What British Muslims Really Think: My Analysis

Firstly, I thank all those who have (and continue) to send me messages of support, following my appearance on Channel 4’s documentary “What British Muslims Really Think”. I appreciate this very much.

 A two hour interview reduced to a few seconds

In my opinion, my views on the topics raised in the documentary that I spoke on (polygamy and gender relations) were represented to a good extent, however it could have been extended further for this was only a snapshot of what was actually said by myself and my co-panellists (namely Hamza Andreas Tzortis, Amra Bone and Atif Nawaz).

The snapshot was part of a two-hour panel discussion on the issues raised in the documentary, which were discussed at a much greater length also including other topics which was not aired. One of those issues raised was gender separation. In this discussion, Trevor Phillips brought up the incident that happened at University College London, regarding the seating arrangements at a gender segregated event in 2013.

I mentioned that gender separation is something that indeed does have a basis in Islam, and how the understanding of gender segregation in the mind of Mr. Phillips and liberal society differs greatly to that of the Islam. The differences I highlighted were the fact that separate does not mean unequal, and that even within the wider society this separation occurs in various aspects of social life.

It is unfortunate that my points made and based upon orthodox Islamic teachings, were drowned out by the reformist voices complaining about being a “dying breed”, as if the breed were some WWF panda at risk of extinction.

 

 Muscular Integration and Liberal Inconsistencies

 “In my view, we have to adopt a far more muscular approach to integration than ever, replacing the failed policy of Multiculturalism.” – Trevor Phillips

Essentially, what Trevor means is that forced assimilation of the Muslim community is needed, which entails imbibing secular liberal values in place of Islamic values. In order to try and achieve this, it involves shaming the Muslim community into recanting their views and/or shaping these views to be in consensus with the opinions of secular liberal society. Of course one ought to raise an eyebrow at this suggestion for a myriad of reasons:

Firstly, considering that our society is a supposedly a liberal society, one of the tenets of liberalism is pluralism. Under pluralism this means you would have to tolerate people’s conceptions of a good life, and even allow these conceptions to flourish! Even if they are contrary to the prevailing norms of what society characterises as a good life, or in this case Trevor’s. Unification does not mean uniformity, and the key to achieving that unity amongst people is by accepting their differences. What Trevor has done is exposed the inconsistencies in liberal thought, liberal intolerance, and by default himself.

 

Second, the use of reformist voices from within the Muslim community is used to employ a divide and conquer strategy of Muslims.

Mr Phillips’ argument pretty much emphasised the fact that Muslims are different from the wider society, because Muslims hold more socially conservative views on issues that many in our society would hold with general liberality.

As Mr. Phillips prides himself on being a staunch liberal, this social conservatism of Muslim is heresy in a secular liberal society – therefore making Muslims “some distance away from the centre of gravity of everybody else’s”.  I find this problematic as the findings do not ONLY make Muslims “out of step” with the rest of Britain as Trevor may want people to believe. He could have equally conducted a similar survey on sections of religious communities such as: Roman Catholics, Mormons, Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, or any other religious minority. It is likely that outcomes of such surveys would produce similar results.

But of course Channel 4 would unlikely commission such a documentary to feature this as it wouldn’t be as newsworthy. Even if it did, it would be balanced with the spiritual benefits that religion brings to the individual.

In Mr. Phillips attempt to bridge the gap and close the ‘chasm’ between Muslims and the wider society, he’s failed abysmally instead alienating them and reinforcing a clash of civilisations narrative.

 

Final thoughts

The findings of the documentary served to only castigate Muslim for their views, and thereby place Muslims at a variance with British culture. Correspondingly, this can foster a climate of hate and fear to flourish and further the neo-conservative agenda intent on trying to reform Islam.

In order for Muslims to successfully counter these narratives, calls for reformation, and media scrutiny of our teachings and principles, this requires us to be unified and staunch in our faith and be unapologetically Muslim and practice our faith according to its teachings. This also includes each and every one of us, whether collectively or individually, making a voice for ourselves. One should never allow another to tell their story, because if they do, it is highly likely that it could be construed to your detriment.

 

Lastly, in engaging in discourse on Islam, Muslims and community cohesion this must come from a positive place not from the beginning point of Muslims being ‘the other’. Similarly it should not be born out of a preconceived notion (based on colonial undertones), that Muslims must conform to liberal thinking, and therefore need ‘civilising’.

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Should Nationalism and Anti-Black racism be an issue to be concerned about in the British Muslim community?

Racism and nationalism is one of the many callous and challenging aspects of human behaviour that can affect people individually, and whole communities and nations collectively. Particularly for those living in societies that are racially and ethnically heterogeneous, many people living in countries that are more racially homogenous may assume two things: firstly, that living in a country that is more racially diverse means racism is not likely to be a problem thus fostering a climate for peaceful co-existence to occur. On the other, there are some that assume that living in a racially plural society may make the propensity for racism and discrimination to permeate.

The root of racism is built upon the foundations of having a superiority complex over another due to one’s ethnicity or race, and therefore assuming that this makes one better than another.

