting them up for the harsh reality that their peers are going to challenge them to think and question their belief system. College is not only a time to continue academic studies to earn a degree in a subject that will hopefully translate into paycheck, college is a time when the student is trying out being an adult and socializing with their peers. A time when they are full of idealism and really think they are able to change the world. if they are unprepared to meet the inevitable struggle that awaits them they will indeed be prey and the predator will be able to smell their vulnerability as soon as they walk in the room.

  11. Avatar

    Rifat Islam

    January 28, 2018 at 7:17 PM

    I know another commenter has mentioned Mantiq/Logic but a science that’s both praised in the ancient and modern worlds is rhetoric and debate. Islamic high schools throughout the country have generally been absent from the state and national debate tournaments. Debating domestic and foreign policy trains them to think critically, argue fluently and persuasively, etc. So I highly encourage any Islamic high schools to register motivated students to their local debate tournaments.

    • Avatar

      Dr. Shadee

      April 24, 2019 at 7:02 PM

      Mantiq is critical.

  12. Avatar

    Maureen Newton

    February 2, 2018 at 11:29 AM

    Usman Quraishi has it in one. Education in Britain should be non religious. In Britain think British all are here to improve the country as a whole not be biased to a religious backwater.

  13. Avatar

    Uzma

    November 16, 2018 at 7:47 AM

    Thank you for your suggestions which I found very relevant and pertinent. The problem is now finding the right people and correct information to teach these topics. Could you recommend any books, online lectures, websites; which provide authentic knowledge on the topics you have listed. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you again.
    Warmest salams
    Uzma Jung

  14. Avatar

    Senad Agic

    April 23, 2019 at 12:39 PM

    I would appreciate if a lesson about “Sticking to the Jama’ah” would be added. Our youth tend to distance themselves from the Jama’ah and the Imam to the point to declare that there is no need to follow any person or any authority or institutional religion. Some of them later become disoriented and religious in their own way. This way often leads to all kinds of deviations and extremism.
    The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam has informed us in the hadith of Hudhayfah radiallahu ‘anhu in which he said: “The people used to ask the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam about the good, and I used to ask him about the evil out of fear that it would reach me.” So I asked the Messenger of Allah: “O Messenger of Allah, we were living in ignorance and evil, then Allah brought this good to us. So will there be any evil after this good?” He replied: “Yes.” I then asked: “Will there be any good after this evil?” He replied: “Yes, but it will be tainted.” So I asked: “What will be its taint?” He replied: “A people who guide others to other than my way, you will approve of some of their actions and disapprove of others.” I further enquired: “Then is there any evil after this good?” He said: “Yes! Callers at the gates of Hell – whoever responds to their call, they will be thrown into the fire.” I then said: “O Messenger of Allah! Describe them to us.” He said: “They will be from our people and speak our language.” I asked: “So what do you order me to do if that reaches me?” He said: “Stick to the Jama’ah (the united body) of the Muslims and their Imam (ruler).” I further asked: “What if they have neither Jama’ah or an Imam?” He said: “Then keep away from all those sects, even if you have to bite upon the roots of a tree, until death reaches you whilst you are in that state.” Related by al-Bukhari (no.7084) and Muslim (no.1847)

  15. Avatar

    Farheen Khan

    April 23, 2019 at 5:21 PM

    I hate to disagree, but as someone with extensive experience in curriculum design as well as a mother of 2 high schoolers (a junior and a senior), this article shows a shocking lack of understanding in respect to educational psychology, child development, and general curriculum design. Most disheartening is the lack of understanding for the needs of high schoolers, especially seniors. At this point in their studies, the topics they study should be focused on action not theories. Especially as seniors on the cusp of entering the “real world”, they should be DOING not philosophizing. Of the 14 points mentioned in the article, only a few address the social issues that are inevitably faced by college students. The rest – philosophical. The emphasis needs to be shifted, drastically. Topics should be relevant, meaningful, and actionable from a student’s perspective.
    Additionally, students need to revisit topics periodically throughout their formative years. The idea presented that students should have completed their study of seerah, aqidah, fiqh, etc. by 7th grade might sound great in theory but not in reality. The changes that take place in a student morally, cognitively, physically, emotionally, etc. from 7th grade to 12th grade are astounding. There are also issues for implementing this schoolwide, which I will not get into on a FB post at the moment :) The solution: a spiral design curriculum, the reevaluation of student goals, and a more action-oriented pedagogical approach to achieving those objectives.

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Civil Rights

Podcast: Lessons from the Life of Malcolm X | Abdul-Malik Ryan

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One of the things that happens with historical figures who continue to remain well-known and influential years after they can continue to speak for themselves is that others seek to speak for them.  Attempts are made to co-opt their legacy, either in sincere efforts for good or in selfish efforts for ideological or even commercial gain.  This is especially true of Malcolm X, who is not only a historical and political icon but in many ways a “celebrity” remembered by many primarily for his style and attitude.

