To Muslim University Students – Re: The Maryam Namazie Incident

At the time of this writing, the San Bernadino shooting incident had just happened and the suspects seem to be Jihadists. This has not been an easy year for Islam. It started with Charlie Hebdo way back in January in Paris and last month, Paris was hit again. These were just the events which received media spotlight. In the Middle East, Jihadist attacks are now a regular occurrence. Last night, Whitehall approved airstrikes on Syria which will no doubt motivate the Jihadists further. There are big trials up ahead for us Muslims.

This is why we need to wake the heck up.

The Maryam Namazie incident at Goldsmith’s university last week is a big wake up call for us. No, not some Muslims say it is an ‘attack on Islam’. Rather it is because we can now see what sort of people run the university ISOCs (Islamic Societies). I for one am not the least bit surprised. I have been observing ISOCs for many years now and the truth of the matter is this: ISOCs are most often run by Islamofascists.

Why would I say that? For a start, there is only one kind of Islamic literature allowed in ISOC spaces – the Conservative Traditional kind. Any other kind of literature would need to seek ‘permission’ from the ISOC committee and they never get it, in my experience. These ISOCs have been guilty of inviting speakers who promote Islamofascism. Not the violent kind, I’ll give you that but they hold on to elements in Islam which are oppressive (and thus not really Islamic).

Do I agree with Maryam Namazie? Of course not, she presents the most superficial research and her views on religion show an extreme bias. I would class her as a great contributor to Islamophobia and I would surmise her personal history had something to do with this.

Having said that, I fully defend her right to express her views. It is not modernity or liberalism which pushes me to this position but rather Islam itself based on my understanding of the Quran. The Quran is unequivocally clear on the dialectics between truth and falsehood. We are not to interrupt this process in any way but rather to provide our arguments and leave it at that.

Maryam Namazie should not have been treated in that way. The members of Goldsmith’s ISOC showed her extreme disrespect and in doing so, went against the precepts of the Quran. As fellow Muslims, we should denounce their actions as reprehensible. Ironically, Maryam Namazie herself is probably really appreciating all the added media attention from their actions. Indeed, the Islamophobic section of the media has already given this incident the spotlight to feed the image that Islam is a barbaric religion, despite the fact some other Muslim students apologised to Maryam for their peers’ behaviour.

The period in your lives when you go to university should be one where you experience the wider world for the first time. British University are safe spaces but not just for you. For everyone. If you are allowed to do da’wa to others and criticise The West, Christianity, Democracy and even the freedom which allowed you that space to begin with, why can’t Maryam Namazie be allowed the same?

Is The So-called Islamic State Really Islamic? – A (Hopefully) Balanced Analysis

True to form, after any terrorist attack, the question on whether the Daesh (or for that matter Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram or Al-Shabab) are really acting on behalf of Islam will rise to a crescendo. On one hand, we have the defenders of Islam (some call them ‘apologists’) quoting verses of the Quran and Hadith to show that these terrorists are not Islamic. On the other hand, we have Islamophobes and critics of Islam (they are not the same by any means) also quoting verses of the Quran and Hadith but to prove the opposite – that these terrorists and indeed Islamofascism itself (the strain of within the Islamic tradition centred around systematic oppression) are indeed Islamic in essence. So we have two opposing voices both using the same tradition to prove their point. What gives here?

First off, we need to realise one thing. We are not dealing with a single voice but rather many (polyphony). The Islamic tradition has literally hundreds if not thousands of texts. These texts do not always agree. In fact they seldom agree except maybe on the fact that there is one God. Even that fact would have differences on how the actual unity of God is expressed! When we go on to Islamic law, the differences are vast, even extending to the very roots of the law themselves (usool al-fiqh). This being the case, the question we are posing above can only be answered thus – it depends on whose view one adopts.

What the so-called Islamic State have done is to accept the hadith which promotes an imperialist outlook on Islam and further to colour their Quranic interpretation which such a lens. There are definitely such hadith in my opinion. However, to be fair, some Traditionalist scholars have also placed limits on such hadiths so they are no longer universal. Other Traditionalists so have rejected them outright. The so-called Islamic State represents one approach to this vast tradition.

And what of the Quran itself? As a Quranist (a Muslim who only accepts his own understanding of the Quran as authoritative on himself and no hadith or scholar as authoritative whatsoever) I completely reject their understanding of the Quran. Why? Because I feel they have rejected the underpinning outlook of the text and chosen to apply tribalist definitions in order to feed their imperialist agenda.