Perhaps the earliest demonstration of such mentality can be found in the story of Prophet Adam (peace and blessings be upon him) when Satan refused to prostrate, because he believed that due to being made of fire – something aluminous – made him more worthy than Adam who was crafted from clay. Racism is an age old issue that even in today’s so called modern world affects various nations and peoples, which manifests in various forms irrespective of socio-economic background or gender. While history shows the problems incurred in trying the ameliorate the issue of racism and nationalism, the teachings of Islam derived from the Sunnah (ways) of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) and Quranic text has addressed such problems early on. This is exemplified in various aspects of the Qur’an and famously in the Prophet’s last sermon.

Centuries have passed since the last sermon, but it seems the issue is something that continues to resonate within the British Muslim community. While many agree that discussing racial prejudice and nationalism is somewhat a subject that can cause awkwardness and discomfort, by refusing to acknowledge this issue exacerbates the situation resulting in the problem still not being solved.

 

Confronting the Issue

On Wednesday 12th February 2014, there was a Twitter discussion (which was also featured on al-Jazeera’s “The Stream” segment) initiated by the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative in the USA under the hashtag #BeingBlackAndMuslim. The discussion was on the issues and problems experienced by Black American Muslims in the American Muslim community, with contributions to the discussion made by many people all over the world including the UK, Middle East, Asia and mainland Europe. Perhaps the reason as to why this discussion was spearheaded by the American Muslim community is because it is a challenging issue that American Muslims face and demonstrate more of a willingness to talk about.

The discussion was vital in highlighting the issue as many recounted experiences of racism being displayed in many ways. For example, Black American Muslim male contributors’ related experiencing racism through stereotyping and name calling (terms such as “abeed[1]” were commonly cited). This was more pronounced amongst those males who were converts to Islam, and were assumed to have converted to Islam in prison or through the Nation of Islam (NOI). This was also experienced when making enquiries for marriage, in which many were turned down by virtue of their race. This sort of stereotyping within the American Muslim community normalises the notion that Islam is only sought by black men in times of adversity and identity crisis, as opposed to seeking clarity and spirituality. Likewise it reinforced the long-held stereotype of black men as being synonymous with criminality and incarceration.

Black female Muslims related experiences of racism particularly when it came to marriage. Some stated instances of not receiving as many marriage proposals as their white and Hispanic counterparts as well as feeling marginalised by the American Muslim community. Again, this was largely attributed to stereotypes of black women (especially those who appear assertive) as being ‘loud’ or the ‘angry black woman’.  Human Rights advocate and political blogger Dawud Walid joined the discussion tweeting: The most marginalized person in the American Muslim community is the Black female Muslim.”

 

Should this concern the British Muslim community?

The issue of inter-Muslim racism and nationalism is something that should concern the British Muslim community as this problem affects many of its members, but what are even more disconcerting are the responses of justification that are used to provide an alibi for such un-Islamic behaviour. While there is no such basis for racial superiority in Islam, to some extent these practices have been normalised within certain cultures of the Muslim community such as the caste system based on skin colour hierarchy and using this as a benchmark to decide how others should be treated. This is further exacerbated with the promotion of fair skin and Caucasian features as being the epitome of beauty, and the products marketed (both legitimately and illegitimately) in order to achieve this. If anybody within the Muslim community should be judged it should not be upon the colour of their skin but rather their level of taqwa (God-consciousness).

Also the fact that some religious institutions such as mosques are informally referred to as being for a certain ethnicity or race is quite sad as it fosters a climate for nationalism to become more apparent, often at the expense of alienating some members of the Muslim community.

 

Responses to Anti-Black Racism and Nationalism

The responses to the issue are quite mixed of which may differ between persons; therefore it would not be fitting to conclude that there is one general response. However, among the various responses to the issue of nationalism and racism is the common one of denial. This is usually demonstrated through the use of various pieces of Islamic text, Prophet’s last sermon and of course not forgetting the all-time favourite of citing Bilal (RA) as the exemplar for racial plurality. Although discrimination is something contrary to the teachings of Islam, this does not seem to correspond with the actions of some Muslims. Using the examples mentioned to deny the fact that racism is an issue dividing the British Muslim community is turning a blind eye to the oppression faced by fellow brothers and sisters in the deen in favour of appeasing the sensitivities of those who are guilty of such behaviour.

These sorts of responses are not helpful in tackling the problem rather they serve to hinder dialogue in trying to ameliorate the situation, therefore allowing the problem to continue. Perhaps the most constructive approach to the problem is not to deny its existence, but to adopt a sense of unity in tackling it. The foundations for this lie in building awareness and placing an emphasis on how Islam is universal and not allowing one’s personal or cultural sensitivities to take precedence. In addition, some focus should be made in religious sermons, schools and by community figures to discuss this issue further and educate the rest of the community on the contributions made by historical figures in Islam who were of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Considering all the issues that Muslims, not just within Britain, but on a worldwide scale have to endure such as the media vilification of Islam and the systematic oppression of fellow Muslims in the Muslim world you would assume that unity should be more widespread. And rightly it should, as exemplified in Allah’s statement in the Qur’an:

“The believers are nothing else than brothers (in Islamic religion). So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy.” – Surah Al-Ĥujurāt, verse 10.

Unless we act upon the above verse, the problem will be yet another centrifugal force which serves to create more disunity in the Muslim community – with cycle and the chains of ignorance unbroken.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Abeed is an Arabic term in Arabic meaning “slave”. This is usually used in an insulting context people of African origin to attribute stereotypes. The term can also be used to describe black people in general.