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Unsolicited: Online Sexual Harassment Poisons Social Media For Sisters In Faith

The vast majority of Muslim men will be horrified by these stories and recognize how inappropriate and un-Islamic it is to contact any woman in a manner that is offensive or vulgar.

Muslim woman on laptop sexual harassment

By Laura El Alam

When Grace* started posting inspirational videos and articles on her public Facebook page, her intention was to reach a non-Muslim audience and show them the beauty of Islam.  After all, as a former agnostic who had considered organized religions “distasteful,” she could understand the mindset of many fellow Americans who were suspicious of – or misinformed about- Islam.  In her posts, Grace shared the story of her conversion to Islam, highlighted lessons from the Qur’an, talked about the pillars of faith, and generally tried to make Islam more accessible and comprehensible to non-Muslims.  While potentially thousands of non-Muslims benefited from her educational material, her noble efforts were derailed by an unlikely source: Muslim men. 

In public comments and private messages, Grace found herself receiving a surprising amount of unsolicited flirting, sexual comments and images, and even threats.  “All of this made me realize I couldn’t reach my target audience on social media,” explains Grace. “Nearly all the followers I was getting were Muslim men! I have 3,000 likes, and most are Muslim men. My target audience was non-Muslims, but Muslim men sabotaged my efforts and embarrassed me publicly through comments. It was frustrating and disheartening.” 

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Perhaps she might have ignored and blocked the annoying messages and persevered in her mission, but one man took his online assault to another level.  He began stalking Grace (who blocked him), then her husband (who also blocked him), and finally her parents (who were shocked and terrified). Through online messages to all of those people, he called Grace vile names, sent explicit photos, and unleashed words that were both angry and sexual. It caused Grace and her entire family an enormous amount of stress and anger.  “My parents were so shaken up that once they found mysterious cigarette butts behind their house and they truly thought the guy had come to their house and was outside it at night smoking cigarettes.”

After the ordeal, Grace’s husband stopped supporting her online dawah efforts. “My husband didn’t like me being a public presence,” she said. “He asked me to stop making videos because he felt it was soliciting unwanted attention. He clearly put the onus on me. He didn’t shame me or anything overt, but in his mind, my face being in the public was the obvious reason I was receiving unwanted and inappropriate attention and contact.”

Some people might think that Grace’s example is an extreme one. Surely not every Muslimah who has a social media presence experiences such offensive treatment from Muslim men or people pretending to be Muslim men?

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Unfortunately, the phenomenon is extremely common. Umm Ibrahim of the United Kingdom is another example of a Muslimah who found online sexual harassment in an unlikely place:  an Islamic website.  “I’ve seen messages of a highly sexual nature sent to an Islamic page which I help admin,” she reports.  “A few times I have encountered men posing as women in order to have chats of a sensitive nature with other women. They will pose as a woman having marital problems and will ask to have a chat via Messenger. Usually, this chat will ask for advice regarding intimacy.”

In addition to being an administrator of a website, Umm Ibrahim is also a writer. “If I have been involved in an online discussion or if I have had an article published, I can anticipate an increase in messages,” she says.   “Discovering the spam folder on Facebook Messenger was somewhat of a revelation. I had dozens of messages from Muslim men asking to chat, asking if I was married, and asking if I was interested in getting married. I also get a lot of friend requests from men. They are always Muslim men, based on name and location.”

Professional writer Ameera* shares a similar story.  “I never used to receive unsolicited messages from Muslim men until I started having articles published on Islamic websites,” she says.  “Suddenly, shortly after my first article was published, my inbox was full of men wanting to ‘discuss Islam with me,’ ‘ask me a few questions,’ or compliment me on my hijab.  Unfortunately, it didn’t stop at flirtation. Once I opened a pending message that I thought was from a local Facebook buy and sell group, but this one particular message turned out to be a pornographic video sent by a man in Egypt, whose FB profile picture had words from the Qur’an! I closed and deleted the message immediately and blocked the man, but the disgusting image is seared in my brain.  I felt — and still, feel — violated.”

“I have received unwanted flirting and a lot of sexual innuendo from men I don’t even know,” confides Salama,* a 20-year-old graduate student in the United States. “I received messages from one person, specifically talking about how he wanted to have sex with me. Granted I didn’t even have any [profile] pics. He was a complete stranger. It was completely unwarranted. I cannot think of a particular reason for why I was targeted,” she adds. “I do know that he asked a simple question on a Muslim forum, and I answered it. I guess that’s when he decided it was okay to privately message me.” 

These anecdotes might seem like an indictment of Muslim men in general; however, I believe that those individuals who harass women online constitute a tiny minority of Muslim men. The vast majority of Muslim men will be horrified by these stories and recognize how inappropriate and un-Islamic it is to contact any woman in a manner that is offensive or vulgar.

Online sexual harassment is certainly not unique to the Muslim community. It is a global problem with women, universally, experiencing sexualized forms of abuse at much higher rates than men. According to a 2017 Online Harassment study by the Pew Research Center, “Some 21% of women ages 18 to 29 report being sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than double the share among men in the same age group (9%). In addition, roughly half (53%) of young women ages 18 to 29 say that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for.”

Muslims, whose religion’s main characteristic is modesty, should be completely disassociated with any form of depravity, online or in face-to-face interactions.  Such behavior is antithetical to our core beliefs, so it was with confusion and disappointment that I embarked upon this necessary but unpleasant exposé. 

Unfortunately, there are many brothers who, while condemning online harassment per se, still manage to place the blame anywhere but on their fellow men.  They are quick to assume that the woman in question has provoked the harassment in some way. When Muslim women speak up about being abused online, the primary response they receive is, “If you don’t want comments and messages from men, then don’t show your face online.”

This thinking is unfair for several reasons. First of all, even women who do not show their faces on social media still sometimes experience unsolicited and unwanted contact. As Salama points out, “It has been proven many times, that regardless of what a woman does, some men are just predatory and will use whatever opportunity they have to try to prey on her. Covered women get harassed. Women who haven’t posted profile pics have been harassed. Uncovered women get harassed. Women from all over the world have been harassed.”

Many Muslima women — including some of the world’s most esteemed female Islamic lecturers and scholars — choose to show their face on their website, videos, and promotional brochures. They may have various reasons for doing this — Allah knows best — but it is very likely that they use their image on marketing materials or websites for the same reason that many professional men do: consumers trust a product (lecture, book, article, blog, program) more if there is a human face associated with it. People want to see who is behind the words and ideas, and this is why most flyers for Islamic lectures show pictures of the speakers, and why most articles, blogs, and books show photographs of the authors. For Muslim women, showing one’s face online is hardly ever about seduction, temptation, or loose morals. After all, it is the same face we are revealing when we walk down a public street. 

Finally, there are many women who choose to show their faces online simply because they believe they should have as much of a right to feel safe and respected in the virtual world as they do in the real world. 

Of course, as Muslims, the responsibility is on each of us to obey our Creator’s guidelines.  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has commanded women to be modest, but He has commanded the same of men. A man who is tempted by a woman’s photograph — whether or not she is dressed according to Islamic mandates — should lower his gaze. If he purposely keeps looking — and more so if he takes inappropriate action — the sin is upon him. 

In one hadith from Al-Bukhari, we learn that the Prophet was traveling with a Companion named Al-Fadl, who was a handsome youth.  A young woman from the tribe of Khath’am approached, and Al-Fadl started looking at her because her beauty attracted him. The Prophet caught al-Fadl’s chin and turned his face so that he would stop gazing at her.

It is noteworthy that the Prophet did not scold the woman for showing her face in public, nor for being too attractive. With his impeccable manners, he wordlessly and gently instructed Al-Fadl on the correct action to take when tempted by a woman’s beauty. The onus for modesty was on Al-Fadl, not the woman from Khath’am, who had approached to ask the Prophet a question.  

As Grace explains, “Men should be held responsible for their actions and be recognized as creatures capable of self-control and morality. Women have a right to exist online as they do in the real world.  What’s shameful is that Muslim men still don’t follow the advice of the Prophet Muhammad when it comes to how they view and treat women. Women never deserve to be treated [as] objects or be blamed for the actions, feelings, or frailty of men’s character.” 

She concludes, “The idea that a woman speaking about Islam is an invitation for flirting, sexual innuendos, or stalking is so wrong I don’t even know how to describe it.”

