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UAE Peace Forum is Just the Tip of the Iceberg of Some American Muslim Ulema Undermining Their Followers

Hamzah Raza

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On December 5th, 2018 the government of the United Arab Emirates sponsored the “Annual Conference of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies” in Abu Dhabi. The forum began in 2014 as a means of countering the effects of the Arab Spring, in which young people living under tyrannical regimes around the Arab world clamored for a life of democracy, freedom, and dignity. The UAE fearing that such a call for justice would spread to its own borders set up this forum in order to undermine such calls for democracy in and around the Arab world. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, the vice president of this forum, has taken a lot of flack over the past few days. But flack over American Muslim leaders undermining the American Muslim community at the expense of hegemonic powers should extend beyond this event and just Hamza Yusuf. Despite their work on Islam in the West, religious tolerance and building institutions, numerous traditionalist ulema including Hamza Yusuf, Mohamed Magid, Hisham Kabbani, and Talib Shareef have all supported a political agenda that hurts the American Muslims they aim to serve.

Before laying out this disastrous political agenda, it is critical to note the historic hesitation that ulema have had with any sort of partnership with or appointment by government authorities. Wael Hallaq writes in his book, “Introduction to Islamic Law” that:

“[Ulema] began to equate government and political power with vice and corruption. This attitude originated sometime around the end of the seventh century[about 80 years after hijrah]…As of this time, and continuing for nearly a millennium thereafter, the theme of judicial appointment as an adversity, even a calamity, for those so designated became a recurring detail…Jurists are reported to have wept—sometimes together with family members–upon hearing the news of their appointment; others went into hiding, or preferred to be whipped rather than accept office.”

Ulema understood that their authority as religious scholars could be used to legitimize repressive governments. It is for this reason that numerous scholars including Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shaafi, Imam Malik ibn Anas, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Imam Jafar As Sadiq, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Qayyim, and Al-Suhrawardi spent time tortured and/or in jail as a result of their opposition to government policies. Any position within or partnership with a government was viewed with extreme suspicion, both by the ulema and the masses that followed them.

Even Shaykh Hamza Yusuf himself stated that “Muslims are very wary of any scholar who associates closely with a government, and they always have been…Because governments never do that out of the graciousness of their good will. They co-opt.”

Unfortunately, it seems like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s own relationship with the UAE has led him, over the years, to join in the UAE’s morally bankrupt positions on both the Muslim ban, anti-racist movements in the United States, and the dog-whistling of the Muslim Brotherhood to crush dissent. While Muslims and civil rights organizations around the United States were disgusted at the passing of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, the government of the UAE supported this ban that codified Islamophobia into law. Hamza Yusuf, arguably the most prominent Islamic scholar in the United States, did not utter a word in regard to the ban. Zaytuna College, the first and only accredited Islamic university in the United States which Hamza Yusuf is president of, also joined in Hamza Yusuf’s silence on this disastrous legislation.

The UAE has also sought to ally itself with Trump’s far-right agenda, scheduling secret meetings with Trump and other military contractors in an effort to get American-made weapons to use against civilians in Yemen. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, when asked at the 2016 Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference whether Muslims should ally with the Black Lives Matter movement, infamously replied, referring to the United States as “one of the least racist societies in the world” and disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement using the typical Fox News line that they do not say anything about Black on Black crime. The claim that the United States is “one of the least racist societies in the world” is considerably ridiculous considering that an unarmed Black person is killed in the United States every 28 hours. Some have defended his positions, emphasizing his call for personal reform.

In the same RIS speech, Yusuf also criticized political Islamic movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, suggesting that they, along with literalism, are what gave birth to ISIS. The government of the UAE has labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. It has even declared the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest and oldest Muslim civil rights organization in the United States, a terrorist organization, based on non-existent, conspiratorial links to the Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE’s defamation of CAIR has been repeated by some of the most virulent Islamophobes in the United States, such as Texas Senator, Ted Cruz.

Such a guilt-by-association link to the Muslim Brotherhood is problematic because the Muslim Brotherhood is an intellectual movement more than a centralized political party. While militant organizations that are labeled as terrorist groups by the United States government such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad come out of the Muslim Brotherhood, other Brotherhood-linked organizations reject violence and embrace Westernization and liberal democracy. For example, the Brotherhood-linked Ennahda movement in Tunisia has been credited with helping “drive democracy forward” in a post-Arab Spring Tunisia. The late anthropologist, Saba Mahmood, in her book “The Politics of Piety” outlined how women affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt were empowered through participation in the organization. Many have theorized that affiliation with this decentralized organization called the “Muslim Brotherhood” is used by the government of the UAE to jail dissidents who may have zero affiliation or even familiarity with the organization.

