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The American Muslim Reaction To The Death Of Kobe Bryant

Kobe Muslims

By Dr. Osman Umarji & Sh Mohammed Faqih

A memorial was attended by thousands of fans earlier today (2/24) to remember the life of Kobe Bryant. Kobe was tragically killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on January 26th, along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven other passengers (John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah and Payton Chester, and Ara Zobayan). The news came as a shock to many people from all over the world, as Kobe was an international celebrity. The Muslim community in the United States was also shocked by his unexpected death. Friday sermons touched on the topic of his death, as his sudden passing weighed on the minds of congregants. Youth events were specifically held to help the youth process his death and learn the Islamic perspective on death and grieving.

One may wonder why the death of Kobe got so much attention from the Muslim community, whereas countless other deaths of non-Muslim celebrities and Muslims have typically received substantially less attention. Here are a few reasons that may explain why his death received more attention and had such an impact. First, Kobe’s death was an absolute shock to people. He died at a relatively young age of 41, at least according to our cultural standards. For the past 20+ years, his basketball career had been observed in an era where sports had become a 24/7 industry. Even when he was not playing, people were following the details of his personal life, business ventures, and much more through television, radio, podcasts, and social media. He was incredibly successful in his basketball career, having spent his entire career with the Lakers and winning five championships, which brought tremendous joy and happiness to Laker fans everywhere (and agony to fans of other teams). Thus, an entire generation had practically watched him grow up from a teenager to a world champion to a father of four girls, and the numerous memories people had about his life likely made them feel incredibly close to him. These memories of watching Kobe deliver game-winning shots and holding up trophies were often created in the presence of friends and family, making them more personal and emotional. We say all of this not to glorify anyone, but simply to explain why his persona was so grand, even amongst a broader media culture of celebrity obsession.

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This aforementioned context may have been missing to some religious educators who were neither basketball fans nor aware of the memories people had of Kobe. Many Imams, khateebs, and youth educators expressed confusion at how community members were reacting to his death and coping in ways they felt were unnecessary and inappropriate. They were further surprised that the advice they gave on the topic failed to resonate with some members of the community. 

With a desire to better understand the community reaction to Kobe’s death, we administered a 14 question online survey to measure the reactions and coping mechanisms of Muslims to the death of Kobe. Our intention was to provide information to religious educators and extract lessons based on actual beliefs and behaviors of the American Muslim community. The survey was deployed two weeks after his death and was shared via social media. The rapid response to this survey was astounding. Within two days, we received nearly 340 responses. We believe this speaks to the relevance of the topic and the strong emotions that Kobe’s death has elicited. We discuss the results of our survey data below.

Who Responded?

The participants were quite diverse in terms of age. Most participants were between the ages of 26 to 34 (n=124) and 35 to 44 (n=103). 65% were male (n=221) and 35% were female (n=119). Participants were very diverse in their attitudes towards the Lakers and Kobe. Nearly 23% considered themselves absolute Laker fans, whereas 28% were not fans of the Lakers at all. Approximately 26.5% followed Kobe’s career a lot and 22% followed his career quite a bit. In terms of religiosity, 47.5% considered themselves to be very religious, 45% somewhat religious, and 7% a little religious.

We find it important to highlight that nearly half of the sample followed his career while also self-reporting high levels of religiosity. Being a basketball and Kobe fan and being religious were not mutually exclusive.  

What were peoples’ immediate feelings and reactions upon hearing about Kobe’s death?

Participants expressed a variety of emotions and reactions upon hearing about his death. The most common reactions were shock (74%), sadness (59%), and not believing it was true (46%). Many participants also reported crying (15%), feeling nothing (13%), and feeling numb (12%). Less frequently experienced were feelings of sickness (3%) and anger (5%). Participants were also asked whether the news of Kobe’s death disrupted their day in any way. Nearly a third reported that their day was not disrupted at all (32%), another third reported that their day was a little disrupted (35%), and a third reported their day was either quite a bit or completely disrupted (33%).

How did people cope with his death?

Participants were asked about how they coped with his death. The most common methods of coping were thinking about one’s mortality (68%), watching old videos and pictures (50%), praying for his family (44%). Participants also reported communicating with friends and people on social media (36%) and communicating with friends on the phone (32%). Other coping mechanisms included making a personal tribute, such as a social media post (19%), deciding to improve oneself (22%), and attending a community event about Kobe (5%). Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, more than a quarter of participants reported making dua for Kobe himself (26%).

As coping with death is a topic that has been mentioned in sufficient detail in the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we were especially interested in the ways in which participants felt religion informed their own coping. As already explained, approximately 44% made dua for his family and 26% made dua for Kobe. Therefore, we asked participants “If Kobe had followed your religion, would you grieve or cope differently?” 21% responded that they would not cope any differently had Kobe been Muslim, 52% said they would cope differently, and 27% said they might cope differently. We further asked, “Did you find comfort in your religion’s perspectives on death and coping”, and 92% said yes, 4% said no, and less than 2% said they did not know Islam’s perspective. 

Correlates of Reactions and Coping Mechanisms

While the previous results described the participants in our sample and frequencies of experiencing particular emotions and coping strategies, we wanted to better understand what factors predicted these reactions and coping mechanisms. More specifically, we were curious to understand how religiosity, age, and gender influenced these behaviors? We ran three different sets of analyses to answer these questions (see the appendix for detailed results).

In our first of regression analyses, we investigated the predictors of the immediate reactions to the death of Kobe and how disrupting his death was to one’s day. The key findings were:

  • The more people reported following Kobe’s career, the more likely they were to cry, be sad, feel numb, feel sick, could not believe he died, feel anger, and report their day as being more disrupted.
  • Being a woman substantially increased the odds of crying, being sad, feeling numb, sick, not believing that he died, and reporting their day as more disrupted. This was particularly surprising as women reported following his career far less than men.
  • Increased self-reported religiosity decreased the likelihood of crying, feeling numb, anger, and having one’s day disrupted. However, religiosity was unrelated to feeling sad, sick, and not believing he died.
  • Older people were less likely to cry and more willing to accept he had died.

For our second set of analyses, we wanted to understand what predicted six different coping behaviors (dua for Kobe, dua for his family, reflect over one’s mortality, make a personal tribute, attend a community event, and watch videos). The key findings were:

  • The more people followed his career, the more likely they were to make a personal tribute, watch videos, attend an event, and make dua for him and for his family.
  • Being a woman increased the likelihood of making dua for him and his family, but not of any other coping mechanisms.
  • Increased self-reported religiosity reduced the likelihood of making dua for him, making a personal tribute for him, or attending an event. Religiosity also increased the odds of thinking about one’s own mortality.