This article, I am sure, will not solve the problem of online sexual harassment of Muslim women.  It will likely not be read by the men who engage in such behaviors, and I do realize that if they have the audacity to defy their Creator, they are certainly not going to listen to me.  However, I do hope that readers will take away a few key points:

  1.  If you are tempted to blame a woman for being harassed online, think deeply about who is really at fault.  Is there any justification for sending porn, threats, or inappropriate messages to a woman?  If you truly care about the safety and morality of Muslim women, you will call out the men who are behind the harassment and do whatever you can to educate yourself and others and/or oppose the behavior when you see it.
  2. If you have young Muslim women in your life, do not assume that they will not encounter inappropriate material or receive unsolicited communications just because they primarily visit Islamic websites.  In fact, these sites seem to be a breeding ground for Muslim perverts. Teach youngsters not to open filtered or suspicious messages and not to trust strangers online, even if they appear to be their brothers in faith.
  3. If you are a convert to Islam, be especially wary of any messages you receive from unknown Muslim men. It is best to delete and block without opening them. Know that some men prey on converts in particular. Be aware that a sincere Muslim would never send sexually suggestive images or messages to a stranger, and one who does will not be a suitable husband for you. 
  4. If you are a Muslim woman who is considering having an online presence for the purpose of dawah,  be aware that online sexual harassment is a likely occupational hazard. Set strict privacy filters whenever possible, avoid opening messages from unknown people, and be prepared to block, delete, and unfriend, unapologetically.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

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For over a decade, Laura El Alam has been a frequent contributor to various Islamic magazines. In her work she frequently addresses issues related to converts' experiences, women's right in Islam, racism, and Muslim-American identity. You can follow her on Facebook at her page The Common Sense Convert and read her blog on her website Sea Glass Writing & Editing.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abu Laith Althary

    October 3, 2019 at 8:08 AM

    i think that is inapropriate by some muslim men.

    what sisters have to do in my own view, not to use videos,look upon the kind of dress,voiceless and write no men is allowed. i understand it is hard to escape from these kind of goats in the social media, but most of all keep on asking Allaah to protects you from all evil.

    may Allaah protects all.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 3, 2019 at 11:57 AM

      Asalaamu alaykum. Based on your comments, it sounds like you believe that Muslim women should not use their voices or videos on social media. As I said in the article, I find it interesting that so many Muslim men put the responsibility squarely on women to limit themselves in ways that Islam does not even command. While there are definitely standards of “haya” or modesty that ALL Muslims, male and female, are required to observe, there is no ruling against a woman speaking in a mixed audience or videotaping herself in an appropriate way. What is wrong with a Muslim woman giving a lecture online, for instance?

  2. Avatar

    Mustafa

    October 3, 2019 at 8:47 AM

    “Many Muslimas — including some of the world’s most esteemed female Islamic lecturers and scholars — choose to show their face on their website, videos, and promotional brochures. They may have various reasons for doing this — Allah knows best — but it is very likely that they use their image on marketing materials or websites for the same reason that many professional men do: consumers trust a product (lecture, book, article, blog, program) more if there is a human face associated with it. People want to see who is behind the words and ideas, and this is why most flyers for Islamic lectures show pictures of the speakers, and why most articles, blogs, and books show photographs of the authors. For Muslim women, showing one’s face online is hardly ever about seduction, temptation, or loose morals. After all, it is the same face we are revealing when we walk down a public street. ”

    This is pretty far fetched. Why is it so often the promotional ads show Muslim women relative to Muslim men? The answer seems pretty obvious.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 3, 2019 at 11:58 AM

      Asalaamu alaykum. Can you please explain what part of that paragraph you find “far fetched?”

      • Avatar

        Mustafa

        October 3, 2019 at 12:49 PM

        There’s an obvious trend or whatever you want to call it of putting a young women on promotional material. Obviously different if she happens to be the one actually doing the teaching but how often is that the case? It doesn’t help to be delusional about it. A pretty young woman’s face even in hijab sells, and Islamic education in the west is basically a business. Businesses know what they’re doing.

        • Avatar

          Laura El Alam

          October 3, 2019 at 1:43 PM

          Brother, with all due respect, your comment applies to a different topic. My article is not about whether Muslim women are being used to sell or promote merchandise. It’s about Muslim women who use social media to give dawah, publish Islamic articles, give Islamic lectures, or comment on Islamic pages. Many of those women have received unsolicited and inappropriate contact from Muslim men. Some have been threatened, harassed, and sent pornographic images that they certainly did not ask for. I am trying to raise awareness of this particular problem.

          Perhaps you could write an article supporting your opinion. I don’t disagree that women — including Muslim women who wear hijab — are often objectified in order to sell things. But there is a difference between a woman choosing to show a photo of herself in which she is dressed in a way she considers modest and in accordance with Islam, and a woman having her image used without her consent to sell a product she doesn’t even endorse. One of my main points is that Muslim women– including those who choose to use their photo online –do not deserve to be harassed. I wish the emphasis could go back on the men who are doing the harassing, instead of the women who are being harassed.

          • Avatar

            Mustafa

            October 3, 2019 at 2:05 PM

            We live in the most oversexualized culture in the history of human cultures, ever. There is no accountability online, not really. Not only that, marriage for a myriad of reasons (one of them being bad men/husbands) is possibly more difficult then it ever has been in the Ummah history. Every worst combination has combined here.

            Exactly how successful do you think a message like this will be? Seems akin, but obviously a degree different, to telling people not to steal food during a famine.

  3. Avatar

    Laura El Alam

    October 3, 2019 at 4:31 PM

    Brother, to answer your question, “Exactly how successful do you think a message like this will be?” I can only say that all writers and journalists hope that their work will have some impact on the world. No, we absolutely cannot solve all the profound problems in the world, or even in our Ummah, but we must try to do what we can, within our power.

    As the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “When you see an evil act, you have to stop it with your hand. If you can’t, then at least speak out against it with your tongue. If you can’t, then at least you have to hate it with all your heart. And this is the weakest of faith.”

    I cannot change the over-sexualized culture we live in. I cannot force men to stop harassing women. But I can raise awareness of this problem, and I hope that through this article, I will accomplish a few things:

    1. Remove the stigma of reporting harassment — When a Muslim woman complains about being harassed, she is often blamed. People (often men, but also women) assume she was “asking for it” in some way. The women I interviewed were not flirting online, visiting inappropriate websites, posting seductive photos, or doing anything that compromised their modesty. On the contrary, they were actively involved in spreading the message of Islam, yet they still experienced sexual harassment. Perhaps my article will make some people think twice before blaming a woman who is harassed. Maybe they will listen to the sister’s story first and place the blame where it belongs — on the harasser.

    2. InshaAllah some Islamic teachers, lecturers, or imams will read this article and realize that online sexual harassment is a genuine, widespread problem in our Ummah. They might give a khutba on the importance of modesty and adaab in social media. They might talk to the youth and remind them that Allah SWT sees what they do online just as He sees what they do in everyday life.

    3. I hope parents who read this will have a wake-up call about what happens online, even on Islamic websites (tragically).

    Writers’ words can potentially reach thousands upon thousands of people, and if Allah SWT believes their intentions are pure, then inshaAllah they are rewarded exponentially. I will not let defeatist thinking stop me from using my skills to try to make the world a slightly better place.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 3, 2019 at 6:36 PM

      And I would also like to add that NO woman deserves to be harassed, no matter how she is dressed.

    • Avatar

      Mustafa

      October 5, 2019 at 5:42 PM

      Woa nice answer

  4. Zeba Khan

    Zeba Khan

    October 3, 2019 at 7:01 PM

    To the people doubting the existence of this, or undermining the content of her piece please know this:

    I maintain a public Facebook page for the purposes of my work as at MuslimMatters.org, my public speaking, and special needs advocacy. My inbox is always INUNDATED – literally – flooded with notifications from people like Haji So-an-So with messages like “So cute flower,” phone numbers, and every possible misspelling of “I love you” imaginable.

    Instead of blaming Muslim women for daring to work publicly for the edification of the Ummah, or their business, or their hobbies, or the right to exist without being harassed, let’s be real. Some Muslim men behave badly. They need to behave better. Other Muslim men can help correct their behavior by:

    1. Holding them accountable for their own actions

    That’s literally it. You can’t fix a problem by refusing its due ownership.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 4, 2019 at 4:13 PM

      Thanks for letting me know. There was some good discussion going on, and then I saw how I was slandered by one brother, and the thrill was gone.

      • Avatar

        Siraaj Muhammad

        October 5, 2019 at 9:05 AM

        Appreciate you stopping by and responding. I think it’s good for everyone to hear those raw differences in real time and respond to one another’s difficult questioning about the others positions.

