Analysing World Hijab Day: Is it a form of Cultural and Religious Appropriation?

The 1st of February 2015 marked the world’s first “World Hijab Day”, with the aims to foster tolerance, interfaith dialogue and understanding to engage the wider society as to the daily trials and tribulations of Muslim women who experience Islamophobia due to observing the Islamic prescribed requirement of hijab. The idea for this day came from an American Muslim woman called Nazma Khan, in which she explained the reason as to why there was a need to create this day and campaign. It is common knowledge that for women who wear hijab, they are amongst the most vulnerable and are more likely to be victims of Islamophobic abuse in comparison to their male counterparts.

In the midst of the social media support that many have given for World Hijab Day, as exemplified in the numerous Facebook posts and hashtag Tweets trending the topic, it can make both the non-Muslim observer and fellow Muslims wonder as whether such day holds tenability in truly creating an understanding as to hardships endured by Muslim women. As much as one can sympathise and support the aims behind World Hijab Day, there are legitimate grounds for one to think that are elements of appropriation. Furthermore, this is an opinion shared by many, but voiced by few. In analysing World Hijab Day, it is in no way undermining the achievements of the campaign, neither is it a form of criticism. It is just simply exploring the other side of the coin: the alternative viewpoint others may have.

The first ground in which it could be argued that World Hijab Day does entail elements of appropriation would be the unrealistic results it may yield. Participating in such an event or practice in itself does not give you an authentic first-hand experience of the daily trials and tribulations that a veiled Muslim woman, (irrespective of race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic status) experiences just for wearing a hijab. Neither does it negate the fact that Islamophobic abuse, especially towards Muslim women, is a disconcerting and growing problem. Rather what would be more constructive would be to talk to a veiled Muslim woman (colloquially referred to a as a “hijabi”) and genuinely listen to her concerns, this would give a more valuable insight and understanding as to the realities of being a Muslim woman living in the West.

Additionally, for those who have been unfortunate in being a victim of Islamophobic abuse with all its emotional and psychological effects, why would such a person invite another to experience what this is like?                                                          In the instance that a non-Muslim participant in World Hijab Day incurs any Islamophobic abuse she could easily advance the excuse that she is just engaging in a social experiment, with the perpetrator backing off and perhaps apologising for ‘catching the wrong one’. Furthermore, the participant may equally appreciate the relief of not really being a Muslim woman and having to endure more abuse. Conversely, while the participant may have experienced what Islamophobia may entail, a Muslim woman may not be able to enjoy the same level of relief as she cannot deny being a Muslim but also because in the more than likely event the perpetrator of the attack would not stop their attack.

The effect that World Hijab Day may have upon the wider society, particularly in those living in Muslim minority countries, is that it diminishes the notion of hijab and the act of wearing it, to being something that can be casually worn by anybody any time they felt like doing so. It strips away the religious reverence it has and the reason as to why it is worn – because it is an act of worship (ibadah). By doing this, it may contribute to the ignorance that some members of society, and within the Muslim community, have about the hijab as a garment – further obscuring the lines of fact and fiction, culture and Islam. Although there is a margin of appreciation exercised for non-Muslim women and those Muslim women who do not wear hijab (and are considering wearing it on a permanent basis), the best way to find out first-hand what it is like is to not confine it just World Hijab day, but any other of the 364 days available in the year. If the intent is sincere and the consideration is one you have made for the sake of your Creator, surely you would not wait for one specific day to do this.

World Hijab Day arguably plays into the hands of Islamophobes and the never-ending media sensationalism of the hijab with its negative connotation to oppression. Have you not noticed how other faiths do not have an “[insert whatever faith related topic/issue or garment] World Day”?  Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic hate crime is also another issue faced by members of the Jewish community (especially Orthodox Jews), yes, even in the 21st century Britain we reside in. But you do not see the men of the wider society dressing up in the Jewish tallit (shawl) or kippah (headcap) or the women in a tischel (headscarf) to gain an experience of those Jews who are recipients of anti-Semitism. The issue with this is that it breeds a culture of seeking validation in order for veiled women to be also seen as “normal” and therefore accepted by Western society. This exemplifies the idea of Muslims as being the “other” category – different by default.  The fact of the matter is that a veiled woman are just like any other woman; the difference is that she does not look to society to validate her choices of clothing; rather she seeks it from a higher power – despite being socially ostracised and receiving abuse for it.

The bottom line is that in order to gain an insight into the experiences of Muslim women, society is going to have to do more than have a World Hijab Day to understand the hardships and struggles endured. It is through active engagement and giving these women a platform to speak, as opposed to the media and other non-Muslim members of society telling them about the issues that affect them, that the problem really be tackled head on.