Discussion of the Results

There are many topics worthy of discussion based on the findings of this survey. As one participant commented, “I saw so many social media posts from Muslims saying RIP, eulogizing Kobe, speaking to him (“you’ll be missed, you were the best”), and saying his death was “too soon”, “untimely”, and “not fair.” I wish we could have more education on how to react to such news and why it matters.” Other folks felt the opposite, with one saying, “All people die. I am among the group who don’t understand why a non-Muslim celebrity entertainer’s death is so significant for the Muslim community.” We hope to answer these concerns.

First, Kobe’s death clearly affected the participants in this sample, who we believe represent more than a small segment of the American Muslim population. Men and women of all ages reported strong immediate reactions and coping in various ways. We believe this is important to highlight, as many people may have assumed that it was only the young males who were affected by Kobe’s death. Another interesting finding was that many people reported coping by watching old clips of Kobe. We suspect that the memories people had of Kobe were likely created in the presence of friends and family and that people felt nostalgic about their own lives watching his old highlights. Regardless of the exact reasons why his death was impactful, which may include difficult conversations about our culture of celebrity worship and the role of the media and marketing agencies making superstars’ personalities larger-than-life, these emotions and coping mechanisms are real and need to be understood to both educate and guide our community. Although the death of countless orphans, refugees, and innocent people all over the world warrant our empathy, the truth is that we will likely grieve more for people with whom we have some personal connection with, although people may have never met him. This sentiment was captured in the comment of one young male adult, who said, “Kobe taught me mamba mentality. He showed the whole world what true hard work looks like. That is why I was sad because I felt like a mentor had passed away.” 

With this acknowledgment that the pain people felt was real, we want to discuss the Islamic view of specific ways of coping for a non-Muslim, especially making dua for a deceased non-Muslim. We feel this is especially important, as both the data and many of the comments addressed this topic. From the data side, we found more than 1 in 4 Muslims made dua for him and more than half saying they would grieve differently had he been Muslim. As for the comments, many people, especially those who considered themselves very religious, echoed the same principle: Had he been Muslim, then we could have prayed janaza for him and made dua for him. Another convert sister, who hardly followed Kobe or the Lakers expressed, “I know my religion is the truth, but not being able to pray for a deceased non-Muslim is a hard concept, especially as a convert with all my blood family not being known Muslims.” Most people understood that Islam does not permit making dua for the forgiveness of deceased non-Muslim. In fact, there is scholarly consensus on this issue, as stated by Ibn Taymiya and Nawawi. We want to add that this was also an issue faced by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, many of whose parents and loved ones died outside the fold of Islam. Abu Huraira reported in an authentic narration that the Prophet visited his mother’s grave and wept, and everyone there wept with him. Then, the Prophet said, “I sought my Lord’s permission to seek forgiveness for her, but He did not permit me. Then, I sought permission to visit her grave and He permitted me to visit her grave.[1] We hope this clarifies the matter to those who may have been misinformed and gives strength to those who struggled with this issue. 

Regarding the issue of making dua for the family of the deceased, this is considered permissible and noble action, as it shows compassion and empathy for others. However, what seems even more vital and valuable, is that we learn from the death of Kobe to make dua for non-Muslims that we care for while they are alive. This includes making dua for their health, well-being, and most importantly their guidance. This is the best expression of love that we can offer to those who do not share our faith and the best way for us to show our appreciation for whatever we have benefited from them.

Another adaptive and Islamic way of coping that was commonly practiced was to reflect over one’s own mortality. What is astounding to us about Kobe’s death was that the night before he died he was in the news because LeBron James had just passed him for third place on the NBA all-time scoring list. Kobe had called LeBron to congratulate him that same evening. The following morning Kobe’s helicopter crashed. This moment should be a gut-check to us all about the fragile nature of life and remind us that our time on this earth is unknown. Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar used to say, If you survive till the evening, do not expect to be alive in the morning, and if you survive till the morning, do not expect to be alive in the evening. Take advantage of your health before your sickness, and take advantage of your life before your death.”[2] 

Although sports superstars like Kobe almost seem invincible because of their ability to conquer the moment in the games they play, his death should be a reminder that this life is not a game. We do not know when, where, or how we will die. O Allah, let us live in a state of Islam and let us die in a state of Islam. That is the greatest success. 

Appendix:

[1] Related by Muslim, Ahmad, and Abu Dawud.

[2] Related by Bukhari

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/27/sports/kobe-bryant-fans.html

Author Bios:

Dr. Osman Umarji received his B.S in Electrical Engineering from UC Irvine. After working as an engineer for many years, he went to study Islam at Al-Azhar University. He has a PhD in Educational Psychology from UC Irvine and currently works at Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research as the Director of Survey Research and Evaluation. He is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at UC Irvine. He recently published The King, the Queen, and the Hoopoe Bird, a novel on the life of Prophet Sulaiman, in order to contribute to the production of culturally relevant educational material for Muslim youth in the West. 

Shaikh Mohammed Faqih completed a B.A. in Islamic Studies from the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America in Fairfax, VA, and graduated in Quran Memorization and Recitation from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Previously, he held the position of Imam at the Islamic Community Center of Laurel in Laurel, MD, the Islamic Center of San Diego in San Diego, CA, and Islamic Institute of Orange County, CA. He is currently the Imam at the Memphis Islamic Center.

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Osman Umarji was born and raised in Southern California. He obtained a B.S in Electrical Engineering from UC Irvine and worked in mobile phone development. He then studied Islam in Cairo and in Al-Azhar University, focusing on Islamic legal theory. He was previously the religious director at the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco.He is currently completing his doctorate in Educational Psychology at UC Irvine, focusing on child and adolescent motivation and identity development. He is also an adjunct professor at UC Irvine and Cal State University, Long Beach.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amir Mertaban

    February 24, 2020 at 11:49 PM

    Jazakumullahu Khairan for this. You both know that I love you very much, but this was a giant waste of your valuable time. I don’t mean to offend you or the rest of the community that cared a lot about Kobe but the amount of time and energy Muslims have spent mourning his loss is disturbing. Not to mention that most (not all) of the shuyukh who have addressed this topic failed to bring up any of the rape allegations and misconduct that he pretty much admitted to. I know it’s not your intent to purposely leave that out and maybe the purpose of this survey was specific to the community’s reaction to his death, however, anytime we glorify someone and take them as examples we need to be mindful of reminding the community about their pitfalls and their extremely devastating behavior.

    At the very least there should be a lesson about repenting for your sins before it’s too late.

    I have much love and respect for my brothers and sisters who were dealing with the loss of someone they loved but we owe it to ourselves to acknowledge that as Muslims we need to be on the side of justice even if it be against our own mother, father, brother or one of the greatest basketball players.