  5. Avatar

    Danielle

    October 4, 2019 at 8:03 PM

    Great article! Thank you for spreading awareness of this deep problem. I love the action items you have at the end. I feel bad that you had to do some explaining and sort of apologizing in your article. And even with that, the comments reflect the fragility and blindness some men seem to possess regarding this issue. I applaud you for writing this. May Allah ease the way for you and help you to continue to enrich the internet with your insights and important topics ❤️

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 4, 2019 at 8:26 PM

      Thank you so very much, sister! 💕 Your supportive words mean a great deal. May Allah SWT also bless you in your endeavors.

  6. Avatar

    Ussif

    October 4, 2019 at 9:48 PM

    Great article. I admire the courage of women that despite such harassment continue their work fi-sabbil-llah. Please continue to be vocal about this situation, it’s not acceptable in any way in our dine.
    I as a man stopped interacting in social media a long time ago, couldn’t handle all the negativity so I can’t imagine how bad it is for woman.
    Maybe this type of reminder against online or on life harassment would be more impactful in real life, in mosque or big Muslim convention.
    May Allah protect and strengthen your Iman.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 5, 2019 at 4:20 PM

      Ameen and thank you for your supportive words.

  7. Avatar

    Ahmad

    October 5, 2019 at 2:58 AM

    No doubt women suffer from this a lot more than men ever will. Hence why Allah has given us different guidelines. Hence why it is usually more encouraged for women to be home and let the man be the breadwinner. The outside world isn’t as safe for women as for men, and it will never be. Thats just the plain truth. The Internet itself is like the outside world, where you can interact with people from all over the world. I think women should continue to do as much good as they can wherever they are, but try to be realistic aswell. Don’t be over-idealistic. The reality is not always pretty and over-optimism never helps. If you know having a profile picture of your face will drag that many more lude comments to you, then perhaps remove it? Allah will deal with those that harm you, but do something to lessen the attention from them.

    For example, i study Uni from a distance. I will never choose campus over studying from a distance (from home) because i know campus reeks of imodest women that are looking for fitnah. No matter how much i curse the situation at campus, it won’t change, atleast not in a long run. So i will try to avoid those places and stay home and study from there.

    Barak Allah feeki for the article, it gives some insight to us men who don’t go through this as much.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 5, 2019 at 4:40 PM

      Asalaamu alaykum. I appreciate your perspective, brother. It’s nice to hear that you’re taking steps to minimize the temptation you feel at University by studying at home. We should all know our own limitations and weaknesses and act accordingly to protect our adherence to Islam, which it sounds like you’re doing, Alhamdullilah.

      Islam does not prohibit women from working, studying, and doing other necessary (or even enjoyable) things outside of their home. Women want to contribute their talents to the world, andthey should have the right to expect courtesy and respect from their brothers in faith, no matter where they are (in the street or online).

      The emphasis should not be on sisters taking more preventative steps (because we already do, and they don’t always work). The onus is on men to stop harassing. Pure and simple.

      Imagine this: a Muslim woman is giving a speech about Islam in an auditorium. There are men and women in the audience. Then, out of the blue, one man shoves a very innapropriate photo right in her face. Another man tells her he wants to have sex with her. Another man calls her vile names. She did nothing to provoke or invite their behavior.

      Would anyone just ignore or trivialize this scenario? No, it would be shocking and wrong. Everyone would condemn the men, right? Clearly the harassers are in the wrong; all she’s doing is giving a pious lecture. And yet, this happens ALL THE TIME on social media. Men do those exact same horrible things to Muslim women, and yet when the women complain, they are told that somehow they share the blame. That they need to be more careful, or less noticeable. Why?! Why is online harassment tolerated and blamed on women?!

      No, we are not naive to expect to be safe from harassment from our brothers in faith. In fact, Muslim men are required to be our defenders! We should absolutely be able to count on them to treat us as sisters with dignity. It is THEIR job to fix themselves, not ours.

  8. Avatar

    Faraz

    October 6, 2019 at 1:19 AM

    Assalamalaikum

    I pray for all your wellbeing.
    I usually dont comment but somethings i would like to point out. I keep on reading that responsibility/onus is on men. I think, as men, we do not deny that! Yes, men should lower their gaze. I do believe men are mostly to blame in this context. As you pointed out, those who want to be perverse dont need photos. We are not denying that.
    Yet at the same time women should not give opportunity for men to gawk or peek. Sometimes, as you mentioned there is the need to have a face to the author, scholar etc but quite often its not needed. As one commenter mentioned, picture of a young good looking woman on a poster or ad for some Islamic purpose is hardly Islamic. She is neither the author or scholar or anything yet she is the “cover photo” Its quite disheartening to come to an Islamic website or article or video and to be started up with a picture of a beautiful woman in “hijab” whats the point of that? Why? Isn’t it beating the purpose?
    Even if men who dont want to gawk and be perverse the image does have a negative impact, undeniably.
    And this goes for men as well! Posing and trying extra hard to appear attractive. Why? And Allah knows best the intentions!
    Once again, I have to reiterate that Yes quite often in these situations men are wrong. Yet to say that some women dont add fuel to the fire is disregarding the reality.

    Anyways this is my take. I might be wrong. I am open to being disagreed with and am open to alternative or opposing views
    🙂
    May Allah grant you all, all the best and May Allah purify our hearts!

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 6, 2019 at 12:43 PM

      Asalaamu alaykum. Brother, I know that “haya” or modesty is really something that many Muslims (male and female) lack these days. There are probably hundreds of reasons why men and women are interacting with less modesty online and in real life, and surely we are all compromising our own souls when we do this.

      I think it comes down to this. We are all accountable to Allah SWT for our actions. The woman who purposely seduces men will have to answer to her Rabb. The administratiors of Islamic companies or websites that use blatant sex appeal to get more clicks or customers will also have to answer for their actions. The Muslims who purposely watch material that they know will be full of inappropriate images are not fooling Allah SWT. In fact, many Muslims are making the problem exponentially worse by surrounding themselves with sexual material purposely, and then every single woman they look at — even if she’s covered — becomes an object of desire. It’s awful.

      There is no doubt that we are all surrounded by temptation every single time we open our computer, turn on TV, or swipe our phones. Men absolutely can count on being exposed to women they find attractive both online and in the street, and it may or may not be the woman’s actual intention to attract them.

      But men are not animals who must respond to basic instincts. They can choose what to do when they are aroused. And since they might very well feel attracted to women a dozen times a day or more, they should form a game plan.

      It is 100% clear that contacting them inappropriately is NOT a valid option in Islam. Harassing them in any way is even worse. Those women are human beings, not objects, and whatever feelings they inspire do not entitle men to act with impunity. So men need to do their part to purify their hearts, and we women must do our part too.

      • Avatar

        Faraz

        October 6, 2019 at 11:40 PM

        Agreed!

  9. Avatar

    Fritz

    October 10, 2019 at 6:39 AM

    “Holding them accountable” – realistically social media is a free and open platform. Its freedom gives muslim women the opportunity to speak in the first place. Its not palatable but that is the reality.

    There is no rectification to this solution. You don’t think the people doing this know they are wrong? and its mostly – from what you say – through private messaging. I think you need to get real and stop whining. No muslim men are out there condoning or promoting this kind of behaviour.

    The reality is much like I am sure muslim men will have racial/religious abuse directed at them, you will just have to deal with it. Dont like it, then leave. I am afraid thats the nature of the twisted beast that is social media.

    • Avatar

      Laura El Alam

      October 10, 2019 at 5:03 PM

      Fritz, I can’t help but wonder what kind of people have so much time on their hands that they make time to comment “get real and stop whining” on someone’s article?

      Everytime someone speaks up against injustice, oppression, corruption, or wrongdoing, there is someone else (almost always someone in a privileged position who does not feel directly affected by the problem) who tells them to “stop whining.” It accomplishes *nothing” to act so sanctimonious and insensitive . . . unless you’re the kind of person who enjoys kicking others when they’re down.

      Someday you might actually take the time to stand up for something you believe in, or try to right a wrong. If you do, I actually hope no one tells you to stop whining. I don’t believe in kicking people when they’re down.

      Why don’t you save your energy, Fritz, for something that makes a positive impact on the world?

      And by the way, if you’re just here to troll me, I won’t take the bait any longer.