For example, the Quran says ‘indeed the religion in the sight of Allah is al-islaam’ (3/19). Islamofascists therefore say that all other religions is rejected by God. However, the Quran also accepts other religions (2/62, 5/69) and has no problems with plurality of truths and pathways (13/17, 29/69). Given that, I would read ‘al-islaam’ as the universal principle of peace instead of a tribal entity that Muslims usually call the ‘Ummah’. That would be a consistent reading for me. Islamofascists resort to abrogation (cancelling out some Quranic verses with others) when this cohesive view challenges their tribalism. Therefore I cannot accept their interpretation.

The above represents why I do not accept the view of the Islamofascists and their enfant terrible, the so-called Islamic State. However, I cannot deny them the right to interpret. That would make me a fascist myself! I do not own the Quran nor the Islamic Tradition. At best, I can offer my own reading for those who wish to consider all points of view and to refute their interpretation as I have hopefully done so above.

This raises the question, what is the point of the Islamic Tradition if it indeed so ambiguous? Well it is only ambiguous if you have more than one person as readers or spokespeople. If you approach it personally, then it can be perfectly clear and acts as a spiritual resource for you. As is the case for me. The Quran for me is unambiguously and unequivocally for universal peace. All it’s so-called ‘war verses’ are for the liberation of humanity. I believe the Daesh have got it wrong but I would not silence them for doing so. The most I can do is to refute them.

So for those who quote the Quran intending to impute upon its integrity, please ask yourself if you have really done the necessary research to obtain a balanced understanding of all points of view. You are dealing with something which 1.5 billion people consider sacred. And remember, texts do not speak for themselves. People speak through texts. If you are out simply to instigate hate against people, then congratulations, you are adopting the right strategy.

And for the would be apologists, I support your efforts to defend Islam from the haters. However, I must ask you to do more to revisit our Islamic tradition and to recognise the negative elements within it. This can only be done with honesty.

The Paris Massacre – What Muslims Should Do

It has happened again. Another Jihadi attack on European soil. As the year draws to a close, Paris was once again attacked. This time, at least a hundred and forty people have been killed and two hundred more injured (according to BBC). Judging from my Facebook feed, many Muslims are in shock. I am too. It is a now familiar sickening feeling, one that I had upon hearing about the Charlie Hebdo massacred or more ominously because they were on my doorstep, the Woolwich murder and of course 7/7 in 2005 which nearly killed me if not for an ironic change of schedule.

Before anything, there are already tweets by Muslims showing great recalcitrance. One was very insensitive, saying this is what France deserves for participating in Syria. Another was indignant about having to apologise for this latest massacre. In a way, I understand where the latter is coming from although I disagree. I am a peaceful citizen who loves the freedom the UK affords me. In my own Muslim country of origin, I would be persecuted for my views whereas in the UK, I am given the freedom to think and express myself. So why should I apologise? For me, the answer is simple. Because this country gives me the privilege of being Muslim. I am a similar name with these Jihadis, similar dietary restrictions, I express the same greeting. I would be indistinguishable from them if not for the fact I abhor violence and believe my religion to be an antidote to it (the religion of peace, minus the often deserved sarcasm).

Another thing we Muslims need to remember is that we are facing violence from both sides. One is from the Jihadis themselves. The victims of Jihadi attacks come from the Muslim demographic than anyone else. More so than that, we are also having to deal with Islamophobes who would love nothing more than to see the end of Islam and to eliminate Muslims from European soil. Islamophobia is the new acceptable face of racism. It’s no good telling these people that most Muslims reject the evil ideology of Jihadism. With these folks, such arguments will fall on deaf ears., Like the Jihadis themselves, they are not rational people

Remember, these are the people who would see Sikhs and commit violence against them because they ‘looked Muslim’. Not just Sikhs, but even non-Asians who looked Arab like Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by the authorities. Mohamed Saleem, the old gentleman who was killed on his way home from the mosque was killed because he was brown and wore the Muslim garb. His killer did not stop to ask him whether or not he agreed with Jihadis or even subscribed to Sharia law. He looked the part, he lost his life. It really is as simple as that.

We Muslims now have a dual role – to eliminate both Islamofascism (the root of Jihadism) and Islamophobia. We can do both in one fell swoop. But we need to make some fundamental changes in our attitude. These changes will not take us away from Islam but rather closer to it.

For a start, we need to come down to earth about this whole situation. Get real. The people who are out for a global conflict are not rational, peace-loving individuals. These people come from both camps, the Muslim camp and the wider community. These are the people with a lust for violence that they would drag everyone into hell with them. When you are making excuses for them, you are not doing any favours for the Ummah, only enabling the cancer cells to proliferate and continue to kill the Ummah from within. Wake up. Only you can effectively remove the cancer because you have the privilege of access into the community.