    Also, I still love you both very much!

    • Avatar

      Wazir Muttaqi

      February 25, 2020 at 12:56 AM

      I would only offer this observation…many of us can recount hearing one version or another of the passing bier of a jew for whom the Messenger stood.

      Did he ask to know of the descendants entire life history before responding to the companions that he (as) stood because he was a creation of Allah?

      Sometimes if you have nothing good to say, remain silent was my mother’s advice to us as children.

      I offer it to you in this instance.

      May Allah guide us, show us Mercy in this life and the next…Ameen

  2. Avatar

    Spirituality

    February 25, 2020 at 10:34 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum:

    “Narrated `Aisha:

    The Prophet (ﷺ) (p.b.u.h) said, “Don’t speak ill of the dead, because they have reached the result of what they forwarded.” (Sahih Bukhari).

    As Wazir says, we should say what is good, or be silent.

    However, in this case, I really do feel that we as Muslims should be silent…

  3. Avatar

    Abu Ismail

    February 27, 2020 at 2:40 PM

    Salam

    There are enough cases of death among us muslims for us to take lessons from.

    Though the death of Kobe is a good time to take lessons concerning the part of our creed (which has become very neglected in the west) that is “Allegiances and disassociation” (al-walaa wal baraa). This should be a good time to teach our youth to never pray for a dead disbeliever etc.

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#Society

Raised by Converts

Note to the reader:  Some Muslims debate which term we should use for someone who has chosen to accept Islam. Is it supposed to be “convert” or “revert?”  In this article, I choose to use the word “convert.”  Before I start receiving comments from individuals who are convinced that the term “revert” is the only correct one, I would like to share this superb article on the issue written by Ricardo Peña, who says it better than I ever could.  

Nuha* thought she had found her soulmate and future life partner in Joel*, her co-worker. He was kind, hardworking, and charming, and the young couple wanted to get married.  Nuha’s father, however, would not give his blessing to the union because the potential groom had recently converted to Islam.  Nuha’s dad wanted his daughter to marry a man who had grown up in a Muslim family and therefore, presumably, had years of Islamic experience and fairly solid religious knowledge. He speculated about some of the things Joel might have done before embracing Islam and whether he had any habits that would be hard to break. He also thought it would be wiser for his daughter to marry someone from the same background; he doubted a white guy would really know how to relate to a Pakistani-American girl and her desi family. Most of all, he worried that Joel would not know enough about Islam to be a good husband, father, and imam of his family.  

Was Nuha’s father justified? Do converts make good spouses and parents? Can they ever truly move on from any un-Islamic aspects of their past and adhere to their new deen

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How do converts attain the knowledge necessary to raise children with Islamic knowledge, taqwa, and adab?

To answer this question I spoke with six Muslims who grew up in a household where one or more parents were converts to Islam. Their answers give insight into the true dynamics of what happens when converts raise children.  

Khadijah is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach from the United Kingdom. Her mother, a white British woman, converted when Khadijah was eight years old.  When she and Khadijah’s father had divorced, she had felt a need to find a deeper meaning in life. This searching led her to Islam.  

“My mum taught me Islam in stages,” explains Khadijah. “As she learnt things, she passed them onto me. We went to study circles together, and we learnt to pray together as well. She wrote the transliteration of the prayer on little blue cards for us to hold whilst we prayed. I wouldn’t say her knowledge was sufficient at the time, but whose knowledge is? I learnt valuable lessons as I watched her do her own reading, leaning, and questioning. I felt like we stumbled through together. As I grew up, this taught me Islam is a constant journey, and it’s ok to ask questions.”

Shaheda, a freelance writer from North Carolina, grew up in different circumstances than Khadijah, but the women’s stories have definite parallels. Shaheda’s parents are African Americans who were both raised in traditional southern Christian families. The pair converted to Islam in the 1960s when they were college students who were active in the Civil Rights movement. They began to learn about Islam after their introduction to leaders like Malcolm X.  

As different as her parents’ life experiences were from Khadijah’s mum’s, Shaheda enjoyed the same benefit of being able to see her parents growing and changing due to the love of Islam. “My parents were learning Islam as they were raising us,” explains Shaheda, “and so their increase in knowledge was tangible to us. We grew up in a community where you would see the physical manifestations of knowledge acquisition. The style of dress of the sisters became more modest, the separation of women and men became more pronounced in social gatherings, social gatherings took on a more religious tone, we began to attend Sunday school to learn Quran and Arabic.”

Though it may come as a surprise to some, in families where one spouse was a born to a Muslim family and the other is a convert, the convert is often actually the more knowledgable and practicing parent. Aliyah is a family counselor from the Midwestern United States whose Indian mother and white American father met when they were partners in pre-med.  “My dad had read about ‘Mohammedans’ and would ask my mom lots of questions about them,” explains Aliyah. “My mom was raised in a home that was only culturally Muslim. Plus, back then most immigrants just wanted to assimilate. She didn’t really know the answer to my dad’s intensive questions. One day she suggested he ask her father the same questions. My grandfather took him to the ISNA convention where he could ask more knowledgeable people. Alhumdulilah he got all his questions answered and converted!”

 She continues, “As a little kid we always looked at my dad as the sheikh of the house. We all agree that he’s the reason my family is even practicing. He would always patiently entertain and answer my questions, read me stories about the Prophets and Seerah, and really focus on aqeedah and comparative religions.  When I grew up and both our levels of knowledge needed to grow, we learnt together. As a teen, my dad and I would walk to the masjid together and attend the Friday night halaqa. In college, our favorite thing to do was attend al Maghrib classes. I would ditch my friends and discuss with him what we had learned during the lunch break.”

For Iman,* a stay at home mom who grew up between the United States and the Middle East, it was her convert mother — not her Arab father — who was her main Islamic influence.  “I was about 6-7 years old when my mom converted,” she explains.  “I grew up celebrating Christmas and Eid. We had a Christmas tree in our living room for the first several years of my life. My mother, who was raised a Southern Baptist, embraced Islam when my youngest brother was a baby, so for most of his life she was a practicing Muslim. We learned most of what we know from her.  I remember as a child seeing stacks of books on the dining table that she would check out of the masjid library to read and learn. She was a very intelligent woman who knew more about Islam than lots of born Muslims.”

Based on her own experiences, Iman asserts, “Generally speaking, I think converts are more knowledgeable than born Muslims. It can be challenging,” she adds, “when the convert is more serious about deen than their born-Muslim spouse.”

Anisa, a former teacher from Missouri, agrees with Iman.  “In some ways, I feel converts may have more Islamic knowledge than born Muslims because they have had to search for the knowledge themselves as opposed to growing up with it. Also,” she adds, “many born Muslims have grown up with so much culture mixed with the religion that the difference between the two can get blurred.”