  10. Avatar

    Tami

    October 12, 2019 at 9:47 AM

    I am on matrimonial websites and Muslim dating apps to find a husband. Even though I have a modest picture and a profile, I get unserious men contact me for fun. It makes me uncomfortable. I feel scared to think are there very low quality of decent men out there who see’s everything sexual. I am a non-hijabi but I am more hijabi than most hijabi worn ladies (not sounding arrogant). I see flirtatious and deceitful hijabis able to find a man they wish to get married to easily. Whereas I have always lived a modest life with haya and I can’t find/get a decent guy that’s attracted to me for my personality but is only attracted to my face. I know this is not related to the topic on this forum but had to share my thoughts.

  11. Avatar

    Uzair Zubairi

    October 21, 2019 at 4:17 AM

    Salam 3lyki sister.
    Thanks for the great article. Its definitely a big problem which needed some spotlight.

    I Just wanna point out though that words like “unfortunately” “luckily” or “unlucky” are shirk as explained by the mashaikh.

    Other than that its definitely a great article. I think it ties into the wider debate of the role of internet in our lives and how to harness its potential while curtailing its harms. Its clear that internet is like a knife. You can use it to stab your neighbour or you can use it spread peanut butter on your toast. In other words it makes it easier to achieve your aim wether that aim is good or bad. Bad people can hide behind the mask of internet and do things which theyre scared to do openly.

    And I guess this problem/blessing that internet is will only grow as we become more and more connected to internet and technology. So i think the only solution is for us to educate ourselves on how to keep ourselves safe online because the truth there are bad people out there who wish you harm and they are not few in number. So you have to get better at recognising them, reporting them, or taking other defensive measures.

  12. Avatar

    Jennifer

    November 1, 2019 at 2:16 AM

    I am not a Muslim and I’m not even sure why this page showed up in my Google feed but I am a woman and I know exactly what the author is talking about. I have found in my 53 years that men are men are men are men-some of the most disgusting men I’ve ever met were married churchgoers with kids at home. I’ve known atheist men and Jewish men and mormon men who can’t help but comment on a woman’s looks or size or whatever. I used to attend a meet up with my husband and made several good friends there, but then a college age man started coming and was stalking me. It got so bad that I just had to stop going to the meetups. No matter what I or my husband said to him it made no difference and when it was obvious I was not interested in him as a boyfriend he decided to post horrible things about me on the communities website. I used to have a neighbor who everyone thought was the most upstanding amazing husband and father. Then one evening when my husband was away on work he came over and proposition to me and when I told him to go home he told his wife that I had flashed him and come on to him. She believed him and not me and so I had to live with the neighborhood thinking that I was a Jezebel throwing myself at this woman’s husband while my own husband was out of town. So yeah, it’s men. It doesn’t matter what we wear or how we act, in their minds it’s never their fault for being creeps.

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Coronavirus

Alternative Eid Celebrations In The Midst Of A Pandemic

“Eid-al-Quarantine” is what my sister has so fondly dubbed our upcoming Eid al Fitr this year. I find myself asking, “How are we going to make Eid a fun and special celebration this year in the midst of a dangerous pandemic?” With a little bit of creativity and resourcefulness, this Eid can be fun–no matter the current circumstances. This post will provide you with some inspiration to get your alternative Eid preparations underway! 

Special note: Shelter-in-place restrictions are lessening in many places in the United States, but this does not give us the green light to go back to life as normal and celebrate Eid in the ways we usually would have in the past. I am no health expert, but my sincerest wish for all Muslims throughout the world is that we all err on the side of caution and maintain rigorous precautions.

In-person gatherings are going to be much riskier in light of public health safety concerns. I do not recommend that people get together this Eid. Keep in mind, as well, that this is a big weekend for all Americans, as it is Memorial Day Weekend and crowds may be expected in places like parks and beaches. 

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Eid Day Must’s

Just because you are staying in, doesn’t mean that all of the Eid traditions have to go. Some may be exactly the same, some may be slightly adjusted this year. 

  • Get dressed up, even if it’s just for an hour or two. This might be a good chance to do hair and make up for sisters who normally don’t on Eid because of hijab or other modesty concerns. 
  • Take your family pictures, as usual. 
  • Decorate your house, even if it’s just with some fresh flowers in a vase or hanging up some string lights. (This time, I think sharing pictures of your setup may  have some more wiggle room.)
  • Find a way to pray Eid salah at home, if your local imam mentions a way to adapt for the current situation or check out this MM article
  • Eat some good food, and make sure to feast. 
  • Take that infamous Eid nap. 
  • Greet loved ones (phone calls, video calls, text messages, voice/video messages, make and send Eid cards).
  • Give and receive gifts. (Electronic ways to transfer money/checks in the mail, dropping off gifts to homes/sending gifts in the mail/having an online order pick-up in-store. You may also choose to do a gift exchange, if not this weekend, next). 

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Virtual Parties

Virtual celebrations are a great, safe, option. The best thing about virtual hangouts is that people from all over the world can “come together” to celebrate Eid. This can be as simple as talking and catching up, or can be as orchestrated as a full-out party including games. Keep in mind, the games and virtual parties aren’t only for the kids–everyone should have fun this Eid! We recently threw a virtual birthday party for our one-year-old and it was quite the experience. 

  • Split guests into different calls (kids’ call, adults’ call; men’s call, women’s call)
  • Party agenda for a rigorously planned party so everyone knows what to expect
  • Party games, either with certain items that everyone has (or can easily and quickly purchase) or games that do not require much else besides an internet connection 
    • Games requiring physical items (think of items that everyone is likely to have and think of carnival-type games):
      • Soccer ball juggling or basketball shooting competition
      • Water balloon toss
      • Timed races (three-legged, holding an egg in a spoon, etc.)
    • Games with little to no special equipment
      • Online Pictionary https://skribbl.io/
      • Online Scrabble
      • Video games
      • Charades
      • Taboo (we do this for our cousin game nights with pictures of cards that one person sends to people from the opposite team)
      • Scattergories
      • Bingo
      • Mad libs
      • Speaking games that take turns going around a circle (going through the alphabet saying names of animals or colors or foods, rhyming words [we played the last two lines of “Down by the Bay” for our son’s birthday party])
      • Movement game (Simon says, dancing if you’re into that [“Cha Cha Slide,” dance-off, passing along dance moves as was a TikTok trend I heard of, simply dancing…])
      • Games like in Whose Line is it Anyway? or like the “Olympics” (specifically the “middle games”) that I wrote about way back
  • Performances
    • Skits prepared by one family or even across households
    • Reciting a poem or surah or singing
    • Other showcases of talent, by individuals or not
  • Gift Exchanges (I’ve been doing this virtually since 2013 with friends/distant family members.)

Alternative Virtual/Group Celebrations

Being “together” isn’t always gathering for a party, and that’s what I think most people miss during the forced isolation caused by the pandemic. There are many things you can do to get ready for or celebrate Eid with loved ones even if you’re not together. 

  • Share special recipes with each other or plan to serve the same meals.
  • Coordinate Eid outfits or attempt to do matching henna designs.
  • Send Eid pictures to family and friends.
  • Prepare and cook meals or clean or decorate while on a video call (you don’t have to be talking the entire time).
  • Watch the same movie or show (whether that’s something everyone does as separate households or you do concurrently/even with a video or phone call running. This might be a good time to watch Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” and do the 10 things it invites us to do.)
  • Go through family pictures or old videos together. Maybe even create a short slideshow/video of your favorites. 
  • Story time full of family legends and epic moments (the best Eid, a difficult time of sickness, immigration or moving story, new baby in the family, etc.). Someone build the fire and get the s’mores going.

Alternative “Outings”

In the same breath, it’s so refreshing to go out and do something fun, not just stay cooped up in your house, right? Seriously. 

  • Check out a virtual museum tour
  • Go on a nice drive to some place you love or miss going to, like drive by the masjid or school or a beautiful area (but stay in your car if there are other people around)
  • Watch an Eid Khutbah (or a regular one) on Eid day (make it special by listening outside in your yard or as a family where you pray).
  • Create a movie theater experience inside the home (that might just mean some popcorn and homemade slushies).
  • Get carry out from a favorite restaurant (if it’s open), and finally have the motivation to take a longer drive if needed
  • Make fruit or gift baskets for friends and family and drop them off at their homes
  • A “paint night,” or some other craft, that everyone in the family participates in
  • Decorate your car and drive around to show it off to friends (I’ve heard there’s an actual Eid car parade at various masaajid in Chicago

Interesting Alternative Community Celebrations I’ve Heard About

Some communities are getting super creative. As I mentioned above, a handful of masaajid in Chicago (Orland Park Prayer Center, Mosque Foundation, and Islamic Center of Wheaton as well as Dar Al Taqwa in Maryland) are putting together Eid drive-thru car parades. I’ve heard of different communities, whether officially sponsored by the masjid or just put together by groups of individuals, having a drive-in Eid salah, in which families pray in their cars in a rented drive-in theater or parking lot (Champaign, Illinois and a community in Maryland). I’m  definitely impressed with that last option, and I’m waiting to hear about more creative ways to get together and worship and celebrate.

