“You’re Not Here To Help Us” – Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Muslim Women In Their Own Words

One of things that’s most striking about so-called Muslim reformers is how they always position themselves as knowing better than those they claim to want to help. Ironically they also are the same type to be hostile towards religion and especially revelation because “God only speaks to certain elect humans”. And yet, they seem to be receiving some other form of divine insight.

“Because there is nothing quite as satisfying to a coloniser than a subject who becomes a salesperson for their ideology

There Is No Such Thing As Islamophobia: It’s Called White Supremacy!

“The thing with a phobia … is that the victim of the phobia — the person with the phobia — is being triggered by an external event … and therefore the phobia removes any responsibility for having those feelings, having those thoughts.”

Another Example of Why Islamophobia Is White Supremacy

“The Good News for the soul may appear as so much Bad News for the intellect; free-thinking is the last thing to be expected in reading a religious document.”Charles Grey Shaw

I have always found those who espouse “free-thinking” as nothing other than intellectual smugness and prejudice against those of faith. Critical to that smugness has been an assumption that faith — implicating the faithful — is expressed and lived under a regime of compulsion. In as much as this animosity is directed towards religion in general — a child of the Enlightenment — it is assumed to apply doubly so towards Islam, the quintessential pre-Enlightenment religion.

In the article, Lindsay Lohan May Have Made Her Worst Life Choice Yet, dated January 18th, 20171 and published on the website The Hill, Robert Spencer, noted Muslim bigot and pseudo-intellectual, has taken to trolling those who choose (or those who appear to choose) to become Muslim. Lohan, who has led a life full of tabloid sensationalism, publicly expressed empathy towards Muslims (though her conversion is as of yet, unconfirmed) which in turn irked Spencer. In the view of Islamophobes,  why would a white western woman want to give up her freedom? Doesn’t a modern, secular, post-Christendom West have all Logan, and any white women for that matter, could need? It would seem these attributes, Lohan’s femininity and whiteness, were what exercised so much outrage in Spender and continues to enrage the Islamophobe cottage industry. And it is for these two qualities that Islamophobia reveals itself to be nothing other than a modern articulation of white supremacy.

The intersection of whiteness and femininity are nothing new. In fact, it’s as old as America herself. Many Southern defenders of slavery were not only committed to theological interpretations of Christian scripture to justify slavery but many also fought against its abolition on the grounds of preserving white womanhood. White supremacists treated any attack on white womanhood to be an equally committed attack on the South as a whole (and vice versa). As W. J. Cash wrote in his The Mind of the South,

“…the central status that Southern woman had long ago taken up in Southern emotion — her identification with the very notion of the South itself. For, with this in view, it is obvious that the assault on the South would be felt as, in some true sense, an assault on her also, and that the South would inevitably translate its whole battle into terms of her defense.”2

Indeed, if we fast forward nearly seventy-five years, we find this ideology just as enduring as it was nearly a century ago. Dylann Roof, the murderer of nine black Christian parishioners, justified his massacre in part (as related to the whole of America!) to the preservation of white women, saying,

“I have to do it,” he reportedly said as he reloaded his gun five different times. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.”3

The so-called Islamophobe industry is inseparable from white supremacy as we see above and it will only be dealt with accordingly and efficiently when it is called as such. Additionally, Spencer’s words reveal that he is not only committed to white supremacist ideology, but also to Orientalist ideology. Spencer is only able to see Muslims, those who empathize with them as well as those who might aspire to be Muslim, as irrevocably Other than him, and the West. As Walter G. Andrews comments in his review of Thierry Hentsch’s Imagining the Middle East,

“Westerners—have created our selves, our Western selves, by creating an Orient in relation to which we are the West.”4