Anisa’s mom, a white American woman who was raised Christian, met some Muslims at Oklahoma Baptist College back in 1970.  She started conversations with them in the hopes of converting them to Christianity, but ended up intrigued by their faith. She took an Islamic History class and read whatever books she could find at the library. She decided to become a Muslim at an MSA conference and made her shahada in 1973. “By the time my mother was raising my sisters and me, she definitely knew all the basics of Islam and was able to teach us,” says Anisa.

“She was the main parental source of knowledge for us, although we also attended Sunday school.”Click To Tweet

Mustafa is the child of an Egyptian dad and an American mom. He was born in the U.S. but raised primarily in Egypt where he was surrounded by Muslims, and yet his convert mother was a huge inspiration to him in his faith. “I know that I loved my mom so much,” Mustafa says.  “I felt that she had done the decision-making process for us. That if someone so smart, clever, and precise figured out Islam was the Truth, it must be.” 

“My mom became Muslim in the early 80s,” explains Mustafa. “She learned about Islam from her students while completing her Masters at the University of Illinois-Champagne. She was teaching English as a second language to Malaysian exchange students. She also ended up living with them and learning about Islam from them. People always assumed my mom converted for my dad,” muses Mustafa. “She didn’t even know him when she converted!”

As positive as their experiences were, overall, with the guidance of their convert parents, life was not always easy for the children who grew up with one born-Muslim parent and one convert. Many times, stereotypes about race, ethnicity, and cultural differences complicated their relationships with extended family members and outsiders. Both as children and as adults, many of them had to cope with people’s misconceptions and tactlessness.  

“I was always teased,” confides Aliyah.  “I’ve been called ‘half Muslim,’ ‘zebra,’ and ‘white girl’ in a derogatory way. Aunties always questioned if I was taught Islam properly. People would assume my dad converted for love (the pet peeve of my whole family). I would hear talk in Urdu in the masjid kitchen that I couldn’t cut an onion because I’m white. It was hard for us when we were getting married to find someone that clicked with us because we were so culturally different than everyone we knew.”

“Kids are rough,” adds Mustafa.  “Muslims can be ignorant, stereotypical, and not know what is offensive. Someone asked my sister, ‘Did your dad marry your mom because she wore a bikini?’ We were oddities at school in Egypt when people would see my mom pick us up from school. I was actually embarrassed to be seen with her for a while growing up, just because of all the attention it got me.”

I was “the white girl” in a Muslim school,” explains Khadijah, “and whilst that made the other girls very aware of who I was, there was always an element of separation there. I didn’t feel white. I didn’t feel Pakistani or Gujarati. I don’t feel like it affected me in either a negative or positive way. I got used to not completely belonging and forged my own ‘culture.’ I married an Afro-Caribbean brother, so my children have such a mix of cultures around them and I think it’s pretty beautiful. Whether my upbringing influenced this or not, I don’t know!”

While Shaheda did not feel any religious tension within her extended family, (“I understand from firsthand experience how people of different faiths can coexist in love and mutual respect,” she says), she does experience some difficulty from her brothers and sisters in Islam.  She reports “having to repeatedly validate my identity as an actual Muslim to those who don’t have the same experience. The assumption that there may be something missing or not quite Muslim enough is troublesome.” 

Wisdom to Share

These children of converts with their unique experiences and courageous dedication to their faith have excellent wisdom to share with the Ummah.  

Aliyah, whose work as a counselor focuses especially on Muslim families, has advice for Muslim parents whose marriage is mixed, either culturally or racially. “To youth,” she says, “identity matters SO MUCH, especially in this day and age when that’s all anyone ever talks about. If you’re a white convert parent of brown/black kids, identify your privilege that comes with that. If your kids are brown or black…learn about what that means in America. When I was with my non-Muslim relatives they would just make me feel so ‘other.’ They would focus on my exotic look and beliefs and just make me feel like an alien.” 

She continues, “Research things to consider when you are raising a child that is a different ethnicity than you. Ask your kids how they feel about it. Have an open conversation. Teach them about valuing both their cultural backgrounds.”

Khadijah’s advice to Muslim parents is,

“Learn WITH your children. Let them see that you’re still learning and struggling as well. Let them experience the journey with you. They’ll learn more that way than through lectures. You don’t have to act like you have everything figured out.” 

I believe the constant cycling in of converts into Muslim communities is a great blessing,” offers Shaheda. “And with that blessing comes a responsibility. We owe them our support, wisdom, and love, and I think we should take that responsibility very seriously. We should create bonds. These individuals who Allah has chosen as believers among disbelievers are special, and they keep us on our spiritual toes. There are multitudes of blessings when a community gains a new convert.”

When I asked them if they would have any concerns about their own children marrying converts, all of the interviewees answered a firm “no.”  They realize that a person’s dedication to Islam is not guaranteed by being born into it, or even raised with it. 

Converts — people who chose Islam as mature adults after a great deal of research, soul-searching, and personal transformation — are among our Ummah’s most passionate, educated, and sincere members.  

*Names have been changed

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#Society

On British Muslims & Racism: Do Black Lives Matter?

Q. As Muslims, what should our stance be on racism or racial discrimination, and should we be supporting social justice movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM)? And isn’t all of this support for BLM privileging justice for black people over others, especially when we Muslims realise the increasing Islamophobia and injustices being perpetrated against our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters around the globe?

A. At the outset, let me be clear about how I intend to engage these concerns. And that is by rooting them in mainstream teachings of Islam so as to address the issue of racism in a manner that might be meaningful in a British context, and recognised as being Islamic in a Muslim one. I have divided the response into five parts: [i] Islam & racism; [ii] modernity & racism; [iii] Britain & racism; [iv] Muslims & racism; and [v] BLM & racism.

I. Islam & Racism

Although the following verse is not speaking of the modern social construct of racism per se, it is speaking to the pre-modern concept of groupings of people related by significant comment descent; in terms of location, language, history and culture. Thus we read in the Holy Qur’an: O mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and then made you nations and tribes that you might know one another. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is he who is the most pious. God is indeed Knowing, Aware. [Q.49:13]

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The Prophet ﷺ brought skin colour into the mix in these words: ‘O mankind! Indeed your Lord is one, and indeed your father is one. Truly, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor white (ahmar, lit. ‘red’ or ‘reddish’) over black, nor black over white – except by piety. Have I not conveyed [the message]?’1

In fact, the Qur’an doesn’t only negatively condemn such discrimination, but it positively and actively celebrates diversity too: And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the differences of your languages and your colours. In this are signs for people of knowledge. [Q.30:22]

The above verses and prophetic statement, then, were a total restructuring of the moral or ethical landscape prevalent throughout Arabia at the time. True worth would no longer be determined by skin colour, lineage, or even by grandiose shows of courage or generosity. Rather, true worth would be measured by taqwa – ‘piety,’ ‘godliness’ and ‘mindfulness’ of God’s commands and prohibitions.

