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?

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.

A Message to Muslims in Phoenix, Arizona

Salaamun alaikum / Peace be upon you,

Later today (Friday the 29th of May 2015), outside the Islamic Community Centre in your city, there will be an armed biker’s rally holding a ‘Draw Muhammad’ contest. This rally is obviously not intended to initiate a peaceful conversation between them and your congregation. Rather, it seems to be intended to provoke Muslims to commit a violent retaliation, thus further escalating a racial conflict.

Before we moan our fate as the perpetual victims of the racist Islamophobes, let us remember this – everything that happens is in the sight of God, even ‘bad things’. It is only our fragile egos which deem them to be ‘bad’ (The Quran, Chapter 4 Verses 78-79). What is about to happen today will be your test of faith and with His permission.

The key thing to remember is that Prophet Muhammad himself was told never to be an oppressor over anyone but rather to remind people of the truth (The Quran 50/45). The actions of the Muslim gunmen in Garland, Texas (Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi) were ironically against the Sunna of the Prophet. Yet, it was precisely what the racist Islamophobes wanted. Those gunmen may have felt that they were avenging the Prophet but what they were really doing was disparaging his legacy. Let no Islamofascist scholar tell you otherwise.

I understand completely your love of the Prophet. After all, from our earliest years, we were taught that he was the embodiment of human perfection. However, it is in these very stories that were told to us that we discovered his unending endurance and tolerance for insults and mockery. We must therefore follow suit and develop such a personality ourselves. Love for the Prophet must be in the following of his Sunna rather than the defense of his image. The image of the Prophet was never beyond depiction in the early years of Islam. It had been a part of Islamic art. Only Allah himself is beyond human visualization (The Quran 6/103). Let us not equate the Prophet with Allah.

The organizer or leader of this intended protest today as said that ‘true Muslims’ are terrorists as they follow what is written in the book (The Quran). Prove him wrong. The Quran is the opposite of what he says. It is a book which promotes peace between people and told even the Prophet to be patient with what his enemies say. Violence in the Quran is only in self-defence and the defence of those who experience violence. For people who ostensibly insult Islam, it is between them and Allah. Let their hatred consume them. We should only offer them peace.

Let us also remember that for over a millennium, Prophet Muhammad has been portrayed in the West as an intolerant warmonger among other negative traits. It does not help that Muslim empires had been at war with Western ones during this time either. This propaganda against the Prophet was political yet we have helped this image by also repeating these myths about him.The hatred for Prophet Muhammad, however erroneous, must be met with compassion, kindness and understanding. The Prophet himself would do this.

We should not forget that we have displaying arrogance in the West. For many decades now, we have levelled criticism against Western thought and religions. While it is our right and indeed duty to voice our disagreement, we had not done it in the best of ways. Often it had been more of an ego boosting contests between warring tribes. Bearing this in mind, we should be especially understanding if there is resentment against us. Remember, the Quran tells us that our situation will not change until we change what is within ourselves (The Quran 8/53 and 13/11).

Therefore if you receive this message before your attendance at the Islamic Community Centre today, I humbly ask you – please do not let yourself be taken with emotions. This is what the organizers want. Why not instead bring out some tea and samosas or even biryani rice and offer it to the protesters? If you can’t manage that, why not just say ‘salaam’ (peace) to them? Or even smile for as we are told, smiling is Sunnah. Be the best of Muslims by displaying a magnanimous personality. That is what Allah commands and what the Prophet demonstrated.

I wish you all the best today. Remember, God is with the patient.

The Chapel Hill Murders – A Proactive Response

My deepest condolences to the families of the three young people murdered in Chapel Hill last evening. They were 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. They were in their shared home when a man broke in and shot them ‘execution style’.

I can’t even imagine the grief their families are experiencing right now. These three had bright futures ahead of them and seemed to be enjoying life to the fullest. Deah was in dental school and did charity work. His sister in law, Razan, had recently graduated and showed some great creative pursuits. These were not radicalised young people who hated the West. They seem to be fully normalised and were getting somewhere in life. What must have been through in their minds in those final moments? I shudder to think, truly.