The only real and meaningful tribute we can pay to Malcolm X is to follow his example. Click To Tweet

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Podcast: We Are All Slaves of Allah | Hakeemah Cummings

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Once, while in class at college, an Arab girl I was sitting next to said quite loudly to another, “Hey, give this paper to the ‘abdah” referring to a black girl in the class. I wondered if she was even aware of what she was saying in English. Did she think that ‘abdah translates to “black girl” and never thought of its true meaning? Did she think that I didn’t understand?

 

Read by Zeba Khan, originally posted here on Muslimmatters.org.

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#Current Affairs

When Racism Goes Viral: The Coronavirus And Modern Muslim Orientalism

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Lumping an entire people together for collective punishment, reveling in their suffering, and sniggering at their food choices isn’t an exercise in science, Sunnah, or compassion. It’s good, old-fashioned orientalism.

In the eight weeks since it was identified, the 2019 novel coronavirus has infected nearly 12,000 people in China alone, 200 of whom did not survive. Symptoms are flu-like in nature, and global side effects include acute, apparently contagious… racism.

Online, in Muslim as well as non-Muslim spaces, social media feeds are sniggering “Eww, you eat gross things! Of course you’ll get gross diseases!” In the midst of this human tragedy, orientalist tropes about the Chinese are being sloppily repackaged as health concerns over the coronavirus, and served with a side of bat soup.

Yes, bat soup.

The coronavirus in question is found in bats, and thanks to the scientific expertise of social media, videos of Chinese people consuming anything from bat soup to baby mice and rats are popping up as “proof” of the disease’s cause.

However the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans, the initial source of the outbreak seems to have originated from the Wuhan Seafood market, where a number of employees and a few shoppers were the first casualties to the infection. The 2019-nCoV is moving from person to person the same way the flu does, and what a person eats – or doesn’t eat – has no bearing on whether they contract the virus or not.

In an article titled, No, Coronavirus Was Not Caused by ‘Bat Soup’–But Here’s What Researchers Think May Be to Blame, Health.com writes:

“Coronaviruses in general are large family of viruses that can affect many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases, those viruses are also zoonotic, which means they can pass between humans and animals—as was the case with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory system (SARS), two severe coronaviruses in people.

Initially, this novel coronavirus was believed to have started in a large seafood or wet market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. But a large number of people diagnosed with the virus reportedly didn’t have exposure to the wet markets, indicating that person-to-person spread of the virus is also occurring. However, it’s still possible that the novel coronavirus began with an infected animal at the market—and then went on to person-to-person transmission once people were infected.”

Being uncomfortable with things you’ve never considered edible before isn’t necessarily a racist reaction. When my husband told me he ate a chocolate-covered cricket once, I hid my toothbrush for a week, but that’s not what’s happening right now. There is a deadly virus threatening a group of people, and the internet sees fit to make fun of them. Why? Because orientalism.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.Click To Tweet

The inferiorizing feature is step one, because in order to position yourself as a winner, the other guy has to be a loser in some way.

The otherizing is the step 2, and both steps are important because if you say that your little brother is a loser, in the end you’re still family and you’ve got his back. This would be inferiorizing, but not otherizing.

But if you say that other kind of guy is a loser, then you have no common ground. And when the other kind of guy is in trouble, you need only gloat and make nasty comments on Twitter. That’s inferiorizing with otherizing. Orientalism can be loosely translated as US vs THEM, normal versus weird, and local versus invasive foreign, or exotic.

The otherizing of orientalism is so subconsciously embedded in people that it even creates auditory illusions to maintain the “otherization” of the subject being viewed. As crazy as that sounds, everyone has their own experience. Mine for just last month played out as follows. A homeless man approached my window and said “Ma’am, do you have two dollars?”

I smiled and responded to him, “I have exactly two dollars!”

As I dug around for my wallet, he cocked his head and said, “Your accent. There’s something different about it. Something… foreign, exotic?”

“It’s Chicago,” I said, handing him two dollars.

He blinked a few times. “What’s Chicago?”

“My accent. It’s Chicagoan. English is my first language. My accent is from Chicago.”

He narrowed his eyes at me suspiciously, this gatekeeper of Chicagoness. “What part of Chicago?”

“North side, Lincolnwood area,” I said. “I grew up on Devon Ave.”

“Pulaski Park!” he beamed, pointing to himself. “I’m from Chicago too!”

We smiled at each other, basking for a moment in our mutual Chicagoness. Then I waved and drove away, adding his insistence of my  exotic“otherness” to the dozens of other peoples’ who have heard my perfectly flat, perfectly blandly midwestern accent and perceived something foreign. I call that one “hearing with your eyes.”