Hamza Yusuf, in another speech, joined the government of the UAE in such incoherent attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood and broader political Islamic movements. He alleged that Sayyid Qutb, a prominent intellectual inspiration of the Muslim Brotherhood, was “a Marxist before he became Muslim.” Such a claim is completely false. Qutb was a Muslim his whole life, and never identified as a Marxist, although he may have read Marxist thought, which many intellectuals, both non-Marxist and Marxist, have done (Note: I have read Marx and reject the ideology. I would be surprised if Hamza Yusuf has not read any Marxist thought). Hamza Yusuf then stated that political Islam is merely “repackaged Marxism” and closed his talk by asserting that Marx was a racist who compared the Algerians to apes. Unlike Yusuf’s statement of Qutb’s Marxism before his “conversion” to Islam (which never happened because Qutb was never non-Muslim), I was unable to verify the truth of his claim regarding Marx and the Algerians. But I did contact five scholars of Marxist history, who claim to have never heard of such an assertion. In this speech, it seems that Sh Hamza Yusuf is making preposterous claims not based in reality to undermine such movements, steered by the UAE government.

Yusuf also claimed the government of the UAE was an example of a government committed to “tolerance.” This too is a ludicrous claim considering that the UAE jailed and tortured nearly 100 Emirati activists in the midst of the Arab spring, merely because they sought reforms. Human Rights Watch has also expressed “grave concern” over forced disappearances and torture in the Emirates. Amnesty International has also accused the UAE of war crimes as a result of the role that they have played in the bombing and blockade of Yemen, in addition to beatings, electric shocks, and sexual abuse in UAE-run prisons in Yemen. Over 1300 civilians have died in Yemen as a result of bombing, and an additional 50,000 children died from starvation in 2017. Experts warn that 13 million people in Yemen face starvation in “a famine of biblical proportions.” Yusuf in his praise for the UAE has not mentioned any of these facts, which reveal it to actually be one of the most repressive regimes on earth. Moreover, just like with regard to the Muslim ban, Hamza Yusuf has been silent on the oppression in Yemen too .

Without any statements by Shaykh Yusuf in explaining his silence or defending premier American Muslim organizations against smears, American Muslims are left connecting dots.

In addition to Hamza Yusuf, Hisham Kabbani, a Lebanese-American spiritual leader, who has made large leeway in African-American communities, too has backed an agenda that harms American Muslims. In a speech to the State Department in 2001, he stated that 80% of mosques in the United States are backed by extremist ideologies. He also cheered on George W Bush’s war on terror and was particularly avid in his support for the American invasion of Iraq. His predecessor, Nazim Al Haqqani, went as far as to declare that George W Bush and Tony Blair were awliya (reaching a level of sainthood) because they invaded Iraq. According to his obituary, Haqqani also asserted that Prince Charles had embraced Sufism in his heart and was going abolish the UK’s parliament and that all of the Middle East would be under one sultanate by 2011(none of these things ever happened).

Kabbani also established WORDE, a shady “American security organization” with Hedieh Mirahmadi, who also ran his Islamic Supreme Council of America. Mirahmadi is also a board member of the neoconservative and anti-Muslim organization, “The Committee on the Present Danger,” which includes individuals such as Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney and Newt Gingrich on their board. Regarding Muslims, Frank Gaffney said that “They essentially, like termites, hollow out the structure of the civil society and other institutions, for the purpose of creating conditions under which the jihad will succeed.” Gaffney also claimed that Barack Obama is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood and engaged in “the greatest bait and switch since Adolf Hitler.” James Zogby said that “Daniel Pipes is to Muslims what David Duke is to African Americans.” For a man who claims to lead Muslims to ally with the people in this country most hell-bent on hurting Muslims leads one to wonder what the political commitments of Kabbani are.

Imam Mohamed Magid, the former President of ISNA, too was present at this “peace forum.” His presence at the forum troubled many who know the heavy amount of good efforts he has made for the community. But beyond his participation in this event whitewashing the UAE’s violations of human rights, Magid has also supported FBI within his mosque. He is currently Executive Imam of the All Dulles Area Muslims Society (ADAMS), which is one of the largest and most prominent group of mosques in the United States. Time Magazine in 2005 noted that he “regularly opens doors for [FBI] agents trying to cultivate contacts in his Muslim community.” Magid has clarified that he meets with the FBI regularly but these meetings  “convey … that our Muslim community needs to be treated as partners, not as suspects,” and Muslims need to “work with law enforcement to preserve our civil liberties and civil rights.” Imam Magid also emphasized that he and other Muslim leaders did “not use these monthly meetings to report upon the activities of our community members.”

