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.