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Can I touch it? Erm… : The Hair Conversations and the Politicisation of Black Hair

“Can I touch it?”, “Oh my God, your hair is so nappy!!”, “Wow *awkwardly smiles/fascinated stare* your hair is so different – I want an afro!”…or “Does the drapes….”  (There are other questions one can be asked, but due to Islamic etiquette I refuse to divulge the entirety of those questions).

These are among the many questions received by many black women and girls (including myself) at some point in their lives by a non-black peer, colleague or person generally interested in “the unknown”. Such individuals manifest an often genuine degree of fascination and feelings of shock and awe when analysing afro-textured hair. Of course in some instances, some people (normally those who exhibit a lack of home training in having regard for one’s personal space) may demonstrate the type of courage (rather ignorance/stupidity) you can’t get from a bottle of Jack Daniels and actually go there i.e. proceeding to touch, feel and quite frankly molest the hair of the afro-textured haired person in question. In some cases, albeit not all, this can occur with or without the permission of the recipient. Although, it is understandable that Caucasian and other non-black people of colour may have a well-meaning sense of curiosity with a hair type that is radically different to their own. These instances, in addition to the unintentional/intention comments made are forms of micro-aggressions, which can serve to alienate such groups from black people. As a result, hindering the efforts made to foster understanding and cohesion.

While the latter experience of touching a person’s hair without permission may not be particularly common in the UK, nevertheless it is an issue that is part of a wider conversation pertaining to the Eurocentric notions of beauty, race and the challenges they present to minority groups.

The politics and never-ending phenomena of Black hair (and at large the image of black women) is something that is contentious and often arouses feelings ranging from anger and frustration to joy and confusion – and all shades in between. The topic has been discussed by many cultural critics, black feminists and image activists including Michaela Angela Davis (not to be confused with the Black Panther member Angela Davis) and Professor Melissa Harris-Perry. The topic was even the subject of the 2009 documentary by comedian Chris Rock entitled “Good Hair”. Furthermore, black hair has gained mainstream international media attention when in 2013 South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma urged African women to embrace natural hairstyles, and back in 2009 when  US President Obama’s 11-year-old daughter, Malia Obama, incurred negative reactions because she wore her hair in natural African twists while accompanying her family on a visit to Italy.

In order to understand how and why this is an issue to be explored and discussed, one cannot talk about the politics of black hair without putting the conceptions and notions of beauty under the microscope.

Why y’all so touchy?

Caucasian and non-black people of colour often wonder as to why hair is such a contentious issue in the black community. It is fathomable when assessing the situation on a superficial level, the subject of hair is something that is ordinarily considered quite trivial in comparison to bigger problems plaguing society as a whole and their respective communities. However, in deciphering the issue, it may be sensible to start with a quote to put things into context:

 “It’s amazing that it’s considered revolutionary to wear my hair the way it grows out of my head!” Tracie Thoms (actress).

Historically speaking, black people and their hair has long been an issue dating back as far as the days of slavery in which a slave who had physical features that resembled that of their Caucasian master was in some cases favoured in terms of receiving an education and spared from doing backbreaking menial work under the sun, compared to the slave that most resembled black African ancestry. Since then, the phrase “good hair” which has its roots in being used as a survival term, is commonly used today to denote the preference, along with the constantly promulgated notion of long, straight, silky hair being made a socially acceptable norm (at the expense of kinky, afro-textured hair being socially rejected). In turn, many black women and girls opt for the use of a relaxer made of chemicals that straighten the hair to fulfil the ideal of having “good hair” with children as young as six being subjected to regular treatments. For those that choose to wear their natural hair in styles such as an afro, twists or dreadlocks, they may have to endure negative stereotypes attributed to such styles, e.g. the notion of those who wear dreadlocks being synonymous with recreational marijuana usage or the afro being tantamount to “setting off the revolution” – with reference to the civil rights activists such as Angela Davis from the Black Panthers.

Of course these stereotypes are wrong and correspondingly, this has a profoundly negative effect upon black women and young girls growing up in a Western, Eurocentric society in which tells them, whether overtly or covertly, that their form of beauty is not highly valued. This culminates in many having an inferiority complex as to their race, heritage and place in the world. Many Children’s books, television shows and toys such as Barbie perpetuate the narrative of Eurocentric superiority in beauty, and even when Barbie did have a black doll called Christie – she had long straight jet black hair that resembled that of an Oriental or Indo-Pakistani woman as opposed to a sub-Saharan African girl! Where was her afro? Or twists or locks?! At least give a variation.