So, what am I doing for Eid (weekend) this year? All the must’s, inshaAllah, including getting extra dolled up and making donuts from biscuit dough. A “game night” (virtual party) with alumni from my MSA. A gift exchange party with my cousins as well as another gift exchange party with classmates from my Arabic program (we’ll send unboxing videos out instead of meeting at the same time.) Check out a local college campus we’ve been dying to drive around. Binge a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender newly released on Netflix and do some online Memorial Day sale shopping. Le’s put a tentative on all of those, haha.

At the end of the day, Eid al Fitr is about acknowledging the month of worship we engaged in during Ramadan and spending quality time with loved ones. It doesn’t really matter what that quality time looks like–as long as it is intentional, this Eid will be special no matter what, inshaAllah. Who knows, this might be one of the best, most memorable holidays ever!

Eid Mubarak!

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#Current Affairs

A Response To Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments On Uyghurs

Toqa Badran and Aydin Anwar respond to the statements made by Shaykh Habib Ali Al-Jifri

Ghulja

Protests preceding the Ghulja Massacre, 1997

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By Toqa Badran, Aydin Anwar 

We acknowledge that those individuals who have devoted their lives to the spiritual empowerment of others are to be admired and respected. The Ulema often serve as beacons of guidance and sources of emulation for the Ummah with their scholarly and moral leadership. Their critical role means that they are also expected to speak and act according to a higher standard of truthfulness and ethics. Bearing this in mind makes it especially dismaying and hurtful to witness inaccurate comments from a famous preacher and scholar who should be a part of this heritage of high intellectual rigour and superior moral conduct. It is even more problematic that these erroneous statements pertain to a group of fellow Muslims presently experiencing almost unprecedented duress to criminalize and eradicate their religion and cultural identity. 

It is unfortunate that Habib Ali al-Jifri, a popular scholar in the Arab world, in a recent lecture has misused his platform by propagating information that is all at once incorrect, biased, and otherwise detrimental to the lives of an entire Muslim nation colonized and oppressed by China. Although he tepidly acknowledges that China has done wrong to Uyghurs and is not fully innocent, a number of his claims remain inaccurate and deserve to be corrected. This article attempts to walk through some of these inaccuracies, and correct such claims that ultimately work to delegitimize and downplay the deplorable reality of Uyghurs and other Turkic-Muslim peoples, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, of East Turkistan (renamed and referred to as Xinjiang, meaning new territory in Mandarin, by the Chinese occupation). 

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#1: Shaykh Ali al-Jifri claims that only around half of Uyghurs are Muslim

The first glaring error made by the shaykh is his statement that only around half of the Uyghur population is Muslim. His error may have been a result of confusing the presently reported demographic makeup of East Turkistan with the religious composition of the Uyghur people. While the Uyghur and indigenous inhabitants of the region are overwhelmingly Muslim, the Han Chinese population has climbed drastically from only 6% in 1949 to an estimated 40% – due largely to incentivized migration and other – settler colonial programs embarked upon by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This statistic itself may be unreliable as many undocumented Uyghurs are unaccounted for and, in recent years, scores of Uyghur prisoners and forced laborers have been forcibly transferred to mainland China. 

If, however, al-Jifri meant to propogate the notion that only half of Uyghurs are Muslim, this is another matter altogether. To deny the self-professed Islamic faith of the utter majority of Uyghur people is to commit one of atrocities perpetrated by the CCP itself — the denial and erasure of this long persecuted population’s faith. As for the rootedness of Islam among this people, it has been the predominant religion among Uyghurs in East Turkistan– long before Egypt, or even the Levant, became majority Muslim societies during the Mamluk era. Much of the Islamicization of Central Asia and the Turkic world has been credited to the Karakhanids – a group of Turkic tribes who lived in the Uyghur homeland and converted to Islam in the 10th century (4th century Hijri), after their ruler Sultan Abdulkerim Bughra Khan entered the faith (Svat Soucek. A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press. 2002, pp 84).

Uyghurs were also historically part of the Chagatay Turkic Khanate, whence the rulers of the Mughal Dynasty — who ruled much of India for over two centuries — hailed. Tasawwuf-inflected preaching was a key driver in conversions among these Turkic tribes in ways reminiscent of Islam’s spread at the hands of itinerant Hadhrami Sufi scholars and merchants — from whom Habib Ali hails  — across the Indian Ocean littoral and Nusantara (Malay world).

Map of East Turkistan in relation to the rest of Central Asia. East Turkistan is the same size as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada combined. 

Source: International Crisis Group

Starting with the aforementioned Karakhanids in the 10th century, Islamic institutions were founded and devoted to the study of theology, natural science, arts, music, and more. These institutions allowed for the emergence of hundreds of prominent Turkic scholars, who helped shape and record Islamic, Turkic, and specifically Uyghur history through their works: The likes of Mahmud Kashgari’s Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk, the first comprehensive dictionary of Turkic languages. Yusuf Khās Hājib’s Kutadgu Bilig, a mirror-for-princes in prose from the 11th century that shed light on Turkish-Islamic history and culture, and is perhaps one of the earliest surviving Turkic works in the genre of akhlāq (Islamic morality and ethics). The Turks of the region have also been greatly impacted by the Yasawī sufi order which helped make communal dhikr gatherings part and parcel of Uyghur culture. The influence of sufism is also evident in the prevalence of  Sufi shrines — most of which have since been systematically destroyed or left abandoned after being blocked off with barbed wire by the CCP.

The survival of old Quranic manuscripts from the area, as well as manuscripts from the 19th and 20th century, testify to the centrality of the Islamic intellectual tradition and its preservation within Uyghur culture. Thousands of beautiful mosques were constructed throughout the region, many of which have been demolished in recent years by the CCP regime. Had they not been places of great significance and visitation, it begs the question as to why the Chinese government would  bother razing them. Kashgar, the historic capital of the Karakhanid Empire and “jewel” of the Silk Road, became a prominent center of learning and hub showcasing the rich Uyghur past. Yarkend had also been a particular center of Islamic learning and culture for centuries, with dozens of madrasahs present in the last decades of the nineteenth century. It even holds Queen Amanisa Khan’s shrine, where the 12 Muqam (classical Sufi dance and song performance pieces that are a central Uyghur heritage form) were established. 

It is now clear that not only have the vast majority of Uyghurs been Muslim since the 11th century at least, but that the history of East Turkistan cannot be separated from that of the greater Muslim world. Like most Turkic Muslims, Uyghurs have traditionally belonged to Ahl as-Sunnah (the mainstream and overwhelming majority of Muslims), the legal school of Hanafism, and have immense love for the noble Ahl al-Bayt (family and descendants of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). Uyghurs had even established a maqam (shrine) dedicated to the 8th century scholar and descendant of the Prophet ﷺ, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq – through whom Habib Ali traces his lineage back to the Prophet ﷺ – near the town of Khotan in East Turkistan, which was destroyed by the CCP. If segments of Uyghur society are not practicing Muslims today, it is mostly due to the Communist repression since WWII, just as Soviet anti-religious repression led to the radical decrease in religious literacy and practice in neighbouring Turkic republics. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy and heartening to see that some of the Central Asian republics are currently experiencing a gradual revival of Islamic observance thanks to the demise of oppressive policies, hinting at how the Uyghur religious life could flourish if and when repressive policies in East Turkistan cease.

Before and After of Imam Jafari al-Sadiq shrine. L-R Dec 10 2013, April 20, 2019. 

Photograph: Google Earth/Planet Labs 

The systematic aggression with which the Chinese government has sought to stamp out the works produced by Uyghur scholars and the many ancient Muslim cities scattered across East Turkistan is evidence of their historical importance. From banning the publication of texts in the Uyghur language, closing all religious spaces, and transforming historic sites into propaganda centers for the dissemination of a sanitized, non-religious, and state-sponsored Uyghur identity, it is clear that the CCP feels not only threatened by Uyghur culture, but is aware of its power in maintaining a social fabric worthy of any independent nation. 