There are a number of things you can do:

  1. Observe the mullah in the mosque. What are his politics like? Is he showing a great hatred for non-Muslims? Is he projecting some conspiracy theory that Muslims are being victimized and our religion somehow targeted? This kind of rhetoric is the seed for Islamofascist solutions and ultimately, Jihadism. Question your scholars. Ask them about hadiths and interpretations of the Quran which you find problematic. I can tell you from experience that these teachings are very easily debunked. They were made by imperialists to justify their conquests, nothing more. Do not allow your imams to get away with preaching hatred

 

 

  1. Check out the youth circles. Often a radicalized youth would try to infect others. Talk to your kids, siblings and friends. Ask them. Remain vigilant and if you spot a potential Jihadi, do not hesitate to go to the authorities. Remember, you are not betraying the Ummah because this person has already done that. What you are doing is helping the Ummah, securing the wider community and ultimately serving God.

 

  1. Publically oppose Jihadi apologists. Boycott them. Do not do any business with them whatsoever. Do not employ them or be employed by them if you can. Show a blatant dissociation with them. Boycott them to the point they can no longer function with their hate. The so-called Muslim Public Affairs Committee and its bad boy, Asghar Bukhari should be on top of this list. The insensitivity they have shown towards the victims of Jihadism is appalling. They are a disgrace to Islam and Muslims should sever all ties with them immediately.

 

The fact of the matter is, this conflict will not end until we Muslims do what needs to be done. Sadly, I see Muslims in London acting as if nothing is wrong. They’re still looking at their phones obliviously, still planning their holidays and grand weddings. They need to take a stand now. The mood is changing in Europe. The people who are friendly to our presence are not as many as before and who can blame them? It’s hard to remain supportive if one’s family member is a victim of people claiming to be fighting for Islam. No, we need to wake up now. Before it’s too late. Before the wider community is forced to isolate us in various simply because it needs preserve itself from danger. This can easily happen if we ourselves are not proactive in eliminating this cancer from the body of the Ummah.

I dedicate this post to the victims of the Paris Massacre. You have my deepest sympathies. May we identify the evil doers who did this and get justice. J’suis Paris.

 

A Muslim Uncle At Speaker’s Corner

I had not been to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London for a long time. I went once nearly two decades ago when I first came to the UK but before I moved to London. It was very exciting for me at the time. I had just arrived from Malaysia and the idea of free speech, especially in such a public place was an alien idea to me.

Two decades later, I am so used to the idea of free speech but never revisited Speaker’s Corner since that first time. I had come to join a protest against the sedition charges levelled at the Malaysian cartoonist Zunar. He may get imprisoned for forty-three years. I joined the protest and was ready to leave about two hours later.

On way out, I could not help but notice this Muslim uncle preaching to the public about Islam. He was loud and abrasive but in a nice way. He told the atheists that they were ‘confused.com’ (a price comparison site) and a Christian chap he was ‘lost.com’ (not any kind of site). He took their nastiness in stride though. One racist, upon hearing him say ‘we british’, actually asked him ‘are you really British, you don’t look British!’. The uncle was supercool though.

My beef with him was the material he used. It was just such a closed-minded, parochial view of Islam. For a start, calling athiests and Christians ‘confused and lost’ is simply disingenuous. His dismissal of the atheists’ sense of truth and justice simply because they did not believe in the idea of deity was unfair. One atheist responded with ‘well you were born and raised Muslim, you’ve never known anything else’. Our Muslim uncle simply said ‘yes, everyone was born Muslim. It’s our nature’. Something empirically unprovable like this cannot be used as an argument.

He then went on about the ‘miracles’ of Prophet Muhammad (he uttered the ubiquitous ‘pbuh’, of course), the ‘last and greatest of all the Prophets’. He had so many miracles, the uncle said. Hang on, MIRACLES? What miracles, I asked myself?!

I spoke up just then – Excuse me sir, that contradicts the Quran. He asked me how. I said, please look at Chapter 29 (Al-Ankaboot) Verse 51 which rhetorically ask if it is not enough that the book was sent as a sign (which Traditionalists translate as ‘miracle’). In any case, it is very clear that Muhammad only had the Quran, miracle or not.

The uncle then launched a tirade against me. He claimed I had no right to interpret the Quran, being unqualified so to do. Sadly, he landed himself in it by saying that because the atheist then reminded him that only minutes earlier, he said the Quran is clear as day and that non-Muslims should read it as well to learn ‘all about Islam’. Sadly, that was when the takfeer-ing (hereticizing) began. The uncle claimed I’m not really a Muslim because I doubted Muhammad’s miracles.