To add insult to injury, when I recall my days as a child I also struggled to find a doll that resembled myself – the fact that I was (and still am) overweight and black made the search all the more difficult in my quest to find that elusive “fat black doll”. However, in the end I did find my doll and to this day I still keep it as a reminder of the various types of beauty that exist – but also the refusal for the society I live in to accept natural African hairstyles and fuller figured women as also encompassing the many notions of beauty.

It is easy to look at the issue simplistically and point fingers at certain people, corporations and/or society as whole etc., but doing so would just be that: simple. The problem is much deeper, and by pointing fingers and not postulating ideas to solve the problem, one just engrossed in this sad and confidence-waning cycle.

My black is beautiful, so when did I cease to become black?

Questions relating to black hair are not helped when dividing opinions permeate within the black community, namely between two groups: those who are “pro natural” (those that advocate and opt to wear their hair in its natural state, also known as the “natural hair movement”) and those who choose not to wear their hair in the natural state (i.e. the way in which their hair grows out of their hair, for example weaves, wigs, chemically straightening). It is argued by some in the former category (and by some conservative non-black social commentators) that wearing hair in its natural state shows pride and acceptance in one’s racial and ethnic identity, with claims also asserted by some who are pro-natural that the altering of hair from its natural state may constitute the denial of one’s racial or ethnic identity. Such arguments presented can often be regarded as reductive as there are a range of reasons why an individual opts to present themselves in the way that they do, and in turn should not feel obliged to justify this to the rest of society.

The issue is not how one chooses to wear their hair (or whether one’s hair is store bought or naturally grown) but rather the idea that black racial and ethnic identities are only limited to one type of way or look. This is completely wrong as black hair is not one monolithic type; rather it represents a range of fashion styles, lengths, levels of versatility and textures – and yes, this includes extensions. One doesn’t stop being black because they have a weave or lace-front wig nor does one become “more black” because you wear sport an Afro or dreadlocks with a dashiki shirt, rather this contributes to disunity within the black community at large and does help in the quest for unity.

Where beauty and blackness are concerned, black women constantly find themselves in a position where they have to fight and defend to the rest of society why their features should be legitimised and accepted. For me as a black woman, I find it disconcerting that something as trivial as the way my hair grows out of my head is considered defiant or “revolutionary”. What makes this situation more disheartening is that anti-blackness, shadeism, colourism, sectarianism and nationalism are all forms of mental colonialism that continue to permeate within the Muslim Community.

It is until Black women and other non-black women of colour emancipate themselves from the shackles of mental colonialism by starting to accept, embrace and promote their natural beauty by abstaining from using terms that normalise inferiority and self-hatred emanating from their past, that the struggle for promotion and acknowledgement within Western society will get easier.

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For those who are unfamiliar with the terms used in this piece. Here’s a brief glossary:

Good hair = A popular term in the black community (most especially African-American community), used to describe an black person’s hair that closely resembles the hair of a typical white person (i.e. soft, manageable, long, as opposed to “nappy” or “bad” hair). The closer your hair is to a white person’s, the “better” your hair is.

Nappy = tightly coiled / curled unaltered hair. Coiled hair in its natural state

Non-black people of Colour (NBoPoC) = people who belong to racial/ethnic groups that are neither Black nor Caucasian i.e. people who are Latino, Middle Eastern/Arab, Indo-Pakistani Asian, Oriental Asian, mixed race (be this mixed black and white or otherwise) or any group in the “other” category.

People of colour (PoC) = normally and mainly used to mean black people (African or Afro-Carribean), although one could count non-black and non-Caucasian racial/ethnic groups as being also people of colour.

Relaxer/Perm = a creamy substance made from hydrochloric acid and other alkhalis. For the most part it is applied mainly on Afro-textured hair in order to chemically straighten the hair. Another name for the relaxer is called a perm. Thus permed or relaxed hair is hair that is chemically straightened.

Making a Case for The “Ramadan Muslim” : Ramadan Spiritual Reflections

I have been blessed to enjoy spending parts of my Ramadan in different countries other than the one I reside in; I have spent parts of my Ramadan in places such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates thus witnessing how different people in different cultural contexts observe Ramadan. This has been indicative of how the significance of Ramadan can be interpreted and experienced in a multitude of ways. Perhaps another thing I forgot to mention is that I am an interfaith adult and convert to Islam, having been brought up in a home where one of my parents is Muslim and having chosen to convert to Islam at a young age through reason and rational investigation, Ramadan for the past ten years has been a spiritual learning curve.