And with all of the aforementioned said, we pose the question: Even if the majority of Uyghurs were not Muslim as the shaykh incorrectly claimed, does this excuse Muslims elsewhere of their duty to stand against oppression? Over the course of his commentary on the plight of the Uyghur people, the shaykh himself asked the audience why we [Muslims] are only angry when China oppresses Uyghurs and not the Buddhist Tibetans. Not only does this question contradict his initial premise that the Uyghur community cannot be referred to as overwhelmingly Muslim, but also deeply confuses the listener: “Are we to fight against oppression, regardless of the religion of the oppressed, or not?” We would argue that it is not only an obligation for Muslims, but for all people to resist their own oppression and the oppression of others — especially if this oppression manifests as the criminalization of the most fundamental practices of a people’s faith, Islam in this case. The East Turkistani independence movement itself has always allied itself with those of the Tibetan, Palestinian, and Kashmiri people. It has been incorrectly posited by the shaykh that Uyghurs have only been oppressed for the last 3-5 years. While this is demonstrably false, through the decades-long occupation Uyghurs have faced, what is worse is that he makes this claim in order to draw a false equivalence (between East Turkistan and the Tibetan people) in the hopes of delegitimizing the plight and cause of those in East Turkistan. Worse still, is that when the shaykh is confronted with the truth of the 70+ long years of Chinese colonization of Uyghur lands, he contests its factuality by responding that if China were really so bad then we would see the individual politicians responsible for the colonization personally affected by the Chinese Coronavirus. We question the legitimacy of this apparently necessary correlation and will do so again later in this paper. Furthermore, now that we know that the Uyghur identity is as much an Islamic one as his own Arab identity and that Chinese oppression has been occurring for almost a century, do the scholar’s recommendations change? 

#2: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims that the question of Uyghur oppression is a political, not religious, one 

We would like to preface this section by making it clear that Islam rejects the false dichotomy between the religious and the secular. What is “political” is not necessarily devoid of religious significance, and what is “religious” is not necessarily apolitical. While the Sharia’s precepts pertaining to siyasah (governance and ‘urfi/customary-public law) are mostly general, with few exact prescriptions established by the sources of Sharia (al-adillah al-sharʿiyyah), Muslims have always conceived of politics as a space bound by Islamic morality and ethics, akhlāq. As with any other dimension of human life, a person’s moral culpability before God extends into the domain of the “political” just as it extends into the domain of the economic, familial, ritual, etc. 

While it is true that colonization is often understood as a political phenomenon and not a religious one, religion has featured prominently both as a pretext and the locus of subjugation in China’s crimes against the Uyghur people. China brands its campaign against the Uyghurs as a fight  against “Islamic extremism” in an attempt to ride on the coattails of the global “War on Terror” thereby garnering  sympathy for its policies — including the imprisonment of millions of Turkic peoples into concentration camps and prisons — and insulate itself from backlash it would otherwise face as a result of its inhumanity in East Turkistan. Like Modi’s India and many Western nations, China exploits the world’s frenzied paranoia surrounding “Muslim terror” to justify its crackdown on innocent Muslims.

“Ubiquitous scene on the streets of  #Xinjiang these days. Men and women (inc. the elderly) trudging around with enormous clubs, part of the ‘People’s War’ on terrorism.” – David Brophy, Nov 15th 2017 

We acknowledge, however, that if this matter was purely religious, and not political, we would see Hui Muslims, who do not have a territorial claim at stake, rounded up into concentration camps and being subject to the same forms of oppression Uyghurs and other Turkic people are. However, this is not the case. Huis have historically been left largely undisturbed for the sake of maintaining the CCP’s facade of religious acceptance — or at most they are subject to the usual disruptions any religious group faces under the anti-religious CCP. Historically, the Hui have been staunch supporters of the Chinese state, and even played a critical role in the dismantling of the first East Turkistan Republic of 1933 and the second of 1944.. This did not spare them, however, from the current religious crackdown they and other faith groups like Christians face, once again highlighting the inextricably religious dimension of the CCP’s supposedly merely “political” project. As though rounding up innocents into concentration camps and subjecting an entire people to violations of fundamental human rights as part of a larger campaign of ethnic cleansing and cultural destruction would be anything less than heinous, even if religion played no role in the matter.

Much of Uyghur and, by extension, all Central Asian Turkic identity, has centered on religion; Uyghurs and other Turks are Muslim, just like Malays have been Muslim based on historical development in the past millennium. Historically, up until the 1930s, Uyghurs were not commonly referred to as “Uyghurs” — they and other Turkic Muslims of East Turkistan were simply referred to as “Musulman” (Muslim), “Turki” (Turk), or “yerlik” (local). This truth further explains why China has been so adamant in removing religion from the lives of East Turkistanis — Islam is so critical to the history and culture of the Turkic presence that the CCP knows that, without it, East Turkistanis will be left weak and purposeless– easily converted into malleable forced worshippers of the party, and indistinguishable from the rest of China’s largely atheist, but nominally Confucian, Buddhist or Taoist Han majority. Not to mention that they are then exploited in China’s massive hypocritically capitalistic labour scheme — which most of Chinese masses also suffer from. 

Claiming that the oppression is not a religious matter implies that Muslims need not care about the Uyghurs out of religious concern, while in reality our blood should be boiling knowing that the rights of God and His worshippers are being violated by the CCP. Muslims around the world rightly condemn and stand in solidarity against zionist oppression in Palestine, though, by the shaykh’s standards, this would be appear a purely political project undeserving of collective Muslim outrage. The Israeli state-apparatus oppresses Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike. The CCP has singled out Muslims, however, especially those in East Turkistan, as the targets of their brutal project. Again, we see that this is both a religious and political issue against which all Muslims and conscientious human beings should speak and fight. Just as we all wish for the freedom of Palestine sooner rather than later, we should pray, speak, and fight for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in East Turkistan.

Practicing Islam is categorically forbidden in East Turkistan, despite China’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Islamic texts and names are banned, practicing most of the five pillars of Islam is forbidden, and centuries old Islamic institutions have been destroyed and converted into communist propaganda centers. Religious scholars (ulema) have disappeared, sentenced to life in prison, or killed.

These tragedies are never publicized within China’s borders — and their occurrence is aggressively denied by the Chinese media apparatus. Instead, the media tokenizes and highlights a few religious acts, in reality no more than complex theatrics which the government has directed in order to showcase the power of “CCP Islam”. Journalists and political actors from other countries, especially Muslim ones, are invited to East Turkistan to witness a beautiful charade of “harmony” and happiness that, in reality, is no more than an open air prison for the Uyghurs. Albanian academic and journalist, Dr Olsi Jazexhi, was one of these visitors, who later reflected on his experiences and observations on such a CCP-sponsored trip. He and other journalists toured many mosques with the CCP’s aim being to show to the outside world that there are mosques, and indeed religious freedom, in East Turkistan. Jazexhi recalls venturing into one of the mosques near Urumqi’s Grand Bazaar and finding only a store. He also recalls his visit to a concentration camp or what China calls a “vocational training center”:

“The center was in the middle of the desert. It was a kind of Alcatraz, and by its appearance, we were expecting to find some criminals, terrorists, and killers, and people who were dangerous to society. When we went there, the criminals presented us with a concert. These poor boys and girls who were being held there since many years. They were told to dance to me; Uyghur dance, Chinese dance, and Western dance. The authorities wanted us to film them only dancing and smiling and singing. They were all speaking Chinese, even though they were Uyghurs [sic].” 

Jazexhi, a dual Albanian and Canadian citizen, was later fired from his university position in Albania — demonstrating the reach of Chinese economic blackmail diplomacy. The professor was blacklisted by China due to his truthful reports on East Turkistan, highlighting the CCP’s suppression of criticism abroad, even within the context of academia, with its diplomatic and economic pressure. 

Scene from a staged tour of a ‘vocational training center’. Uyghur detainees are playing music to show  ‘harmony’ and ‘happiness’ inside the camps. Source: BBC 

Of course, this harmony would not be complete without the millions of Han Chinese who have been settled, with the aid of the government, within the borders of East Turkistan. While Uyghurs are systematically transported outside of the borders of their homeland and into mainland China to work as forced laborers or to be imprisoned and “reeducated”, it is hard to ignore the demographic erasure of Uyghurs in East Turkistan. As more and more Han Chinese are brought into Uyghur land to replace the displaced natives, the CCP razes ancient mosques, homes, and sanctuaries to make room for the new settlers. 