Spencer has fallen into the all-too-familiar trap of the “clash of civilizations” trope. His objection to Lohan’s (speculated) embracing of Islam is not rooted in, for example, theological disagreements (these would be perfectly acceptable), but in a rejection that is committed to Islam being the total opposite of western civilization. In other words, if Lohan has become a Muslim, she has ceased to be a westerner. Spencer objects to her choice of finding other truths outside the truths as expressed in the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition (her words, as he quotes them, are, “to find another true meaning”). It would seem that Spencer is denying that Islam and, vis-a-vie Muslims, can neither hold nor express any truth-claims; that is the sole purview of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Would he also then deny truth-claims to the Chinese, the Japanese, or any other non-JC tradition? If his objection is rooted in so-called acts of violence perpetrated by Muslims, then not only would he be obliged to discount the Chinese and the Japanese in their truth-claims, but Spencer would also have to forfeit the Judeo-Christian tradition itself in its truth-claims as their have been uncountable acts of violence perpetrated against others (Native Americans, Asians, African-Americans, etc.). This brings us back full-circle to his support of white supremacy as a value system: whites/westerners, and only whites/westerners can commit acts of violence and still retain their humanity, worthiness and claims to truth and beauty.

What is also worthy of note is the difference between how the Islamophobe community has treated Lohan’s (speculated) conversion with that of pop-star, Janet Jackson’s. Pamela Geller, a fellow peer of Spencer’s in anti-Muslim circles, berates the new Muslim as a “has-been rock star” who has been “bought” by the Islamic world5. Geller’s words are ripe with many white supremacist and racist overtones. While Spencer berates Lohan for being duped, Geller’s racist assumptions, rather, assert that Jackson, who is African-American, is owned, not simply by her husband, but by the entire Muslim world. Why is Jackson understood here to have been “bought” where Lohan is not? The allusion to blacks as slaves cannot be missed in Geller’s rant, whereas Lohan is simply described as having lost “her moral compass … long ago”. Jackson, according to Geller, is simply fulfilling her slave-heritage whereas Lohan is guilelessly misinformed.

Spencer also commits one of the most common offenses of his ilk, which is that of intellectual sloppiness peddled as academic authority. Spencer has chosen to ignore the scholarship which challenges his claims on Qur’anic interpretation; Muslim as well as non-Muslim scholarship. Spencer reveals his ignorance of traditional Muslim scholarship as well as his arrogance in disregarding it when speaking to a number of verses in the Qur’an. One example, is his claim to the Qur’an sanctioning “wife-beating”6 as found in Chapter 4, verse 34. The command in question is, in the Arabic transliteration, “wa darabahunna”. Spencer chooses to ignore centuries of scholarship that adamantly declares that the verse is not a sanction for a man to beat his wife. And most strikingly of all, there cannot be found any evidence to support the Prophet beating any of his own wives, even though several were known to have spirited and defiant attitudes. Not only can such an account not be found in the defenders of the Prophet but also none can be found in the statements of his enemies, who spared no quarter or opportunity to badger or delegitimize the Prophet. What is more at work here again, is the same white supremacist and Orientalist ideologies at work which impugn non-whites and Muslims as inherently violent and sexually rapacious.

That Lindsay Logan finds value where Spencer finds devaluation only speaks to the reality that Islam itself confirms: not everyone is going to find truth in the Qur’an. That some white western women may come to see value in Islam undoubtedly rings the bells of alarm in white supremacist and Islamophobic camps. Claiming that, “Lindsay Lohan likely doesn’t know that any of this is in Islamic teaching” is nothing other than prejudice and absurdity masquerading in academic robes. It will take more than cherry picking a few Prophetic narrations out of context — out of historical understandings, to pass muster as legitimate scholarship. But Spencer’s words should rally Muslims to the call of addressing yet another incident of “credibility gap”, as coined by Dr. Sherman Jackson. For in the absence of our community striving to push for academic standards (which is not the same as everyone liking Islam or agreeing with Muslim truth-claims) we will continue to be impotent in the struggle for making our voices, and most importantly our intentions, not only heard, but understood.