I have lost track of people who have tried to insist that I have an accent. One woman even went so far as to imply that I was lying about being a native English speaker, that I must have some other first language, because there’s “Something else in there, I can hear something foreign! But you’re very articulate though.”

(To form your own opinion on my exotic accent or the lack thereof, visit the MuslimMatters podcast here!)

Compliments like “You’re so articulate!” or “You’re so different!” give you partial credit for your exceptionality, while still discrediting every other member of your general race, religion, region, or hemisphere. The left-handed compliment has a long history, and follows a predictable pattern. Take, for example, this excerpt from The Talisman, a crusade-genre fiction published in 1825.

In this scene, our gallant, invading knight finds himself unable to defeat the enemy “Saracen,” aka – Muslim defender of the Holy Land. In grudging admiration, the knight concedes:

“I well thought…that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange it is to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it.”

Translation: “Your people and your religion are the spawn of satan, but not you. I speak not thus of thee in particular. You’re so cool for Muslim!” Spoiler alert: turns out it’s Salahuddin.

From the crusades to colonialism to America’s chronic invasion of Muslim lands, the misrepresentation of people from Over There is both a cause and effect of policy decisions. Orientalism creates the “bad guys” necessary to justify the “good guy” response by “proving” the bad guys to be so weird, inferior, and intrinsically bad that it becomes necessary to call for the good guy cavalry. That gives the good guys permission to take over the resources that the bad guys are too incompetent to manage anyway, and overthrow the governments they’re too stupid to run, and free the women that they’re too barbaric to appreciate.

One excellent reference on this is Dr. Jack Shaheen’s brilliant documentary Reel Bad Arabs, which summarizes a hundred years of Hollywood’s orientalist portrayal of “Arab Land,” a mythical, exotic, treacherous, incompetent, and seductive place, whose capital city is apparently Agrabah which, in 2015, a public policy poll found that 30% of GOP voters were in favor of bombing.

Another side effect of orientalism is the refusal to allow for individual accountability and the insistence on collective blame. “Western” men who harm and oppress women are rightly labeled as jerks and abusers who don’t represent Western morals, ethics, or ideals through their individual actions. Same for white racists, extremists, and criminals in general.

However, Muslims jerks who do the same are awarded representative status of the entire Muslim population (1.9 billion) and Islamic tradition (1441 years). The perception as all Muslim men based on only the worst of them seems ludicrous on paper, and such generalizations are no longer acceptable to make about race, but are still perfectly popular to make about minority religious groups.

Orientalism enables the belief that Muslims are terrible terrorists who are terrible to their women. If they say otherwise, it’s because their religion is terrible and lying about it is part of the religion too. They don’t deserve their own lands or resources, they’ll just use them for more terribleness. We should go in there and save them from themselves! And also, make lots of predictable, idiotic romance novels and movies in which a poor, beautiful Oriental Female is rescued through the power of Love and Freedom. Because just as violence is the natural state of the Muslim man, oppression is the natural state of the Muslim woman. Miskeena. Habibti.

Human beings can be horrible to each other. No ethnic, religious, or racial group is any exception. The problem arises when individual horribleness is elevated to collective attribution, and that collective attribution is used to justify collective punishment, as well as collective suffering.

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)?Click To Tweet

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)? What about snails, frog legs, crawfish, chocolate covered ants, and those tequila-inspired lollipops with an actual worm candied in the center?

The filtering effect of orientalism means that our weird foods – be it maghz masala and katakat– are quirky and fun, but their weird foods are disgusting and totally cause to celebrate infectious disease.

If the tables were turned and a deadly coronavirus originated from say, Saudi Arabia, would it be alright to ridicule Muslims for what they ate, or how they lived? What if that specific coronavirus actually originated in camels.

Yes, camels. The Islamophobic internet would have a field day with that one. Yes, we ride camels and prize camels and even eat camels – and they’re delicious I might add – but if a deadly virus originated from camels, found its way into humans in the Middle East, and from there caused death and destruction in other countries- would it be our fault? Would we deserve scorn? Would the suffering and death of our people be justified by how “gross” it is that we eat camels, even if only a few us actually do, and the rest of us prefer shawarma?

Pause for dramatic emphasis. Open the Lancet. Read.

“Human coronavirus is one of the main pathogens of respiratory infection. The two highly pathogenic viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, cause severe respiratory syndrome in humans and four other human coronaviruses induce mild upper respiratory disease. The major SARS-CoV outbreak involving 8422 patients occurred during 2002–03 and spread to 29 countries globally.

MERS-CoV emerged in Middle Eastern countries in 2012 but was imported into China.