ADAMS has also participated in a “Junior Special Agents Program” which is run by the FBI and targets fifth and sixth-grade students at the mosque with the stated goal of helping them develop “a violent-free style of life.” Only the most virulent Islamophobe would believe that 10 and 11 year old Muslim kids need to be taught how to live “a violent-free style of life.” For Imam Magid and ADAMS to allow such a program in the space of a masjid represents a significant lack of political literacy of the politics of power, racism, and Islamophobia.

Additionally, Imam Magid has also sits on the board of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. The Council consists of a partnership with the Islamic Society of North America and the American Jewish Committee, an organization that recently visited and met with numerous leadership in the UAE, including the Foreign Minister of the UAE, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The organization has defended the murder of peaceful protests in Gaza this past summer and even argued that progressive Jews who criticize Israel’s oppression of Palestinians are anti-Semites. Despite the fact that progressive Jews such as Rabbi Michael Lerner, who spoke in his eulogy at the funeral of Muhammad Ali about the importance of justice for Palestinians, have denounced the AJC, Imam Magid continues to sit on a board with them. This is strange as there are a plethora of Jewish American organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Bend the Arc, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and If Not Now, all of whom are great for building interfaith relations between Muslims and Jews while not throwing Palestinians under the bus in the process.

Imam Talib Shareef has also undermined the Muslim community through his projects. Shareef is distinct from Hamza Yusuf, Hisham Kabbani, and Mohamed Magid in the outlook that he comes from. He did not study for a long time overseas. In fact, most of his Islamic education comes from being a student of the late Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad who transformed his father’s organization to Sunni Islam, in 1976. Imam Talib is Imam of Masjid Muhammad in Washington DC, a mosque inaugurated by Malcolm X when he was a member of the Nation of Islam, and known as “The Nation’s Mosque.”

Imam Talib, too, was present at UAE’s peace forum, sharing a stage with neoconservatives, Zionists, Evangelical Christians, and Arab despots. One could argue that these people are those most responsible for lack of peace in the world. One of the groups present was the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has a long history of anti-Palestinian and anti-Black racism. The Anti-Defamation League is one of five organizations that foster exchange programs in which American police officers travel to Israel and learn tactics from the Israeli military. These are the same tactics that have been used to help maintain a brutal military occupation of Palestinians for over half a century. In April of 2011, the St Louis County Police Department, which murdered Michael Brown, embarked on a weeklong training in Israel facilitated by the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL also helped spy on behalf of the Apartheid South African government in the 1980s. In his book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, Sasha Polakow-Suransky writes that ”As the anti-apartheid campaign its attention to Israeli links with South Africa, the ADL entered the propaganda frat, publically attacking Nelson Mandela’s ANC.” Nathan Perlmutter, then National Director of the ADL, even co-authored an article with Apartheid South Africa’s President, PW Botha, lambasting Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress as “totalitarian, anti-humane, anti-democratic, anti-Israel and anti-American.”

Beyond this participation with such racist organizations, Imam Talib’s mosque has also taken CVE funding from the Department of Homeland Security. The Countering Violent Extremism initiative has been criticized not only for its lack of effectiveness but also for the manner in which it has made American Muslims as exceptional in their susceptibility to terrorism. Many civil rights groups such as the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Center for Constitutional Rights, and American Civil Liberties Union have condemned CVE. It has even referred to as a “Cointelpro 2.0” referring to the program that illegally spied on and surveilled influential figures in Talib’s own organization such as Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad.

For an individual who literally heads a mosque founded by Malcolm X, it is a shame to see him cooperating with government agencies that have undermined Black people and Muslims in the past. It is truly disappointing to see him going to “peace conferences” with those who seek to undermine the aspirations of American Muslims, African Americans, Palestinians, Yemenis, and other Arab people advocating for a life of basic freedom and democracy.

Ultimately, it is sad that American Muslims have not been able to find a grounded, political agenda to live by. Rather, prominent imams around the country find themselves palling around with some of the most repressive regimes in the world. Perhaps the most saddening part about this is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There is a rich history of Muslims around the world leading the fight against oppression, as opposed to legitimizing it. There lies the example Islamic anti-apartheid movements in South Africa led by figures such as Farid Esack and Ebrahim Rasool, in addition to Islamic scholars such as Emir Abdelkader, Amadou Bamba, and Omar Mukhtar fighting colonialism. One can also look to the examples of Imam Husayn fighting Yazid or the Prophet Moses 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) resisting the Pharaoh. The reality is that there is a rich legacy of scholars who resisted oppression. As to Islamic scholars who collaborated with oppressors, following generations have left them in the dustbins. If American Muslim ulema such as Hamza Yusuf, Talib Shareef, Hisham Kabbani, and Mohamed Magid continue to collaborate with oppressive governments in ways that obviously harm Muslims, they too will be condemned and forgotten by future generations.