For me, Ramadan signifies an opportunity to renew and further enhance my covenant with my Creator. As the time for suhoor (pre-dawn meal) approaches, while most of my neighbours may be asleep, I take this time to draw closer to Allah through the recitation of Qur’an when praying with members of my family for Fajr (the early morning prayer). The words of God as seen in the Qur’an resonate within my soul with the hope and determination that they will be implemented in my actions, as there is no certainty that I’ll get to enjoy another of life’s moments. In the midst of strengthening my relationship with God, Ramadan also serves as personal reminder of my mortality. Will I ever get to experience such a spiritually nourishing time period again? Will these lessons and spiritual boost that I’ve acquired bare any longevity or was this just the typical “Ramadan phase” that so many Muslims become ritualistically accustomed to only to be forgotten once Eid-ul Fitr comes around. These are among the plethora of questions that are pondered by many (including myself), but intensely self-scrutinised by few.

Regardless of whether one deems themselves the “worst individual in the world” due to not practicing their faith, the reflective advice I give is to never give up in building that spiritual connection with God. One of the many observations I made upon my conversion to Islam, was that the term “Ramadan Muslim” is sometimes used pejoratively to castigate those who are known for not being as observant of their faith outside the parameters of Ramadan.

Essentially there are two ways one could analyse this term. This term could be interpreted to mean exactly as I described, i.e. those who only decide to confine their practice and manifestation of their Islamic beliefs to only during Ramadan. With regard to the former interpretation, it’s quite interesting that those who apply such a term often fall victim to spiritual pride: a trait that is antithetical to the Islamic principles of humility and piety. In one’s bid to develop a profound spiritual attachment to Islam and, correspondingly a more strengthened relationship with their Creator, denigrating others or asserting a superiority complex over your fellow sibling in faith does little in earn the pleasure of God. By doing so the recipient of this harsh treatment isn’t harmed, rather the one who continues to demonstrate such feelings bears the harm of not seeing their how detrimental their character deficiencies are to their spirituality.
Alternatively, the term “Ramadan Muslim” could be used as example of the sweetness felt by Muslims (especially those experiencing weaknesses in faith) during a time where collectively and individually, people make improvements to strive in pleasing God and bettering themselves. It could be through Ramadan that such individuals use it as a reference point to continue in fortifying their faith – it could be that Ramadan that may change their lives. It is this latter interpretation that I hope has a more profound effect.

The month of Ramadan also serves to enhance the ability of an individual to have self-control and restraint, such a quality is revered bearing in mind the society in which I reside in promotes the notions of hedonism and immediate gratification. It is oh so easy for one to be a slave to their lower self and desires, and significantly harder to abstain from peer-pressure and the temptations of pleasure-seeking. During the hours of dawn, whilst the majority of the residents on my street lay tucked in bed reluctant to hear the sound of their alarm, I couldn’t help but observe and admire the discipline that dog owners have. The ability to consistently get up during the early hours of the morning and walk your dog, come rain or shine, is remarkable. I compared it to the diligence required when performing my prayers at the prescribed times. This made me think about the structure and importance of discipline and self-control not only pertaining to my observance of Islam but also the impact it has upon my everyday life. Perhaps the lessons derived from abstinence and self-control could be beneficial to those who are engulfed in the consumerist, hedonistic and fast paced lifestyle.

Perhaps another feature of Ramadan is that in spite of being entrenched in the everyday routines of work and school, Ramadan serves a purpose of reconnecting family members and the wider community at large. While it is not religiously obligated of me to go the mosque for congregational Friday prayers (although I used to try and make sure I went any Friday I could, maybe I liked the company also), I couldn’t help but notice that during times outside Ramadan the mosque seemed less filled. Community cohesion in religious institutions such as the mosque are one of the hallmarks of the Islam, the care and regard for the wellbeing of your fellow sister or brother in faith and the effort exerted into study sessions and meal preparation for breaking the fast fill me with excitement.

During Ramadan, I relay and reflect upon the stories of the Prophets and lessons to be learned – many of which are beneficial and would ameliorate the many problems and ailments permeating in society.
A time reflecting on relationships with members of my family, my friends and the wider community during Ramadan should provide an impetus for which one should always maintain the bond of kinship no matter how hectic life can be. Perhaps seeing the community cohesion in the mosque serves as a reminder of what society used to be like before the iPhone/Android smartphones, the iPads and the Twitter/Facebook accounts: when we all just used to actually TALK to each other.