Once, when one of the Prophet’s wives hurled a racial slur (or ethnoreligious insult, as we might say today) at another co-wife in a state of annoyance, disparagingly called her ‘the daughter of a Jew’, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Indeed, your [fore]father [Moses] was a Prophet; your [great] uncle [Aaron] was a Prophet; and you are married to a Prophet. What can she boast to you about?’2 Again, when one companion insulted another person, by insulting his mother because she was a non-Arab, the Prophet ﷺ said to him: ‘You still have some pre-Islamic ignorance (jahiliyyah) in you.’3 Thus no Muslim has even the slightest right to resurrect the vile attitude of racism; xenophobia; tribal bigotry; or insulting people due to them being seen as the ‘Other’, when the Prophet ﷺ radically eliminated such attitudes from the believer’s worldview and relationships. Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘There isn’t a single verse in God’s Book that praises someone or censures someone due to just their lineage. Instead, praise is due to faith and piety, while blame is because of disbelief, immorality or disobedience.’4

II. Modernity & Racism

In the 1830s, Samuel Morton, an American craniologist, amassed and studied hundreds of human skulls so as to measure differences in brain size between people from various ethnic backgrounds. Morton believed he had used science to prove that white people were intellectually superior to other ‘races’. In his Crania Americana, Morton declared that not only did white people have larger brains and thus were intellectually superior to all other races, but also that black people had the smallest brains sizes and were hence inferior to all others. Morton and others used this conclusion as a ‘scientific’ justification to continue slavery in the United States and negatively stereotype black people. Many hold Morton to be the founding father of scientific racism. It’s here that, based upon this pseudo-science and on certain superficial differences in physiological traits, the categorisation of people into distinct ‘races’ begins in earnest. And while the institutional racism, racial prejudice, and white supremacy that was to follow were directed at all races in Morton’s descending hierarchy, providing adequate grounds to treat other races differently, in terms of rights and privileges, it would be black people (at the supposed bottom of the heap) that would bear the greatest and most sustained brunt of it.

Of course, modern science has long since shown that brain size isn’t necessarily related to intelligence. Instead, brain size is tied to things like environment, climate and body size, while intelligence is more related to how many neurons, or how efficient the connections between neurons, are in the brain. Indeed, modern science has also largely debunked the biological basis of race, showing that there is as much genetic diversity within such racial groups as there is between them. Science now regards race as a conventional attribution; a social construct, but not a scientifically rooted or valid classification. And while today we tend to favour the term ethnicity over the arbitrary construct of ‘race’ based upon skin colour and physiognomy, race remains, for some, a focus of individual and group identity, particularly members of socially disadvantaged groups, like blacks, where it oftentimes is a source of pride and joy. All this has led many anthropologists to argue that since there is no scientific basis for race, we should just chuck the whole idea in the bin. Others say that if we’re going to continue to insist on the social fiction of racial differences, let it be based on ethical considerations that enhance justice, fairness and familiarity between peoples, not hatred, discrimination and xenophobia. In fact, this latter way of looking at ethnic or racial divides is probably more in keeping with what Islam wants for humanity. After all, God made of us nations and tribes lita‘arafu – ‘that you might know one another.’

The above, then, amidst the activities of European empires and colonialism is where such modern ideas of racial discrimination and racism were birthed; ideas and realities which still reverberate frustratingly down to these present times. Just how many ordinary white Britons internalised the racist pseudo-science over the past one hundred and fifty years or so, not because they were particularly bad or evil people, but because they believed the ‘science’, is anyone’s guess. Add to that the usual xenophobia that often exists against the outsider, the modern feats and achievements of white Western Europe which feed into the idea of white exceptionalism or supremacy, and the political utility of whipping up blame against immigrants in times of national difficulty and economic downturn, make for well-entrenched myths and discrimination against people of colour.

III. Britain &Racism

Although the history of the United States is drenched in racism; with the issue of race still being the most painful, divisive one for its citizens, it is racism in Britain – my home, and where I was born and raised – that I’d like to confine my remarks and anecdotes to. And in Britain, just as in America, while peoples of diverse ethnic minorities have undeniably been, and continue to be, victims of racism, it is discrimination against black people that is by far the more endemic and systemic.

The recent anti-racist protests that are taking place across the country aren’t just to show anger about the death of yet another black man, George Floyd, at the hands of yet another American police officer. They are also protests against the systemic racism here in Britain too. Long before racism against blacks, Asians, and Eastern Europeans, Jews as a people, and also the Irish, suffered racism in Britain. Jewish people still do.

Whilst structural or institutional racism is difficult to conclusively prove, the lived reality of people of colour, as well as statistics after statistics, or report after report, all point to similar conclusions: Britain has a race problem. It doesn’t just have a problem with casual racism (now called micro aggression; as experienced in schools, jobs or everyday life), or racism born from unconscious bias (snap decisions conditioned by cultural upbringing or personal experience); it has a problem of systemic racism too – racial discrimination and negative stereotyping within many of its key institutions: the police force and the criminal justice system deemed to be among the main culprits.

It is, of course, argued that although Britain does indeed have individual racists, and that acts of racism do tragically still occur here, but Britain itself; even if it may have been in the recent past, isn’t institutionally racist anymore. We have the Equalities Act of 2010, as one of the clearest proofs against any institutional racism.

Or the case has been put that, ever since the Macpherson Report of 1999, which came as a result of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, in 1993 – and the two words in it that stood out from the rest of the 350 page report, that London’s Metropolitan Police was ‘institutionally racist’ – Britain’s police forces have internalised the criticism and have come on leaps and bounds since then: individually and institutionally. So to describe Britain’s police forces as still being systemically racist is unjust and unfair; or so the argument goes.

Be that as it may; and while many positive changes of both mind and structure have been sincerely made, the stark, present-day statistics tell us another story. Modern Britain is a place where black people, in contrast to white ones are: 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched; 4 time more likely to be arrested; twice as likely to be temporarily excluded from school; and 3 times as likely to be permanently excluded from school; and twice as likely to die in police custody. From any unbiased standard, does this look anywhere like equality? And just as importantly, are we saying that institutional racism is totally absent from these numbers?5

For most of my life, I’ve lived on one council estate or another in East London. In my pre-teen years, I grew up on an estate in Chingford, where most of the people were white, with a few Afro-Caribbean families and a couple of Asian ones: my family being one of them. I, like many other non-whites of my generation, encountered my share of racist abuse; and for a short time, a little racist bullying too. On the whole, I got along with most kids on the estate and at its primary school, regardless of colour; and they got along with me.