I asked him, what sort of a God would send a man to show a miracle to a handful of people and leave the rest of us with just a hadith about it? Would a just God expect faith like this? Furthermore, what does a miracle prove? Magicians perform tricks and fool people. What if ‘moon-splitting’ incident (the example he used) was just the result of some hashish? Do Prophets really need miracles? Nope, the man was on a winner with his ‘kafir, kafir’ rant so I left him to his crowd.

It is such a pity that Muslims typically rely on these pre-planned rhetoric to win more sheep to their flock. Islam is about thinking your way to truth, not this.

Another Evening with Ex-Religionists

A few months ago, I spent a very interesting evening listening to Ex-Muslims recount their story. I actually made two friends from the panellists and learnt a lot from their narratives. I am a believer in the Quran and its divine origin and I stand for the Ex-Muslims freedom of conscience. To me, they should be free to believe in any path they choose for howsoever long they choose and for whatever reason they choose. It is their lives and no one should have a say in it. Instead, they should be supported in transitioning to whatever their new identity is.

Tonight’s event with a lot wider that just Ex-Muslims though. There was one Ex-Muslim on the panellist of speakers but really, not quite (I’ll get to that later). The rest were Ex-New Ager, Ex-Catholic, Ex-Jehovah’s Witness and Ex-Hindu. Quite a mix indeed. The evening opened with an officer of the Atheists and Secular Humanists society, introducing the programme. I particularly appreciated his nuanced wording, claiming that various strains in religious traditions had negative elements. I appreciated this because discerning analysis helps get to the truth of the matter. While there are strains in various traditions which are oppressive (like Islamofascism), there are also strains which counter oppression.

My friend Imtiaz then took over as host/mc. Imtiaz has been instrumental in getting the ‘Faith to Faithless’ concept off the ground and it has been growing from strength. The speakers then took turns delivering their stories.

I am deeply sympathetic with the violence suffered by these Ex-Religionists. The violence came in the physical form but also mental and emotional. Some are driven by guilt to embrace their faith. Others by social pressure. Some had to suffer abuse from their own parents. Others faced social and ethical dilemma. It could not have been easy and I am happy that these individuals found paths which feels right for them.

Now comes the not so supportive part…

This evening, however connective it was on a human level, did not provide sound critiques of religion and theism. Yes we can see how people of religion ultimately drove their own away from various faiths but religionists could easily reply that there are many strains in each religious tradition. Adding their personal narratives into the act of leaving merely gives religionists the excuse to say ‘ah see, they suffered traumas. This is why they left’. It connects us to their struggle, yes but it also gives the religionists a good counter argument.

The next issue is using people who were not quite of a particular faith. The Ex-Muslim guy, as it turns out, only left Islam because his Christian mother drove him away from it. In all fairness, this is not a strong reason at all and I wonder why this person was chosen. Nevertheless, he did give some theological reasons about the Biblical God but he did not show that he went into it in any great depth. Perhaps it was time limit.

The Ex-Catholic woman talked about her social experiences but also her theological and ethical dilemma. There were some issues raised but she did not disclose any kind of discussion from the point of view of her opponents. Yes she said that she did not understand why God needed to die for our sins but is it not important to know the answers from various quarters. Same with her ethical dilemmas.  The Ex-Hindu chap also raised some salient points about the social structures within Hinduism but failed to mention the mystical and socially democratizing movements as well.

 

Surely it is important to analyse the variety of answers as well. I’m not saying that one needs any kind of reason to disbelieve. I support any kind of reason as long as it is that person’s choice. I just think stronger cases could have been made if these folks delved more deeply into theology and philosophy of religion.

The Unjust Banning of Maryam Namazie

In this day and age, it is not strange anymore to see people from Muslim backgrounds leave Islam and become its vociferous critics. We have Ex-Muslims, Atheist Muslims, Agnostic Muslims, Cultural Muslims and other relative neologisms which pervade Islamic discourse.

Maryam Namazie exists in this particular orbit of Islamic discourse and, in my humble opinion, is contemptuous of Islam. She disguises this contempt very well though, by couching her distaste in an intricate yet artificial dichotomy between politics and religion. However, this veneer does drop from time to time and that is when we can see her true nature as an Islamophobe.

For all my disagreement with her, I FULLY SUPPORT her right to speak freely at Warwick University.

We Muslims must remember one very vital fact – we do not live in a homogenous society. In fact, we never have. Even in our formerly native Muslim lands, we were not all the same. We had the Sunni and Shia divide, for a start. And then we have all sorts of other political persuasions: conservative, liberal, secular. This potent mix often led to sectarian and political conflicts (think Iranian revolution) and goes to show us that Islam – at least after the death of the Prophet – was a subjective construct. Even if we believe the Quran to be divinely inspired which I do, its interpretation is still human.