Photo from Gilles Sabrie: “Sledgehammer: The Chinese say Kashgar must be destroyed because it is susceptible to earthquakes” (TIME

These settlers act both as continuous reminders of the disappearance of Uyghur autonomy as well as wardens over the remaining Uyghur population. There have been many accounts of Han Chinese living with Uyghur families in their homes as “big siblings”— feeding the government information on the family’s every move and assisting in Uyghur imprisonment for even the smallest of religious offences. Aside from simple demographic engineering and ethnic cleansing, the Chinese program of destroying Uyghur cities and patrimony is intended to deracinate East Turkistanis from their culture and make them self-internalize that they are a people with no heritage, and to imprison them in easy-to-surveil panopticons with Han colonialists wardens. Destroying ancient cities and heritage is an old authoritarian communist strategy, reflecting the idea brillianty summarized by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that “to destroy a people you must first sever their roots.” 

Muhammad Salih Hajim (82), widely known as the first scholar to translate the Quran to modern Uyghur, is amongst one of the martyred and was killed in detention in January 2018. Source: RFA

One former prisoner, Adil Abdulghufur, in an interview with our co-author, Aydin Anwar, recounted how he was beaten unconscious by Chinese prison authorities and forced to wear a 25 kg cement block for a month hung by a thin string around his neck after saying “Bismillah” (in the name of God) in his sleep. Countless Uyghur women and men, who have been sent to camps and prisons due to religious practice have been raped, forcibly sterilized, drugged, and their bodies used for organ harvesting. Uyghurs are punished with long prison sentences; one Uyghur woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for promoting the wearing of headscarves, a Kazakh man was sentenced to 16 years in jail after Chinese authorities found audio recordings of the Quran on his computer, and several Uyghur refugees we have spoke with said that even saying the Muslim greeting Assalāmu Alaykum (Peace be upon you) can get them locked up for 10 years. Saying Insha’Allah (God-willing) is also prohibited. In one of the many documentaries published on the dystopian existence of the Uyghur people, VICE interviews a woman who states her charged crime was the learning of the Quran and the Arabic language. A man, later in the documentary, details how he was punished for refusing to eat pork even while imprisoned. By many accounts, the word God or Allah itself must be replaced with “Party” (Chinese Communist Party), or the name of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

Portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping shaking hands with Uyghur Imams placed in Kasghar’s historical Id Kah (Eidgah) mosque in East Turkistan. Note that the picture is facing the congregants in the direction of Muslim prayer – Qiblah. Source: David Brophy 

#3: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims the reason people are fighting for East Turkistan is because they do not want China to build the so-called ‘New Silk Road’ and become 2x as strong as America economically

This claim reduces the East Turkistani freedom movement to a China vs America binary– thereby completely erasing the decades of occupation East Turkistan has endured under China. In 1759, the Manchu Qing Empire invaded East Turkistan and made it its new colony. Uyghurs rebelled against Qing rule, and in 1863 were able to break free and establish Kashgaria under their leader Yaqub Khan, now known as East Turkistan. Two decades later, the Uyghurs were invaded by the Qing again, and, this time, the Uyghur homeland was formally incorporated under the Chinese empire as “Xinjiang”. Chinese nationalists overthrew the Manchu Qing Dynasty in 1911, putting East Turkistan under the rule of Nationalist China. The Uyghurs carried out numerous rebellions and were able to establish the East Turkistan Islamic Republic in 1933 and 1944, both of which briefly lasted before the Chinese government reoccupied the region through the military intervention and political interest of the Soviet Union. The most recent occupation started in 1949 when the Communist Party of China came to power, and since then, millions of East Turkistanis have been subject to various forms of brutal systematic genocide. 

The Declaration of Independence of the Islamic Republic of East Turkistan, November 12, 1933 Note: As is visible, the local ulema/scholars spearheaded the effort for independence.

It is deeply condescending to not only delegitimize the efforts of a Muslim people in standing against their oppressors, but to also deem them to be no more than American pawns. Indeed, Xi Jinping’s China seeks to continue solidifying Chinese hard power in East Turkistan while working towards the larger CCP strategic goal of establishing China as a global hegemonic power with a new Chinese-dominated global economic-political order, via the multi-trillion dollar One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative. This strategic-economic project — the largest the Eurasian Landmass ever seen — spanning over 70 countries via railroads, gas pipelines, and other infrastructure projects, is one of the greatest attempts of China to secure itself a superpower position in the 21st century. Without East Turkistan, deemed by the CCP the “Chinese gateway” to Eurasia and the West in general, the entire OBOR initiative’s immediate feasibility is truly brought into question. In addition to this strategic importance East Turkistan, the land of the Uyghurs is also extremely rich in oil, gas, and coal. According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, the region contains the second-highest natural gas reserves and highest oil reserves of any province-level jurisdiction of China, reportedly producing more than 30 BCM of natural gas in 2015. 

A statement that reduces the intention of the freedom movement to a simple modern economic enterprise further belittles the rich history of a people that once lived with centuries of independence, and its rightful effort to reclaim its full rights and freedom. The Uyghurs played a crucial role in establishing the Koktürk Khanate (552-744), the Uyghur Khanate (744-840), the Kara-Khanid Khanate (840-1212), Gansu Uyghur Kingdom (848-1036), and Idiqut State (856-1335). They lived co-independently in the Mongol Empire, even playing crucial roles in its administration through Gengiz Khan’s usage of the Uyghur yasa law system and the Uyghur script. After the Chagatai Khanate, East Turkistan was integrated into the Turkic-Muslim milieu of the larger Turkistan stretching from the Caspian to Mongolia including cities and polities like Bukhara, Samarkand, Kokand, etc. with scholars, traders and others moving east and west. Thus, it is truly ridiculous to understand the issue of Uyghur colonization solely through a lens of Sino-American politics. The colonization of East Turkistan began long before China was a real contender in the quest for international political-economic hegemony, and will continue –ceteris paribus– long after a change in the foreign policy of either the United States or China. The recent interest American politicians have taken in the plight of the Uyghurs has never even clearly crossed into the realm of East Turkistani independence– it is Uyghur, Turkic, Muslim, and anti-colonial activists who are at the forefront of the East Turkistani independence movement. Just as it was completely understandable that Afghans accepted American assistance in the fight against Soviet occupation, and that the Viet Cong accepted Chinese assistance to protect against American invasion on the other hand, the Uyghur crisis is so dire that the people are justly tempted to accept the assistance of any powerful nation against the century long Chinese oppression they have faced. Had China, under the yoke of CCP, not suffocated the Muslim peoples inhabiting East Turkistan, Uyghurs could maybe regard China differently…

The only way to secure Uyghurs and other East Turkistanis their essential rights — to practice their faith, operate economically, and take pride in their rich culture and history without fear of imprisonment, assault or death — is to secure the sovereignty of their occupied homeland. For many Uyghurs, the human rights/autonomy discourse is dead. The Chinese government has proven over the course of its long occupation that it can never guarantee Uyghurs the safety or the freedom they deserve. Although China claims Uyghurs to be one of its “proud 56 ethnic minorities”, it sees Uyghurs not only as foreigners, as made clear with their completely distinct language, history and culture, but also as existential threats to its despotic power. As internal but “foreign” threats, the Uyghur people have been imprisoned, enslaved, indoctrinated and murdered. There can be no going back after this horror. The only solution is for the Uyghur people, completely foreign to China, to formally exist outside of the jurisdiction of the Chinese government as their own nation.

#4: Al-Jifri asks how COVID-19 can be divine punishment if Communist Party authorities themselves remain untouched by the virus

While we agree with al-Jifri that we are in no position to state definitely whether any worldly occurrence is a direct act of Divine punishment, we question a few of the implications presented during the lecture. For example, the shaykh asks how the coronavirus pandemic can logically be considered Divine punishment if the individuals, who made the governmental decisions resulting directly in the oppression against Uyghurs, themselves remained unscathed by the virus. We respond: How can a virus which has debilitated the economy and social structure of a country, whose government is committing genocide against millions of colonized peoples, including millions of Muslims, not be? This article does not aim to delve into a metaphysical discussion on the nature of blame and culpability, but we can simply ask how the shaykh knows that none of those individuals he identifies did not fall ill. 

Additionally, we question why such a punishment could not target an entire corrupt regime — or even a complicit or apathetic populace — and not simply certain individuals, who he might deem actually culpable. 