For my entire teen years, I lived on another estate in Leytonstone, where this time most of the residents were black. It was the mid 1970s, and it was a time when many young black people were, I wouldn’t say suffering an identity crisis, but more that they were searching for an identity. For unlike their parents, they were neither Jamaican, Bajan [Barbadian], or Trinidadian, nor did they feel (or were made to feel) totally British. Instead, young black Britons were turning to their Blackness to make sense of their place in Britain, developing a sense of collective cultural identity in the process. I felt a greater affinity to that culture, than I did any other. Voices like Bob Marley, Burning Spear, the Wailing Souls and Black Uhuru spoke to our plight and our aspirations. But whilst their conscious lyrics of roots reggae was coming out of Jamaica, it was home-grown, British reggae artists that would tell our own specifically British story: artists like Steel Pulse, Black Roots, Mikey Dread or, particularly for me, Aswad (or early Aswad, from ’76-’82). Aswad sang of African Children (which I’d swap in my mind for ‘immigrant’ children) ‘living in a concrete situation;’ in ‘precast stone walls, concrete cubicles. Their rent increasing each and every other day; Structural repairs are assessed and yet not done; Lift out of action on the twenty-seventh floor; And when they work, they smell.’ All of us youths crammed into the estate’s small youth centre, smiled, nodded away approvingly, and perfectly identified with the message when we first heard such conscious lyrics booming out at us. Whilst Marley spoke of the daily ghetto struggles of growing up in the concrete jungle of Kingston 12; Trenchtown, for me, Aswad spoke of parallel struggles growing up in the concrete situation of Leytonstone E11. We all a feel it, yes we a feel it!

Back to racism. My one little anecdotal proof of black victimisation from the police comes from the time when I was living on Leytonstone’s Cathall Road Estate. Police raids were a fairly usual occurrence on our estate as well as in the youth centre; sometimes with actual justification. In the youth centre, the police (usually with their police dogs), would stomp in; turn off the music; stamp out any spliff that was lit up; and then we’d all be told to line up against the wall with our hands behind our heads. Every time this happened, without exception, when it came to searching me, they never did. They’d simply insist that I leave the centre, or go home, which I would. I’d then usually come back half an hour or an hour later, and resume playing pool, table-tennis or bar football; or just soak up the vibes (not the spliff). Once, after a raid had happened, I came back to the centre, only for one of my close Rasta friends to advise me that it would be best if I stay home for a few days. I asked why? He told me that some people who hang out at the centre, but who don’t really know me, nor live on the actual estate, are saying that it’s odd that I never get searched and that maybe I was a grass. It would be an understatement if I said that I was scared stiff. I took the advice, and stayed away from the centre for a week, till I got the nod that things were all okay. A month or so later, and yet another raid. But this time, for me it was a Godsend: they actually searched me! I felt relieved, vindicated, and took it as a badge of honour. My point being is that throughout the ’70s and ’80s, there were countless times when I saw specifically black people stigmatised and victimised by the police.

To be honest, by the mid 1980s, with the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism doing their thing against the far-right National Front; with Reggae and Two-Tone Ska bands and gigs more and more mixing blacks and whites; and with attitudes of the young positively changing, I thought (perhaps naively) that racism in Britain would liklely be a thing of the past by the mid ’90s. Optimism, of course, is entirely healthy, as long as it doesn’t become blind to realism.

IV. Muslims & Racism

Here I’d like to speak about something that some Muslims will find uncomfortable: which is that we [non-black]Muslims need to admit the anti-black racism that infects our own communities. Sadly, racism against black people – including fellow black Muslims – is all too common among British Asian Muslims of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. Whether it is being stared at by elderly Asians in the mosque and so made to feel self-conscious, to the way we of South Asian descent use the word kala, ‘black’, in a derogatory way; or whether it’s about marriage, or thinking all black Muslims must be converts and then dishing out patronising praise to them over basic acts like making wudhu – this un-Islamic nonsense; this jahiliyyah, simply has to stop.

We must speak to our elders about their anti-black racism. We need to respectfully discuss why so many of our mosques continue to make black Muslims feel unwelcome, or drive them away, and what can be done about it? Yet while our masjids are undeniably masjids; ‘Most mosques function as “race temples” created as enclosures for single ethnicities, and their mono-ethnic and introspective leadership are generally unfamiliar with any novelty occurring outside their silos.’6 Such ‘race temples’ are where Ethnic Islam rules the roost, even at the cost of shari‘ah race equality, sirah hospitality, or sunnah unity.

But racism isn’t just an issue with South Asian elders? It lurks in the hearts and minds of my generation too; and maybe that of my children’s? It’s less the stares or the ignorance about Black achievements, and more the negative stereotyping; post-colonial complexes; desperation to whiten-up; or outright racism when it comes to marriage. Here as an Asian Muslim parent, I’m happy for my daughter or son to marry – religiously speaking – some adamant fasiq or fasiqah – especially if they are of a lighter complexion: but I could never accept them marring a godly, well-mannered, responsible Black person! But we convince ourselves we are not racist: after all, I love the sahabi, Bilal. I weep when I read Bilal’s life story. My good friend, Bilal, is black. But the proof is in the pudding, and the truth is that we need to move beyond tokenism; beyond Bilal.

Those Muslims who make an issue of colour; whose racist or tribal mindsets lead them to look down upon a person of darker colour or treat them unequally, let them consider the son-in-law of the Prophet ﷺ, and fourth Caliph, sayyiduna ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. The classical biographers all state: kana ‘ali adam, shadid al-udmah – ‘Ali was black, jet black.7 Or take our master ‘Umar who is also described in the same terms.8 The colour, adam may refer to skin complexion which is dark brown, like a native American; or darker still, like in native Australian aborigines; or jet black, like many Africans. When the phrase, shadid al-udmah is added, ‘extremely dark’, then there’s no mistaking what is meant: a person who, for all intents and purposes, is black. Such a description seems quite usual for the Arabs among the sahabah. Black skin is also the colour of the lady with whom the whole Muhammadan saga begins: our lady Hagar (Hajarah); she was a black Egyptian. Or consider the Prophet Moses, peace be upon him. Our Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘As for Moses, he was tall and dark brown, as like the men of al-Zutt.’9 The Zutt were a well-known tribe of tall dark men from the Sudan.10 After knowing the above, if we are still going to look down at people merely due to their darker complexion, then what ghustakhi; what mockery and disrespect will we be possibly drowning in?