In times like this, I believe Muslims need to remind ourselves to be proactive. What can we do to stem the rising tide of Islamophobia? Depend on the media? Probably not. While there are good media framings of Muslims, there seems to be also a huge media bias against us. This is especially true in the States where apparently the Chapel Hill murders are said (at the time of this writing) to be only minimally covered. It is not the same in the UK. When the Charlie Hebdo massacre happened last month, the was plenty of media coverage of Muslims who vehemently condemned the attack.

But what can we really do in the face such hate? According to reports, the man who turned himself in, was an atheist-fundamentalist who read the works of major atheist thinkers. I can easily see how these thinkers can promote hate in their writings. These thinkers have extremely well developed critical thought but when it comes to scrutinizing Islam and Muslims, they have a total Dick-and-Jane approach (These are Muslims. They do X). Such hate rhetoric does not help the situation at all but merely throws fuel upon the already raging fire. Something eventually got burned.

Perhaps there is nothing we can do to prevent Islamophobic attacks. After all it only takes one person who go from ‘Islam is a problem’ to ‘Lets kill Muslims’ (an actual trended hashtag, if you remember). However, I do believe we can go a long way towards diffusing this anger. We need to be more proactive rather than let media portrayals define us. Here are a few things we can do:

  1. There are Muslims who show extreme vehemence and recalcitrance when it comes to the West These Muslims are generally young, born and brought up in the West themselves and well-educated. However, they subconsciously see Islam as a tribe and it is against their tribal pride to admit there is a problem within the Ummah. You will recognise them by their use of their term ‘White’ in a very negative way. When Cathy Newman retracted her ‘ushered out of the mosque’ response, they referred to her as ‘white woman’. Muslims often say that Islam does not recognise racial superiority. Why then do these Tribalist Muslims press that button often?

Not only that, they condemn Muslims who agree that Islam has a problem as ‘coconuts’ (brown on the outside, White on the inside). This is a highly racialised slur which shows that these people are themselves racists. How do we know if the alleged killer did not experience the wrath of these Tribalist Muslims? Their hate rhetoric could easily raze the blaze of his own hatred. Muslims need to identify these Tribalists and abandon them en masse.

  1. Going by the story which is emerging , it does not seem unreasonable to assume that the alleged killer targeted these victims due to their dress. That is the only overt sign I can see about them and that too, only among the Abu Salha sisters who wore the hijab. We have to understand, by adopting a religious uniform, we are enabling general perceptions. It is no different from people condemning Goths even though they are all individuals. The Goth look is the first thing they encounter and so they judge by it first. Is this right? Absolutely not. Does it happen? Well it just has.

I am not saying abandon the hijab (even though I do not think it is a command from God) but I am saying that please be aware – if you have a religious uniform, you will be defined by what the other members do. This is unfortunately how violent people operate. They do not come into your homes, ask about your religious beliefs and have in depth theological discussions. You assume the tribal signals – you become unwitting victims. That is how fast it happens. Even approximate tribal signals get included. Remember the Sikh gas station attendant who was killed after 9 -11?

  1. Finallay and perhaps most importantly, Muslims need to go to our tribal leaders and demand that they reform their views. During the Charlie Hebdo incident last month, no one single leader said a word about the theological causes behind Jihadism. There is a massive number of hadiths and ‘scholarly’ opinions’ which enable violence. When are our tribal elders going to be honest and call for the reform of these texts? This is not about becoming ‘modern’ or ‘westernised’, this is about becoming more islamic in the true sense. I guess these leaders are afraid of losing support from the Muslim populous if they do call for reform. Well they have a choice to make. Reform or continue to feed the Islamofascist narrative. Don’t be surprised then when Islamophobia rises accordingly and tragedies like this occur.

It is perhaps the greatest irony of this tragedy that Deah Barakat, the promising young dental student said on his twitter account in the final month of his life, “It’s so freaking sad to hear people saying we should ‘kill Jews’ or ‘kill Palestinians’. As if that’s going to solve anything.” I think it is even sadder that his rare voice of conciliation and moderation will now be silenced forever.