As the days leading up to Eid-ul-Fitr go by I feel a sense of loss as with each day passing, the serenity that comes with Ramadan slips away. I just hope that I get to experience another month where the sweetness of faith never felt so good. But most importantly, will the lessons and experiences I’ve acquired be enduring and impacting upon my life permanently? I pray and hope that many sections of society, irrespective of one’s religious affiliation (or the lack of) have the opportunity to experience the spiritual nourishment Ramadan offers.

Godwilling.

Are some members of the Muslim Community becoming “unmosqued”?

The term “unmosqued” is a colloquial term used for those who, identify themselves as Muslims and still affiliate with Islam, but have never or recently become detached from the mosque and the mosque culture. This term is also referred to those Muslims who have stopped participating in the mosque, mainly (but not exclusively) due to the disappointments experienced as a result of the attitudes of some of its members. This is not to imply that these individuals do not pray or observe other Islamic mandates, ultimately Allah knows best as to their internal state, it is just the case that the mosque may not play a very focal role in their lives anymore.

Although no official Islamic organisation or body has actually compiled statistics or quantitative research as to the amount of people who have become unmosqued, many relate their experiences via social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook with blogs and articles featured in leading newspapers such as The Huffington Post. Additionally there had been a documentary entitled “Unmosqued” filmed and released in the US detailing the experience of some Muslims who feel unmosqued.

Sadly, this seems to be an issue that is also present in the British Muslim community and not as often discussed in comparison to the American Muslim community. The reasons as to why it is the case that some members of our Muslim community have become unmosqued, is something that cannot be put down to one single issue, rather it is something that is multifaceted and needs to be explored objectively. It is also an issue with its reasons differing from person to person on its own set of circumstances.

The attitudes and conduct of regular mosque attendees has often been cited as one of the many reasons contributing to a generation of people becoming unmosqued. For example, some have been inundated with instances of some regular attendees of the mosque (whether consciously or subconsciously) asserting a superiority complex over those that they may deem ‘less practicing’. This can become more apparent, especially among sisters, where one sister does not observe the hijab and may be made to feel inferior to those who do. Similarly, even amongst those who wear hijab or niqab, there may be issues made about how one may wear their hijab as opposed to another – thus the debate on modesty commencing and rearing its ugly head once again. In relation to brothers, there is the age old “beard vs. non-beard” issue that some may have. This is mainly illustrated when a brother who may make a valid contribution on a contentious topic, or even just simply walk in to perform ablution and prayer, receives stares and criticism from some members of the mosque due to the fact that he may not have beard or not wear traditional Islamic dress. So the way somebody dresses adds more validity to their point? In both scenarios given, this further alienates those who are trying to become more practicing of the faith as they feel that they have nothing to offer the masjid, but also may deter others from wanting to contribute to such discussions as a way of gaining knowledge.

“Mosque politics” is also something that is turning many away from having a feeling of belonging to religious institutions. Mosque politics manifests in various forms such as culture taking precedence over religion. Examples of this are demonstrated when it comes to decisions such as who will be elected on the next committee and of what ethnic background. This is also seen where some members of the mosque may speak languages other than English and in some cases form cliques in accordance to ethnicity and race. From the perspective of those who do not belong to the given ethnicity or speak the particular language, those who are converts and the youth can feel a sense of isolation from their fellow siblings in faith and may be less inclined to go to the mosque. The wider implications of this can lead to some rethinking whether the religion they became part of is as accepting as they thought.

Equally young people may develop the idea of the mosque being only for older people, and therefore something that the youth can only become a part of when they get older. What sort of message does this transmit to our youth? For many of these people the masjid is meant to be a haven for where they can seek comfort, spiritual help and unity but instead becomes a place synonymous with division, control and negativity.

The attitudes some members of the mosque hold towards women contributes to some women becoming unmosqued. In some British mosques there have been complaints about the inadequate prayer facilities for women, in some cases women’s prayer space are restricted to smaller than average rooms sizes or sometimes no space made available for women to pray. Some women have related extreme instances where they have been turned away. There is the general consensus amongst Muslims that Friday congregational prayers for Taariq ibn Shihaab (may Allah be pleased with him) according to which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Jumu’ah is a duty that is required of every Muslim in congregation, except four: a slave, a woman, a child or one who is sick.”(Narrated by Abu Dawud, hadith no. 91067). This hadith is declared authentic (sahih) by Bukhari and Muslim.