Islam is neither racist nor colour blind. It wants us to understand that skin colour has no intrinsic worth, only piety does. Yet at the same time, it allows us to celebrate differences in a way that does not offend Heaven, and in a way that causes us to offer joyful thanks to the One Who is the Maker of all Colours.

Islam is neither racist nor colour blind. It wants us to understand that skin colour has no intrinsic worth, only piety does. Yet at the same time, it allows us to celebrate differences in a way that does not offend Heaven, and in a way that causes us to offer joyful thanks to the One Who is the Maker of all Colours.Click To Tweet

So let’s have the conversations. Let’s have some serious introspection. Let’s listen to what Black Muslims have to say. Let’s desire to be healers, not dividers. Let’s educate ourselves about the reality of Black lives in general, and Black Muslim lives in particular. Olusoga’s Black & British and Akala’s Natives are good places to start. Sherman Jackson’s Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering is, with its theological insights, a must read. Above all, let’s work towards not just being non-racist, but anti-racist.

Change, thankfully, is in the air. For urban, millennial Muslims, and those of a generation younger still, these older ethnic divides are more and more of an irrelevance in their lives (though I’m not sure how much this applies to those raised in ethnic silos in Britain’s less urbanised cities). Such millennials have heard the stories of the intra-ethnic fighting; the anti-black racism; the token hospitality to black Muslims, but without ever giving them a voice; and the fruitless attempts to make the ‘race temples’ more inclusive, and how after decades, it’s a case of banging heads and brick walls. So owing to this, they are seeking to create more inclusive, culturally more meaningful spaces; away from all this toxic, ethnic Islam. Surely that’s where the rest of us should be heading too?

V. BLM & Racism

The Qur’an says: Help one another in righteousness and piety, help not one another in sin or transgression. [Q.5:2] Between this verse and the hilf al-fudul pact the Prophet ﷺ upheld and endorsed even after prophethood, we have a solid religious basis for supporting any individual or group working for issues of social justice: be it for Muslims or non-Muslims; be it led by Muslims or non-Muslims.

The Black Lives Matter movement has proven itself to be a powerful and effective vehicle over the past five years to demand reform in terms of anti-Black racism; with their current focus on justice for George Floyd and his family. Thus, how can Muslims not support it? Of course, we cannot give any organisation carte blanche support. Religiously, we Muslims cannot give unconditional support to anybody save to God and His Prophet ﷺ. Given that BLM has a few stated aims that are inconsistent with Islam’s theology (‘freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking’ is one of them, for instance), our activism must be guided by sacred knowledge and illumined by revealed guidance. Our intention is not supporting BLM, as such. Instead, it’s a case of making a stand against injustice, in this case anti-Black racism: supporting those individuals or organisations that are likely to be the most effective in achieving this goal. (It should go without saying, that we can work for justice for more than one cause or more than one set of people at the same time). And this is what the above verse and the hilf al-fudul pact have in mind. And just like the BLM describes itself as ‘unapologetically Black’, perhaps some of us need to be a tad more unapologetically Muslim?

But let’s take our focus off such theological nuances for now, and tie a ribbon around the whole thing and say: Let us, at least in spirit and in principle, if not in body, fully support Black Lives Matter as a cause, more than as a movement, in seeking to resolve structural racism; get justice done for all the George Floyds and all the Stephen Lawrences; and to get people to reflect on their own attitudes to racism and the racial ‘Other’ – ensuring our knee isn’t on the necks of others. We should support the overall goals of any grassroots movement that is working for a fairer, more just and tolerant Britain for everyone: black or white. Of course, for that to happen, from a Black Muslim perspective, anti-Black racism as well as an ever-growing Islamophobia must be tackled. Currently in Britain, God forbid that you are ostensibly a Muslim and Black!

Racism affects all people of colour. But when it comes to Black people, they face a unique anti-black prejudice as the ultimate Other, propagated both by white majorities and even other ethnic minorities. As a marginalised community South Asians, no doubt, have their own prejudices thrown their way. But they are not the same lived experiences as that of Black people. And while it can be easy to lump everyone together and perceive ourselves as having a shared trauma, statistics show that this equivalence is not really true.

In closing, I’d like to thank my youngest daughter, Atiyyah, for inspiring me to revisit and renew my ideas on anti-black racism; and my friend, Dr Abdul Haqq Baker for prompting me to write this piece, offering invaluable suggestions, and then reviewing it for me.

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Ahmad, Musnad, no.22978. Ibn Taymiyyah declared its chain to be sahih in Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (Riyadh: Dar Ishbiliyah, 1998), 1:412.

2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3894, where he declared the hadith to be hasan sahih.

3. Al-Bukhari, nos.2545; 6050.

4. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:230.

5. GOV.UK: Black Caribbean Ethnicity Facts and Figures.

6. Abdal Hakim Murad, Travelling Home (Cambridge: The Quilliam Press, 2020), 49-50.

7. See: Ibn ‘Asakir, Tarikh Madinat al-Dimashq (Dar al-Fikr, 1996), 42:24.

8. As per Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, al-Isti‘ab fi Ma‘rifat al-Ashab (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1971), 3:236

9. Al-Bukhari, no.3438.

10. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 8:61.

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#Current Affairs

Democracy, Citizenship, And Islamophobia: The Making Of A New India

When tracing the political genealogy of modern India after its partition in 1947, historians identify the two defining principles used by the state as secularism and democracy. Yet the idea of India, post-1947, a newly born nation-state and now-market of 1.4 billion people, as a home for multiple religious, ethnic and linguistic denominations continues to unravel under the contradictions of historicity.

While the Union of India was historically seen as a progressive multi-ethnic secular democracy, throughout the past few decades the policies and politics of inequality for minorities, violent objectification based on castiesm, virulent manifestation of Islamophobia, and clampdown on all forms of democratic political dissent show a paradoxical paradigm shift from its founding principles.

Tracing the Genealogy of Partition

In the early years after independence, the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the ruling Indian National Congress (or Congress Party) advocated for an Indian brand of secularism designed to hold the country’s disparate communities together under one roof.

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This idea was formally attested in the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution of India enacted in 1976, the Preamble to the Constitution proclaim that India is a secular nation. 

Yet this idea of a nation that tolerates religious and ethnic minorities was contradictory of Hindu nationalist ideology, first collated in the 1920s by V. D. Savarkar in Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?. Savarkar defines India culturally as a Hindu country and intended to transform it into a Hindu Rashtra (nation-state).