Hamzah Raza is a graduate student at Harvard University and an alumnus of Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt, he received highest honors for his thesis on the role that South African Muslims played in the anti-apartheid struggle. He has been previously been published at the Huffington Post, Alternet, the Grayzone Project, Raw Story, and the Tennessean. Follow him on Twitter @raza_hamzah

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abu Musa

    December 20, 2018 at 8:17 PM

    Great piece Alhamdulillah, put together well and highlights the key issues.

  2. Avatar

    ussif

    December 20, 2018 at 10:51 PM

    Great article, well documented Barak allahu fik. Did you try to contact Hamza Yusuf or the others for a reply?

  3. Avatar

    Farhat Ahmed

    December 21, 2018 at 12:09 AM

    Great Article Mr.Brown. This is something that has frustrated me for so long, religious scholars being subservient to human rulers and not to a sincere commitment of justice as commanded by Allah(S.W.T). We need more discourse like this to revive the spirit of early Muslimeen

  4. Avatar

    DI

    December 22, 2018 at 9:23 PM

    Hamzah,

    I don’t know much about your background but I think it is too easy to criticize ulema. I would prefer to conceal their faults more than anything. (As an aside: you quoted Farid Esack so you may want to read this: http://masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/esack.htm)

    Here is the problem criticizing ulema involved in this project.

    We act as if we elected them as our political leaders and they are beholden to us. They are not; they are beholden to Allah. Their duty as ulema is to establish the fardh and disseminate Islamic teaching. That’s it.

    Ulema are an endangered species. If all ulema in the world acted as revolutionaries how many ulema do you think would survive? And when that happens, who would teach your kids the deen and who would lead your salah and do your janaza?

    Muslim history is more than fighting oppression. Omar Muktar ended up the same way as Malcolm X – a shaheed. We have many shuhada amongst ulema. Islam in our times is about survival because our religion is the only valuable resource we have. Fighting oppression is a luxury. You likely would not be a Muslim today if it were not for the ulema in the past who did NOT fight the British but chose to continue tarbiya and teaching as means of resistance. They kept Islam alive rather than diving head first into oblivion. Quietism is about survival.

    I know that isn’t as romantic but that is the realistic view of things. For my own self, I hope the ulema at the UAE forum are playing the rulers, influencing and manipulating them behind the scenes for the best interests of the Muslims. All we can do is pray for them to have a positive influence or no negative influence on the Muslims at all.

    di.

    • Avatar

      Manisha

      December 24, 2018 at 9:25 AM

      That’s a brilliant reflection DI.
      Sometimes those criticizing don’t even bring solutions to the table. Nor do they know the intentions of those they criticize.
      If boycott (and not engagement) was always the answer, you might as well go live in a cave.
      Not to mention the aforementioned Shaykh did boycott a visit to the Whitehouse as she Ulema went, and some refused.

      If you cherry pick ? facts and not put them into context, you end up with bias that is no different to its polar opposite.
      Some good points in the article, however it’s (brotherhood) bias gives it a D – at best.

      I guess Havard don’t help when you’ve got things inside you that you’ll never change.

  5. Avatar

    Fritz

    December 24, 2018 at 10:13 AM

    This is a little too polemic. If you are going to write an article like this you have to posset the arguments from the other side otherwise – at times – this read like an incoherent rant.

    The real question is the nature of how to engage without necessarily condoning. At some levels, all of us will have to do this. You haven’t really explored this in any detail. As DI has mentioned, sometimes there is no ideal situation where you can just jump and take an adversarial position all the time on everything.

    Also, lets not forget, the prophet

  6. Avatar

    Wulf Nesthead

    March 2, 2019 at 5:33 PM

    As some others have observed, a piece like this has limited utility. Reducing organizations or even entire countries to those specific aspects or historical positions which one finds problematic is at best a questionable strategy. Guilt by association is likewise less than helpful, especially when we are trying to promote dialogue with institutions which, like it or not, are in power. The world is by its nature full of individuals who may not necessarily see eye to eye. Making a point of condemning the faults of those at the table is less than constructive. We will hardly get a hearing if we were busy inveighing against every sin of the hosts.
    If we wait until those in power are all righteous men and women before sitting down with them, we will be waiting for a very long time. Some of the scholars mentioned here are also some of the greatest ‘ulema to have blessed our soil. They have an immense job to do. I suspect that to decry the idea of political involvement by individual ‘ulema and then accuse them of betrayal for not holding forth on every political question under the sun, or for not holding specific opinions which agree with our own, may be an indiscretion.betrayal
    Meng-tse, whom the barbarians call “Mencius,” wrote about a man who was so concerned with rectitude, he would not associate with anyone remotely connected to unrighteous behaviour. As a result he lived his life in isolation and never accomplished anything. Ever.

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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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