References

  1. Spencer’s op-ed for The Hill, “Lindsay Lohan May Have Made Her Worst Life Choice Yet” has been taken down supposedly due to protests over its contents. You may look at the text of the original article here.
  2. Cash, W. J. The Mind of the South. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1941.
  3. ‘You Rape Our Women and Are Taking Over Our Country.’ The Telegraph, June 18th, 2015.
  4. Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 2 (December 1993), pp. 272-273.
  5. Janet Jackson: From Bare Breasted to Burka. By Pamela Geller. October 24th, 2016
  6. Spencer. Original article here.

The Sacred

Today’s world is a cynical world. How often do we see the deepest, the most egregious problems dealt with a cynical hand? I heard once from a modern scholar that the only people in today’s society that have the power to critique are the comedians. But they loose their impact because they trivialize the issue by making a jest of it (whether or not that make a jest of it).

I recently gave a talk at Rutgers University, to a group of students who were taking a class on spiritual autobiography. Like many people I’ve talked to this year in regards to Islam, “why did the Muslims react the way in which they did towards the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad” has been been one of the more popular questions. My answer has been long coming to me – but the answer I gave that day and the one I’ll give again today is because of The Sacred. I will outline what I mean by sacred so that one will not conflate my words to mean that I condone actions of violence. I most certainly do not. But in an effort to break away from the certain perspectives (Orientalist, Islamophobes…) that these violent reactions are a result of the Eastern Mind or something inherent in Islam and instead, people’s (misguided, and I’ll get to that as well) frustrations towards The Sacred being violated. For many people who had issue with the cartoons (myself included), we were told that Freedom of Speech trumped our concepts of The Sacred. Being able to say whatever comes to one’s mind supersedes that of moral, ethical and public judgment. With this reckless abandonment of wisdom as a system, then there will always be people who will lash out (hopefully in a proverbial way) against having that which they hold as Sacred, trampled underneath someone else’s belief system. The final part of this short essay is the re-examination of what is and isn’t Sacred for Muslims, or if I may be so bold, what aught to be Sacred and the re-prioritization of The Sacred for Muslims based on what the Prophet and his companions held as Sacred, as a guide for Muslims living in this “Western” part of the world.

Before we can clear the deck for me to leap into this topic I’d like to clarify a few short topics. In a recent interview I was quoted as being a “progressive Muslim”. In today’s world of headlines and sound-bites, one little word, one little phrase can pigeonhole a person. To state it for the record, I never used this word “progressive” to describe myself or any of my ideologies. Islam in the 20th century has a seen a vast array of movements: Reformists. Traditionalists. Jihadists. And yes, Progressives. While it is not the focus of this post to target any of those groups or to even say that they are not legitimate, I will say that I am not a reformist, a traditionalist, a jihadist or a progressive. Now that isn’t to say that I may not share specific sentiments with some of these groups but I do not want my labeling as a Progressive to be conflated as consensual.

The most sacred thing for Muslims is God. That is a simple fact. And it is not just simply that there is a god but that there is no god except God (La ilaha illallah). This simple phrase, known as the Testimony of Faith (al-Shahadah) is the foundation of Muslim theology and belief. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, one of the key aspects of his mission was to reintroduce Monotheism back to the world. The majority of the Arabs living in the Arabian peninsula during the time of the Prophet had slipped into idol worship, despite many of them being descendants of great prophets of God themselves (Abraham, Jonah, Shu’aib to name a few). The center of interest in Makkah was the Ka’bah, the house that Abraham built as a place of worship. And while the Qur’an was revealed throughout the 23 years of the Prophet’s stay in Arabia, it dealt theologically with Sacred Ideologies, chief amongst them was not ascribing partners or association with God. God admonishes those that say God is three or that Jesus the son of Mary, the Messiah, is God himself [Q 5: 72-75]. I state this here not polemically – that is not the point of my argument. But rather to reinforce what is sacred to Muslims. God is the most sacred – one of God’s names is al-Quddus, or The Holy or The Sacred. So with this understanding, why is it that Muslims aren’t jumping off at every Christian for wearing a cross on their necks or building churches that have Jesus on the cross, worshipped as God or the son of God? Because of another sacred source for Muslims – the Sunnah.