Hindu nationalists view India as a Hindu nation-state not only because Hindus make up about 80 percent of the population but also because they see themselves as the rightful sons of the soil, whereas they view Muslims and Christians as the outcome of bloody foreign invasions or denationalising influences.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen argues in his path-breaking work The Argumentative Indian:

“the enthusiasm for ancient India has often come from the Hindutva movement—the promoters of a narrowly Hindu view of Indian Civilization—who have tried to separate out the period preceding the Muslim conquest of India.”

The case for  secularism, with its own historical pitfalls, really started to shake when Hindu nationalists populated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its various ideological affiliates and started promoting a starkly different worldview; envisioning India as a majoritarian Hindutva nation-state, not a country with diverse multi-religious and cultural history.

The question of the viability of India’s secularist tradition, and the tensions inherent in these competing visions of Indian nationhood have come to the fore in recent years, since the BJP’s landmark electoral victory in 2014. 

Politics of Otherisation 

After India’s parliament revoked article 370 in Kashmir (called out as constitutional blasphemy), it passed a bill in the parliament offering ‘amnesty’ to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries.

It was a major step towards the official marginalisation of Muslims that would establish a religious test for migrants who want to become citizens, solidifying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda.

The bill offers citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), argued “this will give sanctuary to people fleeing religious persecution”, while forcing Muslims, many of whom do not have any official documentation, of re-registering as Indian citizens.

This is one more step towards realising the grand project of creating a Hindutva Nation.

Arundhati Roy, one of India’s most famous writers, compared the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to the Nazis’ 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which blocked Jews from German citizenship. 

The ruling BJP government itself includes the Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji) political party, which actually sought inspiration from Nazi Germany.Click To Tweet

In 1967, Bal Thackeray said, “it is Hitler that is needed in India today,” in an interview to Time magazine. In 1993, he said, “If you take Mein Kampf and if you remove the word “Jew” and put in the word “Muslim,” that is what I believe.”

This new reality of India clearly manifests the reductionist understanding of religion and use of politics as a means to achieve religious goals inspired from the Hindutva theology with all institutions working in tandem to promote the politics of exclusion. 

Take the case of the Babri Mosque in the city of Ayodhya, which was demolished by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992. Then, last year India’s Supreme Court awarded the disputed site to Hindus for the construction of a temple for the Hindu deity Ram.

Hindu hardliners, including BJP supporters, say that Ram was born at the site of the Babri Mosque, which was built 460 years ago during Mughal rule in the subcontinent.

The unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court in the Ayodha dispute“gives precedence to faith and belief over available documented archaeological evidence”, according to Kashmiri political analyst Sheikh Showkat Hussain.

The case of the Babri Mosque dispute, if read in continuation of other steps taken by the BJP government is another move towards the delegitimisation of Muslims’ citizenship. 

Just as it is illustrated in Brad Evans and Natasha Lenard’s Violence: Humans in Dark Times,the increasing expression and acceptance of violence-in all strata of society has become a defining feature of today’s world.

In December, while China was fighting the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, the government of India was dealing with a mass uprising by hundreds of thousands of its citizens protesting against the brazenly discriminatory anti-Muslim citizenship law it had just passed in parliament.

There was punishment to be meted out to Delhi’s Muslims, who were blamed for the humiliation. Armed mobs of Hindu vigilantes, backed by the police, and attacked Muslims in the working-class neighborhoods of north-east Delhi. Houses, shops, mosques and schools were burnt and more than 50 Muslims were killed.

Covid and Islamophobia

While much of the international response to the coronavirus pandemic was unity and shared responsibility, , the battle against Covid-19 in India metamorphosed into Muslim-bashing.

Coming just weeks after pogroms based on religious hatred ended up 36 Muslims dead in Delhi, the outpouring of intolerable tweets manifest how concerns over the coronavirus have merged with longstanding Islamophobia in India, at a time when the Muslim minority — 200 million people in a nation of 1.3 billion — feels increasingly targeted by the ruling Hindu nationalists.

Since March 28, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad have appeared nearly 300,000 times and potentially seen by 165 million people on Twitter, according to data shared with TIME by Equality Labs, a digital human rights group.

Coronavirus is just “one more opportunity to cast the Muslim as the other, as dangerous,” says Ali, an assistant professor of political science at JNU in Delhi. 

Antagonism towards the minority community, which had already spread its tentacles in society, intensified amidst the nationwide lockdown. By singling out an Islamic religious congregation as a major source of the spread of the infection, the authorities inflamed communal tensions and reports of Islamophobia poured in from various quarters across the country.

The mainstream media has incorporated the COVID story into its 24/7 toxic anti-Muslim campaign. An organisation called the Tablighi Jamaat, which held a meeting in Delhi before the lockdown was announced, has turned out to be a “super spreader”.

That is being used to stigmatise and demonise Muslims. The overall tone suggests that Muslims invented the virus and have deliberately spread it as a form of jihad.India has continued with this claim of being a progressive secular democratic nation even though systematic pogroms have been going on against the Muslim population. Islam and Muslims seen as an immediate ‘other’ die a silent death under different pretexts. 

“One of the key features of anti-Muslim sentiment in India for quite a long time has been the idea that Muslims themselves are a kind of infection in the body politic,” said Arjun Appadurai, a professor of media, culture and communication at New York University who studies Indian politics.

“So there’s a kind of affinity between this long-standing image and the new anxieties surrounding coronavirus.”

The left-leaning newspaper The Hindu published a cartoon showing the world being held hostage by the coronavirus—with the virus itself depicted wearing clothing associated with Muslims.

The Nehruvian secularist project and Modi’s communal project are not fundamentally all that different, in that both demand India’s minorities to “integrate” into the national majority which means giving up their socio-cultural way of life.

Modi’s model is to make all minorities homogenous by saying everyone is a Hindu and, therefore, they have to stop being anything else. The other is a secular model whose template is taken from the dominant religion, Hinduism, and, therefore, is cast upon everyone.

Arundhati Roy accused the Indian government of exploiting the coronavirus in a tactic reminiscent of the one used by the Nazis during the Holocaust. 

“The whole of the organisation, the RSS to which Modi belongs, which is the mother ship of the BJP, has long said that India should be a Hindu nation. Its ideologues have likened the Muslims of India to the Jews of Germany,” Roy said.

“And if you look at the way in which they are using Covid-19, it was very much like typhus was used against the Jews to get ghettoise them, to stigmatise them.” Click To Tweet

Hatred against Muslims continues after the massacre in Delhi, which was the outcome of people protesting against the anti-Muslim citizenship law.

Now, under the cover of Covid-19 the government is adamant to arrest young Muslim students; already Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zargar and Umar Khalid have been booked them with anti-terror Laws like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

It seems the idea of India being the largest secular democratic country has disguised an organised Islamophobia campaign and an institutional oppression of Muslims that has existed for decades.

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