However, while this is the case, this should not preclude Muslim women from having a space provided for them by members of the Mosque and neither should they be turned away. These practices are more culturally orientated as opposed having any Islamic basis, and are therefore contrary to the teachings of Islam. Correspondingly, the exclusion of women from the mosque often results in women being silent and absent figures in the Muslim community. The resonating effect this may have upon the perceptions of young Muslim girls is that they may internalise the idea that they should not and cannot have a functional role within the mosque and the Muslim community at large.

Imams can, to a lesser extent, be instrumental in fostering an environment for some people becoming unmosqued. Some imams have a reluctance to tackle issues that affect the community they serve and the international Muslim community at large. While there  is an appreciation that some topics may be taboo causing awkwardness and discomfort, it does not negate the fact that these are issues that affect members of the Muslim community. These should be discussed in order to facilitate reflection and dialogue needed to solve the problem. Imams within many communities across the world are instrumental in creating a sense of cohesion, and by tackling culturally taboo topics and addressing the problems the members of the Muslim community experience this can make the mosque a more inclusive place.

The problem of people becoming unmosqued in the British Muslim community is something that, hopefully after reading this, should ignite dialogue in trying to ameliorate this issue and help both the disconnected and the attached reconnect once again.

Bridge the Gap.

 

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.

Boris Johnson: The many faces of Ignorant

Recently the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, reached new levels ignorance and hypocrisy when he cited that young people and children that are being taught “crazy stuff” at home, i.e. being “radicalised” should be removed from their parents and put into care, as radicalisation in his view amounts to a form of child abuse. Additionally, Boris believed that previously he has been hindered from pointing out radicalisation (i.e. Islamic radicalisation) and other forms of abuse (often stigmatised as being synonymous with Islam) such as FGM and paedophilia due to political correctness from social, cultural and religious groups. What Boris is really meaning is the Muslim community are the source of these problems, which is what his tirade is really aimed at under the façade of concern for the general wellbeing of British Muslims. Following his comments, many took to social media outlets as Facebook and Twitter to vent their disgust, channelling this by way of sarcasm under the trending hashtag #SignsofARadicalBaby. Under the hashtag many posted tweets, often accompanied by pictures of Muslims doing ordinary things such as people praying, women wearing hijab etc.

The funny and ironic thing about this whole affair is that Boris seems to be oblivious to the fact that his statements are not only contradictory, but there is evidence to prove that radicalisation happens from sources outside of the household. Let us deconstruct.

What is an abhorrent view?

The Oxford dictionary defines the term “abhorrent” as something that is disgusting and repugnant often inspiring hate. Therefore an abhorrent view is a belief or opinion that is disgusting and repugnant inspiring a climate for hate to manifest in various forms. However, in spite of this definition, there is currently no legal standard or definition as to what constitutes an abhorrent view. Rather there is a societal consensus that some opinions held may be contrary to the ideas and values a majority of people in a given society may believe. From this, it can be implied that what constitutes an “abhorrent view” is something that has elements of subjectivity, as what could be abhorrent and undesirable to one individual could be desirable to another and vice versa. In the midst of classifying what amounts to an abhorrent view, one must also remember that an individual’s right to freedom of thought should not be intruded upon. As even though an individual’s views, thoughts and opinions may not be in consensus with what most people in society think, they still have the right to hold these beliefs and therefore removing a child from their parents because of this may breach their right.

Furthermore, if in a hypothetical scenario the statements made by Boris were to be implemented, then would not most parents and guardians have their children taken from them? That would result in many care homes being overcrowded, often needlessly, with a lot of people having checks and balances upon their thoughts. Surely this would suppress the freedom of ones thought, something which is dichotomous to Western liberal and secular views regarding freedom of speech, thought and expression.

Separating rhetoric from reality:

Boris Johnson seems to deny the fact that his statements do not reflect the realities of the events that have transpired. For example, if we use this statement and apply it to instances of terrorist acts committed and those thwarted over the last 10 years, you will actually laugh at his ignorance his displayed. The killers of Fusilier Drummer Lee Rigby, Michael Adebowale and Michel Adebolago, were converts to Islam with neither of them having parents that were Muslim – they were born-again Christians. Therefore they could not have been subjected to indoctrination or radicalisation by their parents, rather they were radicalised by external factors such as joining particular fringe groups and listening to lectures offering a direction of Islam not shared by the majority of Muslims. If anything, both the parents of these men were repulsed by the ideas and viewpoints held by their sons. Similarly, with the perpetrators of the July 2007 London bombings, they also were victims of being indoctrinated and radicalised by outside sources. Two of the perpetrators, Muhammed Sidique Khan and Germaine Lindsay, had loved ones who spoke out condemning their actions and also not having knowledge of the fact they were being radicalised. Additionally Farida Patel, the mother-in-law of Muhammed Sidique Khan, is said to have been devastated by the actions of her son-in-law.