So should Maryam Namazie be treated any differently than any other of these aforementioned persuasions? One could argue that she belongs to the Islamic spectrum of thought albeit one who dissents from the Islamic tradition and offers Muslims an alternative approach. I would formulate her approach as one which dichotomizes religion and politics. In her speeches, she proposes a perceptive awareness towards the difference between Islam the religion and Islamism the political expression. While she has no problem with the religion of Islam since it is an expression of personal belief, she considers Islamism to be a modern inquisition.

I do not like the term ‘Islamism’ because it does not qualify what Maryam refers to as a form of Islam. I prefer the term ‘Islamofascism’ which I define as a strain within the Islamic tradition that practices systematic oppression. Beyond that, it certainly would be difficult for us to argue with her about the nature of Islamism as she defines it. Sovereign states like Saudi Arabia and Iran actually do practice Sharia laws which exact draconian measures on apostates, adulterers and thieves. Not only that, but there are now groups like Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS which actually go beyond such barbarisms and reportedly practise sexual jihad which actually entice British Muslims to join. These organizations are nothing less than a threat to global peace.

However, it would be remiss for us not to address Maryam’s own Islamophobia. In one of her speeches, she claims that what ISIS practices is the actual Islam without any inhibition. She then goes on in the very same speech to say that religious expressions of Islam pick and choose from the religion (i.e. does not practice the violent bits) and the goodness which Muslims display is their humanity shining forth (rather than inspired by their faith). These statements are very deceptive trick on her part and I must say that she is way off the mark.

Muslims who eschew the barbaric practices of Sharia law often have explanations for their rejection. Speaking for myself, I find such laws to be against not only the spirit of the Quran but its very letters. I find the proponents of Sharia law to be rejectors of the Quranic notion of freedom of conscience and expression and also its rules on privacy. Rejecting Sharia law is not a compromise of my faith at all but rather a ratification of it. Maryam’ oversimplifying analysis merely feeds into Islamophobic sentiments by suggesting to the wider public that Muslims who reject Sharia law are picking and choosing from their religion. We are not. We simply do not see it as part of our faith. Why does Marym, a strong advocate of freedom, not allow us to formulate our faith for ourselves but does so on our behalf?

Having said the above, I still stand for Maryam’s right to speak at Warwick University. I feel that her concerns are genuine and that the arguments she puts forth should be discussed in an open forum. The university’s student union should not fear offending its Muslim students. If at all they are offended, they should learn to acclimatize themselves to criticism. At worst, simply don’t attend the event. Ideally, I would expect them to attend and to have a productive conversation with her. Being a rational atheist, she should be more than willing to do that. Our problems will not go away by silencing dissent but rather furthering the conversation.

Ahmed Mohamed Incident Shows the Racism of Islamophobia

Islamophobes are loathe to admit that Islamophobia is a form of racism. The word ‘racism’ has acquired such a lot of negativity and power that to identify Islamophobia as a form of it would be really be detrimental to the Islamophobes’ hate campaigns. However, today’s news report of a 14 year old Muslim being arrested and questioned proves beyond any doubt the nature of Islamophobia. You may read about the incident here.

This is exactly the same kind of profiling which happened with Afro-americans. For some time now, violence against Afro-american young men by the police has been terribly disproportionate. Is it possible that there is a subconscious profiling which led to their terrible treatment? Do the police see ‘black’ and think ‘gang member’ etc?

In any case, we need to focus on this particular point – ideology does not come to it. It is simply the look of the individual – his complexion which became the decisive factor. The Afro-american victim is not asked what he believes in, if anything at all.

It is the same with Ahmed Mohamed and other Muslims who suffer from Islamophobia. Their ideologies do not come into it. We don’t even know if Ahmed believes in the Islamic religion at all, let alone adheres to a conservative brand. All we know is, he has that look and oh my God, does he ever have the name! Not only Ahmed but Ahmed Mohamed! Had he been of any other kind of ethnicity with a different name this would have not happened. Had any other kid with a name like John Smith made a clock, even if John Smith was a practising Muslim in the quiet, this also would not have happened. Belonging to the Muslim tribe is all about outward signs and is very dangerous these days.

To the Islamophobes who whine and moan when people say you practise racism, think about this example please. Why did this poor boy suffer this treatment? For the same reason Afro-american young men suffer police brutality. He just fits the profile…and that, my friends, is the very definition of racism.