That the Prophet Muhammad is sacred for Muslims goes without saying. His life is a holy example for all Muslims in terms of morals, permissible actions and so forth. Many rulings for Shari’ah or Islamic Law, comes from his life. But if we were to examine the Prophet’s life and look at what he considered sacred, would it coincide with what Muslims hold as sacred?

To take the example from above, referring to Christians and their theological stance that they proclaim Jesus the son of Mary is the Son of God, this would contradict the teachings that the Prophet was preaching. And yet, while going against the grain of God’s theological bounds, the Prophet never proclaimed the life of the Christians forfeit. No churches were burned down on his order. No representatives of Christianity were assassinated. To take it a step further, the pagans were not indiscriminately slaughtered. Their idols were not even allowed to be desecrated. Why? Because the Prophet knew that Jesus was holy, sacred to the Christians even while he believed it wrong! The pagan Arabs (who, on a scale, ranked much lower than Jews or Christians because they were people who had received Divine Revelation) were still treated with respect and treaties were signed with them. If Muslims would but take the time to study their own “traditions”, we might see that that which we hold as sacred and that which the Prophet held as sacred are not one and the same. And further, even when something this is sacred to us is violated, are actions are woefully unacceptable.

Our modern age is one of false universals and failed utopian ideologies. And while the Muslims are not alone in perpetuating such rhetoric, ironically, they are just as guilty as their Western counterparts which they blame of the same crime. Often wrapped in the guise of “tradition”, this one-size fits all mentality has and is causing grave harm to Muslim communities across the globe and I have personally seen its insidious affects in my 14-year career as a Muslim. For those who call for an Islamic state to be raised in America I say that you would have to obtain the rights from Roberta Flack for its national anthem, for surely this is “killing us softly”.

So what are some other things that the Prophet held as sacred? Human life would most certainly rank high on his list. Caring for the poor. Visiting the sick and caring for the old. As Muslims, where do these categories rank on our lists? This is where Muslims fail in my opinion. As a group that believes it should uphold high moral standards, how are we caring for the poor? How many Muslim organizations have we developed that care for old and sick people in our neighborhoods, regardless of race, creed or religion? How many Muslim organizations have we built that care for the poor? Are we involved in urban development? Big brother, big sister organizations? I’m sure I will receive many emails confirming that we do partake in such actions. And while there may be a few why are they absent from the public spot light?

As it stands now, Muslims are not known as a group that participate in the greater society (and yet we want people to sympathize with us when we have problems). At a recent meeting between myself and other fellow bloggers, astonishment would be the word that would best describe the reactions of others when they found out that I was a Muslim and that I desired to participate in society. This is not a PR statement for myself but rather a reflection on the status of Muslims in society. If Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man today he’d have to re-title it Invisible People.

So in the end I believe we as Muslims are in need of a serious revamping of what is and isn’t Sacred to us. We need to seriously reevaluate what is important to us and what isn’t. The military developed a term called triage – we need to stop the bleeding and then reexamine what we’re about. I believe this reexamination starts with the basics – Qur’an and Sunnah. It may surprise you that I would choose such a sloganized answer but none the less, I do believe the answer lies there in. By Qur’an, I mean we should actually spend time reading it. Many of us do not. We rely on regurgitated quotes from people who have little formal training and short intellects. The Sunnah of the Prophet is also do for a serious reexamination. What did he say? What did he do? How was he both simultaneously stern and flexible? How could he proclaim no god but God and yet make concessions with idolators? Muhammad was a complex man – revisiting his life and his prophethood will no doubt turn up many unknown gems for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is a topic which deserves deeper introspection – an introspection that cannot fully be dealt with in a small post as it is here. Rather, it is my hope that we may ponder this questions, these situations and feel moved to do something about it. And in the words of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, “Allah and His Messenger know best”.

The Seerah With Dr. Sherman Jackson – Seeing Love In Action

I am so tired right now but I had to put this down on pen and paper (or pixel and electrons if you will). I will comment at greater length as to the details of Dr. Jackson’s two-day session at NYU (especially as I’ve only seen one day so far) but I’d like to speak on Dr. Jackson as a whole and what he means to me.