Although more examples can be advanced, the few given are testimony to the fact that the main source of religious radicalisation does not come from parents teaching their children such notions. Rather these ideas are developed through external sources. Therefore, the statements of Boris Johnson do not correspond with facts pertaining to those that have committed terrorist acts. Furthermore, the hypocrisy exemplified by Boris Johnson is evidenced in his targeting of the Muslim community. Boris fails to consider the other forms of child abuse such as paedophilia, inter-sibling abuse and the impact racist and xenophobic parenting has upon fostering a climate for acts of violence to be committed against members of the British public. But as per usual, if these acts are committed by people who are not Muslim, their ethnicity and religion will not be highlighted as reason for why these instances occur.

Double standards & Ignoring Deeper issues

While it is an undeniable fact that religious radicalisation is a concern in British society, the same concern should be expressed for other types of social ills permeating as a result of negligent parenting. Recently a 12-year-old boy who, upon viewing hard-core pornography with his friends (which ignited his desire to implement what he saw on his sister), walked free from court after pleading guilty to rape, two counts of indecent assault and inciting a child to engage in sexual intercourse. The district judge, upon hearing that the boy promised not to do it again, deemed him not to be a danger to society and that keeping him in custody would “tear the family apart”. He told his father that the youngster would also be placed on the sex offenders register for two and a half years. If anything, many would argue contrary to what the judge said and agree that the boy should be taken by the social services and indeed may present a danger to the rest of society in a plethora of ways.

Firstly, if he continued to view such material, he could pose a threat in school as due to becoming desensitised to pornography it could result in acts of rape being committed against another pupil.  Instances like this are proof that in our society, where access to indecent material is made easily available to people they become desensitised to viewing such things, this can culminate into acts of abuse and violence becoming common. As a result, this jeopardises the well-being and safety of children and adults alike. But somehow because this is not an illustration involving Muslims, Boris is being selective as to whose crimes should be amplified. Additionally, children that are raised in environments in which their parents hold views similar to those of the English Defence League or the National Front thus being racially radicalised, should also deserve attention. The BBC Three documentary entitled “EDL Angels” showed a teenager who lived in a household where many members held unfavourable sentiments towards Muslims, in which their views had some influence in shaping her opinion about Muslims in her local area. Furthermore, a 19 year old soldier was recently spared jail as he posted a picture on social media with racially derogatory comments towards those of Indo-Pakistani descent. The grounds for his exoneration were due to him growing up in a racist family, all he knew was to harbour towards dislike other races. Now, does this not sound hypocritical in that such an individual who is capable of reasoning, and harboured what Boris and most people in society would regard as an abhorrent view was absolved from responsibility for his actions? If we applied the same facts to that of a Muslim, it would be more than likely the case that the Muslim defendant would not be absolved of blame for his or her viewpoints.

The irony of the examples of those who were non-Muslim and held abhorrent views is that Boris in his statement seemed to disregard them, but also the fact that in these instances such people also pose a threat to cohesion in Britain’s racially plural society. Such people have the capacity to commit violent offences against racial and religious minorities thereby fostering a climate for hatred to manifest into acts of terrorism. But again, Boris developed convenient amnesia to highlight this fact.

In analysing Boris Johnson’s statements and whether they hold any tenability, there is one thing I would like to leave as a reminder, especially to those who sympathise with the views of Katie Hopkins regarding private education:

“It does a fool no good to spend money on an education, because he has no common sense.”  – Proverbs 17:16

 

 

Are Muslims Hindering the Spread of Islam?

Precursory Note: I refuse to apologise for exposing the underlying issues that permeate within this ummah, having said this, I don’t and won’t apologise for who I am as a person. If you feel the need to correct me for any inaccuracies and assertions made in the article (or generally in any talks given, personal face to face encounters) please do so in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah with the requisite intent.

Assalam Walaykum, greetings! It is the start of the Gregorian calendar and in sha Allah I thought I’d start off 2014 with yet another article that serves to spark off thought and dialogue. By that same token, I realise that the question I’ve asked and the topic itself is something that is contentious and perhaps isn’t often discussed. I delve into this question with the following equipment: my experiences, my observations and knowledge (so far as I’m able) to try and advance ideas to encourage a unified action to help tackle the problem. I call a spade a spade.