The fact of the matter is this: We do not know how many of the Uyghurs who are trapped in concentration camps, prisons or forced labor factories, have been additionally subject to this seperate CCP oppression — a virus which only became as terrible of an international menace as it has due to the deception and inadequacy of the CCP. We hope their number is very low, but also understand that the illness of Uyghurs does not indicate that the CCP is any less problematic or morally horrific in its dealing with the virus and with the regime’s colonial holdings. The shaykh  also asks why other oppressors would not be more deserving of a plague such as this one. To this we repeat the shaykh’s  question to himself: Who are we to question God’s methods? The burning of the Amazon is not certainly a punishment for the South American nations whose borders it crosses, or it may be a punishment for humanity at large — we cannot know. 

It does not take an act of divine punishment for us to recognize the immorality of an action or event. We do not wait for lighting to strike us down before we realize we may have committed a misdeed. In the same way, we do not know if COVID -19 is divine punishment, but we do know that the oppression of Uyghurs is a moral outrage and requires immediate international action, especially from fellow Muslim brethren. 

 As previously noted, we do not seek to act as interpreters of God’s will. On the contrary, we only seek to act according to a well-established Islamic tradition of taking ʿibrah, a lesson derived from a moral experience, from what we observe in the world. Even while carefully performing this observation, we acknowledge that our derivations are zannī, or of uncertainty. This being said, we believe that our history and faith have so clearly called for justice and religious freedom that to ignore the direct suppression of Islam or Muslims, especially through means as violent and cruel as those practiced by the Chinese Communist Party, is to commit a definitive moral misdeed.

This kind of deduction by ulema and regular Muslims alike has been practiced for centuries. One pertinent example is of an individual named Mirza Ghulam of Qadiyan, who apostatized from Islam in the late 19th century as a claimant of prophethood, and experienced a rather gruesome death due to dysentery. His downfall has been commonly interpreted (taʾwīl) as punishment, for his attempting to act as a divinely ordained prophet of God. This kind of informed and qualified interpretation has been performed for centuries and is allowed for any individual so long as they ultimately believe in the finality of the Knowledge and the Will of God. W’Allāhu Aʿlam (God knows best).

Action Items & Closing Notes

We do not seek to find out the intention of Habib Ali al-Jifri’s speeches on the situation of our Uyghur brothers and sisters – he may have simply been misinformed. What we can do, however, is question the sources of his information and highlight the graveness of his actions and words. The fact of the matter is that millions of Muslims are detained by China for committing simple acts of faith that people elsewhere have the pleasure of doing each and every day– including saying “Bismillah” before they take a bite of food. As we observe Ramadan currently, it is devastating to think of the Uyghurs, who are forced to eat and drink, let alone drink alcohol and eat pork, during the holy month to prove their “innocence” from Islam to the Chinese government. While we sit with our families and break our fast, Uyghurs and other Turkic people suffer silently in thousands of prisons and labor camps far from their families. 

This scholar, or those who have misinformed him, have not only dismissed the CCP’s violations against our religion and the Ummah at large, but have also attempted to disincentivize hundreds of thousands of free Muslims from aiding the Uyghur people in their plight against the CCP.

We ask that you to pray that the oppression of the Uyghur people ceases as soon as possible; but also urge you to boycott Chinese or Chinese-made products likely to be reliant on Uyghur slave labor; to actively spread the word on the suffering of East Turkistan; and to build interest groups and networks to pressure governments to lower their dependency on China, while increasing economic and political collaboration between Muslim people. Change starts with and around each and every one of us; inquire about Uyghur-East Turkistani exiles in your area and country, and organize your communities to help stranded Uyghur orphans, students and other disadvantaged individuals survive as Muslim Uyghur people with their culture. Lobby for issuing Uyghurs passports and securing Uyghur emigres refugee-asylee status and protection. Stop “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China. Call for a united diplomatic effort of Muslim, Arab, and/or Turkic and others concerned for freedoms countries against China’s atrocities. They should act according to inter-state relations and not as slavish would-be vassal states, and hold a respectable diplomatic stand vis-à-vis China from our countries.

We ask that you get your universities involved by both raising awareness on campus as well as by assessing your university’s relationship with China. Check to see if your school has a Confucius or China Institute. These entities often serve as a public educational arm of the Chinese government abroad, and are controlled by the CCP — thereby enabling them to exercise soft power all over the world. Insist that these institutes make a statement and acknowledge the atrocities faced by those in East Turkistan, and call them out if they do not. Call for a double background check for Chinese researchers lest they actually be informants as often happens in the U.S. Countless events and panels discussing the horrors committed by the CCP have been canceled by universities around the world due directly to Chinese pressure. Call for university endowments to divest from China. Finally, call on your school to increase funding for Uyghur/Turkistani studies and to set up scholarships and grants to assist exiled Uyghur students and scholars — their lived experiences are essential to hear, accept, and make sure fewer people have to go through again. 

 It is important to ensure the political and economic independence of academia– without which generations of students will maintain worldviews colored by propaganda and complicit in the oppression of millions. Insist that your school cuts ties with Chinese bodies violating academic freedoms, similar to how Cornell cut ties with a Chinese university. Hold your universities accountable regardless if they are directly complicit in, or just silent on, the human rights abuses China commits. Demand that these important institutions divest from these China and the CCP. 

We have seen large-scale protests across the Muslim world, especially in countries, whose governments have remained silent against the oppression in East Turkistan for fear of Chinese retribution, and hope to see even more people push their governments to pressure the CCP. The shaykh encourages members of the audience to maintain an Islamic guiding moral principle and to act on it. We agree with this wholeheartedly — but we vigorously disagree with his calls to (in)action. Instead of focusing only on ourselves and our individual economic and academic developments, we also hope to fight for the Uyghur and other Turkic people’s ability to do the same — to practice their faith, live without fear of imprisonment, and in a homeland that is formally their own. This is not a hopeless cause– our voices can and must be heard, inshAllah. 

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ رضي الله عنه قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِنْ قَامَتْ عَلَى أَحَدِكُمْ الْقِيَامَةُ وَفِي يَدِهِ فَسْلَةٌ فَلْيَغْرِسْهَا

From Anas Ibn Malik, Allah be pleased with him: The Prophet Muhammad, the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him, said: if the day of judgement is upon you, and in your hand is a seed, plant it. 

Action Items:

  1. Keep making Dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world
  2. Boycott Chinese products– do not be complicit in slave-labour
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause, learn more at SaveUighur.org
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China
  5. Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui, Christian or Tibetan Buddhist
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by either citizenship or refugee-asylee status. Stop the “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China! 
  9. Get your universities-endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies.

Dislclaimer: The authors acknowledge Habib Ali’s willingness to retract his statements, and appreciate his dua for the oppressed Uyghur when faced with rightful criticism. However, the retraction came to our attention towards the very end (on May 12, article published May 14) of writing the piece (a month long process) and despite being a welcome move, does not remove the falsehood of most of his takes. He only corrects the first item from his otherwise totally-problematic takes. After an online correspondence with Uyghur activist Abdulghani Thabit, Habib Ali only corrected his statement number 1 from the longer talk. The three other misleading takes remain and were thus addressed in the piece. The authors tried their best to give all due respect to someone who dons the mantle of ‘scholar’. Our intention is not to attack Habib Ali or any other scholar, rather we seek to use his misleading commentary (corrected albeit in part by the Shaykh later) as a segue into educating the largely ignorant Muslim masses susceptible to Chinese propaganda on Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause.

Here is a condensed Arabic version of this article translated by Imam Abdul Jabbar

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Ramadan

Podcast: Revisiting Women-Only Tarawih | Ustadha Umm Sara

I still remember the first time I heard of a women-only Tarawih congregation. I was about 10 years old and my father had told me that Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (1914–1999), a prominent Indian Hanafi scholar of the past century, had written a book about his mother (d. 1968) who was a hafidha (memorizer of the Quran) and had mentioned she would lead women in Tarawih. Shaykh Nadwi had written:

“What a beautiful era it was when they (his mother and aunts) all would recite one juz each in Tarawih. They would follow the fatwa of some scholars and have their own congregation in which there would be a woman Imam and women followers. Their Tarawih congregation would go on from after Isha till almost Suhoor time. All of them would recite Qur’an very beautifully with impeccable pronunciation. If it’s not disrespectful I would say that they recited better and more accurately than many of today’s scholars. Their heartfelt passion and natural melody would add even more beauty to this. I recall one time I stood for a long time watching my mother recite as she was leading Tarawih. It felt as if rain was descending from the heavens. I still have not forgotten the beauty of that moment.” (Nadwi, 1974).


The full original piece that this podcast is based on may be read here.

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Podcast recorded and produced by Zeba Khan

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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