I know I’ve written an awful lot about Dr. Jackson here and even he may think my words are misplaced but I will say that we, meaning American Muslims, are so blessed, so fortunate to have someone like him that I want to take a moment to personally thank him.

The session I spoke of is the two-day session on the Seerah of the Prophet: The Makkan Period. Never before have I had the biography of the Prophet laid out before me. One of several epiphanies that I had during this course is that there needs to be a serious, scholarly re-working of the Muslims understanding of the Prophet. By this I mean we need to have the language and the method in which the Prophet is presented to us re-tooled to fit the times in which we live. For many of us (and myself until recent) I believe/d the Prophet is/has been made into an unhuman figure. What do I mean by unhuman (not inhuman!)? I mean that we often hear ourselves quoting the fact that the Prophet never made a mistake even though we have Qur’anic proof that he did:

He frowned and turned his back when the blind man came towards him. How could you tell? He might have sought to purify himself. He might have been forewarned, and might have profited from Our warning. But to the wealthy man you were all attention: although the fault would not be yours (the Prophet) if he remained uncleansed.{Qur’an: 80 v.1-5}

This is not some play at words – the Prophet was a real person, a real human being. He did make a mistake. The difference is that God never allowed the Prophet to perpetuate a mistake or more clearly, what ever mistakes the Prophet may have committed would be/were corrected before his death. This, in my opinion, is a more correct way to look at the عصمة (‘ismah) or infallibility of the Prophet.

As Muslims, we need to ask ourselves, why do we have these perceptions? Should we have them? And how can we begin a process of (as Yoda put it so eloquently), “unlearning what we have learned.” For me, I see many Muslims are afraid to tackle these issues. Some thing by looking at the Prophet in this light, it opens the door of capitulating to the Orientalist or Islamaphobes perception of the Prophet. But, as per Dr. Jackson’s advice, instead of worrying how others outside of our religious fold define the Prophet, perhaps we should concentrate on how we define him. If we remove our desire for outside validation, then perhaps so many of our phobias will fall away.

It was this and more that Dr. Jackson brought to us. The Prophet came alive for us. Though we could never walk in his shoes, we certainly could empathize with him. The Prophet was a man who loved his people: idolators, Jews, Christians, Muslims, all of them. And he showed this love in how he carried out his prophethood.

The Prophet was also a man who also experienced deep sorrow. Never wanting the mantle of prophethood, Khadijah, his first wife and if I may be so bold, his big love of his life, was his rock and corner stone when his received Revelation. Khadijah was the first Muslim. And when she died, the sorrow that he must have felt was immense. I could only imagine what it must have been like. A message delivered to you in which no one else is aware of. And the only person who trusts and believes you, who bares your children and comforts you, is one day taken from you (all the while, hostility is growing towards you and your movement and there’s no backing out of it – how do you back out of delivering God’s message?). When Dr. Jackson said that the Prophet had to come home to a lonely home after 25 years of marriage, the deep sorrow the Prophet felt at Khadijah’s death, overwhelmed me. As I sat and pondered these thoughts on the bus back to Philadelphia that evening, I started to weep. I imagined being in love and having that great love taken from you. Coming home and not having that person be there. I thought of my father and what it would mean for him to come home and not have my mother there and I just kept crying.

I’ve often heard stories of Muslims weeping when they thought of the Prophet and until then, I could not conceptualize it (also, added to the fact that men do not cry comfortably about anything in our culture!). But that night, for the first time in the nearly 15 years I’ve been Muslim, I grasped the humanity of the Prophet, what his Message was, the sacrifices he gave and then could fully understand the meaning behind صلى الله عليه وسلم (May God send peace and blessings upon the Prophet). For this, I am eternally grateful to Dr. Jackson.

I will put up shortly some notes from Dr. Jackson’s lecture there. It’s still in a distillation process for me. So be patient and stay tuned.