Anyway so as to not deviate from the topic at hand, Islam is a religion that gets negative press a lot of the time – you don’t need to be a MENSA member to work that out – and sadly this negative press can hinder some people from wanting to find out more about Islam and become cordoned off from experiencing the beauty of the religion and its wisdom. From my experiences and observations there are numerous examples where Muslims have hindered the spread of Islam from somebody embracing it, and I won’t hold back in highlighting the way in which this is done:

Nationalism is one of the major reasons for the lack of unity amongst the Muslims and sadly this is becoming an ever-increasing concern.

Nationalism is a concept alien to Islam because nationalism calls for unity based on family and tribalistic/ethnic or racial ties, whereas Islam binds people together on the belief in Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saaw). Islam calls for the ideological bond. Grouping the Muslims on tribalistic lines is clearly forbidden. It is narrated by Abu Da’wud that the Messenger of Allah (saaw) said,

“He is not one us who calls for `Asabiyyah, (nationalism/tribalism) or who fights for `Asabiyyah or who dies for `Asabiyyah.”

Unfortunately it has become common and normalised amongst members of this ummah for certain masjids to be well-known as being for one particular ethnicity/race, often to the exclusion of another. I recount the experience of my own sibling who, minutes prior to jummah prayer starting, had to endure the pain of overhearing derogative comments made about the colour of her skin. My race and ethnicity in itself is not the main focal point, but rather the issue is this ignorant view of ethnicity and cultural baggage as being more of a priority than uniting under the banner of Islam. The origins of nationalism are rooted in the idea of superiority, the idea that somehow a pre-determined genetic factor makes you better than another brother or sister? What’s even more heart-breaking is that upon conversion, some new Muslims (and those wanting to inquire more about Islam) can often feel rejected and turned away as a consequence of their experience. On the other hand those inquiring about Islam may feel that the ignorance demonstrated by a minority may be a window reflection on how Muslims in general act…oh and don’t get me started on the Islamophobes, they just add more fuel to the fire that seem to dedicate a special bonfire to tarnishing the image of Islam.

Other ramifications that nationalism has upon members of this ummah, is that when it comes to the time of looking for that special somebody to complete half your deen with, some find themselves being rejected by families that place culture, ethnicity and other desire filled stipulations of greater importance than one’s devotion to the deen. Of course where culture and religion conflict it is religion that takes precedence, but this knowledge at times isn’t being acted upon thus culminating into many heartbreaks and shattered dreams. Linked to this, the intermingling of culture and religion may not exactly make it easy for those looking at Islam from an outsider point. More than often, it is the case that due to some Muslims having an inability to make the demarcation between culture and religion (rather combining it like the pick ‘n’ mix section at Woolworths!) and thus become misinformed as to what Islam is.

Spiritual pride is another factor that impedes the spread of Islam, but what do I mean by this? Okay, I understand that the two words are quite juxtaposed as spirituality is often synonymous with humility and asceticism whereas pride is synonymous with indulgence ….but let me just explain and analyse.

There are some members of our ummah that assume that just because they are or have recently become practicing, that somehow this makes them morally superior to that of another or they feel a need to subliminally scold their peers and loved ones for the actions reminiscent of  pre-practicing days. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not hating or throwing shade on all people who’ve become practicing – in fact I support your efforts – but the issue is when some Muslims fall victim to spiritual pride. Arrogance isn’t from Islam, and as a matter of fact, is the very antithesis of what Islam propagates. It seems that many have forgotten their roots, perhaps was a time where you weren’t as practicing, somebody or something eventually made you realise the importance of your faith …in other words…YOU USED TO BE THEM. This very much impacts upon the way both Muslims and non-Muslims receive the message of Islam, for example, there have been many cases where this has resulted in many slowly becoming less inclined to come to the masjid or socialise amongst some sisters (or brothers) for fear of being judged. In some cases there are instances of people leaving Islam as a result of negative experiences incurred as a result of the actions perpetrated by a minority.   Likewise denigrating the religion of another person, or insulting non-Muslims who may lead a lifestyle dichotomous to your own does no favours when trying to propagate Islam and serves to limit the likelihood of certain segments in society not being receptive to Islam.

“I’m glad I found Islam at the young age that I did, before I met Muslims. As much as people need to differentiate between what Islam says and what its followers do, the responsibility is also incumbent upon Muslims to not only to have an unqualified affirmation of faith (i.e. iman) but rather actualise this affirmation by letting it manifest in their daily actions and on a spiritual level. One of the ways this can be done is by developing ihsan and taqwa.

It is from this, that many more people will be inclined to come to Islam in their droves through seeing its beauty and wholly encompassing nature: the solution for humanity.”

– N. Lodda 2014