The sequence of 2019-nCoV is relatively different from the six other coronavirus subtypes but can be classified as betacoronavirus. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can be transmitted directly to humans from civets and dromedary camels, respectively, and both viruses originate in bats, but the origin of 2019-nCoV needs further investigation.

The mortality of SARS-CoV has been reported as more than 10% and MERS-CoV at more than 35%.”

MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome –Coronavirus emerged in 2012, traveling from bats to camels to humans, killing 35% of the people who contracted it. It originated in Saudi Arabia and found its way across the continent all the way to China. So could the Chinese internet have been justified in ridiculing our deaths because we ate camels?

Could they legitimize posting “gross” videos of whole, pit-roasted camels? Could they say it was science, not racism, as they moved on to our other “gross” foods, like locusts and the dhab lizard?

Read more about the Sunnah of the Dhab Lizard.

Locusts and lizards have as much to do with MERS-CoV as mice and rats have to do with 2019 novel coronavirus, but doesn’t our grossness in general mean we deserve our fate?

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.Click To Tweet

Orientalism is alive and kicking both of our communities in the teeth — Chinese and Muslim – but to further complicate the matter, there’s the ongoing genocide of the Uighur Muslims in China, and that’s rooted in orientalism too.

The Chinese government has imprisoned 3 million Muslims in concentration camps, a number equal to the entire Muslim population in America. It is not unexpected that some people wishfully assume the 2019 novel coronavirus epidemic to be the comeuppance that the Chinese government deserves for its cruelty, but that’s sad and wrong on many, many levels.

People cheering the coronavirus on fail to understand a few very big, very important things about the situation. I will list them, because the internet is no place for subtlety and these points have to stand out for those who would sail over the entire article so they can trash it in the comments. They are as follows:


  1. The entire population of China is no more responsible for the actions of its government than you are for yours. If you hate Donald Trump, his border wall, the separation of families, the Muslim Ban, cuts to medical benefits, and corruption in general but STILL live in America, then you understand that a great, frustrated, and powerless mass of citizens can have little to no effect on its government’s choices. Such is politics. Such is life. Such is China too.

    This guy is all our fault specifically. So I hope we all die of the flu.

  2. The coronavirus’s lethality is exponentially higher in people with poor health and weak immune systems. Like the flu, the coronavirus is overwhelmingly most lethal to children and elderly. The coronavirus is not targeted at, nor limited to the Chinese leadership for its crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, that is not how epidemics work.
  3.  The spread of Coronavirus – like all respiratory infections – is greatly accelerated through close living quarters as well as poor sanitation and hygiene. The 3 million Uighur Muslims interred by the Chinese government are imprisoned in distressingly cruel, cramped, and unhygienic conditions. Their close proximity as well as population density mean that if the virus makes it into the captive population, hundreds of thousands – if not millions of Muslims – would die. Don’t root for the coronavirus. It does not discriminate based on religion or race, even if you do.

And now we come full circle. When Muslims ridicule the Chinese for “being gross,” they are simply echoing the same racist, Orientalist talking points that labeled the Chinese – and later the Japanese – as the “Yellow Peril,” a filthy, faceless, monolithic mass deserving all of our scorn and none of the individual considerations that we insist on for ourselves.

Given the abuse that Muslims have been subject to by orientalist tropes, it should make us all the more aware of its dangerous cultural impact. We know what it’s like to be looked down on, laughed at, and blamed for our own suffering. We know what it feels like to have our foods gagged at, our accents mocked, and our cultural clothing turned into Halloween costumes.

Worse still, we know, very painfully and very currently, what it looks like for an entire people to be treated as a disease in and of themselves. China has declared Islam to be a contagious disease, an “ideological illness,” and on this very basis is it holding 3 million Muslims hostage. In an official statement loaded with situational irony, the Chinese Community Party officially stated,

“Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.

… There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. That is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind … Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology and not seeking treatment is like being infected by a disease that has not been treated in time, or like taking toxic drugs … There is no guarantee that it will not trigger and affect you in the future.” – source

The dangers of racism and orientalism are real, and the victims number the millions. Knowing how much damage orientalism causes in our community, we must commit to never, ever stooping to the same ideologies that are used to justify our own oppression. No matter how many bats people eat, or how evil their government can be, people are individual people. We stand on equal footing, equally deserving of respect, compassion, and acknowledgement of our humanity.



The Orientalist mindset that diminishes and distances us from each other strips us of our dignity, whether we are its victim, or its the perpetrator. Such racism is antithetical to the Prophetic compassion and mercy that Islam demands from us as Muslims. When Muslims celebrate the suffering of innocent people as some sort of epidemiological revenge for the suffering of innocent people, that’s not Islam.

That’s prejudice.

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